Hitler: A Story for Our Time

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EVENT TRANSCRIPT: Hitler: A Story For Our Time

DATE: 1pm – 2pm, 5th September 2019

VENUE: Millbank Tower, 21-24 Millbank, Westminster, SW1P 4RS, United Kingdom

SPEAKER: Prof Brendan Simms

EVENT CHAIR: Dr Andrew Foxall

 

Andrew Foxall:

Can everyone hear me at the back? All ok at the back? Thank you. Well, I’m delighted that we’re joined today by Professor Brendan Simms, who is a dear friend and colleague. Many of you will know that Brendan is a professor of the History of International Relations, Cambridge, as well as being one of the founders and indeed the President of the Henry Jackson Society. Brendan is with us today to talk about his most recent book, copies of which are available outside, entitled Hitler. Only the world was enough. So Brendan will be speaking for about twenty minutes or so, twenty minutes or half an hour, after which there will be plenty of time for Q&A. I should just say as well, as I’ve already mentioned copies of the book are available outside, £30, currently it’s no cheaper on Amazon, for those of you who use Amazon, I certainly know that I do. But even if they were, the ones you would purchase on Amazon would not necessarily be signed by Brendan, but he’s perfectly happy to sign those copies after today’s event. So without any further ado.

Brendan Simms:

Well thank you very much. I’m going to shout rather than turning this on, can you all here me? So thank you very much for turning up, despite the distractions of a beautiful day and many other more important and interesting things going on in this city. So I’m going to begin with, the obvious question is, why is Hitler worth re-visiting, surely he has been studied at length, well-studied, in many cases, so why do we need another book on Hitler? Well, one response might be that history and individuals are always worth re-visiting in light of subsequent events and current preoccupations. So when I began researching this book about ten years ago, when I looked at the existing Hitler biographies you have the Allan Bullock one in the 50s which was the first attempt at a synthesis on Hitler in light also of the Cold War, contemporary preoccupations, then you had Joachim Fest’s famous sort-of literary biography in the early 1970s. It was a mature and literary approach in the light of the success of the Bundesrepublik- so how could we have possibly fallen for Hitler given our great history and the way in which we have since developed? And then of course there was Ian Kershaw’s biography, two volumes, 1998, 2000, incorporating the new social history from the 1970s and 1980s. And then the new context, post-2001, was the growth of paranoid anti-Semitism, a worldview which seemed, after the events of 9/11, discussions of the Middle East and around the wider role of the so-called Jewish Lobby. That seemed less anachronistic, more ubiquitous than it had seemed to an earlier generation. Add to that the post-2008 crash, you have the whole globalisation debate, you have the crisis of capitalism, which again for reasons which I hope will soon become clear resonates with the story of Hitler.

Now, in the last few years, somewhat to my trepidation I saw that there are quite a few new biographies of Hitler. So [inaudible], for example, wrote a good biography in many ways, putting anti-Communism at the centre of the story, though I think that’s not quite right, Volker Ulrich’s book is focused very much on his personality, adding colour to him, and Peter Longerich, recently translated into English, brought the story that Ian Kershaw had told up to date, incorporating about twenty years of research on the structures of the Weimar Republic and so on. New sources have become available- I won’t list them all now, I’ll just mention a few which are unique to my own book, which is some sources to do with Bavarian separatism which I won’t be talking about in this talk but features strongly in the first part of the book, however particularly those which relate to Hitler’s relationship with the United States, the completely neglected aspect of German migration to the United States which was a major issue for him and shaped his worldview, and an aspect which I’m not going to be talking about but the plan, for example, to exchange German Jews for German Americans in the late 1930s. If someone wants to go back to that, I can do so in the discussion session.

Alright, so what are the central arguments of my book? They are, first, that Hitler’s main preoccupation, from beginning to end, was Anglo-America, and capitalism, not the Soviet Union, and Bolshevism. Yes, the Soviet Union and Bolshevism is important, but it is subordinate. Secondly, that the principle driver of Hitler’s anti-Semitism was, therefore, anti-capitalism and not anti-communism. Thirdly, that we have, for completely understandable reasons, been preoccupied with Hitler’s genocidal so-called negative eugenics rather than the regenerative, so-called positive eugenics. By the way, the terms ‘negative’ and ‘positive’ here don’t denote a value-judgement, they are just the technical terms in the eugenics literature which, broadly speaking, is about trying to get rid of people or whether you are somehow trying to improve or elevate the gene pool. These are the terms of the eugenicists. So, too much focus on the negative eugenics and not enough on the positive eugenics and as a result we’ve tended to overlook Hitler’s strong sense of pessimism about the non-Jewish German population. In other words, simply removing, in inverted commas, the Jews and others, the disabled and so on, that for him was not enough. So we’ve overlooked his pessimism about the German people as such, his demographic anxieties about immigration, which are closely linked to this pessimism and his firm belief in what he called the Anglo-Saxons, a term he used again and again, and that’s quite a common quote in German, Anglo-Americans, Anglo-Saxons. So these claims, I would say, are not really additive, they’re not seen as another addition, to the vast corpus of literature on Hitler. Rather, they’re intended to be substitutive. That is, what I’m arguing, if you accept what I’m about to say, I’m arguing that our whole understanding of Hitler, if I’m right, needs to be re-thought. So I’m going to structure my talk, really, in two-parts, which are going to offer a series of insertions to illustrate my general argument, but there will be vast areas which I don’t cover so we can come back to them in the discussion session if you like. First I’m going to talk about the development of Hitler’s thinking in the 1920s and then how this informs his policies in the 1930s, concluding with a few thoughts, very brief because that’s not why we’re here today, about what it might mean for the present time.

So, beginning with the development of Hitler’s strategic thought, with his worldview. This was driven by experience of defeat at the hands of the Western powers. This is really important: Hitler spends most of the First Word War fighting the British, he takes from this a profound sense of what he calls the ‘toughness’ of the Anglo-Americans’- he means British- and speaks about Britain and America being the absolute enemies. And this had three consequences which I will very much focus on here. The first is the demographic argument about Anglo-American power and German weakness. The second is essentially an economic discourse about capitalism which powers anti-Semitism and thirdly the resulting sense that Germany was being colonised. So in the First World War he feels that the Anglo-Saxon powers and world capitalism were ganging up on Germany and then after defeat in the First World War these powers are colonising Germany.

Well, let me begin with the demographic threat of the Anglo-Saxon powers. Hitler’s argument is, and this will be familiar to you, that unlike Germany the United States and the British Empire has space and this means, to push a point that you won’t read in any Hitler biography so far, it means that not only do the United States and the British Empire absorb the demographic surplus from these islands, they also absorb the demographic surplus from many other countries, particularly Germany. That’s his argument. And these Germans then convert, ‘Anglisiet’, Anglicise, into Anglo-Americans, mainly Americans but some Brits as well. And this then comes back to haunt the German Reich during the First World War. How do I know this? Well, on several occasions, on many occasions, during the 1920s he talks about the moment- and I quote here from Hitler’s speech, one of his speeches but it occurs many times- ‘In the midsummer of 1918,’ quote, ‘when the American soldiers appeared on the battlefronts of France, well-grown men, men of our own blood whom we had deported for centuries, who are now ready to grind the motherland itself into the dust,’ quote, ‘these lads, blonde and blue-eyed, who are they really?’ He says they are, quote, ‘all former German farmers’ sons, now they are our enemies.’ And he says they are the best, ‘das bestus’ his conception of immigration is that the best people leave and they fertilise, this is another word he uses extensively, they fertilise other countries, principally Anglo-America and he goes on in the same way. Now you might ask, and I ask myself, how do we know this actually happened? Well, I went to the Bavarian war archive and I found a two-liner, written by the brigade adjutant,[inaudible] a person who would actually later be associated with Hitler, and he says ‘Private first-class Hitler, dropped off two Americans at brigade headquarters, 7th July 1918.’ And Hitler refers to that date specifically in that speech. So we know that happened, he didn’t make it up. So this explains, therefore, his post-war interest. His first political speech that we know of- we don’t have the text- concerns settlement. That is his first known speech and we know of course from his later speeches [inaudible] So the result of this haemorrhaging of Germans to immigration is the weakening of the German people. Hitler’s strong belief is that the German people and the Nordic race are not one and the same, the German people are made of many different strands, currents, and the problem is that the Germans are fragmented by class, confession and region which accentuates the racial divisions in Germany. And so you have a kind of a downward spiral: you are divided, you can’t get space, you can’t get space, you can’t feed your people, your people emigrate. This is the doom-loop in which, in his view, the German people are locked, sort of from the 18th century to the early 19th century and the best Germans leave. So what he’s arguing, essentially, is that the German people that actually exist are the dregs and the best Germans have left to the United States. So that’s the demographic problem.

Let me turn now to the anti-capitalist argument which is if anything even stronger in his rhetoric and thinking at the time. This was first expressed in the context, his anti-Semitism, and it’s first expressed in the context of his critique of the Versailles Treaty and of capitalism. He attacks capitalism, and he links Jews to capitalism, before he makes the links between Jews and Bolshevism. And you see this in the famous letter that he writes to a gentleman called Gemlich who has written to ask him ‘Why should we be anti-Semitic?’ Hitler says ‘Here’s the reason, it’s because’- well actually before that somebody had noted, this was just a few months before, that Hitler had given a very good, clear and spirited lecture on capitalism during which he touched, indeed he had to touch, on the Jewish question. It’s a very widespread view: you can’t talk about capitalism without talking about Jews, and you can’t talk about Jews without talking about capitalism. But in the Gemlich he letter he talks about Jews engaged, quote, ‘in the dance around the golden calf’, they privilege money, they talk about, quote, ‘the majesty of money’ and Americas as a money-, as a Jew-power. America entered the First World War in his view because it wanted to protect its financial investments. And this is very important for Hitler because it helps him to explain what is otherwise impossible, because you would think, according with his racial classification, that he would have a common racial affinity with Anglo-America and so the Jews become a way of explaining, to his satisfaction the false-consciousness of Anglo-America, not seeing that actually they should make common cause with the Germans. And this is a theme which I elaborate ad infitium throughout the book and which runs all the way through his entire career.

And this informs his very strong sense in the 1920s that Germany is being colonised. The overseers are the Entente powers and their soldiers, including black soldiers, you can see the racial inversion, the natural hierarchy being overturned, the Germans have become slaves. Why do I say that, well I can read out a few quotations. In January 1923 he talks about Germany as a, quote, ‘colony of international finance and world Jewry’, he talks about the ‘great heard of de-nationalised colonial subjects’, of which Germany is one, being colonised by the Jews and the Anglo-Americans. And this is effected through economic exploitation and political oppression. Political oppression enables economic exploitation. So he talks for example about how, quote, ‘Germany is the colony of the Entente’, quote, ‘the complete colonisation of Germany’, and then he says any reform plans from the Weimar Republic are simply, quote, ‘to improve our productivity as a colony.’ He uses the language of plantation, he talks about Germany as being a ‘plantation of foreign will’, he says ‘the state shouldn’t be just a plantation of foreign capitalist interests’, and then he says ‘France rates Germany lower than a negro state’, this is a quotation. And so on. And the German people in consequence are slaves. He says in June 1930 ‘We want to be citizens, not world slaves’, August 1932, ‘Germany is going to become a football for our enemies, a slave people who work for foreigners for free’, Germany has become, quote, ‘a slave colony for the French nation of rentiers’, Germany, in short, is an ‘international slave state, a slave colony’ and, quote, ‘Germany has no citizens but at best subjects and at worst slaves’. So in other words the United States, the British Empire, world capitalism is the main enemy, not Bolshevism and the Soviet Union. And it’s obvious from his point of view. Bolshevism is a disease. It knocked Russia out of the World War- that’s why the Russians sent Lenin in- and in his mind it knocked Germany out of World War I. He’s not afraid of the Soviet Union invading Germany. He’s afraid of Bolshevism as a disease that can spread and undermine Germany and make it easier for the Anglo-Americans to colonise which has of course already happened at the end of the Second World War in his view. So I quote here from January 1921, quote, ‘threatened Bolshevik flood is not so much to be feared as a result of Bolshevik victory on battlefield but is rather the result of a planned subversion of our own people’ and then later he says ‘this will deliver them up to international finance.’ So capitalism and communism are not actually different sides of the same coin, communism is definitely subordinate. It’s function in a plutocratic system, again a word he uses a lot, is to undermine economies and make them ripe for takeover by the international capitalist system.

So if all of this, in Hitler’s view, was the disease, what was the cure? Well, his thinking in the 20s and his strategy in the 1930s is driven by two ideas, one of which you know well, which is the pursuit of Lebensraum, living space, much like the Anglo-Americans, the second is the quest for Lebenstandard, the phrase he uses, for living standards, because what marks out in the 1920s and 30s the Anglo-Americans as superior, apart from territory, is the fact that they’re richer, that they have cars, they have space, they have everything. So creating a viable living standard for the German, preventing them from emigrating, is central to his vision, hence the Volkswagen, hence the radios, hence all the holidays and construction. But the reference point, the principal reference point, is the United States, to establish a German Dream- that’s coining a phrase- to match the American Dream. Now, in the 1930s- this is an argument that I make in the book- he’s not envisaging a showdown with the Anglo-Americans in the immediate future. His view of racial development is one that takes very much the long view. He says ‘We will only bring the Germans up to the standard of the Anglo-Saxons over hundreds of years, they’ve only reached their standard as the result of historical development’ and so on. By 1937 he’s changed his view, he’s come to the belief that Britain is hostile to him and particularly that the United States is hostile to him. He hadn’t thought that it was inevitable but after the Quarantine Speech in October 1937 by President Roosevelt he begins to be portrayed as part of the Axis of Evil and that he is going to be taken on like in 1917 and also the living standards project has failed. Living standard has improved to a certain extent but they’re nowhere near Anglo-America by the end of the 1930s and Hitler says ‘This is no wonder, it’s because we have no space, we are within the limits of what is possible and to take this further we need more space.’ And so you move from a very gradualist racial conception in which even the negative aspect, in relation to Jewish lawyers in the mid-30s he’s saying ‘We won’t drive them out, we just won’t let any new ones in’ to a negative eugenics by the end which is greatly speeded up and this is driven primarily by his perception of a wider geopolitical contest.

So he steps up a gear in foreign policy, leading to expansion and war, I think the outcomes of that you are very familiar with, and then his racial transformation, in his own mind, has to be radical and that means brutal and genocidal with consequences that you’ll be fully familiar with. And so when he goes into the Second World War he understands that war as a war for space by a poor country, a ‘have-not country’ is the word he uses, against the international property owning elite which is the Anglo-American and international capitalist cartel. I quote here from his New Year’s speech, but this is a speech he gives on many occasions, New Year’s speech 1941, ‘While the rest of the world, the other world,’ which is the first world, ‘is trying to take on the have-nots, we face the world of owners, der Besitzer, with a determination to fight for the general rights of man,  Rechte des Menschen’. Strong stuff, but this is how he’s conceiving himself, as a theorist of global justice, in his own light. ‘And to secure their rights to the general resources of the world’ and so on. ‘The programme must be,’ he says, ‘smashing the tyranny of certain individuals and their financial controllers, the Jews’. And this has a great appeal, internationally. Lots of people around the world, you know in Palestine, the Mufti, in India Subas Chandras Bose, and others buy into this. This is, you know, a global theory which finds a lot of takers. But the problem form Hitler’s point of view is that he ends up, and this is the great irony of his strategy, he ends up with that coalition of have-nots, either big have-nots like Italy, Germany or Japan or mini have-nots like the Mufti and Bose and so on, fighting against the really big chaps on the block. And he comes back, this is just to tie in the demographic argument, he comes back, towards the end of the war, in speeches on a number of occasions he says ‘We are now fighting against German soldiers and German engineers.’ So there’s a remarkable scene in July 1944, he’s summoned the heads of German industry, everyone’s very glum, obviously, because [inaudible] centre has collapsed, the Allies have landed in Normandy, and he says ‘I know you’re all thinking that the enemy, the Americans, have got German engineers, but don’t worry, I have German engineers as well,’ which is a bizarre exchange but if you read it against what he’s been saying before it makes total sense. And so the tragic irony for him is that if you think about who’s with the Americans in July 1918, think who destroys German industry. It’s General Spaatz. Spaatz. He added an a to suggest he wasn’t German but he was German. And Eisenhower, as is well known. And one can go on. I have a trick slide which I put up in other lectures where I have a list of German names, and I ask people to guess, and ranks and divisions, and I ask people to guess which army it is, which theatre of war, which year and they’re all Americans. General [inaudible] who’s American, William Schmidt, General Harman Krammer, General Donald Stroud. And so on and so forth. And during the war Germans actually attempt to sift through American prisoners of war with a view to persuading them to come back to the Reich. And they give up and say ‘This is a waste of time, with the vast majority of them we’re making no progress whatsoever.’ And Hitler, interestingly enough, is completely unsurprised by that. He says, essentially, once we lose a German who goes West he is lost forever, he is Anglicised, he will never come back again. Whereas a German who goes East will still be in many respects in the German space and still be an agent of Germaness. Just to conclude on the anti-capitalism theme, in his last will and testament he makes no reference to the Soviet Union and communism. He refers simply, obliquely, he talks about them as ‘blind automata’, but he inveighs against, quote, ‘international Jewry, the ruling political clique in England, the international conspiracy of money and finance and the American bombers who,’ quote, ‘have burned to death thousands of German women and children.’ So the same arguments, in the First World War it was against the blockade, the same arguments around capitalism, anti-American, anti-British, in 1945.

So, right at the end, what is the relevance of this for today, because I have lured you, to a certain extent, under that title. Well, I think what’s not relevant is whether it tells you anything about Brexit, in one way or the other, it doesn’t even tell you anything about Trump, except that Donald Trump is, of course, a descendant of German immigrants and he is violently anti-German in many ways and therefore does prove my point very effectively. I mean whatever you can argue about these international phenomena, you cannot argue that they have much link to National Socialism. But where the significance does lie, and it won’t surprise you that I’m saying this, is that it lies in the mindset, in this concept of conspiratorial anti-Semitism which, and this is really important, is not a prejudice. It is a worldview. It is the way in which people make sense, many people nowadays, more than ten years ago, make sense of the world around them. It is a framework. Sometimes they are not even aware that it is anti-Semitic but it is conspiratorial and anti-capitalist. It links together the international financial system, Washington, Israel and the Jewish lobby and of course effects also non-Jews who are then seen as the instrument, the catspaw of Jews. It’s one of the reasons why I think non-Jews have to take anti-Semitism very seriously, not simply because it’s another prejudice like hostilities towards other groups but actually because it is a worldview with world-changing implications. It actually causes wars and conflict. And this, I think, explains he ubiquity of Hitler in the sense that you will find him, today, in an anti-globalisation protester as much as on the alt-right, you will find him in an Islamist as much as in an Islamophobe. So he’s still there but I hope, in giving you a somewhat different view of the historical Hitler, it will help you understand better how he lives on in the present day. And I’m actually within my 30 minutes, thank you for your attention.

Andrew Foxall:

Well, full marks for keeping to time and we do now have 30 minutes or so for Q&A. A number of hands have gone up already. All I would ask in the usual way is that you simply say, give your name and if you represent a particular organisation. In the first instance I think we will take questions in twos, if that’s ok with you.

Brendan Simms:

Yeah.

Andrew Foxall:

And then we’ll see how it goes. The first hand I saw go up was this gentleman over here and then this lady over there on the front row and then I’ll try to get to the rest of you as well.

Question 1:

Thank you very much, David [inaudible] Because Hitler wasn’t alone, by any means, in seeing Jewry as an organised conspiracy trying to take over the world and as early as March 1933 the front page of the Daily Express carried a report on a conference in York to boycott German goods after Hitler had become chancellor, was on the verge of becoming chancellor. It was ‘Judea declares war on Germany’ and the question really that I want to ask you is how genuine, do you think, the perception was, both by Hitler and more generally, of that kind of conspiracy and if I may also ask, if you say the Soviet Union wasn’t so important why on earth did Hitler invade it?

Andrew Foxall:

Ok, and the lady here.

Question 2:

What we now call Germany has been fragmented for generations, how does Hitler, you know, balance that out, what is the German identity. I even posed this to some German friends, about German identity.

Andrew Foxall:

And just briefly, your name please?

Question 2:      

Yes sorry, Carrol Shore and I don’t represent anyone.

Andrew Foxall:

Thank you.

Brendan Simms:

Yes so you’re quite right, Hitler was not alone, this was a widespread view and he was in that sense pretty mainstream in certain parts of the world, particularly in Europe but also in parts of what we might now call the Global South. The boycott was a huge issue, I talk about this in the book, because it seemed to his mind to prove his point. You know, ‘I’m attacking Jews here and World Jewry has moved against me’. This has always been, if I may say so, the Jewish security dilemma, because if you lie down you get walked over and if you react to anti-Semitism and organise people say ‘Aha’, you know, so it becomes a self-reinforcing mechanism. Once you are in that mind-set, you are in that mind-set, so he sees Jews in Germany and then Jews more widely as hostages for the so-called ‘goo-behaviour’ of international World Jewry, that’s how you ultimately get to the Holocaust. In the case of the boycott, he actually backed off a little bit because he said, ‘we don’t want to move too early because these people are really powerful’.

On your question, which is of course the $64 million question, ‘If the Soviet Union is not so important, why does he attack the Soviet Union?’, and the answer is simple, the attack on the Soviet Union is not driven primarily by ideology. The attack on the Soviet Union is driven primarily by territory, and so his critique of pre-war German foreign policy and conventional foreign policy after 1919 is he says, ‘Look, having overseas colonies is a waste of time because the British will just cut us off, right? We need space, those are no good, we haven’t got enough space, we haven’t got enough space here, so simply getting back Alsace-Lorraine and so on that’s not enough; we must have large continuous space and that can only be in the East’. The reason why he goes to the Soviet Union is not because the Soviet Union is a threat, its because its weak. He says, ‘These poor people; they have been undermined by Bolshevism and so they will be a good target’. And you can see this, not merely in the rhetoric of the 1920s, you actually see it in his thought in 1940/41. The context in which all the major thinking around Operation Barbarossa was done was in terms of ‘how do we get the resources to outlast Anglo-America?’, that’s what’s driving it. So he’s striking east but its in a Western context. Then as the war unfolds – again this is something that is not often understood because people get obsessed with what Norman Davies calls ‘man months’, they tot up how many men were here and how many were killed. This is not the important thing. The important thing is machine months, its materiel, how much of the German war economy at any given point is fighting the Anglo-Americans and is fighting the Soviet Union? If you run that calculation – which actually, Phil O’Brian at the University of St Andrews did a very interesting book on WW2 – you find that with the exception of a short period in 1942, the majority of the war economy was being devoted to the Anglo-Americans and by the end it’s a very large proportion, its maybe 60%-70%.

Finally, on the fragmentation of Germany, as you say there was this historical fragmentation and Hitler is absolutely conscious of this. For him there has been a fundamental divergence in the history of England, as he refers to it (he means obviously the United Kingdom and British Empire), and the German Reich in the early modern period. He said, ‘They had the Reformation but there was a victor and there was a state church. We had the Reformation and we were fragmented, we had the Treaty of Westphalia’. He hates the Treaty of Westphalia because it enshrines the divisions within Germany and the outside influences on Germany guaranteeing various parts and so on. He sees that then playing out over time through the 18th, 19th century, other divisions; liberalism and conservatism, industrial revolution which creates divisions between classes and so on. Then when you come to 1940 after victory over France, he says ‘I want to have a new Congress of Westphalia reversing Westphalia’, and there’s actually an exhibition in Munster – one of the cities where the treaties were signed in 1940 – where they are sort of talking about Westphalia and how we’ve overcome it. So this fragmentation is really critical and it’s the reason – just to finish this point – it’s the reason why his main enemy in the early 1920s is what? Does anybody know what force inside Germany is causing him the most headaches in the early 1920s? I mentioned it earlier. I mentioned already…No? Its Bavarian separatism because if the Bavarians succeed in seceding or loosening the bonds of the Reich, then the fragmentation will continue.

Andrew Foxall:

There’s a question at the back and then we’ll come to you sir.

Question 3:

Thank you very much indeed. Ewan Grant, I’ve worked in European Commission assistance programmes in the ex-Soviet states and I’ve certainly seen the dark side of Germany in the European Commission and the residual anti-Americanism, some of it really quite severe in the Commission. My question is, how is the message of your book playing out? Have you spoken with other groups in Britain, Europe, America? What kind of reaction are you getting? If you haven’t got it yet, what kind of reaction, perhaps, do you expect? I think lots of people need to hear you. Thank you.

Andrew Foxall:

And you sir.

Question 4:

Alistair Marsden, member of the Henry Jackson Society. I think this is one of the most interesting talks I’ve heard at the Henry Jackson Society over the course of several years, so well done. Two quick questions: one, you mentioned about differences in the economies, was the German economy that far behind the American economy and especially the British economy in the 1930s because that’s not quite my perception but I’m no expert on it? Secondly, you always hear people saying ‘well, Hitler really wanted to ally perhaps with the British, didn’t destroy them at Dunkirk and during Operation Sea lion, how much credence do you give to that?

Brendan Simms:

Ok, so the first question on the reaction, well, its too early to tell the book’s is actually only out today and is being translated into German as we speak but will appear in German in March so I don’t know, it’s very hard to say. I think there’s enough in this book to please and antagonise everyone. You know, if you want to make an argument against Western settler colonialism then you could excavate it from this book, if you want to make an argument against Mr Corbyn you can quite easily excavate this book and so on, and others will take away from this what they want for their argument. So I don’t know what the reaction will be.

On the question of Germany in Europe, one thing that I like to mention is that there is a section on Hitler and European integration and what’s interesting is that Hitler is in no sense a fan of the European integration project. In fact, important parts of his famous second book – which was not published – are written as an attack on the Pan-Europa movement. People were saying America is a big challenge and we therefore have to unite Europe and face off against America nd the Bolsheviks and so on. Hitler said, ‘no, Pan-Europa will not work because you are simple assembling a “rabble” (in his view) of uncoordinated races and peoples and nations. So, he is quite clear that he doesn’t support European integration and there were attempts by the German Foreign Office and even by von Ribbentrop in the war, particularly when things are going pear-shaped, to try and play a European card and he’s always very reluctant to do so.

On the question of the German economy, yes its much smaller. In real terms its maybe about a third of the US one. It’s also smaller than the UK economy – the British Empire certainly – by the late 1930s. The really crucial point is that the peacetime GDP doesn’t necessarily tell you anything very useful about wartime balances. For instance, if you were to toss up all the peacetime GDP’s of Europe in 1939 and then say in Spring 1941 Hitler controls all of those, there two completely different GDP’s? Why? Because peacetime GDP is based on the assumption of unrestricted movement of raw materials, unrestricted export possibilities, etc etc. In wartime you are cut off from your raw materials, you.re cut off from your exports and imports, you have difficulty feeding yourself. So actually what we have in Europe is as much a basket case as a thriving economy. So, the imbalance between Anglo-America and the German Reich in some ways actually becomes greater because Germany was simply unplugged as it had been in the First World War.

With regard to Britain, Hitler’s hope had been that he could have good relations with Britain, according to the way he understood it. That could only be based on the idea that Germany would take its place and join the global cartel, he didn’t want to be globally dominant. In the end – and hence the title of the book – there was no other option, in his own mind, but to bid for that, but his initial plan for quite a long time was simply to join this cartel. From his point of view, the British were not letting him do join – for very good reasons obviously – but I’m just saying, that is the way he saw it and that is why you get the hostility. Now, with regard to Dunkirk specifically, what happens is is that essentially Hitler is still caught up in this sort of First World War mind-set. He thinks ‘the army that’s retreating to the Channel ports is a beaten army but it’s not a rabble, its well organised’ – and I have quotes in the book from the war diaries of different German units involved in this, they’re all saying ‘the British are as hard as leather, they’re fighting hard, so on so forth, this is tough’. Our image is very different; we think this is all just pell mell. So, nobody thinks ‘this is going to be easy to overrun the bridgehead’, the tanks had gone far beyond their supply lines, there had been a counter-attack in Arras, and remember also the terrain is terrible, its full of canals and this kind of thing, its not that easy and Hitler remembered that terrain from the First World War. Also, Goering had said ‘you don’t need to do this, I’ll simply pulverise them’, and for various reasons that didn’t work. So, it wasn’t that he wanted to let the British get away, it was just that he was being too cautious really. You see this again and again in the war diaries of somebody like Halder for example, who was the Chief of Staff, saying ‘the Fuhrer is scared of his own shadow, get on with it, they’re in there let’s go, lets liquidate this pocket’, and Hitler doesn’t want to do it. So, it’s not driven by politics, its driven by military considerations.

Andrew Foxall:

Ok, the next question is from you, sir please in the glasses and then the lady just over your left hand shoulder.

Question 5:

Jonathan Parris, security analyst, Professor Simms its good to see you, again congratulations on the book. A couple of things, since I am an American I’m intrigued with this whole premise. As an American who followed WW2 and Hitler, the thing I remembered about Hitler’s view of America was that he liked cowboy movies meaning, in my mind, he liked America, end of story, never went on beyond that. Second, I come from Cleveland, Ohio, which is part of the Midwest but my wife comes from a different part of the Midwest – which is quite crucial to your argument – and that’s central Illinois. When you look at Illinois and Minnesota you see these people that came from Germany (and Norway I would add, or Scandinavia in general) who built farms, who built houses, who built up the middle of America which was quite empty. I think what’s happened is that the Germans you mentioned, the sons of the farmers, they really had an upward mobile spurt as a result of WW2, that’s when they came into their own and left the farm, so to speak. Ironically, it’s the same time that the Jews in America came up, it was after WW2. The other thing is semantic, when you say Anglo-Saxon, for an American Jew – which I am – Anglo-Saxon means the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant establishment which, for instance, prevented Jews from going to the universities like Harvard or Yale in the 20s beyond a 10% quota. It doesn’t include German Americans. This white Anglo-Saxon is the Episcopalian church, so very segmented, and they had the power. But it’s true that the Germans who, building up the farms, building up America, were doing their work and were building themselves up for their great leap forward after the war.

Andrew Foxall:

Thank you. Please.

Question 6:

My name’s Theres Becher, I’m retired but I belong to a Campaign for Truth organisation. I’ve just been down the road (that’s why I was late here) there was the Israeli President coming and Mike Pence and there were lots of Palestinian flags, so obviously I go with my Israeli flag, but if you actually look at the people who are protesting they all look they all look British middle class to me and I think ‘even after the history of the Holocaust – I know you haven’t got a magic wand – but can you explain why it goes on and on and on. Thank you.

Brendan Simms:

Hello, nice to see you again. So, on the cowboy movies. He was a great fan of Hollywood – not necessarily cowboy movies specifically. We know this, we can see the kind of films that were being watched and also the kind of films that were being banned and sometimes he would watch things privately that had been banned, for instance. So he, and Goebbels also, were very interested in Hollywood and in the whole sort of cultural appeal thereof. There’s a fascinating little vignette you get of this with this footage – many of you will know – it’s in colour, its short on the Berghof in the mountains by Eva Braun, its about a couple of minutes. Some enterprising documentary maker did this sort of lip analysis of what they were saying, and one of the things Hitler says to one of the ladies is ‘You’d all rather be watching Gone With the Wind wouldn’t you?’. Just a sense that he’s totally clear on the immense cultural appeal of Hollywood.

What you say about the ethnic composition of the US; point absolutely well taken. I’ve actually got in my office in Cambridge a map which is the sort of ethnic – for want of a better word – composition of the United States in the year 2000. Now, obviously in 1940, this would have been even more extremely the case, but actually most of this is German blue, it’s the largest single representation – It’d be different now I think, a bit – but in 1940 it would have been even larger. So, the Germans are the largest single national group US, probably still today, certainly at the time that Hitler was talking about. Now their relationship with the Anglo-Saxons was, as you say, complicated. They are not really fully Anglo-Saxon in that discourse for quite a long time, but Hitler’s argument is that they are assimilated into it and I think that’s broadly speaking true. One of the bizarre little wrinkles in all of this is that he reads the American racial theorists and the key figure here is a chap called Madison Grant who wrote a book called The Passing of the Great Race, in 1916, and is essentially a sort of lament for the loss of Anglo-Saxon, or Anglo-Saxon/Celt. It’s not just he’s against blacks of Jews and Asians, but he’s pretty unsure about Slavs and even some Germans. German racial theorists were furious with Grant, they said ‘what do you mean we’re not a Nordic nation?’, and he said ‘well for the following reasons you’re not’. Hitler said, ‘actually Grant is right, we are not really Nordic’. To be Nordic was an aspirational for him and those that were furthest along the way were the Americans. He says, ‘how can you know this? Look at their immigration legislation, they’re keeping everybody out except for certain groups, and we’re letting everybody in. Again, another trope you see nowadays quite a lot this idea of repopulation.

Finally, the lady’s question about Palestine and the persistence of particular sort of discourse; Palestine/Israel, buts its also embedded in a much larger kind of critique of the Jewish lobby – I took that to be your drift. I think the reason for it is because for many people, it is a way of explaining the world, it’s a framework, once you’ve grasped this, you’ve had an insight, then it’s a kind of open sesame, you may be outraged but you will no longer be baffled. That was the attraction of Hitler and all these other – we have a world view as well, obviously, it’s just we think ours is the right one. So this is not at all surprising really, that’s my explanation.

Question 6:

Even after the Holocaust, it still goes on.

Brendan Simms:

I agree with you but I’m just trying to explain.

Andrew Foxall:

So I have four more questions, or at least four more people next on my list. The two gentleman in the front row please in whichever order you prefer.

Question 7:

Comment and a question. Hugh Edwards, I’m a retired chartered accountant. I think one of his favourite films was a 1935 film, The Adventures of a Bengal Lancer with Gary Cooper. He would watch it again and again and again. He also said sometime that ‘the Ukraine will be our India’. The question is that I wonder whether there were some fellow travellers on Nazism, people like von Schleicher, von Pappen who thought they could manipulate Hitler for their own ends. I suspect they wanted to see the monarchy restored and of course they got it utterly wrong, von Schleicher was executed in the Night of the Long Knives. Do you think that these people actually facilitated – its slightly off your point – Hitler becoming Chancellor. One final thing, on economics, didn’t’ Germany suffer after 1929 in the slump worse than the UK or the US? They had it worse than any other country.

Andrew Foxall:

And the gentlemen next to you for his.

Question 8:

Michael Ullman. Why in 1941 did Hitler declare war on the United States? It was a choice and a disastrous choice and how does that fit in with your general thesis?

Andrew Foxall:

Ok thank you. Sorry, just for those perhaps at the back who didn’t hear, the first question related to Hitler’s coming to power and also the impact on Germany of the Great Depression and the economic downfall of 1929.

Brendan Simms:

And Lives of the Bengal Lancer as his favourite film and the links between Ukraine and India. Ok, so on manipulating Hitler for their own ends, absolutely true, I mean I talk about that a bit in the book but it’s not my sort of forte. They did facilitate his rise, you’re absolutely right. 1929 the slump did hit Germany far worse than the US or Britain. On the Bengal Lancer, I know the story, it goes back to his valet. I’ve not actually been able to find in the records of the films he watched that particular film so I couldn’t totally vouch for the veracity of it. But your broader point is absolutely correct, he sees the Ukraine in that imperialist context as an India, but he also sees Ukraine as a Mississippi. Now this is the tension in his argument – and I talk about this a lot in the book. There is a world of difference between straight forward imperialism where you have colonised peoples and annihilatory settler colonialism. Hitler admires the Americans, he says, ‘they did it the right way, they basically exterminated the Indians and they then had settler colonialism’ and so there is a tension in his mind between Ukraine as India and Ukraine as Mississippi which is never entirely resolved but they represent two different forms of a colonial project.

The question on the declaration of war on the United States, 11th December 1941, absolutely critical, it seems like a completely unforced error, why would you do this? Many people said ‘well its because he despises the Americans, he doesn’t think its going to make any difference’, that’s completely – I’m not saying you said that – but that is an argument that is completely untrue, he’s terrified of the Americans, he knows exactly how much the Americans can produce. Why is he doing this? He’s doing this because in his mind – this is actually the subject of my next book which Charlie Lederman which is on the period between Pearl Harbour and 11th December 1941 – because in his mind he is already at war with the United States because the United States is already supplying Britain, its already occupied Iceland, its already attacking U-boats on the high seas. He’s told the Japanese that ‘if you come into the war and tie down’ – he expects the Americans are coming in soon anyway –‘ if you come in and tie down the Americans and the British Empire in the Far East, I’ll come in against the Americans’. It was a deal. So he regarded as simply a done deal that within 6 months at the latest the US was going to be in the war anyway. I personally don’t think that is the case anyway, I think he just actually solved Roosevelt’s problem for him. But in his own mind, he was being framed by the American press, by the Jewish lobby, by the international capitalist, he was being set up in his own mind to be the rogue state, he was going to be taken down, and all he was doing was pre-empting it. That was his discourse. That is why he doesn’t actually formally declare in his speech he actually just recognises the existence of war, is the phrase he uses. So I hope that answers your question.

Andrew Foxall:

Two final questions. The gentleman here in the second row and the gentleman by the door as well.

Question 9:

Thank you. My name is John Spane. In my utter innocence it never occurred to me that Hitler had any sanity in his thinking, so this is quite an interesting opening. But, he had these thoughts, he had a way of describing to himself the way he saw things going. To what extent did the people around him really buy into them? And. Maybe, those are the connections that we might be seeing today.

Question 10:

Andrew Roche. It’s often said that we didn’t really understand Hitler because hardly anyone ever read Mein Kampf, it wasn’t even in English until late one. What reference does he make, if any, to the United States in Mein Kampf, he talks a lot about Jews and the Soviet Union. Is he being flagged up at that stage to underline your argument?

Brendan Simms:

So, I wouldn’t agree with you that what I described to you is sanity.

Question 9:

Well that he thought he could actually develop an argument.

Brendan Simms:

So there’s a coherence?

Question 9:

Coherence.

Brendan Simms:

Correct, I completely agree, his world view is coherent. Where it becomes incoherent is in this sort of tension that if Anglo-America is so splendid and pure and so forth, how is it that they are – according to his own world view – captured by this malign influence? That doesn’t make a great deal of sense. But if you set that aside actually his world view within its own framework is coherent, not sane, but coherent. I completely agree. I think this worldview was not held in its entirety by all that many people but the argument about demography, everybody knew, they all had relatives in the United States so the United States loomed much larger in the German imagination than the Soviet Union did. In that sense it was a kind of common belief in many ways.

As far as Mein Kampf is concerned, the United States features relatively little in Mein Kampf which I think is one of the reasons why the points I’ve made here haven’t really been made in that systematic way before. It’s partly due to the fact that he had another book planned, which was the second book, which was almost entirely about the United States. There is stuff on the United States; he talks about the American union and its structure when he’s talking about federalism. But all of these things that I’ve cited here are from speeches and articles in the 1920s, and so you have to look at the overall corpus. The fixation on Mein Kampf, in that sense, I think has led people into a blind alley that wasn’t in Mein Kampf in such a clear way. I mean, the anti-capitalism, by the way, is all over Mein Kampf but the demographic argument isn’t there in the same way and I think that’s probably one of the reasons why this hasn’t been spotted.

Andrew Foxall:

Thank you Brendan. Again, immaculate timing, we’ve just hit 2pm on the dot.

Brendan Simms:

Right.

Andrew Foxall:

I must admit that, a couple of years ago when you told me you were going to be working on the book, I was one of those people who was not convinced that anything new could be written or said about Hitler, but clearly through the talk – frankly enlightening talk that you’ve given today, you’ve moved beyond my scepticism a great deal. Copies of the book are available outside – £30 – as I say Brendan is quite happy to sign copies of them. Don’t just buy one copy, Christmas isn’t that far away – two or three – but genuinely Brendan, fascinating, thank you very much indeed.

 

HJS



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