To the Editor:
With restraint, yet with devastating documentation, a British historian demolishes a colleague’s attempt to rescue the criminal Nazi regime from the terrible guilt of having caused World War II. G. F. Hudson, in his review of A. J. P. Taylor’s book [February], exposes Taylor’s poor scholarship, blindness, and lack of logic. Mr Hudson deserves our thanks. . . .
S. G. Herman
To the Editor:
G. F. Hudson’s review of The Origins of the Second World War. . . makes two assertions concerning Taylor’s attitudes. He says that Taylor thinks that Poland should have capitulated in 1939, and that Taylor denounces the British government’s Polish guarantee. . . . Professor Taylor simply contends that Poland’s power was illusory, and her position militarily untenable. Events bear him out. Secondly, Taylor’s “denunciation,” if that is the term one applies to an opponent’s feelings of distaste, is not for the guarantee, but rather for Chamberlain’s characteristic lack of thought, and for Colonel Beck’s callous, opportunistic crypto-fascism. Here again, historical judgment of these personalities agrees with Taylor.
Far more repugnant to my taste is Professor Hudson’s use of the innuendo to impute opinions to Professor Taylor. Hudson would appear to have us believe that Taylor was against opposition to Hitler in 1939, and in favor of appeasement in general. This is flatly false. Taylor toured England in the pre-war years speaking against appeasement wherever possible, while his colleagues were in the Foreign Office busily appeasing; and in one of his earlier books, The Trouble-makers, Taylor delivered a stinging attack on their policies. Again, in The Origins of the Second World War Professor Taylor implies that the best that can be said of Allied statesmen is that they were rather stupid. . . . I suggest, on the basis of my reading of Professor Taylor’s books, that he believes that Germany should have been invaded in 1918 and her army destroyed. Her resurgence and rearmament should have been prohibited by occupation or the threat of it. . . .
To argue the data of German history with Professor Hudson would be pointless. Although in his review he gives the impression that he and Professor Taylor are in factual disagreement, they agree on the events, but disagree in their interpretation of the events. . . . Professor Hudson’s own skeleton key to the interpretation of German history, the Hossbach Memorandum, supports Taylor’s thesis that war in Poland was not on Hitler’s agenda. Professor Hudson’s favorite chapters of Mein Kampf certainly point out that war with England was the one thing that Hitler wanted to avoid. Finally, all accounts seem to indicate that the war as it occurred, beginning with the invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, was a result of blunders and misunderstandings on both sides.
There is room for controversy over several questions dealt with in Taylor’s thesis. The first of these is the general question of whether Hitler desired to go to war. The second and third questions are over the specific issues of Hitler’s plans for Austria and Czechoslovakia. A judicious reading of the documents pertaining to these matters reveals ambiguousness of program in almost every regard. There is no doubt that Hitler intended to increase Germany’s Lebensraum. There is also no doubt that Hitler did not intend to permit Austria and Czechoslovakia to function as independent sovereign governments. The question is, by what means did Hitler intend to realize his aims? These aims may be defined as a German hegemony over Central Europe. Professor Taylor has interpreted this to mean that Hitler was not interested in occupation, but rather in domination over a collection of satellite states. Hitler would then have meant for Austria and Czechoslovakia the same sort of status in the Reich that Hungary and Rumania came to have. Professor Hudson and his colleagues have normally interpreted this program of domination as a project for war. The central fact that Professor Hudson loses sight of in his review is that both conclusions are interpretations.
To call The Origins of the Second World War an apology for Hitler is a shocking mistake in emphasis. The book is an indictment. An indictment, first of all, of the Allies; their failure in Realpolitik and their moral poverty. . . . Whenever political reality was involved, from the question of a meaningful armistice in 1918 to the question of the defense of Poland in August 1939, Allied statesmen refused to exercise the responsibility incumbent upon them as leaders of their countries. Wherever their morals were involved, they behaved despicably. It was the British who destroyed Spanish democracy and gave the Luftwaffe the chance to train, just as assuredly as it was the British, and not the embryonic German army, who dismembered Czechoslovakia. It was the French who handed Ethiopia to the Italians and Belgium and the Rhineland to the Germans. It was the Poles who rendered Poland indefensible.
The book is secondly an indictment of the Germans. Taylor remembers, as the rest of us seem to forget, that the Germans elected Hitler. Once he was in office, they supported him. The only point of real resistance to his government came from the army in 1944—and that because the army felt he was imperiling its preservation in the case of a defeat. . . .
Judgments of the Second World War have taken a peculiar turn. We have come to view the war in terms of a “superman” theory of history. Hitler is seen as an irresistible, demonic force who created the war and the Nazi regime out of his own bitter will. . . . The alternative is to recognize that Hitler was a politician much like the politicians who opposed him; that his government took power within the framework of a constitutional democracy; and that he pursued his aims with the standard methods of power politics. This means that the Nazi horror was created by men in a normal political situation, and therefore could have been stopped by other men in that situation. This also means that wherever there are men it is possible to create Nazism anew, and to stop it. Professor Taylor asks us to accept past guilt, so that we may assume future responsibility.
David H. Looman
New York City