Until the fourth week of June 1941, World War II, for the most part, had been fought in a fairly conventional way. To be sure, Poland was an exception where the Nazis had already killed some of the Polish higher intelligentsia and by the spring of 1940 had deported 128,000 Poles and Polish Jews. But even these atrocities did not approach the genocidal character of the post–1941 period. German bombers had destroyed central Rotterdam in May 1940. British bombers had initiated the deliberate bombardment of German civilians in August 1940, but few German civilians were killed before 1942. The Luftwaffe destroyed much of Belgrade at the start of the German invasion of Yugoslavia in April 1941. Otherwise, however, for nearly twentytwo months the war had been “conventional” and relatively free of atrocities, especially the intentional killing of civilians. Traditional discipline had sufficed to keep German soldiers in line. When they occasionally crossed that line and engaged in looting or rape they were punished by their officers.
Aside from Hitler’s enormous miscalculation in starting the war to begin with, his management of the fighting had been rational—given his goals—and at times even brilliant. He had erred in letting so many Allied troops escape his grasp at Dunkirk and in allowing his emotions to get the better of him in retaliating against the bombing of Berlin. The failure of the Battle of Britain was a clear setback, but the foremost British military historian of the twentieth century, B. H. Liddell Hart, has admitted that without American assistance, Britain eventually would have been strangled by German submarines. Hitler undoubtedly acted rationally in making every effort to keep the United States out of the war, even tolerating U.S. aid to Great Britain and a num-