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  Question:   To what extent would it be correct to term the Second World War as ‘Hitler’s war”?  Answer:  History, of all times and periods, is replete with enigmas. Enigmas have a peculiar quality about themselves. Enigmas live; and in those few years of life theydazzle and mystify. Then they depart; but they don’t die. They simply pass into posterity as crypticswollen memories that would live on to be interpreted and construed in more ways than one. Amongthe most remarkable enigmas of the Twentieth century was Adolf Hitler; an individual who even after half a century of death haunts a world unable to explain the impact with which he left; one whosparked off an unending debate on whether he  had singularly planned, directed and created the greatestmilitary conflagration in human history. The war from 1939 to 45 was truly a global war. The war had resulted, inevitably, in the skewed prioritisation of economic resources, all of which were pumped to the cause of war. When the war ended, all that remained was acute economic ruin, an unprecedented loss of life and a generationcrippled with the psychological horror of the concluded war.The earliest historical works on the srcins of the Second World War were enmeshed in the emotional bitterness that came in the aftermath of the war. As a result, many of these early works tended to be toocritical and judgemental in their assessments. New research, more detached from the emotions of theimmediate post war period, have revised many of the earlier views, providing nuanced perspectives onthe events and persons involved in the war. On this basis, the historical works on srcins of the SecondWorld War can be broadly classified into the orthodox and revisionist perspectives on the causes of the war. Orthodox view: The most pervasive explanation of the war was first advanced by the prosecution judges dealing withNazi war criminals at Nuremberg  who blamed Hitler and his foreign policy of expansionism asresponsible for the outbreak of the war. The focus of this theory rests on Hitler who is seen as the prime causative factor for the war. This theory, bound with an individual, inevitably deposits much of its focus on the defining characteristics of Hitler: his personality, his feverish conviction in Nazism,and his unequivocal dominance within Germany, such that Hitler stood synonymous for the Germanstate in this period. The emphases on the importance of Hitler within Germany, and on how hecompletely commanded the foreign policy of the state, are obvious. Hitler had, according to the proponents of this theory, singularly manoeuvred Germany and the world towards War, and hadfollowed a programme of aggression that was coherent and consistent. Hitler and his foreign policy being criticized: The most trenchant critic of Hitler   and his Foreign policy  has been Hugh Trevor Roper  whoexplicated the theory that Hitler had followed a master plan lucidly laid out in his autobiographicalclassic, the  Mein Kamph . Roper identifies two dominant themes in his writings in the  Mein    Kamph: his desire to gain the lebensraum  or ‘living space’ in eastern Europe, and his determination to find asolution to the ‘Jewish question’. Allan Bullock , Andreas Hilgruber and Klaus Hildebrand have alsosupported the idea that Hitler’s policy of aggression was planned. In fact, Hildebrand suggests thatHitler had followed a calculated stage-by-stage plan, called  stufenplan , where the destruction of theSoviet Union and the subsequent gain of the lebensraum  in Eastern Europe were ‘prerequisites toworld domination’. 1  The centrality attributed to Hitler has been rejected and revised by historians who, contrary to theestablished image of Hitler’s unchallenged domination, present him as weak and indecisive. These‘ revisionists ’ highlight the intense internal rivalries between competing centres of power in the ThirdReich. Mommsen states that Hitler’s foreign policy was an ‘ill thought-out expansion without object’;he thereby attaches to Hitler’s expansionism a spontaneous and unplanned character. To historians likeMommsen and Bracher, the idea of Hitler’s dominance was a Nazi propaganda myth. Hitler’s foreign policy, according to them, lacked any overall design and was nothing more than a ‘spontaneousresponse to internal divisions’. Revisionist view:German social product, not Hitler alone: It is on questions relating to the degree of focus on Hitler that Ian Kershaw makes a brilliantcontribution to the decades long research on the phenomena of Hitler and Nazism. Kershaw  assertsthat our focus while studying this period must not be on Hitler alone but on German society as well.The Power of Hitler was not solely derived from the individual of Hitler, but largely from Germansociety. It is in this sense that Kershaw terms Hitler’s power as a ‘ social product’ . The aspirations,motivations and expectations of this society had motored Hitler’s rise to power. Such an impression of Hitler where he was seen as a saviour are evinced from eulogistic works like George Schott’s  DasVerhsbuch vom Hitler   where he spoke of Hitler as the “living incarnation of the nation’s yearnings”.The Nazi era, therefore, was a phenomenon that was a product of collaboration between Hitler and thesocial impulses that brought him to power. Kershaw further argues that the personality and ‘charisma’ of Hitler did have a crucial impact onGerman society in this period. He points out that ‘charismatic rule’ can in itself generate tremendousinfluence when it operates in ‘set’ socio- economic and psychological circumstances. Nazi age was a continuity from German past: But there are historians who do not agree with the uniqueness of the Nazi age in German history.Peukert, for instance, states that the Nazi Germany represented no break from the earlier developmentof the German society as the basic class structure in Nazi Germany remained unaltered. A.J.P Taylor, in his classic O rigins of the Second World War  , regarded the war as being the logical conclusion of the course of German history from 1871 to 1945. Taylor’s adherence to this idea of continuity isevident in his reference to the’ German problem’ , one that remained unsolved even after the I st  WorldWar. The problem, as Taylor perceives it, comes from Germany being the most powerful state inEurope . “The problem was not German aggressiveness, or militarism, or wickedness of her rulers”,rather, the fact that she was inherently the greatest power in Europe, something that brought her into inevitable conflict with others . William Shirer goes a good deal further in tracing this lineage of theIIIrd Reich when he speaks of Hitler as among the last in the line of the great adventurer conquerorslike Alexander, Caesar and Napoleon. Fischer who asserted that German foreign policy only changedin form, not in central aims, also puts forward a strong view of continuity. This is supported by the factthat the desire for German dominance, and the subordination of the Slavs were aims of the Imperialgovernment in the First World War. This school attempts to prove that Hitler and Nazism were notunique; that many of his policies were popular in Germany before 1914. The lebensraum , a conceptintegral to Nazi ideology is, according to these historians, traceable to the propaganda pamphlets of the pan–German league. Thus, Hitler’s ideology and policies, as McDonough puts it, ‘ reflected past viewsand prejudices, but did not invent them’. 2  Nazism was invented by Hitler: This assertion is problematic. While a study of possible elements of continuity of Nazism to German past would warrant a more elaborate study, it would suffice to state that Nazism should not, andcannot, be seen as a logical conclusion of past trends in German foreign policy. Characteristic Naziideas of anti Semitism, Darwinism  and the desire for the lebensraum  may be traceable to earlier  periods, but it has to be questioned (and it is here that the crucial difference lies) as to whether theseideas were part of state policy or were inchoate concepts that were one among the many other floatingideas of the ultra right in Imperial Germany and in Weimar democracy.There are Historians who tend to underplay the distinctiveness of the Nazi period by emphasising itscontinuity with trends in German past. Meinecke and Dahrendorf reject any such claims to continuityand point at the rootlessness of the Nazi regime in German history. Ritter states that the definingfeatures of Nazism: Anti Semitism, chauvinistic Nationalism and Social Darwinism,  to name the prominent, were extraneous to the German society.Further, the idea of continuity severely obscures the peculiar circumstances  in which Nazismemerged in Germany. The ideas that coalesced to form Nazism under Hitler may have existed even in pre 1914 Germany. But never did they assume dominance among the German masses. Never beforehad the practise of Jewish extermination been part of German state policy and neither had chauvinisticnationalism ever been stoked to the extent as it was during the Nazi era. Nazism, rather any ultra leftideology, was confined to certain pockets of the population. The challenges to liberal democracy, andthe growth of the far Right in Germany were propelled by certain distinct factors that emerged after the First World War. These included the German defeat , the subsequent episodes of Germanhumiliations abroad and the internal turmoil of the Weimar republic (the most prominent being hyper inflation), which had fuelled popular antipathies and dissatisfactions against democratic regimes.But the decisive moment for the rise of Nazism in Germany came with the Great EconomicDepression from 1929 to 33. The crash disturbed the volatile politico-economic structures of theWeimar democracy. In the post World War One period, the world economy hinged on the fortunes of the US economy and the Weimar republic borrowed loans from the US for paying back war reparations and rebuilding the German economy. The debilitating impact of the crash on the Germaneconomy was thus sharp and instant. It was in the context of unprecedented unemployment, decliningindustrial production and collapsing agricultural prices that Hitler manipulated the peaking despair of the masses to the advantage of his Far Right party.Thus, Nazism- as ideology and state policy- emerged under certain extraordinary circumstances, under the aegis of Hitler, and only after the Great Economic Depression of 1929. Perhaps the most lucidevidence for the distinctiveness of the Nazi emergence is manifested in Hitler’s electoral climb from1928 to 32. In the German elections of 1928, Hitler’s party - the NSDAPC (Nationalist SocialistGerman Workers party) won only 2% of the popular vote. This little support the party enjoyed wasconfined to small Protestant and rural towns in North West Germany. In the general elections of September 1930, following the crash, Hitler’s party witnessed a dramatic surge in popularity. Thenumber of seats that the NSDAPC held in the Reichstag rose from 12 to 107 and the votes in it’sfavour rose from 810,000 to a staggering 6.5 million, making it the second largest party in theReichstag. In the elections of 31 st  July 1932, the Nazi party witnessed another surge in mass appeal,winning 230 seats with 37.4% of the total votes polled going in their favour, making it the largest parliamentary group ever to sit in the Reichstag. 3  So, what had led to such a cataclysmic change in the fortunes of a political party over the period of only six years? Was it past, pre existing trends in German past that had made this inevitable? Theargument above makes any such proposition untenable. Nazism, therefore, was thrust into political power by a rare conjunction of economic, socio- psychological and political circumstances. It was never the logical conclusion of trends and processesin German past as Taylor and others contend. At the same, it must be remembered that Nazism was not pure abstraction. Nazism did draw from past historical concepts and philosophies, though in concoctedforms: Nietzsche’s concepts of the master race and superman, for instance. Nazism, therefore, cannot be subsumed into the larger picture of German past. It was distinct. The brutality, horror andviciousness that defined it have had no parallel in the German past. Also inherent in this theory of continuity is the tendency to undermine the undeniably brutal character of Nazi rule; this is perniciousand unwarrantable. Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement: There has been no dearth of moral judgements when it comes to understanding the role of NevilleChamberlain in the period before the Second World War. This constitutes another perspective wherethe culpability for having caused the war is placed on Chamberlain’s policy of Appeasement. Britishleft wing historians, in their caustic criticism of Chamberlain’s policy, branded him as the ‘  guiltiest of the guilty men’  . Bennett perceived the Munich agreement of 1938 as a case study in the ‘disease of  political myopia that afflicted the leaders and people of Europe in the years between the wars.Similarly, Middlemass views Chamberlain’s policy as a case of ‘diplomacy of illusion’ based on adefence strategy that did not protect Britain from air attack, and on the illusion that Hitler would besatisfied with the revision of the treaty of Versailles. R.A.C Parker points out how Chamberlain wentahead with his policies of appeasement passionately as a ‘religious zealot’. He adds that Chamberlain’sstubborn adherence to appeasement encumbered the possibility of creating any barrier or alliance tostunt Hitler’s expansionism. These interpretations, though making certain relevant points, are evidentlytoo personalised in their attack on Chamberlain. Latterly works have put forward interpretations that are more ‘ sympathetic’ to Chamberlain . Thisrevisionism eschews from making moral judgements and has attempted to understand Chamberlain’s policy as an outcome of the circumstances that troubled England in the period before the war. Therevisionist position emphasises the complex set of domestic, international, military and economicfactors that made a belligerent policy towards the fascist regimes impracticable. Their focus is on the precarious economic condition of the British economy that was recuperating after the crash of 1929,and that had made rearmament and war unthinkable. They point at the British desire to avoid war at allcosts. Over the years, the revisionist argument has gained dominance, in fact there now exists a school of historians that justifies appeasement ; that perceives Chamberlain and the appeasers as ‘  prisoners of circumstances ’.  The appeasers were bound by certain circumstances, but it must be remembered thatthe adherence to appeasement had been at the cost of seeking other, perhaps more effectual,alternatives. These included the possibility of forging alliances with the Soviet Union and France or byinvigorating the League of Nations that by the late nineteen thirties was reduced to a defunct, impotentorganisation.However, one has to bear in mind that the broadside launched against the appeasers was done so in theimmediate post war period and therefore from a position of hindsight. This would explain why a lot of criticism for appeasers like Chamberlain accused him for his lack of statesmanship and foresight to see4
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