There are few historical figures that intrigue me like Hitler. Yes, Uncle Adolf himself. But before anyone unsubscribes in disgust, please let me explain.
I say this not to suggest that I’m pro-the very man who history rightly regards as the 20th century’s most awful, but that he fascinates me as a spiritual case study. I’ve lost entire weekends, laying on the couch mainlining doco after doco, trying to understand what could have possibly motivated him.
In my 41 years on the planet, it’s questionable as to whether I’ve learned terribly much, but if I’ve learned anything, I’d round it down to three simple attentions.
Firstly, that emotions cannot be experienced compartmentally, that all someone can feel is everything at once. Explaining why an unhealed abused child, presently in his 50’s, gets out of his car and bashes his fellow driver within an inch of his life, simply because he didn’t let him in from a side street. The reaction is less motivated by the actual event, than the event having played the part of a match being flicked into a river of anger, accumulated in the subject from infancy to present day.
Secondly, is that we feel so much more than we know, or could ever dream of being able to put into words. The fact that I didn’t understand what I was feeling at age 10 didn’t mean I felt any less. I can remember the complexities of my emotions back then being little less intense than my emotions at ages 20, 30 and 40. Although my capacity to put the emotional spaghetti into words is, today, tenfold on what it was then, should it become a hundredfold in ten years from now, I’ll better comprehend just how limited I was today. It is truly a mountain without a summit.
And thirdly, that no matter how full our belly, metaphorically that is, we are seldom not hungry for more.
The point of these attentions is to underline the sobering reality of our spirituality. That no one, anywhere, any age, is getting out of the Earth School without doing the hard yards of internal landscaping.
I’ve heard it said that all souls reside on a spiritual spectrum, ranging from destruction to enlightenment. At the positive end, those invested in their internality, is the likes of Buddha, the mere mortal claimed to have voluntarily departed his body once fully enlightened. Some of his nearby neighbours are distinguished others, such as Gandhi and Jesus Christ, no doubt. But at the misguided end, those intoxicated by power, and the need to change the world they live in—in order to make themselves feel better—is our old mate, Hitler.
Irrespective of position, all residents on the spectrum are motivated by the same thing, the desire—consciously or unconsciously—to be loved. Hitler would have done well to buy a pair of runners, do some push-ups, or purge his demons by way of eating a fruit salad on Sunday nights. But his anxious and self-serving plight, one that resulted in the deaths of 62 million people—and a good portion of them German—was no less motivated by his need to feel loved and of value.
Some say his desire for perfect order was unconsciously motivated by his mother’s pristine housecleaning. That he, like her, was trying to keep things in order, alphabetical, stowed at 90-degree angles and so on.
Midway through WW2, a team of American psychologists was put together to create a mental map of Hitler—based on his past behaviour—through which they could determine his motives, future tactics, and the ultimate outcome of the war. The team concluded that Hitler was a man so far gone that even if he won the war he’d never know satisfaction, yet, if denied his ultimate victory, the world would come to know the very definition of toys being thrown out of the pram. Hitler’s final order, to burn Germany to the ground so the allies would inherit nothing but dust, certainly confirmed it. Fortunately, his generals had the sense to see through the drivel, and it was never carried out.
If there’s a point to this article, as I write its closing paragraph, it’s that I’ll never cease to be fascinated by the destruction one man’s incapacity to journey inward can lead to.
By David Kerrigan