The Outbreak of the Second World War: Design or Blunder?

By John L. Snell | Go to book overview

HISTORY'S CASE AGAINST HITLER:
AN AMERICAN VIEW

RAYMOND J. SONTAG

Professor of history at the University of California ( Berkeley), Raymond J. Sontag won justified acclaim in the 1930's for a balanced account of the coming of World War I. It was especially fitting that a man of his competence in German diplomatic history was selected in 1946 to serve as United States representative on an American-British- French board of editors that was to select and publish captured documents of the German Foreign Office. Professor Sontag served as chief American editor from 1946 to 1949. With James A. Beddie, Sontag edited the documents the Department of State published in 1948 on Nazi-Soviet Relations, 1939-1941. Under able successors the documents on Germany's 1939 diplomacy were completely published in 1956. They provided a basis for an article by Sontag in Foreign Affairs, from which this reading is taken. Clearly and without resort to emotionalism, Sontag shows how Hitler pressed his Polish demands until he pushed himself and Europe into war.

HITLER freely admitted [before September, 1939] that his successes in the foreign field had been won by bluff. The conviction was general in Europe that the First World War had dangerously undermined European society and that another war would bring the structure to ruin, with Communism as the only gainer. The Soviet Union, sharing this conviction, was eager to stand clear so that it would not be involved in the general ruin. By exploiting fear of war Hitler had won much. He was confident that still more must be won by diplomacy before he could safely embark on war with the West.

Some day, Hitler recognized, Britain and France would be tempted to set limits to German power, even by war. In preparation for that day, he argued, Germany must not only strain her resources in military preparations; she must also win territory sufficient to feed her people during a long war -- for war with the Western democracies would be both long and hard. Colonies would be of no value; their resources would be lost by blockade just when they were needed. The territory must be won in Eastern Europe. There, German skill could increase agricultural production, and the non-German population would provide a labor pool for farm and factory. The moment was, he believed, auspicious. Russia could not interfere: the purges had shaken the country and deprived the Red Army of its leaders; Stalin must fear a victorious army no less than military defeat. Fear of Russia would hold Poland on the side of Germany so long as exactions from Poland were counterbalanced by concessions to Polish territorial greed. Italy and Japan were so completely estranged from the Western democracies that they must follow the German lead. British and especially French rearmament was only beginning,

____________________
From Raymond J. Sontag, "The Last Months of Peace", 1939, Foreign Affairs, XXXV ( April, 1957), pp. 508-515, 519-524. Reprinted by permission of Foreign Affairs. Copyrighted by the Council on Foreign Relations, Inc., New York.

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