Sunday 9 August 2009
Storm of War
Andrew Roberts recently published The Storm of War: a New History of the Second World War has now dropped into my hands. I like Roberts as a historian, I always have; I like his perspective on things, intelligent, conservative, biting and insightful. I’ve read his previous books with considerable delight, well-written and well-researched. His new book is over seven hundred and fifty pages long, so it’s obviously going to take me a time to digest it properly. I have, however, been glancing through it, picking up items at random. One argument leaped out at me: Hitler lost the war for precisely the same reason he started it-because he was a Nazi. Au contraire, Andrew; Hitler did not lose the war because he was a Nazi: he lost it because he was Hitler.
Before proceeding I should in fairness add one important caveat. Insofar as Nazism was anti-Semitic, insofar as Hitler was anti-Semitic, official policy, in leading to the migration of Jewish academicians, set German science back by some distance, especially in the area of nuclear physics. In the end this meant the Nazis would lose the race to develop the Atomic bomb.
Now let’s turn to two other important areas, also vital in explaining the German defeat: the invasion of Russia and the decision to declare war on America. It’s true, of course, that in deciding to go to war with the Soviets Hitler broke what Field Marshal Montgomery defined as the first rule of warfare-never advance on Moscow. The thing is, though, this is a war that could very well have been won if it had not been guided by Hitler as Hitler rather than Hitler as a Nazi.
There were plenty in the Nazi hierarchy who saw the invasion as an opportunity to develop a positive anti-Stalin alliance. The Soviet state, built on terror, starvation, gulags and murder was hated by so many, particularly in the Ukraine, where German troops were widely welcomed in the early days of Barbarossa. People like Alfred Rosenberg, also a Nazi, wanted to build on this, pursuing in effect the same policy as Imperial Germany of creating independent and semi-independent buffer states. But as far as Hitler was concerned the Slavs, without exception, were untermenschen and nothing should be done to encourage any form of nationalism among them. So, he gave free reign to Himmler, a political fantasist, to spin out his favoured ideological projects with disastrous consequences. It wasn’t communism or Stalin that defeated Hitler in the east; it was patriotism and the simple desire for self-preservation.
There was no reason to declare war on America in December 1941. Germany was under no obligation to do so under the Tripartite Pact with Japan and Italy. Hitler declared war because he was convinced America was a ‘military weakling.’ Yet again this was Hitler, not Nazism. Others in the hierarchy may have accepted that America was a ‘military weakling’ at that particular point in time, but they were also aware that it was an industrial giant with a huge manpower reserve. More particularly, it had the power to transform itself almost overnight, the lesson of 1917 and 1918.
These are just two examples but there are many others, cases where Hitler’s laziness, incompetence and tendency to micro-management all contributed to the eventual outcome. I emphasise my point again: it was Adolf Hitler who lost the war, not Nazi Germany.
One other thing about Roberts: he is not at all reluctant to say what he likes and say what he dislikes; and the one thing he most assuredly dislikes is the French! Sorry, I’m being provocative. Better said, he does not like French conduct during the war, the conduct of the Vichy regime in particular. He draws his facts into battle like a general drawing soldiers: in 1941 it took only 30,000 German troops to hold down the occupied part of France-less than two full divisions-whereas some 400,000 French people enrolled in Nazi military organisations over the course of the conflict. When additional Abwehr files were opened in 1999 these showed that many thousands of French were paid to spy on their fellow country people, often for pitifully small amounts of money and so on and so on.
Anyway, I’m looking forward to reading the whole work at greater leisure when I find the time-if I find the time-and if I don’t disappear beneath a constant avalanche of books!