531. Waiting (VI)
A while ago, I observed that Hitler and Churchill had similar characters: they were both artistic and moody, both masters of their respective languages, and both thought in millennial terms. They also made similar strategic blunders, blunders associated with their characters. Hitler’s famous blunder in the East: when the Germans arrived in the East they were greeted as liberators, garlanded with flowers—within a short time they were so brutal that the population decided that Stalin was the lesser of two evils.
This was foolish because Russia’s great weakness is her multiculturalism—“A dustbin held together by a rusty band,” as one 19th-century historian had it. To drive a wedge between her peoples was a canny way to destroy her; instead, Hitler united them. Alfred Rosenberg, ideologist to Hitler and a Baltic German, had told Hitler that the best strategy would be to say this was a war for self-determination for the peoples of Russia; perhaps Hitler would have listened, he knew the propaganda war was vital—and yet after his swift victories in France and other developed countries he saw no value in resort to psychology. His decision to invade Russia was not irrational: America had already covertly entered the war, Hitler wanted to avoid war on two fronts—given his success in Europe it was not unreasonable to think he could win in Russia; and the Russians would be coming sooner or later. What was irrational was not to befriend the national minorities and turn them against the Soviets.
Churchill made the same blunder in the other direction. Chamberlain initially emphasised that Britain was not at war with the German people, just the regime. When Churchill came in the war was transformed into a crusade, a fight to the finish without compromise. Goebbels recorded in his diary that he was glad Churchill changed the British line, Chamberlain’s approach undermined the regime—Churchill’s line rallied everyone behind Hitler. Since Goebbels was responsible for generating the regime’s legitimacy and since he recorded these thoughts in his private diary, we can be reasonably certain that he did fear Chamberlain’s gentle approach more than Churchill’s bulldog stance.
If the Anglo-Americans continued to make a clear distinction between the regime and the people—not pushed for unconditional surrender—they had the potential to encourage the “Jünger-Stauffenberg” axis, the current of opinion in the Wehrmacht that disdained the regime. This current was less pronounced than it otherwise would have been due to savage Churchillian rhetoric and because the Allies demanded unconditional surrender. Germany had been abjectly humiliated after WWI, given the Allied stance during WWII there was no reason for Wehrmacht officers not to suspect a similar or worse treatment this time. Ergo, Hitler was the lesser evil.
If sections in the Wehrmacht knew that “peace with honour” was possible they may have overthrown Hitler and made peace with the Anglo-Americans. The result: firstly, fewer German and Allied casualties, less destruction of Europe; secondly, Eastern Europe would not have fallen to the Communists—a Western-supported German military regime could have overrun Stalin, so liberating the Russians and avoiding the Cold War; thirdly, an end to the holocaust and general repression. We can never know, but this is a plausible scenario.
This option was never pursued because—just as with Hitler—Churchill was a fanatic; and because the democracies could tolerate democratic-albeit-misguided Stalinist concentration camps but had zero tolerance for Hitler’s selective concentration camps. It was not that Hitler hated Slavs, or that Churchill hated Germans—it was that they held these views with a strength that concealed reality. Today, people hold the opposite view: everyone from Dublin to Vladivostok represents some identical “white race”—again, it is held too strongly. Alexander the Great knew better, when he defeated a rival general he magnanimously appointed him governor in that new imperial province—and so won a close ally. Neither Hitler or Churchill, though they claimed to love history, had learned from Alexander; and today we are further from Alexander than ever.