In the 1920s, Hitler was convinced that Germany needed to attain an alliance with Italy; he was even more certain that Germany would eventually have to go to war with France again. 2 With respect to France, Hitler’s language was unmistakably direct and unmistakably hostile: ‘We are gagged, but even though we are defenceless, we are not afraid of a war with France’ (5 September 1920). 3 ‘Africa has its monkeys, Europe its French’ (6 March 1921). 4 ‘The inexorable mortal enemy of the German people is and remains France’ (mid-1920s). 5 ‘Just as before the year 1914, today also we can assume as unconditionally established for always that in any conflict involving Germany, regardless on what grounds, regardless for what reasons, France will always be our adversary. Whatever European combination may emerge in the future, France will always take part in them in a manner hostile to Germany’ (late 1920s). 6
‘Inexorably’, ‘unconditionally’ and ‘always’ the (‘mortal’) enemy—in Hitler’s mind there clearly was no room for any other consideration towards France than total and utter enmity. That said, Hitler’s views of France did not differ much from that held by many other Germans in the 1920s. France had not only been a leading member of the victorious Allies, it was seen moreover as particularly responsible for the harshest aspects of the Treaty of Versailles, and as such its main beneficiary and guardian. Loss of territory, occupation, disarmament, reparations—all of these repressive actions could be traced back to France. As if these measures had not been sufficiently onerous to the German population, France (and Belgium) then also ‘committed’ the particularly galling act of occupying the Ruhr in 1923.
When Hitler concluded that France’s final goal would ‘always be an attempt to seize possession of the Rhine border and to secure this water-course for France by means of a dismembered and shattered Germany’, 7 he articulated thoughts similar to those of other German nationalists