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The End

The End by Ian Kershaw

I have a deadline to meet this week for a publisher, so my posts are going to be short and to the point.

Just received the above title as a gift from my father-in-law. Having read Kershaw’s 2 volume bio of Hitler, as a historian, he merits the accolade “critically acclaimed” and is one of number that I direct students to read who express an interest in WWII or the history of the Third Reich. Here Kershaw explores the Nazi Gotterdammerung of 1944-45; a worthwhile lesson for those who hold supreme confidence in the ultimate rationality of states in existential matters of war and peace.

That Hitler had been unfathomable to the blinkered and idealistic Neville  Chamberlain seems all too comprehensible, but that the Fuhrer also took in the wily, Georgian monster who ruled of the USSR is less so – until you grasp Hitler’s obsession with triumph or death.  In matters of war the difference between the 20th century’s greatest dictators was that Josef Stalin miscalculated on small stakes while Adolf Hitler gambled for the pot.


7 Responses to “The End”

  1. Lexington Green Says:

    “…miscalculated on small stakes…” Not understanding that he was about to be attacked in July, 1941 was a high stakes miscalculation.  But, your point is still correct.  Stalin, like Chamberlain, had a hard time understanding a ruler who really was willing to bet everything, the survival of himself, his family, his supporters, his party, his ideological beliefs, his regime, his nation itself, on risk-laden acts.  Leaders of advanced countries simply don’t do that sort of thing.  Even communist dictators do not do that sort of thing.  Hitler was a genuine oddity.  That is one reason why the perpetual Munich analogies we have lived with ever since are misleading.  Chamberlain, without the benefit of hindsight, thought the July 1914 analogy was more compelling — just get the leaders talking, no one really wants war, the costs and risks are too high.  That is usually a better choice.  But Churchill, for some inarticulable reason, had an intuition that Hitler was different. 


  2. zen Says:

    Hi Lex,
    I expressed that poorly. Stalin thought he was getting easy loot in his thieves bargain – Bessarabia, Bukhovinia, the Baltics, Polish Belarussia, Karelia – that the Finns bloodied the Red Army was a harbinger. One detects worry creeping in when France collapsed so abruptly “Now Hitler will beat our brains in” Khrushchev claimed Stalin said when France fell. Hard to say if that was true, Khrushchev was unreliable as a source, but Stalin in 1940 personally took over all negotiations with the Germans that would normally have been handled by 4th tier officials, dictated instructions on German policy to ambassadors (his own creatures, like Dekanazov, an NKVD killer, moved to Berlin from the Lubyanka).
    Yeah, Hitler was sort of the Black Swan of leaders (absent hindsight) 

  3. Lexington Green Says:

    There is a bunch of evidence that Stalin was scared out of his wits by the Fall of France.  I think it is Milovan Djilas’s Conversations with Stalin, where Stalin is at one of his drinking parties, and going off about the French — couldn’t they have put up more of a fight?  What is wrong with them?  The whole world was shocked by the Fall of France in 1940.  Stalin was betting on a rerun of the Somme and Verdun to grind down the capitalist powers to the West, then roll in and take all the chips.  Instead, he was the guy who got ground down, and the Anglosphere came in and got the best chips.  The US response to the Fall of France in 1940 was to a frantic flurry of diplomatic initiatives, but the Two Ocean Navy Act, which is too little appreciated as the founding document of the USA becoming the global hegemon it remains to this day.  Life is good if you are a geopolitical island, with no land frontier with the crazy Germans.  

  4. amsprl Says:

    Could be you should read AJP Taylor’s Origins of the Second World War and get nearer the truth.

  5. Lexington Green Says:

    I have read it, but it did not get me nearer to the truth.  Apologists for Hitler like that one very much.  

  6. Joseph Fouche Says:

    I came across this recording of Hitler talking with Field Marshal Mannerheim in 1942. It purports to be the only surviving recording of Hitler’s normal conversational voice. A Finnish state radio technician surreptitiously recorded it for 11 minutes before the SS found the wire and cut it. It wasn’t broadcast until the late 1950s. It throws an interesting light on what Hitler thought was important enough to say to his Finnish ally.

  7. Chris Says:

    Thanks for that link Joseph, really interesting. It never occured to me that I’d never heard Hitler just chatting, despite watching a plethora of documentaries on the topic of the Second World War. Fascinating. Almost inconcievable in the modern age that only a single recording could exist of such a promenant (and infamous) leader.

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