So, somehow, in my class today, the topic of Hitler came up. Two of my students insisted he was a genius. I don’t think they hold a properly informed view. Therefore, I’m going to present a case against the genius of Hitler, because I’m of the mind that the guy was a highly skilled politician, but that he did not have the genius necessary to offer a guiding philosophy to mankind.
So here goes…
Hitler was not the father of modern armored warfare. He just thought it was cool. The credit for fluid military operational thinking should be awarded to generals like Liddell Hart, Tukhachevsky, Zhukov, Rommel, and Guderian. Militarily, Hitler failed to understand the importance of naval actions, did not concentrate force properly in the Battle of Britain, thought he could get away with invading Russia, did not manage his reserves properly in what should have been a defensive war from 1943 forward, and felt that butlers should be exempt from conscription because they were supposedly essential workers. Not genius stuff, there.
A genius isn’t just someone that comes up with a lot of ideas. A genius is someone that is able to learn from mistakes. This guy Hitler was rigid in his thinking and kept thinking that he could repeat the victories of 1939 and 1940 when the preconditions necessary for those victories were no more. Time and again, at Kursk, at Lake Balaton, and at Bastogne, Hitler showed he was a tired old man, living in the past.
How about economic genius? Nope. Not really. He simply refused to pay Germany’s debts and made massive government expenditures on his military. By 1939, the nation was nearly bankrupt and on the verge of being unable to acquire sufficient resources for its survival at Hitler’s rate of spending. War became necessary to sustain the Nazi regime through stolen and coerced resources. That’s not genius, that’s simple pillaging. Any thug with a big club knows how to pillage.
Politically, Hitler borrowed fascism wholesale from Mussolini. He made it work in Germany, a testament to his political skills, but not to any sort of originality on his part. Hitler murdered many of his political rivals, which doesn’t speak too much to genius… it speaks more to his inability to control them or to create a coalition. Geniuses get buy-in from diverse groups. Mediocre thugs kill off their opponents.
How did he do in school? Poorly. His grades drifted and he had to repeat his finals in order to pass. Once he finished Realschule, he left education for good. This is not how geniuses typically roll. Yeah, he wrote books later on, but it takes perspiration to write books, not genius.
This guy had no clue about handling people. He confused disagreement with disloyalty. He was famous for firing people with principled talents and surrounding himself with political toadies. Looking to another time and day at Abraham Lincoln, I see a man that fired political toadies and who tried to surround himself with principled talents. It may be kinda “Captain Obvious” to say that Lincoln was smarter than Hitler, but there you go. I’ll say it, just to make sure it gets said. Lincoln’s behaviors have more of the elements of genius in them than Hitler’s. People who know me know that I’m not a great fan of Lincoln’s – I have been highly critical of that president on many occasions – but I can see him as a better thinker than Hitler.
Hitler was not a genius. He had some cleverness about him in certain capacities, but genius he was not. Unoriginal, meddlesome, and prone to using tantrums to get his way instead of reasoned arguments. I could go on about his numerous military blunders in WW2, but the biggest blunder he made was in starting a war in the first place.