Second Thirty Years War - Criticism - The Abnormality of Hitler's Plans

The Abnormality of Hitler's Plans

Hitler’s long-term plans conditionally willed the war, and his foreign and economic policies in power had all led in this direction. Hudson claims that Hitler was determined to go through with the attack on Poland whether he deterred the Western powers or not and Reynolds believes that his actions were such that any sane man would expect to lead to war. This was a calculated risk, not a miscalculation or blunder. Appeasement, however, was a miscalculation, based on ignorance of his long-term plans, exemplified by Chamberlain’s belief until Munich that Hitler could still be appeased by colonial concessions and it was normal for Chamberlain to work for peace until the last moment, given the horrors of WWI and the fear of the bomber. Likewise, when Cowling criticises Chamberlain for caring more about domestic policy, national self-interest and the Conservative Party’s electoral fortunes, this is normal behaviour for a democratic leader, a sentiment echoed by Schmidt. Trevor-Roper believes that a normal German nationalist would have been happy with the 1914 borders, and that no other leader would attempt genocide for Lebensraum, which challenges Taylor’s and Fischer’s beliefs. Dray believes that normality is crucial to causation. He cites the example of a drain flooding due to a storm – it is the abnormal conditions, the flood, that caused the failure. Hitler’s plans threw a spanner in the works of the international system. Had the international system broken down due to the normal problems, such as national rivalry or economic collapse, then we could say that war was caused by the system’s failure, but it had worked perfectly acceptably until Hitler’s rise to power. This is the abnormality, and thus the sole cause of the war. Dray says that what is normal is a value judgement on the part of the historian. However, most would agree that acting within the confines of limited knowledge in search of the most likely peaceful and beneficial, long-term prospects for one’s country is normal in political leaders. Gambling everything on a war of genocide is not.

The necessary conditions leading to the war started in 1939 cannot be individually weighted counter-factually in a multi-causal world, and Dray believes these are mere background conditions while Hitler’s long-term plans, which made war inevitable, are the sole cause. Versailles created an imbalance in the international system, but this was insignificant compared to Hitler’s actions. As shown, Hinsey is right that the other powers could not justify resisting Hitler up to, and including, Munich, but had to resist if he went further. As Hitler continued exploiting the imbalance for his own ends, it is Hitler’s long-planned exploitation, not the imbalance itself, that caused the war. Dray believes normality is the criterion that makes Hitler’s actions post-Munich go from non-causal to causal status. While Hitler’s earlier demands were seen as legitimate grievances, his long-planned post-Munich demands were excessive and were therefore abnormal. Had war had broken out up to and including Munich, then, Hinsey believes, Hitler would not be the cause. Dray points out that whether this would have been instead the imbalance or the actions of other individuals is an unknowable counter-factual. But after Munich, Hitler alone becomes the cause, and therefore the Thirty Years' War thesis may be considered invalid.

Appeasement when long-term peace is still a possibility, however remote, is normal, as is resistance once national existence is threatened. Locarno shows the international system was working normally, though it could not cope with Hitler’s planned war of Lebensraum in the East, which as admitted in Mein Kampf, necessitated defeating France first. German support for peaceful revision in 1936 and reluctance for war in 1938 is also normal behaviour, while Hitler’s early plans that Germany acquire lebensraum or cease to exist are not. The reactions of his opponents forced him to telescope his economic and military plans, but his long-term plans allowed flexibility in exploiting favourable conditions. Hitler’s plans to gamble everything on victory or defeat, on “to be or not to be” were sufficient to cause war. Political, military and economic constraints coupled with ignorance of his plans meant appeasement was normal until Munich, a rational strategy and normal continuation of British diplomatic traditions, while the realization of his planned intentions meant resistance was normal in 1939. Hitler planned to use peace offers as cover in his step-by-step plan, and planned not to attack Czechoslovakia in 1938 without an excuse, denied him by Munich. As flexibility and opportunism were part of his plans, peace until 1938 may be attributed in part to Hitler’s long-term plans, and in part to the non-causal, normal behaviour of appeasers acting in ignorance of his plans. As such, the Thirty Year War thesis is disputed by Dray and Hinsey, along with Henig, Bell, Rich, Hildebrand, Hillgruber and Baumont, amongst others. Hitler's plans may have been formulated in response to Versailles but they went far beyond simple revision. He was simply, like any politician, working within the contemporary situation, and there is absolutely no reason why the outcome of the First World War should have led to a person with the aims of Hitler gaining power in Germany. As Bell shows, it was not World War I that caused World War II, "the depression bought Hitler, and Hitler bought the war."

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