The German "Tiger Tank"

Probably my favourite WW2 tank. I know alot would say the Russian T-43 tank, but all in all I believe the Tiger to be a totally awesome machine with its much feared 88mm gun.

My War Standalone Player

Monday, July 2, 2007

The Führer

adolf hitler002.jpg

Adolf Hitler, a nondescript Austrian volunteer in the Imperial German Army in 1918, with the rank of corporal, rose to the position of Chancellor of Weimar Germany in the space of 15 years. In the interim, he built up a national party from nothing (the National Socialist German Workers Party -- NSDAP or Nazi party). Roughly six years later he was on Time magazine's cover as "Man of the Year" for 1938 -- a grudging acknowledgment of Hitler's importance.

Hitler first rose to prominence in 1923 as one of the leaders of the Beerhall Putsch -- an attempt to overthrow the Weimar Republic. It failed and led to his imprisonment. During his two year term, Hitler found time to write the book that would later become infamous: Mein Kampf. It was not a literary masterpiece by any measure (Hitler was not much of a writer but he was a natural orator). The market for Mein Kampf was members of the NSDAP and their friends. This was a politically charged tract which could not be taken seriously as anything more than propoganda (even though a lot of people used it afterwards as proof of Hitler's intentions for just about everything). The rants in it were intended to appeal to a very specific group and did so. German nationalists and anti-Semites of the period could find many comments to approve of within its covers. Paranoia and hatred evident throughout the work were part of its appeal.

After his release, Hitler determined to change tactics from seeking revolution in the streets to seeking revolution through the electoral process. He led his party to the height of success in 1933 when the Nazis received almost one third of all the votes cast, making the NSDAP the largest party in the Reichstag (the German parliament). Having reached this level without cooperation with other parties, Hitler initiated an intricate series of political negotiations with other conservative and nationalist parties which led to his approval as the Chancellor of Germany by the venerable president of the republic, the former Commander-in-Chief of the German Army, Field Marshal von Hindenburg. Within months of getting the nod for the Chancellorship, Hitler eliminated all the remaining political opposition and established himself as German dictator through the Enabling Act of 1933. Essentially, he created the first bona fide tyranny formed from a democracy in over 2,000 years.

The opinions Hitler espoused publicly reflected the anti-Semitic and nationalist circles in which he thrived. Jews, as an ethnic group, were singled out as an internal enemy of the "German nation" with international affiliations and conspiratorial objectives. Communism was linked to "international Jewry" and likewise identified as a threat. German adherence to the Treaty of Versailles, of course, was targeted as the primary diplomatic issue of the day. Economic recovery was tied to military expansion resulting from abrogating the "Versailles Diktat".

Hitler's Austrian origins were also reflected in his political agenda. His references to Grossdeutschland and the "Thousand Year Reich" alluded to the medieval Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation dominated by the Austrian Hapsburgs more so than it did to the Prussian inspired German Empire (or Second Reich) of 1870 to which his state was heir. For Hitler, there was never any question regarding the need for the incorporation of Austrian lands into his self-proclaimed Third Reich.

As Chancellor, Hitler engaged in a massive military build-up and public works program (a classical example of Keynesian economics) that revived the German economy and reestablished German great power status. Hitler won one diplomatic victory after another (up to 1938) and tore up the hated Treaty of Versailles along the way. His popularity soared because of these diplomatic victories and the improved economic conditions. As more than one commentator has noted, if Hitler had died before initiating war with Poland in 1939, he would probably have been remembered as one of the great politicians in German history. His virulent anti-Semitism would have been viewed as an anomaly and conveniently forgotten.

In practice, Hitler's regime implemented much of the core agenda that appealed to the anti-Semitic and nationalist party membership. The Nuremberg Laws of 1935 began the process of eliminating Jews from Germany. It was a process that culminated in the Holocaust. The anti-Communist crusade begun by banning specific political parties within Germany, ended up in a self-destructive military campaign against the Soviet Union. Abrogating the various clauses of the Versailles treaty ultimately led to war with Britain and France.

It is fairly common to draw the conclusion that Hitler always intended to carry out the radical political program as it was expounded in his earliest pronouncements. However, this ignores the complicated historical reality that more than once demonstrated Hitler's cynical realism when it came to politics. During the Berlin Olympics of 1936, the anti-Semitic laws were relaxed in deference to foreign visitors. Implementation of the killing of the mentally infirm was abruptly stopped when public awareness grew. Ultimately, in 1939, in a complete diplomatic turnabout, Hitler sought and received an agreement with Stalin and the USSR that divided Poland and ensured Soviet neutrality in the event of a war with Britain and France. Hitler more than once showed a willingness to make a "deal with the devil" if it suited other objectives. Which objectives were most important tended to vary over time.

Although it has become acceptable to tag Hitler as a "monster" or "evil", this really explains nothing and is just a convenient way of ignoring the truth that Hitler, a human being, attracted large numbers of blindly loyal followers who proceeded to carry out a violent political agenda without losing popular support. All the evidence suggests that Hitler was a remarkably bright individual. His reign in Germany is a testament to the power of the modern state. Most important, Hitler stands out for the fact that he was a democratically elected representative of the people who turned himself into a dictator with fairly broad based support. There is a lesson in that for posterity.

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