As a child during the Great Depression, Liddy quivered with glee at the sound of Adolf Hitler’s voice on the radio. As he recounted in his autobiography (appropriately titled Will), the Fuhrer’s words filled him with hope and delivered him from fear.
Hitler’s voice called out calmly, in low, dispassionate tones, but as he spoke of what his people would accomplish, his voice rose in pitch and tempo. Once united, the German people could do anything, surmount any obstacle, rout any enemy, achieve fulfillment. He would lead them; there would be one people, one nation, one leader. Here was the very antithesis of fear — sheer animal confidence and power of will. He sent an electric current through my body and, as the massive audience thundered its absolute support and determination, the air on the back of my neck rose and I realized suddenly that I had stopped breathing.
Hitler taught Liddy that if nations could be “lifted out of weakness,” so might a puny asthmatic boy like himself. To condition his body and soul for a long life of struggle against weakness, Liddy embarked on a fascist-inspired campaign of personal growth. He stood defiantly on railroad tracks, challenging oncoming trains to run him over; he scaled trees during storms and baited the lightning; he killed chickens and ate rats to prove that he could overcome his aversion to death and his fear of vermin.
I killed and killed and killed, and, finally, I could kill efficiently and without emotion or thought. I was satisfied; when my turn to go to war came, I’d be ready. I could kill as I could run — like a machine.
Though Liddy served two years as an artillery officer during the Korean war, he never left stateside and thus never got the chance to kill actual humans. This missed opportunity proved to be an enormous disappointment.
Two decades later, while working as one of Richard Nixon’s resident goons, Liddy’s bloodlust was further thwarted. Though the US continued to wage war against the people of Vietnam, it lacked the will to bomb the dams along the Red River — as Liddy would have preferred — and flood the country. His plans to bomb the Brookings Institution and kill journalists like Jack Anderson were similarly tabled, and Liddy was reduced to planning mere burglaries and scheming to tap the telephone wires of political enemies. Arrested and convicted for his role in planning the Watergate break-in, Liddy endured nearly five years in prison. After his release, he reinvented himself as a novelist, sometime actor and right-wing radio host, where he could apply the rhetorical skills he learned as a child and warn the fatherland of dangers to come.