To what extent was Hitler responsible for the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939?

Authors Avatar by tbruce739 (student)

To what extent Hitler responsible for the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939?

The question of who was to blame for the Second World War is a controversial topic among Historians and rightly so.  At the end of the war most academics and politicians were content to blame Hitler and the Nazi Party, this was especially the case once the evils of Nazi Germany had been uncovered in the form of the concentration and extermination camps. Likewise the allies had to sell to the public the argument that they were fighting against an evil system that had intentions of world domination.  Hitler therefore was the cause of World War Two and for some time this argument seemed to fit the mould.  Hitler had after all had published his evil intent in Mein Kampf, he talked about the need for living space and the survival of the fittest when he had his desires on Russia.  Hitler had built up his army and by 1939 had marched into the Rhineland, taken over Austria and Czechoslovakia and finally invaded Poland.  These are clear indications of a man intent on war from the beginning are they not?

The argument that Hitler intended on war and was therefore the cause of the war is one which does not always stand up to scrutiny.  As far as AJP Taylor is concerned Hitler, although wicked and evil, does not alone deserve to be blamed for the war.  Hitler Taylor argues was exactly the same as most European statesmen in that he wanted to make his country strong, powerful and respected.  In this he was no different from the statesmen that had come before him.  Taylor argues that many of his demands were in fact justified and that he simply carried on a tradition of expansionist German foreign policy. The controversial part of Taylor’s thesis is that Hitler was not alone responsible for the war.  Taylor believes that Versailles and Appeasement were as much to blame as Hitler.

What were Hitler’s aims? Hitler had stated from the start his intention to destroy Versailles.  Versailles had left the German people with a desire for revenge. The Treaty had taken away much of their valuable land, destroyed there army and of course blamed them for the First World War and forced them to pay £6 Billion in reparations that followed. Versailles, as far as Hitler was concerned was an issue that gained him electoral appeal as he promised to overturn its provisions.  Hitler knew from the outset that if he was to achieve lebensraum he would have to destroy Versailles.  Hitler tore the treaty up bit by bit with the acquiescence of Britain, France, Russia and the USA. Hitler announced his rearmament programme as early as 1935, reparations payments stopped in 1933. The Rhineland was taken back in 1936. The Anschluss which was forbidden under the Versailles settlement was announced in 1938. None of these events led to war, so can Hitler really be blamed for the war which began in 1939?  Taylors view is that Versailles itself from the outset left Germany far too powerful and bitter for revenge.  It was ineffective, because it failed to provide an answer to the question of German power on the continent, in fact still leaving Germany in a united and strong enough position to reject Versailles from the very outset in 1919.

Join now!

If we are to believe the Hossbach Memorandum, remember this was a copy of a copy and not an original document, Hitler had set out a clear agenda that included the domination of Eastern Europe for living space.  Taylor contends that this was mere daydreaming and that it was pure fantasy to suggest that he had a plan for European domination.  Nevertheless according to the document Hitler again had stated that he believed in Social Darwinism and that the German desire for living space in the East was a right.  This suggests as the Intentionalist Historians have always maintained that ...

This is a preview of the whole essay