Adolph Hitler perceived from a young age that his life would be very short. One reason the German war machine was unlike any seen before is Hitler’s persistence that the next step always be taken before he croaked. This self-destructiveness seems to me the only redeeming aspect of his character, as it made the rest of him unsustainable. It also seems the only valuable insight of an otherwise banal mind: Hitler was humorless, uninterested in diversity in both lifestyle and diet (and, um, race), and obsessed with purity.
The only woman he ever loved was his mother. One could say he was the ideal mama’s boy, except for the whole Final Solution thing. It is true that his father was abusive towards her and perhaps, if not likely, Hitler and his siblings, as well; but that is not an explanation of or excuse for what was to come. Getting beat by a customs officer is an interesting anecdote by way of hindsight. World War II was the fault of many other men than Alois Schicklgruber (though one does wonder what the world might have looked like if his first three children with Klara, and not his fourth, had survived infancy).
But history, it seems, is easier to understand through the heuristic of individual effort and charisma. It’s a not-so-useful, and really very lazy, way of thinking, responsible for historical myths from Hitler to Churchill to FDR, and only perpetuates our unnecessary justification of, and desire for, leaders. Even as the 20th century proved that “One Man, One Rule, One Party” could not sustain itself, let alone the world, the people clamor for a savior.
In all instances we lose the factors within and around. In Hitler’s case, we get the myth of genius. Even his seemingly insightful — and oft-quoted — musings on gun control or political power are unoriginal. One reads them to marvel at how such an utterly average, boring person could plunge Europe into war. Perhaps because in front of Hitler bent a mass of ignorance and superstition; and behind him stood rich and powerful men who imagined the whole time that Hitler was their marionette. But one thing the CIA should have learned with Saddam Hussein is you cannot predict, nor control, fantasists: they live in their own world, not ours; and do not play by rules of self-interest. When the final act was upon us, and the theatre destroyed, it was Hitler who fulfilled his own fledgling prophesy, disproving, as it were, another myth of history: that only the intelligent off themselves.