Statutory disclaimer: The statements made in this article are my own and are a statement of my beliefs and the fruit of my research. As usual, though, I am in no way responsible for any fights, quarrels, disagreements or fallings-out as a result of discussions arising from this article, on this website or elsewhere. Also, as usual, my sources are linked to in the body of the article for the convenience of the reader.
As everyone who has been reading me for a while is aware, I’m fascinated by Hitler and the Nazis, to the extent where if I were an academic historian I’d have specialised in the Third Reich to the exclusion of pretty much any other topic I can think of except maybe the reign of the Tsar Nikolai II.
While there are so many things to talk about where Hitler is concerned, the main facts are pretty well known: he took over Germany, made himself dictator, militarised the country, tried to wipe out the Jews, Communists (as the Jews and Communists were often the same people, this was kind of like killing two birds with one stone), Gypsies, Social Democrats, trade unionists and anyone else who even thought of disagreeing with him, and then went and started (well, not technically, since Britain and France actually declared war on Germany, but he was directly responsible for creating the circumstances for said declaration) a war with half the world that ended in his shooting himself in a bunker while Russian shells were falling outside the door.
In its essentials, those facts are completely correct.
But the question is: how is it that Hitler actually lost the war?
Think about it a moment. Here’s a man who had absolute control over his people, his nation and his armed forces. He had more absolute control than other dictators because he had succeeded in achieving a kind of Godhead status amongst his people (more about that in a moment). His General Staff was completely beholden to him, and every general who even thought of treason had been co-opted or purged. His armies, even in their last days, were technologically superior to all their enemies. And, militarily speaking, by 1942 he was unchallenged master of everything between the river Volga and the English Channel. How could he possibly have lost?
Yet, as we know from history, he did, completely and catastrophically.
I believe, and in this article I shall endeavour to show, that Hitler lost because, subconsciously, he was determined to lose.
I know that this will be a controversial statement, and will likely come in for some derision. However, I believe that there are grounds that enable me to reach this conclusion.
If you look at Hitler’s conduct of the war, you can hardly avoid noticing a glaring fact: he kept missing golden opportunities. For a man who, for all his failings, can be described (at least in the early stages of the war, before he began micromanaging everything) as militarily a competent strategist, such blunders are inexplicable. Let’s just look at a few:
The pre-Munich phase: Those of us who know a bit about history will remember that the Second World War actually almost began in 1938, when Hitler demanded German-inhabited areas of Czechoslovakia (the Sudetenland). War seemed inevitable – a war Germany was even more unfit to fight in 1938 than it was in 1939 – but Hitler was adamant. His own army generals were seriously considering a coup d’état to get rid of the suicidal government, but then Britain and France signed the Munich Agreement, which ceded Sudetenland to Germany, handed Hitler an enormous bloodless victory, and swiftly checkmated opposition in the generals’ ranks. Yet, had Hitler actually started the war in 1938, even if he hadn’t been toppled by the military, he would have faced a strong Czech army (the Czech fortifications were all in the Sudetenland) and British and French armies which were at least much stronger than the Wehrmacht. It wasn’t Hitler’s fault that he didn’t lose the war before it even began.
Going to war: What isn’t much known except to those who are familiar with the history of the Second World War is just how it started. The end of the First World War cost Germany eastern territory, which was sliced off to Poland, a land-locked entity at the time. In order to give Poland an access to the sea, a strip of territory (called the Polish Corridor) was handed over, which had the effect of cutting off the large and very important province of East Prussia – home of most of the German warrior caste – from the rest of Germany. At the eastern tip of this Corridor was the city of Danzig, with an almost entirely (about 95%) ethnic German population, which was cut off from East Prussia as a “free city”. The Danzigers wanted, by an overwhelming majority, to be part of Germany. The Germans wanted, in the meantime, a road through the Polish Corridor so that the two parts of Germany were connected by other than sea or air. So, Hitler demanded Danzig and the road through the Corridor. By Hitlerian standards, in fact, these demands were rather reasonable.
What was not reasonable, however, were the circumstances. By August 1939, Hitler had long since betrayed the terms of the Munich agreement. He had seized all of Czechoslovakia, and Austria had also been incorporated into the Greater German Reich. In an act that was militarily meaningless but politically powerful, Britain and France had pledged to go to war if Germany attacked Poland. Negotiations had failed to create any breakthrough, and to any normal person it should have been obvious that war was imminent if Germany did attack Poland. Yet, Hitler went ahead with the attack, and did not call it off even after France and Britain issued ultimatums, making a general European war inevitable. As Hitler had no reason to want war with either France or Britain, this was even more inexplicable.
At this distance in time, it’s tempting to think of the German war machine in the early stages of the war as an unstoppable juggernaut. It wasn’t. The German armed forces were being built up on the supposition that a major war was unlikely before 1943-44. The Panzer divisions had to go to war (vide Colonel General Heinz Guderian, Panzer Leader) with light PzKw I and II tanks, meant for training. The navy had only a few small U Boats with poor and unreliable torpedoes, and was unable to launch effective amphibious assaults, as it learnt to its cost during the invasion of Norway. The Luftwaffe’s Stukas, Heinkel 111s, and Messerschmitt 110s were unable to stand up to serious aerial opposition. Although some of the armoured units were mechanised, most military transport was still horse drawn. It was only because of innovative Blitzkrieg tactics and invading the neutral BENELUX countries that the Germans even managed to achieve their initial successes of 1939 and 1940. If the Allies had been better prepared tactically, Hitler could have been fought to a standstill if not completely defeated in Northern France. It was certainly not Hitler’s doing that he wasn’t. Yet, when he did have victory in his grasp, he let it slip away at...
Dunkirk: With the British Expeditionary Force cut off in Northern France, along with a substantial part of the French Army, Hitler (who had aggressively followed the Blitzkrieg tactic of cutting off enemy forces and destroying them at leisure) held off his advance and allowed them to escape. Even though Hitler had no desire to fight Britain, for which nation he had an enormous admiration, and it might be that he imagined that “magnanimity” might bring peace feelers from the British side, his own military doctrine did not allow for such acts of mercy. Also, politically, a weaker opponent is more likely to talk peace than one whose forces have just managed to escape essentially intact in terms of manpower.
The Battle of Britain: There’s some little doubt about this one, basically because there’s not much clarity on what Hitler’s actual intentions towards Britain were. If there is one thing that we are absolutely certain about, it’s that Hitler admired the British, idolised the British Empire, and thought war between the Germans and British was a tragedy. He was perfectly ready, as he said, to “guarantee the British Empire” in return for a dominant role on the European continent. Most certainly, he never had any serious intention of invading Britain. Operation Sealion, the projected Nazi invasion of Britain, was never going to happen. The German Navy (Kriegsmarine) didn’t have any amphibious capabilities, and would have had to use Rhine river barges to transport tanks across the Channel. The Luftwaffe, whose fighters lacked the range to stay and fight over British territory for longer than a few minutes, could never have gained operational control of the British skies, and what tactical advantage the Germans had, they squandered by – at Hitler’s insistence – shifting their air offensive from knocking out RAF bases to bombing British cities.
It is possible to imagine a scenario in which Hitler continued fighting Britain to a conclusion, but that scenario would involve strangulation by convoy attacks and fighting British forces elsewhere they could be struck, for instance, North Africa (and I’ll be talking about that in a moment). But as far as an attack on the British home islands is concerned, that was never going to succeed, and there is no evidence that Hitler ever intended it to happen.
Yet, instead of either making peace with Britain or fighting it out to a conclusion, he shifted his attention elsewhere. Though the First World War had taught the Germans that fighting on two fronts was a very bad idea, he went and attacked the Soviet Union.
Barbarossa: If there is one single action, more than any other, which doomed the Nazis, it was the invasion of the USSR on 22 June 1941. Yet, strange as it seems, and suicidal as it appears, there is hardly any invasion which was more predictable. Hitler wasn’t interested in occupying Western Europe. He wasn’t even interested in Alsace-Lorraine, the German-speaking territory contested between Germany and France over the course of nearly a century and two wars. What he was always interested in was Lebensraum in the East, and even in his last will and testament he continued to urge Germany to occupy territory in the East. However, it seems incredible that he would attack the USSR without first making some kind of peace with Britain. It is, of course, perfectly possible that Deputy Führer Rudolf Hess (or Heß) was sent to England by Hitler on a peace mission, but long before the invasion of the USSR was launched, Hitler must have known that said peace mission had failed. And still he went ahead – went ahead without any real appreciation of the scale of the problem, or acknowledgement that the Russians could beat the Germans simply by outlasting them. As they did.
Actually, economically speaking, the attack on the USSR was from the beginning a liability for Germany. Stalin was already supplying Germany with oil and raw materials, thus allowing Hitler to circumvent the British blockade which had helped to starve Germany in the Great War (vide William Shirer, The Rise And Fall Of The Third Reich; Shirer gives detailed figures). Once Hitler declared war, not only was that supply cut off, but the Soviets left only “scorched earth” behind them as they retreated, destroying everything that could not be shifted eastwards away from the Nazis.
There was also the slight problem of Hitler’s systematic sabotaging of any rapprochement with Stalin. Stalin had, via his foreign minister Molotov, offered an alliance against the Western Allies, with the end objective of carving up the French and British colonial empires between the Axis members. Hitler made sure this did not happen by offering Stalin nothing substantial (Shirer calls this an attempt to fob off Stalin with talk of Russian aspirations “in the general direction of the Indian Ocean”) in return. It’s difficult to see how a Soviet-Nazi alliance could possibly have been defeated; the war against the USSR could have been left to a later date after settling scores with the Western democracies. But Hitler was not interested.
According to some anti-Communist revisionist historians like Constantin Pleshakov, Hitler launched a pre-emptive strike against the USSR because Stalin was planning to attack him. This is unlikely to the point of an absurdity. The Red Army of the time had been decapitated by Stalin’s purges, and had suffered tremendous losses in the war against little Finland. It was in the middle of a modernisation programme. The army was armed largely with old T-26 tanks, which had no radios and since they were deployed for infantry support, not for fighting against a Blitzkrieg assault, their ammunition was high-explosive; useless for fighting against other tanks (vide Alan Clark, Barbarossa). The air force had old Polikarpov I-15 and I-16 fighters, so ineffective against the Luftwaffe that they were sometimes used in kamikaze-style ramming attacks as the only way they could bring down the German machines. The Soviet Navy was a joke, with primitive battleships and submarines which could hardly sink anything. It would have been at least a couple of years before the USSR could have posed any kind of offensive threat to Germany, and Hitler must have known that.
Then there was the actual fighting. From the beginning, the Soviet resistance was of a kind that the Germans had never encountered before. Even surrounded and bypassed soldiers didn’t surrender – they vanished into the forests to carry out a guerrilla campaign against the German rear. While tens of Soviet divisions were destroyed, there were always new ones to fill the gaps. And even if the German plan had proceeded perfectly, it would have been of no use, since the Soviets were prepared to retreat across the Urals if necessary and counterattack from there when the Germans were weakened.
In other words, Barbarossa was doomed before the first shot was fired.
Even then, there are so many blunders that Hitler made in Russia that they would probably fill volumes, but I’ll just name a few obvious ones:
1. The Battle of Moscow: This was the first serious defeat the Nazis suffered, anywhere. On any front. Ever. And more than a little it was the fault of Hitler himself, who delayed Barbarossa in order to invade and capture Yugoslavia, a delay long enough to force his troops to make their final push for Moscow in the teeth of the Russian winter, and allowed Marshal Zhukov to plan a massive and successful counteroffensive.
The really interesting thing about the Battle isn’t the German defeat, though; it’s Hitler’s orders to the German troops to stand fast at all costs. This may have saved the Germans from a general collapse of their lines, but if the Soviets had enough forces (as they had later in the war) they may have been able to destroy most of the German Army in one single operation. It’s certainly not to Hitler’s credit that they didn’t.
2. Stalingrad: In any discussion of the Greatest Battles Ever Fought, Stalingrad comes high, high on the list. But few know that it came close not to being a battle at all. Throughout the summer of 1942, Hitler kept changing his mind about the main target of his summer offensive. He couldn’t decide on the Caucasian oilfields, or the Volga, and his forces kept getting shunted from one to the other until he decided to try and take them both. The Soviets took the opportunity to set up a defence at Stalingrad, which ground the Germans to a halt. And, while the Wehrmacht was fighting a street-by-street battle in the ruins of the city, the Russians prepared a colossal counteroffensive against the weak Nazi flanks. In November, they launched this offensive and cut off the Sixth Army.
Even then, Hitler could have retreated. The Germans had enough strength to break through the initial encirclement. But Hitler forbade any attempt at retreat, and condemned the quarter of a million soldiers in the Sixth Army to destruction.
It’s impossible to put the blame for the destruction of the Sixth Army on anyone but Hitler. And it’s equally impossible to understand just why he did it, unless he had a death wish. But if we are to talk about death wishes, we should consider the next battle, probably the most decisive of all the battles of the Second World War...
3. Kursk: By July 1943, the war on the Eastern Front was in stalemate. The Germans had won a military victory on the Donets River, bringing the Soviet advance to a halt. The two sides faced each other along a front that strongly resembled the trench systems of the First World War, and might have remained thus faced off for the rest of the year. But some of Hitler’s generals proposed an assault from north and south on a bulge of the Soviet front line around the cities of Orel and Kursk, to be known as Operation Citadel (Fall Zitadelle).
Let me stress that Zitadelle wasn’t exactly a military masterstroke. It was, in fact, so obvious a move that the Soviets were already digging in for a German offensive before the Germans had decided on the offensive. So massively had they fortified themselves that there was no way the Germans had a hope of success, though they were about to throw in their new Tiger tanks and the Elefant tank destroyer.
Now, one must understand that the Soviet preparations weren’t unknown to the Germans. So well-known were the Soviet preparations to the Germans that they delayed the offensive in order to further reinforce their panzer armies. Even Hitler frankly admitted that the very idea of attacking in the “East” in 1943 “turned his stomach” (vide Clark, Barbarossa; Clark gives an excellent and detailed account of the German indecision over Zitadelle) – yet he went ahead with the operation anyway, even though just about everyone knew in advance it was pretty much doomed.
So, by the time Hitler bowed to the inevitable and called off the offensive, the Germans, after the greatest tank battle in history, had lost half their armour, and had utterly failed to even cut off the Kursk salient, let alone breach the Soviet front. If Stalingrad meant that the Soviets couldn’t lose the war, Kursk, which shattered the panzer armies beyond recovery, meant that the Russians would inevitably win it.
Yet, the offensive was the single most unnecessary attack ever launched by Germany on the Eastern Front, and possibly in the war. Hitler, who was in full command of the German Army, and who was used to ordering his generals around (as at Stalingrad), and had no desire to launch this attack, went ahead and let it happen anyway, despite knowing it must be defeated. How does one explain this?
4. The refusal to talk peace. By 1942, with the defeat at Stalingrad, it was obvious to the Germans that victory against the USSR was no longer possible; it was a question of staving off defeat. Hitler’s generals were already urging a separate peace with the Russians, allowing the war to be focussed on the British and Americans. Stalin was always far and away the most pragmatic of all the major leaders of the war, on either side. It is highly likely that at that stage of the war, when victory was still far from assured, he would have jumped at the chance for this separate peace, with the withdrawal of German troops and some kind of compensation from Berlin, probably in territorial terms. But Hitler refused even to try.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in the war:
The Alliance with Mussolini: I’ll intrude a personal note here – I could never understand just what Hitler wanted to ally with il Duce for. The Italian armed forces of the period were a joke, with biplane fighters, tanks that could not withstand machine gun fire, and soldiers so demoralised they surrendered in thousands the first chance they got. The Italians had, in the mid-thirties, taken many months even to defeat Ethiopia, whose army of the time still carried spears. Mussolini was a vainglorious blowhard who dreamt of recreating the Empire of the Caesars, but had neither the ability nor the resources to do so. He brought absolutely nothing to the table. By allying with him, Hitler merely made Italy’s problems his own. That is not normally considered intelligent strategy.
The War on America: Another of Hitler’s spectacular blunders was declaring war on the United States. Now it is certainly true that by mid-1941 the US was effectively already at war with Germany. American destroyers were escorting British convoys, the US was handing over warships to Britain on lease in return for bases in British colonies, and Franklin Roosevelt was obviously itching for a way to enter the war formally. Yet, when the opportunity came, it was against Japan, not Germany. Hitler could have sat out the US-Japan war; however much Roosevelt wanted a war with the Nazis, he couldn’t have jumped into that war of his own volition while already engaged in a full-scale war against Japan. Hitler gave him what he wanted by declaring war, while already at war with Britain and just having been fought to a standstill before Moscow...almost as though he was intent on antagonising as many countries as possible, and sealing his own fate.
North Africa: Despite all the talk of how the tide of war was turned at El Alamein, North Africa was essentially a complete sideshow, of little or no importance in the scheme of things. Yet, Hitler could have turned it into a victory. When Field Marshal Erwin Rommel was desperately asking for reinforcements, he didn’t send them, and an underarmed, undersupplied Rommel lost a head-to-head butting contest with a far stronger British force at El Alamein. With more armour, artillery, and soldiers he might have taken Egypt, pushed into West Asia, cut off British oil supplies, and threatened Iran. Instead, within six months of El Alamein, the last German forces in North Africa had surrendered.
It’s actually worse than it sounds. Hitler, who had refused Rommel reinforcements when he needed them, sent them in droves when the German-Italian Army (of which the famed Afrika Korps was the most important part) was fighting desperately for survival, against the British in the East and the French and Americans in the west. In the end, Germany actually lost more soldiers in North Africa than it did at Stalingrad – and this was a sideshow of the war, with little or no effect on the eventual outcome.
The Final Battles:
In the final throes of Nazi Germany’s war, there were two major plans which played significant roles in hastening Germany’s defeat. The first was the Ardennes Offensive, the December 1944 attempt to break through the Allied lines in the west and regain the initiative, perhaps recapturing the Netherlands, Belgium and part of Northern France. You’ll notice that even at the most optimistic, this offensive did not envisage winning the war or even driving the Western Allies back over the Channel. In the event, though there were initial advances, the final result was a mauling that cost the Germans much more than they did the Allies, and won precisely nothing.
A few months later, when Berlin was threatened by the Red Army, there was another, major counteroffensive planned – the so-called Steiner attack. It was meant to be launched by SS General Felix Steiner, and was Hitler’s last throw of the dice. But the Steiner attack never occurred, for the simple reason that there were no forces to carry out the offensive – something that was perfectly well known to the German High Command. Yet, not only did they carry on with the charade of this nonexistent counteroffensive, they withdrew forces from other parts of the front around Berlin to support the attack, therefore weakening their own defences, at the direct insistence of Hitler. It’s like throwing down your dagger during a knife fight in order to reach for your gun, while knowing that you don’t have a gun. Not sound strategy for survival.
It’s telling that (Antony Beevor, Berlin, The Downfall 1945) Hitler’s generals had begun to feel he was subconsciously trying to lose the war.
The War At Home:
There isn’t really space in this article to catalogue all of Hitler’s blunders on the Home Front, if one can call them blunders, that is. Some of them are relatively trivial, and some of such importance that they can’t be discussed in detail within the framework of an article of this type. But we can mention these:
1. The Holocaust and the Final Solution: This is the Big One, and the most often misunderstood. The Holocaust, as used as a term for the systematic and organised attempt to exterminate the Jewish (and, let’s not forget, Romany) people of Europe, and also Communists, Social Democrats, and anyone else who was a dissident, didn’t start with the concentration camps and the ghettoes. To be sure, the Jews in the concentration camps were maltreated and killed casually, but such killing was less intentional (on an organisational basis) than incidental, until the decision was taken in January 1942 for an Endlösung (“Final Solution”) to the “Jewish problem”. It was only after January 1942, or in other words after the Reich had quite signally failed to beat the British or the Russians, and in addition had just acquired a powerful new enemy in the US, that Hitler (by way of Himmler, Heydrich and the SS) began a campaign of systematic extermination. It was only then that vast resources of manpower were put into manning the concentration and extermination camps, and research that might have been better used in trying to find ways of winning the war were squandered on such things as efficient gas chamber design or trying to make soap from human fat.
2. The war industry: One of Hitler’s pet theses was the “purity” of the German woman, whose place was in the house to breed Aryan warriors for the Reich. Unlike all the other major combatant nations, German women weren’t put into the factories to speed up the war effort. Instead, Hitler even disbanded forty divisions of troops in 1941 to provide manpower for industry, while using slave labour from occupied nations to make up the shortfall. He was even reluctant to halt the production of civilian luxuries. If, as Stalin said, modern wars are won and lost on the factory floors, Germany didn’t even begin to have a chance.
3. The Miracle Weapons: One of the strangest and most baffling features of the German war effort of 1944-45 are the “miracle weapons” – not that they were produced, but that they were so appallingly misused. One classic instance was the Type XXI and XXIII U-Boats, submarines so far ahead of anything the rest of the world had that over ten years later scuttled Type XXIIIs were recovered and put back into service by the new West German Navy. These subs were fast, silent, and virtually immune to being hunted down, but they were practically unused. Only one Type XXI ever went on a patrol, right at the end of the war, and it returned to base after cessation of hostilities without carrying out a single attack. The fate of the Type XXIII was only slightly better, though one did sink the last Allied ships in the European War.
Then there was the Messerschmitt 262 jet fighter, an aircraft that could fly rings round anything the Allies had. This wonderful plane, a potential war-winner, was virtually crippled by Hitler’s demand that it be developed only as a bomber. By the time its spectacular unsuitability to the bombing role was manifest, and it was finally used as a fighter interceptor, it was far too late for it to turn back the Allied bomber streams over Germany.
There was the Nazi atom bomb, crippled by the "Aryan" Deutsche Physik's deriding of nuclear physics as “Jewish science”, and plenty of other similar stories. It seemed that anytime the German designers created a potentially war-winning weapon, Hitler would go out of his way to sabotage it, just as he went out of his way to sabotage his own strategies.
One can, therefore, make a reasonable case for the belief that Hitler was less than fully committed to winning the war. One might go as far as to say he was subconsciously determined to lose. The question then arises, why might this be so?
In order to find an answer to that question, we would have to look at the very nature of the Nazi regime.
It’s tempting to think of the Thousand Year Reich as a totalitarian regime, but actually it wasn’t. As Hugh Trevor-Roper pointed out in The Last Days Of Hitler, the only way to see the Nazi regime is as a medieval court. Just as in a court, power was distributed between competing factions, each of whom was primarily concerned with currying favour with the man at the top more than anything else, including the prosecution of the war. And since that man at the top was concerned with not allowing any of his subordinates to become so powerful as to threaten his own position, he made sure they competed against each other constantly. Nazi Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, for instance, said during his trial at Nuremberg (Nürnberg) that the Foreign Ministry was supplied intelligence by thirty competing agencies.
This made, of course, both for extraordinarily inefficient and unwieldy administration (but, as I’ll discuss in a moment, administration was never a priority for the Nazis) and a severely hampered war effort. A classic case is the tale of the German aircraft carrier Graf Zeppelin, which never got completed, mainly because Hermann Göring refused to allow the German navy (Kriegsmarine) to have its own aeroplanes.
Even at the end of his life, Hitler had no desire to dispense with the court he had created. In his last will and testament, he appointed Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz as President of the Reich – but Josef Goebbels as Chancellor and Martin Bormann as head of the Nazi Party. This way, even in death, he planned to maintain the system of divide and rule which had served him so well and Germany so badly.
This system of a medieval court was closely allied to the defining factor of Nazism, its close identification with mythology. It’s impossible to understand Nazism without taking into account its association with what Trevor-Roper calls “bestial Nordic nonsense.” That this mythology of a pure Aryan race, superior to all others in the world, sits strangely with Hitler’s alliance with the very Latin Mussolini is not significant as far as the Reich itself goes; the target of the “bestial Nordic nonsense” was not the Gallic French or the Latin Italians, but the Slavic peoples of the East, most especially the Russians, whom the Nazis didn’t even consider human. They were Untermenschen, “subhumans”, creatures of a lower evolutionary order entirely.
One of the many interesting things about Nordic mythology is Ragnarök, what Richard Wagner called Götterdämmerung, the Twilight of the Gods, when Valhalla burns and the reign of the gods ends. This concept, of burning everything down, is allied to the Viking funeral tradition of cremating a deceased chieftain with his longship. Since the Nazis considered themselves Nordic successors of the Vikings (the SS even had a Wiking division comprising Scandinavian volunteers), Hitler’s desire to burn the Reich around him to mark his exit from the scene is easily understandable. His megalomania was such that he thought himself the equivalent of the gods, and could not bear the idea that the Nordic tribe – the Volk – of the German people could survive him. He wanted to go out with the most terrific bang possible, not with a whimper.
That there would have been a whimper of an exit if Hitler had not entered into a war, or if Hitler had won the war, is without a doubt. Another thing which one must keep in mind about Nazism is its inherent militarism. The Nazis worshipped the uniform, to an extent where the various parts of the military machine – the Heer, or Army, the Luftwaffe, the Kriegsmarine and the SS – became the foremost arm of the state, the apex of the military-industrial complex. That military-industrial complex was also very powerful. Armament manufacturers like Willi Messerschmitt and Baron Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach benefited mightily from their association with the Nazis, with slave labour being provided to their factories and a guaranteed market for their products in the armed forces.
Dovetailing with the existence of the military-industrial complex was also the need for an enemy. Nazism is like all extreme political philosophies in that it is not introspective. The blame for all failure, all problems must lie elsewhere, not in the Party and most especially not in the Führer. The enemy within might be the Jews, a group both historically despised and having committed the unpardonable crime of being economically successful; and the Communists, bitter ideological enemies, and their brethren the trade unionists and other sundry left-wing scum. But once the internal enemy was conquered, and being unarmed and easily targetable, the Jews and left wingers were easily conquered, who was left to blame? Someone must be responsible for the failures of administrative policies, after all.
If we have learned anything from much more recent history, it’s also that a military-industrial complex requires war. In fact, the only circumstances under which a military-industrial complex is viable is one of unending war. If there are no enemies, enemies have to be invented, and if there is no war, a war has to be started, if need be under completely fabricated pretexts. When the military-industrial complex cohabits with heroic mythology and a belief in racial supremacy, aggressive war becomes inevitable.
It would not be wrong, therefore, to claim that the entire existence of the Third Reich prior to September 1939 was geared towards preparing for war.
Therefore, we have a state ruled by an extraordinarily inefficient competing cabal of courtiers, which in turn is highly militaristic, has an ideology based on mythology, and has a flourishing military-industrial complex. Such a state, obviously, is not one where daily administration is a priority. Hitler hardly involved himself with administration. But the absence of administration did not bring about the lack of need for administration, and repression by such means as the Gestapo is not a substitute for administration.
As I've said elsewhere, unlike any other ideology one cares to name, from laissez-faire capitalism to Maoism, Nazism is the only system which has absolutely nothing positive to offer. Whether you agree with Adam Smith or Karl Marx, and whether their followers stayed true to their beliefs or not, both were concerned with the ultimate betterment of the human condition. Nazism, however, had nothing but itself to offer. It had the worship of Hitler as a semi-divine figure speaking directly to God (as one of his staff said, “the Führer has a telephone line direct to God” – does this perhaps sound familiar?). It had the myth of the Aryan Superman. And it had...well, that’s actually pretty much it. There was nothing else.
Therefore, imagine a scenario where there was no war or Hitler won the war. How long before, in the absence of enemies internal or external, the contradictions in the body of the Nazi state would have recoiled on it? How long before the endemic squabbling of the courtiers for power brought the edifice of the government down in ruins? How long before, instead of worshipping the Great Leader, people began cursing him? Hitler salutes and swastika badges can’t feed, clothe and house people or take care of their other needs.
This is also another factor one should understand – the Nazi state was Hitler. He was himself acutely conscious of it, as he should have been, because it was a situation he had deliberately contrived. He was the state; he was Deutschland, the German nation (although, ironically, he was actually an Austrian). The German soldier, at induction, swore a holy oath to Hitler, not to Germany. When the German armed forces were defeated in combat, they had failed him. When Germany was in ruins, it was because the German people were unworthy of his genius, and had accordingly lost the right to exist. (These are actual Hitler quotes; I am not making them up.)
So, how could Hitler risk peace, where his position as God Almighty’s Representative on Earth and Ordained Ruler of the German People might be threatened? He couldn’t; not even the peace of victory, because there is no “happily ever after” outside fairy stories. Once there was no enemy to blame, the military state would become an economic millstone round the nation’s neck, the administration’s incompetence would be manifest, and there would be only one person to blame, the demigod at the top.
Hitler could not risk that happening, and this is why he chose to lose. It explains everything about him, right up to and including his decision to die in a Viking funeral in Berlin, destroying the city along with himself. He could not escape elsewhere and carry on the fight. He could not even allow a strong successor who might intrude on his own glory. He had to lose. There was no other way.
Obviously, this is not to say that Hitler chose defeat consciously. As far as conscious decision making went, he was probably as intent on victory as any of the soldiers, sailors or airmen who fought for him so magnificently. But we have known at least since Sigmund Freud that the conscious mind is a slave to the subconscious, and that’s where the seat of our motivations lies. That Freud was a Jew, and that Hitler had only contempt for “Jewish science”, makes no difference at all.
It’s just a bit of delicious irony.