A Dog’s Best Friend
There was a time in America, within living memory, when Adolf Hitler was treated by the most popular magazines as a worthy man and a worthy leader, even after WWII had begun. And still today, a logical person ought to realize that Hitler could not have been wrong about everything, if only by accident. Yet doublethink about Hitler is so ingrained that people refuse to give him the least credit or respect, lest they be seen as sympathizers.
Take, for example, this short blog entry from a worthy animal lover. Other than inconsistent spelling of Hitler’s first name, all but the final paragraph yield a reasonably well-constructed, mostly sympathetic account of a small but significant event in Hitler’s life as a young man at war.
In World War I, it was common to find terriers in the trenches where they served three purposes: messengers (this was before radios, walkie-talkies and telephones), mortar detectors (a dog can hear an incoming shell long before a human can), and gas detectors (a dog can smell a drifting cloud of mustard or chlorine gas long before a human can).
The picture above shows one of the most famous and infamous veterans of World War I — Adolph Hitler who was gassed despite the Jack Russell dog to the far right. Young Adolph is the fellow at the far left with the ridiculous mustache under the “X”. In a later picture, Hitler insisted the dog be photographed sitting at his side.
Hitler’s terrier apparently had been the mascot of English soldiers and ventured out into “No Man’s Land” sometime in late January or early February of 1915 while chasing a rat. The dog jumped into a German trench where Adolf (himself a messenger) caught the Jack Russell terrier and decided to keep it. Hitler named the dog “Fuchsl” or Little Fox.
Adolph fed and taught Fuchsl tricks, and the Jack Russell terrier never left Adolf’s side until August of 1917 when the dog was stolen at a train station, apparently by a railroad official who earlier that day had offered Hitler 200 Marks for the terrier. Hitler said he would not take 200,000 Marks for the dog. “I can look at him like I look at a human being,” Adolph had written about the dog. “I am crazy about him.”
In 1918, in an incident that might have been avoided had his terrier remained with him, Hitler was temporarily blinded by a British gas attack in Flanders.
Though Hitler’s maniacal hatred, paranoia and obsession were already becoming self-evident during WWI, the loss of his dog and subsequent gassing may have contributed to his desire to scapegoat others for his–and his country’s–failures and defeats.
The contrast in the author’s tone and attitude between the last paragraph and the entire preceding blog entry could not be more striking. It’s interesting to consider the psychology behind this.
In simply stating the facts in the first five paragraphs, the writer cannot help but give us a picture of a man showing qualities of self-assertion (Fuchsl should be photographed beside Hitler; it was his dog), empathy (a man’s relationship to a dog, if he has one, which is the first question to examine, tells you almost everything you need to know about him, especially empathy), discipline (teaching Fuchsl), reciprocal loyalty, and devotion. The only personal detail even vaguely negative in those first five paragraphs is the touch of braggadocio Hitler exhibited in saying he would not take 200,000 marks for Fuchsl, even that is a sign of his devotion to the dog, and Hitler paid a high price for it, since it seems likely to have been the trigger that caused the railroad official to become resentful enough to steal the dog.
The main picture accompanying the blog entry is itself interesting. Most versions of it on the web have Hitler identified with the white ‘X.’ I have tried the following experiment several times: I have blacked out the ‘X’ and asked people to identify which soldier is Hitler. The propaganda picture of Hitler is so strong that most will pick out the short, slightly odd-looking man to the right of the dog. In fact of course, Hitler was not short, being at 5’9” of average height for a ‘mountain German’, and quite handsome in his youth.
Returning to the text: from his unconscious choice of words, the author does indeed seem to have bonded with this Hitler, a human being of qualities; he introduces him, appropriately enough, by his first and last names together and then, of eleven more times that Hitler is referred to by name in the first five paragraphs, the author uses his first name five times. This is noteworthy because it is hardly ever done, by anyone at any level, from boys playing war on the street to morally simplified youth shouting at each other on the net, to academic discussion. Even I, an admirer of Adolf Hitler, would almost never refer to him by his first name alone; not within the essay form. It shows the author feels a bond with Hitler as a fellow human being and dog lover.
And yet in the end, the author feels compelled to return reflexively to what he has been taught; somehow, self-assertion, empathy, discipline, reciprocal loyalty, and devotion have, without a shred of reason, turned to “maniacal hatred, paranoia and obsession.”
Ironically, even within the context of mainstream opinion about Hitler, the author is wrong; mainstream historians agree that the WW1 record of Hitler indeed portrays qualities like discipline, reciprocal loyalty, devotion and bravery, since he is known to have been admired by his fellows, to have welcomed and volunteered for dangerous duty, and of course, to have won one of the highest decorations for bravery it was possible to attain at his rank.
But none of that matters. One has been taught that Hitler must always consist mainly of “maniacal hatred, paranoia and obsession,” and so it must stand in the end. Of course, at that point, he can no longer be ‘Adolf’, and is back to being ‘Hitler.’