I have been severely criticized for allegedly defending Adolf Hitler. I have explained that my interest in Hitler is not to emulate or idolize him, but to learn important lessons from his life and the events of World War II.
As an amateur historian, I have been severely criticized for allegedly defending Adolf Hitler. I have explained that my interest in Hitler is not to emulate or idolize him, but to learn important lessons from his life and the events of World War II.
In time for the 40th anniversary of Martial Law, let us look at some of the important lessons that the life of Hitler may teach us:
1. Expansionism must be vigorously opposed. When Hitler came to power in 1933, he sought to revive Germany by overhauling its economy and undertaking massive rearmament. In March 1936, against treaty obligations, the German government remilitarized the Rhineland; this met with only tepid responses from other European countries. In 1938, Hitler annexed Austria, with only token resistance. Thus emboldened, Hitler demanded that the Sudetenland be ceded to the Third Reich. Britain and France gave in. In 1939, Hitler invaded the rest of Czechoslovakia. He then proceeded to gobble up Poland, with France and Britain standing meekly by. Thus started World War II.
Had the European powers been more resolute in enforcing International Law, they could have kept Germany in check. The world would not have gone to war, with the loss of tens of millions of lives.
2. Surround yourself with the best men – and listen to them. Hitler was a mere corporal in the German Army when the First World War ended in 1919. He had neither pedigree, nor wealth, nor high education. In fact, he was dirt poor.
When he became Chancellor, he knew he was not mentally equipped for the task of rebuilding and rearming. So, he employed the services of highly-trained and highly-motivated men to work for him. As propaganda chief, he enlisted Dr Joseph Goebbels, whose innovative approach to propaganda are still being used today; for his ground forces, he had Gen Heinz Guderian, whose concept of the blitzkrieg and the “Combined Arms Assault” revolutionized ground warfare; for civil works, he had architect Albert Speer, who made the master plan for a “pan-Germanic nation.” There are many others – geniuses in their own fields – who were responsible for the initial successes of Germany in the Second World War.
Unfortunately, when things went bad for the German war effort, Hitler began to ignore his men’s sound advice and started taking a more personal hand in war strategy; his orders resulted in the collapse of the Army Group Center in Russia, a defeat from which Germany never recovered.
3. Discrimination will eventually backfire. Shortly after Hitler took power, a series of laws were issued targeting the Jews for discrimination. This culminated in the so-called Nuremberg Laws, which progressively stifled the civil and political rights of Jews. Racial segregation was also assertively pushed.
Hundreds of thousands of Jews were either exiled or left for other countries; among these were the best scientists. Hence, when the Germans embarked on a nuclear weapons program, there was a dearth of Jewish scientists who could have successfully developed the weapon: they were mostly in the United States, where the first atomic bomb was made.
4. A two-front war must be avoided. In 1940, Germany was at the height of its power: it had conquered Poland, France, the Low Countries, and most of Eastern Europe. Then it invaded Russia.
By opening up another front, Germany’s resources became increasing strained when the Allies attacked France in 1944. With the Russians pressing from the East, and Britain and the US from the West, both fronts did not have enough war assets for an effective defense. Thus, both fronts quickly collapsed for Germany.
Had Germany fought one front at a time, it could have stemmed the tide of Allied victories and forced a solution that could have ensured the survival of Hitler and his “Greater Germany.”
5. Rhetoric must be matched with corresponding action. Hitler was indisputably one of history’s greatest orators. The force of his rhetoric inspired a despondent nation and spurred its citizens into picking themselves up from defeat and recasting Germany into a major power. But was speechifying Hitler’s only strength?
History says otherwise. While a riveting speaker, Hitler matched his words with action. When Hitler came to power, inflation was unbelievably high, while unemployment was close to 30%. He undertook massive public spending to stimulate the economy, kept interest rates low and instituted price controls, among others. He also gave the workers greater benefits; the concept of the “paid vacation” was Hitler’s idea. As a result, the economy grew immensely. This was one of the causes of Hitler’s huge popularity. Had Hitler not delivered, he would just have been another European dictator either deposed or voted out of office after a few years.
6. Failure brings dissent and rebellion. Hitler’s slogan when the German Army was going from strength to strength was “Die Fuhrer ist Sig,” or “The Fuhrer is Victory.” The Germans loved a winner, and Hitler was at the peak of his popularity.
When the German military started suffering reverses, disenchantment soon crept in. Many high-ranking officers belonging to the old military elite began to question the leadership of the “mere corporal,” as well as his military decisions.
Since 1943, when the tide of war turned against Hitler, no fewer than 10 attempts on his life were made; the most famous being the one by Col. Claus von Stauffenberg; this was dramatized in the movie “Valkyrie” starring Tom Cruise as the assassin.
Truly, as one’s veneer of invincibility is chipped away, it invites not only dissent, but contempt and eventually, outright rebellion and even the desire to eliminate.
7. What is popular is not necessarily right. As anarchy in Germany continued, the charismatic Hitler was seen by the people as their only hope, and practically overnight, his Party grew from 800,000 members to 14 million. Having gained control of Parliament, he became Chancellor.
He then implemented policies which today would be unconscionable, like racial discrimination and intolerance of homosexuality. But if there were a Social Weather Stations during his day, Hitler would have had an approval rating of easily 90%, judging from the hysteria of the crowds that greeted his every public appearance, a reaction worthy of a major rock star. Clearly, the people were with him.
But does that make his policies on Jews and others considered “socially undesirable” legitimate or morally acceptable? Of course not. There is no doubt, however, that in his time, he was the most popular leader in Europe, and his popularity spilled over to other nations, where he had his own share of admirers such as Henry Ford and then US ambassador to the United Kingdom Joseph Kennedy, President John Kennedy’s father.