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

By John L. Snell | Go to book overview

HITLER'S PLAN FOR WAR REAFFIRMED

HUGH R. TREVOR-ROPER

It is possible that A. J. P. Taylor chief motive in publishing The Origins of the Second World War was to reawaken historical debate about the coming of war in 1939. This and other possible motives are suggested by Hugh R. Trevor-Roper in this reading, which reproduces in full a substantial review of the Taylor book. Whatever the historian's motive, limits imposed by scholarly methodology--including respect for critically established evidence--must not be disregarded by a responsible scholar. Taylor has clearly disregarded scholarly canons, argues the author of this review. In a sense Trevor-Roper is defending his own position against implied attack by the Taylor volume. For in his colorful account of The Last Days of Hitler ( 1947) and other writings, Trevor- Roper has interpreted Hitler as a man possessed by a demonic spirit or psychic disorder, whose guilt for the outbreak of the Second World War was unique and beyond question. Trevor-Roper is Regius Professor of Modern History at Oxford University. How convincing is his criticism of the Taylor volume? How convincing is the Taylor volume in the light of Trevor-Roper's criticism?

IT is over twenty years since the war began. A generation has grown up which never knew the 1930's, never shared its passions and doubts, was never excited by the Spanish civil war, never boiled with indignation against the "appeasers," never lived in suspense from Nuremberg Rally to Nuremberg Rally, awaiting the next hysterical outburst, the next clatter of arms, from the megalomaniac in Berlin. Those of us who knew those days and who try to teach this new generation are constantly made aware of this great gulf between us. How can we communicate across such a gulf the emotional content of those years, the mounting indignation which finally convinced even the "appeasers" themselves that there could be no peace with Hitler, and caused the British people, united in pacifism in 1936, to go, in 1939, united into war? For it was not the differing shades of justice in Germany's claims upon the Rhineland, Austria, the Sudetenland, Prague, and Danzig which caused men who had swallowed the first of these annexations to be increasingly exasperated by those which followed and take up arms against the last. It was a changing mood, a growing conviction that all such claims were but pretexts under which Hitler pursued not justice or self-determination for Germany but world-conquest, and that, now or never, he must be stopped. And even across the gulf such a mood must be conveyed by those who teach history to those who learn it: for it is an element in history no less important than the mere facts.

Or is it? Mr. A. J. P. Taylor, it seems, does not think so. He sees the gulf all right, and he wishes to speak to those on the other side of it; but in order to do so, he has decided to lighten the weight he must carry with him. Stripping himself of

____________________
H. R. Trevor-Roper, "A. J. P. Taylor, Hitler, and the War", Encounter, XVII ( July, 1961), 88-96. Reprinted by permission of Professor Trevor-Roper, his literary agent ( A. D. Peters), and the editors of Encounter.

-88-

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