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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 8/25/17

Three Hitler Paradoxes

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Message Manfred Weidhorn

Now that events in Charlottesville, especially the unfurling of Nazi flags on American soil, have brought Hitler back to page one of the newspapers, one might contemplate three little-noted facts about the notorious corporal. (BTW, can an artist or a psychologist please explain how the twisted cross is more fearsome when it consists of diagonals rather than horizontals and verticals?) The poor saps assembled in Virginia who idolized Hitler did not realize that the object of their fervent admiration was--well, an idol. Because, whatever his plans and goals, Hitler at last made himself actually an unwitting Zionist, dug his own grave, and, by living to the end of the war, destroyed all illusions about him.

1] The Unwitting Zionist. When the father of modern Zionism, Theodor Herzl, tried to persuade the rulers of Europe of the need to establish a Jewish state, he made an interesting discovery: The word "No" does not exist in any European language. The answers he got to his proposal were "Yes, if..." "Yes, when..." "Yes, but..." No one ever said "no." It took the Holocaust to change everyone's minds, both as to the impossibility of complete Jewish assimilation in Christian Europe and as to the consequent necessity of a Jewish homeland as a refuge of last resort. Jews across the ideological spectrum, from the Chassidim who had objected to Zionism on messianic grounds to the Reform Jews who believed rather in assimilation within the Diaspora, saw that their old positions were untenable. And the rest of the world (except the Arabs states), in a rare fit of international guilty conscience, voted to establish Israel. More than any other person, therefore, Der Fuehrer, by trying to wipe out Jewry, catalyzed the rebirth of the ancient Jewish state as a modern citadel of science, culture, and military might. No Hitler means no Holocaust means perpetuation of "Yes, but..." This is not the first or last instance of counter-productive actions.

2] Hitler destroyed himself. He invaded Russia while the British Empire was still alive and then he topped that by declaring war on the US while both Britain and Russia were still alive. He thus ended up, literally and figuratively, fighting a three-front war. Crucial was Hitler's fatal decision, though under no compulsion to do so, to declare war on the US a few days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. While he had made an ambiguous verbal commitment to the Japanese government, he had signed no document that explicitly required him to join the Japanese attack. Yet he took on the US--indeed just as, ominously, the German forces in Russia and in North Africa were for the first time running into trouble.

He thereby unintentionally relieved President Roosevelt of a dilemma. Roosevelt had been eager to help Britain quash Hitler but was held back by American public opinion. Initiating a war with Germany would have been difficult for a Roosevelt coping with America-first isolationism, just as declaring war on the US before Pearl Harbor (i.e., without Japan) would have been difficult even for Hitler. Especially after Pearl Harbor, an isolationist American public would not have accepted a gratuitous American declaration of war against Germany just to help Britain. The Japanese attack made that almost impossible. Had Roosevelt now chosen to declare war on Germany, the American public would have asked, "The Japanese attacked us at Pearl Harbor, and in response we are going to retaliate against Germany? Doesn't the President know his left hand from his right?"

If Hitler had instead refrained from declaring war, Roosevelt would have been forced politically to concentrate his military efforts entirely on punishing Japan for Pearl Harbor, leaving Hitler free to conclude his major one-front land war in the East and then turn all his might on a solitary Britain. The attack on Pearl Harbor therefore toppled the dominoes: it gave Hitler what he wanted, and his reaction in turn provided what Roosevelt wanted. That is, it liberated Hitler to declare war on the US, and that action liberated Roosevelt by giving him the cover he needed to join the European theater of war. Thus Hitler's doom was sealed: It could well be that the course of the war was severely altered by Hitler's ultimate gamble, without which there would have been no massive Anglo-American presence on the continent. That makes Hitler as responsible for the Allied triumph as were Generals Zhukov and Eisenhower.

3] The Necessity of Hitler's Survival. For the good of the world, Hitler needed to stay alive to the end of the war. If he had been assassinated in 1937, before World War II and the unimaginable Holocaust, he would have gone down in history as a martyr and one of Germany's greatest leaders. If assassinated in late 1941 or early 1942, at the zenith of his power and success and on the eve of the turning of the tide, he would have been seen as a supreme military genius. The disasters that marked 1942-45 would then have been attributed to the presumed incompetents who replaced him, attributed to the absence of that focused vision and intense will of his. Surely the brilliant leader who conquered most of Europe in two short years (when it took Napoleon a dozen years) could not be held responsible for the debacle that ensued in his absence. "Ach, if only Der Fuehrer were still alive...!"

So for educating the German people and the Nazi camp followers about the self-destructiveness of the man they worshiped, and for disabusing innocent bystanders, it was necessary for the horrors of 1942-45 to take place under his command. Everyone could then see with blinding clarity the ultimate results of the working of his uniquely destructive genius and could not shift the blame to any blundering successors.

Despite his initial spectacular successes, Hitler, because of the humanly unavoidable hybris, became that terrible thing in President's Trump value system: A loser. Triply so.

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For 51 years Professor of English at Yeshiva University. Author of 13 books and over a hundred essays.
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