If history were a chronological record of past events, then the laypeople would not be much enthused about it. What they want to see in history is drama, though dramas are few and far between in real life. Wars and power struggles are the staple of the books of history that students cram into memory in schools. The anecdotes about the heroes, as narrated in the history books, are so interesting because the entire careers of the history-makers are telescoped into a few pages of those books of history. As the dramas played out on the stage or on the television screen are shortened and edited version of the real takes made during the shooting of the film to fit into the time slot allotted for it, the books, too, give a very shortened and edited version of the life of the hero in question so that it may be accommodated within the few pages allocated for the book. And it is not really the sequence of events as they happen in real life that makes them interesting. It is the storytelling skill of the compiler or the narrator of history that makes the life of a hero of history so dramatic and interesting. But there are still some heroes, or anti-heroes if you will, who need not any editing, shortening or telescoping of the dramas of their eventful career to make them interesting and, in some cases, spine-chilling, too. There is one such (anti) hero of recent history who had driven the whole world to the brink of destruction by his madness and paranoia. This man who turned out to be the incarnation of terror and evil in later life was but a misfit and soldier of fortune. But his fanatic belief in the superiority of the German people, who he believed were the descendants of the mythical Aryan race and his pathological hatred for the Jews, the Communists and the Socialists and his demagogy and Machiavellian philosophy ultimately brought him to power. His party of the storm troopers, the Nazis, ultimately carried the day in Germany.
Though Hitler will remain as the most hated man in history, he will also remain as the one most remembered. Man's love for the drama and his infatuation for anything out of the ordinary is so compelling that he is even ready to worship the monster than remember the less dramatic angel. So even a ten years old child, anywhere in the world, knows the name of Hitler, though she/he may not know the names of lesser heroes who made the lives of people more tolerable and liveable.
In the Time's list of 100 great men who influenced history most during the last one hundred years, Hitler's name found a prominent place. That he was the most hated man in the last one hundred years could not deprive him of his place among the other stalwarts of history of the last hundred years. Nobel peace laureate and professor of Humanities at the Boston University, Elie Wiesel, depicts Hitler in the following manner:
"The fact is that Hitler was beloved by his people - not the military, at least not in the beginning, but by the average Germans who pledged to him an affection, a tenderness and a fidelity that bordered on the irrational. It was idolatry on a national scale. One had to see the crowds who acclaimed him. And the women who were attracted to him. And the young who in his presence went into ecstasy. Did they not see the hateful mask that covered his face? Did they not divine the catastrophe he bore within himself?
Violating the Treaty of Versailles, which limited the German army to 100,000 men, Hitler embarked on a rearmament program of massive scale: fighter planes, tanks, submarines. His goal? It was enough to read Mein Kampf, written in prison after the abortive coup of 1923 in Munich, to divine its contours: to become, once again, a global superpower, capable and desirous of reconquering lost territory, and others as well.
And the free world let it happen.
His army entered the Rhineland in 1936. A tangible reaction from France and Britain would have led to his fall. But since nothing happened, Hitler played on the "cowardice" of democratic principles. That cowardice was confirmed by the shameful Munich Agreement, by which France and Britain betrayed their alliance with Czechoslovakia and abandoned it like a dead weight. At every turn, Hitler derided his generals and their lack of audacity. In 1939 he stupefied the entire world by reaching a non-aggression pa ct with Stalin. Though they had never met, the two dictators appeared to get along perfectly; it was said that a sort of empathy existed between them. Poland paid the price of this unnatural "friendship"; cut in two, it ceased to exist as a state.
Hitler also counted on Stalin's naiveté. In a sense he was right. According to all witnesses, Stalin had total confidence in Hitler. To humour Hitler's extreme anti-Semitic sensibilities, the Soviet hierarchy withdrew certain Jews, such as Maxim Litvinov, the Soviet Foreign Minister, from the international scene. Stalin's order to honour the commercial agreements between the two countries was scrupulously executed, at all levels, until the beginning of hostilities: the day of German aggression, one still saw Soviet trains stuffed with raw materials heading toward German factories. Was Hitler shrewder than Stalin? Certainly he was more tenacious than his French and British adversaries. Winston Churchill was the only man of state who unmasked Hitler immediately and refused to let himself be duped by Hitler's repeated promises that this time he was making his last territorial demand."
So it would be totally wrong to presume that Hitler was always hated by the people. The people of Germany of his time certainly loved him, which is why they listened to his fanatic haranguing with rapt attention and then voted his National Socialist Party to power. Did the German people commit a suicidal mistake by pledging their allegiance to the devil incarnate? How could the German people be carried away in such a wholesale manner by the cheap and irrational demagogy of a paranoid?
Sometimes it so happens in the life of a nation that they select the wrong people as their saviour out of desperation. The post-World War I Germany was certainly in a desperate situation. The defeated German people were already humiliated by the shameful and torturous conditions of the Versailles Pact and the compensations they were being forced to pay by the allied powers. People were desperate, as they had no jobs, the rate of inflation was the highest in history (in fact money lost its buying power in Germany of those days) and the world around was so cruel. So the Germans were waiting for a messiah to deliver them. But the messiah they ultimately chose, proved to be a devil in the deliverer's garb. It would be really unfair to blame all the German people of that time for the coming of the Armageddon.
Hitlers are not strange creatures born only once in a blue moon on this Earth. Given the appropriate conditions, the most inconsequential person can turn into a Hitler. Every nation has witnessed this phenomenon of how Hitlers come out of the blue in times of crisis. The fanatics throwing bombs at shrines and peaceful gatherings of people are nothing but Hitlers of a different breed. The militants and terrorists who kill women, children and innocent people and commit arsons during communal riots are nothing but the ghosts of Hitler. The bullies, terrorists and felons, who are making the lives of the peace loving people hell every moment, everywhere are but smaller versions of the infamous Hitler. Every one of these smaller tyrants has the potential to grow into a real Hitler. But they only need the suitable environment to grow.
When the common people are denied a normal life, when frustration runs deep and destroys people's belief in themselves, when intolerance and uncertainties reign supreme over social psyche, it is then that the would-be Hitlers begin to raise their ugly heads.
Who knows where the next Hitler is waiting in the wings at the moment to swoop down on the unsuspecting and the innocent!