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The Origins of the Second World War Reconsidered: a.j.p. Taylor


Based on ?The origins of the WWII Reconsidered (?) Taylor debate after twenty-five years?, we?ll discuss whether Hitler?s foreign policy was strictly planned or not, even if deliberately. We have to consider the subjectivity of this theme, supported by many schools of thoughts and characterized by loads of evidences that allow us to approach different thesis about the success Hitler?s foreign policy. We also have to dismiss some of those theories to be able to answer to our doubts, as Taylor did when ignoring some documents, which we, unfortunately, consider important, as Mein Kampf.

   As said by Taylor in ?Origins?, Hitler was recommended by the representatives of power, while there was political and social instability due to economic crisis, in part as result of the Versailles Treaty. However, he wasn?t recommended to give to the Germans a great army nor to destroy the trade unions but because the ones who suggested him believed he could be a disciplined figure-head, someone easily controlled and manipulated. Nevertheless, Hitler, after being elected by the Germans, used that powered conferred to him to establish a totalitarian state, he made himself an all-powerful dictator, with preconceived ideas but without knowing yet how would he do it. Taylor believed that Hitler was a political opportunist without long-range purposes but that he meant to establish control over Austria. On the other hand, Jäckel, another historian, believe that Hitler had his power mainly due to the existent policracy that allowed him to rule as the conflicting groups paralyzed each other.

   Most historians agree that Hitler had a terrifying literalism: he didn?t bring nothing new about Anti-Semitism, foreign policy nor denunciations of democracy; he just pushed it to the gas chambers, put into action what most Germans thought (as if they did rule Europe) and create a totalitarian dictatorship. When Origins was first published, people thought Taylor was defending Hitler but he says instead that in foreign policy alone Hitler didn?t change anything; he just equaled him to all Germans. We may also notice Hitler?s behavior didn?t depend only on his intentions but also on German History, geographical factors and circumstances. Lebensraum meant a wish of having empty space so Germans could set in other places, Germans wanted a Poland and Ukraine cleared of their native inhabitants. Regardless of Taylor?s knowledge, we can?t accept his naïve justification that Hitler didn?t want to exterminate nor exploit the Ukrainians but that he just wanted living space.

   Some scholars state his domestic program was designed to serve the purpose of his foreign policy but others say that his foreign policy was instead the product of domestic needs. That?s still often discussed and reminds us that his foreign policy had some reflexes of Mein Kampf (a book that Hitler wrote about his intentions before coming to power); in part, there was a weird consistency between prewar policy statements and real ones. Was this truly planned?

   He had day-dreams to destroy the Versailles Treaty and to lead the expansion into Eastern Europe. Although it?s doubtful if he had plans because these goals were very common among his predecessors and German people, they were too obvious to statesmen, so, we may believe that the truth objectives of his foreign policy were to eliminate non-Aryan people (especially Jews) and to make Germany a great power-empire again. Hitler?s foreign policy was indeed successful mainly due to two important points: Hitler?s very lack of preconceptions and prejudices, as visible in his willingness to conclude a non-aggression pact with Poland and his disregard of German nationalism sentiment in conceding the South Tyrol to Mussolini to secure Italian friendship, and primarily his ability to play a waiting game, to take advantage of the offers and opportunities presented to him by his adversaries.

   There are various opinions among schools of thoughts about this theme. The ones who defend Hitler are the members of the Soviet and East European school of thought; they represent him as a man of peace who sought only justice and equality for Germans. On the other side, the members of the discontinuity school of thought refuse to accept the theory that Hitler was an inevitable product of German History or that his policies were simply the continuation of policies of early German leaders. However, in the middle, the fundamental forces or the continuity school of thought are generally in agreement with Taylor as they regard Hitler and the Nazi movement as the products of fundamental forces in German politically economic and social life or as continuation of earlier policies.

   Despite of some arguments that don?t support this thesis, we can?t refuse that all events are conditioned by the past; nevertheless, this doesn?t mean that Hitler was no more than the executor of a longstanding tendency, with emphasis on the principle of historical determinism. Hitler clearly intended to do what he did; he wasn?t a system-maker who deliberately prepared a great war so he could be the master of the world, however, as all statesmen, we was to absorbed by all events to follow a preconceived plan (such plans are a creation of historians) and all his goals were influenced by day-dreams. In conclusion, he acted deliberately but he didn?t strictly follow a plan because there were some circumstances along the way that forced him to react and use alternative means to reach his aims. 

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