History is always being rewritten.Yesterday's perspective is no longer 'correct' or more evidence has come along to challenge the previously held majority view: either way views change and interpretations vary,allowing us to see the past in a new way.Hence every generation will have it's 'take' on the past.Even so 'The Origins...' is still an absorbing and largely persuasive piece of work,despite it's venerable age.
Taylor makes three central points - firstly that Hitler despite the rhetoric was really a 'chancer' who distinguished himself from his counterparts by his steely nerves and willingness to ask for more, just when the other side thought they had done enough to pacify him.Hitler played his hand brilliantly but only because he was allowed to by the French, British and Russians. This goes against the idea that Hitler was bent on World or at least European domination, simply because he much prefered to get what he wanted through threat rather then force -so much easier,especially as the German military was not really up to a prelonged campaign as in the First World War. He was happy to have client states like Romania or lap dogs like Italy to do his bidding rather then conflict, as this would inevitably bring Britain and France to bear in his direction. His motive was to expand into the East-where the pickings were much easier and richer,rather then get involved in a draining war with Britain and France.This seems a very convincing argument,although somewhat nullified by Hitler's own ramblings in 'Mein Kampf'. The coming with war over Poland then according to Taylor was a classic example of over-stretch by Hitler- now he was forced to use force where previously intrigue and power politics -as in Austria had done him handsomely.
Secondly,Germany had considerable sympathy in Britain and elsewhere for it's territorial losses in the Versailles treaty,in fact the British often had more time for German concerns then those of it's supposed ally, France.In a sense he says, Britain, France , Russia and Italy although wary of Hitler could see him as useful- either as a bulwark against Communism, or as a guardian of mutual security or helping to fulfill specific territorial ambitions that particular countries might have had themselves.So as long as Germany didn't get too powerful or greedy,she could be a way of maintaining peace in Central Europe. This too is persuasive - leading us to consider that unlike in conventional histories, no-one was innocent in all of these political manoeuvrings.
Thirdly that the Poland issue was simply a mistake.Hitler did not want a World war, but given his character,once forced into one (as he saw it), Germany could and would take on all comers.This proved true even to the extent of declaring war on the USA in 1941.He was slow for instance unlike the British to turn the whole economy over to war production,his hope was to quickly defeat his enemies rather then get into a never-ending slug-fest.
So, whether you agree with Taylor or not - his book is a rattling good read,and he keeps up a steady pace and allows us to see the various threads of activity clearly, despite the complexity of the diplomatic situation.However, there are a few negatives to consider: most importantly- where is Japan in all this?
I think also that Taylor underplays the economic situation -given that Germany was running large balance of payments deficits with its trading neighbours and the expansion of the military must have been costly,it must have been the case that Hitler had to find a way to pay for increased state spending - hence the toadying up to the major industrialists,the removal of the trade unions and the fleecing and eventual displacement of the Jews in German economic life.In short,once he had done all he could do bleed the domestic front dry whilst at the same time trying to remain popular, annexation and sequestration by whatever means-even war, was the only way Hitler was going to pay for his ambitions. He took a gamble and in the end lost.
I also found after awhile Taylor's lofty tone somewhat irritating.Given the lack of trust,information and common policy amongst the various countries concerned, was it any surprise that a focused and ultimately unknowable individual such as Hitler could play divide and rule for so long without being caught out? Taylor shows I feel insufficient understanding of how difficult it must have been to deal with Hitler, a man who many of the statesmen involved often had admiration and sympathy for, despite his foibles.
'The Origins...' remains an important book, even if as a work of scholarship it is somewhat limited. Recommended,despite its shortcomings.
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