Hitler used to tell a tale about sitting at a table some time in the First World War when he heard a voice telling him to move, so he obeyed it as if it was a military order, and a moment later the table was bombed and everyone sitting at it was killed. I don’t know whether this anecdote has been checked. On another occasion, which is well-known and can be verified, a British soldier called Henry Tandey, VC, DCM, MM, from Leamington Spa, is chiefly remembered for being the man who spared Hitler’s life. The story goes that on 28th September 1918 in the French village of Marcoing, a weary, wounded German soldier wandered into his gun sights and he chose not to shoot him. Hitler saw this and nodded his thanks. This may, however, be an urban legend and it may also be the second encounter between the two. Because it isn’t particularly wonderful to be remembered for that alone, although it shows he had a sense of decency and mercy, I should mention that Tandey was also given the Victoria Cross for restoring a plank bridge under fire on the same day, and was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for, well, I’ll just quote the citation:
He was in charge of a reserve bombing party in action, and finding the advance temporarily held up, he called on two other men of his party, and working across the open in rear of the enemy, he rushed a post, returning with twenty prisoners, having killed several of the enemy. He was an example of daring courage throughout the whole of the operations.
Hence there seem to have been at least two occasions on which Hitler could’ve been killed before rising to power, and therefore it seems to be entirely plausible for him to have become yet another unknown casualty of the Great War, but of course this didn’t happen. I have to say that this suggests that he was in some sinister way protected from death during this period, and since I believe in the power of Satan as an personal evil force, I can easily accept that. However, how many other stories ended in potential future dictators of Germany being killed in WWI? I’m also unsure either anecdote is actually true?
But is Hitler really necessary? By which I mean, is a world without Hitler also a world where the Third Reich and Second World War didn’t happen? How much difference would it really have made to history if Hitler hadn’t existed or had died in the First World War? Might things actually have been worse?
Hitler was alleged to be a very poor strategist, basing most of his orders on never retreating, even tactically, and one result of that was that he lost a lot of battles which could potentially have been won otherwise. Consequently, in a Second World War where all other things were the same except that the Führer was a better military strategist, it might either have lasted longer or less long, and in a Nazi victory, and if it had dragged on, maybe the Nazis would have ended up acquiring and using the Bomb and winning that way, rather decisively and terrifyingly, going on to dominate the world. In the light of that, maybe it wasn’t Satan at all who protected Hitler those times. Maybe the protection was to ensure that an incompetent leader would lose the War. Of course, many anti-theists would say at this point that this is a funny kind of loving Deity because the Holocaust still happened, but perhaps we can leave the religious angle aside and just state the possibilities as they stand. Hitler surviving the First World War might have been a relatively good thing because it meant the Third Reich would lose the Second.
However, another question arises. The Holocaust and other atrocities are, morally speaking, central to the need to defeat the Nazis, even though they were apparently not the motivation for declaring war on Germany. Is it possible that a timeline where Hitler never rose to power would also not have had the Holocaust? A couple of scenarios have been popularly explored.
In one of them, Hitler died in the First World War at the Battle of the Somme and had no significant effect on the course of the War. The Treaty of Versailles is imposed in 1918 but instead of the Nazis coming to power, there is a Communist revolution in Germany and the Spanish civil war proceeds as it would’ve done anyway. Germany and the Soviet Union both invade Czechoslovakia and the USSR is thrown out of the League Of Nations. World War II happens anyway. After two years, there is a German-Soviet victory but then Pearl Harbor happens and Germany and Russia ally themselves with the US against Japan, and Canada and the US enter the war on opposite sides. There’s plenty more of this here, and it comes across as quite far-fetched. For instance, there’s no explanation as to the inconsistency of Germany going Communist while other countries become Fascist, and this is the crucial point.
My view is that if you look at the various European nations, many of them had successful Fascist movements, and only one of them had Hitler. Nazism is generally seen as a variety of fascism which emphasises the idea that there is a supreme Aryan race and a Jewish conspiracy. Other fascisms were not like this. For instance, Mussolini, the original founder of a Fascist party, focussed on the Roman Empire to encourage Italian nationalism and the Southern European fascisms generally stressed the centrality of the Roman Catholic Church. The Nazi version of Christianity, Positive Christianity, attempted to remove all Jewish elements from the faith, rejecting the Tanakh entirely, claiming Jesus was Aryan, supported the idea of an Aryan homeland and was hostile to Roman Catholicism. Mussolini had come to power in 1922 and therefore had longer to develop and enact his policies than Hitler.
It may also be instructive to look at the history of the Nazi Party. The Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (German Workers’ Party) became the Nazi Party as a result of Hitler joining it as a spy for the police in 1920, but that party was already anti-semitic and anti-Marxist. I don’t know much about the history but it seems to me that Drexler, the leader at the time, could have done the same thing, in which case the main difference would simply be that his name would have become symbolic of the most evil man in history instead of Hitler’s. Or maybe it wouldn’t. Maybe there were factors which would’ve led to his failure as a leader of the party, but this simply means either that someone else would’ve taken over and succeeded or another movement with similar aims would have arisen instead.
In a way, Hitler’s reputation is highly conditional and to some extent it plays into the cult of personality characteristic of totalitarian régimes. It may be that his life and interactions are important, but only because it helps one identify how precisely history took such a negative turn at that point. Specifically reviling him is to give him too much attention. It’s like constructing an elaborate cult around a serial killer or someone similar. It kind of feeds the myth and the kind of thing which makes politics seem to be about personalities. On the other hand, it is easy to take his actions personally when you’ve been directly affected by them, which applies by now probably to hundreds of millions of people if not more. The fact remains that there were any number of pathetic petty infantile moral vacua who could’ve taken his place if he had been killed in the First World War, and as usual it’s about the broad forces of history happening to converge on one person. Likewise, none of our leaders are that important today either. They’ve just been put there by the vagaries of economic and social forces and their lives are of no consequence.
That’s it – all I’ve got to say for today.