Adolf Hitler Not a War Hero?

A new biography of Adolf Hitler analyzes new documents about his World War I service and "concludes that he was not the hero he was later made out to be and that his radicalization shouldn't necessarily be attributed to his wartime experiences."

A new biography of Adolf Hitler analyzes new documents about his World War I service and “concludes that he was not the hero he was later made out to be and that his radicalization shouldn’t necessarily be attributed to his wartime experiences.”

Spiegel (“A Hero in His Own Mind: Hitler Biography Debunks Mythology of Wartime Service“):

In death, Hitler looked more like a man who had stepped out of the past. He wore a simple, field-gray military coat bearing only two medals — the wound badge and the Iron Cross First Class — both of which were from World War I. Throughout his life, Hitler was proud of these medals because they had been “soiled with the dirt of France and the mud of Flanders.”

Hitler’s “political will,” dictated shortly before he committed suicide on April 30, 1945, was meant to convey the message that he, as a man of the people, had been deeply influenced by these early experiences. It spoke about how, beginning in 1914, he had served as a “volunteer” and made his “modest contribution to the First World War, which had been forced upon the German Reich.”

Previously, Hitler had boasted about having “risked his life, probably every day” and having always “looked death in the eye.” In other words, by his own account, he was a hero who “as if by a miracle” had remained healthy, defying the hail of bullets and remaining steadfastly fearless in the “most unforgettable and greatest time of my earthly life.”

[…]

In his book “Hitler’s First War” (published in German for the first time this week), Weber uses these documents to help rebut the widely held views about Hitler’s early years and demystify certain legends about them. For example, Weber concludes that the unit Hitler served with was by no means a sort of precursor to the Nazi Party, as some have claimed. In fact, as Weber and his researchers discovered, only 2 percent of the soldiers in that unit would later go on to join the Nazi Party.

What’s more, Weber finds that Hitler was never the front-line soldier that he and the Nazi propagandists would later make him out to be. Instead, he says that this historical whitewashing was a highly political act in the run-up to the so-called Machtergreifung, the Nazi seizure of power.

[…]

In reality, however, Hitler spent almost the entire four years of World War I a few kilometers behind the main battle line and therefore often outside the most dangerous areas. His job as a runner also meant that he was by no means in the “midst of bombardment.”

This is all very interesting. But the fact remains that Hitler was awarded the Iron Cross First Class, the highest award possible for an enlisted soldier in the German army. And one already had to have an award of the Iron Cross Second Class to be eligible.  To be sure, it was a somewhat over-issued honor, with some 145,000 medals awarded during the conflict. But he’d clearly been recognized for heroism in battle.

FILED UNDER: General, ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Dave Schuler says:

    Now you’re in for it, James. You’re defending Hitler. Expect the onslaught of claims that you’re a crypto-Nazi.

  2. John Burgess says:

    Since Dave is out there with his sniper scope, I won’t defend Hitler. Rather, I’ll note that ‘runner’ is not a safe job. Runners in all armies were often required to travel between the front and rear during bombardments and chemical attacks. They may not have had to take part in going over the top, but they were in considerably riskier roles than cooks and clerical staff.

  3. DC Loser says:

    And we do know that Hitler was injured in a mustard gas attack and was temporarily blinded as a result.

  4. jwest says:

    I worry that stories like this will hamper the effort to award Barack Obama the Congressional Medal of Honor.

    Emulating the Nobel Prize committee, the editorial board of the Harvard Law Review and the admissions committee at Columbia, it would be racist to wait until there is an actual accomplishment to reward him with this honor.

  5. wr says:

    I’m sorry, jwest, is there something about Obama’s appointment as president of the Harvard Law Review that you know and no one else does?

    Because I know a ludicrously staunch Republican — one who fills in for Hugh Hewitt, for heaven’s sake — who was in the same class as Obama. She hates his politics, would probably do most anything to destroy him politically, and has never suggested that he was anything less than brilliant at Harvard.

    Oh, but he’s black, right? So the position must have been reparations.

    Now you can start whining that someone called you a racist when all you did was say that if a black guy succeeds, it’s only because of his race.

  6. An Interested Party says:

    You can always tell when someone has a raging case of ODS when they drag the president into a thread that has nothing to do with him…

  7. jwest says:

    Wr,

    At one time, the top positions at Harvard Law Review were awarded on the basis of academic achievement. They changed the rules to allow half the seats to be filled on the basis of an essay. Apparently, Obama’s essay was the best since Ralphie wrote about wanting a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas.

    We’ll never really know. Obama’s essay seems to be stapled to his long form birth certificate, never to see the light of day.

    Interested party,

    I believe the article has a deeper theme of political figures receiving underserved credit for non-existent accomplishments.

  8. PD Shaw says:

    Ironically, the Iron Cross First Class was awarded on the basis of the reccomendation of a Jewish officer.

  9. rodney dill says:

    Does it really matter if he was a WWI war hero for Germany? Anything positive he may have accomplished then was far overshadowed by his evil later.

  10. wr says:

    Sure thing, jwest. As I said, I actually know someone from his class. You have nothing but racial loathing on your side.

  11. jwest says:

    Wr,

    Your friend didn’t happen to keep any of Barack’s papers or transcripts, did she? It would certainly be interesting to share some of the brilliance he exhibited at Harvard with the rest of the world.

    Is it modesty that prevents him from releasing any of his college writings?

    No matter. You’re losing the argument so scream ”racist” and run away.

  12. Murray says:

    @jwest
    Does it ever happen to you to spend a whole day without freaking out about Obama.

    @James
    He may have been given the Iron Cross First Class because he was gassed, and the Second Class because he was alive after two years. I know my grandfather on my mother’s side (she’s Austrian) was awarded his medals in part for that reason.
    The whole thing had become such a butchery, visible on a daily basis by everyone involved because the front didn’t move for years, that medals were handed out just to keep soldiers from walking away. (At some point they didn’t give a damn of being executed for desertion as long as the shelling stopped.)

  13. nevrdull says:

    even if hitlers achievements in WW I were less than they were made out to be, they were essentially overshadowed by his later deeds. and while i haven’t read the book which is reviewed in the article, this certainly won’t revolutionise hitlers biography in historical science. this is also one reason why i’ve stopped reading the spiegel (certainly its online format) – the reporting is more often than not unreliable, uninformed and sensationalist.
    oh and re:

    Hitler was awarded the Iron Cross First Class, the highest award possible for an enlisted soldier in the German army

    i am not entirely certain, but don’t the order pour le merite and its various counterparts rank above the iron cross?

  14. DC Loser says:

    i am not entirely certain, but don’t the order pour le merite and its various counterparts rank above the iron cross?

    The operative word in James’ assertion is “enlisted.” I believe the Pour le Merite is only for officers.

  15. sam says:

    “I worry that stories like this will hamper the effort to award Barack Obama the Congressional Medal of Honor.”

    That would be just the Medal of Honor, sonny. No ‘Congressional’.