People going into politics often proclaim that they “want to make a difference.” The story of Adolf Hitler suggests this may not always be a wonderful idea. Probably no individual has ever made a greater difference, for ill (though Stalin and Mao have claims). It is true that the circumstances of Germany’s defeat in 1918 made the country ripe for an extremist takeover. But Hitler’s dark rise to power, and the way he wielded that power, were personal and unique. In that sense, the man himself “owns” World War II and the Holocaust. He believed in, planned, and enacted them both.

It is natural, therefore, that people have never stopped asking “what if” questions about Hitler. What if he had never lived? Or what if he had not been refused admission by the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna?

Here is my “what if” question: On October 29, 1914, my great-uncle, Gillachrist Moore, was a 20-year-old British officer under German attack in the First Battle of Ypres. “In this war one is always under fire…” he wrote to his sister, “By Jove one will know how to enjoy life if one pulls through this…I’m sure my men would appreciate a jolly old cake.”

On the same day, in the same battle, the 25-year-old private Adolf Hitler took part in that attack. He, too, wrote a letter. Shells “uprooted the mightiest of trees and covered everything in a horrible,

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