This is the first in a series of lectures we are going to do on German history. Our specific focus is the geopolitical strategy of Germany, starting with the creator of the modern German Empire, Otto von Bismarck, one of the most brilliant geopolitical strategists the world has ever seen.
Bismarck came to power in Prussia in the 1860’s. Things were not going well. In fact the country was in such a state of instability there was a fear that the whole government could collapse when he was appointed. Bismarck fought a series of wars and conducted a series of very brilliant diplomatic strategies that enabled Prussia to basically become the ruler of the modern German Empire. Now we won’t go into all the details of how this happened, but we do need to stress a number of major points, which perhaps have not been adequately understood.
One is the central role of Russia in Bismarck's plans. Bismarck had been a Prussian ambassador to Russia, and this played a very critical role. Without the neutrality, shall we say of Russia, Bismarck's actions would not have been possible. So in other words let's look at it this way, Prussia was surrounded by three major powers: the Habsburg Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Russian Empire, and France. France in particular did not want to see Prussia end up dominating Germany, nor did the Habsburg's in Austria. So Bismarck was facing two enemies right off the bat. By a series of very clever diplomatic maneuvers Bismarck was able to unite Germany.
Now let's fast-forward to 1871 after Germany had been created. There's a big debate among German historians of why, when Bismarck had crushed Austria in the previous war, why he didn't absorbed the German territories in Austria. This would have huge implications relating to Nazi Germany years later. No one really knows the answer to that question because the Austrians got a very generous peace from Bismarck. However this would set up a long-standing controversy in German history that the Germans in Austria would feel that they had been left out of the greater German Empire.
Now from 1871 to 1890 Bismarck basically ruled and organized the new German state. That's a long period of time. Most of the histories of Bismarck cover the period of creating Germany and sort of skim over the period of him being in power up to the point where he was dismissed by Kaiser Wilhelm II. This is a very a foolish way look at German history. Bismarck reorganized the German state and put in institutions over this long period of time that reflected his point of view.
In the victory of 1871 Bismarck humiliated the German liberals and completely discredited them. By being in power for such a long time and using his political power to shape German universities, in many aspects of German life Bismarck was able to foster shall we say an intellectual renaissance and intellectual situation where ideologies of authoritarian rule became very popular and sophisticated in the German intellectual world. There is an attempt after World War II to look back and try to pretend that Germany really wanted to be a democracy – and of course it was a democracy, but a democracy in the Western mold – and nothing could be further from the truth. The German liberals were totally discredited in 1871 and it was a long history of authoritarian ideology going back to Hegel, and in many ways, going back to Frederick the Great and his father Frederick William I.
So this attempt to reinterpret German history to make the current Bundesrepublik look like some kind of logical extension of German history is basically a complete artifice. It's a complete illusion. Now Bismarck put in reforms in Germany that would be very important for the future, particularly national health insurance and Social Security. Bismarck was a leader in terms of social reform. Now on a global stage a big problem emerged because Germany became a world-class power in the center of Europe. Yet Germany was a late comer to the game of global empire. You have to understand that as the 19th century evolved, four giant empires emerged. Two were sort of land settler empires: America and Russia. Two were giant overseas colonial empires: France and England. Germany came late to this game of Empire and they ended up, to a certain extent, with the scraps. Their colonial empire was a pale shadow of the other four and this would be a long-standing source of instability in world politics.
Now in 1890 a very disastrous event occurred, Kaiser Wilhelm II fired Bismarck. Kaiser Wilhelm II has to go down as one of the most catastrophic people in German history and we will go over why. After he fired Bismarck, Kaiser Wilhelm refused to renew what was known as the reinsurance treaty between Germany and Russia. This would have absolutely cataclysmic consequences because there were growing tensions in some ways between Germany and Russia, and we won't get into all the details here, but the point is that that was the cornerstone of Bismarck's policy. It was the cornerstone of German security. The end result of the Kaiser's foolish and disastrous action was that Russia would sign a defense and military treaty with Germany's number one enemy, France.
So that created, as Bismarck very correctly observed at the time, a geopolitical catastrophe for Germany facing a war on two fronts by two major powers. Germany's only real key ally was Austria-Hungary, a very dubious ally, and an ally that was constantly getting into conflicts with Russia in the Balkans. So this was a very dangerous situation from day one. However the Kaiser wasn't content with engineering a disaster like that. He then provoked tremendous hostility from a longtime friend of Prussia, England, by his adoption of an aggressive navel policy and also a highly confrontational public attitude towards England. Perhaps one of the stupidest and most disastrous decisions of all the stupid disastrous decisions of the Kaiser came in 1906 when Von Bulow, the Kaiser's unscrupulous and incompetent Chancellor, publicly insulted Joseph Chamberlain, the leader of the faction in England that sought good relations and possibly a treaty with Germany. That completely undermined and destroyed pro-German factions in England.
The Kaiser's obnoxious personality also helped alienate Edward VII and push England into a position of hostility towards Germany. The end result was the emergence of what was known before World War I as the Triple en Taunt. England, France, and Russia, against Germany. Germany meanwhile was still stuck with Austria-Hungary as an ally. Supposedly Italy was an ally but Italy would later turn against Germany and most people in Germany saw that alliance as a farce and a potential ally in terms of the Ottoman Empire. Now fast forward to the beginning of World War I.
Very important to understand that in 1914, Germany was facing a total and complete geopolitical catastrophe as result of the policies of the Kaiser. Germany was in an absolutely impossible situation. Russia was rearming tremendously. People portray Imperial Russia as a total basket case, a mess and so forth. That's simply not true. Russia was a growing economy, was booming before World War I, but very important militarily, Russia was involved in an enormous military buildup, and certainly by 1916 as the Russian army became equipped with heavy guns, the Russian Navy expanded so on and so forth. If there’d been war, Germany would of just been wiped out. No question whatsoever. So Germany was facing an absolutely impossible situation and there are some historians who believe that Germany wanted war in 1914. We don't believe that, but it's very important to understand that Bismarck's foreign policy system was in ruins and Germany was facing an absolutely hopeless situation.
Now the whole handling of the outbreak war was another series of disasters by Kaiser Wilhelm where Germany basically took the initiative in going to war partly because of the treaties and so on. We will not go into all the details on that but that was another series of disasters by Germany's worst leader in terms of competence, Kaiser Wilhelm. Now the fact that Germany didn't get crushed in 1914 or 1915 can only be considered a miracle, and there are a variety of military reasons for that. One is the amazingly bizarre situation where the Ottoman Empire, under very bizarre circumstances, ended up joining Germany and Austria Hungary; Thereby cutting off the access of Russia to Western supplies and also opening up another front for Russia. Now we need to understand some very, very important things about World War I to understand the rise of Hitler.
Germany successfully defeated Russia on the Eastern front. A lot of people don't realize that: the treaty of Brest-litovsk. Very, very important, this was part of the process of Hindenburg and Ludendorff, the warlords of Germany, developing very, very sophisticated plans for the development of their empire in Russia. This was not a minor affair. Now as everybody knows, Germany ended up losing after America entered the war. Of course the American entrance to the war was spurred by another Kaiser Wilhelm disaster, the Zimmerman telegram, an act of truly unbelievable stupidity. So once America entered the war, Germany was basically finished.
Now at the Versailles Treaty, Germany faced nothing short of a national catastrophe. The scale of the defeat for Germany was just mind-boggling. The German Army was reduced to 100,000 men, which meant that the Polish army or the Czech army could successfully invade Germany and probably conquer it. It is hard for Americans to conceive of what the treaty meant. The entire German navy was scuttled, just sent to the bottom. All that effort gone. Huge reparations were placed against Germany. So Germany in 1919 was a kind of mad house, a kind of shattered nation beyond anything few people could imagine. On top of that, the hunger blockade was kept up by the Allies to pressure the Germans to sign the treaty, which meant that there was literally mass starvation in Germany. So this is the Germany that Adolf Hitler found when he got out of the Army. Now we will then discuss in the next lecture the emergence of Hitler.
Hitler began his career in Munich, and in Munich were a lot of very interesting people. Now we need to understand something very, very important about the evolution of Hitler's political career. There's – and again we need to just back up a little bit and correct a lot of myths from post-1945 history of historiography about Germany – there's an attempt again to portray Germany as on some sort of natural evolution since 1848 to becoming a peace-loving democracy, or so-called peace-loving democracy. Some sort of carbon copy of what America likes to think it is, and so on. As we've pointed out, that's absolute rubbish. Now, there's also an equally deluded point of view, which is to try to portray Hitler as some sort of crackpot fringe character who had nothing to do with German history. Nothing could be further from the truth.
What is mind-boggling about Hitler is that even before the so-called putsch of 1923, Hitler had become a very major figure in German politics, particularly nationalist German politics. Hitler was backed by a Who's Who of the German political establishment on the right. The Becksteins, the Brookmans, prestigious German families, sort of the equivalent to our Rockefellers and Kennedys, were behind Hitler. The Wagner family backed Hitler. Very important, Hitler managed to convince Gen. Ludendorff, the warlord of Germany in World War I, to support him. And even before the push of 1923, Hitler was traveling around Germany with Ludendorff on speaking tours, which is just mind-boggling to think that this is a corporal who was not even a German citizen until the late 1920s. He was a citizen of Austria. So this is a mind-boggling achievement of somebody who came from such a modest background. However, you really can't understand Hitler if you don't understand that that he was very much in alliance with key members of the German establishment.
As Hitler sat in the beer halls in the cafés of Munich he got to know key people in German geopolitics. When we first started studying this, we thought the main figure was General Haushofer. But as we studied further, we realized that Hitler was in touch with a good part of the German military leadership on Ludendorff's staff relating to the conquest of Russia in World War I. What evolved from Hitler – and what is discussed in our General Plan Ost report and other reports that we have on the history of Germany – what evolved in Hitler's mind was a really quite revolutionary strategy for German geopolitics. The traditional German Right in the 1920s had goals basically to regain where Germany was in 1914, regain Alsace-Lorraine from France, regain the colonies, basically just to sort of re-create Germany to where it was by 1914. That was the conventional point of view. Hitler's point of view was totally revolutionary.
What Hitler wanted to do was to basically completely ignore that whole strategy. He wanted a nonaggression pact with France and England. He wanted to make sure the French understood that Germany had no claims about getting Alsace-Lorraine back, and instead, he chose to implement a good part of the ideas of Ludendorff's staff in terms of the conquest of what was now the Soviet Union. This is absolutely critical to understand. If you don't understand this, then you don't understand anything about Hitler's foreign policy.
To further highlight Hitler's role in German politics we need to correct a number of myths about the so-called 1923 putsch. The conventional wisdom is this was a bunch of crazy people at three o'clock in the morning who tried to take over the Bavarian government. This is a nonsensical point of view. In 1923, the French had occupied the Ruhr. The German government was completely humiliated. All over Germany there were calls for a putsch against the government. The government of Bavaria headed by the right-wing monarchist Commissioner Kahr organized a plan for a putsch. They asked Hitler to be part of that plan. Hitler did not wake up in the morning one day and decide to overthrow the German government. That's an absolutely silly observation and another attempt to portray Hitler as some sort of marginal crackpot.
The idea of a putsch came from the very top in the Bavarian government. After the situation calmed down, the Bavarian government was informed by General Von Seeckt, head of the German Army , and the Army leadership, that they did not want a putsch. In fact, they were very specifically informed that if they organized a putsch, the German army would enter Bavaria and overthrow Kahr and replace him. So, at that point in time, Kahr decided maybe the putsch wasn't such a great idea. Hitler, however, had a big political problem because he had not only endorsed Kahr's plan, but then got all of his supporters very angry that the putsch had been canceled. And this is the root of the so-called "putsch" in 1923 which was to try to force Kahr to go through with his original plan.
Obviously the whole thing ended up in a big mess. However, at the trial, the person was destroyed was not Hitler, it was Kahr, because all these negotiations had been in secret, and Hitler came across as a kind of sincere, if a bit out of control, patriot, while Kahr came across as a complete fraud, because Kahr had tried to pretend that he had nothing to do with this. Kahr had even tried to make sure Hitler got deported because he was absolutely horrified – quite correctly – at the possibility of a trial. So Kahr ended up being completely destroyed by the trial that followed, and Hitler became an even bigger celebrity around Germany. This is an important point to understand.
In the 1920's that followed, Hitler very cleverly built a political machine all over Germany. He traveled all over Germany so that when the roof fell in on the world economy in 1930, there were National Socialist candidates running for office all over Germany and the National Socialist party went from being a marginal party to being one of the most powerful parties in Germany in the 1930 elections. It's also very important to understand that Hitler's greatest opponents in Germany were not the left, they were the right. His greatest opponents in Bavaria were not the left, not communists, but people like Commissioner Kahr who represented the monarchist right wing. Once the National Socialist party became the largest political party in Germany, who stood in the way of Hitler getting in the power?
The democratic forces, the so-called "Social Democrats" and so on had been had been completely discredited, and Hitler's power was blocked for a couple of years by the right-wing, by Hindenburg. This is very, very important to understand. So in the early 1930s, what you had in Germany was a Civil War on the right. Support for democracy, support for American-style democracy, was basically dead as a door nail, and the opponents of Hitler were not great lovers of democracy, they were forces on the political right. Now through a series of intrigues and other things which we needn't to go into here Hitler became chancellor in 1933. When Hitler became Chancellor, he adopted a very cautious foreign policy. He, to the shock of everyone, negotiated a nonaggression pact with Poland in 1934. In the next lecture we will begin to discuss what Hitler did when he came to power.
In January 1933, Hitler became Chancellor of Germany. In terms of foreign policy, the watchword for Hitler's early foreign policy plans while in office could be classified in one word: caution. Hitler was extremely cautious in his first two years in most areas. Even in terms of the secret agreements with the Soviet Union, which existed from the 1920s to mutually help Germany and Russia increase their military power. These agreements were not discontinued by Hitler, and were only discontinued by the Russians after a bizarre and strange anti-Soviet speech by Hubenberg, one of Hitler's nationalist party allies, but somebody who was not part of the Nazi party, and somebody who Hitler really didn't like very much. So that was discontinued by the Russians.
In 1934, things began to change quite dramatically. To the surprise of just about everyone in Europe, Hitler concluded a nonaggression pact with Poland. In terms of understanding this pact and an understanding of a lot of what happened later in terms of European foreign policy, and its reaction to Hitler, it is important to understand that the Polish government of Marshal Pilsudski was a very anti-Russian government, and a government quite sympathetic to Germany. Marshal Pilsudski had fought on the German side in World War I and he was appointed by the Germans to run Poland when they were in charge. Much more important is the fact that Russia had tried to invade Europe in the early 1920s, and the Russian army had gotten as far west as Poland. So, this was a government that was quite sympathetic to Germany, and very hostile to the Soviet Union.
In terms of other developments, in 1934 Hitler went to meet Mussolini in Venice. This was a disaster. Mussolini, in the first place, never liked Hitler, and the summit meeting – without going into details – was basically a complete disaster. Things just went from bad to worse in terms of German-Italian relations later in the year because of an attempted coup in Austria against the Dollfuss regime, organized by local nationalists. Mussolini blamed Hitler for this, and during this coup, Dollfuss was assassinated and Italy and Germany came very close to going to war.
More important, on the domestic front, 1934 marked the consolidation of Hitler's power in Germany. Two very important developments took place. One: the storm troopers – the SA headed up by Ernst Rohm – started to talk about a second revolution. Rohm made the very serious mistake to challenge not only Hitler's power, but the power of the Army. Rohm wanted to create a People's Army that would, in effect, supplant the Reichswehr. Obviously the German generals didn't think this was a very good idea.
Hitler was facing nothing short of a Civil War in Germany. He was basically informed by the Army that he either put Rohm in his place – that place might be considered an early grave – or the Army would be likely to stage a coup against the government and do the job for him. Meanwhile, he was facing a potential revolution from Rohm. Hitler did what he had to do. He really didn't have a choice in the matter. He crushed Rohm, and crushed the rebellion within his own ranks. After this, a very important development took place, which was the death of General von Hindenburg, who was technically the head of the German state. This left Hitler in complete control of Germany, and by the end of the year, Hitler was in a position of pretty close to absolute power in Germany.
In 1935, Hitler began to greatly accelerate his foreign policy plans. In early 1935, he took what was probably the most important decision made in German foreign policy up to the beginning of World War II, and that was the total and complete repudiation of the Versailles limitations on German rearmament. In other words, Germany was now openly declaring itself to be free to do whatever it wanted militarily. The Western powers really did not react. There are a number of theories as to why this happened, but it is important to understand, as we discussed, the whole evolution of Nazi foreign policy. It is important to the background of this whole situation.
The Soviet Union was involved in a massive rearmament campaign. Also, it was involved in a massive campaign of mass murder of its own citizens. So it is not unreasonable that nations in Europe did not necessarily see Germany as the number one threat. Russia, under Lenin, had made it very clear that they wanted to invade and conquer Europe. So it is not an unreasonable assumption to see that people in Europe saw Germany as a counterweight to Russia, and this influenced thinking about that situation. Also in 1935, the Saar returned to Germany in an overwhelming vote in a plebiscite, which showed that Hitler's popularity among the Germans was very high, even outside areas that Germany controlled.
Another event took place in 1935 that would have very serious consequences for the structure of security in Europe, and that was Mussolini's invasion of Ethiopia. This led to great tensions between Italy and Britain, and France. As a result, Mussolini became rather isolated in Europe, and as we will see, much more sympathetic to reevaluating positive relations with Germany. The second most important event that took place in 1935 was a very critical part of Hitler's long-term plan, and that was a nonaggression pact with England. Germany and England negotiated what was called the Anglo-German Naval Agreement, which was considered a big step forward for Germany's international relations, and set certain limitations on both German and British naval armament campaigns.
Moving on to 1936, the most important event at the beginning of the year was the German reoccupation of the Rhineland, another blatant violation of the Versailles Treaty, and another action which provoked no reaction from the Western powers. In the summer came the Berlin Olympics, which were a huge public relations triumph for Germany. Germany won the Olympics, and Germany presented itself quite successfully to the world as a positive, prosperous society on the mend from World War I. Later in the year came an event that was very significant in terms of Hitler's plans, which is not that widely known, which is the visit of England's former Prime Minister, Lloyd George, to Germany. This visit was a huge public relations success. Lloyd George was absolutely thrilled with Hitler, and even wrote a very favorable article about Hitler when he got back to England.
So Hitler's policies were going very well and things were falling into place. Towards the end of the year, a very significant military agreement was negotiated. In Berlin, the Japanese military attaché was of man by the name of Hiroshi Oshima, probably one of the most important people relating to World War II you might never have heard of. It was due to the positive relations between Hitler's private foreign policy advisor, von Ribbentrop and Oshima that the Nexus of a German-Japanese military agreement evolved.
Now we will discuss in more detail the Eastern aspects of German foreign policy, because Germany from 1933 onward really had only one major key ally, and that was Chiang Kai-shek's China, a very interesting situation. And the so-called anti-Comintern pact between Germany and Japan was very unpopular with the German military, but it was signed anyway, and it was another piece in Hitler's master plan for invading and conquering the Soviet Union. Also in 1936, the Spanish Civil War broke out, which found Germany and Italy on one side working together against the Soviet Union on the other side. So all this laid the groundwork for a rapprochement between Hitler and Mussolini.
Through 1936, it could be said that Hitler's foreign policy had been pretty close to flawless. There had been one success after another. However, in 1937, very severe problems began to develop in Hitler's plans and this is the key part of what we are to discuss in this lecture.
The first major disaster was the decision to send Joachim von Ribbentrop to England as the German ambassador. There was some logic to do this. Ribbentrop spoke fluent English. He had theoretically been very successful in producing two huge triumphs for Germany in relationship to England. One was the negotiation of the Anglo-German naval agreement in 1935. The second was the hugely successful visit of Britain's Prime Minister during World War I, Lloyd George to Germany in 1936. This was just a total success.
Lloyd George was tremendously impressed with Hitler and wrote a series of very favorable articles about Hitler in the British press when he returned to England. No one will really know the answer to some of these questions. Some have speculated that Ribbentrop's success was more due to some very talented people on his staff. We don't really know. What we do know is that his mission to England was one of the most disastrous foreign policy missions in world history.
In England, there were powerful forces that were highly sympathetic to Nazi Germany. Among them was King Edward VIII. The king himself, who later became the Duke of Windsor, was highly sympathetic to Nazi Germany. Obviously it was a major setback when he was forced to resign because of the famous affair with Mrs. Simpson and so on and so forth. But that is symbolic of the level of support that Germany had in England. Unfortunately, Ribbentrop had a totally poisonous personality and basically alienated and/or made a fool out of himself in terms of British support for Germany. There is no way to overestimate the damage that this did, and the opportunity that was lost here.
One reason this fact is not fully appreciated by a lot of historians is that obviously after World War II people who had been very sympathetic to Germany in the 1930s didn't really want to publicize that fact in their memoirs, and of course, Ribbentrop himself was executed rather quickly after the war. An interesting aspect of Germany's vision and its purpose in terms of negotiating with England was the very frank discussion between Ribbentrop and Churchill in 1937. And it could be seen as the manner in which Germany was presenting its vision to England and is duplicated in many other conversations.
Specifically, Ribbentrop openly told Churchill that Germany was planning to invade the Soviet Union and sought neutrality with England. This was very upfront. So the big picture is very apparent for what Germany was planning to do: a nonaggression pact with England was verging on a life-and-death issue for Nazi Germany, because without it, they would face the prospect of a war on two fronts. The war on two fronts that destroyed the Kaiser's Germany.
Ribbentrop left England a very bitter man. Ribbentrop was the kind of person who was incompetent in his field of work – foreign policy – but an absolute genius in terms of manipulating the power structure in which he worked. There are lots of people like this in politics and such people are usually very vain, and Ribbentrop was a very vain man. He left England with a huge sense of bitterness about, from his point of view, of being humiliated by the British. He returned to Germany as Foreign Minister with a pathological hatred of the British, and this would have very serious consequences for Germany's relationship with England.
Another thing that happened with Ribbentrop – which in fairness was not his fault – was that as he was leaving England, he was at a going away party with the leaders of the British government. Other people in the German government – probably with a great deal of good judgment – had made sure that Ribbentrop knew absolutely nothing about the plans for the Anschluss. So, when Chamberlain and the other British leaders asked about what was going on he emphatically told them that there were no plans for an Anschluss. This would also have very negative consequences because it would lead the British to believe that they could not trust Ribbentrop, and so the whole situation was just an unmitigated disaster and set the stage for problems to come.
The other disaster in 1937 concerned the outbreak of war between Germany's two key allies in Asia, Japan and China, which will be discussed in the next lecture.
This lecture is to discuss Germany's strategy in Asia and Germany's strategy of a global war vis-à-vis the Soviet Union. As we discussed in a previous lecture, Germany in 1936 signed a military alliance with Japan relating to the prospect of war with the Soviet Union. It is very important to understand that Japan had a long-term interest in seizing control of Siberia and actually trying to seize control of part of Siberia after World War I, but was forced out by Western powers. It is also a point that nationalist forces in China wanted to seize control of parts of Siberia, and bitterly resented the fact that Russia had seized control of Outer Mongolia in 1911, and had seized control of the maritime prominent provinces from China during the turmoil that China experienced in the 1860s. So there were links between nationalist forces in Japan and nationalist forces in China. There's a very interesting picture, which we have on our website, of Chiang Kai-shek meeting Toyama Mitsuru, head of the Japanese Black Dragon Society in 1927 in Tokyo.
What is the term Black Dragon? The term Black Dragon comes from the Amur River in China showing the focus of the Japanese nationalists in seizing control of Siberia. Now, in 1931, the Japanese seized control of Manchuria. How and why they did this is somewhat still a matter of confusion when we say who exactly was really behind this. You must understand that in 1930, the Soviet Union seized control of part of Manchuria, due to a technical dispute over payments for a railroad which we won't need to go into now. But it's very important to understand that the Japanese felt that if they didn't seize Manchuria – which was then technically not part of China, it was run by an independent warlord – they felt that the odds were very high the Soviet Union would seize control of Manchuria, and it's possible that their concerns were not ill-conceived.
One of the key Japanese advocates for seizing control of Manchuria was Ishihara, who was probably one of the great visionaries of 20th-century Japanese military policy. Ishihara was a very smart guy. He correctly saw that for Japan to seize control of Manchuria would create huge problems in Japan's relationship with China. He very emphatically told the military leaders in Manchuria that they needed to be absolutely certain that they did not in any way threaten further encroachments on Chinese territory. Unfortunately, people such as Tojo and other hotheads and bureaucrats in the Manchurian Army did not listen to this and steadily moved the border with China southward until in 1937 Japanese troops were literally at the gates of Beijing. This was a prescription for disaster, and in the summer of 1937, disaster struck.
Japanese forces and Chinese forces under somewhat mysterious circumstances got into a conflict with each other, which escalated into full-scale war. This war was an absolute disaster for everybody, except the Soviet Union. It was a complete disaster for Germany because it meant that its two allies in Asia, Japan and China, were involved in a war with each other. It was a disaster for China insofar as they had just gotten themselves into a huge war. It was a total disaster for Japan because it completely demolished their plans for rearmament and just completely screwed up the entire structure of the Japanese military. As a result, the German plans for a military alliance with Japan vis-à-vis the Soviet Union were severely damaged.
Now a side that needs to be understood is that Germany's relationship with China was also a very big deal and predated the alliance with Japan. There was no formal alliance, but the German military mission to China was a very big deal, and China in 1933 was probably Germany's closest ally. The German military mission to China was headed up by nobody less than general Von Siecht, the former head of the German Army, which supervised the military reorganization of Germany in the 1920s, and the secret German rearmament. So Germany's relationship with China was a very big deal, and the hope was that China would eventually join the anti-Comintern pact. The disaster of 1937 pretty well blew all that up, and this meant that the entire Eastern strategy of Germany's policy was now in a complete shambles, and Germany would be forced into choosing between China and Japan, which in 1938 it basically – for all intents and purposes – sided with Japan, and though it still tried to maintain good relations with China. So that is the second big disaster of 1937.
The third major event for Nazi Germany in foreign policy in 1937 was an extremely positive event. That was the visit of Mussolini to Germany. This visit was a huge success, as we mentioned in previous lectures. Mussolini basically did not like Hitler. He also didn't like a good part of Hitler's ideology, specifically the racism and the anti-Semitism. As we discussed, the summit in Venice in 1934 was a disaster. However, the decision of the Western powers to isolate Italy as a result of its Ethiopian war, and the fact that Germany and Italy found themselves on the same side in the Spanish Civil War, caused Mussolini to significantly rethink his foreign policy priorities. As a result, in late 1937, Italy became the third member of the anti-Comintern pact. Now the main significance of this in the near term is it basically meant the death sentence for the right-wing dictatorship, the dictatorship in Austria, because the main thing that prevented Hitler from moving south was the opposition of Italy. So the handwriting was on the wall in late 1937 for the Anschluss that took place in early 1938.
In early 1938, an event occurred in Nazi Germany that was nothing short of a foreign policy and military revolution inside the state. This change has, in our view, been greatly underappreciated by historians. Now, we're not going to get into all the details, but to sum it up, here is what happened in a series of complicated intrigues. Blomberg was forced out as war minster, and there is absolutely no evidence, contrary to the claims of some historians, that this was orchestrated by Hitler. To the contrary, Hitler liked Blomberg. However, due to a series of complicated intrigues, Blomberg was forced out. And there is evidence that one of the intriguers against Blomberg was Fritsch, the person who would logically be his successor in the German military. The result of this whole situation is that Hitler personally took control of the military, and in effect, appointed himself as war minster and then picked somebody who was basically a cipher general title to head the military under his supervision. This would have terrible consequences for Germany. Blomberg was respected by Hitler. Hitler liked Blomberg and Blomberg was able to talk to Hitler and give him independent advice. So overnight, a powerful independent voice was removed from Hitler's inner circle of foreign and defense policy advisers, and even more disastrous result took place over at the Foreign Ministry, where Hitler removed Neurath and replaced him with Ribbentrop. Neurath was probably going to be removed anyways because he and Hitler, unlike Blomberg and Hitler, were really not on the same page. He was an old-school diplomat and while he was willing to go along with Hitler's ideas, the chemistry just wasn't there.
However, the replacement of Neurath by Ribbentrop was nothing short of a total catastrophe. As we mentioned before, Ribbentrop is the kind of person you run into in politics who is not very good at what he does, but is a genius at manipulating the power structure in which he's in. He was a sort of 1930s Condoleezza Rice or Wolfowitz or some of the other incompetents in the Bush administration who were no good at what they did, but very good at manipulating people in power into keeping their jobs and getting promoted and so on and so forth. Ribbentrop was a genius at politics inside the German state, and as he had sort of outmaneuvered Neurath, he was sufficiently smarth to make sure there would never be another joke another Joachim von Ribbentrop, and as a result Hitler began to be very isolated from independent foreign policy information. Ribbentrop, the master intriguer, set about controlling the flow of information to Hitler. And Ribbentrop also understood that access to Hitler was the key to his power. If you look at Eva Braun's films of the Berghof, you constantly see Ribbentrop, probably more than any other top official of the party, because he understood where the power lay. So as of early February on the eve of the Anschluss in 1938 you had nothing short of a complete upheaval in German foreign policy
The next major event we are going to discuss is the so-called Anschluss: the union between Austria and Germany. We need to put aside a number of very silly myths about the situation. It's really hard to believe the so-called "rape of Austria." If Austria was being raped, it was being raped by the sleazy Schuschnigg dictatorship that ran it, a right-wing dictatorship that ran Austria. Schuschnigg almost certainly did not represent the Austrian people. The desire for German unity went back 100 years and the majority of the German members of the old Austro-Hungarian Reichsrat had voted for Anschluss with Germany. So this was not some wild idea cooked up by Hitler. What Schuschnigg tried to do was engage in a lot of intrigues to try to prevent the inevitable from happening. Obviously, that didn't go over very well with Hitler, and without going into all the ins and outs of what happened, Schuschnigg was forced to capitulate to the popular will of the Austrian people and Hitler was welcomed into Austria as a savior. And anybody who thinks that Hitler did not represent the majority of the Austrian people simply ought to look at some of the films of the rapturous welcome he got when he entered Vienna and other major Austrian cities. So, Austria was incorporated into Germany; a lifelong dream of the German nationalists was achieved.
Now, our further lectures about the very fateful year of 1938 are going to cover a number of issues, among them the further evolution of Germany's policy in Asia, a subject that has not been adequately discussed. But, of course we need to discuss the tremendous crisis over Czechoslovakia. Czechoslovakia, it must be understood, was not critical to Hitler's policies. His idea of a union with Austria was a central obsession of his life. The need to reach a military understanding with Poland for an invasion of the of the Soviet Union was also an absolutely essential military reality. Czechoslovakia wasn't. And much to the frustration of the German nationalists in Czechoslovakia, Hitler had really not paid very much attention to them. This policy was corrected, or reversed, or however you want to describe it, by Ribbentrop. And there became much more agitation in Czechoslovakia for the Germans in Czechoslovakia to achieve the goal that they sought in 1919, which was to leave Czechoslovakia and join Germany.
You must understand that the idea of Czechoslovakia being some sort of big debate about democracy is rubbish. Czechoslovakia was a mess, and Beneš was a sleazy, ethnic nationalist, a sort of modern-day Milošević. One of the problems in history and historiography in this field is the attempt to put a pretty face on some of Hitler's opponents. And Beneš is certainly a classic case of that. Czechoslovakia was a mess. Not only did the Germans want to leave, the Slovaks wanted to leave and some of the other ethnic groups also wanted to leave Czechoslovakia. The state was a complete disaster from day one. So that's an important point to understand.
Secondly, the Allies in 1919 and 1918 had promised self-determination, a promise they would not keep in terms of their own policies relating to the Germans outside of Germany. So, there was really zero moral case for preventing the Germans in Czechoslovakia from seeking union with Germany. None whatsoever. In fact, there's a strong moral case in favor of that.
In May 1938, a great crisis developed. Whether it was by accident, or a deliberate lie by Beneš, who was a pathological liar, Czechoslovakia gave England and France the impression that Germany was about to attack them. This was a lie, or an innocent mistake. Whatever it was, it was completely untrue. However, in the chaos and bumbling of foreign policy of the time, Britain and France basically threatened Germany with war if they attacked Czechoslovakia. This absolutely enraged Hitler, and he made the mistake of allowing himself to be provoked by a secondary objective, Czechoslovakia, to divert his attention from his main objective: a military alliance with Poland for the invasion of the Soviet Union, and the continuing efforts to reach a nonaggression pact with England.
It must be understood, however, that you could argue that Czechoslovakia was a potential military threat to Germany. The Czechs repeatedly publicized the fact that they were going to use airfields in Czechoslovakia for French and Russian air attacks on Germany. America nearly went to war with Cuba, and thereby nearly sparked a world war in the Cuban missile crisis, because of the worry about Russian missiles in Cuba.
The Germans could be considered to have similar – though perhaps less serious – concerns about foreign air attacks being launched from Czechoslovakia. So, the point is that there were national security reasons for Germany to want to eliminate a potential threat in Czechoslovakia. After the May crisis in 1938, Hitler gave secret orders that Czechoslovakia was to be, "wiped off the map." He didn't like Beneš, and most people in Europe didn't, and he was tired of Beneš' endless lies, and his endless intrigues, and so on.
Hitler's plan was probably a mistake. It ran the risk of a larger war in Europe, which is precisely what Germany didn't want. However, you have to keep in mind that this is the Ribbentrop era in German foreign policy. Nobody in England and France who had any sanity was about to plunge Europe into war to bailout a mess like Czechoslovakia. So they wanted out of the whole situation. However, Ribbentrop's clumsy diplomacy made it very difficult for them to make a face-saving exit. This whole situation just escalated, and escalated, and escalated. There's also great myth that Chamberlain "appeased" Hitler. This is simply not true. Chamberlain took a highly confrontational approach towards Germany, in effect, threatening Germany with war over an issue that really had nothing to do with British foreign policy. So that's also a myth.
Anyway, without going into details, the whole mess headed towards war with Britain and France nearly going to war with Germany over the defense of a mess: Czechoslovakia. At the last minute, Hitler backed off. You must understand that the public statement of Germany, and the real German policy were not the same. Hitler's goal was to simply seize all of Czechoslovakia. That's what he wanted. He never wanted the Munich agreement. If anybody engaged in any appeasement at Munich, it was Hitler, who backed down and accepted an agreement that he hated. Hitler was furious about the Munich agreement, and the Munich agreement laid the groundwork for World War II. It was a nonsensical agreement where Britain and France were basically guaranteeing the indefensible, which was what was left of Czechoslovakia.
This laid the groundwork for World War II. Even worse, in a truly bizarre statement, Chamberlain, who hadn't gotten any sleep for two days, made the preposterous statement that he had achieved peace in his time. Now, Chamberlain was stupid, but he wasn't that stupid, and he realized the next day he made an appallingly idiotic statement. However, for obvious reasons, it was not really considered prudent to repudiate that statement. So, the statement remained, but we need to also correct a couple myths that Chamberlain thought that he'd achieved global peace, or whatever. He did not. He was stupid, but he wasn't that stupid. However, Munich set a tripwire for war by in effect having Britain and France guarantee the indefensible, the the mess of Czechoslovakia.
In March 1938, that mess fell apart. Slovakia tried to exit Czechoslovakia, which they'd been planning to do for quite a while, and which they eventually did do after the Cold War, and Germany pressured the Czechs to allow them to seize control of the rest of the country. This put England in a very difficult spot, because it basically made Chamberlain look like a total fool, and that set the stage for very negative developments to come, which we will discuss in a further lecture.
This lecture is a further discussion of the Munich agreement of 1938, and its consequences. Overall, Hitler's handling of the crisis with Czechoslovakia in 1938 was the first in a series of major mistakes by Germany, and the first in a series of disasters produced by the appointment of Ribbentrop as foreign minister. In diplomacy, personal relationships matter. Ribbentrop's personal relationships with the British could be summed up in one word: a disaster. Ribbentrop even went so far as to restrict the presence of the German Ambassador Dirksen in London. A good part of the time, he wasn't even allowed to do his job. So relations between Germany and England largely consisted of meetings in Berlin between Ribbentrop and the British ambassador, Henderson.
Now Henderson was a well-meaning man, but he wasn't very intelligent, and this would lead to a whole series of problems and miscommunications. Ribbentrop hated the British because he felt he'd been humiliated in Britain, and his mission had failed. The British, in turn, did not trust Ribbentrop. This is a very bad situation for two world powers, and it's an invitation for trouble. Now, at Godesberg Chamberlain had made a quite reasonable proposal to Hitler for the absorption of the German parts of Czechoslovakia by Germany. Hitler made a tremendous mistake in rejecting these proposals and letting Europe slide towards the possibility of war. At Munich, Hitler basically went back and accepted Chamberlain's Godesberg proposals. However, in a speech in Berlin, apparently getting emotionally overwrought, he made the absolutely disastrous and ridiculous statement that this was the end of his territorial demands in Europe. Obviously, it was not, so this created further problems for Germany in terms of credibility.
There was also the incident shortly after Munich of Kristallnacht. A very mysterious incident, because it's contrary to most actions of the German government, which did not allow spontaneous or even organized mass mob violence. Apparently, Goebbels convinced Hitler to authorize some sort of mob violence. Some people think it was authorized by the S.S., nothing could be further from the truth. Himmler was furious about the whole situation, but he received an order via Hitler just to allow the Kristallnacht to take place. Mobs attacked synagogues throughout Germany and burned a lot of them down. This was an international public relations disaster of the first order from Germany, and laid the groundwork for war because it made people see Germany as an evil country. Whether that's justified or not, it was a very damaging situation for Germany.
The whole Munich situation, while in some ways is portrayed as a triumph for Hitler, really wasn't. It might've been a net triumph, but it's a triumph that came out of staggeringly bloody cost, and in our view, was kind of a disaster. As a result of letting everything slide out of control towards war at the last minute, Britain and France accelerated enormous armaments programs. The scale of these armaments programs has not been adequately thought through by historians, because the end result of this is that the military balance of power was going to start changing dramatically against Germany. So Germany had set in motion some very negative trends against itself as a result of Munich. A further result of Munich was that it was pretty much the kiss of death for Japan, Germany's ally, to want to get involved in Hitler's global plans.
The Japanese had been very disturbed by the handling of the Munich crisis by Germany, and they did not want to be dragged into a war with the Western states, particularly England. As a result, the Japanese in early 1939 refused to go ahead with a further strengthening of the military alliance with Germany, leaving Hitler with really only one major ally – specifically Italy. So the end result of Munich was a real crisis for German diplomacy. Now after Munich, very important developments began to take place. For Hitler to carry out his geopolitical plan, he had to have the cooperation of Poland. It's very important to understand who the Polish government was.
Marshal Pilsudski had served on the German side in World War I. He had been appointed to run Poland by the Germans. He must have been a very compelling guy, because he was able to persuade his fellow countrymen to elect him president in spite of that fact. In the 1920s, Poland fought a terrible war with the Soviet Union. This fact is largely ignored in histories of the situation, which left the Poles with a tremendous fear and hatred of the Soviet Union. So it's important to understand that the Polish government was highly sympathetic to Germany. In late 1938 there was a very fateful meeting between Ribbentrop and the Polish Ambassador to Germany, Lipski, in Munich. This would be followed up in early 1939 by a meeting between Hitler, Ribbentrop, and Beck, the Polish Foreign Minister, at the Berghof, and a follow-up meeting between Ribbentrop and Beck after that.
Now, these meetings set the course for World War II. Part of the problem was that Ribbentrop was such an obnoxious person that he had a marvelous ability to antagonize whoever he dealt with. And German relations with Poland were very good. Poland had sided with Germany in the Munich agreement against Czechoslovakia. And as we mentioned, this was a pro-German Polish government. The Polish government was vehemently anti-Soviet, and sponsored nationalist movements that were designed to bring down the Soviet Union. We cannot prove this point, but it is our opinion that there were secret discussions, more than is known between the Germans and the Poles, for an invasion of the Soviet Union, this cannot be determined, but we are highly convinced that such negotiations took place.
What Ribbentrop proposed to the Poles was a so-called settlement of German-Polish differences. Specifically, they wanted Danzig, which was a German city, returned to Germany and a extraterritorial highway conducted across the Polish corridor. These were not unreasonable requests. In fact, it's very important to understand that Hitler's proposals were virtually revolutionary in terms of German public opinion. These were an enormous concessions to Poland.
What is less well-studied by historians is the second part of what Hitler and Ribbentrop proposed. Which was the joining of the anti-Comintern pact by Poland against the Soviet Union. Now that point is absolutely critical, because in our view, it makes absolutely no sense for Hitler to have made the enormous concessions in terms of German public opinion to the Poles without some kind of quid pro quo.
In late 1939 after the agreement with Russia, Hitler ordered a destruction of records of plans against the Soviet Union throughout the German Foreign Ministries. So we suspect a good part of this was destroyed, on top of that, a good part of the Polish government was killed off during World War II, and those that survived would hardly be very chatty about the plans to join with Germany in the war against the Soviet Union. We can't prove this, but we think that there's a lot more to this than that has been known.
Suffice it to say, the Ribbentrop's efforts did not go over well with the Poles. Ribbentrop subsequently in early 1939 made a visit to Warsaw, which was pretty much of a disaster, and further alienated the Poles. Not only alienated the Poles, Ribbentrop's actions the Poles found extremely threatening, probably with a certain amount of good reason from their point of view, and caused the Poles to look around for allies. This would all have very disastrous consequences. Part of the problem is that the British and the French – particularly the French – lied to the Poles.
The Poles were not too bright, but they weren't idiots. And they understood that any military alliance with France and England required a massive invasion of Germany in order for it to be viable. They had no illusions that if they had to fight the Germans by themselves, they'd get annihilated, contrary to some statements in the postwar period. So, the policy of Britain and France towards Poland was basically a lie, as is documented in our report on this subject from day one. The Poles did not understand that it was a lie. So after the Munich agreement completely fell apart with the German seizure of the rest of Bohemia, Moravia and the secession of Slovakia in March 1939, the Poles were looking around for some further assurance vis-à-vis Germany.
At this time, for political reasons, the British government made a guarantee of Poland, this is similar to the May 1938 situation. This was based on false information that there was about to be a German invasion of Poland. In our view, it was a craven political act by Chamberlain, which put Britain in the position of making an unviable military commitment, specifically the defense of Poland, which Britain could not really carry out, unless the French conducted this massive invasion of Germany, which they were not planning to do. This created a dangerous tripwire for war, and we will then discuss the further consequences of this.
In March 1939, on one level Germany stood at the peak of its power having absorbed Moravia, Austria and the Memel and being at its strongest military position since the disaster of 1918. On another level, however, Hitler's geopolitical plans were in ruins. They were in absolute ruins. The plans for a nonaggression pact with England were completely wrecked. Much more serious was the fact that the plans for joining Poland and invasion of the Soviet Union were largely destroyed. Now the latter point, as we mentioned, is not as farfetched as it sounds. Poland did intend to seize areas of the Soviet Union. They coveted the Ukraine, they had the idea of reestablishing greater Poland, and it's not unrealistic to believe that they would've accepted a military alliance with Germany the way Romania accepted such a military alliance in 1940, allowing German troops to go through Romania in an invasion of the Soviet Union, in return for Romania getting huge areas of territory of the Soviet Union.
That is not far-fetched, because Poland was in a position where it was forced to make a choice. It was either to side with Russia, or it was going to side with Germany. There was no way the Poles would ever side with Russia, in light of the bad feelings all of the Polish government had towards Russia. It just wouldn't happen. The Poles, instead, were lied to by the British and the French, and accepted a defense treaty that was basically a fraud from day one, and would lead to the annihilation of Poland in 1939, and the enslavement of Poland until 1991 – basically 50 years of slavery and disaster for the Poles – because Poland's great friends, England and France, America, so on would double-cross the Poles another time in their negotiations with Stalin. So, this was a long pattern of betrayals. The Poles probably would've been better off to have cut a deal with Hitler. He was willing to give them a fairly reasonable deal in 1939. Anyway, that did not happen, and things headed towards a tremendous crisis in 1939.
In April 1939, Hitler repudiated the Anglo-German naval agreement, setting the stage for an ever-deepening conflict with England. Meanwhile, England formalized a defense treaty with Poland. This has got to be one of the most irresponsible and stupid actions ever concocted by incompetence like Chamberlain and Halifax, basically committing Britain to go to war to defend what everybody agreed were a nonsensical set of borders for Poland in 1918. But that's what they did. So Germany was forced into a terrible situation. Hitler, the world as seen from Berlin in 1939, Britain and France were involved in a massive rearmaments campaign.
Britain's defense treaty with Poland was all but a defacto declaration of war on Germany. You need to understand this was a struggle between the haves and the have-nots. And what Britain was basically saying is that they were going to keep all their ill-gotten gains, their giant empire, but they were going to block Germany's return to becoming a world power. No German government – social democratic, communist or whatever – would ever accept that. This made war between England and Germany almost inevitable. So the crisis continued to build. Germany was facing a very impossible situation, similar to what faced the Kaiser.
Hitler, in a great feat of creativity, and/or desperation, came to decide to seek the unthinkable – a nonaggression pact with Stalin. Now at the same time, hostilities were breaking out between Russia and Japan in the East. So Stalin was facing a pretty thought-provoking situation himself. A lot of people have criticized Stalin for reaching the agreement with Hitler. We disagree. Stalin correctly saw the British and French leaders as a bunch of charlatans, and he correctly understood that if he signed a military agreement with them, they would do the same thing to him that they did the Poles, they would sit back and let him do all the fighting and get slaughtered, and he also was facing the prospect of an invasion from the East by the Japanese. The latter point is a very critical in pushing Stalin over the edge to reach the agreement that he did. In our view, Stalin reached a very logical conclusion, and signed a nonaggression pact with Hitler. Immediately after signing the nonaggression pact with Hitler, Stalin ordered the Russian troops in Siberia to launch an all-out attack on the Japanese. People don't realize the Eastern aspect of this, and the Japanese government collapsed as a result of the Nazi Soviet agreement. Anyway, this set the stage for World War II, and we will discuss that in the upcoming lectures.
On September 1st, 1939, the history of the world changed forever. World War II began. Germany launched an invasion of Poland to wipe Poland off the map. Germany sought the share of Poland that had been agreed to in the secret treaty with the Soviet Union. Shortly after, the German invasion began, the Russians invaded from the East. Now, France had had a long-standing military agreement with Poland. And this agreement was based on – as our report shows – on lies of the French to the Poles, that in the case of war France would launch an all-out attack on Germany. This was a lie. It was a complete lie because the French had no intention of doing that. But the Poles believed that what they had been told was true. The British and the French felt compelled to go to war because of their commitments to Poland. And they declared war on Germany.
Now, this is very important to understand, that Hitler did not start World War II. He started an invasion of Poland. France and England turned it into World War II. In a further study of tremendous hypocrisy and dishonesty on the part of the British and the French, they did not declare war on the Soviet Union, who also invaded Poland. So the whole thing was a study in geopolitical incompetence and dishonesty. Now Hitler marched, over the objections of his generals, almost all the German forces in the East. Had the French kept their word, it probably would've been the end of Nazi Germany. The French army probably would've ended up in downtown Berlin. But because the French chose to betray their commitment to Poland, the Poles were basically annihilated.
As we have discussed in the past, prior to late 1938, relations between Poland and Germany were very good. One of the first things Hitler did was to sign a nonaggression pact with Poland in 1934. The Poles could have reached an agreement with Germany. They chose not to because they were lied to by the French. That's what happened. And as we point out, they would again be lied to throughout World War II, and they would be basically sold into slavery under the control of the Russians by the Western powers. So this was a study in deception from day one.
After conquering Poland, Hitler again sought peace with England and France. But this was politically not possible for the British and French governments because they felt certainly, understandably, that they would look like total morons in the eyes of their people, having launched a war and then end it. So the state of war progressed.
Germany's situation was really very dire. In late 1939, they got a big surprise from their new friend, the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union, in return for supplying vital raw materials for Germany, demanded a huge amount of military supplies, including advanced military supplies from Germany. The Germans rejected the first request, but they eventually did sign a very costly treaty with the Soviet Union and agreed to turn over a good part of their high-technology weapons in turn – not all of them obviously – but in terms of specific aircraft and so on to the Soviet Union.
In the meantime, Britain and France were plotting an invasion of Norway. This was supposed to be a masterstroke that would cut off German iron ore supplies. In the middle of all this, the Russians invaded Finland. This turned out to be a very difficult situation for the Soviet Union, and the invasion did not go very well. This had particularly negative implications, because it gave Hitler a greater sense of the German ability to attack the Soviet Union since this had gone so poorly.
Meanwhile, Norway and Sweden sent aid to the Soviet Union, and France and England considered sending aid, but they had gotten themselves into such a mess of having started World War II that they did not. Now, in Norway, there was a debate about what to do, because Britain was trying to force Norway into becoming a part of its war effort, and was also violating Norwegian neutrality. So there were a number of political factions in Norway. The major faction wanted Norway to remain neutral. Other factions wanted it to side with either Germany or England. One of the factions seeking Norway to side with Germany was headed up by a man called Quisling, who went to Germany and probably played a major role in convincing Hitler to invade Denmark and Norway, which is what Germany did in early 1940.
In what has to be considered an absolutely masterful military campaign, it's not at all clear that the surrender of Denmark was prearranged. It basically surrendered almost immediately, and the Danish government was allowed to remain in power. If possible, the Norwegian government would've followed a similar route, however to the fury of the Germans, their so-called "ally" Quisling went on Norwegian radio announcing that he was setting up a government. And this caused the Norwegian government to decide to fight the Germans. Nevertheless, in spite of overwhelming British naval superiority, the Germans were actually able to take over all of Norway. This was the first in a series of truly appalling studies and blundering incompetence on the part of England and France.
Worse for them was yet to come. Even though they had total military superiority on the ground, Germany in May 1940 managed to win a spectacular victory in really about 30 days. Part of the main part of this was gross incompetence on the part of the English and the French. A lot of it though was sheer luck on the part of the Germans, and having to punch a hole in the British and French lines at the Meuse. Anyway, France surrendered on June 22nd, and France got a fairly generous peace treaty from the Germans. The French were able to keep their empire, keep their fleet completely independent of Germany, and they were able to have a completely independent state in so-called Vichy France, and were able to preside over the civilian administration of France in the German-occupied Northern France and the Atlantic coast part of France.
Again, we really can't emphasize enough the degree of confusion in German foreign policy planning during this period. The critical issue for Germany was to get England out of the war. In order to do that, a creative policy needed to be introduced. It was also important to reduce support for England in the United States. No coherent plan was developed for either of these goals. In America, contrary to a lot of myths, yes, there was an isolationist, so-called "isolationism" – that was a pejorative. There was an antiwar lobby to oppose getting America into a war in Europe. But a far greater lobby was the pro-war lobby, which was funded by big business interests, and they must've probably outspent the supposedly dangerous isolationists about 10 to 1.
On top of that, Roosevelt was strongly in favor of getting America into the war against Germany. So we need to get away from myths of tiny little England fighting big Germany. The overwhelming preponderance of forces were still against Germany. Germany's position was a lot weaker than it looked, and the the entire continent of Europe became a subject of the Anglo-American blockade. Also, Germany did a very poor job – unlike the absorption of Bohemia and Moravia – Germany did a very poor job of absorbing and mobilizing the industrial resources for war in the territories that it occupied.
The Germans were still subject to air attack from England. So again, the notion that the Germans woke up one day and wanted to be mean and attack England, that's not true. The English were bombing Germany. So, combined with the idea of trying to take over England, the Germans launched what was called the Battle of Britain, which, frankly, was military stupidity from day one. The Germans did not have the capability to knock out the British Air Force. They certainly didn't have the capability to invade England. And even if they had invaded England, it wouldn't have accomplished all that much other than leading to a bloodbath, because the British fleet simply would've left and Britain would've resumed the supervision of its empire from America.
So this was an ill-conceived idea from day one that was very damaging to Germany. The Luftwaffe was severely damaged in the failed attempt to launch the Battle of Britain. Probably the greatest hope that Germany had militarily of ending the war was in the Mediterranean. There's been a lot of talk of what would've happened if Spain had entered the war. Well, obviously that probably wouldn't have been very good for England, but Germany could've shut England out of the Mediterranean without Spain. It didn't need Spain. If you look at the map, sufficient air resources been stationed, and sea resources had been stationed in Sicily and Italian Africa, you could've simply closed the Mediterranean right then and there. Had Britain lost Egypt, and from Egypt, as Rommel planned, the German armies could've moved into places like Iraq, and the whole Arab world was highly supportive of Germany. There would've been an enormous pressure on England to get out of the war. But that was not done. Instead, the ill-conceived Battle of Britain was launched, which was basically a disaster for Germany.
The one success for German diplomacy in this period of time was the reorganization of Eastern Europe. The Russians had seized – or tried to seize – virtually every inch of territory that had been put in their line of interest in the deal with Hitler. And in 1940, they seized control of part of Romania. The end result of that was to scare the living daylights out of the Romanians, and basically force them into an alliance with Germany. the Romanians were so scared of the Russians that they even agreed turning over Transylvania to Hungary, which is where it should have been to begin with, but which the Hungarians were cheated out of after World War I.
But this was a fairly reasonable reorganization of boundaries, and is probably one of the few redeeming aspects of German foreign policy within this period. The rest of what happened was just a series of disasters and a study in confusion. The biggest disaster was planning to attack the Soviet Union without having defeated England. This was just a complete impossibility. There were just not the resources to do this. There were reasons for doing that we will discuss later. In early 1941, the British and the Americans encouraged a coup in Yugoslavia against German interests. Hitler retaliated by not only invading Yugoslavia, but by cleaning up the mess the Italians made on invading Greece. And the end result was that German influence extended through Yugoslavia to Greece in fairly short order. This, however, further drained German military resources before an attack on the Soviet Union.
Now in this lecture we are going to discuss the relationship between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany and why Hitler took the momentous decision on June 22, 1941 to invade the Soviet Union. As we discussed in the previous lecture, Germany's position in 1941 was a lot less powerful than it appeared to be. Germany was still the subject and its continental empire of a massive, comprehensive trade embargo – a totally illegal trade embargo by the way – by Britain and America. Meanwhile, with something that's gotten inadequate attention from historians, a massive military buildup in America, the military balance of power was shifting towards England. Germany, meanwhile, had done a very poor job of mobilizing the military industries of the countries that had been conquered for the German war effort. The most spectacular example of stupidity were the French aircraft factories where machine tools were taken out, factories were shut down, and frequently machinery just rusted in Germany due to bureaucratic stupidity.
So the the war of production was turning sharply against Germany. Meanwhile, as we mentioned, the Luftwaffe had been severely damaged in the battle of Britain. While the losses of material were not that great in the invasion of Yugoslavia and Greece, there was an awful lot of wear-and-tear on equipment, and in terms of the paratroop division, that was absolutely decimated at the conquest of Crete. So, the situation of the Germans was a lot less great than it appeared to be.
Meanwhile, the Russians did something that was very unwise, which was to start amassing troops on the German border, and moving up their bases to the German borders. The Russians had grabbed virtually everything on their side of the line that Hitler and Stalin had agreed to, and this didn't exactly encourage a whole lot of confidence on the part of the Germans either. They seized Latvia, Estonia and the best Arabian part of Romania, as well as trying to conquer Finland. All this made Hitler very nervous, and Germany was also dependent on the Soviet Union for war supplies. In other words, if the Soviet Union woke up one day and stopped supplying war supplies, a good part of German industry might just stop. So this was a troubling situation.
In the context of all this, a very fateful meeting took place between Russian Foreign Minister Molotov and Hitler in November 1940. This meeting has to go down as one of the biggest disasters in the history of international diplomacy. Molotov behaved basically like an automaton in the meeting, listing, reading a series of demands to Hitler, and implied threats. Hitler didn't really go for this, and the meeting left with a huge sense of anger on the part of Hitler towards the Russians, and shortly after that, Hitler began to accelerate plans for the invasion of the Soviet Union.
Now we need to clear up the number of myths about this whole situation. People say, "Well, why didn't Stalin mobilize his troops?" These people are obviously ignorant of the history of Russian-German military relations. It is a long-standing policy that any attempt by the Russians to mobilize their huge army on the German border would be considered – and was considered by the Germans in World War I – as a declaration of war. So if Stalin had done the smart thing to mobilize the Russian army, that would've led to war immediately. Second, Stalin was very right to distrust the English, and think that they might try to provoke some kind of incident that would lead to war. This is no excuse for the poor preparations in 1941 when the Germans attacked, but it was not as stupid as it seemed.
On the German side, Hitler was facing the fact that the result of getting into a war in the West and failing to end that war was perhaps a fatal blow to his long-term plans for conquering the European part of the Soviet Union. Because Russia was involved in a huge military build-up, and the Russian army, in 1941, because of Stalin's decision to move it up closer to the border, key sections of a closer to the border, was a very vulnerable position because their bases were sort of half-deconstructed and half-constructed in terms of moving up the fortifications to the German border. Plus, Germany had a rather unique opportunity to attack that wouldn't come again. At the same time, Stalin just couldn't believe that Hitler would start war. As a result, the Germans did have the opportunity for a surprise attack that probably wouldn't come again.
So, this is the logic of why Hitler launched the invasion of the Soviet Union. Overall, it was a huge mistake because until he ended the war in the west, Germany simply did not have the resources to carry out the campaign. The invasion of the Soviet Union was not a fatal mistake for Germany.The fatal mistake was the declaration of war on the United States on December 10, 1941. But by invading the Soviet Union, Hitler made Germany's situation a lot more dangerous and this set the stage for the catastrophes that followed.