Was Hitler a Riddle? Western Democracies and National Socialism

Was Hitler a Riddle? Western Democracies and National Socialism

Was Hitler a Riddle? Western Democracies and National Socialism

Was Hitler a Riddle? Western Democracies and National Socialism

Synopsis

Was Hitler A Riddle? is the first comparative study of how British, French, and American diplomats serving in Germany assessed Hitler and the Nazi movement. These assessments provided the governments in London, Paris, and Washington with ample information about the ruthlessness of the authorities in Germany and of their determination to conquer vast stretches of Europe. Had the British, French, and American leaders acted on this information and taken measures to rein in Hitler, the history of the twentieth century would have been far less bloody: the second world war might well have been avoided, the Soviet Union would not have expanded into central and eastern Europe, and the world would have been spared the Cold War.

Excerpt

On September 27, 1937, just before leaving his post in Berlin for Vienna, the highly regarded journalist William I. Shirer noted with alarm that “there is little understanding of the Third Reich, what it is, what it is up to, where it is going either at home or elsewhere abroad.” Shirer granted that the situation in Germany was “complex” and “confusing,” but in his view the thrust of Hitler’s policies could not be doubted. In Mein Kampf, published in two parts in 1925 and 1926, Hitler had “vowed … to seek world domination,” but not many people in Germany or abroad at all familiar with his ideas took him at his word. Part of the problem was that four years after the Nazi assumption of power there still was “no decent translation” of the work in English or French, which Shirer attributed to Hitler’s refusal to permit an accurate rendering of the text because “it would shock many in the West.” Neville Chamberlain, a leading figure in the British government who became prime minister in May 1937, about ten months before Germany launched its expansionist program by annexing Austria, had not read Mein Kampf and seemed unaware of Hitler’s declaration that “Germany will either be a world power, or there will be no Germany.” As a result, Chamberlain never understood that Hitler was moved as much by emotion as by rational calculation. Such ignorance of the German leader’s intentions and temperament was dangerous, Shirer warned, because the country “is stronger than her enemies realize.”

Even statesmen with extensive experience in foreign affairs misunderstood National Socialism and failed to grasp that Hitler posed a menace to world order. Among them, David Lloyd George was the most prominent; for many years a leading member of Parliament devoted to progressive so-

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