The argument whether Hitler was preparing an aggressive war between 1936 and 1939 has been an ongoing debate between historians mainly due to the fact that Hitler said many contrasting statements depending on who he was addressing, for example his book 'Mein Kampf' published in 1925 he stated that 'Germany would either be a world power or there will be no Germany' , but then later in 1933 when he became Chancellor he claimed that 'Nobody wishes peace more than I' These contradictory comments from Hitler are interpreted by historians in order to build an argument, and it is combined with their perception and understanding of the events that took place between these years, and a conclusion is then drawn. By looking at the arguments presented by varying historians, the events that took place within and before this time period, and the evidence, a further conclusion will be drawn.
As historians are divided as to whether Hitler was planning an aggressive war the historiography appears to be varied amongst different viewpoints. Some historians including Norman Rich argue that Hitler was master of the Reich and had a clear plan and this argument places more emphasis on Hitler as an individual and his words in Mein Kampf. On the other hand historians such as Richard Overy believe that Hitler may have been preparing for an aggressive war but at a later date and not necessarily the war that occurred. Whilst most controversially, in his book 'The Origins of the Second World War', AJP Taylor suggested that Hitler was in fact an opportunist who took advantage of others mistakes. This argument suggests that the Versailles Powers should take more of the blame hence why it was subjected to a great deal of controversy and many historians disagreed.
Before it can be decided whether Hitler was planning an aggressive war, Hitler as a leader must also be explored, as the type of role that Hitler played and the manner in which he made decisions are interlinked somewhat with the argument. Historians are also divided as to what type of ruler Hitler was. Some historians like Bracher, Hildebrand and Jackel consider that Hitler had and followed a 'programme' and that all his actions were influenced by his radical ideology, in this case, that being that he wanted Germany to be the strongest nation in the world, and this concept suggests that Hitler adapted his foreign policy in order for him to achieve his desire. Other historians suggest that Hitler was a structuralist who unlike in the intentionalist argument, do not base as much of the argument on Hitler's personal role, and acknowledges the evidence revealing the 'leadership chaos ' within Nazi Germany. The historian Broszat disagrees with the views held by Bracher, and does not agree that the chaos was a skillfully deployed method of 'divide and rule' but instead it was an obvious result of the way that Hitler ruled with his 'unwillingness and inability' to put the state into order. This argument is developed by the historian Mommsen who went on to say that Hitler's main ideas were extremely radical therefore logical decision making would be impossible and therefore he lacked consistent planning which could then suggest that Hitler was not planning an aggressive war form such an early stage as he was actually unable to. The final alternate view of the way in which Hitler ran the country is the more complex consensus view that seems to be a combination of both the alternate views. Its suggested that Hitler was a vital figure within policy making and did follow a deliberate policy to create chaos, and if this was the case then for it be maintained he could not be involved in the more menial tasks but it was him that granted power to those that did make decisions for him and it was his ability to react and adapt quickly when circumstances arose that was vital which would contribute to an argument that suggested that Hitler was an opportunist within foreign policy.
The insight into the way in which Hitler ran the country provides a frame for the answer to the question as to whether he had been planning an aggressive war from an early stage as historians who agree that Hitler was an 'intentionalist' would present the view that he had been planning the war and would see a significant larger amount of intent within his actions, whereas those that would argue that he was more of a 'structuralist' may be inclined to suggest that he did not plan it deliberately and that his actions were not preconceived. Those presenting the 'consensus' view may think that it was Hitler's ability to adapt to situations quickly with an aim in mind that lead to the series of events.
Though the question looks at the evidence between 1936 and 1939 earlier events also need to be taken into account, as it is essential to see how Hitler progressed or remained the same in order to decide whether he was planning an aggressive war from such an early stage. Before Hitler became Chancellor in 1933 he had already made his view on Germany's position in foreign relations common knowledge. In his book 'Mein Kampf' written during his imprisonment in the 1920s Hitler stated amongst other things the comment mentioned above that 'Germany will either be a world power or there will no Germany' this could be taken to mean that Hitler never had any intention of joining forces with any other countries and his main aim was to take over and dominate, and the only way that this could be done would be with using force. But in 'Mein Kampf' he also divulges that he believes that one of the reasons why Germany lost the First World War was due to the fact that they had no allies and were fighting a war against many but only had crippled Austria on his side. Furthermore he also said that he would want Britain and Italy as allies if a war did arise, therefore presenting contrasting ideas. Along with the views that were expressed in 'Mein Kampf', Hitler's strong dislike for the consequences that Germany suffered as a result of losing the First World War in Treaty of Versailles, can also be considered as evidence for the argument that he was planning an aggressive war in order to revenge the terms and claim what had been taken from them for example Austria. This view is used in Taylor's argument that Hitler was an opportunist, as he agreed that the terms of the treaty were crippling for Germany and could very much result in Germany wanting to take a form of revenge once they had strengthened themselves. But these sources could also be used to support the contrasting argument and that these sources do not actually indicate that he was planning the second world war, as in 'Mein Kampf' he also expressed his dislike of the Russians calling them 'Jewish Bolsheviks' and his want for Britain and Germany to alliance, when in actual events he ended up with the Soviet Union as Allies and the Britain as its enemy. Some historians deem the words said in the book were coming from a young and naÃÂ¯ve Hitler and not too much can be based on them as it is merely juvenilia. Historians that do not support the argument that he was planning an aggressive war recognize that Hitler's feelings towards the Treaty of Versailles were followed through but he had made intentions such as this clear beforehand, which is why the claim of Austria and the Sudetenland did not come as a shock but this was where it ended and such feelings did not imply a master plan of an aggressive war.
This presents an indication as to how difficult it is to come to one single conclusion as to whether Hitler was or was not preparing for an aggressive war, and his early moves between 1933-35 contribute to this difficulty. Between these years Hitler took steps that altered the position and image of Germany within foreign relations. They left the League of Nations and the Disarmament Conference in 1933 and announced conscription and rearmament in March 1935, both events could suggest that Hitler was in fact preparing for an aggressive war and presenting himself as a threat to other countries, cut it could also be said that Hitler was simply attempting to distance himself and the false presentation of unity within Europe.
There is evidence to suggest that Hitler was planning an aggressive war but how convincing it is can be debated. Historians who do suggest that Hitler had been planning for the Second World War earlier than 1939, a view perceived by many, tend to look at the events such as conscription in 1935, the Hossbach Memorandum and the relations and events between Germany and Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland. The conscription and rearmament can both be understood as Hitler attempting to defend himself or and to be equipped to attack others. But in order to look at the sources impartially and come to a conclusion it be must be taken to account that hindsight is an easy tool to employ, something that took place at the Nuremberg Trials when Hitler's case was presented as though he had planned World War Two from as early as 1936, but in this instant hindsight was being used and more weight was placed on earlier events such as conscription being deemed as preparation and the views expressed in 'Mein Kampf. This way of looking at the events was coined by AJP Taylor as the 'Nuremberg Thesis' that implied that the Second World War was a result of the Hitler and his men devising a large plan an executing point by point, as Taylor felt as though other countries were also partially to blame. A strong piece of evidence for this argument is the Hossbach Memorandum as it 'records the moment when Hitler first revealed his thinking on how and when Germany was to expand' . On the 5th of November 1937 Hitler summoned for the foreign and war minister and leading military chiefs for a meeting. Hitler told them to prepare Germany for conquests in the east that were to be completed by 1943-45. The Hossbach Memorandum also incorporated plans to take over Austria and Czechoslovakia even if it provoked war with France and Britain. Historians have used this source as evidence to support the more orthodox view that Hitler was an intentionalist planning an aggressive war some even suggesting that the Memorandum may have been 'A Blueprint for World War'. The replacing of some figures such as Blomberg, Fritsch and other more conservative members who rejected most of what Hitler was saying at the meeting, with more radical figures who agreed with Hitler's extreme ideology, also contributes to the argument.
The invasion of Austria took place soon after his plan had been divulged, in March 1938. This decision to reclaim Austria, which was a German state originally and had been refused to the German's in the Treaty of Versailles after the First World War could appear to be simply Hitler righting a wrong from a treaty that he had been so clearly against, but in this instance it could be deemed as the first aspect of Hitler's preconceived plan. The Anschluss was quickly followed by the capturing of Czechoslovakia which had a wide selection of races but contained the Sudetenland land where almost 3 million Germans reside, and though it proved easier than anticipated as Hitler the British Prime Minister Chamberlain had a meeting with Hitler and succeeded with the British appeasing him, it did not appear to be an unjust request as many of those in the Sudetenland wanted to be part of Germany. But it was the later attack on the rest of Czechoslovakia that contributes a great deal to this argument. Hitler's fist attempt to take the Sudetenland in October 1938 was not met with opposition as this was German territory but it was the attack on the rest of Czechoslovakia in March 1939 that could appear to be expansionism for Hitler and that he was trying to take over Eastern Europe before moving to the west. The invasion of Poland in August 1939 also contributed a great deal to this argument as it appears to be more of an aggressive expansion move as opposed to claiming what previously belonged to a country, though the Polish Corridor initially belonged to Germany, the rest of Poland was unnecessary territory to attempt to takeover. This argument was possibly the reason as to why the Allies did feel need to follow through with the pact that they had with Poland, though it lead to the outbreak of war, something that they previously failed to do with Czechoslovakia which resulted in dismemberment.
These events and sources are all used to support the argument that Hitler had been planning an aggressive war, with the Memorandum indicating his aggressive intentions while the events could be perceived as the beginnings of Hitler's plan to expand. But for this to be convincing many aspects would have to be overlooked or simply taken at face which would make it difficult to reach an educated conclusion.
Just as there is evidence to suggest that Hitler was planning an aggressive war there is also evidence to suggest that he was not which seems to be more convincing. The question of authenticity of the Hossbach Memorandum implies that maybe it was not the most convincing piece of evidence, as official minutes were not taken at the meeting in which Hitler revealed many of his thoughts about significant topics, and that the Memorandum was simply notes taken down by Hossbach as he was present, therefore some aspects may have been missing or placed out of context. Also it must be taken into account the fact that Hitler was being pressured by his men to make some decisions therefore he may have been simply rambling, something which he was known for, implying that not much conviction can be placed on his words. Also it is common knowledge to many that Hitler was known for contradicting himself at many different moments when attempting to present a particular image, and therefore there is no real evidence to suggest that this was not the case for the Memorandum. But it would be very difficult for historians to completely overlook the Memorandum as there must be an aspect of truth in it, but this would only reveal that Hitler was preparing for a war, which is supported by his feelings about 'survival' of the fittest, and the plans that he did discuss where to be fulfilled at a later stage, which suggests one of the view points that yes, Hitler may have been planning for a war, but by no means was it to be this particular war. As Hitler had expressed contrasting views, such as his attitude to Britain, he had initially wanted to collaborate with them and fight against the Soviet Union, in which instance he did the reverse.
A historian who is renowned for his disagreeing with the suggestion that Hitler had been planning the Second World War from a very early stage is A.J.P Taylor. In his book 'The Origins of the Second World War' he presents his view that Hitler was an 'opportunist' who constructed a plan as time progressed with his foremost aim simply being to make Germany strong but his ability to quickly take advantage of events and others actions lead him to the unfortunate accidental outbreak of war. Taylor argues that a main problem was the Treaty of Versailles which he deemed too harsh and crippling for Germany and that it was only a matter of time until Germany would attempt to correct it. Taylor also sidelines the Memorandum as a less useful source of evidence that Hitler was planning an aggressive war as many of the other events that he had discussed did not arise such as the Civil War in France or Spain.
The events that took place do not seem to be part of a master plan initially. The takeover of Austria, more convincingly, seems to be a reclaim from the Treaty, while Czechoslovakia was a difficult situation with there been many other ethnic groups within the country, and unlike Austria, Czechoslovakia, apart from the Sudetenland, wanted its independence. It can be suggested that it is more conceivable that if at all Hitler had been planning something more aggressive it was after 1939 when he decided to attack Poland. There appears to be more evidence to suggest this, or not enough concrete evidence to suggest otherwise, to support the argument that before this time Hitler had been planning an aggressive war as his actions were are able to be justified.
It would also have been very difficult for Hitler to have been planning such a war from an early stage as he would not have been able to assume the actions of the other major powers, for example he was not expecting to be able to take over Czechoslovakia so easily, or was he expecting the Allies to fulfill their treaty of March 1939 with Poland when he went to invade in September suggesting that he was more of an opportunist.
After looking at the evidence, arguments and events, the most conceivable view appears to be that present by Taylor. There does not appear to be strong evidence to suggest that Hitler was planning the second world war from a very early stage as this would have been very difficult, though it is recognized that as the historian Trevor-Roper mentioned that the Memorandum reflects that Hitler was planning to go to war sooner than later, but the Memorandum alone is not sufficient evidence to base a whole argument on. The view that Hitler was an 'opportunist', and somewhat unpredictable, appears to be justified more so than others. Hitler's quick thinking and ability to take advantage of others' mistake is recognizable throughout his time as ruler, for example he managed to increase his popularity substantially after exploiting Weimar's lack of activity after the Wall Street Crash in 1929. It also appears to be more accurate that Hitler was merely attempting to take as much as his could get, but was willing to resort to aggression if necessarily, therefore not preparing for a war but being prepared for one if necessary. The aspect of Taylor's argument that suggests that the Versailles Powers, being Britain and France, were partially to blame also seems conceivable as the Treaty severely hindered German as it was only a matter of time before they would strengthen themselves and possibly take action. Though others, including Richard Overy, would suggest that Hitler did begin to plan an aggressive war with his attack on Poland, in accordance with the final conclusion, it was the fateful underestimation of Britain and the pact made with Poland that lead to the outbreak of war in 1939. To support the view that Hitler had been planning the war it would suggest that war was inevitable, and in the words of Taylor 'no war is inevitable until it breaks out' .
Bibliography1 Origin and Popularity of the Name "Adolph" thinkbabynames.comWalter C. Langer, The Mind of Adolf Hitler, p. 246 (Basic Books: New York, 1972)2 John Toland, Adolph Hitler, pp. 12-13.
, though there is scant evidence that they knew each other or had any meaningful contact. However a recent book by British author Kimberley Cornish suggests that conflict between Hitler and a group of Jewish students that included Wittgenstein was a critical moment in Hitler's formation as an anti-semitic radical. See The Jew of Linz: Hitler, Wittgenstein and their secret battle for the mind (1999).
3 Hitler's Vienna. A dictator's apprenticeship by Brigitte Hamann and Thomas Thornton, Oxford University Press, USA (July 1, 1999)4 Shirer, William L., The Rise And Fall of Adolf Hitler c 1961, Random House5 David Lewis, The Man who invented Hitler, Headline Book Publishing, 2003. ISBN 0-7553-1148-5.
6 The War Against the Jews. Bantam. 1986