Killing Hitler

Any discussion of World War II (WWII) begins and (unfortunately) ends with one name: Adolf Hitler.  The whole point of WWII was to stop the advancing dictator, and it would’ve ended a lot quicker if a more reasonable tyrant were in charge of Germany’s side of it.  Without Adolf Hitler, so goes the story line, there is no second World War, hundreds of thousands do not die in battle, or as a result of battle, and there is no Holocaust.  The latter may be truer than either of the former speculations, as the Holocaust appears to be a direct result of Hitler’s insecurities and anti-Semitism.  The question that people of my generation have often asked is:

If you could go back in time, would you kill Adolf Hitler?”

Hitler in Hell, 1944, George Grosz

Hitler in Hell, 1944, George Grosz

Everyone says, “Of course!  Think of all the many hundreds of thousands –check that— millions of lives that could’ve been saved, if this one man had been killed.”  Just about everyone I know lists killing Hitler as the primary objective involved in building a time machine in the first place.

The first question that has to be asked of this theoretical assassination attempt is what date would you put into your time machine’s database?  If you landed on the small farm outside of Linz, Austria to find a young, carefree Adolf, what good would killing that young boy have done?  Many have theorized that post-WWI Germany was in such dire straits that it was vulnerable to an Adolf Hitler type that could make them feel proud to be German again amid the devastation that the first World War laid upon their country.   It is possible that Hitler’s gifts of persuasion, and overall charisma, were such that he managed to get some people to do some things that may not have done if they weren’t so overwhelmed by his charm, but it’s also possible that someone, or some equally heinous movement, would’ve done the same.

After WWI, Allied leaders ignored the status of the country, believing that a devastated Germany would not have the ability, or the will to fight again. They also considered the country’s devastation a just punishment, and an exclamation mark on their victory.  Hitler’s rise to power, amid this devastation, set a precedent for the world to follow regarding war-torn countries.  As a result, countries like the United States and Britain, now provide aid, financial and otherwise, to war-torn countries to try to prevent another situation from which a Hitler-like leader would be eagerly accepted by that country’s people.

If the time machine maker were to wait until Hitler took over, to thus deprive the Third Reich of its megalomaniac leader, and hopefully cripple it, it could be said that Hitler may have become a martyr that rallied Germans to unify to greater evil.  The point to this is that not only did Hitler shape world history in all the evil ways that have been well documented, but the reaction to the aftermath of all that Hitler did set a number of precedents for how the world was going to act if they hoped to prevent another Hitler.

The Foolish Neville Chamberlain

One of the greatest scapegoats of WWII was Britain’s Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain.  Chamberlain is historically perceived as naïve for believing that he could trust Hitler’s proclamation, in the Munich Agreement, that if Chamberlain were “to give” the German speaking portions of Czechoslovakia to Hitler, Hitler would go no further.  Most historians will concede that there was some naïvete on Chamberlain’s part, in that, as Michael McCarthy writes in The Independent:

“He should have seen then that appeasement would not stop such a power-mad dictator,” that a “A resolute show of force (with the French) might have persuaded Hitler to pull back,” and that “(Chamberlain’s) appeasement actions convinced Hitler of Britain’s weakness and encouraged him to make further demands.”

The historical record also states, however, that Chamberlain was hamstrung by the fact that Britain’s forces were ill-prepared for war in 1938, and that it was far better prepared in 1939.  Britain’s government also feared a widespread bombing campaign by the Germans.  All of the intel that Chamberlain had at his disposal, according to these sources, said that an attempt at appeasement was the proper course to follow to at the very least slow Hitler’s exploits until Britain was fully ready for the battle.  The intel also stated that after WWI, the British citizens were so against any further war that a “Peace in our time” type of proclamation, would go over big in Britain.

Nick Bauman, from Slate, also writes that listed in all of the intel gathered before the Munich Agreement:

“Chamberlain was informed that many of Britain’s WWI allies could not be counted on to join a fight against Germany.  Due to the post-war constitutions, and laws, of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the U.S., Britain believed that her ill-equipped forces would be going it alone against Germany’s superior, and better prepared, forces.  The Soviet Union was, at that point, something of an enemy of Britain’s, and Chamberlain didn’t think he could count on France holding Germanic forces back for a long period of time.”  

One of the many reasons Chamberlain is still regarded as a scapegoat for all that would eventually go down in WWII was the manner in which he characterized his actions in Munich Agreement.  Some Czechoslovakians felt that Chamberlain had sacrificed them to appease Hitler.  As evidence of this, they pointed to Chamberlain’s statement that Czechoslovakia was “A faraway country of which we know nothing”.  His words may not have been politic, but they reflected the worldwide sentiment at the time, as British historian and Chamberlain biographer, David Dutton details:

“People regarded Czechoslovakia as an artificial creation.  The perception by the ’30s was there was a problem, it was soluble by negotiation, and we ought to try.  (Czechoslovakia) was not the sort of thing that would unite the country (as) an issue to go to war over.” 

Ouch!  A great deal of scorn was directed at Chamberlain, and the remaining Allies that backed this sentiment, but it was apparently the sentiment that Chamberlain brought to the Munich Agreement.

It’s also important to note that not only did Chamberlain receive literal applause in Britain for his actions, but he received proverbial applause from Britain’s allies.  War had been averted to most minds, and the diplomatic maneuver by Chamberlain was well received by all but Chamberlain’s fiercest, and most vocal, critic: Winston Churchill.

At this point in history, however, Churchill was largely disregarded based on a history of making poor judgments when it came to military affairs. The historical record is on Churchill’s side, of course, but with the war that tore Europe apart (WWI) only twenty years removed, citizens of Britain, and the world, were eager to dismiss Churchill’s warnings and embrace Chamberlain’s “Peace in our time” proclamation … Even if they suspected that it was a only band aid.

In the subsequent months, of course, and in most popular discourse over this issue, Chamberlain became the “naïve” scapegoat, but “Over time,” Dutton writes, “The weight of the historiography began to shift to a much more sympathetic appreciation” of what Chamberlain had to do at the time.

On his deathbed, Chamberlain remained steadfast that his actions in Munich, in 1938, delayed war, and subsequently allowed for Britain to prepare, and eventually defeat Germany.  He further stated that he believed that with the “True inside story” of these years in the hands of historians, that he would receive a favorable verdict.

Churchill, though sympathetic in general to Chamberlain’s goals, characterized Chamberlain as “Well-meaning but weak.”  Churchill also stated that he believed that a pre-war grand coalition of European States may have been able to have Adolf Hitler removed.  Churchill further countered Chamberlain’s position on Munich and 1938, and the subsequent interpretations provided above by Nick Bauman and Michael McCarthy, stating that “The year’s delay between Munich and war worsened Britain’s position.”

History, it has been said, is merely a story of events, cataloged for future students to learn “So that,” as philosopher George Santayana has said, “They are not doomed to repeat it.”  Historians, blessed with the gift of hindsight, have largely called the Munich Agreement, a failure, and they have stated that Churchill was right with his opinions that many of Hitler’s actions, and thus WWII, could’ve been prevented.  If Chamberlain had been as gifted with the art of persuasion as Hitler, he could’ve led a grand coalition to remove Hitler, such as the one Churchill prescribed.  If Chamberlain had been as charismatic as Hitler, and he was able to persuade Britain’s allies that Hitler provided an urgency that would require them to circumvent their constitutions and laws, for the “one time” emergency of removing the unprecedented threat Hitler posed the world in 1938, all of this could’ve been averted.

There’s also the lesson to be learned from the fact that Chamberlain appeared to believe that the threat Hitler posed was exaggerated, and that he didn’t need to do all that Churchill prescribed, and that threat could be appeased, as current diplomats and current social leaders believe current irrational proponents of evil can be appeased, and are exaggerated.  But perhaps the most vital aspect of the historical lesson WWII taught to us existed in the fact that Hitler was able to exploit the desire for “Peace in our time” to restore Germanic pride to the heinous levels he did.  Killing Hitler, before he was able to accomplish this, probably wouldn’t have prevented this loophole from occurring in history, as someone, or some group, probably would’ve come along to provide history a lesson they would be doomed to repeat.

To paraphrase Voltaire, if Adolf Hitler had never existed, or someone built a time machine to remove him from the historical record, and the many lessons he taught the world, there would be a need to create him.


Killing Patton: A Review

Sometimes you have to pick the gun up to put the Gun down.” ― Malcolm X

The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.” ― G.K. Chesterson

092414_bill“Nobody likes war,” is the old adage.  Some do.  Some have it coursing in their veins.  These types do not seek war, but once it happens, something kicks in that separates them from the rest of us.  Something intangible that no one can teach defines them among their peers. Give these types what they deem to be a justifiable and worthy cause and they won’t hesitate to lay down their lives for people they’ve never met.  General George Smith Patton Jr. was one of these men. The intro of Patton’s most famous speech expressed as much:

“Men, all this stuff you hear about America not wanting to fight, wanting to stay out of the war, is a lot of (BS). Americans love to fight. All real Americans love the sting and clash of battle. When you were kids, you all admired the champion marble shooter, the fastest runner, the big-league ball players and the toughest boxers. Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser. Americans play to win all the time. That’s why Americans have never lost and will never lose a war. The very thought of losing is hateful to Americans. Battle is the most significant competition in which a man can indulge. It brings out all that is best and it removes all that is base.”

Patton first saw combat in what has been called the Pancho Villa Expedition, or the Mexican Expedition of 1916, he then saw action in World War I (WWI), and then, of course, in WWII.  Like many men of his era, Patton saw war for most of his adult life.  Whereas some came to be affected by it in deleterious ways, Patton was emboldened by it.

Pacifists, like the television show M*A*S*H’s character Hawkeye Pierce, have never understood this mentality.  The character stated –and I’m paraphrasing— “I never understood how someone that wrote as beautifully as Ernest Hemingway, would choose war as his subject.”  The implicit statement in the character’s complaint is that only way Hemingway could write about such things is by never experiencing the true horror of it firsthand.  Yet, a cursory glance through Hemingway’s history shows that he was an ambulance driver in WWI, a position that led him to see more carnage than all of the M*A*S*H writers combined, yet unlike the M*A*S*H writers, he continued to write of some of the glory that could be found in war, in many of his most famous books.  The complaint that pacifists like Hawkeye Pierce, have of Hemingway is, if he saw the casualties of war how could he focus on the glory, when there is no glory in war, and the only winners are the ones that lose the least. Hemingway agreed, at least in part, saying:

“Never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime.”
― Ernest Hemingway

For better or worse, most of the men of Hemingway and Patton’s generation were either tacitly, or personally, affected, influenced, and characterized by war.  Hemingway’s life was so influenced by the various wars that occurred in his life that for him to write on another subject was difficult.  He did it, but many claim that most of his best works chronicled war.  As a side note, Hemingway did attempt to enter WWI, but he received a deferment based on poor vision.  Patton’s life was as influenced by war, and to write a piece on him without including descriptions of their war time activities he engaged in would be nearly impossible.  War defined him, and he defined wars.

Killing Patton

For those not familiar with the process that Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard bring to the discussion of history in their Killing series, Martin Dugard does the research and Bill O’Reilly takes that research and puts it in a readable style that O’Reilly equates to a John Grisham style of writing.  The research that Mr. Dugard performed in the eight books written before the Killing series so impressed Bill O’Reilly, that Bill labeled him one of the best researchers in the country.

The benefits of the partnership they formed comes through in the readability that O’Reilly brings to Martin Dugard’s research.  I must confess here, that I have never read one of Mr. Dugard’s books, but as a researcher, and writer, I can tell you that it’s very difficult to edit, or delete, large chunks of the work you’ve done in research.  A decent writer, knowing the virtues of pace and readability, will remove those large chunks of work that the researcher has unearthed and provide an easy read of the material.

Those of us that love history, love many of the mainstream, history books, but we also know that they have a tendency to get bogged down in detail.  Even the best of these books require breaks.  There’s just too much information in them for one brain to handle in one setting.  Thus, the formula that these two men have laid out is that the writer, Bill O’Reilly, will surf through all of Dugard’s research and use only that which fits what he terms a readable pace.

In the book Killing Patton: The Strange Death of World War II’s Most Audacious General, the two authors uncover a wealth of information.  At its best, the book provides details of some of WWII’s most heroic efforts.  It provides details of the lives, and the actions of some of WWII’s great leaders Patton, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Josef Stalin, Adolf Hitler, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and some details of Winston Churchill’s actions during the War.  It also informs the readers of WWII’s lesser-known heroes, the warriors that carried out the orders of all those listed above.  There are moments in the book, a reader will find thrilling, and other moments involving the chilling details of how close this war came to going the other way if not for some crucial German mistakes, some of which were procured through Allied deceptions.  Those of us that believed that WWII came to an end soon after the Omaha Beach landing have been corrected by many authors, including the two here.

The most controversial portion of Killing Patton involves the death of General Patton.  It provides details of a conspiracy theory that the Premier of the Soviet Union, Josef Stalin, may have ordered Patton killed.  Anyone that knows anything about Bill O’Reilly has to suspect that this was his idea.  One has to suspect that while sifting through Dugard’s research, Mr. O’Reilly unearthed a sales tactic to separate Killing Patton from the numerous books written on WWII.  The latter involves as much speculation on my part, as the conspiracy theory does.

As the theme of a 2003 ABC special, conducted on the assassination of John F. Kennedy suggested, some of the times, it’s difficult to believe that consequential men can die by inconsequential means, or that inconsequential men can take down consequential men … Even by accident, as appears to be the case of Patton.  Some of the times, it’s much more interesting to look at all of the circumstantial evidence and wrap it up in a bow for greater sales and easier promotion.  While on his promotional tour, Bill has admitted that he doesn’t know exactly what happened, and that he’s speculating with this particular theory, and that the evidence he cites is circumstantial, but he says, “There’s enough there to warrant more investigation.”  Some have questioned the latter, and others have outright refuted it.  Those that have refuted it have dismissed the entire book on the basis of this theory.  Personally, I think this is a mistake, but I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t admit that factual errors, or speculative theories, in other books have rendered those books unreadable by me.  With that qualifier out of the way, I must say that this is a great read, and there are numerous, substantiated facts in this book that are fascinating.

Some may also dismiss Killing Patton on the basis that it is but another book that glorifies war, warriors, and the archetypal males that have a lust for violence and war.  Some may argue that the very premise of such a book only contributes to the patriarchal, male dominated society that we’ve all been trying to defeat for the last few decades.  They would also argue that in our more civilized societies, the warrior mentality is a lot less necessary, as any and all threats we face are greatly exaggerated by political types of the same mind.  These men, these warriors, used to be enshrined in their cultures, but some may argue that was based on the fact that those societies were less stable, that needed warriors to help them continue as a culture.  They argue from the mentality that our civilization is so much more stable, and permanent, that intellectual diplomats, and social leaders, are far more necessary to continued peace.  Yet, those types usually fail when confronted with irrational evil, and it is at that point that warriors, like General George S. Patton, are brought in to clean up the mess and provide the continued illusion of permanence.