THE LAST THING that Hitler wanted to produce was another great war.1
—B. H. LIDDELL HART
The one thing [Hitler] did not plan was the great war, often attributed to him.2
WHEN HITLER TOOK POWER in 1933, not all Englishmen were ignorant of the character of the man who had attempted the Munich Beer Hall Putsch and written Mein Kampf. Sir Horace Rumbold, the British ambassador in Berlin, a man wiser than those who would succeed him, wrote in his valedictory dispatch to London of April 26, 1933, that Hitler
starts with the assumption that man is a fighting animal; therefore the nation is a fighting unit, being a community of fighters…. A country or race which ceases to fight is doomed…. Pacifism is the deadliest sin…. Intelligence is of secondary importance…. Will and determination are of the highest worth. Only brute force can ensure the survival of the race.3
Hitler believes, wrote Rumbold, “It is the duty of government to implant in the people feelings of manly courage and passionate hatred…. The new Reich must gather within its fold all the scattered German elements in Europe…. What Germany needs is an increase in territory.”4
With the mass arrest of Communists after the Reichstag fire, the concentration camp established at Dachau, the murders by the SS during the Night of the Long Knives, the kind of men the Allies were dealing with in the new Germany was known by 1934. Even Mussolini had been shaken. But the issue of this chapter is not that Hitler was crude, cruel, and ruthless, or that the barbarism his Nazi regime degenerated into was rivaled only by Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot, but whether Hitler ever sought war with the West.
Looking back at each of the crises before 1939 and how he responded, the answer would seem to be “No.” In 1934, Hitler had been nearly hysterical that the Austrian Nazis, who had assassinated Dollfuss, would drag him into a confrontation with Mussolini. He disowned the coup and the Nazi plotters and pledged to make amends.
Hitler described the days of March 1936, when he sent three lightly armed battalions into the Rhineland with orders to pull out immediately if they met French resistance, as the “most nerve-racking moment” of his life.
In March 1938, it was not Hitler who precipitated the Austrian crisis, but Schuschnigg with his call for a plebiscite in four days so Austria could vote permanent independence of Germany. Hitler did not even have an invasion plan prepared. When Mussolini sent word he would not interfere if Hitler sent his army in, Hitler was almost hysterical with gratitude and relief.
In September 1938, after his second meeting with Chamberlain, at Bad Godesberg, where Hitler had threatened to invade and seize what he wanted of Czechoslovakia, and the British, French, and Czechs began to mobilize, Hitler rushed a conciliatory letter to Chamberlain, urging him not to give up his search for peace. He grasped Mussolini’s proposal for a third meeting at Munich. It was Hitler who backed down after Godesberg.
In August 1939, when, after the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact exploded on the world, Chamberlain reaffirmed his alliance with Poland, a stunned Hitler put off his invasion a week to find a way out of a war with Britain. When the British ultimatum came on September 3, Hitler turned an angry face at Ribbentrop: “What now!” If Hitler were out to conquer the world, would he not have worked out his plans for conquest with his only major ally, Mussolini, who weaseled out of his Pact of Steel commitment in the week before Hitler went to war?
Hitler never wanted war with Britain. As his naval treaty showed—accepting a Kriegsmarine one-third the size of the Royal Navy, then declining to build up to the limits allotted—he had always been willing to pay a high price to avoid it. His dream was of an alliance with the British Empire, not its ruin. In August 1939, his generals expected, his people hoped, and Hitler believed he could still do a deal.
But if Hitler did not seek war with the British Empire, how could he have been out to conquer the world? What was Hitler’s real agenda?
ABOUT HITLER’S AMBITIONS, historians yet disagree. Some insist his ambitions were global: to conquer Europe, invade Britain, and build a naval and air armada to confront America for mastery of the world. Others argue that Hitler’s plans for conquest were primarily and perhaps only in the east.
To discern his ambitions, there are several sources: Hitler’s words, beginning with Mein Kampf and even before, the shape of the forces he constructed for war, what he did and did not do given his opportunities, and the plans Hitler wrote down but never implemented.
On some issues all agree. Hitler’s first goal was absolute power in Germany. A second was to overturn the Versailles Treaty that denied Germany equality of rights, especially the right to rearm. A third was to restore lands severed by Versailles and bring Germans home to the Reich. A fourth was the Drang nach Osten, the drive to the east to carve out a new German empire. Finally, Hitler intended to cleanse Germany of Jews, smash Bolshevism, and make himself a man of history like Frederick the Great and Bismarck. The anti-Semitism in which Mein Kampf is steeped was his most consistent conviction. As German historian Andreas Hillgruber, among other historians, contends, to Hitler the Jews and Bolsheviks were one and the same enemy:
The conquest of European Russia, the cornerstone of the continental European phase of his program, was thus for Hitler inextricably linked with the extermination of these “bacilli,” the Jews. In his conception they had gained dominance over Russia with the Bolshevik Revolution. Russia thereby became the center from which a global danger radiated, particularly threatening to the Aryan race and its Germanic core.5
Once he attained power, however, Hitler, like Lenin and Stalin, would subordinate ideology to raison d’état, as in the volte-face toward Russia in early 1939 and the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact that August. And when Hitler did move on Russia in 1941, his motivation was not ideology.
THE LESSONS OF DEFEAT
HAVING FOUGHT FOUR YEARS on the Western Front, Hitler had formed indelible ideas as to why Germany had lost the war. While the Nazis ranted and railed against the “November criminals” of 1918 and the “stab in the back,” Hitler was not such a fool as to swallow whole his own Nazi Party propaganda. The German army had been defeated by the Allies in the west in 1918. And because Germany was defeated in France, all the fruits of her victory over Russia in the east had been taken from her, and the humiliation of Versailles imposed.
The crucial lesson Hitler drew from defeat was that Germany must never again fight a two-front war. By 1917, Germany was at war with Britain, France, and America in the west, Italy to the south, and Russia to the east, with Japan and the British Empire having seized her colonies in Africa, Asia, and the Pacific. Hitler believed the two-front war had been a historic blunder that must never be repeated. Again, Hillgruber:
Together with his prewar Vienna period and postwar Munich years, the war provided…Hitler with his formative experiences. It made him recognize the impossibility of a German victory in a war where Germany was pitted against both the continental power, Russia, and the British Empire, let alone the two Anglo-Saxon sea powers. His memory was alive with the hopelessness of Germany’s predicament surrounded by enemies in a Central European bastion…in a world war in which the superior economic and armaments potential of the hostile coalition would ultimately tell.6
Second, Hitler knew the longer a war went on, the weaker Germany became relative to her potential enemies. While Germany’s population of seventy million—eighty million after Anschluss and absorption of the Sudeten Germans—was approaching that of Britain and France combined, it was dwarfed by the 458 million in the British Empire, the 197 million of a Soviet Union that stretched across a dozen time zones, and the 140 million Americans, whose productive power exceeded that of Britain, France, and Germany combined.
On the eve of war, Hitler’s domain, even with the Saar, Austria, and the Sudetenland added to it, covered about 260,000 square miles—to the United States’s 3.6 million, the USSR’s 8.5 million, and the British Empire’s 14 million square miles. Should these three powers unite, Hitler knew, their manpower and resources would dwarf what Germany could command in Central Europe. A European power, not yet a world power, Germany lacked the resources and productive capacity to fight a world war. Outside of Europe, in North and South America, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, Australia, China, and the Pacific, Germany was an inconsequential force. Hitler understood this.
Hitler had also concluded that the Kaiser’s decision to build a High Seas Fleet to challenge the Royal Navy had been an act of monumental folly. The appearance of German battleships in the North Sea drove Britain into the 1904 entente with France, which brought her into war against Germany in 1914. Had Admiral Tirpitz and the Kaiser not challenged the Royal Navy, sword and shield of the empire, Britain would have had far less reason to fear Germany and to align with her old enemies France and Russia.
And what good had the High Seas Fleet done for Germany? It had not stopped the British Expeditionary Force from crossing the Channel to defeat the Schlieffen Plan. It had proved incapable of defending Germany’s colonies. It had failed to break the blockade that had starved Germany into submission. It had ventured out for battle once, at Jutland in 1916, retired to port, and, in 1919, was escorted to Scapa Flow by the Royal Navy, where it committed suicide.
This led to a third lesson Hitler took from the war. Germany could not defend overseas colonies against the Anglo-Saxon sea powers. Her colonies would always be hostages to the British and U.S. fleets. If Germany went to war again with the Anglo-Saxon powers, she must expect to lose any overseas possessions and endure another starvation blockade. Thus, before any new war was undertaken, Germany must achieve economic self-sufficiency in Europe.
Autarky is a word that recurs often in Hitler’s talk. By autarky, Hitler meant Germany must find within defensible borders all the resources needed to sustain her at war. Never again could Germany rely on imports. British and U.S. warships would intercept them and starve her out, as they had in the Great War. Hitler, writes Hillgruber, “believed he would succeed in creating an autarkic, blockade-proof and defensible sphere that would grant Germany real autonomy…for all time. In short, he would create a German world power to stand beside the other world powers.”7
Hitler’s conclusions: Since an overseas empire was indefensible, the new German empire must be created not in Africa or Asia but in Central and Eastern Europe, where Royal Navy warships and American fleets could not reach. In the second volume of Mein Kampf, published in 1926, Hitler lays out his agenda with great clarity.
Germany either will be a world power or there will be no Germany. And for world power she needs that magnitude which will give her the position she needs in the present period, and life to her citizens.
And so we National Socialists consciously draw a line beneath the foreign policy tendency of the pre-War period. We take up where we broke off six hundred years ago. We stop the endless German movement to the south and west of Europe, and turn our gaze to the land in the east. At long last we break off the colonial and commercial policy of the pre-War period, and shift to the soil policy of the future.
If we speak of soil in Europe today, we can primarily have in mind only Russia and her vassal border states.8
Here is the polestar of Hitler’s ambition. Biographer Ian Kershaw writes that Hitler reached this conclusion even before Mein Kampf:
By early 1922…Hitler had abandoned any idea of collaboration with Russia. He saw no prospect of Russia looking only eastwards. Extension of Bolshevism to Germany would prove an irresistible urge…. Only through the destruction of Bolshevism could Germany be saved. And at the same time this—through expansion into Russia—would bring the territory which Germany needed. During the course of 1922—perhaps reinforced towards the end of the year by contact with the arch-expansionist Ludendorff—the changed approach to future policy towards Russia was consolidated.9
HITLER’S DREAM ALLIANCE
ADOLF HITLER WAS AS dedicated to Nazism as Lenin and Stalin were to Bolshevism. Yet all three would sacrifice ideology for reasons of state.
Lenin signed on to the Brest-Litovsk treaty of 1918 that tore his empire to pieces. He reined in Trotsky’s permanent revolution lest it imperil the state. He introduced a New Economic Policy in 1921, introducing market forces, when rebellion threatened the regime. Stalin colluded with Nazi Germany in return for the Baltic states and half of Poland. Hitler would abandon South Tyrol to Italy for an alliance with Rome and cede all claims to Alsace and Lorraine rather than risk another war in the West over the lost provinces.
As Hitler showed in the murder of Roehm and the SA leaders who helped bring him to power, he could be a cold-blooded opportunist who, to cement the loyalty of the army, would assent to the execution of his oldest comrades. U.S. historian David Calleo writes: Hitler was “highly pragmatic about means…always prepared to drop ideology when it suited him.”10
A.J.P. Taylor and other historians contend that Hitler’s foreign policy was more traditional and in ways less ambitious than that of the Kaiser, who saw Germany as a great sea power, a colonial power, a global power. Hitler did not rule out a return of lost colonies in Africa, but this was never where his ambitions or interests lay.
“Hitler was more moderate than his predecessors in that he did not aspire to colonies overseas nor to territorial gains in Western Europe, though naturally his modesty diminished when the chance of such gains actually matured,” wrote Taylor.11
To Hitler, Great Britain was Germany’s natural ally and the nation and empire he most admired. He did not covet British colonies. He did not want or seek a fleet to rival the Royal Navy. He did not wish to bring down the British Empire. He was prepared to appease Britain to make her a friend of Germany. Where the Kaiser had grudgingly agreed in 1913 to restrict the High Seas Fleet to 60 percent of the Royal Navy, Hitler in 1935 readily agreed to restrict his navy to 35 percent. What Hitler ever sought was an allied, friendly, or at least neutral Britain.
Conversing in 1922 with a publisher friendly to the Nazi party, Hitler “ruled out the colonial rivalry with Britain that had caused conflict before the First World War.” Said Hitler, “Germany would have to adapt herself to a purely continental policy, avoiding harm to English interests.”12
“By late 1922,” Kershaw writes, “an alliance with Britain, whose world empire he admired, was in [Hitler’s] mind. This idea had sharpened in 1923 when the disagreements of the British and French over the Ruhr occupation became clear.”13
Having fought the “Tommies” on the Western Front, he admired their martial qualities. Nor was Churchill unaware of “Hitler’s notorious Anglomania and his almost servile admiration of British imperialism….”14
Hitler biographer Alan Bullock summarizes his grand strategy:
In Mein Kampf Hitler had written: “For a long time to come there will be only two Powers in Europe with which it may be possible for Germany to conclude an alliance. These Powers are Great Britain and Italy.” The greatest blunder of the Kaiser’s government—prophetic words—had been to quarrel with Britain and Russia at the same time: Germany’s future lay in the east…and her natural ally was Great Britain, whose power was colonial, commercial and naval, with no territorial interests on the continent of Europe. “Only by alliance with England was it possible (before 1914) to safeguard the rear of the German crusade…. No sacrifice should have been considered too great, if it was a necessary means of gaining England’s friendship. Colonial and naval ambitions should have been abandoned.”15
The dream of an Anglo-German alliance would stay with Hitler even when he was at war with Great Britain:
Even during the war Hitler persisted in believing that an alliance with Germany…was in Britain’s own interest, continually expressed his regret that the British had been so stupid as not to see this, and never gave up the hope that he would be able to overcome their obstinacy and persuade them to accept his view.16
Sir Roy Denman came to the same conclusion:
Hitler…had no basic quarrel with Britain. Unlike William II, he had no wish from the outset to rival the British navy, nor covet the British Empire. His territorial aims were in Central and Eastern Europe and further east. He could never understand why the British constantly sought to interfere.17
After the British escape at Dunkirk, because of his own “stop order” to his armored units not to advance into the undefended city, Hitler told Martin Bormann he had purposely spared the British army so as not to create “an irreparable breach between the British and ourselves.”18
“The blood of every single Englishman is too valuable to be shed,” Hitler told his friend Frau Troost. “Our two people belong together racially and traditionally—this is and always has been my aim even if our generals can’t grasp it.”19
On June 25, 1940, after the fall of France, Hitler telephoned Goebbels to lay out the terms of a deal with England. Britain’s empire was to be preserved, but Britain would return to Lord Salisbury’s policy of “splendid isolation” from the power politics of Europe. Here is the entry from Goebbels’s diary:
The Fuhrer…believes that the [British Empire] must be preserved if at all possible. For if it collapses, then we shall not inherit it, but foreign and even hostile powers take it over. But if England will have it no other way, then she must be beaten to her knees. The Fuhrer, however, would be agreeable to peace on the following basis: England out of Europe, colonies and mandates returned. Reparations for what was stolen from us after the World War.20
What Hitler was demanding after his triumph in the west in 1940 was restoration of what had been taken from Germany at Versailles.
In his postwar book The Other Side of the Hill, Liddell Hart relates a conversation Hitler had at Charleville, after Dunkirk, with General von Rundstedt and two of his staff, Sodenstern and Blumentritt. The latter told Liddell Hart the conversation had come around to Great Britain:
He [Hitler] then astonished us by speaking with admiration of the British Empire, of the necessity for its existence and of the civilisation that Britain had brought into the world…. He compared the British Empire with the Catholic Church—saying they were both essential elements of stability in the world. He said that all he wanted from Britain was that she should acknowledge Germany’s position on the Continent. The return of Germany’s lost colonies would be desirable but not essential, and he would even offer to support Britain with troops if she should be involved in any difficulties anywhere…. He concluded by saying that his aim was to make peace with Britain, on a basis that she would regard compatible with her honour to accept.21
As the Battle of Britain was under way, on August 14, 1940, Hitler called his newly created field marshals into the Reich Chancellery to impress upon them that victory over Britain must not lead to a collapse of the British Empire:
Germany is not striving to smash Britain because the beneficiaries will not be Germany, but Japan in the east, Russia in India, Italy in the Mediterranean, and America in world trade. This is why peace is possible with Britain—but not so long as Churchill is prime minister. Thus we must see what the Luftwaffe can do, and wait a possible general election.22
Hitler is here telling his military high command that the air war over England, the Battle of Britain, was not designed to prepare for invasion but to bring down Churchill. From his actions in the west, from 1933 through 1939, there is compelling evidence Hitler wanted to see the British Empire endure. And if he did not wish to bring down the British Empire, how can it be argued that Hitler was out to conquer the world?
Though Hitler had exploited popular clamorings in the Sudetenland, Danzig, and Memel for a return to the Reich, he never stoked the fires of revanchism in the lands Germany lost to the west. Northern Schleswig had gone to Denmark, Eupen and Malmédy to Belgium, Alsace and Lorraine to France. Before September 1939, Hitler offered to guarantee the French-German border. He knew that to try to take back Alsace-Lorraine meant war with France, which meant war with Britain. If the price of a neutral or friendly Britain was giving up German claims to the lands lost to the West at Versailles, Hitler was prepared to pay it.
Well into the war, Hitler held on to his impossible dream of an Anglo-German alliance. To Hitler the British were a superior race and fit partner for the Germans, preferable even to his Asian ally, Japan. Denman retells a story from February of 1942:
Hitler was returning from Berlin to his East Prussian headquarters when Ribbentrop made his way along the swaying train with the news that the British had just surrendered Singapore. He had dictated a gloating announcement. Hitler tore it up. “We have to think of centuries,” he said. “Who knows, in the future the Yellow Peril may be the biggest one for us.”23
IF HITLER ENVISIONED WAR with Britain, he would have built a navy capable of challenging Britain’s. He never did.
“The Navy—what need have we of that?” Hitler said in 1936. “I cannot conceive of a war in Europe which will hang in the balance because of a few ships.”24 “When Hitler invaded Poland on 1 September 1939,” writes F. H. Hinsley, the history lecturer at Cambridge, in his 1951 book Hitler’s Strategy,
Germany was not ready for a major war at sea. The German surface fleet consisted of no more than 2 old battleships, 2 battle-cruisers, 3 pocket battleships, 8 cruisers and 22 destroyers…. [O]nly 57 German U-boats had been built by 1939; and only 26 of these were suitable to Atlantic operations…. [O]nly 8 or 9 [of these U-boats] could be kept in the Atlantic at a time.25
Liddell Hart, who assisted Hinsley with his book, writes:
[Hitler] did not even build up his Navy to the limited scale visualized in the Anglo-German Naval Treaty of 1935. He constantly assured his admirals they could discount any risk of war with Britain. After Munich, he told them that they need not anticipate a conflict with Britain in the next six years at least. Even in the summer of 1939, and as late as August 22, he repeated such assurances—if with waning conviction.26
A.J.P. Taylor concurs with Hinsley and Liddell Hart. Though a German attack at sea presented a graver threat to Britain’s survival than the Luftwaffe, Taylor—with only slightly different statistics—writes:
Here, too, the Germans were badly prepared. At the outset of war they had only twenty-two ocean-going U-boats and few trained crews. Hitler did not authorize new construction until July 1940 and cut it down again in December when the army prepared to attack Soviet Russia.27
Churchill, who had returned as First Lord of the Admiralty, confirms Germany’s dearth of sea power to combat the Royal Navy. When war broke out in September 1939, Churchill writes,
the German navy had only begun their rebuilding and had no power even to form a line of battle. Their two great battleships, Bismarck and Tirpitz, were at least a year from completion…. Thus there was no challenge in surface craft to our command of the seas…. Enemy shipping, as in 1914, virtually vanished almost at once from the high seas. The German ships mostly took refuge in neutral ports, or, when intercepted, scuttled themselves.28
Hitler’s navy was that of a Germany whose ambitions lay on land. Had he ever planned to invade England, he would have built troopships, landing barges, and transports to ferry tanks and artillery across the Channel—and warships to escort his landing craft, provide fire support for the invasion, and keep the Royal Navy out of the Channel while his invasion force was crossing. He did none of this.
THERE IS OTHER EVIDENCE that Hitler never intended to invade Western Europe. Before World War I, the German General Staff had adopted the Schlieffen Plan, which entailed a massive German offensive through Belgium. Because German war strategy was to take the offensive from day one, the Kaiser built no new defensive fortifications to match the great French forts of Toul and Verdun. Hitler, however, for three and a half years after his army entered the Rhineland, invested huge sums and tens of millions of man-hours of labor constructing his West Wall. On September 1, 1939, his engineers were frantically completing it. Asks Taylor: If Hitler was all along planning an invasion of France, why did he, at monstrous cost, build purely defensive fortifications up and down the Rhineland? The Kaiser never built a Siegfried Line, because Moltke’s army of 1914 planned to attack on the first day of war.
Even after Britain and France had declared war on Germany, Hitler confided to his inner circle, “[I]f we on our side avoid all acts of war, the whole business will evaporate. As soon as we sink a ship and they have sizable casualties, the war party over there will gain strength.”29 After Poland had surrendered, Hitler, on October 6, 1939, made a “peace offer” to Britain and France; it “was turned down without hesitation.”30
“Even when German U-boats lay in a favourable position near the battleship Dunkerque, he [Hitler] refused to order an attack,” wrote Albert Speer.31 Other strategic decisions make sense only if Hitler’s true ambitions lay in the east. After overrunning France, Hitler stopped at the Pyrenees. He asked Franco for passage through Spain to attack Gibraltar. Denied, he abandoned the idea. He did not demand that France turn over its battle fleet, the fourth largest in the world, as Germany had been forced to do in 1918. He did not demand France’s North African colonies. He did not demand access to French bases in the Middle East to threaten Suez. He visited Paris, saw the Eiffel Tower, went home, and began to plan the invasion of Russia, preliminary orders for which went out in July 1940—before the Battle of Britain had even begun.
Hitler also issued the “stop order” to his Panzers, letting the British army escape at Dunkirk. His occupation of Britain’s Channel Islands was benign compared to the horrors in the east. While Hitler reannexed Alsace and Lorraine after June 1940, the peace terms he imposed on France were more generous than those the Allies had imposed on Germany in 1919. None of this represented magnanimity. In the New Order in Europe, Hitler wanted Marshal Petain as an ally, as he had wanted Colonel Beck as an ally.
On August 10, 1939, three weeks before the attack of Poland, Hitler summoned the League of Nations High Commissioner for Danzig, Dr. Carl Burckhardt, to the Eagle’s Nest the next day. Writes Kershaw, this “was a calculated attempt to keep the West out of the coming conflict.”32 Hitler gave Burckhardt this message, intended for British ears:
Everything that I undertake is directed against Russia; if the West is too stupid and too blind to understand this, then I will be forced to reach an understanding with the Russians, smash the West, and then turn all my concentrated strength against the Soviet Union. I need the Ukraine so that no one can starve us out again as in the last war.33
Historian John Lukacs suggests Burckhardt’s quotation is suspect. Indeed, it seems incredible that Hitler would reveal his intention to smash the Soviet Union and seize Ukraine to a Swiss diplomat, who would be relating what he had been told as soon as he got down from the Eagle’s Nest.34
Henry Kissinger, however, cites Burckhardt and writes that this is
certainly an accurate statement of Hitler’s priorities: from Great Britain he wanted non-interference in continental affairs, and from the Soviet Union he wanted Lebensraum, or living space. It was a measure of Stalin’s achievement that he was [able] to reverse Hitler’s priorities, however temporarily.35
Kissinger might have added, “and a measure of Britain’s failure.” American historian W. H. Chamberlin is even more damning of British diplomacy:
From every standpoint, military, political and psychological, it would have been far more advantageous if Hitler’s first blows had fallen on Stalin’s totalitarian empire, not on Britain, France and the small democracies of the West….[O]n the basis of available evidence, the failure of Britain and France to canalize Hitler’s expansion in an eastward direction may reasonably be considered one of the greatest diplomatic failures in history.36
Though Bismarck had maintained good relations with Russia, the Drang nach Osten, or drive to the east, was embedded deep in German history. While infinitely more savage in the means he employed, Hitler’s Ostpolitik did not differ in its ultimate goals from that of Hindenburg and Ludendorff. The lands Hitler coveted were not terra incognita. They had been occupied by the German army as of Armistice Day 1918.
Nor had Britain been greatly alarmed in 1918 at German gains in the east at the expense of Russia. Some Allied statesmen were willing to let the Kaiser keep his eastern conquests if he would restore the status quo ante in Belgium and France. In November 1917, after the Germans and Austrians had broken the Italian lines at Caporetto and Bolsheviks had seized power in Petrograd and sued for peace, some British statesmen wanted to end the war. They suggested offering the Germans an eastern empire, including Ukraine, if the Kaiser would agree to give up his lost African and Pacific colonies and retire from Belgium and France. Jan Smuts, fearing the war could last until 1920, signed on. In short, British statesmen in 1917 and 1918 were prepared to offer the Kaiser’s Germany the same dominance in Eastern Europe they went to war to deny to Hitler’s Germany in 1939.37
Here, then, is the unwritten bargain Hitler had on offer to Britain in 1939. France and Belgium could keep the lands given to them at Versailles—Malmédy, Eupen, Alsace, and Lorraine. But Germany would take back the German lands and peoples given to the Czechs and Poles in violation of Wilson’s principle of self-determination. Germany would concede the democracies’ dominance west of the Rhine if they would cease interfering in the east. Why Britain would reject this, Hitler could never understand. He believed a Germany prepared to confront and block Bolshevism should cause rejoicing in the capitalist West.
Thus, when the Allies refused to give Hitler his free hand in the east and threatened war if he moved on Poland, Hitler decided to offer a deal to Stalin. Stalin greedily accepted. Thus the Allies got war, while Stalin got Finland, the Baltic republics, half of Poland, and two years to prepare for the inevitable Nazi attack. Stalin used those two years to build the tanks, planes, and guns, and conscript the troops that stopped Hitler at Leningrad, Moscow, and Stalingrad. Thus did British diplomatic folly succeed only in getting Western Europe overrun and making Eastern Europe safe for Stalinism.
DID HITLER WANT THE WORLD?
HITLER HAD TO BE stopped, it is argued, because he wanted the world. After defeating Russia, he would have turned west, overrun France, and starved Britain. Then would have come the turn of the United States—and America would have had to face Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan alone. British statesmen believed this. After Czechoslovakia fell to pieces in mid-March 1939 and Hitler motored into Prague to make it a protectorate of the Reich, Chamberlain asked aloud: “Is this in fact a step in the direction of an attempt to dominate the world by force?”38
Halifax wrote that “the lust of continental or world mastery seemed to stand out in stark relief.”39 Henderson agreed: “The principles of nationalism and self-determination…had been cynically thrown overboard at Prague and world dominion had supplanted them.”40
But was Hitler’s imposition of a German protectorate over a Czech rump state that had belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Empire for the first thirty years of his life really part of a grand strategy for “world mastery,” “world dominion,” or “domination of the world by force”?
Among British elites of the twentieth century, there was always a streak of Germanophobia, an inordinate fear that Germany was secretly plotting the ruin of the British Empire and the conquest of the world. We see it here in Chamberlain, Halifax, and Henderson, as we saw it in the run-up to World War I in ex–minister for war Haldane: “I thought from my study of the German General Staff that once the German war party had got into the saddle…it would be war not merely for the overthrow of France or Russia but for the domination of the world.”41
On the eve of the war of 1914–1918, Churchill described the Kaiser, who was then casting about desperately for some way to avoid a war, as a “continental tyrant” whose goal was “the dominion of the world.”42
When Haldane and Churchill claimed the Kaiser was a “continental tyrant” out for “dominion of the world,” Wilhelm II was in late middle age, had been in power twenty-five years, and had yet to fight his first war.
In his 1937 Great Contemporaries, Churchill exonerates the Kaiser of the charge of which he had accused him before the war of 1914: “[H]istory should incline to the more charitable view and acquit William II of having planned and plotted the World War.”43
In the same book, Churchill wrote of Hitler, “Whatever else may be thought about these exploits, they are among the most remarkable in the whole history of the world.”44 Churchill was referring not only to Hitler’s political achievements, but his economic achievements. Before the end of his fourth year in power, Hitler had ended the Depression, cut unemployment from six million to one million, grown Germany’s GNP by 37 percent, and increased auto production from 45,000 vehicles a year to 250,000.45 City and provincial deficits had disappeared. This success goaded Churchill, before Hitler had ever moved on Austria or Czechoslovakia, to confide to American Gen. Robert Wood, at his flat in London in November 1936, “Germany is getting too strong and we must smash her.”46
If Hitler was out to conquer the world, the proof cannot be found in the armed forces with which he began the war. As U.S. Maj. Gen. C. F. Robinson wrote in a 1947 report he produced for the U.S. War Department,
Germany was not prepared in 1939—contrary to democratic assumption—for a long war or for total war; her economic and industrial effort was by no means fully harnessed: her factories were not producing war matériel at anything like full capacity.47
WAS AMERICA IN MORTAL PERIL?
IN A REPUBLIC, NOT AN EMPIRE, this writer argued that once Göring’s Luftwaffe had lost the Battle of Britain, Germany presented no mortal threat to the United States:
If there had been a point of maximum peril for America in the war in Europe it was in the summer of 1940, after France had been overrun and England seemed about to be invaded, with the possible scuttling or loss of the British fleet. But after the Royal Air Force won the Battle of Britain, the invasion threat was history. If Göring’s Luftwaffe could not achieve air supremacy over the Channel, how was it going to achieve it over the Atlantic? If Hitler could not put a soldier into England in the fall of 1940, the notion that he could invade the Western Hemisphere—with no surface ships to engage the United States and British fleets, and U.S. air power dominant in the Western Atlantic—was preposterous.48
In refutation, The New Republic enlisted history professor Jeffrey Herf, who wrote that, even with the victory of the Royal Air Force, America was still in mortal peril. Herf cited as his authority Gerhard Weinberg, the “great historian of Hitler’s foreign policy.”
In his important essay “Hitler’s Image of the United States,” Weinberg shows how, after overrunning France in 1940, Hitler’s inner circle began planning a Third World War—against the United States. In 1943, Hitler launched a huge battleship-construction program, the “Z Plan,” to confront the American Navy. At the same time he set up naval bases on the coasts of France and Africa. In Tomorrow the World: Hitler, Northwest Africa and the Path Toward America, Norman Goda further documents Germany’s plans to build a massive surface fleet, develop a trans-atlantic bomber, and procure naval bases in French Africa, the Canary Islands, the Azores, and the Cape Verde Islands.49
This is comic-book history.
Hitler did order up plans to seize the Canaries, Cape Verdes, and Azores, but these were to secure a German hold on Gibraltar, which Hitler never took, as General Franco never gave his army permission to cross Spain.
If Hitler’s “inner circle” was planning to “confront the American Navy,” why did Hitler not demand that the French turn over their fleet to Admiral Raeder at France’s surrender in June 1940? The Germans had been forced to turn over the High Seas Fleet after the armistice of 1918. Yet when Churchill ordered “Catapult,” to secure or sink the French fleet lest it fall into Nazi hands, the French warships were at anchor at Toulon, Alexandria, Dakar—and Mers el-Kebir, where they were sunk by the Royal Navy. Throughout the war, the U.S. Navy did not encounter a single German surface warship. Yet Herf claims the Nazis came close to having “open season…on the harbors and cities of the East Coast.”50
And if Hitler was contemplating building battleships in 1943, he was contemplating a fleet for Jutland, not World War II. As of 1943, Germany had sent two battleships to sea, Bismarck, sunk on her maiden voyage, and Tirpitz, then hiding in Norwegian fjords. By 1943, the battleship era was over and the carrier era had begun. At Midway, in June 1942, in one of the decisive sea battles of history, the U.S. Navy sank Hiryu, Soryu, Akagi, and Kaga, the four carriers that were the heart of the Imperial Japanese Fleet’s strike force, without seeing them, except from the cockpits of U.S. torpedo-and dive-bombers. By war’s end, the United States had scores of aircraft carriers with combat experience at Leyte Gulf and the Battle of the Philippine Sea. Of Hitler’s Z Plan, Roger Chesneau writes in his authoritative Aircraft Carriers:
The celebrated “Z-Plan” envisaged a fleet of four carriers in service by the late 1940s, but a lack of enthusiasm by the Luftwaffe (who would operate the aircraft) and, as time passed, the decision to divert production and resources to more immediate needs meant that none was commissioned.51
Denman dates the launching of the Z Plan to the end of 1938 and its scrapping, due to the demands of the other services, to September 1939, when the war began.52
The Germans did attempt to construct two aircraft carriers, the Graf Zeppelin and the Peter Strasser. However, the German “pilots had no experience of shipboard operating procedure and, of course, there were no specialized carrier aircraft.”53
Work on both carriers was suspended in mid-1940 because of the demands of the submarine programme; the second ship, apparently to have been named Peter Strasser, was still on the slip at the Germaniawerft yard at Kiel and was immediately scrapped, but Graf Zeppelin was resumed in 1942…. [B]yearly 1943 she was languishing again. She was scuttled at Stettin by the Germans a few months before the end of the war and although taken over and raised by the Russians, she was lost under tow to Leningrad in August or September 1947.54
Thus concludes Chesneau’s two-page history of the Hitler carrier force that was to threaten the American homeland. Had Hitler pursued the plan, by the mid-1940s four carriers manned by inexperienced German sailors would have been child’s play for a U.S. Navy of more than a thousand warships.
In 1942, the year Herf says Germany “set up naval bases” in Africa, U.S. troops invaded North Africa and, by spring 1943, occupied it from Morocco to Tunisia. And as the Azores and Cape Verde Islands belonged to Portugal and the Canary Islands to Spain, whose dictator Franco had denied Hitler passage to Gibraltar in 1940, how was Germany to seize these islands, build these bases, and construct those huge ships under the gunsights of the U.S. Navy and the British battle fleets that had dominated the Atlantic since Trafalgar?
THE NEW YORK BOMBER
WHAT OF HISTORIAN GODA’S transatlantic bomber, also mentioned by Washington Post columnist Michael Kelly, who wrote, “[I]n 1939 and 1940 [Hitler] ordered up…the Messerschmitt 264 the Nazis called the ‘Amerika-bomber’—intended for that war”?55 This super-bomber also appears in Weinberg:
[S]pecifications were issued in 1937 and 1938 for what became the ME-264 and was soon referred to inside the government as the “America-Bomber” or the “New York Bomber.” Capable of carrying a five-ton load of bombs to New York, a smaller load to the Middle West, or reconnaissance missions over the West Coast and then returning to Germany without intermediate bases, such long-range planes would bring Germany’s new air force directly into the skies over America.56
Now, this is a remarkable plane. But, intending no disrespect to the professor, even today the U.S. Air Force does not have a bomber that can fly from Germany to our Midwest and West Coast, loiter about, and return to Germany without refueling. And air-to-air refueling had not been invented in the 1940s. German bombers flew at less than three hundred miles per hour. A trip over the Atlantic and back would require twenty hours of flying to drop a five-ton load on New York. A trip from Germany to the West Coast and back is twelve thousand miles—a forty-hour flight. How this flying fuel tank, without a fighter escort, was to survive its encounters with British and U.S. fighters on a daylong voyage across the Atlantic to the U.S. mainland and back was unexplained.
Throughout the war, writes military historian Bernard Nalty, “the Luftwaffe…lacked a four-engine heavy bomber…. Germany had not yet developed aerial engines efficient enough for a heavy bomber.”57
The Dorniers and Heinkels that bombed London and Coventry were two-engine planes built for close air support. The Americans and British, not the Germans, studied the lessons of the Italian evangelist of airpower, Giulio Douhet, who had argued that future fleets of heavy bombers would fight their way through to enemy cities and destroy the people’s will to resist. U.S. B-29s killed more civilians in one raid over Tokyo than the Luftwaffe killed in Britain in the entire war. Throughout the war, not one German bomb fell on North or South America.
“The world greatly overestimated Germany’s [air] strength,” the United States Bombing Survey concluded in 1946.58 When the war began, German bombers lacked the range even to reach London. Writes one historian of airpower:
The Luftwaffe was a failure. Despite its early victories, the German air force proved unable to retain control of the air over Europe and after five years of war it lay broken. The importance of this failure is too often overlooked. It was, however, immense….
[The] Luftwaffe was regarded primarily as an offensive, tactical weapon. This was the fatal error. Strategic bombing and fighter defence were developed too little, too late and with too much muddle. More than any other single factor, the failure of the Luftwaffe contributed to the eventual defeat of the Third Reich.59
British air marshal Arthur Harris of Bomber Command concurred in this assessment of the Luftwaffe:
The Germans had allowed their soldiers to dictate the whole policy of the Luftwaffe, which was designed expressly to assist the army in rapid advances…. Much too late in the day they saw the advantage of a strategic bombing force…. In September, 1940, the Germans found themselves with almost unarmed bombers, so that in the Battle of Britain, the destruction of the German bomber squadrons was very similar to shooting cows in a field.60
Famed American geostrategist Robert Strausz-Hupé is dismissive of those who claim Hitler represented a grave military threat to the United States:
Hitler could…count upon at least 1,000 aircraft assigned to tactical units. But this air force was too weak to blast Britain into submission, and the German Navy was not strong enough to insure a landing of sufficient German troops to conquer the poorly prepared British isles. Without a chance of defeating Britain, “let alone the British Empire, Germany could not win the war.”61
When the Battle of Britain began in early August 1940, writes Niall Ferguson, the British had a narrow edge in fighter planes over the Luftwaffe, but many more trained pilots. As the battle raged, the Brits shot down German planes at a rate of two-to-one, while British factories churned out 1,900 new Hurricanes and Spitfires to 775 produced by the factories of Marshal Göring.62
In The Luftwaffe, James Corum chides Professor Weinberg for his failure to understand the purposes and capabilities of the Luftwaffe:
Even as distinguished a historian as Gerhard Weinberg refers to the bombing of Guernica and Rotterdam as Nazi “terror bombing.” In fact, the Luftwaffe did not have a policy of terror bombing civilians as part of its doctrine prior to World War II…. Guernica in 1937 and Rotterdam in 1940 were bombed for tactical military reasons in support of military operations. Civilians were certainly killed in both incidents, but in neither case was that the goal or intent of the bombing. Indeed, the Luftwaffe specifically rejected the concept of terror bombing in the interwar period.63
Early in the war, the Luftwaffe did manage to convert the Focke Wulf Condor, a four-engine Lufthansa airliner, into a naval bomber, and thirty of these converted planes did succeed in sinking eighty-five Allied vessels.64
Was Germany ever a direct military threat to the United States?
Consider: In early spring 1917, the United States had the seventeenth-largest army on earth. By late 1918, America had two million men in France and two million more ready to go. As John Eisenhower writes in Yanks: The Epic Story of the American Army in World War I, “From a force of only 200,000 officers and men of the Regular Army and National Guard in April 1917, America had raised an army of over four million of whom about half had crossed the Atlantic.”65 No other nation on earth could have done that.
Even before Pearl Harbor, as Ike’s grandson David wrote in his highly acclaimed Eisenhower at War: 1943–1945, U.S. Navy admirals and Army generals had formulated a Victory Program that would brush the British aside and “practically go it alone in Europe by mobilizing a massive force of 210 divisions backed by huge fleets of ships and aircraft.”66
Historians search Nazi archives in vain for plans to dispatch armies to Canada or Latin America to attack the United States. There are no known German plans to acquire the thousand ships needed to convey and convoy such an army and its artillery, tanks, planes, guns, munitions, equipment, fuel, and food across the Atlantic. Or to resupply such an army. During the war, the Nazis managed to get eight spies ashore on Long Island and Florida by submarine. They were rounded up and secretly tried, and six of them executed within a month.
When FDR warned of a Hitler master plan to conquer South and Central America and divide it into five Nazi-controlled regions, he was spouting British propaganda cooked up in the skunk works of William Stephenson, The Man Called Intrepid, sent by Churchill to do whatever was necessary to bring America into the war. “Even after Nazi archives were sacked,” writes W. H. Chamberlin, “no concrete evidence of any plan to invade the Western Hemisphere was discovered, although loose assertions of such plans were repeated so often before and during the war that some Americans were probably led to believe in the reality of this nonexistent design.”67
NAZISM AND COMMUNISM
BUT WHAT OF NAZI IDEOLOGY? In its rejection of the dignity of man and the evil of its deeds, it is comparable to Stalinism. And John Lukacs argues that Nazism and Hitler were not only as evil, but a far greater threat to the West. Citing Churchill’s speech of June 18, 1940, that should England fall as France had, “the whole world, including the United States…will sink into the abyss of a New Dark Age,” Lukacs writes:
Churchill understood something that not many people understand even now. The greatest threat to western civilization was not Communism. It was National Socialism. The greatest and most dynamic power in the world was not Soviet Russia. It was the Third Reich of Germany. The greatest revolutionary leader of the twentieth century was not Lenin or Stalin. It was Hitler.68
This, surely, is debatable. For Hitler never remotely represented the strategic threat to the U.S. homeland that a nuclear-armed Russia did during forty years of Cold War. Lukacs seems to concede the point in Five Days. “Against America,” he wrote, Hitler “could do nothing.”69
In U.S. cultural and intellectual circles, communism had immense appeal. The Roosevelt administration was honeycombed with Soviet spies, Communists, and collaborators. Had Henry Wallace been retained as vice president in 1944 and become president on FDR’s death, his treasury secretary might have been Harry Dexter White and his secretary of state Lawrence Duggan, both closet Communists and Soviet agents.
As an ideology, Nazism was handicapped by the narrowness of its appeal. It was not even an ideology of white supremacy—Hitler was prepared to turn Slavs into serfs—but of “Aryan” supremacy. Communism appealed to peoples of all colors and continents who wished to throw off the yoke of colonialism and bring an end to European domination. It offered all mankind a vision of a paradise on earth. Outside of Great Britain, Hitler was among the last unabashed admirers of the British Empire.
In Hollywood, communism made such inroads by the late-1930s that anti-Communist films could not be made and pro-Soviet films were routinely turned out. Hitler’s rabid anti-Semitism meant Nazism was dead on arrival. Compared to the Communist Party and its fellow travelers the German-American Bund and Silver Shirts were an insignificant force—regularly thrown out of America First rallies. To Americans, Hitler and Mussolini were figures of Chaplinesque ridicule. Lenin, Stalin, and Trotsky all had acolytes and admirers in government, in the press, and on the faculties and within the student bodies of America’s elite colleges and universities.
As Yale scholar and historian Bruce Russett wrote, “Nazism as an ideology was almost certainly less dangerous to the United States than is Communism. Marxism-Leninism has a worldwide appeal; Nazism lacks much palatability to non-Aryan tastes.”70
Moreover, while Hitler believed in the superiority and salvific power of Nazi ideology for Germany, he did not believe in imposing it or exporting it to the West. In May 1942, he admonished his comrades:
I am firmly opposed to any attempt to export National Socialism. If other countries are determined to preserve their democratic systems and thus rush to their ruin, so much the better for us. And all the more so, because during this same period, thanks to National Socialism, we shall be transforming ourselves, slowly but surely, into the most solid popular community that it is possible to imagine.71
Stalin believed in ruthlessly imposing communism on all subject lands and peoples. “This war is not as in the past,” Stalin explained to Yugoslav Communist leader Milovan Djilas in 1945, “whoever occupies a territory also imposes his own social system…. It cannot be otherwise.”72
From Béla Kun in Budapest in 1919 to Fidel Castro in Cuba in 1959, Communists followed Stalin’s rule. But by its nature, nationalism, especially a virulent strain like Nazism, is difficult to export. When Britain went to war, Oswald Mosley, the head of the British Union of Fascists, volunteered at once to fight for Britain.
Lukacs is right that Hitler, like Lenin, was both revolutionary and ruler, architect and dictator of the state he created. But no one in Hitler’s entourage could sustain his ideology. Like Fascism, Nazism could not long survive the death of the messiah. But the Soviet state was built to last. It was a far more formidable regime, for it was rooted in something more enduring than the charisma of a fanatic but mortal man.
This is not to minimize the magnetic appeal of Hitler and his “New Germany” to millions of disoriented souls disillusioned with democracy after the Great War, Versailles, and the Great Depression. As Taylor writes:
Though the National Socialists did not win a majority of votes at any free general election, they won more votes than any other German party had ever done. A few months after coming to power they received practically all the votes recorded…. No dictatorship has been so ardently desired or so firmly supported by so many people as Hitler’s was in Germany…. [T]he most evil system of modern times was also the most popular.73
Hitler also had imitators in Europe, Latin America, and among Arab leaders who shared his hatred of the Jews. But as Arnold Beichman of the Hoover Institution writes, “[F]ascism, as a concept, has no intellectual basis at all nor did its founders even pretend to have any. Hitler’s ravings in Mein Kampf… Mussolini’s boastful balcony speeches, all of these can be described in the words of Roger Scruton, as an ‘amalgam of disparate conceptions.’”74
Historian Richard Pipes believes that Stalinism and Hitlerism were siblings of the same birth mother: “Bolshevism and Fascism were heresies of socialism.”75
On which was the greater danger, Nazism or communism, Robert Taft, speaking after Hitler’s invasion of Russia, seems close to the mark:
It Hitler wins, it is a victory for Fascism. If Stalin wins, it is a victory for communism. From the point of view of ideology there is no choice.
But the victory of communism would be far more dangerous for the United States than the victory of Fascism. There has never been the slightest danger that the people in this country would ever embrace bundism or nazism…. But communism masquerades, often successfully, under the guise of democracy, though it is just as alien to our principles as nazism itself. It is a greater danger to the United States because it is a false philosophy which appeals to many. Fascism is a false philosophy which appeals to very few.76
British historian Hugh Trevor-Roper, writing of the ideological threat of Hitler, seems to agree with Taft:
Even the war with the West was secondary [to Hitler]. Long ago he had formulated his attitude toward the West. The West, in spite of its victory in 1918—achieved only through the famous “Stab in the Back”—and though still powerful at this crucial moment, was, when seen in the long perspective of history, clearly in decline. It could be left to decline. Fundamentally, Hitler had no interest in it.77
The Taft and Trevor-Roper position raises a central question. If Hitler’s ambitions were in the east, and he was prepared to respect Britain’s vital interests by leaving the Low Countries and France alone, was it wise to declare war on Germany—over a Poland that Britain could not save?
As we learned after Hitler’s death, Nazism’s roots were shallow and easily pulled up. But Marxist beliefs and ideology—even after the failure and collapse of the Soviet state—retain a hold on the minds of men and reappear constantly in new mutations.
None of this is to minimize the evil of Nazi ideology, or the capabilities of the Nazi war machine, or the despicable crimes of Hitler’s regime, or the potential threat of Nazi Germany to Great Britain once war was declared. Had Hitler invested in submarines and magnetic mines instead of Bismarck and Tirpitz, had he built fleets of four-engine bombers that could have attacked British ports and the docks and ships on which Britain depended for survival, Hitler could have forced the British to sue for peace. But Germany could not defeat the Royal Navy, the Dominions, or the United States. Nazi Germany was a land power, not a sea power, a continental power, not a world power. In the end, the Germans defeated but a single major power, France. Unlike Napoleon, Hitler would never take Egypt, never sleep in Moscow, never occupy Spain.
Though he spoke of world domination, Germany, the size of Oregon and Washington, was too small to swallow Russia, the British Empire, the United States, Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. German soldiers, artillery, and tanks were among the best in the world, but the British Spitfires proved a match for Göring’s Messerschmitts, and the Luftwaffe bomber force never rivaled Bomber Command, let alone the monster air fleets of “Hap” Arnold and Curtis LeMay. By December 1939, Britain was producing more planes and America, with many times the productive power of Germany, had not begun to move its weight into the balance. When it did, Hitler was finished.
As for Hitler’s vast military buildup, which could only mean a war for the world, this, too, writes A.J.P. Taylor, is a myth:
In 1938–39, the last peacetime year, Germany spent on armaments about 15% of her gross national product. The British proportion was almost exactly the same. German expenditure on armaments was actually cut down after Munich and remained at this lower level, so that British production of aeroplanes, for example, was way ahead of German by 1940. When war broke out in 1939, Germany had 1450 modern fighter planes and 800 bombers, Great Britain and France had 950 fighters and 1300 bombers. The Germans had 3500 tanks; Great Britain and France had 3850. In each case Allied intelligence estimated German strength at more than twice the true figure. As usual, Hitler was thought to have planned and prepared for a great war. In fact, he had not.78
David Calleo agrees with Taylor. Before the war began, Hitler had never put the economy on a war footing. While he did rearm,
[Hitler] greatly exaggerated the extent of rearmament to his contemporaries and was careful not to curtail civilian consumption. As a result, Germany was surprisingly unready for a long war. Indeed, not until 1943 was the economy fully mobilized. Hitler…apparently gambled on blitzkrieg.79
On May 16, 1940, as the Germans were breaking through in the Ardennes, FDR delivered a radio address calling on America to produce fifty thousand planes a year. In 1939, U.S. capacity, due to foreign orders, had expanded from nearly six thousand planes a year to more than double that. As a potential military power, the United States was of a different order of magnitude from Britain or Germany. Only Stalin’s immense and populous Soviet Union possessed anything like America’s latent power.
In the summer of 1941, as his Panzers sliced through the Red Army on the road to Leningrad, Moscow, and the Caucasus, Hitler did muse over eliminating Russia, driving into the Middle East, linking up with Japan on the trans-Siberian railway or in India, even a final assault on the United States. But, four weeks after Pearl Harbor, Hitler had awakened from his reveries and confided to the Japanese ambassador that he did “not yet” know “how America could be defeated.”80
On January 10, 1942, with Britain isolated, his armies deep inside Russia, Hitler confided, “Confronted with America, the best we can do is hold out against her to the end.”81 General Alfred Jodl would testify shortly after the Nazi surrender that from “the high point of the start of 1942,” Hitler realized “victory was no longer attainable.”82
On January 27, 1942, with the Americans holed up on Bataan, Hitler was absorbed in self-pity: “Here, too, I am ice cold. If the German people are not prepared to stand up for their own preservation, fine. Then they should perish.”83 Seven weeks after Pearl Harbor, Hitler had begun to contemplate the annihilation of the Third Reich.