Sixty years ago tomorrow gasoline fumes jolted Adolf Hitler and his new bride Eva as they exited their suite to walk a solemn line. Staff members shook hands with the mentally and physically shattered Fuehrer who was unable to speak. Eva took each man’s hand and hugged the women, urging one to try to get away from Russian troops already advancing near the bunker in Berlin. The couple returned to their suite where Eva, never interested in life without the man who obsessed her, took cyanide and was followed in that act by her husband. A valet then entered and, as ordered, fired a bullet into Hitler’s head not only to make sure but to try to convince the world he had died a soldier’s death. His last deception would not work. Gasoline was scarce, the bodies burned slowly and, as Russian artillery fire intensified, they had to be abandoned, charred but unconsumed, in a shallow grave. The Russians were thus able to perform an autopsy on the last man who will ever conquer vast territories in the manner of Alexander and Napoleon. Atomic and nuclear weapons have permanently moderated even immoderate rulers of powerful nations.
What, then, should be most noted about Hitler on the sixtieth anniversary of his death? Certainly, it is that he slaughtered millions of civilians, and was neither the first nor the last to do so. His name therefore echoes it could happen again, but it won’t if unified nations respond wherever people are imperiled by serial killers who, by bizarre coincidence and obscene luck, have ended up running nations. Think less about oil and more about blood. Next time, intervene rapidly and build a democracy in Rwanda.
There is another reason to remember history’s most infamous man: it is called the Contra-Hitler Factor. When crises loom, ask what Hitler would have done, then do the opposite. What would Hitler have done about the massive migration of darker people from the South to Germany and other countries? He would have blamed them for every imaginable problem – especially those existing only in his mind – then rounded them up and killed them. Promised deportations would only have been sealed journeys to death camps. That’s not going to happen in the democratic world where no leader dares, or even desires, to be like Hitler.
What about undemocratic countries? What would Hitler do if he were the eternal leader of North Korea? It’s impossible to imagine him having nuclear weapons without using them. That would be suicidal, but Adolf Hitler was a man who most of all craved self-destruction. The in-every-way diminutive Kim Jong-il is different. His greatest passion is cavorting in luxury while the North Korean people starve inside a national strait-jacket. He isn’t going to attack anyone. He just wants to show he could.
What would Hitler do if he were Chinese? He’d certainly take Taiwan by force if he couldn’t get it free after a campaign of lies, threats, and military mobilizations. Then he’d declare war on the United States, as he did in December 1941 despite a majority of his troops already being in a frozen bloodbath on the Eastern Front. The Chinese aren’t going to respond like that. Of course, the Taiwanese aren’t going to provoke them, as Hitler would if he were their leader, by declaring themselves forever independent.
What would Hitler have done in Saddam Hussein’s position? He too would’ve battled Iran and used poison gas there as well as against the Kurds in Iraq, and doubtless would have invaded Kuwait. But instead of withdrawing in defeat in 1991, the Fuehrer would’ve continued pointless resistance against a far larger and more destructive force than the one currently fighting in Iraq, and taken cyanide in a Baghdad bunker prior to being shot in the head by a dutiful valet.
Editorial note: George Thomas Clark is the author of the biographical novel “Hitler Here,” which has been published in India and the Czech Republic as well as the United States.