It is a common trait in mankind to apply to ourselves a generosity of interpretation which we do not extend to others. We find proofs of wickedness, using evidence that we would not use against our own. We play down the sins of ourselves, our own country and our leaders, past and present.
In the days of the Nazi government in Germany there was an inbuilt tendency in the Allies’ reporting to distort what Hitler was doing. For example, they wanted to pin on him the fact that in the early days of the war that he had started the indiscriminating bombing of civilians. In fact it was begun by the directors of British strategy, as some of the more honest of them later boasted.
The true record is there for anyone who wishes to study these events dispassionately. In a sober study, “Germany’s Economic Preparations for War” published in 1959 by Burton H. Klein, an economist with the Rand Corporation which is, in effect, the research arm of the Pentagon, there is a true account of both sides’ bombing and rearmament policies. During the war Klein was a member of the US’s Strategic Bombing Survey. Later, he was a member of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers and was a special assistant to the Secretary of Defence. He concluded that until the spring of 1936 German rearmament was largely a myth.
But, according to Churchill, two independent estimates said that German rearmament expenditure was running at an annual rate of twelve thousand million marks in 1936. The actual figure was less than five thousand million.
Why was this? Because at that time Hitler was more interested in building up his popularity at home and thus gave priority to spending on the domestic front. Goering, the commander of the air force, had announced “Guns before butter”. In fact Hitler put butter before guns.
During his early years in power Hitler governed with a light hand. To put the “coercion” debate into perspective the postwar East German communist state employed 190,000 official surveillance experts and an equal number of “unofficial collaborators” to watch over a populace of 17 million. In comparison the Gestapo, Germany’s secret police, had just over 7,000 employees to watch over a population of 60 million.
Hitler ended the Great Depression, which had been a major factor in bringing him to power, not by rearmament or going to war but by implementing the economic ideas of the great British economist of the 1930s and 40s, John Maynard Keynes- pumping money into the economy by spending very large amounts in infrastructure and thus job creation. To see this policy implemented he overrode the advice his minister of finance and other economic advisors gave him. Germany pulled itself out of recession.
Hitler made cars affordable to everyday Germans. His government introduced the previously unknown idea of annual holidays. It doubled the number of days off for workers and began to develop large-scale tourism within Germany.
His regime built hospitals and gave priority to families over single people and childless couples. It insured farmers against the vagrancies of weather and the world market. It introduced a graduated income tax and child-support allowances, kindergartens, and worked hard to end the poverty faced by many retirees. Rent-control and tenants’ rights were strengthened. Debtors were given increased protection against having their wages seized. Creditors were prohibited from reprocessing the belongings of draftees. This was the socialism in National Socialism, his party’s name. Himmler, the architect of the Holocaust, spoke of the “socialism of the good”, i.e. without the Jews, homosexuals and gypsies who later were murdered en masse in the concentration camps.
When war finally broke out, the Nazi state, undertaking the most expensive war in history, made sure that the majority of Germans bore virtually none of the costs. Occupied countries had to pay large amounts of tribute to Germany. Billions of Reichsmark were appropriated from the Jews
Aiding Hitler in implanting his highly popular domestic policies the well-oiled civil service delivered the goods.
Thus was created a long-lasting “togetherness” that bonded the masses to their Fuhrer. It was this that encouraged the populace to support the war and to turn a blind eye to the Jewish families who disappeared from streets, schools, universities and orchestras right under their eyes.
Germany did not go to war because it was ruled by an ogre as is almost universally thought today. He only gradually became an ogre. Only after three years in office did he start to build up a formidable war-machine. Not until 1941 did he order the extermination of the Jews, homosexuals and Gypsies.
I write this not to exonerate Hitler but merely to present the historical truth.
Hitler had his goals- absorbing German-speaking lands, if necessary by a series of small wars, making Germany a Great Power like Britain, France and the US. A.J.P. Taylor, the influential historian, reckoned in his seminal book, “The Origins of the Second World War” “that Hitler hoped to get by without war at all. The one thing he did not plan for was World War 2”. Before the war’s onset he thought war with Britain was avoidable and he never seriously considered invading Russia.
As we know now Churchill avoided many of the facts and was expert at bending reports on what was going on in Germany to his own point of view- that Hitler was set on the path to war from the day he became chancellor, if not before.
Perhaps, if a more informed assessment of Hitler had been made early on, a way could have been found by the allied powers to avoid war and to preempt the slaughter of the Jews. The trouble was that the debate, particularly in Britain, was paced by Churchill and his notions of the necessity for war. The British populace came to assume he was right and the opposite opinion, whether it came from within or without, was traitorous.