Commentary Magazine


Hitler's War, by David Irving; The Psychopathic God: Adolf Hitler, by Robert G. L. Waite

The Revised Hitler

Hitler’s War.
by David Irving.
Viking. 926 pp. $17.50.

The Psychopathic God: Adolf Hitler.
by Robert G. L. Waite.
Basic Books. 482 pp. $13.50.

The Hitler boom continues unabated, but the man remains as elusive a subject for revisionists and psychohistorians as ever he was to more conventional biographers. Among the first in the recent crop was John Lukacs’s The Last European War (1976), a brilliant (and perverse) extended essay that echoes the French rightists of the 1930’s. Like them, Lukacs regards Europe in that era as requiring a moral laxative, which Hitler was best qualified to administer; once purged, a resurgent, German-led continent would have been able to withstand both Russian Communism and American materialism. Next came John Toland’s Adolf Hitler, whose author, functioning like a rookie reporter at the Borgia court, ladles on the human interest by portraying a personable, kindly Hitler who, for some unaccountable reason, chose to conquer Europe and massacre millions.

In both books there is a common denominator: revisionism, the systematic search for a positive side to Hitler. What Lukacs and Toland merely imply becomes explicit in David living’s Hitler’s War, where all restraint is abandoned and Hitler is virtually canonized. It is no longer a matter of benevolence or generosity, or of regrets that Hitler’s greatness as an anti-Communist crusader was undercut by such excesses as the Holocaust. Irving writes as a zealot, a true believer, and the spirit of his work is closer to theology (or mythology) than to history.

All the more reason for Hitler’s War to sail under scholarly colors, and for Irving’s claim to have used new documents and data in constructing his case. In this there is no doubt some truth. Unlike Toland, Irving is fluent in German, and his earlier books—on various technological and intelligence aspects of the German war machine—have familiarized him with the background, and also with those in Germany who can, if they wish, present fresh material on the Third Reich.

But Irving handles these documentary nuggets in his seventy pages of notes as though they were state secrets. The diaries on which he leans so heavily are hardly described; nor are page or date citations always given; and the file numbers of other documents have a curiously abbreviated quality. This is equally true of the bibliography, which lists many minor, tangential works, but excludes others of direct importance. The general effect is that of a wary entrepreneur who, having completed a new building of revolutionary construction, employing untested materials and designed by an untried architect, refuses to allow prospective buyers to inspect the blueprints or probe the foundations: his accomplishments must be accepted on faith alone.

This would come more easily if Irving himself had any faith in previous writers about Hitler. Instead, he denounces them for every conceivable intellectual crime: sloth, plagiarism, bearing false witness, defamation of character, tampering with evidence, etc. And he asserts proudly that he relies only on pure, undoctored documents—“I eschewed as far as possible all published literature”—thus excusing himself from the burden of further research.

The essential, virtually the only figure in this book is Hitler, “the central powerhouse, coordinating and commanding, that alone seemed to enable Germany to withstand the onslaught of the whole world. . . .” It opens in Hitler’s special train on September 3, 1939; it closes with the very moment of his suicide on April 30, 1945. He appears on every page, directing, exhorting, appraising, calculating, innovating, and also joking, chatting, eating, sleeping, even dreaming. We are taken into his headquarters, permitted to perch on his shoulder, encouraged to watch his every move. And all this with a richness of detail obviously intended to convince a television-age audience of the solidity of Irving’s claim to know virtually everything, great and small, about the Fuehrer.

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What Irving does not know, despite his stance as the honest chronicler, recording events and summarizing documents, is the difference between myth and reality. The same arguments by which Hitler rationalized his actions are here repeated, polished, and amplified. Thus, the war was begun to right the wrongs of Versailles by restoring Danzig and the Polish Corridor to Germany. The Poles, moreover, were “Asian” brutes whose atrocities and backwardness entirely justified harsh treatment. Hitler sincerely sought peace with Britain, but “the Churchill clique” refused, and was backed by a Roosevelt who nevertheless was eager to despoil the British empire; the Duke of Windsor alone represented reasonable Britons. Churchill—Irving’s argument goes on—had not hesitated earlier to embroil Scandinavia in the war; now he ordered the atrocious bombing of German civilians. But Hitler refused to be diverted from his true mission, the destruction of Bolshevism. This was no personal whim, but an absolute necessity, for Stalin was preparing to pounce. The Bolsheviks too were cruel and devious; they too deserved what they got. Had Hitler conquered, there would have been no cold war; should we not have applauded him? And had Britain accepted him as an ally, would not the British empire—whose world mission Hitler of course accepted—be standing even now?

But Hitler failed, and this requires. an explanation. The immensity of Allied resources Irving largely ignores; he is even less interested in material factors than was Hitler. The Russian winter, inevitably, is invoked, as is the alleged spitefulness of Roosevelt and especially of Churchill. The worst enemy, however, lay within, among Hitler’s allies and subordinates, Goering, Speer, Pétain, Horthy, Mussolini, certainly Franco: all were self-centered, jealous, pursuing personal goals while the deluge neared. This too explains the Final Solution, slipped over by Himmler and Heydrich while Hitler’s back was turned. Worse still were the generals, those smug aristocrats, lying, disobeying Hitler’s orders, conspiring at assassination attempts, and sponsoring defeatism, or worse, on the battlefield. Witness so many otherwise inexplicable defeats (for Hitler’s strategic insights were remarkable), the constant failures of German intelligence, and the machinations of the Free Germany Committee in Moscow: treason underlay them all.

The “stab-in-the-back” legend is a familiar refrain, trumpeted by the German generals in 1919 to excuse their defeat in World War I. Now Irving, following Hitler’s later ravings, has turned history on its head by using it against the military. Hitler would no doubt not object to having his overall interpretation of the war thus asserted anew, but it is difficult to understand who else will benefit, or why the effort was made at all. Writers, like boxers and actors, have occupational hazards, of which the emotional entanglement of the biographer with his subject is surely not the least.

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This issue does not arise in Robert Waite’s psychobiography, The Psychopathic God: Adolf Hitler. Waite is fascinated, but also horrified, as he attempts to explain the essence of “the Hitler phenomenon,” that complex of interlocking questions which have baffled scholars for years. What conditions molded the young Adolf, an unknown, alienated outsider, into the Fuehrer, a would-be world conquerer? And how was such a forceful synthesis achieved between his drives and those of the Germans whom Hitler once addressed as follows: “That is the miracle of our times: that you found me—that you found me among so many millions! And that I found you is Germany’s fortune.”

It is not on Hitler the politician or strategist that Waite focuses, nor on Hitler in Vienna or in the trenches, but rather on the infant in Braunau and the youth in Linz. With Freud and Erik Erikson as his mentors, Waite is disposed to treat those early years as formative, even decisive. It was then, he contends, that Hitler, fearing that his paternal grandfather had been Jewish, sought to compensate, to erase all doubts, by himself moving toward anti-Semitism. It was then that Hitler’s bohemianism, his personal quirkiness, his ambivalence regarding authority, were fostered by clashes with a rigid, domineering bureaucrat of a father. It was then that Hitler—presumably—witnessed sexual intercourse between his parents and was grievously afflicted by this “primal scene trauma.” This, and his excessively close relations with his young mother, nurtured an Oedipus complex, and the self-hatred that accompanied the—inevitable—incestuous fantasies.

Nor is this all. Drawing on a Russian autopsy in 1945 of a half-burned body later identified as Hitler’s, and rejecting opposing arguments by some of Hitler’s doctors, Waite insists that the German dictator had only one testicle. An awareness of his deficiency could only have intensified a self-hatred virtually identical with masochism, and this, Waite asserts, found expression through coprophilia, a perverted sexual involvement with defecation and urination.

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These revelations of Waite’s are rooted less in evidence than in inference, supposition, hypothesis, extrapolation from various sources (some quite dubious), and deductions based on comparisons between Hitler and other individuals displaying similar outward behavior. Anality, coprophilia, sadomasochism, physical deficiencies, the Oedipus complex: these are not defined, nor is their particular applicability to Hitler explained; they are treated as self-evident truths, part of any person’s normal intellectual baggage. All this rings of the early 1940’s, when the absence of reliable documentary material encouraged the application of psychoanalytical theory—or at least jargon—to Hitler, and when his alleged carpet chewing, foaming at the mouth, and bizarre sexual behavior were taken as somehow explaining his career. The coprophilic theme was in fact advanced by Walter Langer and others in 1943, in an internal OSS appraisal that was published in 1972 with Waite’s enthusiastic comments. The total effect was, and is, to sensationalize and trivialize Hitler, and to provide a distraction from what is, after all, the vital issue: Hitler as a man of power.

Waite’s Hitler is a pitiful, kinky character more likely to be found in a pornography shop or a seedy rooming house than at supreme headquarters. How could this Hitler possibly have come to power? Waite’s answer (aside from stock phrases about the “demonic,” “charismatic,” and “hypnotic” Hitler) is to bring in Luther and Bismarck, Hegel and Nietzsche, the Freikorps and the Nazi youth movement, and indeed every authoritarian and anti-Semitic episode in German history, the better to label the Germans a psychotic people who were virtually destined for Hitler’s embrace. This too rings of the 1940’s: a morally sick nation meeting its morally sick leader, and the two setting off together into a destructive future. Recycling may make ecological sense, but the use of psychobiography to recycle outworn ideas merely perpetuates notions that deserve speedy burial.

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