The Third Reich; A History of Nazi Germany by Thomas Childers. Simon & Schuster, 2018 paper.

Thomas Childers has introduced many of the politicos who competed with Adolf Hitler for control of the conservative movement in inter-war Germany. Childers has described Hitler’s consolidation of power within the National Socialist German Workers’ Party the NSDAP and his dictatorship lasting from 1933 to 1945. Part of the activist foreign policy that Hitler and the Nazi Party pursued in the inter-war years, Childers makes clear, was meant to be a distraction from these Party struggles.

Adolf Hitler had an early career in Vienna as an artist painting postcards for a living. He had served in the German army in the Great War where he had won an Iron Cross for bravery in combat. He and most Germans believed that Germany had not really lost WWI. Rather, its armies had failed because of a “stab in the back.” Retaining their paramilitary formations, Hitler and others in the National Socialist movement took to the streets. These brown-shirts, as they were called, bothered the peace of Hitler’s Vienna. Its radical leadership could marshal as many as 100,000 of these brown-shirts to party rallies. They maintained their uniforms and their ardor for causing trouble. There were a half-dozen Reichstag elections between 1926 and 1932, ample opportunity to enter party politics and cause trouble.

In additional to his organizational skills, Hitler contributed his speech-making talents to conservative right-wing causes. His oratorical skills were enhanced by the popularity of radios. You could participate in street demonstrations. Or you could listen to them over the radio. He appealed to a heterogeneous group of voters, the working class but also the German middle class, tuned to their new radios. Many of the early challenges to his leadership came from this middle class.

(Adolf Hitler was not a good negotiator; this was clear in his negotiations within the Nazi Party. He would present an initial offer that had to be accepted.)

During the inter-war period, Germany suffered from a failing economy – a huge drop in industrial production and growing unemployment. The rhetoric that explained these economic woes was tinged with Anti-Semitism. It was believed that wealthy Jews had undermined the war effort. This Anti-Semitism, a mix of anger and frustration, colored the right-wing politics of the 1920s and 1930s. In reality it had long been a part of German politics.

The National Socialists were one of many political factions looking for allies that would create sufficient power in the Reichstag and give their party leaders an office. Hitler was good man for this political milieu.

Adolf Hitler used his successful advocacy of an aggressive military policy to further his career. The German military leadership was impressed – bewildered – by Hitler’s guessing correctly so consistently.  Though they faulted his “baseless optimism” and were dubious of his “apocalyptic strategizing.” Thomas Childers argues that the German political leadership, including Hitler, turned to targeting Polish and German Jews when they began to realize that they could not win a war of attrition. And their radical rhetoric was no longer finding its audience.

There has been much speculation about Adolf Hitler’s decision to enter the war between the US and Japan after Pearl Harbor. Perhaps he understood the enormous military might that we would bring with our entry into the European War. Or was it possible that his thinking ahead to a time when the Germans and the Japanese would be dividing up the Far East for themselves.

Having suggested Adolf Hitler’s alleged military acumen, it would be interesting to explain why Hitler let 338,000 Brits escape from Dunkirk in May-June of 1940. Was he looking beyond this success to a time when he might want to gain French and British cooperation against his main obstacle to dominance of continental Europe, the Russian army? In the midst of Dunkirk, was he thinking strategically of an all-out assault on Russia – Operation Barbarossa?  Hitler was well-aware that the military defeat of Russia could only be the result of a slow war of attrition, and Hitler didn’t have the time.

The German army failed to take either Leningrad or Stalingrad. But the German military leadership delayed its invasion of Russia, and then, following Napoleon, let “Winter” and Russian armies halt the German advance.

This is only a brief review of a few of the many interesting observations that Thomas Childers has made of Nationalist Socialist Germany – The Third Reich.

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