HITLER'S FIRST WAR: Adolf Hitler, the Men of the List Regiment, and the First World War, Thomas Weber, Oxford University Press, New York, 2010, 427 pages, $19.95.
In a popular and academic world where books on, about, and concerning Hitler have become a cottage industry, it would be logical to conclude that-absent a cache of hidden, genuine documents-everything that could be written about Hitler has already been written. Treatments on him range from the purely factual to the purely hypothetical, and in quality from superb to puerile: Hitler as the architect of the Holocaust, Hitler the war leader, Hitler as explained by Freudian analysis, Hitler as a social phenomenon, and so many more. The idea that anyone could again cover this familiar ground and make new discoveries is beyond expectation. Yet that is precisely what Thomas Weber does in Hitler's First War. He has made an authentic and important contribution.
As Weber points out, the period of Hitler's service as a soldier in the 16th Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment (RIR 16) is the crucible. He developed here a sentimental attachment to Germany and political ideas. More significantly, he soon manipulated the facts of his service to establish the image of the Frontkampfer-the common soldier at the front, and the necessary nationalistic and fraternal associations that went along with it. Hitler's departure from the truth was substantive and subtle, with an understanding of what postwar people needed to remember-whether strictly true or not-and the growing pressure on surviving comrades to verify his slanted version of events as National Socialism gained prominence. Weber observes that though Hitler made frequent public use of his fellow soldier's testimonials, he remained deliberately aloof from their postwar fellowship, mirroring his solitary personality traits during the war itself.
"It was here-in solving the question of how such a war could be won and in identifying supposedly poisonous infl uences on the nation- that Hitler turned to his First World War experience for inspiration. …