Hitler lives?

In Hell, anyway, in Martin van Creveld’s new novel, Hitler in Hell.

Van Creveld asks: What might Hitler’s world view have been in order for his actions to have been logical and reasonable?  And then he proceeds to answer. Briefly, the two main pillars of his Weltanschauung, were:

  1. In order to survive, Germany must expand its territory to the East.
  2. Jews (racially defined) are inherently evil and must be driven out of German-controlled territory or, if that proves impossible, eliminated.

Pretty much all of Hitler’s actions, including the war, the invasion of the Soviet Union, and the Holocaust follow from these, as van Creveld’s Hitler relates over the course of some 390 pages.

Hell, in this telling, is more like Shaw’s depiction in the “Don Juan in Hell” section of Man and Superman than it is Dante’s Inferno. There is, of course, no escape, so the implication is that Hitler has no incentive to spin anything.  What you get is a candid post-game interview, where the losing coach reveals what he was trying to do and why, and why it didn’t work. Although presented as a novel, Van Creveld intends it to be history made palatable. In the Afterword, he insists that he has stuck as closely as possible to “good evidence in the kinds of sources historians normally use.”

Cover of Hitler in Hell

The main point of the story is that just characterizing Hitler as a “monster” not only tells us nothing but doesn’t help us prepare for monsters to come. Consider this: Seen from the inside, as it were, van Creveld’s Hitler is lucid and cogent if not likable. In places, chatty and gossipy. A talented politician.

It’s not exaggerating to say that this might be the most important book you’ll read this year. By its end, you will understand how a corporal with little formal education could capture the most advanced European country of his time, where he was not even a citizen until just before seizing power.  This is understanding worth acquiring. Orientation, as Boyd noted on Organic Design 16, is the Schwerpunkt, a term Hitler mentions when discussing the invasion of the USSR.

As I’m sure all my readers know, but I’ll repeat anyway, Martin van Creveld is one of the world’s premier historians, writing largely but not exclusively on military matters. Along the way, he produced arguably the most important work of modern strategic theory, The Transformation of War (1991), which explained if not predicted why we have become enmeshed in a series of conflicts from which there does not appear to be any escape. He recently retired from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.



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