- The Pity of Peace: The Origins of the Second World War Revisited
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- by Ferguson, Niall
- Not all of the judgements in A. J. P. Taylor’s The Origins of the Second World War, published forty-five years ago, have stood the test of time. Taylor was right about the Western powers: the pusillanimity of the French statesmen, who were defeated in their hearts before a shot had been fired; the hypocrisy of the Americans, with their high-faluting rhetoric and low commercial motives; above all, the muddle-headedness of the British. Where Taylor erred profoundly was when he sought to liken Hitler’s foreign policy to "that of his predecessors, of the professional diplomats at the foreign ministry, and indeed of virtually all Germans", and when he argued that the Second World War was "a repeat performance of the First". Nothing could be more remote from the truth. Bismarck had striven mightily to prevent the creation of a Greater Germany encompassing Austria. Yet this was one of Hitler’s stated objectives, albeit one that he had inherited from the Weimar Republic. Bismarck’s principal nightmare had been one of "coalitions" between the other great powers directed against Germany. Hitler quite deliberately created such an encircling coalition when he invaded the Soviet Union before Britain had been defeated. Not even the Kaiser had been so rash; indeed, he had hoped he could avoid war with Britain. Bismarck had used colonial policy as a tool to maintain the balance of power in Europe. Hitler was uninterested in overseas acquisitions even as bargaining counters. Throughout the 1920s Germany was consistently hostile to Poland and friendly to the Soviet Union. Hitler reversed these positions within little more than a year of coming to power.
- Publication Type: WCFIA Working Paper
- Published Date: April 19, 2006
- Field of Interest: International Relations
- Ferguson, Niall. "The Pity of Peace: The Origins of the Second World War Revisited." Working Paper 2008-0124, Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard University, April 19, 2006.