Here is a term paper on the ‘Hitler’s Approach towards Second World War’ for class 9, 10, 11 and 12. Find paragraphs, long and short term papers on the ‘Hitler’s Approach towards Second World War’ especially written for school and college students.
Term Paper # 1. Hitler’s Pre-War Policy 1937 to 1939:
In England Baldwin was replaced as Conservative Premier by Neville Chamberlain and the destiny of Britain was settled. The conservative Premier declined to include Winston Churchill in his government. Churchill, a realist politician sounded the alarm against Hitler as soon as the latter came to power (1933).
Hitler’s plan, programme and measures of rearmament alerted Churchill but he failed to alert the government. Later he mentions that he had been fortunate that he was not included in the government and thereby escaped himself from all responsibility “for the errors and inadequacies of these years”.
During the three years before war broke out in 1939 French military policy was obsolete. France did not pay heed to the rearmament; on the contrary she took defensive strategy of heavily-armed fortifications along most of the Franco-German frontier.
Although Charles de Gaulle, then a junior officer of the French army, emphasised on manufacturing or collecting of tanks, warplanes, armoured divisions, fleets of bombers etc. which had revolutionized warfare. According to David Thomson “A disastrously mistaken defensive doctrine of modern warfare contributed to the demolition of peace in Europe”.
There is, however, controversy about this theory of Thomson. There is no denying the fact that France was victorious in the World War I. Despite this victory, her statesmen were terribly afraid of Germany. France depended on the United States and Britain for her security. But after the war the United States followed isolationist policy and remained aloof from European politics. Soon Britain followed suit.
The defensive strategy of France like building of heavily-armed fortifications, like Maginot line, so far a most formidable defence, lacked validity because it was extended up to the Belgian frontier. Between Belgium and Germany, there was a short frontier. France hoped Belgium would provide similar fortification on that short frontier.
Unless that was done German army could easily penetrate into France through Belgium. Belgium had been in alliance with France since 1919, the two armies also closely coordinated. The frontier between France and Belgium was abnormally long. The cost of fortifying it was very high. Belgium did not take any action for fortification. Hence no attempt was taken to protect the French frontier with Belgium and both France and Belgium remained defenceless states.
This background should be kept in mind when one goes to relate Hitler’s pre-war policy from 1937 to 1939. We have seen Belgium was in alliance with France since 1919. Now Belgium found a rearmed Germany on their frontier and, finding hopeless position of French military power, Belgium seceded herself from the French alliance and in 1937 they reverted to the neutral position. This must have created a terrible strategical problem for the French.
In 1936 Hitler occupied the demilitarized left bank of the Rhine and remilitarized it. But the Allies did not take any action against Germany which might have whetted the appetite of a beaming Hitler for further actions which were barred by the provisions of Versailles Treaty. The case of rearmament, in this connection, could be discussed. In 1938, when Germany was devoting 16.6 per cent of her total production to armaments, Great Britain and France were devoting only 7 per cent of theirs.
This can be proved when we find German army completely routed the allied armies stationed in France. However, in 1936, it was easy for France alone to march against Hitler and the latter could have been bullied and the chance of Second World War would have been remote. “March 1936, was perhaps the last moment when a Second World War might have been avoided”. Remilitarization of the Rhineland made both France and Belgium exposed to German attack.
Hitler assured Britain in January 1937 that Germany would not violate any further provisions imposed on her. Britain consoled herself at this. In 1933 when Hitler comes to power Hitler probably did not want war. Taylor suggests “Far from wanting war, a general war was the last thing he wanted. He wanted the fruits of total victory without total war”. Studying political records Taylor came to the conclusion that “Hitler hoped to get without war at all”.
This view of Taylor could be supported by the psychology of Hitler who was anxious at that time “not to weaken his popularity by reducing the standard of civilian life”. German rearmament was largely a myth until the spring of 1936. According to Taylor the rearmament which he adopted was because of the fear of the Red Army.
Nevertheless, Hitler raced along with others, and not much faster. In October 1936 Hitler told Goering that both German economy and army should be prepared for war within four years3. In view of this it is imperative to suggest that at this stage Hitler’s policy was definitely directed towards war.
Japan’s aggression in Manchuria in July 1937 must have inspired Hitler. In November 1936 Germany and Japan concluded an Anti-Comintern Pact, a month after the formation of Rome-Berlin Axis. In 1937 Anti-Comintern Pact was converted into Rome-Berlin-Tokyo Axis when Italy adhered to it. David Thomson remarks on this that “they were signs that the dissatisfied powers of the world (Germany, Italy and Japan) were drawing together, were prepared to pool their nuisance values, and to concert their separate actions so as to cause the greatest embarrassment to the democracies”.
Civil war that broke out in Spain in 1936 failed to intensify alarmingly public opinion in Europe, although the war became the dominating topic of political circles. Soviet Russia intervened in Spain on grounds of backing Communism and General Franco and his supporters were helped by Hitler and Mussolini.
(i) Annexation of Austria:
Hossbach Memorandum provides a summary of German foreign policy in 1937-38. From that document it is known that Hitler decided to solve the homeland problem of extra German population i.e., lebensraum by means of force and “never without attendant risk”. But, at the same time, examining the contemporary political condition of Europe, Hitler came to the conclusion that force would not be needed to apply.
He wanted to annex Austria and Czechoslovakia knowing that the “Western powers would be too hampered and too timid to intervene”. Britain and France would not intervene in Austria and Czechoslovakia and Soviet Union would be held in check by Japan for which Hitler signed Anti-Comintern Pact.
In the Mein Kampf Hitler had written that the reunion of Austria and Germany was a “task to be furthered with every means our lives long”. Soon after becoming Chancellor he had appointed a Reichstag deputy, Theodor Habicht, as inspector of the Austrian Nazi Party. For months prior to July 1934 the Austrian
Nazis, with weapons and dynamite supplied by Germany, had instituted a reign of terror, blowing up railways, power stations and government buildings and murdering supporters of the existing government. Finally, Hitler had approved the formation of Austrian Legion, several thousand strong, which camped along the Austrian border in Bavaria, ready to cross over and occupy the country at an opportune moment.
After the Nazi failure in 1934 in Austria Hider entered into a pact with Austria in July 1936 and the relations between them became cordial. After a lapse of two years Hitler sent for Schuschnigg, the Chancellor of Austria, and threatened him with the invasion of his country and compelled Schuschnigg to grant amnesty and full freedom of action to the Nazis in his country and to appoint Inquart, the Austrian Nazi leader, as the Minister of the Interior. Schuschnigg, being threatened by Inquart, the minister of the Interior, resigned. Immediately afterwards violence broke out in Austria between the Nazis and their rivals. On March 12, 1938, German troops marched into Austria and occupied Vienna.
Prof. A. J. P. Taylor has, however, made Schuschnigg responsible for the Austrian crisis. Taylor writes “It is not my fault that, according to the record, the Austrian crisis was launched by Schuschnigg, not by Hitler….” Although Italy earlier had given assurance to Austria that she would be protected by Italy in case of attack was made on her.
But actually when the time came the Italians had no means of stopping Hitler. The Italian Foreign Minister Ciano wrote in his Diary on 23 February: “What in fact could we do? Start a war with Germany? At the first shot we fired every Austrian, without exception, would fall in behind the Germans against us.” In fact, the inclusion of Austria into the Reich was welcome to a majority of the population.
The contemporary international political situation was ideal for Hitler’s act against Austria. France was shaken by the collapse of ministry in March and Britain too followed the way of France by the resignation of Eden. Hence both the countries failed to take any initiative in this respect and they escaped the responsibility of preventing Hider from annexing Austria. In this bloodless victory Hitler immediately absorbed Austria with seven million population “economically and administratively into Germany”.
The Austrian National Bank brought to German Treasury 20 million pounds of additional gold and foreign exchange. Germany came into direct contact with Italy. The Austrian army was incorporated in the Reichswehr. Possession of Austria gave Hitler strategic control over the road, rail and river communications of the middle Danube valley. It also helped him to have access with Italy, Hungary, and Yugoslavia, and opened up three sides of the Bohemian fortress of Czechoslovakia, his next objective of aggression.
(ii) Rome-Berlin Axis:
Historians of the World War have treated the Rome-Berlin Axis as a central element in the politics of 1930. This Axis has been interpreted ideologically as well as politically. Fascist historian Villari finds in this Axis the logical culmination of the two recently politically unified nations. Italy, since her political unification in the 1860s, has been on the lookout for a positive and dynamic foreign policy marked by militarism and imperialism.
Unfortunately for Italy, her ambition was out of all proportion to her actual resources. There thus developed in the late 19th century a feeling of frustration caused by Italy’s failure to earn a place for herself in the family of nations. Her unfulfilled aspirations at the end of the First World War intensified this feeling of grievances. Mussolini, despite his tall talk, knew very well that Italy would never be able to assert herself in foreign relations because of her inherent basic weakness.
Hence, Mussolini was concentrating on a like-minded and convenient ally with whose help she could cover up her internal economic and military weakness. Elizabeth Wiskemann writes that at the outset Fascist Italy did not contemplate any such alliance because Italy’s problems were unique and they needed a unilateral approach.
Besides, no such ally was imminently available. For a decade (1922-33) Italy remained the only Fascist power of any consequence on the continent. Germany was then under the Weimer Republic and the Rome-Berlin Axis did not exist even as an idea.
As for Germany, she was, like Italy, a comparatively new nation, but, unlike Italy, Germany had (i) made great military and industrial progress. In Germany’s case, her attitude towards the Axis was not so much determined by the exigencies of power politics as (ii) by the necessity of maintaining a facade of ideological fraternity. Taylor writes that Germany’s attitude towards Italy was an admixture of sentimentalism and in intimidation.
According to Bullock, Germany was willing to promote alliance with Italy if only for the sake of overcoming an uneasy feeling of ideological isolation. William Shirer, however, produces a picture of contemporary political situation of Europe.
According to him, internal strife in France between Right and Left weakened Germany’s principal rival in the West. Again, a rapprochement of Britain and France with Italy appeared to be impossible because of Spanish war where Italy and Germany both were involved. This “drove Mussolini into the arms of Hitler” and the latter was elated at this prospect.
There existed some authoritarian and Fascist states in central and east Europe. But they did not count so much in Germany’s policy-making. Dictators like Marshal Jozef Pilsudski of Poland were certainly less important than Mussolini. Besides, east and central Europe constituted a likely area of German expansion, thus rendering alliance with these states impossible.
So it can be said that in German expansion Italy’s primary importance was political and not military. Germany might have thought to show the world that she was not alone in a world of dictatorship. Germany did not have to depend on Italy’s military strength but cherished that Italy would lend moral weight to her foreign policy. There was definitely much suspicion, distrust and lack of sympathy between Italy and Germany — but each was necessary to the other.
Yet at first there was no sign of the Axis developing. In fact, Germany was to present Italy with accomplished facts, much to the latter’s irritation. Yet the Axis ruled, largely because there could be no turning away for the two allies. It was a strange admixture of professed friendship and deep-seated suspicions. For Italy, Germany was necessary to play the role of the big patron. For Germany, Italy was necessary to lend moral weight to her foreign policy. Finally, the enemies of both were common.
Nevertheless, at first there was no sign of the Axis developing. On the contrary, there were, frictions and tensions. In 1932, with Nazis about to assume political power, a fearful Italy befriended an equally fearful France and Soviet Russia. This process was accelerated after 1933. A Franco-Italian rapprochement in 1935 was a distinct sequel to the Nazi revolution.
This apparently strange spectacle of Fascist Italy opposed to Nazi Germany can be explained in terms of history, geography and territory.
Germany could not forget that – (i) Italy had defected from-Triple Alliance in the midst of 1st World War (1917). Indeed Italy had gone over to the Allied side and participated in the Peace Pact of Paris as a victorious power. Geographically and territorially, Italy’s acquisition of the (ii) Geographically and territorially, Italy’s acquisition of the South Tyrol of Germany and Austria was in contravention of the principle of national self-determination. Germany’s contention was that this territory belonged to Austria, and Austria itself belonged to Germany. Thus what should have been a Austro-Italian bone of contention transformed into a Italo-German issue. Militarily speaking, the rise of the 3rd Reich meant. (iii) The existence of a strong and aggressive state in direct proximity to Italy’s frontier. Wiskemann maintains that Mussolini’s personal ego perpetrated a bad relation that proved to be a stumbling block to a warm relation with the Reich. (iv) The personal ego developed because of Mussolini’s superiority complex. Being the leader of the oldest Fascist government he considered himself senior and superior to Hitler.
At the first stage of the growth of the Axis, Mussolini appeared rather stubborn, although eventually he had to give way, largely because of Italy’s manifest inferiority and weakness — both in the field of economy and military. The real beginning of the Axis is traceable to Hitler’s rise to power in 1933. Whether Hitler was very much anxious to make an alliance with Italy or gave no importance to that state is a matter of contradiction.
William Shirer has depicted the minds of both Hitler and Mussolini. After the alliance with Italy, Hitler felt himself better. To express Hitler’s attitude Shirer writes “with Mussolini in the bag. Hitler turned his attentions elsewhere”. Again, to display the mind of Mussolini, Shirer observes that Mussolini was overjoyed thinking that Italy became “a partner of this new, powerful Germany…..” He returned to Rome “convinced that his future lay at the side of Hider”.
The exigencies of ideology played but a second fiddle to the apprehensions of her security in Italy’s attitude at this time. But in Germany, at this early stage, Italy was excluded secretly and carefully from a select list of the would-be targets. This explains, says Bullock, the silence and lack of criticism over the Franco-Italian rapprochement in 1935, though it was blatantly anti-Germany. Shirer maintains Germany was not willing to allow Italy to a point of no-return.
Germany’s apparently strange moderation in the face of Italy’s dislike and disaffection has been attributed by A. J. P. Taylor to two basic factors:
(i) Hitler’s respect for Mussolini as his political senior and
(ii) Germany’s expectation about future friendship with Italy.
Germany was not willing to let Italy become hostile. Seton-Watson writes it does not necessarily suggest that Germany had already started contemplating Italy’s friendship. After all Hitler must have been aware of the complex nature of his relation with Italy. For Hitler Anschluss and the absorption of South Tyrol constituted essential parts of pan-Germanism which could not be compromised.
It was, therefore, in ideology that Germany sought and found a common platform with Italy. The Italian version of totalitarianism — described by Mussolini as Corporate Right — appealed to Hitler. Already, Mussolini had communicated his policy of Imperialism, Militarism and Colonialism, something worthy of German imitation.
Hansen writes, Italian Fascism, then just establishing itself, had considerable influence on Mein Kampf. Considering the element of timing the theory seems plausible enough. Mussolini had come to power in 1922 and Mein Kampf was published in 1923. However, this assessment need not be over emphasised for Nazism possessed its own Germanic peculiarities and Hitler was too proud to borrow foreign ideas. Nevertheless, these ideological similarities are important and must not be lost sight of.
The period between, 1933-36 was the period of diplomatic stalemate .and propaganda confrontation. Politically, Italy and Germany remained far apart, but as regards propaganda there was no open criticism of any one country in the other, if only because of ideological similarities. In fact, the Rome-Berlin tensions of the period reflect themselves over Austria.
Italy’s championship of Austria’s integrity and political independence was clearly meant to stem the tide of Anschluss. Italy’s position in-between revisionism and anti-revisionism seemed rather paradoxical. Hitherto, Italy had been clamouring for revision of Paris Peace Programme, now that Nazi Germany had emerged, Italy realised that revisionism would not be an unmixed blessing and in any case not so advantageous to Italy as they would wish.
Italy’s patronage of Austria should not be taken as an example of their general attitude to Paris Peace Pact. Italy’s Austrian partiality had its individual rationale. In any case, as per an Austro-Italian agreement, Italy stood committed to the defence of Austria. Italy could afford to pretend to be firm over Austria, for Germany was yet to pounce on Austria. At this early stage — with Nazi Germany not yet settled and thus maintaining an image of deceptive caution — Italy with her limited strength could demonstrate firmness.
It has generally been agreed that the foundations of the Rome-Berlin Axis was laid in 1936, the crucial turning point.
That year witnessed two flagrant violations of the International Law:
(a) The seizure of Rhineland through its remilitarization by Nazi Germany and
(b) Italy’s annexation of Ethiopia.
While Germany’s action was rather abrupt, Italy’s action was the culmination of a long chain of events since 1928. In the midst of adverse criticism all around them, these two accused and condemned powers refused to condemn one another and through their eloquent silence they communicated a sort of neutral proximity.
Italy would not blame Nazi Germany for attempting to reverse the Paris Peace Pact and Nazi Germany silently endorsed Italy’s East African Imperialism. From this time Italy stopped betraying her nervous apprehensions and yet Austria lingered on as a bone of contention though Italy had obviously relaxed her former stand.
It can be argued that Italy was beginning to feel that German friendship would be a bigger asset to her security than the protection of Austria. Italy must have seen the futility of holding on to Austria at the face of irresistible march of Pan-Germanism. Yet, Italy could not yet completely abandon Austria. During 1936-38, Italy followed a dual policy of paying lip-service to Austria’s integrity and independence on one hand, and, at the same time, conveying an impression to Germany that Austria, after all, could be negotiated.
According to Bullock Austro-Italian policy had never really mattered to Hitler, although outwardly Italy might be of some importance regarding the fate of Austria. After the remilitarization of Rhineland, Hitler had virtually decided on Anschluss, and without taking into consideration Italy’s reactions. This view is borne out by subsequent events a classic case of semi-latereralism in foreign policy, for Hitler was first who effected it and then presented the accomplished fact to Italy and the rest of Europe.
Mussolini was not even priory informed of his decision, though he was later intimated of the event with an expectation that Mussolini was friendly enough to accept the Anschluss, as a verdict of history. From Ciano’s Diary we learn that Mussolini felt indignant but slighted over as he had no option but to accept Anschluss. Carrie writes that the stage for Anschluss had already been set by Italy’s abandonment of her once rigid stance on Austria.
As early as 1936, Italy had given Germany to understand that there would be some kind of condominium, or dual Italo-German rule over Austria — a far cry from Italy’s earlier championship of Austria’s separate existence. That apart, from 1938, Germany had strengthened her military strength, and this gave her additional confidence to go against Italy if necessary and correspondingly eroded Italy’s confidence, to retain her firm stand.
Mussolini’s acceptance of Anschluss is a demonstration of the growing Rome-Berlin solidarity, though an undercurrent of suspicion and jealousy persisted. It may be mentioned here that Mussolini had, at one stage, suggested a General European Pact to the exclusion of Germany, but this had become a distant and absurd theory.
Even before Anschluss, Italy and Nazi Germany had strengthened their ideological bond by concluding Anti-Comintern Pact in 1937, when, Italy joined Nazi Germany and Japan. It was a common platform against Communism. Elizabeth Wiskemann refers to another example of Italy’s functioning as a lesser partner. Ideological incompatibility apart, Italy had no business to be anti-Soviet.
There existed (i) No political or territorial disputes between the two and, on the contrary, (ii) Italy happened to be one of the earliest powers to open and develop trade relations with Soviet Russia.
Japan and Germany — located to the East and West of Soviet Russia respectively — had a point in anti-Sovietism. Most probably Mussolini became anti-Soviet because of latter’s involvement in the Spanish war. From this point of view, it is, however, difficult to come to this conclusion that the above causes made Italy anti-Soviet.
But, at the same time, it can be argued that Spanish involvement of Soviet Russia was a strong point for which Italy became anti-Soviet. Excellent fighting capacity of German soldiers witnessed by Mussolini in Spanish war had most probably impressed him so much that he thought that Germany would be future world conqueror and Hitler had no difficulty to take Mussolini in tow.
The inequality of the friendship was once again to express itself in 1938, throughout the Sudetenland crisis. Mussolini, instead of trying to exercise a restraining influence on Hitler, gave the latter a blank cheque and upheld all his territorial demands. Mussolini was present at the Munich Pact as one of the Big Four and was largely instrumental in getting the Munich Pact prepared and signed.
Curiously enough, Italy had no business to meddle in the Czech question. Nevertheless, Italy maintained a show of diplomacy obviously to please Hitler, the bigger and stronger partner. It would not be inconsequent if the question of popular sentiment of Italy is counted in this connection — Mussolini perhaps wanted to show his countrymen how important he was in the international politics.
Mussolini might have had another design under his sleeve. In return for this support extended to German expansion in East, Italy expected reciprocal support as regards the Mediterranean in which Italy was interested. This partly accounts for their co-operation throughout the Spanish Civil War (1936-39).
Spain provided them with an ideal theatre for political and military collaboration. But A. J. P. Taylor has his doubts about the fraternity. In his opinion, Italy and Germany participated in the Spanish Civil War not so much as collaborators but as competitors. Spain was indispensable to both of them as regards strategy, geography, economy and mineral resources. Italy’s strong points were proximity, ties of history, religion etc., while Germany’s strong points were an already formidable army, and the growing force.
Italy felt Spain was her natural sphere of influence and that German intrusion was unwarranted and uncalled for. In spite of such deep-rooted jealousies, they maintained a facade of cooperation in Spain and formulated a programme of intervention, which eventually paid tangible dividends. However, it is argued that the Rome-Berlin Axis was immeasurably ‘strengthened by the Spanish developments.
Already the Rome-Berlin Axis had matured clearly enough for all to see. In 1938, there was state visits by Mussolini to Berlin and by Hitler to Italy. These visits, whatever their political contents, were calculated to dazzle their contemporaries. Among great extravagances and great speeches, the Rome-Berlin Axis was formalised.
It was Mussolini who first enunciated this concept of Axis. His utterances — “either we or they” highlighted the concept of a polarised Europe into two armed camps. Hitler hailed Mussolini as a great creator of History. However, it was clear from the beginning that the Axis was to rest upon two pillars of unparalleled strength in history.
1939 saw a further consolidation of the Axis. Italy stood behind Nazi Germany in their capture of the rest of Czechoslovakia and Poland. Hitler stood behind Mussolini when he annexed Albania. Italy congratulated Hitler on the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact (1939), but perhaps the most important development was the signing of the Ten years’ Pact which Ciano called the Pact of Steel. This provided for political, economic and military cooperation. In fact, this pact did not create a new situation, but only formalised what had been accomplished before.
During the Polish crisis, Italy displayed an apparent moderation, although there was no doubt as regards her total commitment to Nazi Germany. She entered the war sometime after Germany’s invasion of Poland. As the war progressed Italy’s fundamental weaknesses stood glaringly exposed. She had so long played a reasonably important role in international relations largely with the help of her diplomacy and with Germany’s patronage.
She neither possessed the essential elements needed to make a great power, nor a good fighting force with an arsenal having modern weaponry. Her economic base was poor by most European standards, her army was a model of inefficiency and despite her interest in the Western Mediterranean and North Africa and East Africa, and she had failed to develop an effective navy or air-force. Given these palpable shortcomings, her partnership with the obviously superior Germany could not have been one of equality.
In 1940 Italy sought to take advantage of Germany’s victory over France by declaring war on a France that had already fallen. In North Africa, Italy’s military presence was more a liability than an asset to Germany. Hitler’s earlier show of courtesy and respect for Mussolini almost evaporated. As the Italy lay under American occupation, Germany intervened and brought it under her own military control. With the Axis thus in ruin, Italy had been reduced to the unenviable status of a satellite state.
Nevertheless, the importance of the Rome-Berlin Axis, whatever its form and working in the pre-war international structure, remains unquestionable. It gave aggressive militarism a international complexion. The partners, Italy and Nazi Germany could move with greater confidence and ferocity.
The Axis played a very important role in politics by creating confusion and generating frustration in the Democratic camp. Mussolini cleverly maintained a piece of fiction that he was open and amenable to Western diplomacy. Thus, in 1938, Britain decided to negotiate the Western Mediterranean with Italy, and this caused a political crisis in Britain leading to the resignation of Eden, who had initiated the negotiations. According to Seton-Watson the Rome-Berlin Axis accentuated the process of diplomatic sterility in the Western Camp.
The Axis turned out to be advantageous to both partners, as is evident from the results obtained. Both Germany and Italy could proceed with their schemes of aggression — this axis has been described as the ‘brutal friendship’. Brutal — since, it encouraged the forces of aggression and also because it led to a very great extent to what was to happen in 1939. The Axis could not, however, stand the test of time for the obvious reason that it had been an unhealthy arrangement in the first place in an unhealthy period.
Term Paper # 2. The Crisis over Czechoslovakia:
Policy of Appeasement:
The ease with which Hitler swallowed Austria whetted his territorial appetite and encouraged him to further acts of aggression. During the Spanish imbroglio Hitler came to learn all he needed about the weakness of the victors of Versailles. He had found that his intervention in Spain had not met with any resistance from the Powers and so he was emboldened to embark upon a policy of naked aggression. He turned his attention to Austria whose union with Germany had been expressly prohibited by the Treaty of Versailles.
Czechoslovakia, an artificial creation of the Peace Settlement of 1919-20, contained a considerable element of German population. Apart from Sudeten Germans there were many other minorities in Czechoslovakia, and here lies her weakness. Nazi propaganda had already organised these Germans of Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia into a “fifth column” and they began to clamour not merely for autonomy but for outright annexation to the German Empire.
Hitler wanted to annex Sudetenland with Germany for a number of reasons. The fundamental cause of annexation is to be considered from a strategic point of view. Its Northern frontier had a mountainous range which blocked off German expansion to South Europe. If, this territory could be occupied, that would make easy for Germany to penetrate into Southern Europe. That area was also full of industrial units and, therefore, its occupation would make Germany industrially powerful.
But the region was difficult to conquer, for there were a number of forts in the Sudetenland. Again, by a Treaty of 1925, France had pledged herself to defend Czechoslovakia in the event of any attack made on her by any foreign power. A similar guarantee had been provided to Czechoslovakia also by Soviet Union. But, at the same time, still there was insurmountable problem. France had no direct access to Czechoslovakia. Germany divided her from France. Poland and Rumania divided her from Soviet Union. The question of the fate of Czechoslovakia was thus determined by geography alone.
The Sudeten Germans were eager to join with the great German state — “powerful, united and nationalist”. Hence, Taylor argues that “Hitler did not create the movement. It was waiting for him, ready — indeed eager-to be used”. The powers — immediately available who could check Germany at this initial stage — such as Great Britain, United States or Soviet Union — were not willing to fight to save Czechoslovakia.
But the situation was unknown to Hitler. A direct German attack would, Hitler thought, provoke a French intervention. Taylor maintains Hitler overrated French strength and French resolution. Soviet Union would like to help Czechoslovakia but she could not do so on account of the barrier policy of Poland and Romania who would never allow Soviet troops to march through their countries on the way to Czechoslovakia.
Why did not Britain and France categorically declare that German attack on Czechoslovakia would be opposed by them? According to Thomson, Britain lacked rearmament and her air defences, in particular, were unprepared. The same was true of France. British Prime Minister Chamberlain, in order to avoid the responsibility, bluffed the world saying Czechoslovakia was a “far-away country”, of which they knew nothing.
France, because of her proximity to German bomber fields and numerically superior German air force, declined to save Czechoslovakia in the event of any aggression by Germany. United States was still pursuing the policy of isolation. The entire situation appeared to Stalin as a trick of Britain and France who were encouraging Germany’s expansion eastward, away from themselves and against Soviet Union. Stalin denounced the Pact with Czechoslovakia. The result was the subsequent German-Soviet Pact of Non-Aggression.
In the circumstances mentioned above Hitler was sure that he could deal with Czechoslovakia as he pleased. Hitler first began a “war of nerves” by a bombardment of accusation, abuse and menaces and then declared that his patience had been exhausted. The only power who could offer real and effective military help to Czechoslovakia was Italy, but long before — during seizure of Austria — Mussolini did not raise a finger and now he was more intimately tied with Hitler and, therefore, no question arose as regards the help to Czechoslovakia.
The Sudeten Germans were encouraged to stage demonstrations against their Government. They demanded the right to join Germany. There are references that Hitler was determined to launch a surprise attack on Czechoslovakia and for which a plan was prepared. The plan was code-named “Case Green”. It was decided that the attack would have to be carried out with “lightning speed”.
There may be some truth that Hitler did not precipitate the Czech crisis, but not the whole truth. He instigated the Sudeten Germans to rise against their democratic government of Prague. At the same time he disapproved the “idea of strategic attack out of the blue without cause or possibility of justification” because of “hostile world opinion which might lead to a critical situation”.
At this juncture, Soviet Union proposed a conference with Britain, France and the United States and expressed her willingness to take part in any collective action that might be taken to defend Czechoslovakia against Germany. But the proposal was not accepted for various reasons, the most important of which was that the Western powers cherished the idea of directing Hitler’s aggressive attitude towards East. And, moreover, they were not sufficiently prepared to defend the onslaught of Germany.
Hitler’s antagonist President Eduard Benes of Czechoslovakia tried to meet the demand for autonomy to Sudetan Germans in every reasonable manner but no reconciliation was possible as Germany instigated them not to do so. Ironically enough, the Sudeten Germans were not badly off. They had fared tolerably well in Czechoslovakia — certainly better than any other minority in the country and better than the German minorities in Poland or in Fascist Italy.
Thus the plight of the German minority in Czechoslovakia was for Hitler merely a pretext for cooking up a stew in a land he coveted, undermining it, confusing and misleading his friends and concealing his real purpose. Benes had limitations of his own. Czechoslovakia’s alliances looked formidable on paper, but, in practice, these were valueless. Taylor suggests Hitler and Benes both desired to intensify the crisis and increase the tension, for separate reasons.
Hitler “meant to succeed by intrigue and the threat of violence, not by violence itself. Benes was ready to play against Hitler for high stakes. The Czechoslovak army was a formidable force, its well-equipped 34 divisions probably a match in themselves for the German army of 1938. But Benes did not want to fight the war with his army. He wanted Britain to fight for him.
Hitler’s stooge in Czechoslovakia was Konrad Henlein, the leader of the Sudetan German Party (S. D. P.), a gymnastics teacher, ready to do the bidding of Adolf Hitler. It is curious that despite what had happened in Austria, Prime Minister Chamberlain of Great Britain and Premier Daladier of France did not grasp the gravity of the political situation of Czechoslovakia. They might have believed that all Hitler wanted was justice for his kinsfolk in Czechoslovakia.
So the British and French governments went out of their way to pressure the Czech government to grant far-reaching concessions to the Sudetan Germans. Benes began giving concessions to the Sudetan Germans aiming to win British support. But the British government declined to make any commitment to Czechoslovakia. As Britain declined, France also followed that path, but decided to ask the British to stand firmly and publicly behind Czechoslovakia.
Chamberlain replied – “If Germany did decide to destroy Czechoslovakia, I do not see how this can be prevented”.
At this stage, Chamberlain came to the conclusion that “Hitler would be satisfied if the claims of the Sudeten Germans were met”. Hence he was in favour of exerting pressure on Benes to yield. But Daladier was adamant and disliked the argument of Chamberlain. According to him, war could be averted if both Great Britain and France determined to oppose Hitler.
He said “If we were once again to capitulate when faced by another threat, we should then have prepared the way for the very war we wished to avoid.” Daladier believed that “German policy was one of bluff.” But France alone could not do anything effective unless Britain stood firmly beside her and which Britain refused to do. On the other hand, both Britain and France continued to demand that Benes must ensure the Sudeten Germans that their demands would be fulfilled and by this Czechoslovakia would cease to exist as an independent country.
Britain and France did not know the way out of this impasse except war against Germany which both of them declined because of their unpreparedness. If they supported Czechoslovakia, there might be the possibility of war. Present historians believe that Hitler at that stage was not prepared to wage war against Britain and France. But in the contemporary confusion it was difficult to assess the actual ground situation. Therefore, Chamberlain decided to prevent war by following a policy of appeasement.
The meeting that took place on 15 September 1938 at Berchtesgaden between Chamberlain and Hitler was not a successful one. Hitler declared in the meeting that nothing could stop war unless the Sudeten Germans were given the right of self-determination. On 19 September Czechoslovakia was asked by both Britain and France to agree to the immediate transfer to Germany of the areas inhabited by a population of more than 50% Germans. Czechoslovakia agreed to the proposal under pressure.
Here was appeasement triumphant — a great dispute in sight of settlement without resort to war. But eventually it had worked out all wrong. There are sufficient indications that Chamberlain believed Hitler. Chamberlain returned to London with victory smile. He declared that his diplomacy had been successful in averting a war in Europe. Soon it will prove he was wrong and his diplomacy totally failed.
Taylor points out that Daladier proved himself a better diplomat than Chamberlain. He rightly guessed that Hitler had an ulterior motive and his real aim was the disintegration of Czechoslovakia and the realisation of Pan-German aims through a march to the east. When Daladier came to London on September 18, for a meeting with the British Prime Minister, after Chamber- lain came back from Germany, he gave vent to his feeling.
By this time Benes realised that he was being deserted by his supposed friends. Czechoslovakia, in that critical situation, could find Soviet Union as a dependable ally. But two things made the position unfavourable for Czechoslovakia. She had no special agreements with Russia even for the event of war and she had not done, and would not do, anything without France. Secondly, the majority of the Czech cabinet led by Hodza, the Prime Minister, was against any kind of mutual contact with the Soviet Union.
However, by this time Hitler increased his demands when on 22 September Chamberlain again met Hitler at Godesberg. This time Hitler declared that the Anglo-French proposals were no longer enough on the pretence of Sudeten Germans were being massacred — a statement which was not true. So Czechoslovakia, Hitler demanded, must be occupied by German troops at once. The Godesberg meeting, therefore, ended in a fiasco.
Hitler was upping his demands at the very moment they were being accepted. Chamberlain considered those new demands unreasonable and refused to do more than to refer them to the Government of Czechoslovakia. In Britain, it was decided that if Czechoslovakia was attacked by Hitler, Britain and France would support her with all possible means. War preparations were ordered. The British navy was alerted. Britain declared that the Soviet Union and Britain would stand by France if the latter helped Czechoslovakia against Germany. The war seemed imminent.
But, at the same time, there is clear indication that British government were urging the French not to wage war against Germany even if Czechoslovakia were invaded since this would “automatically start a World War without unhappily having any effect on saving Czechoslovakia”. Chamberlain stated it clearly that “we cannot in all circumstances undertake to involve the whole British Empire in war simply on her (Czechoslovakia) account.”
At that stage President Roosevelt also urged Hitler to settle the matter amicably. The King of Sweden, staunch friend of Germany, also proposed Hitler not to precipitate the war-like situation. Chamberlain appealed to Mussolini to act as mediator as he believed that Mussolini’s mediation would be successful. Chamberlain announced in the House of Commons on 28 September that a Four Powers meeting would be held at Munich soon.
On 29 September 1938 the Munich Conference was held. Chamberlain, Daladier, Mussolini and Hitler attended the meeting. Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia were excluded. Chamberlain and Daladier did not meet before-hand to coordinate their policy. Although Churchill repeatedly tried to point out to the head of the British government that Soviet participation on the side of the West would be of immense value, but this view seems to have escaped the Prime Minister.
Nothing was, however, done to secure Soviet friendship. On the contrary Chamberlain tried to secure friendship of Italy, a paper tiger, by giving him unnecessary importance for taming Hitler. Czechoslovakia was partly responsible for her misfortune by failing to respond to British offer of collective guarantee.
After prolonged discussion, the Munich Pact was signed on the night of 29-30 September 1938. The agreement stipulated that the German occupation “of the predominantly German territory” should be carried out by German troops in four stages, from October 1 through October 7. The remaining territory, after being delimited by International Commission, would be occupied “by October 10”.
The Commission was to consist of representatives of the four Big Powers and Czechoslovakia. Britain, France and Italy agreed “that the evacuation of the territory shall be completed by October 10, without any existing installations having been destroyed, and that the Czechoslovak government will be held responsible for carrying out the evacuation without damage to the said installations.”
Further, the International Commission would arrange for plebiscites, “not later than the end of November”, in the regions where the ethnographical character was in doubt and would make the final determination of the new frontiers. In an annex to the accord, Britain and France declared that they stand by their offer relating to an international guarantee of the new boundaries of the Czechoslovak State against unprovoked aggression.
Germany and Italy, for their part, also guaranteed to protect Czechoslovakia against aggression. But the pledge of plebiscites was never carried out. Neither Germany nor Italy ever gave the guarantee to Czechoslovakia against aggression and Britain and France also declined to honour their guarantee. Within a very short time Germany swallowed Czechoslovakia.
It is rightly said that the heart of the lamb of Czechoslovakia was butchered in the darkness at midnight by a knife supplied by Chamberlain. Historians have condemned Chamberlain for his policy of appeasement. But one thing should be remembered that his concern for peace was genuine. He tried his best to maintain peace.
He knew very well that Britain was unprepared for any type of war and his whole political career was at stake if he failed to keep peace in Europe. Hitler was a shrewd blackmailer and Chamberlain was no match to Hitler’s shrewdness. Hence Chamberlain saw the house of peace which he had so laboriously built up at the expense of the Czechs collapsing like a stack of cards. Hitler was the greatest liar of the century. He promised and guaranteed Czechoslovakia’s integrity and broke it.
Soviet Union was not taken into confidence because of various reasons. Chamberlain had a very poor knowledge about the fighting capacity of the Red Army because of recent purging. Secondly, Soviet foreign policy was a mystery to Western statesmen. The Soviets had an alliance with Czechoslovakia and for her own security and interest Soviet Union should have strengthened the defence of Czechoslovakia, whether France came first to do so or not. Again, in Spain, Soviet action was applauded by the West and the opportunity to establish good relations with Great Britain and France came in sight but to no avail.
Winston Churchill described the situation after Munich as “a disaster of the first magnitude”. His prophecy was in these words “Czechoslovakia will be engulfed in the Nazi regime” came true. He further said “We have suffered a total and unmitigated defeat”. Ribbentrop, the Foreign Minister of Nazi Germany, remarked, “The old man (Chamberlain) has signed his death warrant and now it is for us to fill the date.” F. L. Schuman writes, “The Munich Pact was the culmination of appeasement and warrant of death for the Western Democracies. It was the symbol of collapse of collective security.”
There was a wrong belief in Britain and France that after Czechoslovakia Hitler would direct attack against Soviet Union and the two dictatorships would get involved in a life and death struggle and thereby exhaust themselves. If Chamberlain decided to oppose Germany and fight against her in 1938, it could have been an ideal situation for him.
There was 30 to 40 well-trained Divisions of Czech army which could have fought against Hitler. There was every possibility of Soviet Russia joining the war against Germany. But Chamberlain decided to fight when situation had gone against him. All the resources of Czechoslovakia fell into the hands of Germany.
Tem Paper # 3. The Outbreak of War — Design or Blunder: [Responsibility with Whom]:
On 1 September 1939, German troops invaded Poland. The war developed into a global war. Why did Hitler take the responsibility of global war? Critics have different views. According to one view Hitler designed for a great war for his own sake. He cherished the desire to be a world conqueror like Alexander the Great or Napoleon. “He was a maniac, a nihilist, a second Attila”. This view lacked fundamental or logical basis.
The second view is that Hitler had a “coherent, long-term plan of an original nature which he pursued with unwavering persistence.” This led him to prepare a plan to secure power and it shaped all his foreign policy. Hitler intended to give Germany a great colonial empire in Eastern Europe by defeating Soviet Russia, exterminating all the inhabitants and then planting the vacant territory with Germans. Refuting this idea Taylor questions if that was the idea of Hitler then his war against the Western Powers was a great blunder.
The critics have not clarified this riddle and, on the contrary, confused others. The truth is this that until the spring of 1936, “rearmament was largely a myth.” Hitler ignored military requirements, but spent huge sum to encourage public spending on roads and buildings. German economic recovery was largely caused by the investment of money in non-military sector.
But other nations built erroneous conception around them that Hitler was preparing aggressive war against them and Hitler was equally convinced that they intended to prevent Germany’s restoration as an independent great power. Hitler was interested only in making Germany an independent Great Power. There is little doubt that Hitler was determined to overthrow the status quo, as, to the Germans, status quo was not peace but a slave treaty.
As a vanquished Power Germany wanted to undo its defeat and this ambition — whether aggressive or not — was not peculiar to Hitler. All political parties of Germany were determined to undo its defeat but none had clear conception what undoing the defeat of the First World War meant. All of them including Hitler assumed that Germany must retain its past glory and would become the dominant Power in Europe. And for this she needed undoing her defeat, even by war if required, but not by making total war.
But history speaks against the chance of becoming a Great Power. In the eighteenth century Frederick the Great led Prussia on the verge of destruction in the effort to be a Great Power. Napoleon also followed the same path and found himself a captive. Taylor remarks that if the object of becoming a Great Power is to acquire the capability of fighting a great war, the only way of remaining a Great Power is not be involved in any war. If it becomes a compulsion to fight a war, then it is prudential to fight a limited war.
Hitler, in fact, depended not on military strength but on deceptive diplomacy. He made Chamberlain fool. Taylor points out that far from wanting war, a general war was the last thing he wanted. He wanted the fruits of total victory without total war. Remilitarization of Rhineland, occupation of Austria and Czechoslovakia were possible for his successful deceptive diplomacy. Hitler planned to solve Germany’s living-space problem by a series of small wars.
But Shirer has given us a different view about Hitler’s aim and object of the war — that he deliberately determined to treble his army’s numerical strength — from 1,00,000 to 3,00,000 by October 1, 1934 and, according to top military officers like General Ludwig Beck, Chief of the General Staff, Hitler was determined to flout Versailles stipulations on conscriptions and publicly repudiate the military restrictions by April 1, 1935.
By the end of 1934, rearmament, in all its phases, had become so massive it was obvious that it could no longer be concealed from the suspicious and uneasy powers of Versailles. But, at the same time, Hitler did not stop chanting incantation of tolerance and conciliation. There was no resentment in his speech to the Reichstag delivered on 21 May 1935.
Instead there were assurances that all he wanted was peace and understanding based on justice for all. He rejected the very idea of war.’ German rearmament was a myth until the spring of 1936, as Taylor points out, is not true to the fact. Finding this attitude some critics might have thought that Hitler did not want war or Great War. The Western Powers were deceived by Hitler’s crafty movement.
The most eloquent and certainly one of the cleverest and most misleading of his Reichstag orations can be found below:
“The blood shed on the European continent in the course of the last three hundred years bears no proportion to the nation result of the events. In the end France has remained France, Germany Germany, Poland Poland, and Italy Italy. What dynastic egotism, political passion and patriotic blindness have attained in the way of apparently far-reaching political change by shedding rivers of blood has, as regards national feeling, done no more than touched the skin of the nations. It has not substantially altered their fundamental characters. If these states had applied merely a fraction of their sacrifices to wiser purposes that success would certainly have been greater and more permanent.”
Germany, declared Hitler, had not the slightest thought of conquering other peoples. At this stage, most probably. Hitler was led by the thought that he must not weaken his popularity by reducing the standard of civilian life in Germany. Examining the Hossbach Memorandum minutely Prof. Fritz Fischer reported the result of his investigations into German war aims. The Memorandum has been described by him as “a grasp at world power”, and a blueprint for aggression.
This Memorandum is the alleged blueprint of Hitler’s intentions. But Britain remains partly responsible as is found from the documents and, in this statement, Taylor is correct. Without consulting their allies of the Stresa Front, France and Italy, which were also naval powers and much concerned over German rearmament and German flouting of the military clauses of Versailles, and without even informing the League of Nations, which was supposed to uphold the 1919 peace treaties, Britain proceeded for what she thought was a private advantage to wipe out the naval restrictions of Versailles.
Again, Britain and France did not prevent Mussolini from conquering Ethiopia but they did destroy the friendship of Fascist Italy with them and bring an end to the Stresa Front against Nazi Germany. The entire German population backed Hitler and endorsed his aggressive policy. His popularity and power rose to such an extent which no German ruler of the past had ever enjoyed. After remilitarization of the Rhineland Hitler dissolved the Reichstag on March 7, 1936, and called for a new election and a referendum on his move into the Rhineland. In the polls 98.8 per cent of the voters approved Hitler’s action.
Although Hitler promised that after the annexation of Sudetenland, the rest of Czechoslovakia would remain independent and intact. But soon it proved that his word of honour was of no value. On 14 March 1939, Dr. Hacha, the President of Czechoslovakia, was asked to meet Hitler in Berlin. He came and was forced to sign a document which was to put the fate of the Czech people into the hands of Hitler.
Thus Czechoslovakia ceased to exist. Next he occupied Memel on 21 March 1939. Prior to these events Austria was annexed on 15 March 1938. On 23 August 1939 the Non-Aggression Pact between the Soviet Union and Germany was signed. Having neutralised the Soviet Union, Hitler was ready and on 1 September 1939 German troops invaded Poland. The war developed to a global war.
The British policy during this time, in fact, might have helped Hitler to fulfill his lust, for extension of German power. But Hitler was determined to wage war and to be a world conqueror like Alexander the Great and Napoleon without considering his limitations. Halifax, the British foreign secretary, when met Hitler at Brechtesgaden in Germany, praised Nazi Germany “as the bulwark of Europe against Bolshevism”.
He sympathised with German grievances. In particular, he pointed to certain questions where possible alterations might be destined to come about with the passage of time. They were: Danzig, Austria and Czechoslovakia. Halifax pointed out that England was interested to see that any alterations should come through the course of ‘peaceful evolution and that methods should be avoided which might cause far-reaching disturbances.
Here, in Halifax’s own words, was confirmation of what Hitler had told his generals earlier – England would not seek to maintain the existing settlement in Central Europe, but there was a condition that changes must come through peaceful means. Halifax’s words, if they had any practical sense, were an invitation to Hitler to bring about change in central Europe, so that German interests were preserved and that change could come through promoting German nationalist agitation in Danzig, Austria and Czechoslovakia. Also, there was an assurance that those activities would not be opposed by the Western powers.
Halifax alone did not help to precipitate the problem. In London, Eden told Ribbentrop that people in England believed that Germany and Austria must come in close contact because they had identical nationality. The same news came from France. They had “no objection to a marked extension of German influence in Austria obtained through evolutionary means.” Also, in Czechoslovakia, Hitler was given a free hand. But there was only one condition — these changes must be brought without any general war.
All these remarks strengthened Hitler’s conviction that he would meet little opposition from Great Britain and France. But Britain and France forgot to think that Austria and Czechoslovakia would not commit suicide. They must oppose against any such attempt made by Germany and, therefore, war was inevitable. So Britain and France indirectly helped Hitler to precipitate the crisis.
Britain almost certainly, and probably France as well, had reconciled the fact that Germany alone could settle the question of Austria and Czechoslovakia and nobody would intervene. The only power which could intervene in Czechoslovakia was Soviet Union, but the hostile attitude of Britain and France towards her made her suspicious about their real motive. Soviet Union’s conviction was that the Western powers were directing Hitler towards East which would be harmful for Soviet Union in the near future.
Taylor points out that Hitler was gambling on some twist of fortune which would present him with success in foreign affairs, just as a miracle had made him Chancellor in 1933. But Taylor is not perhaps right when he remarks that there was no concrete plan or directive for German policy in 1937 and 1938. Shirer has shown that, throughout 1937, the Austrian Nazis, financed and egged on by Berlin, had stepped up their campaign on terror.
Bombings took place nearly every day in some part of the country and often violent Austrian Nazi demonstrations weakened the government’s position. When Austrian police raided the Vienna headquarters of Austrian Nazis they found documents initialed by Rudolf Hess, Hitler’s deputy, in which it was found that when Schuschnigg attempted to put it down, the German Army would enter Austria.
Hitler believed that he had a historic mission. He told in his discourse with Schuschnigg that the mission “I will fulfill because Providence has destined me to do so… who is not with me will be crushed I have chosen the most difficult road that any German ever took; I have made the greatest achievement in the history of Germany, greater than any other German. And not by force, mind you I am carried along by the love of my people.”
Hitler was definitely responsible to precipitate the crisis, equally Britain and France were. The major issue of the war, when it began in September 1939, was the simple allegation against Poland that the German minorities there were being oppressed. Poland was asked to give back Danzig to Germany and also a strip of territory to connect East Prussia with the rest of Germany. The Polish government was not prepared to accept the demands and this time she was backed by Britain and Germany. The war seemed to loom large in the horizon.