Remember when Hitler was Time magazine’s Man of the Year?

No stranger to controversial journalism, Time’s pick for its 1938 designation has gone down in infamy. While tempting to paint the decision as a poor bet on the wrong horse, the title was more a nod to the fearsome storm the publication accurately predicted was on its way.

Recall the American temperament of the day: the Hitler problem was far away in Germany, and most US citizens were happily ignorant of exactly how quickly and how violently the final solution had already come to fruition.

From Time, January 2, 1939: “Greatest single news event of 1938 took place on September 29, when four statesmen met at the Führerhaus, in Munich, to redraw the map of Europe. The three visiting statesmen at that historic conference were Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain of Great Britain, Premier Edouard Daladier of France, and Dictator Benito Mussolini of Italy. But by all odds the dominating figure at Munich was the German host, Adolf Hitler.”

Calling him “Führer of the German people, Commander-in-Chief of the German Army, Navy & Air Force, Chancellor of the Third Reich,” the magazine went on to write: “Herr Hitler reaped on that day at Munich the harvest of an audacious, defiant, ruthless foreign policy he had pursued for five and a half years. He had torn the Treaty of Versailles to shreds. He had rearmed Germany to the teeth— or as close to the teeth as he was able. He had stolen Austria before the eyes of a horrified and apparently impotent world.”

The piece ended with a stunning conclusion, now chilling in its accuracy.

The dynamics of dictatorship are such that few who have studied Fascism and its leaders can envision sexless, restless, instinctive Adolf Hitler rounding out a mellow middle age in his mountain chalet at Berchtesgaden while a satisfied German people drink beer and sing folk songs. There is no guarantee that the have-not nations will go to sleep when they have taken what they now want from the haves. To those who watched the closing events of the year it seemed more than probable that the Man of 1938 may make 1939 a year to be remembered.

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