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Trollheart 04-14-2021 10:01 AM

Flames Across the World: Trollheart's Comprehensive History of World War II
Introduction: Don’t mention the war!

I’m sure many of those who see this are thinking, what? Another account of the Second World War? Why? Aren’t there more than enough of them around already? And my answer is yes, yes there are, and some truly exceptional ones. William L. Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, for example, or documentaries that tower above their fellows, such as The Nazis: A Warning From History and of course, the titan among titans, The World at War. But excellent as all these - and more - are in chronicling the events that changed the world from 1939 to 1945 (and indeed, before and after those dates) they do suffer from one small restriction.

Because of the very nature of books, TV documentaries or films, it’s virtually impossible to encompass an entire six-year global conflict into, at best, less than a thousand pages (usually a lot less) or thirty hours of television, as in the case of some of the multi-part documentaries, including those mentioned above. Time and space are factors which have to be considered, and so certain aspects of the war are either just glossed over, noted briefly or in some cases ignored altogether. Some books, or documentaries, focus on one viewpoint, phase or subject - a certain battle, strategy in general, famous figures, organisations like the SS and so on.
In this journal, which, like most of mine I envisage running for several years, I intend to attempt to write the most inclusive, comprehensive, complete and detailed history of the Second World War that I can. I’ll be looking into every facet, every part of the war, from the people who were responsible for prosecuting it to the people who fought in it, on both sides. I’ll of course be going deeply into the various battles and campaigns, looking at the machinery of war, the advancements in technology such as radar and directed bombing, tactics employed by either side (the Battle for the North Atlantic, for instance, which saw for the first time merchant shipping targeted as policy and allowed the killing of civilians, or the hyperbolic accounts of Nazi fighter pilots shooting at enemy airmen who had ejected - were those based in any sort of truth?) and of course the human cost of the war.

I intend, for instance, to spend about a month researching and writing about the Gestapo, similar study going into the various forms of resistance - mostly French and Polish, but I’m sure there were others - the shameful internment of Japanese-Americans and the tactics employed by the British SOE - Special Operations Executive - the spies who went behind enemy lines to gather intelligence and would and did do anything to prevent their capture. The main figures in the Third Reich will be explored in detail, but so too the ones in the Allied forces, and while history is written by the winners, I will be doing my best to keep a neutral tone, not siding with either combatant, though of course some things, like concentration camps, like Japanese torture of prisoners of war, will be about as black and white as it can get, and where something needs to be rightly condemned, I will not shirk from that.
And again you ask, sure, but why are you doing this? Well, I never write a journal, obviously, on any subject in which I am not interested - bar my ill-fated jazz journal, a step too far and a real mistake if ever there was one, and begun for very much the wrong reasons - so when I have a subject that I enjoy writing about, I tend to try to write about it. As a child, growing up, you had two choices in terms of comics - war or football. I mean, once you grew out of the funnies. There was, later on in my childhood, a slowly burgeoning trade in science fiction comics and of course there was always Marvel and DC, but in terms of “real” comics, it was football or war. I was never interested in football - not until about 1990 anyway - so for me the choice was clear.

In many ways, I was a child of the war. Not that I lived through it, but it was the war closest to home and closest in time to my youth. Vietnam began when I was about six I think, yet I recall almost nothing about it on Irish television - maybe because we were deeply mired in “The Troubles” and had no particular wish to see more war, even far from home - and the Korean War was, frankly, something we learned of through M*A*S*H, which I hated with a passion. Although Ireland was technically neutral during World War II, many Irishmen did join up to fight in the British Army or Air Force or Navy, and our own government made shady deals with high-ranking officials in the Nazi party, cleaving perhaps to the adage that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. This was, you must remember, less than twenty years since Ireland had become a Free State, and hatred against the English was still very much bubbling and simmering. If we could strike at the “old enemy”, we were ready to do so. Yes, we had equipped ourselves with the traditional long spoon in order to sup with him, but we had extended the invitation to the Devil, and to dinner he came. Possibly one understandable reason why some English still revile us.
Dublin port was offered as a haven for U-Boats, unofficially of course, though this did not stop the Luftwaffe bombing an area of Dublin known as the North Strand - rumours were that it was an accident, that the aircraft went off-course and the pilot thought they were over England; how true that is I don’t know - a site we could still visit when I was a boy, and so in ways the mark of World War II was on Ireland, and on my youth, in a way no other war could hope to be. When we played as kids, we didn’t play cowboys and Indians, but soldiers, wearing toy helmets like the Tommies and Germans from World War II and using replica toy firearms like the Bren and Sten sub-machine gun, Mauser and Luger pistol, and the Enfield rifle.

The films, too, that we could see at such a tender age were pretty much restricted to comedy, westerns and war movies, and so we learned more about the Second World War (albeit the sanitised, Hollywood version) than about any other conflict, and were more interested in it. We dressed our Action Men in RAF uniforms or as Nazi generals, put them in half-tracks or carrying radio packs on their backs, and acted out the war all over again in plastic. Through our comics, our movies, our television and our toys, World War II was our constant companion, and when I grew older, though I lost some interest in it as I became enmeshed in the excitement of science fiction and later fantasy, I never really forgot about it. It was almost like my first love, and in later life I have returned to it.
It is in fact enjoying quite a resurgence in popularity now, almost a renaissance, as one-sided films like The Longest Day or Patton: Blood and Guts are replaced by more balanced fare like Saving Private Ryan, Downfall and Enemy At the Gates. Of course, most narratives are still weighted heavily on the side of the-Germans-lost-we-won idea, but there is a growing desire, it seems, in Hollywood and on television, to not rewrite history, but to write it properly, to erase or at least blur the overly gung-ho productions of the previous century. With hard-hitting series like Das Boot, World on Fire, Band of Brothers and so on, the aim has been to show that war is Hell, no matter what side you’re on, and the lines blur and the good guys can not always be relied upon to behave as good guys should, while occasionally the traditional bad guys might surprise you, might even seem to be (gasp) human.

So here the intention is to take my own personal love of and interest in the Second World War and the renewed global appetite for it and write what I hope will be, over time, the definitive account of a conflict that left over seventy million people dead, caused six million innocent Jews to be exterminated by a madman at the head of a fascist dictatorship, and in the end led to the decline of one empire and the rise of two global superpowers who have been slogging it out ever since.

The Batlord 04-14-2021 10:27 AM

Japan and China were fighting years before 1939, you hack.

Trollheart 04-14-2021 10:44 AM


Originally Posted by The Batlord (Post 2169500)
Japan and China were fighting years before 1939, you hack.

Not as part of World War II, which only officially began in 1939, you wannabe hack.

The Batlord 04-14-2021 12:24 PM

WW2 started when the white people mobilized yeah I know.

Trollheart 04-14-2021 02:44 PM
Chapter I: A Storm is Coming…

The Treaty of Versailles - Reparations or Revenge?

You’ll find a lot of argument in historical and academic circles as to what was or were the main causes for World War II, and I wouldn’t square up against any of them, being the most amateur of students of history. However, when you look back at Hitler’s rise to power, it’s pretty clear that one of the things that drove German nationalist fervour and allowed them to be pushed into a state of war was the far from satisfactory conclusion of World War I, and the heavy price imposed upon the defeated nation by the Treaty of Versailles. And while nobody in their right mind is going to excuse the Nazis, you can see why they were able to use this as a springboard that launched them to power, and eventually into a war against most of the rest of the world.

It could not by any measure you care to use be termed a fair treaty. For one thing, Germany wasn’t even allowed attend negotiations as the details were worked out. For another, they were forced to sign it on pain of resumption of the war, and for a third, it basically set out to bankrupt the former power that had wrought so much destruction across the world, under the guise of ensuring Germany was so crippled and weakened that it would never rise again, at least, not on to any sort of military footing by which it would be able to threaten the peace.

A lot of this rings hollow. Are we supposed to believe that the British, Germans, Americans and Italians (and the Japanese) were all going to live in joyful harmony and peace once the big bad bogeyman was defeated? Or that each power didn’t intend to look after their own interests, taking land here, colonies there, industries and shoring up their own economies, battered by the cost of fighting the four-year war, with the proceeds of the reparations? And honestly, while it’s easy to be smart with hindsight, did they not see this coming? Of course Germany needed to be beaten down, but you put too much energy, too much effort, too much violence into such a beating and you’re in danger of your victim deciding he has nothing left to lose and fighting back with everything he has.

So before we begin our history, let’s look into the famous and hated (by Germany anyway) Treaty of Versailles.

In terms of territory, Germany would shrink by about 65,000 miles and lose about seven million of its citizens, as areas like Alsace-Lorraine were to be returned to France, Morsenet and Eupen-Malmady to Belgium and Germany would be forced to recognise the independence of Poland and Czechoslovakia. Not surprisingly, these two countries, previously under the control of Germany and Austria respectively, were the first Hitler set his sights on twenty years later. Their colonies in Africa, too, were divided up among the victorious powers.

The German Army was permitted a maximum of 100,000 men, the German Navy a tenth of that number, only allowed retain in total thirty-six vessels and forbidden from manufacturing or importing chemical weapons, armoured vehicles, tanks or aircraft. Conscription into the armed forces was scrapped, and Germany was banned from having an air force. The Rhineland, where Germany had built many forts and outposts, was to be demilitarised and the emplacements destroyed, their rebuilding forbidden. Allied forces would occupy the Rhineland for fifteen years, but if Germany had not engaged in any hostile action there would be staged withdrawals after five, ten and finally fifteen years.
And that’s not all. Money money money, not too funny when you lose a war. Oh yes, to the victors, literally, go the spoils, and Germany had to hand over 20 billion gold Marks - about 100 billion US Dollars today - though by 1921 this had risen to a staggering 132 billion Marks, so in or around 600 billion dollars. However this was a figure levied on all the “Central Powers” (the Axis of World War I) and as the Allies knew that the other countries could not be expected to pay, the figure was actually 50 billion, directed at Germany.

It’s pretty obvious from reading about it that the French were the ones looking for the biggest slice of revenge, and therefore the ones pushing the harshest reparations, while Britain, after centuries of war with France, mistrusted their intentions and did not want them gaining a foothold in Europe to become the strongest power there. There wasn’t much in the treaty for Italy, which would lead to the rise of another dictator, who would in fact side with Hitler when he came to power. Despite President Woodrow Wilson’s claim that “At last the world knows that America is the saviour of the world” the Treaty was never ratified in the US, there being many objections, both by Catholic Irish Democrats and German Americans to the power it gave their hated enemy the British and the worry over the influence of the League of Nations, formed within the articles of the Treaty.
Nevertheless, the Treaty was signed, though under huge protest and with no alternative by the Germans, and as a result the German economy collapsed as hyper-inflation took hold of the country. That it was able to not only get back on its feet but become the major power in Western Europe in ten short years is nothing short of remarkable; Germany had already begun to find ways around its prohibition to arm by using factories in other countries, especially Russia, and was slowly building back up its military strength as early as 1921.

Stabbed in the back?
A popular accusation levelled at the German Weimar government, which took power from the military dictatorship of Paul Hindenberg and Erich Ludendorff in the German Revolution of 1918-1919 was the story that they had surrendered Germany without a fight in the end. This myth was seemingly begun by Ludendorff and later perpetuated by Hitler, who falsely claimed that Germany could have won World War I, but that a conspiracy of Jews, Communists, Marxists and other “enemies of the people” set about arranging strikes at arms factories so as to deprive the German army of its munitions, plotting with the enemy to surrender, and handing victory to the Allies. As German propaganda had been careful to put only the best spin on the war, this story was believed by most Germans, who felt their new socialist government had betrayed them.

These people became known in Germany as “the November Criminals”, and were held to account when Hitler rose to power. As one French diplomat prophetically remarked: “New borders will lead to new problems”.

(Justice?) League of Nations

A new idea tried out by the Allies after the end of World War I was the League of Nations, which would later give birth to the United Nations. This was the first time a multi-national organisation has ever been set up which would promote world peace and stability, and mediate if necessary in national or global conflicts. The League would also concern itself with human rights, arms trading, labour disputes, equality and human and drug trafficking, among other aims. Established January 10 1920, it consisted of originally 42 member nations, though at its height counted 58. Among them were of course the victors of the war, the Allies France (Free France during the Second World War), Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Russia (as the USSR), Turkey, Finland, Poland, India, Argentina and many others across the world.

The League had no army of its own and so relied on a pre-NATO agreement that every member state would provide, if needed, armed forces to implement and enforce its mandates, resolutions and if necessary embargoes. Like the UN after it though, the League was fairly toothless most of the time, as it depended on the member nations agreeing and often they would, for various reasons, not do that. Also, some joined and left, left and joined, and there never seems to have been any real sense of cohesion about the whole organisation. Its attempt to disarm the world met with abject failure, which historically was just as well, as the Germans were arming up for World War II at the time, and the last thing any nation wanted to be doing in the shadow of that threat was reducing its armaments. The League watched wordlessly and helplessly, and ultimately impotently as Hitler prepared Germany for war, and eventually disbanded in 1945.
One of the major stumbling blocks for the League of Nations was the refusal of the USA to join; being at the time one of the rising powers in the world, there wasn’t a lot could get done without the cooperation of the United States, and when it resisted or refused to support some stance or other taken by the League, there wasn’t much they could do about it. Then, as now, the world more or less revolved around America. Mind you, historian Samuel Flagg Bemis sees it another way, though it must be remembered he was an American. He claimed The League of Nations has been a disappointing failure.... It has been a failure, not because the United States did not join it; but because the great powers have been unwilling to apply sanctions except where it suited their individual national interests to do so, and because Democracy, on which the original concepts of the League rested for support, has collapsed over half the world

It’s certainly true that most nations were not prepared to go to war without a just cause or reason - that applied to them, rather than as part of the League. Such moves could be very detrimental to their own relationships with other countries, within and without the League of Nations - after the crisis had been dealt with. Much shuffling of feet and looking down at the ground when called upon, it seems, as Stanley Baldwin noted about the League’s efforts to prevent Italy invading Abyssinia: he noted that[I]"collective security had failed ultimately because of the reluctance of nearly all the nations in Europe to proceed to what I might call military sanctions ... The real reason, or the main reason, was that we discovered in the process of weeks that there was no country except the aggressor country which was ready for war ... f collective action is to be a reality and not merely a thing to be talked about, it means not only that every country is to be ready for war; but must be ready to go to war at once. That is a terrible thing, but it is an essential part of collective security.”

Personal spats led to certain counties withdrawing from the League - Japan in 1933 after the League voiced opposition to its occupation of Manchuria, Italy in 1937 after they had invaded Ethiopia - and others being kicked out, such as Russia when they invaded Finland, Spain two years later after the Spanish Civil War, and of course Germany in 1933, though in this case it was Hitler who withdrew. By the time the Second World War began in 1939 it was obvious that the League had failed in its main objective, which was to bring about a lasting peace in Europe and the world, and it was disbanded on April 18 1946. Robert Cecil, one of the architects of the League and one of its greatest supporters, gave this speech at its closure:

Let us boldly state that aggression wherever it occurs and however it may be defended, is an international crime, that it is the duty of every peace-loving state to resent it and employ whatever force is necessary to crush it, that the machinery of the Charter, no less than the machinery of the Covenant, is sufficient for this purpose if properly used, and that every well-disposed citizen of every state should be ready to undergo any sacrifice in order to maintain peace ... I venture to impress upon my hearers that the great work of peace is resting not only on the narrow interests of our own nations, but even more on those great principles of right and wrong which nations, like individuals, depend.

The League is dead. Long live the United Nations.

Trollheart 04-14-2021 06:29 PM

The Men Who Sold the World: The Movers, Shakers, Givers and Takers of World War II

Part I: Deutschland Uber Alles

From Apathy to Apotheosis: The Making of a Monster
The Rise of Hitler and the Ensorcellment of Germany

Although there were many contributing factors to the war, and although Germany was ripe for revolution and revenge, it’s probably fair to say that, on the whole, the Second World War would never have broken out had it not been for its principal architect. Various science fiction stories have been written where someone goes back in time and kills Hitler, or the idea has merely been floated (“if you had a time machine and could go back to Germany in the 1930s would you kill Hitler?”) and it does seem likely that had he not been born, or had his life tended in other directions, the main impetus for what became the most massive global conflict in human history would not have been there, or if it had, nobody would have been willing to push it as he did.

So, while it may seem trite and cliched to say “without Hitler there would have been no World War II”, on balance it can be said to be the case. Which means that if we are to look for the reasons and the ideas that led to the war, we have to trace the life story of the man who would grow up resentful at his own government, ashamed of his country, and hungry for both power and a chance to set the scales straight, if not overload them on the side of his country.

But of course, one man cannot change history on his own, no matter how dedicated or insane he may be. Osama bin Laden could have done nothing without his Al Qaeda, Genghis Khan would have cut a pretty lonely and forlorn figure sweeping across the Mongolian Steppe on his own, and Vlad the Impaler? Well, he sure didn’t impale all those hundreds or thousands of victims by himself, now did he?

Just my typically oblique way of pointing out that even a demagogue like Hitler needed others to carry out his plans and execute (often literally) his orders, and as shown in, among others, History’s programme Hitler’s Circle of Evil, the man who would be ruler of the world made sure to surround himself not only with sycophants and like-minded killers, but men who were - in the context of the Reich - good at their jobs. Men without morals, scruples or the slightest shred of pity for their victims. Men who thought only of themselves and their Fuhrer. Men who pledged their undying loyalty to Hitler, even if almost all of them deserted him in the end. Men like Goebbels, Himmler, Goring and Bormann, Speer and Heydrich and Hess, all of whom helped, to one degree or another, bring about and prosecute the Second World War. We will be looking into their lives too as part of this feature.

But right now, it’s the top madman we’re checking out, to see how he grew from being a quiet, reticent boy into the man who would become forever synonymous with the word evil.

Adolf Hitler (1889-1945)

I: A Loser From Linz

It’s always been mildly amusing to me that Hitler, the archetypal fascist who demanded all Germans be “pure-bred Aryans” was nothing of the sort. Born in Austria, not Germany, he did not come from any noble family, in fact his father, Alois Hitler (originally Heidler) was a bastard, only legitimised (how? Do not ask me: I assumed an illegitimate child was always so) in 1876 at the age of 39. Adolf was born on April 20 1889, the fourth of six children, three of which did not survive. He was the issue of his father’s third wife, and lived with also two of Alois’s children by his second.

After his father had failed as a farmer, moving around from Austria to Germany and back, Adolf lost his younger brother Edmund to measles in 1900, and from that point his attitude changed; from being a conscientious, likeable child he turned inwards, becoming moody and fractious and withdrawn, constantly picking fights with his father and his teachers. When Alois scorned his son’s dream of becoming an artist and sent him not to the classical school Adolf wished to attend, but a bog-standard secondary school, (he later claimed) he deliberately did poorly there, in order to force his father to give it up and let him go to the art school. This never happened, even when his father died in 1903 and his mother allowed him to leave the school.

A German nationalist from an early age, Hitler refused to recognise or pay homage to the Hapsburg Empire, which controlled Germany and Austria, among other countries, at the time, already using the greeting “Heil”. In 1907 he wandered to Vienna where he tried to enrol at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts, but was rejected on two occasions. His work was deemed “mediocre”, mostly in that he tended to draw or paint buildings but was unable to draw people, and it was suggested he instead apply to the Academy of Architecture, but as he had left school without finishing his term he did not have sufficient academic credits to allow this.

Perhaps the biggest blow to him in his young life was the sudden death of his mother, whom he had idolised, at the age of 47. Two years later, without her financial support he ran out of money and had to live in homeless shelters. While in Vienna he became what we would probably today call radicalised, as he listened to the hateful anti-Semitic rhetoric and ravings of certain figures who we will now discuss.

Trollheart 04-14-2021 06:43 PM

Karl Leuger (1844-1910)

Like many anti-Semites, Lueger was not above taking work from, and inspiration and patronage from a Jew, Dr. Igmaz Mandl, who was in fact his role model and advocate when he set up his lawyer’s practice in 1874. The fact that the man whom he would inspire to the greatest national and international hatreds and crimes against his people would mean that les than fifty years later Mandl would have been not only banned from practicing law, but would have been deported, killed or imprisoned, was never to be brought home to Lueger, as he died before Hitler came to power. A rabid Catholic who had no time for other religions and frowned on non-German speakers, he rose to become leader of the Unite Christian party and was elected mayor of Vienna no less than five times, four times of which he was thwarted by the emperor, Franz Josef, who did not like him and feared his revolutionary and anti-Semitic rhetoric, refusing to confirm him until finally his powerful party appealed to the Pope, who granted his mayorship (presumably over the protests of His Excellency) in 1897.

He proved a popular mayor, and indeed held the post (once confirmed) up until his death in 1910. He was credited with beautifying the city and improving its infrastructure, though his membership in the German National Party, which was notoriously anti-Semitic, seems to be where his views began to either change on, or harden against Jews. He courted the popular vote by raising “the Jewish Question”, a phrase which would return to haunt the Jews of Europe in the late 1930s and 1940s, and throw the shadow of the concentration camp across the continent, bringing the word holocaust, if not into our dictionaries then forever linked to the massacre of millions of innocents. An interesting parallel with Hitler’s later ideology, surely not coincidental, was that Lueger was very popular with Viennese women who, though they could not vote, were seen as the best method to indoctrinate their children into the party way of thinking, and also to influence their husbands how to cast their votes. He did not marry, and declared himself essentially married to Vienna, in a chilling future echo of how Hitler would characterise himself, despite being linked with one or two women during his life, one of whom he would marry just before committing suicide.

There is, however, evidence to suggest that either Hitler was chasing the wrong prey, or that he knew this, and cherry-picked the facts he wanted, the ones which were useful to him, from Lueger’s life. Historian William L. Shirer has gone on record to say that "his opponents, including the Jews, readily conceded that he was at heart a decent, chivalrous, generous and tolerant man."[7] According to Amos Elon, "Lueger's anti-Semitism was of a homespun, flexible variety—one might almost say gemütlich. Asked to explain the fact that many of his friends were Jews, Lueger famously replied, 'I decide who is a Jew.' If Lueger did indeed use the prevalent hatred for and anger against Jews to further his own position, this tactic was ignored by the man who would later look to him as an inspiration and quote his policies in his most famous book.

Whether intentionally or not, Hitler was not the only one influenced by Lueger’s views to push towards the advance of fascism. In Austria, Ignaz Seipal, Engelbert Dollfuss and Kurt Schuschnigg, all prominent politicians, would drive the country in a direction which would later serve Hitler’s need as he, at a single stroke, “liberated” Austria as one of his first pre-war acts.
Georg Ritter Von Schönerer (1842-1921)

Another of the hypocrisies of Hitler’s logic is that a man who was born into wealth and influence, and who worked for some of the richest and most powerful Jews in Austria, the Rothschilds, should have such an effect on him and help him shape his worldview. Where is the “ordinary German (or Austrian I guess) man” here? Where is the poor, oppressed, disenfranchised and downtrodden son of Germany? Not in Georg Ritter von Schönerer, that’s for sure! His father knighted by the same emperor who four times refused to confirm Karl Lueger as mayor, Georg’s early manhood did parallel Hitler’s in a way, in that the defeat of Austria in the Austro-Prussian War disillusioned him and set him on a course of political radicalism, railing against both the Jews and the Catholics (at least, I guess, he could be said to be an equal opportunities bigot!) and clamouring for the absorption of Austria into the German Reich.

More future echoes of Hitler when Schönerer’s party only accepted true Germans, forbade any sort of association of its members with Jews, and only allowed marriages if both could prove to be of true Aryan descent. In chilling addition, Schönerer was called Fuhrer by his followers, who saluted him with the phrase “Heil”! Schönerer laid the groundwork for a battle against the Jews, claiming that if they (Germans) did not kick the Jews out they would be ousted themselves. In a mini-foreshadowing of Kristallnacht, the night of rampant violence and murder that saw hundreds of Jewish properties burned or wrecked and many dead and injured in 1939, Schönerer ransacked the offices of a Jewish newspaper and assaulted its staff, in 1888, while a few hundred miles to the west Jack the Ripper was stalking the streets of London’s East End. Two dark presences, indeed, cloaking the emergence of a third, far worse, each spreading evil in their own way, one under cover of darkness and subterfuge, the other openly, and with general approval.

Interestingly, given that both were later favourites of Hitler, Schönerer and Lueger were rivals, the latter taking the chance to fill the power vacuum left behind when the former was imprisoned after the raid on the Jewish newspaper.

Trollheart 04-15-2021 02:37 PM

Martin Luther (1483-1546)

(Here, I’m just going to transcribe my account of the father of Protestantism from my History of Ireland journal, as I see no need to rewrite it in full. It may not all be relevant to this journal, but bear with me, as Luther is very much a minor player in the makeup of Adolf Hitler, but needs to be mentioned nonetheless.)

There can be no argument that in the time before, and even during the Renaissance, the Catholic Church was not only a major world power, almost the major world power, a huge player in politics, maker and breaker of kings, and the agency that called for retribution against the heathen with the Crusades, but one of the most corrupt organisations in the world. Successive popes set themselves up as kings, emperors or warlords (or all three), keeping standing armies and enriching their own coffers, more concerned with material wealth than spiritual salvation, while their priests and bishops preached exactly the opposite message to the faithful from the pulpits every Sunday.

A young German monk named Martin Luther had been watching all this misuse of power for some time, but the final straw for him came in 1516, when the Pope at the time, Leo X, sent an envoy to Germany to sell indulgences in order to finance the rebuilding of the church of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Indulgences were, essentially, get-out-of-jail-free cards for Christians, though scrub out the word free. For a payment, large or small depending on the sin to be expunged, penitents could purchase a letter signed by Leo which would then allow a soul held in Purgatory (transient state between Heaven and Hell) to be released into Heaven. Basically you were paying for the soul of your mother, father, child, wife, whoever, who had died, to be sprung from Limbo.

The phrase “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from Purgatory springs” so enraged Luther that he wrote to the Pope, decrying the practice of indulgences, and asking, quite reasonably really, why a man so incredibly wealthy as Leo X, reckoned at the time to be one of the richest men in the world, if not the richest, had to rely on the contributions of the poor to rebuild a church when he had the money to do so out of his own pocket? Instead of answering this accusation, the Pope decided to brand Luther a heretic and excommunicated him, in the same way as he would deal with England’s upstart king a decade later.

But Luther would not be so easily silenced. He saw the rot in the Catholic Church, most especially at its venerated head, and the disrespect that the man supposedly chosen by God as His agent on Earth paid to the office, and he and his followers broke with Rome, splintering into their own religion, which though still Christian would be rabidly opposed to Catholicism. It was, of course, called Protestantism.

I’m not entirely clear what Hitler learned or used from his readings about Luther, whether it was merely a case of discrediting the Catholic Church, speaking truth to power and showing that absolute power corrupts absolutely (how very ironic if he should have taken that tack!) or whether he wanted to show how a poor - and most importantly, German - monk could rise to challenge the established order and essentially win, as even today the Christian Church is divided along deeply sectarian lines.

It’s also possible that he learned from Luther’s example how relatively easy it is to spread and disseminate a new idea, a radical idea. While arming Germany for another war, claiming the Fatherland was the pinnacle of human achievement and even anti-Semitism could hardly, in the context of history, be called radical, handing over power to one man, essentially abolishing the government and creating a dictatorship in a previously nominally democratic country surely was, and perhaps here is where Hitler learned the lesson already taken on board by Luther: get people angry enough - either against a real or imagined enemy - and you can take complete control of them. They will follow you to the ends of the earth, even if the final destination is a maelstrom of fire and destruction.
Houston Stewart Chamberlain (1855-1927)

Sure, there are many coincidences in history, and particularly in World War II, but it’s still interesting that he would be influenced favourably (in his view) by a man who a) was British (born, if actually lived most of his life in Germany) and b) possessed the same surname as the Prime Minister who virtually inadvertently helped him to power by refusing to believe Hitler would lie, that he wanted war, and that his word was worth about as much as, as the Americans say so charmingly, a plugged nickel. But Chamberlain (this one, not Neville) has been described as “Hitler’s John the Baptist” and so it is incumbent upon us to investigate him.

So let’s do that now.

Again born into power and influence, Chamberlain was the son of Rear-Admiral William Charles, but was a sickly child and sent to foreign climes for his health, starting in France and moving on to Spain and Italy. Influenced by people like Otto Kuntze and Carl Vogt, he became interested both in German culture and the idea of anti-Semitism, disowning England as having no place in his life, and even siding with the Irish in 1881 by describing the tyrannical land lords who oppressed the Irish peasantry (and whose intractability and naked greed had led indirectly to the Great Famine of 1848) as “blood sucking Jews”, even though they were Irish Protestants, and no more Jewish than I am. Although he had been a scientist - in particular a botanist - Chamberlain denied much science, theorising, for instance, that all the planets and heavenly bodies were covered by ice, and rejecting Darwinism (another dichotomy, as Hitler accepted and espoused Darwin’s theories and thinking) and the theory of evolution.

Richard Wagner (who we will be also looking into) seems to have been one of the biggest influences on Chamberlain’s life, his music causing him to change from speaking French (he detested everything about England, including the language) and start using the German tongue exclusively. In addition, he met a German woman, Anna Horst, whom he married, and his English upper class family’s objection to his marrying beneath his class only widened the divide between their country and what he now considered his; his failure to succeed in playing the stock market while living with her in Paris in 1883 further solidified his hatred of capitalism. You have to wonder, had he been successful would he had been so critical of the system? Becoming an author, he embraced the idea of “blood and soil”, the German racist idea of purity, and read Nietsczhe (again, we’ll look into him; we have to really) as well as writing of his joy that the emperor Friedrich III was dead, succeeded by his anti-Semite son, WIllem II, later to become Kasier Wilhelm.

Where he and Hitler may have diverged was that Chamberlain longed for and believed in an idealised, mythic view of a Germany that had never existed, basically one out of story books and fairy tales, and mythologised in Wagner’s music, much of which was based on Teutonic fables and sagas, while Hitler actually looked to history, to the great German kings and emperors of the past, wishing to emulate them. Chamberlain’s association with Wagner’s wife, Cosima, whom she came to consider as her surrogate son, did nothing to stem his anti-Semitic views, in fact it strengthened them considerably. Despite her patronage, though, Chamberlain could never escape from the reality that he was not German born, and so overcompensated by trying to make himself as German as he possibly could. To some extent, this could be said of Hitler too, though it seems after he rose to power his Austrian origins were conveniently fudged over and forgotten, though of course by then Austria was part of the Reich anyway.

Another divergence seems to come when Chamberlain discovered Hinduism and the “Aryan gods” (aryan literally “the light ones”), quickly concluding these were German, and adopting one of their symbols, the swastika; whereas Hitler would conveniently (to my knowledge anyway) discount Indians and blacks as inferior races of no value, Chamberlain believed there was much to learn from the Hindu gods, and the ancient caste system practiced by Hinduism, which “kept social inferiors firmly locked into their place” and fused humanity and nature, denying the hold of materialism. Right. Tell that to the Nazis as they were loading up half-tracks full of stolen artworks and jewels!

Chamberlain declared his preference for a dictatorship when he visited Bosnia and Herzegovina, under the control of the Austrian Empire, in 1891, believing dictatorship was the perfect equation of Wagner’s philosophy, “absolute monarch = happy people!” Not quite what the French thought, my friend, a century before this, and see how that worked out! His anti-Semitism growing like a cancer, and spreading like one, he had this cheery note about his house: However, we shall have to move soon anyway, for our house having been sold to a Jew ... it will soon be impossible for decent people to live in it ... Already the house being almost quite full of Jews, we have to live in a state of continual warfare with the vermin which is a constant and invariable follower of this chosen people even in the most well-to-do classes.

Interestingly, as Chamberlain moaned about the Boer War, with “whites killing whites as the great Yellow Danger” arose in the east, Cosima Wagner agreed thus: "This extermination of one of the most excellent Germanic races is so horrible that I know of nothing I have experienced which is comparable to it.” Well, her countrymen would soon change that, wouldn’t they? More confusion about what exactly was an Aryan, as Chamberlain included Celts, Slavs, Greeks, Latins and even some North Africans, whereas later Hitler and the Nazi party would define Aryan as German or Austrian, or German-born only. Bloody Nazis couldn’t even get straight who exactly they hated. Russians and French were out of the Aryan club though, polluted by foreign influences, while Jesus Christ was given a pass, as he could - according to our friendly neighbourhood anti-Semite Wagnerian, not be a Jew. He published all this nonsense as the century turned, in his Die Grundlagen des neunzehnten Jahrhunderts, or to give it its less wordy English name, The Foundations, a supposed history of the world, glorifying, not surprisingly, Germans and the Aryan race, and crediting them with every advance humanity has made.

Not to forget women, Chamberlain had no time for feminism, and preferred submissive women and believed they should know their place at the feet of their husbands and masters. He also claimed all the great writers, poets and artists as Ayan, including Shakespeare, Goethe, Da Vinci, Dante, Rembrandt, Homer and Martin Luther. Building on the writings of the French philosopher Arthur de Gobin****e, sorry Gobineau, he tasked the Jew with all the world’s wars, going all the way back to the Punic Wars in 146 BC and praising “Aryan Rome” for destroying (eventually) “Semitic Carthage”; blaming the Jews for their manipulation and control of the world’s financial institutions, and declared that the Jew wanted to “put his foot upon the neck of all nations of the world and be lord and possessor of all the earth.” This of course would be another of his ideas Hitler would take to heart, or at least use in his prosecution both of ethnic cleansing and the implementation of the Final Solution to the Jewish Question thirty years later.

Jewish conspiracies abounded in Chamberlain's writings, including the idea that the Jew wanted to enslave all other races and be the master race (sound familiar?), that they had invented the Catholic Church as a “front” for Judaism, and that they had also invented both democracy and capitalism - both of which he despised - as well as, oddly, socialism, though this last was seen to be merely a diversionary tactic to funnel attention away from the damage wrought by Jewish financiers. Oh yes, and they had founded China as well. He even went further than Wagner, who believed Jews could gain redemption by converting to Christianity; Chamberlain was having none of this. For him, the solution to the Jewish question was simple and final, very final: all Jews everywhere must be utterly annihilated. No wonder Hitler loved reading his crap.

Nevertheless, it seems, to quote Louis in Interview With the Vampire, Chamberlain did not even have the courage of his convictions, as he did not actually advocate genocide against the Jews, but left the solution up to his reader, thereby abrogating responsibility for the coming Holocaust. It was in fact an admirer of his, building on his theories, who pushed the “Jewish Question” to what would have been seen by anti-Semitists as its logical conclusion. Josef Reimer propounded in his Ein Pangermanisches Deutschland (A Pan-Germanic Germany) in 1905 that Germany should invade and annex Russia, categorising the population into three separate classes - ethnic Germans, those capable of being “Germanised” and the hopeless cases, including Slavs and of course Jews, who were to be exterminated. Rather chillingly, much of this would come to pass before another four decades had passed.

When Chamberlain visited Britain in 1900, he was even more disillusioned with the land of his birth than he had been while away from it, accusing the Jews of having control of everything, abhorring the practice of raising “common folk” into the peerage and thus polluting (whatever remained of) the noble blood of England, and laying much of the blame for England’s, in his eyes, negative transformation at the feet of the then Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, whom he vilified as “that Jew”, though Disraeli, while born into the Jewish faith, had become an Anglican from age twelve. Chamberlain’s racist and anti-Semitic and expansionist views brought him to the attention of Kaiser Wilhelm, with whom he became great friends, and whose ideas must have been shaped, at least in part, by Chamberlain’s views when Germany went to war just over a decade later. By the time World War I began though, and perhaps frustrated at being rejected from the German Army (he was 58 and in very poor health, partially paralysed: what did he expect?) Chamberlain declared that the Reich must "for the next hundred years or more" strengthen all things German and carry out "the determined extermination of the un-German", believing that a German victory - which he fully expected - was the only possibility Britain had of being saved from the Jewish-controlled mire it had sunk into.

A man who seemed to want to have everything both ways, he advocated a return to his imagined “Merry old England” idea in Germany, an agrarian society where people worked happily while at the same time wishing Germany to become a huge industrial power and to exist under an iron dictatorship, having no time for democracy and believing, as already mentioned, it to have been an invention of the Jews. He despised the idea of a republic and wanted a monarchy to remain in control, though a militarist one answering to the army. He did not create, but helped get started, the “stab-in-the-back” legend/lie upon which so much of Hitler and the Nazi party’s self-justification for World War II would be based, by claiming there was a cadre of traitors within Germany, the “inner enemy” (which under Hitler would be referred to as “fifth column”) who were either Jews or were working with Jews to bring about the end of the war and Germany’s defeat and surrender.

And as is ever the case, evil attracts evil, and the dark circle closes, the ravenous and insatiable Ouroboros chewing on its own tail…

Shattered by Germany’s unthinkable, to him, defeat in the First World War, and increasingly paralysed (and unhinged), mostly confined to his bed, Chamberlain watched with interest the rise and progress through the ranks of an Austrian politician who had come to his notice. In 1923 Chamberlain and Hitler met, and later Chamberlain joined the Nazi party, becoming one of Hitler’s biggest supporters and endorsers. The admiration was mutual; Hitler proclaimed The Foundations as “the gospel of the National Socialist Movement”, while Chamberlain had this to say about der Fuhrer:

Because he [Hitler] is no mere phrasemonger, but consistently pursues his thought to an end and draws his conclusions from it, he recognizes and proclaims that one cannot simultaneously embrace Jesus and those that crucified him. That is the splendid thing about Hitler—his courage! ... In this respect he reminds one of Luther. And whence come the courage of these two men? It derives from the holy seriousness each has for the cause! Hitler utters no word he does not mean in earnest; his speeches contain no padding or vague, provisional statements ... but the result of this is that he is decried as a visionary dreamer. People consider Hitler a dreamer whose head is full of impossible schemes and yet a renowned and original historian called him "the most creative mind since Bismarck in the area of statecraft." I believe ... we are all inclined to view those things as impractical that we do not already see accomplished before us. He, for example, finds it impossible to share our conviction about the pernicious, even murderous influence of Jewry on the German Volk and not to take action; if one sees the danger, then steps must be taken against it with utter dispatch. I daresay everyone recognizes this, but nobody risks speaking out; nobody ventures to extract the consequences of his thoughts for his actions; nobody except Hitler. ... This man has worked like a divine blessing, cheering hearts, opening men's eyes to clearly seen goals, enlivening their spirits, kindling their capacity for love and for indignation, hardening their courage and resoluteness. Yet we still need him badly: May God who sent him to us preserve him for many years as a "blessing for the German Fatherland!

Even when Hitler was imprisoned (yeah) as a result of the failure of the 1923 Munich Putsch, Chamberlain did not lose faith in him, and campaigned vigorously for his pardon and release. In the event, Hitler served only seven months of what was supposed to be a two year sentence before being freed into an atmosphere of general disinterest. Houston Stewart Chamberlain died in 1927, having made, among others, Hitler and an impressionable Josef Goebbels fans, and the former was present at his funeral.

Five years later, as Nazism began its inexorable rise to power, a worried Carl Von Ossietzky, journalist wrote "Today there is a strong smell of blood in the air. Literary anti-Semitism forges the moral weapon for murder. Sturdy and honest lads will take care of the rest."

It wouldn’t take long for that prediction to come true.

Trollheart 04-17-2021 10:53 AM

Charles Darwin (1809-1882)

There’s surely no need for me to write as exhaustive an account on this man as I have on the last; everyone must know who Darwin was, and have a basic idea of his achievements. Hitler, however, seems to have taken some inspiration from his work, presumably the idea of the “survival of the fittest”, and conveniently ignored (not for the first or last time) anything that did not fit in with his worldview. Darwin, for instance, was vehemently opposed to slavery, whereas Hitler wanted to make slaves of anyone considered inferior to the German/Aryan race; Darwin believed all races were or should be equal, Hitler despised other races as being racially weak and subordinate to his own, even considering Slavs and Jews as sub-human. Darwin was mostly an atheist, or at least agnostic, while Hitler at least seemed to believe in the Christian God, though probably concurring with Chamberlain that Jesus could not possibly have been a Jew.

The idea of man originating in Africa would have been abhorrent to Hitler, who believed the true progenitors of the human race to have been Aryan Germans, not black Africans, but he would have agreed with the idea of selective breeding, though where Darwin simply proposed it as something creatures were subject to, Hitler planned to put his own process into place, deliberately eradicating certain “unwelcome” or “unwholesome” or “impure” genes and traits, in an effort to create a race of ubermensch, as postulated by Nietzsche.

Speaking of whom…

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)

It appears, to some degree, that Hitler may not be at fault for having taken certain concepts from the writings of the German philosopher, as, though Nietzsche himself was certainly not an anti-Semite nor indeed a fascist, on his death in 1900 his sister Elisbeth, who became the curator of her work, and was herself a prominent German nationalist, rewrote and couched his writing in terms that appealed to and seemed to support the position of the Nazi party, leading to Nietzsche’s work being, for a while, erroneously associated with fascism and Nazism. Hitler would quote from Nietzsche’s works in Mein Kampf, but it seems to be debated how much he actually read of the philosopher’s writings, how much he understood it and how much he agreed with it, versus how much he was able to - like Nietzsche’s unscrupulous sister - twist and mould to his own ends.

In particular, of course, the idea that appealed to him was Nietzsche’s concept of ubermensch, or the overman, though Hitler seems to have taken this far more literally than the philosopher intended, believing that the German people would be, and were, the ubermensch, above all (Deutschland, after all, Uber Alles) and that lesser, inferior races could be considered to be untermensch, or undermen - a concept it appears was not considered in Also Spake Zarathustra, in which Nietzsche discussed the idea. But even if he had to strip away everything else about the concept, in order that it be of use to him, the very kernel lying at the centre of ubermensch could be subverted and wrangled into an idea that there were to be, and according to Hitler’s twisted philosophy, already were, superior beings on the Earth, that they would naturally rise to be the rulers of the world, and that they were, of course, German.

Gustave Le Bon (1841-1931)

Though it would be in no way fair to lump Le Bon in with radical fascists and anti-semitists such as Chamberlain and Lueger, as he seemed to have no inclinations in that direction, nor did he write to support such a position, his theory of the hive-mind that operates when a group of individuals gather and a crowd is formed, shortly thereafter becoming a single entity that acts on its own, spurred on usually by the loudest or most forceful or charismatic voices within it (those who shout “Are we going to take this?” etc or the first one to hurl a bottle, brick or stone) and therefore robbing each person of his own individuality was used by Hitler and the Nazis, perhaps in ways Le Bon had not anticipated, expected or intended. When you know you can control or manipulate a crowd by simply appealing to, or engendering, or waiting for this hive mind to emerge, it’s surely easy to make the crowd do what you want. They can riot, at your direction, or support you, or attack a certain object, agree or disagree with something you want them to agree or disagree with. Knowing how to control the crowd is a powerful weapon, and most people won’t even know they’re being used.

How many of us have considered, in the aftermath of a riot, march, football match, gig or other crowd event, how or why we did the things we did? On a far less violent level, what makes us all sing the lyrics to a song when the singer points the microphone out into the crowd? Or follow his or her directions like puppets? When a protest leader shouts “what do we want?” why do we always respond to a question he or she already has the answer to? Answer would seem to be that it’s not us answering, or singing, or dancing like monkeys: it’s the hive mind which is controlling the crowd.

Hitler wasn’t the only one to use this knowledge: his predecessor and fellow fascist dictator Benito Mussolini did it in Italy, and Lenin wielded the power in Russia to overthrow the Tsarist regime of Nicholas Alexander II.
Arthur Schopenhauer (1788 - 1860)

Possibly because his hero, Richard Wagner, and indeed Nietzsche both read him, Hitler seems to have been influenced by this German philosopher, even though Schopenhauer claimed that Hitler’s belief in the supremacy of the white man was incorrect, as there was no such thing as a white race.

I may here express my opinion in passing that the white colour of the skin is not natural to man, but that by nature he has a black or brown skin, like our forefathers the Hindus; that consequently a white man has never originally sprung from the womb of nature, and that thus there is no such thing as a white race, much as this is talked of, but every white man is a faded or bleached one. Forced into the strange world, where he only exists like an exotic plant, and like this requires in winter the hothouse, in the course of thousands of years man became white.

In addition, like Darwin he was fiercely against slavery, had great sympathy for the black races and though he believed the white man superior other than to the Egyptians and Hindus, he seems to have thought this was just how it was, and not that the white man had any great claim to or right to overlordship of the earth.

Ah yes. But then he says this: [Judaism] is, therefore, the crudest and poorest of all religions and consists merely in an absurd and revolting theism. It amounts to this that the κύριος ['Lord'], who has created the world, desires to be worshipped and adored; and so above all he is jealous, is envious of his colleagues, of all the other gods; if sacrifices are made to them he is furious and his Jews have a bad time ... It is most deplorable that this religion has become the basis of the prevailing religion of Europe; for it is a religion without any metaphysical tendency. While all other religions endeavor to explain to the people by symbols the metaphysical significance of life, the religion of the Jews is entirely immanent and furnishes nothing but a mere war-cry in the struggle with other nations.

So Hitler must have loved that. Also his views on women, who, he claimed, were by nature meant to obey, and were directly fitted for acting as the nurses and teachers of our early childhood by the fact that they are themselves childish, frivolous and short-sighted. He is in fact referred to as the biggest misogynist in Western philosophy. His views on heredity, breeding and eugenics must have hit home too: With our knowledge of the complete unalterability both of character and of mental faculties, we are led to the view that a real and thorough improvement of the human race might be reached not so much from outside as from within, not so much by theory and instruction as rather by the path of generation. Plato had something of the kind in mind when, in the fifth book of his Republic, he explained his plan for increasing and improving his warrior caste. If we could castrate all scoundrels and stick all stupid geese in a convent, and give men of noble character a whole harem, and procure men, and indeed thorough men, for all girls of intellect and understanding, then a generation would soon arise which would produce a better age than that of Pericles.

Right. And if my aunt had wheels she'd be a wagon.

Trollheart 04-17-2021 11:59 AM

II: Fortunate Son: Hitler Goes to War and Comes of Age

“You will hear much more about me later. Just wait until my time comes.” - Adolf Hitler, 1915

“A peace that last more than twenty-five years is harmful to a nation; peoples, like individuals, sometimes need regenerating through a little blood-letting” - Adolf Hitler, 1942

Running out of money after the death of his mother, Adolf Hitler scrimped and scraped by until he received the last part of his late father’s estate in 1913, and bade farewell - with some contempt and no regrets - to Vienna. He travelled across the border to Germany, settling in Munich where, at the outbreak of World War I, he eagerly signed up for military service. Previous to this he had been conscripted into the Austro-Hungarian Army but found unfit for service. Returning from Salzburg to Munich, he joined the Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment 16, also known as the List Regiment, after its first commander. Far from being in a crack troop however, as he would no doubt have preferred and perhaps even expected, the young Hitler was recruited into a regiment whose purpose can only fairly be described as “cannon fodder”. With no trained men in the unit, a mere seven weeks training and the regiment being a reserve into the bargain, Hitler and his comrades were essentially sent to the Front to die.

Perhaps ironically, given how many innocents he was to order imprisoned when in power, as they left the barracks in Munich on October 12 1914, the first French soldiers the recruits encountered were prisoners taken at the beginning of the war. Though he might like to have thought so, the sun did not shine on Hitler’s first exodus to war - it rained all day and he was miserable - and they boarded a train to take them to the Front. This was the first time Hitler would see the majestic River Rhine, and it had a powerful effect on him, as did the adoration and congratulations of the people in every town through which the train passed.

Typically, and as he would do for the rest of his life, as they entered war-torn Belgium Hitler only saw the structural damage, taking into and considering of no account the suffering of the people: [We] crossed into Belgium at 10 p.m. As we left Aachen, we were given an enthusiastic send off by thousands of people, and much the same thing happened throughout our journey. At 9 a.m., we arrived at Liège. The railway station was badly damaged. The traffic was tremendous. Army transport only, of course. At midnight, we arrived at Louvain. The whole town is a heap of rubble. Perhaps also ironically, and presumably due to shortages rather than as any mark of disrespect, the regiment were transported to Brussels in cattle cars.

One thing that emerged very clearly in Hitler’s mind during his first weeks in combat was the way propaganda could be used to the advantage of the one spreading it, and none of it had to be true. Caricatures of English and Scottish soldiers, deemed to be cowardly and mercenary, not committed to the fight and ready to run at the first opportunity, showed themselves to be devastatingly untruthful when Hitler and his regiment first came face to face with the real thing. Despite the fact that the propaganda had fooled them into a false sense of security, Hitler could see that you could basically say anything you wanted with it, and people would believe it if it was what they wanted to hear.

Hitler volunteered for messenger duty, taking dispatches from place to place across the battlefield, and soon gained a reputation for bravery and reliability, though it was wondered why he put himself at risk, not being German born. However perhaps he was playing the odds, as when the company engaged the English on their first day in combat, they lost over a third of their number. After the battle Hitler was promoted from infantryman to corporal, and recommended for the Iron Cross. Despite his undoubted bravery - or, if you prefer, which I do, fanaticism - the newly-promoted corporal did not endear himself to his comrades, refusing to join in with, and in fact berating their complaints about their treatment, the general strategy and even the need for the war. He was unshakeable in his belief in their commanders and Germany’s destiny as victors, and had many arguments with others who did not feel the same way. This naturally isolated and alienated him from the larger part of his fellow soldiers, but it didn’t seem to bother him, as he was at heart a loner, an insular, morose, taciturn kind of man who rarely smiled or joked.

Nevertheless, taking into account that many of the stories about Hitler in the First World War are either unreliable or possibly apocryphal, or at best impossible to corroborate, he is said to have won his first of two Iron Crosses for having rescued an officer under fire and carrying him back to the trenches, although that officer is said to have been dead by the time he got him back. Still, as a single bullet could easily have ended Hitler’s life there and then, and conceivably have written a new time line for us, the future leader of the Thousand Year Reich would look back to his incident many times, recounting it as proof that Providence (as he called it) had great plans for him, and would not allow him to die on the battlefield. Given that there were several attempts on his life later, it’s easy to see why he would believe some supernatural agency was working on his behalf to keep him alive. As they say, the Devil looks after his own.

Indeed, only a short time later, at the forest Wytschaete, when four divisional commanders needed space in their tent, Hitler and his comrades stepped out to allow them room. A moment later a French grenade hit the tent, killing most of those inside. Once again, the little corporal had had a close brush with death, and had come out intact.

Not at all surprising to find that, just as the German press were mocking and demeaning the fighting attributes and courage of the British Tommy, the English papers were doing the same, as this extract published in the Times, written by its special correspondent, crowed: . “Everywhere I hear the same story. The German foot soldier cannot shoot, he will not stop to fight. When attacked he runs away: he fires over his shoulder as he runs, or throws down his arms and surrenders.” Well, who ever expected the Press to be unbiased, eh?

As the dreary November weather drew in, 1914 preparing to shudder and shiver its way out and usher in an equally bleak and more savage year, both sides of the conflict realised proper fighting was next to impossible. The heavy rain had turned the ground into mucky, swampy, treacherous terrain in which no kind of advance could be considered, and thick dark fog obscured all but a few metres in front. Now began the cruellest phase of the Great War, the hated trench warfare, as men on either side dug deep wide emplacements in the soggy ground and prepared to wait out the winter in the most uncomfortable and least healthy conditions. They say waiting is the worst part, and while this was certainly not true - how many men, shivering and cursing in those mud-filled trenches in which they passed their days and nights feared in their hearts the order to go over the top, the order to attack? - it must have been akin to Hell on Earth. With poor food, little sleep and disease running rampant through the trenches, many must have wondered why they were there, suffering as they did, and dreaming of home.

Not Corporal Adolf Hitler, EK2 (Iron Cross 2nd Class) though. Far from being repulsed by death he seemed attracted to it. One of his comrades, Hans Mend, tells of an incident where he came across Hitler standing staring at two dead soldiers on whom the grass had, as he said, already begun growing. Oblivious to the fact that he was a target, standing out in the open, Hitler was lost in his own world, and did not seem to relish the interruption of his friend. He was not like a man contemplating his own mortality or the futility of war, but more like a scientist studying an interesting specimen. Hitler had already acquired a reputation for strangeness among the men, and this was only exacerbated as Christmas came around. Unlike the others, who delighted in singing Christmas carols and receiving Christmas packages from home, Hitler was not interested. He received no package, nor did he want one, and had no desire to see the contents of those of other soldiers, who tried to share theirs with him only to be gruffly rebuffed.

With the war temporarily stalled - as the English might say, rain stopped play! - Hitler had plenty of time, when he wasn’t running messages to headquarters, dodging enemy shells and sniper fire, to read the mountain of racist rhetoric and propaganda that spewed forth from the pages of the German newspapers, and to file away for future reference how people could be made to believe anything if the terms were couched cleverly enough. The reports no doubt also would have made a war fanatic like him itch to be back in the thick of it, but even Adolf Hitler couldn’t control the weather, and he just had to stay put. For those who, like me, believed the story of the English/German Christmas Truce, which has long been told, retold, acted and re-enacted in film and books, to be a fiction, here’s a first-hand account from Mend.

At 3 o’clock on the morning of 26 December, we were moving forward in the trenches. Everything was frozen hard. prepared myself to be met by heavy fire. But imagine my astonishment when not a shot came. The men we relieved told us that they had been exchanging things with the English, which seemed crazy to us. As proof, I found a few English cigarettes in my dugout, which tasted very good.21 Shortly after dawn Englishmen appeared and ‘waved to us, to which our people replied’. More men emerged from the trenches; the Germans carried a Christmas tree, which they lit in no-man’s-land. ‘Everyone [now] moved freely out of the trenches and it would have been unthinkable to have fired a shot. What had seemed crazy a few hours before, I was now able to see with my own eyes.’ Bavarians and Englishmen ‘until now the fiercest of enemies shook hands, spoke to one another and exchanged things’. One came up to me straight away, pressed my hand and passed me a few cigarettes; another gave me a diary, a third signed his name on a field postcard, a fourth wrote his address in my notebook . . . One Englishman played a German comrade’s mouth organ; others danced, others again were immensely proud to put on a German helmet...I will never forget this sight for the rest of my life . . . Christmas 1914 will be unforgettable to me.

There is, however, no mention of the famous football match between the two enemies, so that may be made up, but then again, Mend says that this period of truce lasted almost a week, so it could have happened. I just have not, as yet, found any proof of one taking place. Needless to say, one soldier was not impressed and did not take part in the festivities, and a Christmas-hating, English-hating, war-loving, frustrated Hitler fumed as his comrades, in his eyes, degraded themselves by fraternising with the enemy and treating them as human beings, not vermin to be wiped out to the last man. As 1915 began its slow, cold trudge across the blasted fields of Flanders though, and reality, for him, re-established itself, with clear lines now once again redrawn between friend and foe, Hitler adopted a dog, a fox terrier that had come from the English lines, whom he called, with astonishing originality, Foxl and whom he grew to love, if the man could ever be said to have loved anyone or anything. With astonishing lack of knowledge of dogs (perhaps it wasn’t known at this time) he relates how he would feed chocolate to Foxl; chocolate is toxic to dogs.

The arrival of new recruits to the regiment gave Hitler a chance to expound on his political views, and many an argument was had between him and those who did not hold his radical racist and anti-semitist views. In a chilling presentiment of the future, after one particularly heated debate it was prophesied - jokingly - that Hitler would be chancellor after the next election. It would take another twenty years, but many a truth in jest… Again foreshadowing the future, though hardly a unique order in war, especially one that was currently being lost, Hitler’s regiment was told it must “hold to the last man”, orders that would echo across the war-torn and bloodied streets of Stalingrad a quarter of a century later, issued by the man who now took the orders and swore to obey them. I suppose in a twisted way, in retrospect you can see why he expected and would brook no surrender at Stalingrad; if he, as a mere soldier, was prepared to obey orders and die if necessary rather than capitulate to the enemy, why should his troops feel, or be allowed to do any differently? To Hitler surrender was unthinkable, both when he was in the trenches of World War One and when he was commanding his armies as the Russians closed in on Berlin in 1945. He probably would have shot himself or gone out in a suicidal blaze of glory rather than surrender. He carried this through, in the end, to the last.

His surly and taciturn nature, and his aversion to French women (whom he no doubt believed impure and just waiting to taint his bloodline) earned Hitler the name among his comrades of “woman hater”, but his anti-Semitism was mirrored among the men. Jews, though serving in the army, were universally believed to be shirking their duties, volunteering, engineering or even bribing their way into “cushy” jobs; the reality was far from this. Even a specially commissioned investigation by Heinrich Class, which had already decided in advance that Jews were serving in disproportionately smaller numbers than “true” German and set out to prove this, drew inescapable conclusions that told the reverse story, and was quietly hushed up, after a protracted media campaign, rather than admit the truth. But racism among the soldiers was not confined to Jews; they ridiculed the “black savages” - Indian and other Caribbean troops who fought on the English side, “drunken” Irishmen and Scotsmen whom they derided as women due to the kilts they wore into battle.

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