Friday, January 2, 2015

Guest Post: October 15, 1918 - Corporal Hitler's War Ends, Another Begins

A fascinating unfolding of alternate affairs explored at Today in Alternate History.

The German Empire's last ditch gambit to win the Great War was known variously as the Spring Offensive, or Kaiserschlacht ("Kaiser's Battle") and Ludendorff Offensive. This confusion of names was something of a foreshadowing of days to come when a new struggle would define the apex of the Imperial Power structure.

At the time, little of that was in mind. On the front lines, the 2nd Bavarian Infantry Regiment was attacked with mustard gas attack on the 15th of October 1918. Among the injured was the highly opinionated and equally vocal Austrian corporal, Adolf Hitler. A loudmouth that had argued constantly about politics with his fellow men, Hitler was temporarily blinded and even lost his voice while was hospitalized in Pasewalk. For the first time, he was unable to do anything but listen and it was there among the traumatized general soldiery there that he first heard the earliest whisperings of victory and what that meant. Germany was evolving.

After his recovery and having no other opportunities for making a living, Hitler returned to Munich. The political violence surging through the city shocked him, especially as many of the perpetrators were angry unbalanced men such as himself, veterans who had been shrugged off now that the war was done. Even with his political awareness, Hitler had little opportunities as an impoverished thirty-year-old immigrant who had not graduated and still bore a chip on his shoulder for being rejected by Vienna's Academy of Fine Arts. He had known homelessness, and once more a vagabond, Hitler did what he had done before to find identity and self-worth: he turned toward the imperial army.

Hitler reported to his Company Commander Karl Mayr who - deeply impressed by Hitler's fervent nationalism and other radical ideas - rather surprised him with the unexpectedly generous offer of a position in his newly formed Education and Propaganda Department. Wrapped up in the flag, he took refuge in the burning patriotism of the emigre, more Germanic than than the Germans themselves even though he wasn't even a German Citizen. Mayr spoke of the Bolshevist threat in Munich, Hitler more than anyone could understand the causes of popular outrage among the masses. His work in propaganda was a conduit for a personal wrath by a man fearing betrayal of his new fatherland.

Soon enough Hitler was to discover that the Bolshevists were merely pawns in a dangerous double-game under the shadow of the Imperial Eagle. In the desperate days of the war, the Imperial Royal Family had been forced to cede a great deal of power to Commander-in-Chief Hindenburg and his all-powerful Quartermaster General Eric von Ludendorff that had formed a de facto military dictatorship. With the war done, the emperor was attempting to wrest back his authority. Certain elements of the Army were seeking a permanent realignment of forces that would create a constitutional monarchy.

The spectre of the Hohenzollerns being massacred by Bolshevists like the Romanov had been a driving force of much of Hitler's propaganda work, yet even through his blind nationalism, Hitler could see that was simply a bogus lie being spread by military intelligence itself. He had been duped, and once he had served his purpose to ensure the German populace would maintain war-time nerves, he was thrown into Landsberg Prison. It was there - this time among the criminal underclass - that the full extent of his political awakening would finally occur. He began his infamous diary Mein Kampf ("My Struggles") by making reference to Mayr's deception with the opening words "Not the potter, but the potter's clay."

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