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Mr. Smith was a teacher and had his son as one of his pupils. After Erwin asked his father a question during class, Mr. Smith eventually told his son a dangerous theory. Official history books being full of contradictions and mysteries, Mr. Smith believed that humanity's memory has been wiped out at some point, which might explain there is no story or memories of the Walls construction. This theory cost his life to Mr. Smith but encouraged Erwin to seek out the truth about the world's origins and prove his father's guess was correct.
Later on, Erwin joined the army then the Survey Corps.
As a squad leader, Erwin comes up with the Long-Distance Enemy Scouting Formation as a new tactic for the Survey Corps. The General Zackly and the Commander Shadis are impressed by this strategy but the General has to deny Survey Corps to do so, claiming that anti-Survey Corps feelings are strong within deputies chamber.
After Eren has been captured by the Armored Titan and the Colossus Titan, Erwin leads a group composed of Survey Corps and Military Police Brigade members. In order to weaken the Armored Titan's defenses, Erwin manages to lead a horde of Titans towards him. He looses his right arm and around 60% of the soldiers perish in the operation nevertheless they were successful.
Erwin has a discussion with Commander Pixis when he states his intention is to overthrow the current King. While waiting a certain information, Erwin tells Pixis about the conversation he had with his father as a child and resulted in the death of Mr. Smith. After Nifa arrives with the proof that the Reiss family is the true royal family, Erwin reveals his plan is to put Historia on the throne.