Author’s note: This is the second of three articles for The Objective Standard dealing with military history and its (in this case implicit) lessons for the modern day. The third article will consider the lessons of the American victory over Japan in World War II. These articles draw from my forthcoming book, Nothing Less than Victory: Military Offense and the Lessons of History from the Greco-Persian Wars to World War II (Princeton University Press).

Imagine that an asteroid is heading toward the earth at thousands of miles per hour. While it is still far away, a small force can change its direction a few degrees and avert a catastrophic collision. But as it moves closer to the earth, the force needed to divert it multiplies exponentially, until only a massive explosion can prevent disaster. It would be one thing if men did not know of the asteroid, or saw it coming and were impotent to act. But suppose they had the bombs and the rockets needed to deflect it—but refused to do so because of “international opinion,” a desire to spend the money on “social programs,” or a claim that we must not interfere in the comet’s own “natural” movements? This describes, in essence, Europe’s drift into World War II.

During the 1930s, men stood at a cusp in time, a point of momentous decision, watching the growing power of Germany under its screaming, malevolent leader. Their failure to confront Germany—and the devastating consequences of that failure—demonstrate the power of ideas, both to motivate aggressors and to undercut defenders from taking the actions needed to protect freedom.

On September 1, 1939, twenty years and nine months after the armistice of November 11, 1918, that had ended World War I, millions of Germans obeyed their Leader’s call for a war of national aggrandizement and launched a new slaughter across Europe. The attack on Poland was the climax of five years of military buildup by Germany, which had followed fifteen years of feverish international diplomacy, economic transfers, and political agreements. Most European leaders had worked fervently to avoid a new carnage. They fell prostrate before Hitler’s “Lightning War.” The deepest reasons why so many Germans joined the armies of the Nazis, hailed their leader, followed their orders, and drank to their war cannot be found in reasons as shallow as economic stagnation, political dissatisfaction, or bad feelings about the last war. These factors were present in many nations that did not attack. In essence, the Germans were in the grip of a philosophic pathology, a set of ideas that told them it was morally good to sacrifice themselves and others to the all-powerful State, the Race, and the Leader. The power of these ideas in German culture was expressed in the mass support that the Nazis enjoyed among “Hitler’s Willing Executioners.”1

But another force, outside of Germany, also pushed the world toward blitzkrieg and Auschwitz. This force too was a set of ideas—ideas in the minds of Germany’s opponents—which prevented England and France from confronting Hitler when they could. In the mid-1930s, British politicians in particular were restrained from action, not by an incapacity to act, but by a lack of will. Certain moral ideals—which rose to the cultural forefront after the horrendous experience of World War I—conditioned British politicians and their constituents to become virtual allies of Germany in its drive to regain its status as a powerful nation. The result was a paralysis in the western European nations, which disarmed them as surely as any bomb and allowed Hitler to build up his forces to the point where his ability to fight exceeded that of his enemies.

The appeasement of Germany by Britain in the late 1930s has become a synonym for weakness, focused on a single man: Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, who claimed “peace in our time” by handing over Czechoslovakia to Hitler in September 1938. But Chamberlain’s appeasement, far from being a new, short-term plan by a weak man to deal with an emergency, was the culmination of a long policy that stretched back to World War I. The British desire for peace was conditioned by a set of moral ideas that hamstrung British leaders from recognizing the fundamental differences between their own nation and the German state, and the fundamental contradiction between the goals and policies promoted by leaders of the two nations. Those moral ideas gained cultural power in the aftermath of World War I. They sapped the will of the British people to oppose Germany when it was possible to do so, and left their leaders unable to take the steps needed to stop Germany from rearming. To understand how and why European leaders empowered Germany to rekindle the fires of war, we must unpack those moral ideas.

The Contradictory End of World War I

The road to World War II began with the end of World War I on November 11, 1918. German leaders had sued for peace in October 1918, because Germany’s last offensive in the west had failed. Despite the withdrawal of the Russians from the fighting, the entry of the Americans into the war left German forces with no hope of prevailing. The war ended with an armistice, a cease-fire agreement between the Allied powers (primarily the United States, England, and France) and what was left of the Axis powers (most important here, Germany). Three major empires had been destroyed (Austria-Hungary, Czarist Russia, and Ottoman Turkey), vast areas of France and Belgium were ruined, colonial possessions were in disarray, and Germany was a shadow of her former self. But no Allied troops were inside Germany, and German leaders offered no formal admission of defeat. German troops marched home to an unconquered Germany.

The American general John Pershing and other Allied commanders had wanted to make the Allied victory unimpeachable by invading Germany and forcing an unconditional surrender. “We should,” Pershing wrote, “continue the offensive until we compel unconditional surrender.” The German commander, General Erich von Ludendorff, told his government “an immediate armistice” was needed “to avoid catastrophe”; the previous day, he had said that if he were in command of the Allies, he would “attack even harder.” But the Allies were constrained by U.S. President Woodrow Wilson to accept a negotiated “peace without victors,” an agreement without winners and losers rather than a victory over the vanquished. When Allied leaders balked at Wilson’s plan, he threatened to begin separate negotiations with the Germans, and the Allies acquiesced.2 The price paid by the Germans was the removal of the Kaiser as chief of state and an end to the monarchy. The price paid by the French and Belgians—for whom defense against Germany was a matter of life and death—was to remain dependent upon Britain and the United States for protection against an unrepentant Germany.

The armistice itself was never intended to solve the crushing problems of the postwar world, including massive physical ruin, economic chaos, clashing ethnic groups hungry for vengeance, communism and civil war in Russia, and millions of destitute civilians. Europe was to be rebuilt largely through a series of treaties, especially the Versailles Treaty with Germany, written and adopted at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919. The conference itself brought world leaders and hundreds of advisers together for months to iron out monumental problems that stretched from Southeast Asia to Africa and the Middle East, through Eastern Europe into France. Despite claims that all nations would work together, it was a conference of victors; the German delegation arrived intent upon negotiations, but was treated ignominiously. Germany was forced to accept a diktat—an imposed settlement—under threat of invasion. Smaller nations had to swallow the compromises made between England, France, the United States, and Italy.3 The Versailles Treaty was accompanied by a new international body, the League of Nations, to which individual nations were now supposed to subordinate their national interests in favor of a consensus achieved through public deliberation. In the two decades that followed, there was no lack of opportunity for such deliberation; from 1919 to 1939, international relations in Europe were dominated by the political and economic consequences of the war. These problems threatened to explode into even more gruesome carnage—a prospect that modern technology made unthinkable.

The new world was to be built on a new set of ideals. In October 1918, the Germans had agreed to negotiate in terms set out in President Wilson’s so-called “Fourteen Points,” his definitive foreign policy statement presented before a joint session of Congress in January of 1918. The Fourteen Points embodied Wilson’s ideals in a worldview that embraced equality among nations. Wilson said that what America wanted

is nothing peculiar to ourselves. It is that the world be made fit and safe to live in; and particularly that it be made safe for every peace-loving nation which, like our own, wishes to live its own life, determine its own institutions, be assured of justice and fair dealing by the other peoples of the world as against force and selfish aggression . . . the only possible program, as we see it, is this:

I. Open covenants of peace, openly arrived at, after which there shall be no private international understandings of any kind but diplomacy shall proceed always frankly and in the public view. . . .

XIV. A general association of nations must be formed under specific covenants for the purpose of affording mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike. . . .

An evident principle runs through the whole program I have outlined. It is the principle of justice to all peoples and nationalities, and their right to live on equal terms of liberty and safety with one another, whether they be strong or weak.4

Wilson’s ideas broke with the international system of alliances created in the previous century. In his view, the pursuit of “national interests” through separate treaties, and the reliance on a balance of power as a deterrent to war, had led Europe into slaughter. Wilson’s ideals were based on a view of the world that saw nations as interconnected parts of a global whole. His program stressed collective decision-making in the League of Nations (the last of the Fourteen Points), where responsibility was shared by all. Powerful nations were to be constrained by deliberations, international law, and the need for a consensus prior to action. In his view, World War I should end in a collective, egalitarian peace, not a peace enforced by victors. According to these ideals, all nations would be equally free to determine their national destinies. No nations—even those that started the last war—should be held below others. With these new ideals—equality, national self-determination, and collective security—World War I would truly be the war to end all wars, and the result would be perpetual peace.

Wilson’s stress on relationships between equals within an international whole was an outgrowth of deeper philosophical ideas that Wilson—a Ph.D. in history and former president of Princeton University—received from a long line of intellectual transmission. Similar ideas had passed from the 17th-century materialist philosopher Thomas Hobbes to the late-18th-century German philosopher Immanuel Kant and beyond. Following the chaos of the English Civil Wars, Hobbes had written in his Leviathan (1651) that men in a “state of nature”—without laws, standards of justice, or a political authority to enforce justice—were left with no way to deal with one another except by force. Man’s natural condition was a war of each against all, without end, unless, and until, a great sovereign government, a Leviathan, imposes its will over all. The sovereign defines and enforces justice over people who must obey, because the only alternative is anarchy and perpetual war.

Immanuel Kant’s essay On Perpetual Peace, written in 1794, developed these ideas in an international context. In Kant’s view, the nations of the world, qua sovereign republics, exist in just such a lawless state of nature, without standards of justice and institutions to resolve their disputes. Each is unrestrained, and each preys upon all. To achieve perpetual peace, the nations must delegate important aspects of their sovereignty to an international authority to which all will submit. This “league of peace” (foedus pacificum) would seek “to make an end of all wars forever”:

For states in relation to each other, there cannot be any reasonable way out of the lawless condition which entails only war except that they, like individual men, should give up their lawless (savage) freedom, adjust themselves to the constraints of public law, and thus establish a continuously growing state consisting of various nations (civitas gentium), which will ultimately include all the nations of the world.5

The League of Nations that followed World War I put the Kantian ideal into practice, in a new world order that eschewed the nationalism of the previous century and promised to make World War I the last war. Wilson’s powerful ideals—equality, national self-determination, and collective security—were at the base of the League’s formation, were derivable directly from Kant’s ideas, and were highly influential over the international relations in the next decade. These ideals promised to provide an effective alternative to the unpredictable actions of independent sovereign nations.

“Equality” as an international ideal demanded “equality of rights” between nations, regardless of their actions in the Great War. According to this ideal, to place blame for the war on a nation as a whole, and to hold one nation below others—for instance, to demand limits to arms production, military strength, or economic development for some nations but not for all—was to violate a central principle of the new international politics and to invite further conflict. The “continuously growing [international] state” was not to be dominated by any one nation, but rather managed through public deliberations by all nations, each equally sovereign. Each would be restrained from forcible foreign-policy actions without the sanction of the votes of others. These votes would take on the status of what Kant called “public law,” a set of international standards applied through deliberation and consensus.

“National self-determination”—a powerful theme of the Paris Peace Conference—affirmed each nation’s right to create its own political institutions in the form it desires and to chart its own future toward its own ends. For one nation to dictate what another nation’s path should be was said to violate the tenets of equality and to risk a new war. This meshed well with Wilson’s goal—to “make the world safe for democracy”—which allowed each nation to choose its own form of government by means of elections. The ideal of equality would disallow any one nation from striving for dominance over others, with the assumption that democratic government was the proper goal to be achieved by each nation. But such “equality” was a double-edged sword. It would also restrain nations interested only in preventing war from denying the “national self-determination” of nations building weapons under elected governments.

“Collective security” was a practical requirement that followed from the other two. It demanded that sovereign nations stop taking unilateral decisions and actions, and delegate those decisions to the League of Nations. Under the new rules, nations would no longer be able to start wars but would peacefully resolve the rising tensions that had formerly led to war. The nations would have to “adjust themselves to the constraints of public law,” meaning that each would have to subordinate its political sovereignty to some form of consensus, achieved through international deliberation, that would limit the scope for action by each nation. The League of Nations would have no enforcement powers—but nations would be precluded from acting without the sanction of the League. The League was intended to replace the old, failed balance of power between alliances with a new era of cooperation and deliberation.

Following the armistice, however, others—the French in particular—recognized a plain truth that ran counter to Wilson’s idealism: that Germany was responsible for the war, and that a dismembered, weakened Germany was vital to the future peace of the continent. It was in France that German guns had wreaked the greatest devastation in the west, as they had in 1871 during the Franco-Prussian War, and it was in France that the next war would likely be fought. Horrendous losses, and fear that the Germans would one day return, drove many of the French to demand the dismemberment and permanent weakening of Germany. Germany, many French recognized, was an aggressor—and her population and industrial strength were growing. As French President Raymond Poincaré said at the opening of the Paris Peace Conference on January 18, 1919:

In the hope of conquering, first, the hegemony of Europe and next the mastery of the world, the Central Empires [Germany and Austria/Hungary], bound together by a secret plot, found the most abominable pretexts for trying to crush Serbia and force their way to the East. At the same time they disowned the most solemn undertakings in order to crush Belgium and force their way into the heart of France. These are the two unforgettable outrages which opened the way to aggression.6

A plenary session of the Paris Peace Conference of January 25, 1919, had established The Commission on the Responsibility of the Authors of the War and on Enforcement of Penalties. The commission stated, in its May 6 report: “On the question of the responsibility of the authors of the war . . . [t]his responsibility rests first on Germany and Austria, secondly on Turkey and Bulgaria.” Its conclusions left no room for anyone to hide:

1. The war was premeditated by the Central Powers together with their Allies, Turkey and Bulgaria, and was the result of acts deliberately committed in order to make it unavoidable.

2. Germany, in agreement with Austria-Hungary, deliberately worked to defeat all the many conciliatory proposals made by the Entente Powers and their repeated efforts to avoid war.7

To drive the point home further, the famous “War Guilt” clause 231 of the resulting Versailles Treaty set responsibility for the war squarely on the Germans:

The Allied and Associated Governments affirm, and Germany accepts, the responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss and damage to which the Allied and Associated Governments and their nationals have been subjected as a consequence of the war imposed upon them by aggression of Germany and her allies.8

In other words, the Versailles Treaty explicitly recognized guilty parties and held them responsible for the war. For the French and Belgians, this was a practical matter of the greatest importance; history left no doubt that the presence of an armed Germany on their borders was a matter of immediate life and death. Old men still remembered the German invasion of the Franco-Prussian War in 1871. “Mark well what I’m telling you,” said the French leader Georges Clemenceau, “in six months, in a year, five years, ten years, when they like, as they like, the Boches will again invade us.”9 To enforce the demands for security and justice that obsessed the French, the Versailles Treaty took large areas of land away from Germany, forbade her to rearm, and required her to pay reparations. These actions directly contradicted the non-punitive terms of the armistice, which the Germans had accepted, and which they thought bound their enemies from acting as victors. They also made the French look like vengeful miscreants, determined to destroy an enemy rather than accept an honorable peace. But it was the real possibility of a new war that motivated the French to demand such punitive actions against Germany.

The terms of the Versailles Treaty, however, also contradicted the egalitarian ideals promoted by Wilson and upon which the postwar world was supposed to be founded. There was a massive split between the ideals accepted by many British and Americans and the practical need to keep Germany weak. Given this contradiction between theory and practice, the Versailles Treaty lacked the moral authority needed to preserve the peace. The Treaty was often seen as an unjust usurpation of the ideals of the Fourteen Points and of the League of Nations, and an attempt to punish Germany by denying the Germans the “equality of rights” that Wilson’s ideals had promoted for all men.

The Paris Peace Conference itself had been split between Wilson’s ideals for a new world and the practical needs of the French and the Belgians for real protection from Germany. Germany’s will to attain greatness by military force had not been broken, and were her military capacity to return, only a deterrent force could prevent renewed aggression. The French had wanted the League of Nations to be a defensive alliance with real teeth against Germany, but this ran counter to Wilson’s ideal of “collective security,” so the alliance proposal went nowhere. The result was that the League would be a forum for all nations, but without enforcement powers. Strong language notwithstanding, actual constraints against Germany were fragile, and the French were protected by little more than vague promises of allies who had little desire to remain militarily active off their own soil. Britain and the United States in particular wanted to avoid long-term security commitments in Europe. By the time of the Peace Conference, the Germans had already begun to look like victims, and the French were isolated and overruled by their allies.

The Germans themselves were highly motivated to claim a victim status. When the Treaty was published, many did not know they had been beaten, or how the war had actually started, and they didn’t recognize the legitimacy of the terms set by the victors.10 The armistice itself had come out of the blue for many Germans; their leaders had for years assured the German people that victory was inevitable. Then, in November 1918, these same leaders told the Germans to accept a negotiated settlement, even as the Kaiser’s government fell. Given the abrupt about-face of their leaders, many Germans did not think they had been defeated but rather betrayed. It is vital to remember that no allied soldier was in Germany to force the surrender in 1918, and German militarism was not discredited inside Germany. Fritz Ebert, who became the German chancellor two days before the armistice, famously greeted returning German troops in December as “unvanquished from the field.” The result was a widespread acceptance of the Dolchstoss—the “stab in the back”—by what Hitler would one day call the “November criminals,” those German leaders who had allegedly betrayed the army in November 1918.11

In the years after the war, intellectuals and politicians broke with reality and reconstructed their history. They posited Germany as a victim of a deep betrayal, and they whitewashed Germany’s undeniable aggression. By the 1920s, the Dolchstoss had reached the status of a foundation myth in Germany: We are in a reduced position, said the mythmakers, because of a massive betrayal against our nation. This sense of victimhood led many Germans to see themselves as having been denied their “equality of rights” by the Versailles Treaty, and many wanted a leader to reverse this alleged injustice. From the very end of World War I, their leaders had set out to systematically obstruct enforcement of the Treaty. A special office was established by the German Foreign Office to create and disseminate the propaganda needed to absolve Germany of responsibility for the war and to undercut the Versailles Treaty.12 Ten years later, in the lead-up to the German election of July 1932, a steady refrain of the candidates was to decry the lack of “equality of rights”—meaning, rights to military arms—for Germany; the next day the Nazis received 13.7 million votes. In 1938, Hitler would speak of how “for 15 long years we were a spineless and hopeless object of international oppression” until he gave Germany back its opportunity for military greatness.13

But, more important, many British also thought that the Treaty was unfair. Wilsonian idealists, egalitarian British socialists, and so-called “realist” conservatives—who disagreed about almost everything else—generally agreed that they could not abide the language of the Treaty. Many British politicians and intellectuals were divided, torn between Wilson’s ideals and the reality of Germany’s complicity in the war—split between theory and practice. On the one hand, many British leaders accepted ideals similar to those of Wilson and thought that peace could hold only by breaking with the power politics of the past. In their view, France had its own history of aggression and deserved no special position above Germany. On the other hand, many intellectuals recognized that Germany—a powerful, motivated aggressor—had to be disarmed for the peace to last. Morally, many British thought that Germany had a right to determine her own national destiny. Politically, they knew this would be a disaster. In the clash between the political reality in Europe and their unreal moral ideals, their ideals won.

When Germans asserted that the Versailles Treaty was an unjust violation of their rights to equality and to national self-determination, British leaders were unable to refute those claims. Looking ahead in time, when the International Disarmament Conference—an attempt to establish international arms controls—convened in 1932, a guiding principle was “the grant to Germany, and to other powers disarmed by Treaty, of equality of rights in a system which would provide security for all nations.”14 This statement is a specific evasion of the fact that no nation from the west was threatening Germany and that Germany was the only serious security risk to Europe. When Germany walked out of the Conference—and the League of Nations—in October of 1933, Hitler’s stated reason was that the League did not accept Germany’s equality of rights, specifically to rearm. This was an excuse by Hitler, designed to undercut British opposition, but it worked. Foreign Minister Sir John Simon told the House of Commons in February 1934 that “Germany’s equality of rights [in armaments] could not be resisted.”15 Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain would state more than once that “theprinciple of self-determination” was what his policy was designed to achieve. “Negotiations [with Germany] could not be resumed except on the basis of considering ways and means to put the principle of self-determination into effect. If we would not accept this basis it means war. Let there be no mistake about that.”16 Moral and political ideals—such as “equality,” “national self-determination,” and “collective security”—conditioned their thinking about deep and complex problems and their actions on a global scale.

During the 1920s and early 1930s, the contradiction between the ideals of the League of Nations and the need to keep Germany weak by enforcing the Versailles Treaty was resolved by denigrating and undercutting the Treaty. A concentrated, relentless series of attacks against the Treaty ensued on many levels and within a sea of conflicting rationales. One writer, in 1940, concluded that “in the history of propaganda nothing outrivals the success of the German effort against the Versailles Treaty.”17

Repudiating the Versailles Treaty

The conflict between the ideals of the postwar world and the practical requirements of the Versailles Treaty began immediately in 1919; the first battle concerned the issue of German economic reparations. The “War-guilt” clause of the Treaty had formalized the call for reparations, holding Germany responsible for compensating those it had warred against, but the Treaty did not specify either the terms of payment or the amount. This was a highly complex issue that dominated the relations between European nations for a decade. The Allies proposed a series of plans to organize relations between Germany and other nations. Whereas the French wanted to enforce the Treaty and to recoup losses sustained in the war (in the form of money, timber, and coal), British distrust of the French, along with German protests, persuaded the British that the reparations were unjust and a serious threat to peace.

The economist John Maynard Keynes, a young economic adviser at the Paris Peace Conference (who resigned over the Versailles Treaty), wrote a highly influential book, The Economic Consequences of the Peace (1920). Keynes placed the blame for Europe’s mess squarely on the Treaty, and on Britain and France:

For one who spent in Paris the greater part of the six months which succeeded the armistice an occasional visit to London was a strange experience. England still stands outside of Europe. Europe’s voiceless tremors do not reach her. Europe is apart and England is not of her flesh and body. But Europe is solid with herself. France, Germany, Italy, Austria and Holland, Russia and Roumania and Poland, throb together, and their structure and civilization are essentially one. They flourished together, they have rocked together in a war, which we, in spite of our enormous contributions and sacrifices (like though in a less degree than America), economically stood outside, and they may fall together. In this lies the destructive significance of the Peace of Paris. If the European Civil War is to end with France and Italy abusing their momentary victorious power to destroy Germany and Austria-Hungary now prostrate, they invite their own destruction also, being so deeply and inextricably intertwined with their victims by hidden psychic and economic bonds. . . .

So far as possible, therefore, it was the policy of France to set the clock back and to undo what, since 1870, the progress of Germany had accomplished.18

Keynes’s book—published two months after the Versailles Treaty was finalized—became a huge best seller. The book served to shift the blame for the war onto the Allies, and thus to inculcate a sense of meaculpism (i.e., “self-guilt”) in Britain. As one scholar put it, with the publication of Keynes’s book, “Meaculpism was born. Doubt flourished; German guilt faded; British guilt spread.”19 Given these ideas, military success brought not a sense of efficacy and rightness to the British, but a sense of deep national guilt. As Keynes put it in his famous attack on the Treaty:

The policy of reducing Germany to a position of servitude for a generation, of degrading the lives of millions of human beings, and of depriving a whole nation of happiness should be abhorrent and detestable,—abhorrent and detestable, even if it were possible, even if it enriched ourselves, even if it did not sow the decay of the whole civilized life of Europe. Some preach it in the name of Justice. In the great events of man’s history, in the unwinding of the complex fates of nations Justice is not so simple. And if it were, nations are not authorized, by religion or by natural morals, to visit on the children of their enemies the misdoings of parents or of rulers.20

Keynes’s economic argument was that Germany had had a preeminent place in the economic progress of the 19th century, and that harsh reparations would prevent economic recovery, undermine the unity of Europe, and lead to violence. Keynes’s description of Europe as a single tremulous body, his framing of his argument in moral terms, his focus on the economic condition of Europe, and his failure to emphasize the political sovereignty of the European nations allowed him to elevate economic factors over political causes and to see a nationalistic war as a civil war. This does not square with the fact that Germany had marched into Paris during the Franco-Prussian war of 1870–71, after a French declaration of war, which concerned the succession of a Hapsburg prince to the throne of Spain, which carried important implications for the Hapsburg leadership in Austria-Hungary as well as for relations between Europe, Russia, and the Ottoman Empire. This was hardly evidence for a smooth-running, seamlessly-integrated civilization (although European guns did periodically “throb together”). Further, the Versailles Treaty was sublimely mild next to the brutal Pan-German Empire that the Germans had planned to impose on Europe in 1914—had they won the war.21

But Keynes’s “One-Europe” view—representative of the ideas that permeated European intellectual life—and his claim that reparations were an unconscionable burden on Germany led many British to accept guilt over the Versailles Treaty. They set about to correct the alleged inequities imposed upon Germany, most of all by restraining the French from enforcing the Treaty. While the Germans obstructed reparations payments, to the point of destroying their own currency, the British offered a series of concessions to the Germans. British politicians became de facto allies of Germany against France. As one historian put it, “By becoming the leading advocate of appeasement, Britain could redress the balance of injustice [against Germany]. . . . Appeasement was the balm for a guilty conscience.”22

Thanks largely to historian Sally Marks, we now know that, from the outset, it was grossly inaccurate to claim that Germany was brutalized by reparations. The public was intentionally deceived by leaders on both sides. When the war ended, the principle that Germany should pay reparations was in place, but the amount and the schedule were not established. In 1921, the London Schedule of Payments publicized the reparations at 132 billion marks. This told the public that harsh terms had been imposed, which satisfied those people—especially the French—who sought retribution from Germany, while the publicity strengthened the sense of injustice among many Germans and their sympathizers. In private, however, complex bonds were established that lessened the actual burden on Germany.23 Germany’s actual liability came to 50 billion marks, which was less than she had offered to pay and well within her means. Reparations were publicized at nearly three times more than the Allies ever intended to collect—in order to fool the public—and more than six times more than they did collect. This created a myth of reparations that held serious consequences for public understanding of the peace but had very limited practical consequences for Germany.

The myth was connected to the more specific claim that reparations destroyed the German economy.24 From 1919 to 1923, Germany suffered the worst economic inflation in history. The German mark collapsed in value to the point that it took billions of marks to buy a loaf of bread. The German economy self-destructed. Many people in England and the United States came to believe that reparations had caused the inflation, and thus fostered German dissatisfaction, the rise of radical parties, and Hitler. The conclusion followed that much of this was the fault of the Allies, who were holding Germany in a position of inequality and stifling her “right” to “national self-determination.” But is it true that reparations destroyed the German economy?

The facts do not support this conclusion. First, the German mark lost half of its value during World War I due to the costs of German aggression and the German government’s financial policies. Further, the timing of the inflation did not correspond to actual reparations payments. The German cash payment of a billion marks in the summer of 1921 was the last payment until 1924 (as specified by the Dawes plan). The inflation raged most destructively at the time when no cash payments were made. During the hyperinflation of 1923, Germany paid nothing, and when payments were highest, in the late 1920s, there was little inflation. (Correlation, however, is not causation, and one should not draw the conclusion that making payments to foreign governments prevents inflation.)

All told, between 1919 and 1931 Germany actually paid about 20 billion marks in reparations, about half of which was not in money but in physical goods. Even this figure fails to account for the cash flow of foreign investment into Germany, primarily from the United States. The Germans transferred some 2 percent of their national income as reparations to the Allies from 1919 to 1931, while direct foreign subsidies to Germany, defaults on loans, and foreign investments amounted to 5.3 percent of that total national income.25 All in all, there was a flow of cash into Germany, and the Germans came out ahead on the reparations. “In the end,” wrote one historian, “the victors paid the bills.”26 I will add: While doing so they also accepted undeserved blame for Germany’s economic failure.

The cause of the inflation was the German government itself. After the war, with the value of the German mark about half of its 1914 worth, the government printed billions of marks in order to pay debts incurred during the slaughter. The resulting inflation was caused by a massive increase in the supply of paper money. German businessmen used worthless marks to gain an advantage in international markets. Inside Germany, prices rose astronomically, and German civilians were impoverished. Prices rose so fast that German restaurants wanted to be paid before their patrons ate; the money would lose value during the course of a meal. By the mid-1920s, the Germans had brought their printing presses under control, and with a new currency—the Rentenmark, replaced in 1924 with the Reichsmark—the inflation quickly subsided.

Far from being a victim of rapacious reparations, the Germans were hugely beholden to overseas aid, especially from America. By the late 1920s, the dependence of the German economy on American loans was total; and in 1928, Chancellor Gustav Stresemann warned the Germans that they were living on “borrowed money.”27 The American stock market collapsed in October of 1929, and the German economy followed suit when the Americans began to call in loans. Recovery was underway by 1932—at which time the Nazis became the largest party in the national legislature, the Reichstag.

Why did the Germans go to such great lengths to obstruct the reparations payments? Why did they not just negotiate a lower figure, make the payments, avoid such destruction, and get back onto a more productive economic footing? In fact, reparations were never seen primarily as an economic issue in Germany. They were considered to be a political insult against the German nation and thus worthy of every obstruction, economic and otherwise. Many German leaders were willing to see their own economy collapse in order to avoid the political affront of making payments to France and others. To obstruct the Versailles Treaty—and especially the payments—was an assertion of German national will, and the Germans regarded this obstruction as more important than any consequent economic chaos.

For many people in Britain, too, the reparations were not seen as an economic issue—they were a moral issue. Unaware of the causes of the inflation—a matter for which the economist Keynes may be responsible—and desperate to avoid another conflict in Europe, many British were motivated to accept unearned blame for the German economic collapse and to pass that blame on to France. Fueled by Keynes’s view that France was attempting to “seize, even in part, what Germany was compelled to drop,” a flood of voices demanded moderation by the Allied powers against Germany. Rather than restraining Germany from a dangerous, aggressive “self-determination,” the new wisdom said that Germany should be granted assistance due to the wounds inflicted on her, and the Allies should be restrained from enforcing the Treaty. France was increasingly isolated in her attempts to hold Germany in check, while British and American leaders pushed for concessions to Germany. In this way, many British and Americans thought, a new war could be avoided. A good example of this is the British reaction to the French occupation of the Ruhr River valley, an industrial area in Germany. (We will return to this incident shortly.)

On January 9, 1923, Germany was found to be in default on coal transfers to France. To secure the resources that France genuinely needed, and to uphold the principle that the Treaty must be followed, the French moved into the valley with a small force, including French, Belgian and Italian engineers, to produce and transfer the coal. The Germans responded with passive resistance—a strike—that lasted until September. The German inflation, which reached its climax in this year, was falsely blamed on the French occupation. Sympathy for the Germans grew; British and American leaders felt compelled to protect the German economy. To resolve the crisis, the Germans were granted American loans along with a moratorium on reparations payments. The French were forced by international pressure to withdraw. German leaders claimed victory for the German nation. (The Nazis later portrayed the incident as brave German resistance.)

Misunderstandings about the reparations issue have persisted to the present day, leading, for example, to the idea that World War II could have been prevented had reparations not created the raging inflation that prostrated Germany. As one historian put it, “As it was, the savage reparations ground Germany to her knees economically, and reparations were a key factor in initiating Europe’s drift towards the Second World War.”28 It is routinely taught, in schools today, that the Germans were economically decimated by the Versailles Treaty. This is simply and manifestly false.

But there is a deeper point to the entire reparations issue. Economics does not explain wars. If it did, Austria and Hungary—both much worse off than Germany—would have started the next war, poor China would have attacked prosperous Japan in 1937, and poverty-ridden Latin American guerrillas rather than oil-rich Middle Eastern holy-warriors would have blown up American skyscrapers in 2001. Despite the Great Depression and Europe’s failure to pay its war debts, America did not wage war against Europe in the 1930s, and there was no talk in England of starting a preemptive war against Germany for national aggrandizement or loot. Wars are started by the leaders of statist governments—governments with unchecked military and police powers—who harness populations that have accepted the supremacy of the state, the nation, or the race, and who seek national aggrandizement through sacrifice and massive violence. Statism—any doctrine that subordinates the individual to the state—is the indispensable precondition of a dictator and his wars. Statism has been the greatest killer in history. Its continent-wide slaughters dwarf the murders committed by criminals in all of history combined.

What made war inevitable—in both Europe and the Pacific—were two militant, collectivist ideologies that valued the “nation” over the rights of the individual. Prior to World War I, and into World War II, German leaders linked the very existence of Germany with her ability to expand into a greater Aryan nation. “Room; they must make room. The western and southern slavs—or we! . . . Only by growth can a people save itself,” said one pre-1914 voice, who had already grasped the essentials of Nazi foreign policy. “The question for Germany is to be or not to be,” said Kaiser Wilhelm of the need to take more territory. The secretary of state in the German Foreign Office admitted: “If we do not conjure up a war into being, no one else certainly will do so,” and, “the Republican government of France is certainly peace-minded. The British do not want war.”29 Twenty years later, on November 5, 1937, such ideas translated into Hitler’s private briefing of his top staff, in which he made clear that expansion by force for the attainment of lebensraum (“living-room”) was his intent and his policy. Czechoslovakia and Poland had to be destroyed so that Germans did not have to live under racially inferior Slavs.30

As economics is not sufficient to lead poorer nations to war against their richer neighbors, so, conversely, economic wealth and military superiority are not sufficient to guarantee that a nation under attack will defend itself forthrightly. Under the rubric of egalitarianism, and restrained by the desire for collective security and consensus, superior material resources lead to guilt, self-abasement, and inaction. While the Germans of the 1930s were swept up in a rising tide of nationalism that aimed to return Germany to greatness, the British, plagued by self-doubt and enamored of socialism, were in a downward spiral of disarmament, guilt, and retreat. Their leaders were morally and intellectually disarmed from taking the active measures needed to prevent Germany from regaining territory, rearming, and attacking. The final result was to hamstring the defenders and to unleash the aggressors.

“Collective Security” and the False Idol of Consensus

A very brief chronological outline of major events over twenty years—from 1919 to 1939—demonstrates how the ideals of national equality, national self-determination, and collective security, conditioned by fear of an even greater outbreak of violence, translated into practice on an international scale. A series of attempts to reorganize economic affairs between Germany and other nations began immediately after 1919 and grew into the outright appeasement that Hitler leveraged masterfully as he rebuilt Germany’s military. From the outset, the Germans had obstructed the reparations requirements, a tactic that the British in fact abetted when they supported a series of plans intended to reorganize Germany’s relationship with the victors. These plans were generally concessions to Germany, often proposed as alternatives to demands by France that Germany live up to the Treaty. Such an approach to moments of crisis was a strong part of Britain’s broader approach to foreign policy in general, by which British leaders were concerned to protect their increasingly vulnerable empire.

For the British, problems in Europe could be less important than issues involved in trade with Asia, or the maintenance of order in India—places with direct connections to British interests. British policy was directed to an empire of sea trade on a global scale. England’s trade and the value of its foreign investments had fallen drastically since the start of World War I, and continued to do so throughout the 1920s. Britain was further saddled with responsibilities for foreign colonies taken from Germany after World War I—colonies that were often a net economic drain on the Empire and that could not be defended militarily. Britain had to choose its battles carefully; it was simply unable to project power across its empire and was economically unprepared to support another long war. Further, the British did not, after World War I, see Germany as a major threat; Russia and Japan were arguably more worrisome. It was especially important for Britain to avoid deep involvement in European affairs—which could lead the Japanese to take advantage of British weakness in the Pacific—and this meant avoiding the entanglements of defensive pacts. It could be in British interests to prevent France—a nation that many British did not trust and that had its own history of aggression—from taking an action that would require British intervention at a time when its army was insufficient to prevail in a European land war. One way to restrain France, many people believed, was to make concessions to Germany.

In January of 1923, the French and the Belgians, reacting to German defaults on coal reparations, moved a small force into the Ruhr River valley to produce the coal that France needed. The French, under Premier Raymond Poincaré, had real devastation on their soil and wanted to claim the material goods that they desperately needed and that the Versailles Treaty guaranteed. They saw the importance of maintaining the Treaty and also thought that German obstruction should not be rewarded. It is likely that the occupation would not have been necessary had the British and Americans supported French and Belgian demands that Germany comply with the Treaty. But there was no such support; to admit that Germany was in violation of the Treaty would have required the British and Americans to do something, and they did not want to act. The Germans obstructed the occupation with a passive strike; French soldiers protected French, Belgian, and Italian engineers. Printing of fiat money by the German government had its worst inflationary effects in the same year, but the Ruhr occupation took the blame for the economic distress that swept Germany. International pressure rose to reverse the occupation and to right the wrong that was blamed for Germany’s economic woes.

In August of 1923, Gustav Stresemann became chancellor of Germany. He ended the strike, but with Germany’s money destroyed, he lobbied hard for a reorganization of the reparations. The British knew that German leaders had destroyed their own currency in order to obstruct the reparations, yet they evaded this fact and its implications, and pushed for a reorganization of German economic affairs and a restructuring of reparations.31 The Dawes Plan of April 1924 was developed under international auspices and with strong British and American pressure. A London Conference in July and August 1924 arranged its details, including a moratorium on German payments, an effective end to all enforcement of the Versailles Treaty, and the removal of French forces from the Ruhr valley within a year. The French were pressured to restrain their attempts to enforce the Treaty, even while the French franc approached collapse. By this point France was completely isolated internationally. Concessions to Germany were the order of the day. French Premier Poincaré was forced from office, and his replacement, Edouard Herriot, was no match for the intense pressures on France. The German leader Stresemann achieved an important personal goal when the French were required to withdraw from the Ruhr. While France retreated under deafening criticism, Germany received loans more than equal to the payments, as well as huge foreign investments, many of which were backed by American guarantees. Yet the shame of a diktat remained, for German finances were to be administered by a board appointed by the victors.

All rewards went to those opposing the Versailles Treaty, all punishments to those trying to uphold it. By restraining the French, the British had become de facto allies and financiers of the Germans.

The Versailles Treaty was under withering attack but had not yet been abrogated. In 1925, the Treaty was formally modified by the Locarno Agreements, a series of international accords that were intended to bring order to the wreckage that Versailles had become. These agreements—initiated by Germany—were the most far-reaching steps taken since 1919; post-1918 events up to 1925 are correctly seen as a continuation of World War I.32 Advocates claimed that the Locarno Agreements would bring Europe together, by setting up mutual nonaggression treaties to supersede balances of power and informal obligations between nations. These agreements faithfully reflected the “One-Europe” view of Keynes’s book and affirmed the importance of an institutionalized international consensus in resolving disputes through “collective security,” but also depended upon American loans to assist Germany. The French were happy because the Germans had agreed voluntarily to make their borders permanent. Although purporting to strengthen the ability of the Allies to respond to threats, these agreements in fact subordinated the defense needs of nations such as France—and the capacity to enforce treaties—to a deliberately slow process of attaining international consensus. This is a relevant passage from Article 5:

Where one of the powers referred to in Art. 8, without committing a violation of Art. 2 of the present treaty or a breach of Arts. 42 or 43 of the treaty of Versailles, refuses to submit a dispute to peaceful settlement or to comply with an arbitral or judicial decision, the other party shall bring the matter before the Council of the League of Nations, and the Council shall propose what steps shall be taken; the High Contracting Parties shall comply with these proposals.33

Such agreements rely fundamentally on reactive, consensual processes of attaining permissions in order to avoid war. Under Locarno, every nation has a right to nonaggressive national self-determination, as well as a responsibility to act against aggression—but only after the League sanctioned the action—and only after concrete actions have been taken by an aggressor. This subordinates the decisions of sovereign nations to international approval—which is the literal meaning of Kant’s demand that nations submit to the “constraints of public law.” That a sovereign nation should enforce the terms of Versailles, by force, alone and preemptively if necessary, was explicitly rejected as an option.

Ideally, such agreements would prevent aggression, because nations would talk through their differences rather than fight. But such treaties can be effective only if the signatories share fundamental moral principles that affirm the value of freedom and reject the use of force to promote national aggrandizement. But governments that accept those principles do not plunge continents into war. No one could claim that Britain and Germany were both threats to Europe’s peace. In practical result, the plan would handcuff the opponents of aggression to a long process of international deliberation, while potential aggressors could use the process to gain time to build up their forces. Any outward projection of power by a defensive nation would likely be a violation of the treaty, whereas a program of rearmament by a rogue nation could be construed as a legitimate pursuit of “equality” and “national self-determination.”

The response to the Locarno Agreements was telling; they were greeted with elation by commentators and public figures, especially German Chancellor Stresemann, a sponsor. Vittorio Scialoja, Italian minister of foreign affairs and twice president of the League of Nations, was lofty and idealistic in his praise: “If the dream has taken us into an ideal world, if it has enabled us to give shape to lofty moral and legal aspirations, if it has been the image of a more human and more divine future, let us not regret that we dreamt.”34

Because they repudiated the Versailles Treaty, were signed voluntarily by Germany as a self-determining nation, and institutionalized the dreams of the participants, the Locarno Agreements were praised as progressive and far-thinking. But they did little to resolve the underlying political and economic issues.

These agreements did prevent Allied opposition to German aggression in Eastern Europe. Although the Germans used the agreements as tools to attain their political ends in the west, they passionately resisted any such agreements in the east, further isolating Poland and smaller nations trapped between the USSR and Germany. No German leader ever accepted the separation of Eastern Prussia from Germany by the so-called Polish corridor, as required by the Versailles Treaty. The Polish corridor allowed Poland access to the sea through the port of Danzig (today, Gdansk). This strip of land divided East Prussia from Germany, thereby separating many ethnic Germans from Germany by Polish, that is, Slavic, territory. (Immanuel Kant had lived in East Prussia.) No German leader would sanction any agreement that made this division permanent. Many Germans resented any transfer of land, particularly to Poland, an attitude that no treaty could resolve.35

Germans saw a separate peace with Russia as a means of controlling Eastern Europe. Germany recognized the USSR in the Rapallo agreement of 1922, and both parties agreed to forgo economic reparations. From the German-Russian agreement, signed at Rapallo, April 16, 1922 (Article 1 excerpted):

The German Reich and the Russian Socialist Federal Soviet Republic mutually agree to waive their claims for compensation for expenditure incurred on account of the war, and also for war damages, that is to say, any damages which may have been suffered by them and by their nationals in war zones on account of military measures, including all requisitions in enemy country. Both Parties likewise agree to forego compensation for any civilian damages, which may have been suffered by the nationals of the one Party on account of so-called exceptional war measures or on account of emergency measures carried out by the other Party.36

This is further evidence that Germany was not economically oppressed by reparations; Russia canceled payments outright. Germany then made an agreement with the Soviets that more solidly freed her from military intervention from the east. Article 2 of the Treaty of Berlin between the Soviet Union and Germany, April 1926, stated: “Should one of the Contracting Parties, despite its peaceful attitude, be attacked by one or more third Powers, the other Contracting Party shall observe neutrality for the whole of the duration of the conflict.”37

The agreement that either side would be neutral in a conflict with third parties meant that no help from the east could be expected in the event of German aggression in the west, and the Allies would not be supported by the Soviets if they attempted to aid Poland. Germany was to be admitted to the League of Nations in September 1926; the Treaty of Berlin calmed the Soviets over Germany’s entry into the League and offered incentives to the western European nations to allow Germany’s entry to continue. The fact that the peace in the east was to be maintained not by objective guarantees, but by a claim that Russia and Germany were each “peaceful,” was now made explicit. This agreement indicates that Hitler’s later 1939 pact with Stalin—which stunned the world, allowed Hitler and Stalin to invade Poland jointly, and delivered other nations to the Germans and the Russians—was no change in policy. The treaties of Rapallo and Berlin, as well as the Hitler–Stalin pact, demonstrate that Germany and Russia could be allies if it suited their needs. This should have destroyed the idea that fascism and communism are necessarily enemies, and heightened the sense of urgency in the British and the French to prevent a further rise of Germany.

By the late 1920s, Germany was deeply dependent on American aid. The stock market crash of 1929 heralded economic devastation across the globe. In 1930, in a new attempt to rectify matters with Germany, the Allies adopted the so-called Young Plan, named after American financier Owen D. Young. It was another concession to Germany that cut reparations payments again, to some 26 billion marks, to be paid over 58½ years. Economic turmoil, including a flight of capital after Hitler’s strong showing in the German elections, interrupted the implementation of the plan and led to another moratorium in German payments, for the fiscal year 1931–32.38 At a conference in Lausanne in 1932, it was clear that a resumption of payments by Germany was impossible. The Allies agreed to reduce Germany’s total indebtedness some 90 percent.

The Young Plan did achieve one important political result: The French were pressured into a complete pullout from the Rhineland. This is the area between France and Germany that Germany was forbidden from militarizing by both the Versailles Treaty and the Locarno Agreements. It was taken from Germany after World War I, and had a sizable German-speaking population. The French saw this area as an essential buffer between them and the Germans. After World War I, French leaders had wanted it to become an independent Rheinisch state. They had been pressured by their allies to compromise on this point, encouraged by an unprecedented (and unfulfilled) promise of joint protection by the United States and Britain, but disheartened by the lack of enforcement mechanisms in the League of Nations. Germans such as Stresemann had held the French pullout as a goal for a decade. When the French withdrew from the area in 1930, the Germans were again rewarded for their intransigence, whereas the French were left with no physical barrier to a new German invasion.

The French, further stripped of the capacity to restrain the Germans, retreated and began work in earnest on the Maginot Line, a string of fortifications intended to replace the buffer zone of the Rhineland. The wall was the physical embodiment of a defensive attitude that permeated far more than France—the French withdrawal took place under immense pressure from Britain and America.39 A German military occupation of the Rhineland could no longer be prevented—Hitler would do it in 1936—and could be reversed only by an enforced decision of the League of Nations, or by a single nation willing to endure global condemnation. Although Germany was still prohibited from rearming, opposition to this was crumbling. The will of the Allies to resist was emasculated, their political institutions had been subordinated to the League of Nations, nearly everyone agreed that Germany was entitled to an “equality of claims” and “national self-determination”; and physical barriers to Germany’s rearmament no longer existed.

One clue to the political climate in Germany, and the reaction of the European leaders, can be seen in the person of the so-called “moderate” German leader Stresemann. Chancellor for four months in 1923 and foreign secretary under four governments, Stresemann was known in 1919 as “a violent supporter of the policy of annexation, a fanatic for unrestricted submarine warfare.” His famous statement that “not the second of October, when Germany’s decision to request an armistice was made, but the ninth of November, was the death day of Germany’s greatness in the world” expresses his view of the armistice and the fall of the government of Kaiser Wilhelm II on November 9. On February 6, 1919, he explicitly defended the aggressive policies of the Kaiser. Stresemann guided Germany into the Dawes Plan and the Locarno agreements because they aided Germany’s return to greatness, but he refused an Eastern Locarno agreement in part because he rejected the separation of East Prussia from Germany. The result was an enormous rise in his prestige, including a shared Nobel Peace Prize in 1926. One of his proudest moments, which he mentioned in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, was the withdrawal of the French from the Ruhr River valley in 1925.40 This achievement would be exceeded only by the French evacuation of the Rhineland in 1929, right before his death in October. He was the closest thing to a moderate, enlightened German statesman—the best that Germany could offer. But his commitment to a rejuvenated, powerful Germany was unwavering.

Between 1928 and 1933, the German economy bottomed out, and the government—the so-called Weimar Republic—collapsed. Successors to Stresemann—such as Heinrich Brüning—often tried to paint themselves as “moderate” alternatives to radical parties, especially the Nazis and communists. But for Brüning, this was a tactic designed to gain support. He was connected to austere economic policies designed to allow Germany to ride out the economic depression, as historian Donald Kagan notes, “so that she could resist any external pressure and be in a position to exploit the world economic crisis in order to bring pressure to bear on the remaining Powers.” In other words, he was a proponent of a revived, stronger Germany. Kagan continues: “It seems to have been Brüning’s plan to have Germany be the first European nation to emerge from the depression.”41 Brüning took no steps to lessen the economic suffering in Germany; he placed his opposition to the Versailles Treaty over the economic well-being of the Germans, and he would allow his countrymen to make any sacrifice necessary for Germany’s resurrection as a world power. Even though Brüning wanted a restoration of the German monarchy—to which Hitler was intractably opposed—he posed no fundamental alternative to Hitler’s grandiose plans for a German Reich. Brüning claimed in his memoirs that he had wanted Hitler to become a sharper, more “extreme,” alternative to him in foreign policy, so that he might gain concessions and thus strengthen Germany.

The result in Germany of such political posturing was that the more consistently nationalistic party—the Nazis—rose in strength, and Hitler was soon named chancellor. French withdrawals, British concessions, American loans, Russian alliances, and years of diplomacy did not prevent this rise. As an opponent of any international restraints on German rearmaments, Hitler was not unique, only more consistent, and he spent the first few years working with other German leaders to attain their common aims. The incessant themes of every German leader between 1918 and 1933 were to repudiate the Versailles Treaty, to achieve a capacity for national mobilization, and to return Germany to national greatness. Hitler’s attempts to undermine the Treaty were true to the spirit of German policy, and the public reacted as they had been taught since 1918. Allied leaders either agreed or evaded the consequences of that repudiation, and Hitler helped them in any way he could.

Hitler’s “Peace Speech” of May 17, 1933—a response to a speech by U.S. President Roosevelt—proclaimed his peaceful intentions with a great show of passion, and pledged Germany’s renunciation of offensive weapons. But Hitler founded this promise on a demand for “equality in arms,” a claim that was buried in the peace rhetoric but that the Times of London called “irrefutable.”42 In Britain, any proposal that England should oppose Germany would be greeted by storms of protest and by demands that the money be used for socialist programs at home rather than for arms. Public praise would follow any suggestion of conciliation and appeasement of Germany. On October 14, 1933, Germany—denied “equality of arms”—withdrew from the League of Nations and the World Disarmament Conference. England soon began separate negotiations with Hitler over how much he would be allowed to rearm.

The Paralysis of Unearned Guilt

We shall return to the major events of Hitler’s rise and the compromises that British leaders made to appease him, but it is useful first to consider how certain ideas came to influence British actions toward Hitler. The publication of Keynes’s book, The Economic Consequences of the Peace, helped to elevate a sense of meaculpism into a central factor in British foreign policy. Historian Walter Rock has noted “a curious and perhaps unique trait in her [Britain’s] national character—indulgence in a guilt complex with regard to her history.”43 At the end of World War I, the French, devastated by the German invasion and under no doubts about who had invaded whom, were less inclined to such guilt. But self-guilt, in various forms, was manifest in Britain into the 1930s. TheSunday Times, in a series of articles written by Herbert Sidebotham (alias “Scrutator”), took the converse of this position. Rather than denigrating attempts to defang Germany, Sidebotham saw no reason to elevate the moral status of Britain above its enemies. By advocating self-abnegation in Britain, he stated the egalitarian ideal plainly: “Perhaps the first and most welcome change of mind is to disabuse ourselves of the idea that we and our friends are better morally than other nations [for] in the domain of public morals all nations of western Europe are much on the same level.”44

Various publications embraced this basic approach, and elaborated on the idea that Germany and England were morally equal. Early in the 1930s, TheTablet, a weekly under Catholic control, opposed concessions and blasted Germany: “Events have proved that not only Europe’s interests but the whole world’s demanded a halt in the matter of Equality of Armaments in the Third Reich.”45 But by the late 1930s, the paper shifted its position, fearing a French alignment with Russia more than the Nazis—a very real threat at the time—but unwilling to accept that both Russia and Germany were dictatorships, that France was being pushed to an agreement with Russia because she was losing support elsewhere, and that the self-interest of Britain demanded a policy to counter both fascism and communism. The paper’s new position opposed any idea that Germany was unequal to any other nation. In 1938, the following equation of dictatorship with capitalism—misnamed “rule by the rich”—appeared:

The difference [between the western democracies and the fascist states] is so very much less than it appears in the papers. . . . What matters for the soul of man is not whether there are elections and plebiscites, but whether there is among people an essential respect for men as men. Plutocracy and Authoritarianism have both their confessions to make.46

The guilt that such ideas fostered in England was abetted by outright journalistic falsehoods about what was happening in Germany. In the mid-1930s, the Times of London had no excuse for kowtowing to Hitler; its editors had firsthand evidence of Nazi crimes—provided by veteran correspondents with years of experience in Germany—but they hid the evidence from the British public. The editor from 1922 to 1941, Geoffrey Dawson, saw the Versailles Treaty as a vicious attack on Germany; he adopted an explicitly pro-German stance, and set out to undercut the Treaty and those trying to enforce it. This was confirmed directly by the editor himself. In a footnote in TheRise and Fall of the Third Reich, William Shirer quotes Dawson, who wrote to a correspondent in Germany on May 23, 1937: “I do my utmost, night after night, to keep out of the paper anything that might hurt their [German] sensibilities. . . . I can really think of nothing that has been printed now for many months past to which they could possibly take exception as unfair comment.”47

Such commentators were not concerned with rational conclusions about Germany, else they would have published those conclusions and the reasons for them. The Times editor was rather obsessed with avoiding ejection from Germany. Such writers abandoned the truth in order to present the “news.” They found no “British sensibilities,” such as a concern for the truth, worth upholding. The Times added to the chorus of propaganda on behalf of German “equality,” which further undercut the ability of the British and their allies to act forthrightly against a highly-motivated enemy. Even with all the facts, it would have been difficult for many of the liberal-minded British to grasp the evil rising in Germany; the Times reports made it virtually impossible. The resultant climate of opinion absolved British politicians from acting on the facts, of which they were certainly aware.

By the 1930s, all parties twisted the facts as their ideals demanded. Germans thought that they were no more to be blamed than other nations for the Great War and that they could regain their national honor by reestablishing their power in Europe. The Americans had promoted Wilsonian ideals of “equality,” “peace without victors,” and “collective security,” but then retreated from Europe into a “normalcy” that was uniquely American and not European. Americans accepted bogus “international obligations” and paid the bills, but did not enforce the peace. The British worked to make a place for Germany among equals striving for “national self-determination.” The need to base decisions on an international consensus demanded that the Allies abdicate their need for self-defense to the League of Nations, the institutional manifestation of the egalitarian ideal. The French had withdrawn from the Rhineland buffer, and were left seriously exposed to German aggression. Meanwhile, from 1933 onward, Hitler drove toward his dream of aggression, emboldened at every step by the concessions and retreat of his opponents.

Two aspects of this situation formed a crippling combination. The false idea that Germany was unjustly oppressed fueled a sense of guilt in the Allies and prevented them from restraining her, while the fact that Germany was not crippled allowed her to rearm with a vengeance. Hitler’s aggressive ideology demanded that the Germans rise up and end this unconscionable slighting. The paralysis of the Allies allowed them to do so.

The British were not only intellectually disarmed in the 1920s and 1930s; they had also given up maintaining the physical capacity either to defend their empire or to restrain Germany. As early as 1926, the British chiefs of staff had accepted that they had no ability to intervene unilaterally on the continent, only an ability to note what had happened. Military disarmament in Britain had been deep in the 1920s, and had been tied to difficult economic problems as well as domestic movements in favor of socialist programs and policies. Many leaders wanted to keep Britain’s tiny land army close to home and ready to quell domestic disturbances. One of the foreign policy rationalizations devised to support disarmament was the so-called “Ten-Year Rule,” which was accepted in 1919 under Secretary of State for War Winston Churchill. The basic idea was this: With no war in sight for ten years, there was no reason to maintain an expeditionary force capable of projecting power beyond England’s shores. British interests were worldwide, and the Ten-Year Rule was based on the conclusion that no war was in sight anywhere in the world. If war were possible within that time, rearmament could begin, and ten years would be enough time to get ready. In 1928, Chancellor of the Exchequer Winston Churchill saw no war coming for twenty years and asked that the rule be made self-perpetuating—the revenue could be used for expanded social programs.48

In evaluating the British response to the rise of Hitler, it must be stressed that British leaders were charged with protecting an empire of global reach, and that the major threats to it were not necessarily in Europe. Russia might threaten India, for instance, and any number of threats could interrupt trade between London and the East. It was not Hitler’s actions in Europe that led to a reexamination of the Ten-Year Rule, but rather Japan’s attack on Manchuria in 1931, which threatened British and French interests in Southeast Asia. The rule was abandoned in 1932, but the British knew that their empire was vulnerable at any number of places across the globe. A war in Europe would have given opponents in the Far East an opportunity to seize British possessions. This sense of impotence before huge problems fed into the atmosphere of passivity and demoralization. In December of 1933, the British Cabinet’s Disarmament Committee had written that the use of force to stop Germany was “unthinkable.”49 The British underestimated their own forces for years and overestimated the power of Germany—which became another reason not to act. Meanwhile, the Germans knew that they were physically no match for Britain; as late as March of 1938, the German Army experienced serious delays and mechanical problems when it moved into Austria.50 A confrontation with Hitler in the mid- 1930s would have been dangerous—but it could have reversed Hitler’s movements with far fewer deaths than occurred four years later.

Pacifist movements in Britain, and the seemingly inexorable growth of socialism and trade-unionism, had strong hands in this paralysis. Motivated to some degree by real fear of the next war, many pacifists followed their egalitarian socialist premises to claim that money would be better spent on domestic programs. Many on the political left opposed rearmament on ideological grounds; some wished to promote the goals of the labor unions (the position of the Labour Party), and they might see war itself as an aspect of a worldwide class struggle. Conservatives often opposed rearmament on pragmatic grounds, fearing that advocacy of a strong England would lose them the votes of the lower classes or fuel an outright revolt. Socialism, many thought, was inevitable, and to oppose it was politically suicidal.

Neville Chamberlain, Conservative chancellor of the Exchequer in 1932, agreed with Keynes that economic problems were worse than the threat of war; he opted for public welfare over military defense. In response to criticism from Minister of Parliament Winston Churchill in 1937, Conservative Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin defended himself, saying that had he demanded rearmament in 1933, “I cannot think of anything that would have made the loss of election from my point of view more certain.”51 England began to rearm in earnest after 1936, a process that would take five years, but to dampen opposition the government had to do it without the forthright confidence of open public disclosure. Prior to 1939 many conservatives did the pragmatic, prudent, expedient thing: They abandoned the security needs of their country in order to win the next election.

On June 27, 1935, the results of a “Peace Ballot” were announced in England.52 Some 11 million people voted on questions relating to the League of Nations and disarmament. Of course not everyone voted, but so many votes could not be ignored. The outcome roundly validated British support for the League of Nations and elevated international institutions over military preparedness by England. The results included:

1. Should Britain remain a member of the League of Nations?

Yes: 1,090,387        No: 355,888

2. Are you in favor of an all-round reduction in armaments by international agreement?

Yes: 10,470,489        No: 862,775

3. Are you in favor of an all-round abolition of national military and naval aircraft by international agreement?

Yes: 9,533,358        No: 1,689,786

4. Should the manufacture and sale of armaments for private profit be prohibited by international agreement?

Yes: 10,417,329        No: 775,415

5. Do you consider that, if a nation insists on attacking another, the other nations should combine to compel it to stop by:

(a) economic and nonmilitary measures?

Yes: 10,027,608        No: 635,074

(b) if necessary, military measures?

Yes: 6,784,368        No: 2,351,981

If the ballot was an accurate measure of British public opinion, then the English people were losing all motivations to oppose Hitler preemptively, and any politician who proposed to act was liable to lose his job in the next election. Every political incentive was on the side of doing nothing—the precise opposite of what the situation required. Most people claimed to favor economic and nonmilitary measures even after an attack—a prescription to allow a military threat to grow into a major war—which is in fact what happened by 1939. It would have taken extraordinary courage and integrity in a politician, combined with rare foresight, to understand the situation and to buck the tide of opinion that the 1935 poll represents. It would likely have been his last act in government.

There were, of course, many people who wanted to oppose Hitler and to build the forces necessary to do so. But they were not controlling events. To sum it all up, many British politicians were transferring blame from Germany onto themselves, evading the facts of the situation in favor of wishes about how it could be, substituting the decisions of the consensus (international and at home) for clear-sighted evaluation of their position, and renouncing any possibility of physically stopping German rearmament. Many politicians knew that Britain would have to restore its military forces—but, faced with the prospect of bucking the publicized consensus by cutting into the social programs that everyone seemed to want, they followed the flow of public opinion. Although the European nations had greater military capabilities than Germany, they simply had no will to oppose Germany. Conversely, the Germans had the will—which meant that they would soon have the capabilities.

The British wanted peaceful English socialism at home; they got brutal German National Socialism across the continent.

The Climax of British Appeasement

After attaining and solidifying his power in 1932–1933, Hitler set out to get all he could through the acquiescence of other leaders. He also demonstrated that he would back down when confronted directly. His sole foreign policy defeat prior to 1942 was in the premature Nazi attempt to take over Austria by a coup on July 25, 1934. Hitler’s supporters had engaged in a terrorist war against the Austrian government, assisting local Nazis and sympathizers who manufactured attacks on the German population, and using the attacks as an excuse to protect the “equality of rights” to “national self-determination” of the local Germans against Austrian “oppression.” Hitler’s actual role in this remains unclear—Nazis in Austria may have been acting without his explicit approval—but he certainly would have capitalized on a successful outcome. When Nazi henchmen shot Austrian Chancellor Englebert Dolfuss in the throat, Hitler received the news with great joy and prepared a press release claiming victory. But the Austrian government acted quickly to restore order. Local people rose up against the Nazi party, assassins were hanged, and the Italian fascist leader Benito Mussolini—not France or Britain—mobilized four army divisions at the Brenner Pass in the Alps to protect Austria from German troops. Mussolini—who feared a German force on his northern border—was the only leader prior to 1939 to oppose Hitler with force. William Shirer writes that “the news story prepared for the press by the official German news agency, D. N. B., rejoicing at the fall of Dolfuss and proclaiming the greater Germany that must inevitably follow, was hastily withdrawn. . . .”53 At midnight, a new release claimed regret for the murder and called it an internal Austrian matter. Austria and Italy had confronted Hitler, and Hitler retreated.

Hitler knew that 1934 was too early for an overt annexation of Austria, and he worked to end terrorist activity behind the scenes. He disbanded Nazi organizations, refused to reward those who had acted in the coup, and stopped the campaign of terror. But he also held to his assertion, on page one of Mein Kampf, that the reunification of Austria with Germany was to be pursued as a non-negotiable matter of principle across the span of his life. It was beyond the scope of his compromises ever to renounce that claim. As he said in a speech of April 28, 1939, regarding the actions of the “criminals of Versailles,” who split Austria from Germany:

I have always regarded the elimination of this state of affairs as the highest and most holy task of my life. . . . I should have sinned against my call by Providence had I failed in my own endeavor to lead my native country and my German people of Ostmark back to the Reich and, thus, to the community of German people.54

Western European leaders were unwilling to admit that all of the words uttered, promises made, and treaties signed were intended by Hitler to bring about the absorption of his birthplace—Austria—into the Reich. But he was willing to wait—for the moment.

When Mussolini approached England and France for an agreement to support Austria, the English refused and the French issued a mild statement. It is a tragedy that the British did not take Hitler’s goals seriously. By drawing a line at Austria—even if only by forming a united front with France—the British might have undercut Hitler’s support back home. This might have made unnecessary England’s later defense pact with Poland, which England could not enforce and which was created to show this same solidarity with France. Austria remained free for the moment precisely because one nation—Italy—had acted without waiting for an international consensus. Hitler would resolve that problem over the next few years by making a firm friend of Mussolini. (The League of Nations was impotent—or worse—to protect Europe.)

On March 17, 1935, Hitler was ready to make a grand statement. He repudiated the Versailles Treaty provisions against rearmament. The move was greeted with stupendous celebrations in Germany. As was typical, Hitler took care at such a moment; on May 21 he made another powerful antiwar speech, calculated to encourage the British to proceed with unilateral negotiations over arms limits. Hitler shouted passionately that Germany repudiated war: “No! National Socialist Germany wants peace because of its fundamental convictions. . . . Germany needs peace and desires peace. . . . Whoever lights the torch of war in Europe can wish for nothing but chaos.” He went on to apply this to every area of contention: French frontiers are guaranteed, all claims to Alsace-Lorraine (an area taken from Germany after World War I) are renounced, Poland is “the home of a great and nationally conscious people,” and Germany has no ambitions in Austria. He implied that Germany would return to the League of Nations when the League disavowed the Versailles Treaty (he had walked out in October 1933) but that he would voluntarily uphold the military portions of the Treaty and the Locarno agreements until that time. He also invited England to join him in separate negotiations over the size of his navy.55

The Times again took the bait enthusiastically: “It is to be hoped that the speech will be taken everywhere as a sincere and well-considered utterance meaning precisely what it says.” To have its readers be “taken” this way was no doubt the goal of the Times, but those readers had no way of knowing that the explicit policy of the editor was to avoid offending the “sensibilities” of the Germans by printing lies. Hitler’s speech worked brilliantly against those who failed to recognize that a man such as Hitler uses such language not to speak truths but to attain aggressive ends, and that the reporters of those words were concerned for their jobs, not the truth.

In his speech, Hitler said that Germany was ready to agree to any level of disarmament, including limits to his navy at 35 percent of British forces. The British did precisely what the Times—and Hitler—hoped; they accepted his demand for equality of claims and pressed ahead with negotiations over the size of Germany’s armed forces. In other words, they conceded the principle that Hitler had a right to rearm while arguing over the amount.56 Hermann Goering had earlier told the British that Germany now had an air force—a violation of the Versailles Treaty. The British government now proceeded to finalize a bilateral agreement with Germany, thus sanctioning Germany’s rearmament. Hitler pursued such bilateral treaties as a matter of principle in order to isolate other nations and undercut their support. By engaging in direct talks with Germany, British leaders further weakened the French and led them to pursue security guarantees elsewhere.

Hitler was correct to see a policy of appeasement in the British. The proposed limits allowed German factories to be retooled for military purposes—a years-long process—which was all Hitler wanted for the moment. He would need those factories when he took his right to rearm to its logical end and formally repudiated those limits. By compromising over the size of Hitler’s military forces, the British conceded everything—the principle behind his right to arms, and the practical capacity to develop them—and thus empowered Hitler to build a massive killing machine.

More demonstrations of allied weakness were coming his way. In October of 1935, Italy, in pursuit of a new Roman Empire, attacked Ethiopia. Mussolini moved his navy through the British-controlled Suez Canal; the British did not even close the canal. Instead, they appealed to the League of Nations, which, after weeks of debate, passed economic sanctions. The sanctions did not include an oil embargo; Mussolini later admitted that such an embargo would have stopped his invasion cold. Sovereign nations were paralyzed by the need for consensus; by accepting the principles of the League and rejecting their right to independent self-defense, they subordinated their judgments and constitutional responsibilities to an international committee. By requiring nations not to act without its sanctions, the League of Nations became an excuse for inaction and a powerful asset for men such as Mussolini and Hitler—who follow no such rules but use other men as tools to achieve their destructive ends.

Hitler evaluated all of this—including the world’s reaction to the Spanish Civil War, in which he and Mussolini supported the fascists against the communists—by coolly sizing up his enemies. He drew the lesson that he would face no opposition to his stated goals if he moved carefully. He saw in his enemies a policy of appeasement, vacillation, and weakness—a policy neither to state the reality of any situation openly nor to act as it demanded. Hitler was reaching the point where backing down would not be necessary; his physical capacities would reach the point where he could ignore their protestations and their armies.

But in 1936 he was not there yet. On March 7, Hitler raised a trial balloon; he occupied the Rhineland—the buffer area between France and Germany—with a small force of some 36,000 police and light-armed soldiers.57 The area was to be forever demilitarized according to the Versailles Treaty and the Locarno Agreements, the latter of which Germany had entered into voluntarily. Hitler used the Franco-Soviet Pact, which had been signed a few days earlier, as a pretext for the movement. But to Hitler’s mind—as his own statements would later affirm—there was a stronger motivation. The French withdrawal of 1930—and the earlier debacle of the Ruhr River valley—had been clear indicators of what the French and British would actually do: nothing. With German troops in the Rhineland, Hitler got a boost to his productive capacity and manpower among millions of German-speakers who were either highly motivated to become part of the expanding German state, too cowed to express their disagreement, or newly awed by the success of their seemingly unstoppable leader.

In the Rhineland, Hitler and his generals were exposed; they could have offered no effective military opposition to any resistance by the French. The German air staff reported in the spring of 1936 that it would be unable to prevail in a war with France and Czechoslovakia. Testimony at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials indicates that the German War Minister Werner von Blomberg, the commander during the Rhineland occupation, would have withdrawn immediately had any resistance been confronted. A single French soldier with a machine gun could have aborted the entire mission, and might have caused Hitler’s government to collapse. Hitler himself later said: “If the French had marched into the Rhineland we would have had to withdraw with our tails between our legs” because even a “moderate resistance” would have been impossible. At the Nuremberg trials in 1946, Hitler aide General Alfred Jodl said “the French covering army could have blown us to pieces.”58 But nothing was done; Hitler understood the psychology of his enemies better than his generals did. The British publicly inflated the size of his small Rhineland force into an unstoppable army, thus creating a reason for themselves not to stop it. Inside Germany, the effect was the opposite; the success of the Rhineland occupation silenced German generals who thought that Hitler was going too far, and allowed Hitler to strengthen his own political and military hold over the country.

The Rhineland occupation must be seen in terms of Hitler’s own need to win a vote of confidence from the German people. The risk he took was so great that mere territorial aggrandizement would not have justified the movement at that time. The March 8 diary entry of Victor Klemperer—a businessman, journalist, and Jew who lived through the Nazi horrors—shows the effects of Hitler’s actions on many Germans: “Three months ago I would have been convinced there would be war the same evening. Today, vox populi (my butcher): ‘They [the French and British] won’t risk anything.’ General conviction, and ours too, that everything will remain quiet. . . . His [Hitler’s] position is secured for an indefinite period.”59

On March 23, Klemperer again wrote of vox populi—the voice of the people, the millions of butchers and other people across Germany—and how the Rhineland occupation had affected the minds of those previously lukewarm in their support of Hitler:

It will be a tremendous triumph for the government. It will receive millions of votes for ‘peace and freedom.’ It will not need to fake a single vote. Internal policies are forgotten.—Exemplum: Martha Weichmann, who visited us recently, previously democratic. Now “Nothing has impressed me as much as re-armament and marching into the Rhineland.” . . . It all impresses the foreign powers and, despite a condemnation from the League of Nations and the proposal of a supranational police authority for the Rhine zone, will also be a stupendous victory for Hitler. He flies from place to place and gives triumphal speeches. The whole thing is called an ‘election campaign’.”60

An election campaign indeed: On March 29, Hitler held a plebiscite; the votes were more than 90 percent in favor. The Fuehrer’s greatness is unbounded, the Germans shouted; we, Germany, all of us are truly on the rise. The occupation of the Rhineland was one of Hitler’s most important domestic policy successes.

For the British and French, it was a disheartening defeat. In a speech to the House of Commons on March 26, 1936, Sir Anthony Eden, British secretary of state for foreign affairs, stated the basic issue and his own proposal with respect to the Rhineland occupation. He observed that Hitler, purporting to be aggrieved at the recent Franco-Soviet Pact—which France had pursued because she was unable to gain security guarantees elsewhere—had multiple opportunities to bring Germany’s grievances before the world. Instead, Germany had repudiated the Locarno Agreements in full, and “has chosen to present it [her case] by force and not by reason.” Eden made three proposals by which “international law was to be vindicated.” Germany was to (1) submit to arbitration, (2) suspend fortifying the Rhineland, and (3) agree to an international force in the area. (This is the “supranational” force that Klemperer mentions in his diaries.) Eden goes on to make it clear that he does not intend to act forcefully himself:

I must make it plain that these proposals have always been proposals. They are not an ultimatum, much less a diktat [a standard charge leveled against the Versailles Treaty]. If an international force were the difficulty, and if the German government could offer some other constructive proposals to take its place, His Majesty’s Government will be quite ready to go to the other Powers interested and try to secure agreement upon them. . . .61

In other words, Eden, known as a strong voice in the government, who later resigned over Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s handling of Hitler, thought that it was out of bounds to demand that Germany fulfill a treaty—Versailles—needed to protect France and Belgium, or an agreement—Locarno—that Germany had voluntarily signed. All Eden could do was to make proposals, no longer to the League of Nations as a prerequisite to action, but now to Germany as a prerequisite to action. He was now subordinating British interests not to an international consensus, but to Germany, because Germany had acted aggressively. The British Government was willing to become Hitler’s advocate by bringing Germany’s demands to Britain’s allies and pressuring them to accept those demands.

That anyone might have actually thought Eden’s proposals harsh is a telling comment upon the age—but it was an age in which many people said of the German actions: “I suppose Jerry can do what he likes in his own backyard, can’t he?” Labour Party members generally opposed sanctions against Germany, and Conservative Member of Parliament Harold Nicolson said: “The country will not stand for anything that makes for war. On all sides one hears sympathy for Germany. It is all very tragic and sad.” The British secretary of war told the German ambassador directly that the British people would not fight for the Rhineland.62 In his own speech, Eden told Hitler, with all the clarity of a direct personal guarantee, that England would not act alone: “Let us make our position on that absolutely clear. We accept no obligations beyond those shared by the League except the obligations which devolve on us from Locarno.”63 These proposals were a clear restraint on England, not on Germany; they defined not a minimum range of proper action, but a maximum. Eden then stated his goals in terms that would come to characterize the age:

Our objectives in all this are three-fold—first, to avert the danger of war, second, to create conditions in which negotiations can take place and third, to bring about the success of those negotiations so that they may strengthen collective security, further Germany’s return to the League and, in a happier atmosphere, allow those larger negotiations on economic matters and on matters of armament which are indispensable to the appeasement of Europe to take place. I assure the House that it is the appeasement of Europe as a whole that we have constantly before us.64

We will return to the issue of appeasement below; suffice it to say here that peace was manifestly not Hitler’s aim, a point that could have been understood at the time. In point of obvious fact, there was one and only one threat to “collective security” in western Europe: Hitler’s Germany. Given the incompatible goals pursued by England and Germany—peace versus national expansion—Eden was in fact asking Hitler specifically, and publicly, what he needed to attain his goals. His intentions notwithstanding, Eden became Hitler’s active accomplice, and a tool in the dictator’s hands.

For the next two years Hitler built up his forces and solidified his position. Inside Germany, generals who were critical of his plans to take “living room” by force were purged. Abroad, Hitler was certain that France and England would not fight for Austria or Czechoslovakia, although he gave up on the alliance with England that he had planned for in Mein Kampf. France was wracked with internal unrest that paralyzed its foreign policy; at the moment Hitler marched into Austria, France actually had no government. Hitler must have decided that, with Austria and Czechoslovakia under his control, he could remove France and England with a lightning attack, and thus be clear to move east. The failure of the Allies to stand up to him when he was weak must have played a strong role in his conclusion that he could move his timetable for war up by at least two years.

By the spring of 1938, Hitler was able to complete the annexation of Austria. On February 12, exactly a month before German troops moved, he summoned Austrian Chancellor von Schuschnigg to Berchtesgaden and stunned him with a naked threat of invasion. Austria was preparing a defense against Germany, and Hitler wanted this stopped. Hitler made Austria’s position unmistakably clear, as he detailed the disastrous consequences of failing to oppose the German entry into the Rhineland two years earlier:

Don’t believe that anyone in the world will hinder me in my decisions! Italy? I am quite clear with Mussolini: with Italy I am on the closest possible terms. England? England will not lift a finger for Austria. . . . And France? Well, two years ago when we marched into the Rhineland with a handful of battalions—at that moment I risked a great deal. If France had marched then, we should have been forced to withdraw. . . . But for France it is now too late!65

This time there was no opposition from Italy; Hitler’s friendship with Mussolini was now solid.66 Hitler thanked Mussolini profusely, telling his envoy: “I will never forget it, whatever may happen. If he should ever need any help, or be in any danger, he can be convinced that I shall stick to him whatever might happen even if the whole world were against him.”67

But Operation Otto, the meticulously planned drive on roads to Vienna, in good weather and without an enemy in his path, virtually broke down en route, and Hitler was furious at the shortcomings in his military machine. Hitler had to rely on Austrian railroads to move his equipment into Vienna. He could not have prevailed against any serious military opposition. It was the acquiescence of the French and the British that allowed Hitler to move west against the French, to consolidate Austria into the Reich, to take control of a major transportation hub in Europe, and to surround Czechoslovakia on three sides. As for the British, Historian Donald Kagan concludes that “their deepest feelings must have been relief” that the issue of Austria was resolved. “Thank goodness Austria’s out of the way,” said one senior British official. Prime Minister Chamberlain said, “At any rate the question [of what England should do about this] was now out of the way.”68 On a certain level, these men were happy to have Hitler controlling events in Europe for them.

In the summer of 1938, following the Anschluss (“absorption”) of Austria, a new crisis rose to the forefront: Hitler’s demand for the Sudetenland (“Southland”), a piece of Czechoslovakia. Czechoslovakia—the nation of the Czechs and the Slovaks—was a creation of the post-World War I negotiations: a conglomeration of various nationalities, about one-half Czechs, but also some three million Sudetenland Germans, many of whom chafed at being marginalized in an “inferior” Slavic nation. The German moves against Czechoslovakia bore all the marks of Hitler’s style: terror campaigns behind the lines, run by his stooges; the instigation of disorder as a pretense for protecting poor Germans from Czech oppressors; and the actions alleged to uphold the “self-determination” of the German-speaking population, who wanted to correct the injustices of the Versailles Treaty and “return to the Reich.” Hitler insisted that he was only helping them to attain their “equality of rights” as members of the German nation and to assert their own “national self-determination” by returning to the German nation.

The British were disarmed by these ideas, and they failed to make explicit the racial collectivism behind such deceptive claims. They allowed themselves to be deceived and were thus unwilling to confront Germany’s growing power—a task that was becoming more difficult every day. Rather than standing firm and recognizing that the loss of Czechoslovakia would place all of southern Europe under the Nazi thumb—something that was also understood at the time—Britain, which had earlier pressured France to compromise with the Germans, now pressured the Czechs to compromise with the Germans. France had a mutual defense agreement with Czechoslovakia but would act on it only with British support; the French—directly vulnerable to German guns—were looking for ways to back out of their treaty obligations to the east. The British did not want to act, and they consistently underestimated their own forces while overestimating those of Germany, assuming “a best-case analysis of the German situation with a worst-case analysis of Britain’s.”69 Meanwhile, the Czech government was increasingly isolated and vulnerable to collapse should any formal acquiescence to German demands come from a major foreign power.

Inside Germany, Hitler again faced opposition from his generals, as he had over the Rhineland in 1936 and Austria in 1938. His generals knew that Germany could not prevail in a war with the Czechs, who had an army of some million and a half men and strong defenses. As in the Rhineland, the Germans would be exposed should the Czechs fight back. But Hitler was not banking on military power; he rather expected concessions from European leaders, which would destroy the Czech government before he moved a single soldier over the border. Had England issued an ultimatum and followed it with mobilization, a coup by the German generals might have removed Hitler from power or at least have dissuaded him from marching. This was perhaps the last time that Germany could have been stopped without war. Hitler was driving toward his goal of a greater Reich; the Allies were defensively trying to maintain the status quo by giving up little pieces of their principles one bite at a time. Such a “defense” was no match for Hitler’s offense.

On September 8, 1938, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain told his colleagues: “I keep racking my brains to try and devise some means of averting catastrophe.” He then thought of simply flying to Germany and asking Hitler what he wanted.70 Chamberlain was not a weak man; he had extensive experience in government and could be very demanding on his staff, even though he had been prime minister for only a year. His strategy was twofold: to work for a negotiated settlement of the particular crisis and to buy time to complete the British military buildup.

He was acting on several premises. First, he had been told by his staff that England was not ready for war in Europe—it would be at least a year before this would be feasible—and that the Germans were far stronger than they actually were. These reports were “worst case” judgments, which he accepted not only because they were credible, but also because he wanted to avoid war. He also feared a German bombing campaign against London—which we know today to have been no danger at the time—just as the French feared for Paris. Second, he believed strongly that a nation should never make threats unless it is in a position to carry them out—a rational judgment that was consistent with the reports he had been given. Third, he believed in negotiations—that a give-and-take between opponents could resolve a crisis—and that even Hitler could be swayed by discussions. This, in his mind, would be especially so if economic collapse were imminent, because he thought that all leaders were deeply concerned about that danger. This was his big error. He brought to Hitler a pragmatic approach to negotiations, which tended to treat every situation as a disparate moment, unrelated to anything else that had happened or anything that he knew. This would lead him to size up the Hitler-of-the-moment rather than recognize the reasons why Europe was facing this particular crisis.

On September 15, Chamberlain got on a plane for the first time in his life, flew to Hitler’s retreat at Berchtesgaden, and had a pleasant, cordial meeting with the Fuehrer. Hitler approached Chamberlain with a disarming graciousness that masked an intransigent attitude. Chamberlain evaluated Hitler as sincere, rather than holding in mind the entire context of why he was there, what German rearmament meant, the consequences for Europe, as well as the position of the Czechs. Chamberlain’s personal impressions of the man were allowed to override these other considerations.

The effect of Chamberlain’s visit on the Czechs was devastating. Hitler’s proxy in the Sudetenland had fled to Germany, and the Czechs were getting the crisis under control—until Chamberlain cut the rug from under them by legitimating Hitler’s demands. The nature and importance of Chamberlain’s meeting must be strongly emphasized. The brutal effects on the Czechs were not only in the content of Chamberlain’s discussions. His very agreement to speak with Hitler strengthened the Fuehrer’s hand and destroyed the Czech resistance. Chamberlain’s government was surely aware of this as well. The response in Britain to Chamberlain’s visit—even from critics—was waves of praise for his farsighted diplomacy.71

Chamberlain returned to Germany on September 22, this time to a stormy meeting with a madman who no longer wanted to negotiate. Hitler broke with his earlier, reasonable attitude and demanded to occupy the area in two days, on September 24. He then agreed to wait until September 28, then until October 1. This change in Hitler’s attitude confused Chamberlain; Hitler was not acting as a reasonable man should. But he was acting like a fanatic in unbending pursuit of a goal he had held for two decades, who knew that he could get what he wanted from compromises made by a disarmed opponent. Hitler was manipulating the particular events—his meetings with Chamberlain—in order to achieve his wider goals: the destruction of Czechoslovakia and the enslavement of the Slavic peoples under the “Master Race.” To counter this, Chamberlain would have had to keep sight of Hitler’s overall policy and not be sidetracked or seduced by his particular actions.

Back in London, the British Parliament, with Chamberlain’s agreement, rejected Hitler’s demands, as did the French government. But Churchill records his view of Parliament’s attitude toward the Sudetenland Czechs:

Some Ministers found consolation in such phrases as “the rights of self-determination,” “the claims of a national minority to just treatment”; and even the mood appeared of “championing the small man against the Czech bully”. . . .

The British and French Cabinets at this time presented a front of two overripe melons crushed together, whereas what was needed was a gleam of steel.72

While the Czech government struggled to keep control of the nation, and while the clock ticked on a German ultimatum set to expire at 2 p.m. on September 28, Chamberlain offered the following communiqués. Publicly, he addressed the British people on September 27:

How horrible, fantastic, incredible, it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas-masks here because of a quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing! . . . war is a fearful thing, and we must be very clear, before we embark on it, that it is really the great issues that are at stake.”73

In case this was not clear enough to Hitler—that no “great issue” was at stake in Hitler’s threats against all of Eastern Europe—Chamberlain then sent a private message to Hitler offering his personal assistance in attaining Hitler’s goals:

After reading your letter, I felt certain that you can get all essentials without war, and without delay. I am ready to come to Berlin myself at once to discuss arrangements for transfer [of the Sudetanland to Germany] with you and representatives of the Czech Government, together with representatives of France and Italy if you desire. I feel convinced that we could reach agreement in a week.74

Agendas of meetings between world leaders are very important, and Chamberlain stated his aim very clearly. The purpose was to discuss the means of achieving Hitler’s goals—transferring the Sudetenland Czechs to Hitler’s control—which meant the betrayal of all of Czechoslovakia by the British and a grant to Hitler of everything he could not have taken by force. The British had nothing to gain from Hitler, only his attack to avoid. After a twenty-four-hour extension of the ultimatum (probably due to Mussolini’s intervention), the third meeting took place in Munich on September 29. This was a four-power conference between Britain, France, Italy, and Germany. At 2 a.m. on the 30th, dead tired after twelve hours of talks, Chamberlain accepted Hitler’s ultimatum. The Sudetenland Czechs—having no say in the matter—passed into the German Reich. The French government approved the result overwhelmingly. Tens of thousands of people sent thanks to Chamberlain for keeping their children out of the slaughter of war. Energy surged through the Reich with another infusion of resources. In a few months, Czechoslovakia ceased to exist.

Churchill records the testimony of Field-Marshal Wilhelm Keitel at the Nuremberg trials, who was asked whether the Reich would have attacked Czechoslovakia if the Allies had stood by the Czechs: “Certainly not. We were not strong enough militarily. The object of Munich [i.e., reaching an agreement with Britain at Munich] was to get Russia out of Europe, to gain time, and to complete the German armaments.”75

Over the previous twenty years, Germany, having plunged Europe into war in 1914, had donned the image of a weak and victimized party trying to regain her “equality of rights” to military arms. The absurdity—and injustice—of this claim now came to full flower in the very idea that the Sudetenland Germans were victims of the “Czech bully.” But the moral ideal of “equality”—expressed in the view that we are each part of a greater, interconnected whole—can require the sacrifice of a part for the preservation of the “collective security” of the whole. This was Hitler’s attitude toward the millions he slaughtered for the Reich—which was, after all, simply exercising “national self-determination” of its own allegedly supra-human future. The insidiousness of the sacrificial ideal was emphasized by Churchill in his chapter “The Tragedy of Munich,” from The Gathering Storm: “England and France said ‘both the French and British governments recognize how great is the sacrifice thus required of Czechoslovakia’.”

Chamberlain handed a “people of whom we know nothing” over to Hitler’s Reich. Chamberlain may have wanted only to buy time to complete Britain’s military buildup. But what Hitler took from the deal more than offset the gains made by the British. Chamberlain claimed to have made “peace in our time”—a phrase that he regretted almost immediately—but “our time” ended immediately for the Czechs, and eleven months later for everyone else.

Appeasement and Compromise

This account of Britain’s relationship with Germany is highly abbreviated and not intended to be complete. It considers certain essential developments that led to World War II in Europe, understood in terms of key ideas that conditioned the thinking of political leaders who faced enormous decisions. The complexity of the world situation does not lessen the importance of such ideas; it increases their significance and power—for these are the principles that all of us must use to deal with such complexity. British leaders faced staggering problems on a global scale. But it is no exaggeration to state that, at every step, they offered to Germany the resources that Hitler would need to establish his dominance over Europe. One single projection of power into Europe by France or Britain between 1933 and 1938—just one direct setback for Hitler—might have put an end to Hitler’s career. This might have demonstrated strength to the Japanese and prevented further incursions against British interests in the Far East. How many lives might have been saved by one French soldier in the Rhineland able to pull a trigger! But appeasement was the leitmotif of those years, and the result was the opposite of peace.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the primary meaning of appeasement is “the action or process of appeasing, pacification, satisfaction.” In this original sense, it is possible to “appease,” that is, to “calm” or “bring peace to,” one’s anxieties, a stormy ocean, an angry mood, a mutinous army, a disordered city, and so on. This is what Anthony Eden meant when he told Parliament that “it is the appeasement of Europe as a whole that we have constantly before us.” Peace was his only goal, and pacification his only motive. By “appeasement” Eden meant the same thing as Winston Churchill when the latter said, in 1921, that “the aim is to get an appeasement of the fearful hatreds and antagonisms which exist in Europe and to enable the world to settle down. I have no other object in view.”76 In 1929, Churchill wrote, “I should be prepared to make peace with Soviet Russia on the best terms available to appease the general situation.”77

This wide, general sense of appeasement as a goal leaves open the specific means by which peace can and should be established. This is a vital distinction. General W. T. Sherman was a master appeaser, ending the Civil War and attaining his goal of a permanent peace by burning Atlanta and providing a clear demonstration of overwhelming force.

But British leaders in the 1930s, grappling with intractable problems across the globe, facing a tide of socialism back home, and fearing a new war even more horrendous than the last, were unable to answer claims to equality of rights and national self-determination made by Hitler. Falling back on the tradition of pragmatic negotiation and compromise, which had worked for the British when they dealt with people who shared rational goals, Chamberlain decided that Hitler could be satisfied by simply granting him what he wanted. This exemplifies the narrower sense of appeasement, which specifies a method of pacification—the satisfaction of the needs of an enemy. As the OED further states, appeasement is

Freely used in political contexts in the 20th century, and since 1938 often used disparagingly with allusion to the attempts to conciliation by concession made by Mr. Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister, before the outbreak of war with Germany in 1939; by extension, any such policy of pacification by concession to an enemy.

With this shift in the meaning of appeasement, from the goal of pacification to a specific means of attaining the goal, appeasement came to mean a grant of concessions to an actual or potential aggressor in order to secure his promise not to aggress. In adopting this approach, postwar negotiators assumed, implicitly if not explicitly, that peace was everyone’s goal; that their adversaries pursued their goals ultimately for the sake of peace; that granting particular demands—whether just or unjust—would pacify such adversaries; and that promises had validity to such men. They approached their adversaries with the goal of bringing them into the framework of negotiations used by rational men. Chamberlain’s own goal in negotiating with Hitler—in talks that included France and Italy—was to bring Hitler into the European system and to make him part of it. Chamberlain failed to grasp that Hitler intended to destroy that system and subordinate it to the Reich.

Not everyone is after peace and freedom. A policy of recognizing the claims of those who share principles in common—as when, for instance, the United States resolves border questions with Mexico by negotiation rather than bombardment—is an entirely different thing than an attempt to buy off aggressors who hold the opposite principles and pursue opposite goals. Appeasement, as a method, is the grant of a demand to an aggressor not because his demand is just, but rather because he has threatened to attack and the threat is credible.

Appeasement must be distinguished from just compensation, which rewards the deserving and punishes wrongdoers. To grant a just demand is not appeasement; it is simply recognizing the justice in the demand and doing what is right. If America grants land to Mexico because the Rio Grande River has meandered, it is simply justice to return land to its owners. This decision strengthens and affirms the healthy relationship between two reasonable parties. Both sides win.

In contrast, appeasement rewards wrongdoers because they did or threatened to do something wrong. Politically, it embodies the forlorn hope that if an aggressor profits from his threats, he will cease making threats and change his goals. Appeasement is a compromise with someone who holds irrational, unjust goals, on the premise that, if some of those goals are granted under threat of force, he will not use irrational, unjust means to attain other such goals. A parallel could be made to an extortionist: Why should such a person stop his extortions if his victim pays him for committing them? Appeasement affirms the power of irrational, unjust behavior and strengthens the perpetrator while weakening his victim.

There was an essential incompatibility between the aims of British leaders and those of the Germans, because freedom under constitutional government is not equal to racial collectivism under a dictatorship. No nation has a right to “national self-determination,” if this means the subordination of its own citizens to the state—and war against its neighbors. Because Hitler did not intend to achieve the goals of peace and freedom—a point that he had made clear for years—he did not negotiate to attain those ends. He negotiated in order to aggrandize the German state and to subjugate and murder “inferior” peoples. This is all that would satisfy him. Because Hitler would talk only if it furthered his own purposes, and because England had nothing to gain from Germany except to prevent attack, every negotiation began with his aims in mind, and every discussion focused on the means by which he could achieve his goals. Hitler accepted any particular proposal only if it brought him closer to his own goal of a German Reich. By negotiating with Hitler, Eden, Chamberlain, and others were active accomplices of Hitler. Britain had nothing to gain from Hitler except a negative: his agreement not to attack. Any compromise or concession to Hitler, of any size, necessarily aided him in attaining his goals.

In 1938, Hitler still had much to gain from his enemies. He needed the European nations to restrain each other from acting against him. He needed them to provide him with an international status of a legitimate government and to accept his demands for an “equality of rights,” while he rearmed. To keep his industrial supplies flowing, he had to prevent the larger powers from acting in areas outside of Germany. To subdue smaller nations, he needed the greater powers to subordinate themselves to “collective security” and thus to accept the constraints of an international body with a veto power over their own defenses. Paradoxically, Hitler then manipulated those greater powers in separate negotiations in order to isolate them. Through all this, Hitler gained time—time to retool his factories, to enslave the populations he had taken by threats, and to mobilize his army.

At a deeper level, Hitler also needed the British to evade the facts and to accept him as a viable negotiating party and a reasonable person. Hitler could take on a persona, at a particular moment, designed to mask his oft-stated intransigent pursuit of national aggrandizement. His “peace” speeches are prime examples; they provided the peace-loving British with an excuse not to confront him. To play on the “national self-determination” idea that paralyzed many British leaders, Hitler had to maintain the pretense that he was protecting German populations from bullies in France, Czechoslovakia, and Austria. His cordiality to Chamberlain served to disarm the prime minister. Hitler counted on the willingness of European leaders to accept these particular ruses, which provided those leaders with the excuses they needed to ignore or evade his real goals.

Forgetting the broader context, Neville Chamberlain was able to convince himself during his first visit that Hitler was a reasonable man. To oppose Hitler, Chamberlain needed to consider the full range of facts giving rise to the situation, including the consistent trajectory of Hitler’s unceasing demands, his stated aims in Mein Kampf, his attacks on the Jews, his domestic police state, his bombing of Spanish civilians, his breaking of numerous treaties, his incessant calls for Germany to rise fully-armed, his occupation of the Rhineland and Austria, and his walk-out from the League of Nations. He needed to remember that Hitler’s words and agreements were designed to help Hitler attain Hitler’s goals—not Chamberlain’s—and that a man such as Hitler uses words to obfuscate and deceive, not to clarify and cooperate. This does not mean that Chamberlain should have sent British lads to die in Czechoslovakia—but it does mean that he should have stated his support for the Czech government loudly and clearly, and that he should have used all resources available to alert the world to the true nature of the Nazi menace.

Chamberlain’s statement to the British House of Commons in December 1937 was that “only . . . by a real understanding and effort to meet other’s needs” could peace be maintained. The deadly error here is to forget that “needs” exist only in relation to a purpose. In order to build the bombs that he “needs” to destroy a continent, a dictator “needs” others to grant him an “equality of rights” to pursue his “national self-determination.” Allied leaders failed to recognize an undeniable truth, that the purposes of freedom and peace cannot be achieved or maintained by meeting the needs of murderous dictators—especially by granting them the unearned status of a rational party. British leaders appeased Hitler by granting any legitimate status to Nazi Germany—and engaging in any discourse with Hitler—once Hitler had declared his aggressive aims and established his police state, and certainly once he had stepped off of his own soil and marched into the Rhineland and Austria. It would not be lost on Hitler that he was receiving these concessions because he had acted forcefully—and that the German people would watch in awe as his stature rose and foreign opposition wilted.

At any step of Germany’s rise—from the Ruhr Crisis of 1922, to the French withdrawal from the Rhineland in 1930, to the Nazis’ aborted moves against Austria in 1934, to Hitler’s repudiation of the Versailles Treaty and Mussolini’s attack on Ethiopia in 1935, to Germany’s remilitarization of the Rhineland in 1936, probably even to its occupation of Austria in the spring of 1938—Germany could have been stopped and the bloodbath avoided. She was not stopped; the bloodbath that ensued was torrential.

Hitler’s strength swelled as millions of German-speakers came under his control and his enemies retreated. Seeing the Fuehrer prevail, opponents of Hitler inside Germany fell silent as their doubts receded. His major assets were not the military but the unwillingness of his enemies to face him squarely. The root cause was a desire in the minds of western European leaders that Hitler not be evil, and that their moral standards also be his. “Germany will refuse that fundamental consent to the rule of law until she obtains equality of rights and treatment from the League,” said one respondent to Anthony Eden in Parliament; “Germany is already breaking the shackles of Versailles, and we ought to have struck them off before now.”78 Hitler has been oppressed, the speaker cries, and the fault is ours. Parliament nodded its collective head in approval and vowed to right the wrong.

In 1936, a country with no army to speak of challenged countries with superior resources and attained a vast military superiority within three years, because its opponents were intellectually confused and morally disarmed by unrealistic ideals, fear, and guilt. Their failure was corrected only when the policies of appeasement and withdrawal were thoroughly repudiated, and when European and American leaders stopped evading the nature of the Nazi threat. In the one year after Munich, the dominant attitudes in Britain and France changed. They had had enough of Hitler, and had no more truck with appeasement. But by that point, the comet had entered the atmosphere—a continental war consumed millions.

The big lesson offered by the rise of Hitler is the need to face the facts solidly and dispassionately, to understand their causes, and to act as they require. When a tyrant proclaims a goal of military superiority, conquest, and genocide, believe him; he means it. When he proclaims that some greater entity—nation, race, deity—gives him the right to wage war, take his collectivism, racism, anti-reason seriously; he will sacrifice any number of individuals to its demands. British leaders, under enormous pressures on domestic and foreign fronts, evaded the nature of Germany’s rise for more than a decade. They allowed the strategic balance to shift from one in which Germany had the will but not the capacity to act, to one in which her capacity matched or exceeded that of her opponents. The will plus the capacity made war necessary. But it never had to happen. And it need never happen again.


1 Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, Hitler’s Willing Executioners (New York: Vintage, 1997). For fundamental ideas as the crucial factors in history, see Leonard Peikoff, The Ominous Parallels: The End of Freedom in America (New York: Meridian, 1993). (Robert Waite, The Psychopathic God: Adolf Hitler [New York: Basic Books, 1977] fails to explain why the Germans put a psychopath into power.)

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2 Donald Kagan, On the Origins of War and the Preservation of the Peace (New York: Anchor, 1995), pp. 282–83.

3 For an overview of the conference, see William R. Keylor, editor, The Legacy of the Great War: Peacemaking, 1919 (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1998).

4 Woodrow Wilson, “Fourteen Points” Speech, Delivered in Joint Session of Congress, January 8, 1918,

5 Immanuel Kant, Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Essay (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 1983), Section II, “The Law of Nations Shall be Founded on a Federation of Free States.”

6 Raymond Poincaré, Welcoming Address at the Paris Peace Conference, January 18, 1919,

7 The Commission on the Responsibility of the Authors of the War and on Enforcement of Penalties, May 6, 1919,

8 Versailles Treaty, June 28, 1919,

9 Overly, Road, p. 122, who also stresses the French preoccupation with avoiding the next German invasion.

10 Sally Marks, “1918 and After: The Postwar Era,” in The Origins of the Second World War Reconsidered: A.J.P. Taylor and the Historians, 2nd ed., edited by Gordon Martel (New York: Routledge, 1999), pp. 23–24.

11 Richard Watt, The Kings Depart: The Tragedy of Germany: Versailles and the German Revolution (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1968), chapter 16.

12 Kagan, Origins, p. 290, citing Immanuel Geiss. “The Outbreak of the First World War and the German War Aims,” in 1914, The Coming of the First World War, edited by Walter Laqueur and George L. Mosse (New York: Harper & Row, 1966), pp. 71–74.

13 Hitler’s speech to the Reichstag, reported in the Times of London, February 21, 1938, p. 9.

14 Richard Lamb, The Drift to War: 1922–1939 (London: W. H. Allen and Co., 1989), p. 71, emphasis added.

15 Ibid., p. 69.

16 Kagan, Origins, p. 386.

17 James T. Shotwell, What Germany Forgot (New York: MacMillan, 1940), p. 82.

18 John Maynard Keynes, The Economic Consequences of the Peace (London: Harcourt Brace and Howe, 1920), pp. 5, 35–36.

19 Gilbert, Roots, p. 62.

20 Keynes, Economic Consequences, p. 225.

21 Richard J. Evans, The Coming of the Third Reich (New York: Penguin Press, 2004), p. 66.

22 Martin Gilbert, The Roots of Appeasement (New York: New American Library, 1966), p. 52.

23 Sally Marks, “The Myth of Reparations,” Central European History 11, 1978, p. 237; excerpted in Keylor, Legacy, pp. 156–67. Kagan, Origins, p. 292. J. M. Keynes, A Revision of the Treaty (London and Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1922/1971), p. 24 for the figure of 132 milliards.

24 Marks, “Myth,” pp. 243–55; Kagan, Origins, pp. 292–96.

25 Kagan, Origins, p. 281, sep. notes 19 and 20; Steven A. Schuker, “The End of Versailles,” in The Origins of the Second World War Reconsidered: A.J.P. Taylor and the Historians, 2nd ed., edited by G. Martel (New York: Routledge, 1999), pp. 38–56.

26 Marks, “Myth,” p. 254; David Lloyd George, The Truth about Reparations and War Debts (New York: Doubleday, 1932).

27 Peikoff, Ominous Parallels, p. 216.

28 Lamb, Drift, p. 6.

29 Stephen Van Evera, “The Cult of the Offensive and the Origins of the First World War,” in Military Strategy and the Origins of the First World War: An International Security Reader, edited by Steven Miller et al. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985), pp. 66–69.

30 William Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1959), pp. 418–22.

31 Marks, “Myth,” pp. 240–41, 248.

32 Marks, “1918 and After,” p. 29.

33 Final Protocol of the Locarno Conference, The Conference of Locarno, October 5–16, 1925,

34 Vittorio Scialoja, Sixth Assembly of the League of Nations, December 12, 1925.

35 Marks, “1918 and After,” p. 25.

36 Treaty of Rapallo, April 16, 1922,

37 Treaty of Berlin between the Soviet Union and Germany, Berlin, April 24, 1926,

38 Marks, “Myth,” p. 250.

39 Kagan, Origins, p. 345 for the “cult of the defensive” in French mentality; also Van Evera, “Cult of the Offensive,” pp. 58–107.

40 Gustav Stresemann, Nobel Lecture, “The New Germany,” June 29, 1927.

41 Kagan, Origins, pp. 313–14.

42 Shirer, Rise and Fall, p. 292.

43 Walter Rock, British Appeasement in the 1930s (London: Edward Arnold, 1977), p. 86.

44 Sunday Times, May 10, 1936, “Abyssinia’s Sad Fate,” by Scrutator. Cited in Benjamin Morris, The Roots of Appeasement: The British Weekly Press and Nazi Germany during the 1930s (London: Frank Cass and Co., 1991), p. 36.

45 The Tablet, Oct .4, 1930, cited in Morris, Roots, p. 39.

46 “Democracies and Dictatorships,” in The Tablet, Jan. 8, 1938. Cited in Morris, Roots, p. 39, emphasis added.

47 Geoffrey Dawson, writing to correspondent H. G. Daniels, May 23, 1937. Cited in Shirer, Rise and Fall, p. 396.

48 Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of British Naval Mastery (New York: Penguin, 2004), p. 273. Kagan, Origins, p. 331.

49 Lamb, Drift, p. 89.

50 Winston Churchill, The Second World War, Volume 1: The Gathering Storm (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1948), pp. 271–72.

51 Kagan, Origins, p. 355.

52 Ralph Adams, British Politics and Foreign Policy in the Age of Appeasement, 1935–39 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1993), Appendix 1.

53 Shirer, Rise and Fall, p. 386.

54 Keylor, Legacy, p. 53.

55 Shirer, Rise and Fall, pp. 393–97; Rouse, Appeasement, pp. 6–7 on events of 1935.

56 Shirer, Rise and Fall, p. 391.

57 Kagan, Origins, p. 349, citing Craig, Germany, p. 691.

58 Shirer, Rise and Fall, p. 400. Kagan, Origins, p. 320 for Hitler, p. 349 on Jodl; citing P. Schmidt, Hitler’s Interpreter (London: Heinemann, 1951).

59 Victor Klemperer, I Will Bear Witness 1933–1941: A Diary of the Nazi Years, translated by Martin Chalmers (New York: Modern Library, 1999), pp. 155–56.

60 Ibid., p. 156.

61 Hansard’s Parliamentary Debates, vol. 310, pp. 1435 f. Index at

62 Kagan, Origins, 348.

63 Hansard’s Parliamentary Debates 310:1443.

64 Ibid., 1446, emphasis added.

65 Churchill, Gathering Storm, p. 263, from Schuschnigg’s record of the Austrian takeover, Ein Requiem in Rot-Weiss-Rot.

66 Ibid., p. 269.

67 Kagan, Origins, p. 385.

68 Ibid., p. 386.

69 Ibid., p. 379.

70 Overly, Road, p. 101; Neville Chamberlain, In Search of Peace (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1939).

71 Shirer, Rise and Fall, p. 521.

72 Churchill, Gathering Storm, p. 301; Kagan, Origins, pp. 285–86.

73 Churchill, Gathering Storm, p. 315.

74 Ibid.

75 Ibid., p. 319.

76 Kagan, Origins, p. 311.

77 Cited in OED, “appease”: 1.a. Works about appeasement include Paul Kennedy and Talbot Imlay, “Appeasement,” in The Origins of the Second World War Reconsidered, 2nd ed., edited by Gordon Martel (New York: Routledge, 1999), pp. 116–34; Alfred L. Rowse, Appeasement: A Study in Political Decline (New York: Norton, 1960); Neville Thompson, The Anti-Appeasers: Conservative Opposition to Appeasement in the 1930s (Oxford: Clarendon, 1971).

78 Sir Archibald Sinclair, March 26, 1936, in Hansard’s Parliamentary Debates 310:1462.


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