Norman Ohler is a German novelist, who in 2015 published a striking and notable work of non-fiction. It was translated into English as Blitzed, and that is the book I’ve been reading over the last week.
Bltized is – to simplify – hipster military history.
It’s a book of military history aimed squarely at irritating waster hipsters like myself: it’s the kind of book that nerdy men who haven’t grown up properly enough to stop thinking that drugs are cool but have grown up enough to start thinking that military history is interesting.
Straight out of uber-hipster Berlin into the hearts and minds of wanky little East London twats like myself.
It’s the kind of book for men who have dogs but not children to sit reading when hungover while their girlfriends (not wives) probably do something crafty or something in another room.
It’s the kind of book they tweet about reading because they feel both cool and a little ashamed for reading it. “Don’t worry, guys – I may be reading a non-fiction book about the fucking Nazis, but it contains more drugs than any of my gap years”. That kind of thing.
This kind of thing:
Reading that book about crystal meth in the Third Reich. Is it meant to make me want crystal meth?
— Scott Manley Hadley (@Scott_Hadley) January 18, 2017
Walk the dog / do some admin / tidy the house / read about nazis on crystal meth / watch Search Party #idontworkmondays
— Scott Manley Hadley (@Scott_Hadley) January 23, 2017
Well, let’s be honest: I fucking loved Blitzed. And I’m kinda ashamed of that, because it’s really kinda pretty trashy… (ASIDE: if you haven’t watched Search Party, do it.)
Ohler used to be a novelist, and one very much feels like Blitzed started off an idea for fiction. Where Inglorious Basterds asks, “What would happen if someone killed Hitler?”, Blitzed asks the even more contentious (given H’s clean-cut reputation): “What if Hitler was an absolute massive fucking waster? And what if the whole of Nazi Germany was pounding gallons of fucking smack, coke, crystal meth, benzedrine, mescaline and – of course – coffee ‘n’ booze – the whole way thru the war?”
What if, Ohler asks, Nazi Germany harnessed the love of party from the infamous Weimar Republic1 and got all the soldiers, all the generals, all the politicians and scientists and doctors fucking high as the bloody Luftwaffe and then let them loose on the world?
What if the failure of the Nazi state was as much a result of constant and hysterical intoxication as it was the fault of the regime’s corrupt and corrupting ideology?
What if Hitler was on a morphine high when he made the poor decisions that allowed the mass escape of enemy soldiers from Dunkirk?
What if he was coked up to the eyeballs when everything was turning to shit and thus blustered on as if Germany was still winning the war?
What if he was on crystal meth daily, what if he was in serious withdrawal in the Bunker during his last days, and what if he had so many injections of weird tinctures made from the mushed up organs of dead animals stirred up with amphetamines and opiates that his whole “clean-living” thing was as justifiable as my occasional claims that I’m some kind of philosopher/writer/depressive savant or something.
Hitler – Ohler argues – was a fraud, a dirty, waster, bastard who got everything he deserved. Ohler’s argument is fun, is deeply engaging and – this is the crucial bit – is really fucking cool.
Blitzed is a cool book. The graphic design of the cover and the constant references to droogs means that it is definitely a “cool” book.
Nazis are evil, yes, but they’re also iconic, especially now, as the far right rises again. Nazis dressed well – obligatory Hugo Boss fact – and they were ruthless. They were aggressive dickheads who were nasty and opinionated and cruel and fucked up. But – according to Blitzed – they were also massive wasters, just like Ohler’s presumed readers in my age demographic and also like the thousands of stoner history undergrads who’ll be handing in dissertations ripped from his pages for decades. This is a book written by someone cool aimed at cool readers. For proof of how cool Ohler is, look up this film he was involved in writing, and notice how cool all the cast and crew you’ve heard of are. This is a cool book for cool people. Michael Stipe is mentioned in the Acknowledgements. There you go.
Ohler details at length the history of Germany’s pharmaceutical development, the normalcy of cocaine and morphine use in the first world war and the rapid development of artifical stimulants and narcotics (uppers and downers) as international sanctions slowly made the purchase of the usual raw materials (poppies and coca) more difficult. Germany’s scientists, though, were great, and soon masses of new hot shit was being pumped out of the factories. Ohler names names and weights and recipes, he visits abandons factories and he describes the evolution of many now infamous substances. He posits that Blitzkrieg was a direct result of the soldiers and officers being fired up on Pervitin, an “energy pill” that was basically crystal meth. The rapid capture of France is conveyed, in this retelling, as nothing more than a wasted Teutonic adventure gone horrendously right.
The ideas and the theories are backed up with some evidence (in reality all the drugs stuff comes from a small selection of a HUGE bibliography), and Ohler regularly interjects into his book to point out that lots of historians disagree with his conclusions, that there is evidence to the contrary of a lot of what he’s saying, and that it’s possible to look at some of the evidence he himself actually uses and take a completely opposite interpretation. There was a review in the Guardian that SLAMMED Ohler for the sensationalism of his text and for its implicit moral problem: i.e. the forgiveness of all genocidal wrongs due to mass crystal meth abuse. Ohler, who (let’s remember) has written predominantly fiction before this writes a great book, knowing that his theory can be argued with. He touches on other people’s ideas that contradict his (i.e. Hitler was developing Parkinson’s Disease in the Bunker, not withdrawal symptoms), but brushes them aside. This – I think – is how outlandish theories are meant to work, right? There is evidence to support Ohler’s claims, but not much of it and not enough to outweigh the evidence that disproves it. That, anyway, seems to be the general historical consensus.
Personally, I thought Blitzed was a fucking riot, and made me feel pretty good about my own unhealthy lifestyle, when compared to all these bloody meth-popping, smack-dropping, coke-hopping Nazis. Göring was a heroin addict, Hitler was higher than your messiest friend when you were a student, all the soldiers and stormtroopers and pilots and torturers were pilled up and acting out.
Blitzed is engaging and enjoyable, and a fab piece of – effectively – alternative history. Maybe it was all true and Nazi Germany was the afterparty to the famous party of the Weimar Republic (and we all know that afterparties are wilder, messier and more likely to need to be shut down by outside forces than actual parties). Ohler is persuasive and engaged, and there’s nothing us depressed hipsters with “borderline” addictions love to read about more than people who’re doing even worse than we are. Blitzed is fun and easy to read, makes wild allegations about famous people and is all about fucking drugs, yeah?
It’s a cool book. It’s fun, crucially, but also interesting and feels factual, even though it acknowledges it might not be. I’d recommend it, especially to other fading partymen circa age 30. Great fun (that word again) and often hilarious, though maybe the latter is unintentional. Worth a look.
PS – excellently translated by Shaun Whiteside. I’ve got in trouble for not mentioning translators before.