“Nazism was inseparable from war”: not a novel thesis, but brightly defended here.
From the start, Adolf Hitler and his “band of political gangsters, inspired by a crude racist ideology,” made no secret of their desire to go to war. One cause was to avenge the defeat of Germany and Austria-Hungary in WWI, which helped induce economic ruin and political chaos, as well as inspire the sense that the politicians had stabbed the army in the back. Ten million German veterans were able to vote after the war, and they voted far right. Apart from Hitler and a few of his comrades, however, most Nazis had had no direct experience of the war; quoting memoirist Sebastian Haffner, Bessel (History/Univ. of York) observes that “the truly Nazi generation” was born after 1900 and saw WWI as a great game. Inexperience notwithstanding, the Nazis also pushed a war in the East meant to secure “living room,” destroy Bolshevism, and annihilate the Jews and other supposed lesser peoples. Thus, on coming to power, the Nazi leadership put the German economy on war footing: “For Hitler, the economy was not primarily an arena for generating wealth, but one for providing the hardware required for military conquest, and the determination to rearm underlay all the regime’s economic policies.” Against some leftist historians, however, Bessel posits that the Nazi regime was not a tool of big business: “It would be mistaken to conclude,” he writes, “that the underlying logic of Nazism was unbridled capitalist exploitation,” adding that Hitler rejected free-market ideology and accommodated capitalism as a useful pawn, just as practical-minded capitalists with Germany began formally preparing for defeat as early as 1943. It took Germany decades to face the past, Bessel writes, and because its enemies committed extreme violence, too, Germans could think of themselves as victims, as people to be “pitied rather than reviled.”
Bessel ably shows why such thinking is incorrect, and how the Nazi regime was able to secure so much support in its project of total war.