It was Watergate that taught us to Follow The Money. Strangely, few people have done this with the Nazi regime. Although the Third Reich was a major military power by 1939, all the guns, bombs and planes had to be paid for and just because it was a murderous dictatorship, this did not mean that it didn't have to follow a fiscal policy. For instance did you know that Germany stayed on the Gold Standard longer than the USA?
Adam Tooze has authored (I believe) the first major work on the Nazi economy since Alan Millward's of the 1960s/70s. He opposes Millward's thesis of the 'Blitzkreig' economy, geared to fight short continental wars and instead shows an economic policy that lurched from crisis to crisis, that was subverted to one man's wish to dominate the world.
Hitler started rearming Germany from the first day he took office and Tooze shows the remarkable feat that took place in such a short time. Germany, for all its ideology and violence, remained a capitalist economy and apparently the rate at which it rearmed was unprecendented. It is this sheer quantity of armaments that secured victories up to 1941.
Of course all the effort was doomed. Tooze demonstrates that all Hitler did was to start a global arms race. He also shows that Germany was constrained in how much it could rearm by critical shortages of material and workers. Although Germany started first, it would have been overtaken by Britain, France, USA and USSR by the mid-forties. Thus Hitler had no choice but to start his war in 1939. If he had delayed by even a year, then it would have taken less time to defeat him..
Tooze also shows, as have many others, that Albert Speer should have been hanged at Nuremburg. A rising star throughout the existence of the Third Reich, Speer wielded almost supreme economic power towards the end. However this power was build on the broken bodies of millions of slaves. He appears essentially to have been Europe's biggest slavemaster. Although Himmler may have been responsible for the violence and the death, it was to maximise Speer's production figures that it was all done in the first place.
This is a economic history first and foremost, but Tooze also revises the conventional view of the fall of France in 1940. Rather then being a masterstroke of strategic design and the application of the Blitzkreig, he demonstrates that it was a simple application of sheer weight of numbers. The Wehrmacht had no reserves and other sectors of the front were stripped to the bone to make up the numbers.
For me, a curious omission was the 'Bomber B' saga. Although Germany's failure to produce a strategic bomber is touched on with reference to the Heinkel 177, Tooze could have explored in greater detail the Luftwaffe's efforts to build a rival to the Lancaster and how they completely failed to do so during the 12-year life of the Third Reich.
Also it would have been useful to have a comparative study of the economic effort needed to produce the V1 and V2 compared to the Lancaster et al versus the impact these weapons had. Apparently more people died building the V2 than were killed when it landed on its targets.
Tooze does however validate the Area Bombing policy advocated by Harris and shows that if it had not had shifting priorities then it may have ended the war sooner. A demonstration of this is that by 1944/45, the Rhine and Ruhr were the cleanest it had been for decades as there was no industry there to pollute them. Since these still remained behind the lines then credit must be due to the aerial campaign.
A minor critique is that the book takes no prisoners on the economics front. You need to have a basic grounding in capital flows and foreign exchange to be able to follow some of the intricacies. Perhaps Tooze could be persuaded to include a brief guide in the second edition of what is sure to be a very popular book.
on 12 May 2008
The author has produced what is surely the last word in explaining the rise and fall of Nazi Germany. This is an economic history, and this allows the real story of the Third Reich to be told. Like all history, the prosecuting of war really depends on the ability to raise and sustain a war machine - this has been the case for most of history. By concentrating on this fundamental fact, the book clarifies the actions of the Third Reich and it's leaders. Essentially, Germany in 1920 had the choice of either accepting it wasn't a major power and becoming a satellite state of the US, living as an exporting economy, or going down the road of war and becoming a world power and exploiting Europe as a conquered empire. Many in Germany at the time refused to accept the former, and through Hitler they made there bid to change the course of history. The author is careful to point out that although this course was fundamentally unsound in view of Germany's real position, there was a lot of logic behind the Nazis world view. Germany was critically dependent on imports of food and materials, it owed huge amounts of money to the US, and had foreign troops on it's soil. Hitler offered what looked like a credible alternative to the man in the street.
The book carefully explains how the Nazis built their war economy, and why it was used at the time and the way it was. Whenever it looked like Germany was losing it's advantage through early mobilisation, war was the only alternative to slow strangulation by naval blockade and air warfare.
After the entry of the US into the war in 1941 by offering aid to the UK, the Nazi leadership knew it had to win the war by 1942. (This thinking made the invasion of the USSR inevitable to the Nazi leadership, who were all to aware of the potential of strategic bombing).
To the Nazi leadership, a showdown with the US/UK was always going to happen, and it was better to happen on their own 'best terms' - i.e. before the US and UK could build an air fleet to destroy German industry. If all potential threats on the continent could be eliminated first, the Luftwaffe could then be built up into a force to protect the air over Europe.
One interesting thing the book also points out is the importance of the UK's blockade of Europe. Basically, Europe is dependent for imports of everything - food, materials etc. With the UK's naval blockade the economy of France (and most of Europe) basically collapsed by the end of the war, with Germany relying on the plundering of conquered countries (and slave labour) to keep financing the war. The rules of war in Europe have not changed since Napoleons time. An effective blockade of the continent soon causes huge problems, forcing Germany or whoever to look at desperate measures (invading Russia) to 'break out' of the blockade and find alternative sources of food/materials.
The author also explains the timing of the holocaust, and the timing of this too has an economic basis - food. In 1941/2 Germany found itself with too many mouths to feed and blockaded. The Nazis decreed that Germans would be the last to starve (as they had in 1918).
Unbelieavably it decided to kill millions of people in Poland to free up food, and then to mass starve the population of the western USSR. There was a plan to starve to death 20 million people as the policy of the German armed forces. This was planned and coordinated at the highest levels of both civilian and military authorities. A terrible story.
on 8 June 2013
You look on the back of the book and see a glowing report from Niall Ferguson, and you think, "Wow, this must be really rubbish." But whatever you do, don't let praise from the risible Ferguson put you off, because this really is a game-changing look at Nazi Germany and much more.
So many sacred cows are slain it's hard to keep count, and the blood loss is appalling. Yet Tooze is unperturbed. I like that fact that he humbly keeps mention of findings that overturn the work of other scholars tucked away at the back of the book in the endnotes - and there are many "victims", including famous names. Where he has overturned someone on something, Tooze also uses and praises, if it is possible, other parts of the "victim"'s oeuvre. What I'm trying to say is that this is not an immature and arrogant man who is brimming with false modesty and who enjoys blowing his own horn (unlike, say, Timothy Snyder), but rather someone who enjoys finding things out and who is simply remarking in passing that what he has discovered does not accord with what has come before, and then softens the blow in the best possible way.
The most satisfying outcome of the book is that Nazi Germany - the decisions, the reasoning, the policies - finally... well, finally make sense, and in an overarching way. In achieving this, Tooze makes significant use of Hitler's second book, which was neglected compared with 'Mein Kampf' as events jumped forward. Thanks in part to the spotlighting of the second book, for all his famous incompetence, delusion, and hubris, Hitler is partially refreshed as someone who, despite it all, also had a good grasp of events. Take a standard view, like Hobsbawm's (p.41 of his 'Age of Extremes'):
"The mystery is why Hitler, already fully stretched in Russia, gratuitously declared war on the USA ... There is no adequate explanation of Hitler's folly, though we know him to have persistently, and dramatically, underestimated the capacity for action, not to mention the economic and technological potential, of the USA because he thought democracies incapable of action."
As Tooze shows conclusively, Hitler most certainly did not underestimate the economic prowess of the US. Relatedly, if one keeps in mind, as Tooze does, Nazi goals and if one puts all the moral issues of aggressive and total war to one side, Hitler's sound understanding of parts of the world scene make the Nazi invasions and their timing "sane". Evil and, as Tooze shows, doomed to failure, but explicable, at long last, in a coherent way.
He does a great job of not letting hindsight's 20-20 vision get the better of him. For example, the Anglo-French declaring war after the invasion of Poland: "Big deal," is the reflexive reaction. "We did nothing about it in terms of action, and France was a walkover within a year." BUT! Tooze reminds us that "[w]ar against Britain and France was the worst-case scenario of Germany strategy. Only hindsight leads us to underestimate this fact." The two leading European imperial powers declaring war on you is a big deal, minus hindsight. And there are other occasions he points up hindsight at work.
Tooze also actually takes the Nazi worldview seriously! And what an advantage that gives him. I guess because Nazi garbage is just such garbage, the trap is always there to not frame one's understanding of Nazi decision-making fully in Nazi terms. The trap is to imagine oneself there, making a decision on their normal, non-racist, non-conspiratorial worldview, a fact that condemns one to misunderstanding. To be concrete, take Hitler's ludicrous "prophecy": why is he up there warning the world that the Jews are going to get it if there is a reaction to his aggression? Well, because he actually does think that Jews controlled the capitalist powers and their banks, most importantly the United States. So to Hitler's mind, this "prophecy" would actually have counted for something, as an attempt to warn the Jews controlling the US from taking action. Of course, we don't share Hitler's fantasy world, so it is easy to dismiss his rubbish for the rubbish it is, but in doing so we miss out on a full understanding of it.
Finally, one of the most tremendously satisfying parts of the book is the lip-smackingly sardonic chapter devoted to "Miracle Man" Albert Speer. Tooze just takes him apart, and the empirical findings underpinning it all make the unyielding criticism mercilessly concrete. Yet it's amazing to read in some of the reviews here of people who "aren't convinced by Tooze's Speer bashing" - why aren't they? Do such people know where Tooze went wrong? His e-mail address at Yale is readily available via Google, and I'm sure the good professor would love to know where his mistakes regarding Speer lie, so he can correct his erroneous knowledge and any future editions of this book. Astonishing that Speer still has this widespread following.
Anyway, from Speer buying Sauckel and his staff tickets for a night out after they had "persuaded" their two-millionth galley slave to work for the Nazis, to the close work with the ultra-antisemitic Goebbels on the propagandistic use of production figures, to the way Speer claimed at the time (and ever after) credit for production increases that were either nothing to do with him or that were built on the foundations laid by others, to Speer as non-ideological technocrat, Tooze's quiver always has arrows available, and he relentlessly sends them down through Speer's totally undeserved reputation as something other than an ambitious Nazi. I've instinctively never liked Speer, because he was a leading Nazi. I also never liked him because he was such an insufferably arrogant individual. Well, if Speer could charm the late, great Gitta Sereny, Tooze hasn't got any time for it - and it shows.
Well, there just isn't the space to go through in detail all the breakthrough discoveries Tooze amasses, but do, do, DO get this book. If one hasn't read this book, one doesn't understand Nazi Germany and World War II. Simple as that, in the humble opinion of this member of the public.
on 17 July 2006
Adam Tooze has written the definitive masterpiece book on the Nazi economy. Throughout he demonstrates the inter relationship between ideology,impending events, and how the Nazi economy functioned and reacted to those events. His thought provoking detail on Albert Speer casts new light on the man. His analysis of the Allied bombing campaign both of area bombing and strategic bombing shows how the western allies progressively pulverised Germany to the point of eventual defeat. A fantastic book, highly recommended.
on 14 February 2007
An excellent read and a salutary reminder for people who, like myself, tend to focus on the political and military aspects of WW II, that there were other powerful forces at work as well. Tooze clearly shows that even absolute dictatorships just can't afford to neglect the balance of payments.
He argues, convincingly, that Speer's "armaments miracle" wasn't much of a miracle after all, but to illustrate the point he seems to overstate the achievements of the German arms producers in the first three years of the war somewhat. For instance, it may be, as he states, that the number of "combat-worthy medium tanks" doubled from May 1940 to June 1941 (page 433), but this was an increase from a very small base (not much more than a thousand). Moreover, many of these tanks were Czech, and rather than being 36- and 38-ton tanks as Tooze states, they were in the 10-ton class, and clearly unsuited for the medium tank function they were expected to fulfill. The fact that the Germans were forced to keep the Czech TNHP tank, which did not have one single part in common with German tanks, in production (as the Pzkpfw. 38t) to make up the numbers already says a lot about the relative impotence of the German tank industry at that time. Medium tank production in June 1941, the month the Soviet Union was invaded, was 38 Mark IVs and 133 Mark IIIs (plus 65 Czech 38ts), decidedly unimpressive compared to US tank production, which starting from scratch reached one thousand per month in little over a year, or compared to Soviet tank production which soon reached comparable levels under unimaginably difficult conditions. Even taking into account reduced steel quotas for the army and other constraints, there still seems to be something of an "armaments mystery" for the first half of the war, even if there was no real "miracle" in the second half.
This is a superb account of the Nazi economy and gives great insight into its manifold failures. I think this is a must read for any serious student of the period and for the interested amateur as well. It is well written too so you can get through the detail easily.
A clear recommendation!
Tooze provides a fresh and insightful description of the way in which the Nazi regime was able to fund and build a war machine which in 1940 smashed the combined forces of Britain, France, Holland and Belgium and, until it met its downfall in 1943 at Stalingrad, appeared invincible.
Of course many works describe this period of history. However, Tooze assists understanding of the inter-woven nature of critical economic and military events , while also challenging commonly held beliefs regarding the period.
I found a number of insights very revealing. Among these:
Once the Nazis commenced to build the industrial base to deliver the military re-armament they sought, they knew they had no other real choice than to go to war, since in the absence of continued demand for military hardware their industrial base would have withered and been unable even to support the weaponry it had already delivered. In other words, once you forge a sword it develops a life of its own - and it demands to be used.
The catastrophic fall of France in 1940 did not result from superior technology on the part of the Germans or even "Blitzkrieg" tactics. It resulted from a brilliant, but high-risk strategy developed by von Manstein that managed to deliver local superiority of strength of German forces in the Ardennes while the bulk of Allied forces moved northwards to meet a feinted German attack on the Netherlands. In this way, as a result of faulty intelligence and incompetence on the part of the Allies, the Germans were able to defeat enemies with a combined total strength greater than their own, while using no better weaponry than their opposition.
The myth of the invulnerability of the Wehrmacht following the fall of France led to the Nazi's believing that the same swift victory could be obtained against the Russians. And they embarked on this course while under-estimating the strength of the Russian army by a factor of three or more.
The murderous genocide of the Jews in Eastern Europe was not a by-product of the Nazi war-machine, but along with the similarly planned annihilation of the Poles and the Slavs, the primary and over-riding objective of the war-machine; to wholly de-populate Eastern Europe so that it could be re-settled by ethnically pure Germans.
While this is by no means a small book (800 pages) Tooze has a literary style that makes for an easy and interesting read.
I bought a copy of the book for a friend of mine who (unlike me, a layman) is a professional economist. His view corresponds with mine: One of the best books describing this pivotal and murderous period of modern history. Highly recommended as a stimulating and informative read.
on 28 August 2008
Heavy going, especially to begin with when dealing with the inter-war period, although this is necessary to understand why the war started when it did and not three years earlier or two years later.
Full of surprising insights, the sort of thing you would never normally think of, such as how shortage of railway wagons because of thousands being required to supply the Eastern Front disrupted the German industrial economy at home. I've never heard this mentioned before and yet, when you think of it, it's obvious.
Inescapable and ultimately insoluble problems caused by shortage of labour, food (seemingly the most severe shortage and the one which forced the regime into insane gambles ), even imported cattle feed.
Or the fact that the French economy was heavily dependent on coal imported from Britain and therefore unable to make much of a contribution to the German war effort after the fall of France when this supply was cut off.
Makes sense of the Swedish supply of iron to Germany (they depended heavily on German coal - as did the Swiss).
It also makes it clear that area bombing was more effective than recognized at the time or admitted since.
This book is good enough to make you realize just how poor most of the other histories of this period are.
Presumably the scale of primary research needed to uncover the truth puts most lesser writers off.
on 31 August 2006
A major revision of what we know of the history of Nazi Germany. Tooze shows how Hitler correctly guessed that the USA and the USSR would dominate Europe, and leave Germany (a second tier and second rate economy, well behind Britain) behind - and that Germany had until 1942 at the latest before Allied rearmament would have made grabs for Lebensraum suicidal. To fix its real economic weakneses, Germany had the choice of becoming a liberal capitalist stae, or the totalitarain war machine it in fact became. However, Germany could never win, as its command economy (necessarily - Mises was right) always produced materiel that was inferior to that produced by (essentially) the US (but also the UK - as Ferguson points out in the War of the World, most Soviet materiel was supplied by the US).
Tooze also shows that Speer was a war criminal and slave lord who should have been hanged at Nuremberg (instead of pulling the wool over our eyes), and the murderous intersection between anti-Semitism, anti-Americanism and anti-modernity that culminated in Nazi Germany.
It is rare to find someone who writes sufficiently well to make descriptions of Schacht's manipulation of current account deficits interesting.
If you read one history book this year, this must be it.
on 12 November 2014
Brilliant and much needed corrective to the 'evil appeasers' school of historians. Hitler was set on war from day one and fortunately for the world wasn't quite able to muster enough resources to pull off his war for living space. The book also brings out the effects of American policy. With a little more determination the US could have wrecked German economic preparations without a shot being fired but avoided decisive action on the excuse of isolationism.