Throughout his whole political career, Adolf Hitler always viewed and presented himself as a soldier. Wearing a simple uniform with an implicit rank of a private (not even a corporal). Unlike his archenemy Joseph Stalin, he flatly refused a promotion to the rank of a general (let alone Field Marshal), although he earned that promotion many times over.
He was a patriot of Germany, not Austria (he always believed that the latter must be a part of and governed by the former) so he categorically refused to serve the Austro-Hungarian Empire (dodging the draft which almost landed him in jail) but immediately volunteered to serve in the German (more precisely, Bavarian) Army as soon as the Great War broke out in 1914.
In a civilian life he was a miserable failure, but in the Army he fit right in. Which was unexpected (to put it mildly), because not once during his 25 years of life he seriously (or even not-so-seriously) considered joining the Armed Forces (not even the German Imperial Army).
But he did fit right in. More than that, right after joining the 1st Company of the Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment 16 (later the famous List Regiment) he was promoted from Schütze (Private) to Gefreiter (Lance Corporal).
He spent the whole war on the Western Front, earning an impressive number of decorations – Iron Cross, Second Class; Bavarian Cross of Military Merit, Third Class with Swords; Iron Cross, First Class (rarely awarded to a mere corporal) and the Bavarian Medal of Military Service, Third Class.
He flatly refused to receive any decorations for commanding the Wehrmacht during the Second World War (although definitely earned the Knight’s Cross – with Oak Leaves, Swords and possible even Diamonds). Which does say something about his moral code.
More than that, after the Great War the only decorations Hitler regularly wore were the Wound Badge in Black and Iron Cross First Class.
In short, Adolf Hitler was a war hero. He faithfully and bravely served Germany on the hellish battlefields of the First World War. He was a ‘runner’, a courier on the front lines. Which was a very important – and very risky – occupation.
Important because these couriers delivered only important or very important messages – and hundreds of lives and major tactical successes often depended on whether the courier delivers the message in time. Risky because the enemy obviously knew that – so the runner was a prime target for enemy snipers and even mortar or artillery fire.
Adolf Hitler received the Iron Cross both Second and First Class – which was a fairly rare award for an enlisted man. Especially for an Austrian volunteer in the Imperial German Army.
Which means that he really accomplished something really outstanding (actually, by delivering a very important message in time he saved hundreds of lives of German soldiers).
Interestingly enough, he received this award on a recommendation by his superior officer Lieutenant Hugo Gutmann who was… Jewish. In addition to his decorations, he was praised by his superiors for his outstanding bravery.
According to Adolf Hitler, the Great War for him was “the greatest of all experiences” and “the happiest time of his life”. Which was undoubtedly true and correct.
Contrary to, alas, a very widespread belief, Adolf Hitler had his own moral code. He not always lived by it (few people do), but sometimes he made decisions (even vitally important decisions) on this moral code of his.
In other words, he based these decisions not on practical political (or military) considerations but on what was the right thing to do according to his moral code. Code that he developed mostly in the trenches on the Western Front of the Great War.
But not only his moral code. Although later he claimed that he developed almost all his Weltanschauung (worldview) during his times of hardship in Vienna in 1908-13, like many other claims of his, it was simply not true.
In reality, the core of his Weltanschauung was formed by the German Army and the Great War. More specifically, these two forces instilled in Adolf Hitler the following key principles that formed his guide in his political career:
- Germany is fighting the existential war with alien nations (races); either it wins the war and destroys its enemies or they win the war and destroy Germany completely
- Every German citizen must either fight for his Fatherland “in the trenches” or diligently work at home (the latter is just another way of fighting the war)
- Every citizen who evades this holy responsibility (let alone works for the enemy or against the government) is a traitor and MUST be promptly and ruthlessly put to death
- During the time of “peace” Germany is fighting a “cold” war which will inevitably escalate to the “hot” one
- The German State must become a one giant army; consequently, every political, government and public organization must become a paramilitary one – complete with uniforms, ranks, banners, rituals, etc.
- The German State must be governed according to the military-style Führerprinzip
- The most important organizations in the nation are the military (Wehrmacht) and the security services (Orpo, Kripo, Gestapo, SD, etc.)
- The most important sector of the national economy is the military-industrial complex