A World in Flames: A Short History of the Second World War in Europe and Asia, 1939-1945

By Martin Kitchen | Go to book overview

Introduction

The European war which began on 1 September 1939 was Hitler's war. Historians will continue to argue about the social, economic and political forces which prompted him to take a series of calculated risks which led to full-scale war. They will debate the ideological roots of Nazi Germany's bid for world power, and examine the decision making process in the Third Reich. Students will no doubt continue to write endless essays on whether Hitler had a blueprint for conquest or was essentially an improviser, impetuously reacting to events. It is unlikely that any of these issues will ever be finally settled, for history is a continuing dialogue between the present and the past, but it is unthinkable that Hitler will disappear from the picture. Only a purblind ideologue can envision him as the disembodied point of intersection of mysterious economic forces, or as the spirit of world history in jackboots. Nazi Germany is unthinkable without Hitler, as is Nazi Germany's war. That the invasion of Poland led to the most destructive and extensive war in history was due to Hitler's decisions to attack in the West in 1940 and then to invade the Soviet Union in 1941. He did not get quite the war he wanted, nor could he fight it on terms of his own choosing, but it was still his war.

It may be objected that such an argument is crudely personalistic and shifts the blame for all the evil done in the name of the German people on to one man. By being presented as a superhuman demon, Hitler becomes a convenient scapegoat. In fact, Hitler could never have done what he did had he not articulated so many of the desires and longings of his followers. He did not descend from the skies, nor was he the product of some arcane historical accident. His foreign

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