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About this book

This collection of essays deals with some of the problems posed by the origins of World War II. Was World War II part of a developing world crisis or should it be seen purely in a European context? Before 1960 general historical opinion held that World War I 'broke out', World War II was 'precipitated'. Fritz Fischer's and A.J.P Taylor's challenge to this thesis caused a controversy which made it impossible to isolate the causes of the two World Wars.

Whether Hitler was an opportunist or a planner (or both) is discussed in a series of articles, the introduction to which considers the irrational element in Hitler's character and the contradictions in his policy. One author presents Hitler's attitude towards Japan and offers reasons why there was so little collusion between Germany and Japan before the end of 1937. Readers are introduced to the ideas of both American and Japanese writers as to the causes of the 'China Incident' of July 1937 and its influence on European politics.

Other topics presented include Mussolini's role as an 'icebreaker' for Hitler; Chamberlain's policy of appeasement; the Rome Agreements of 1935 which caused a rift between Britain and France over Ethiopia; Hitler's attitude towards Japan; Roosevelt's movement of the U.S. Fleet; the defeat of France; the Japanese occupation of Indo-China; and other key issues. A plea for historians of the former belligerents to meet periodically in small groups to discuss research concludes this volume.

Table of Contents

Introduction: World War II: The Historians and their Materials

So much of European history is taken up with wars that we tend to concentrate on the destructive aspects of human life. Indeed, Professor Geoffrey Barraclough tells us that we should stop talking about the causes of wars and revolutions altogether and turn to their effects. Perhaps future historians, Barraclough maintains, will regard the two world wars as negative phenomena, which provided the peoples of Africa and Asia with an opportunity of asserting their own emerging culture and national identity. Barraclough is certainly right in maintaining that we should judge the negative aspects of human life in terms of the positive, and it has not evaded his notice that the effect of one conflict is frequently the cause of a second.1 The conclusion to be drawn is that World War I may have been European in its theatre of action, world-wide in its effects; World War II was world-wide in both respects.
E. M. Robertson

1. The Historiography of World War II

Ten years have now passed since the conclusion of the Second World War, and it is perhaps opportune to consider how far its ‘origins’ have become a proper subject for historical research. It will, of course, at once be realised that it is at present impossible, and will be for a long time to come very difficult, to reach any definite overall assessment of pre-war diplomacy during the years between 1919 and 1939. This is not because no, or only a small amount of, material is available, or because historians have shirked treatment of the problems involved. On the contrary, a considerable amount of archival material has already been published in book form, or is at the disposal of research students relying on microfilm. In addition, a number of historians have written on various aspects of interwar diplomacy, some would say too many of them have been writing on the subject. The question arises, however, if their labours have achieved as much as they or their admirers claim, namely if the origins of the war can now be said to have been put in adequate perspective.
T. Desmond Williams

2. The Conquest of the Past: Some Recent German Books on the Third Reich

The first Germans born after the end of the Third Reich are now growing up, and those who played an active part in Hitler’s rise to power or in the running of his regime are now elderly or dead. Yet the memory of the Nazi period is still very much alive: during the last two years, first the Eichmann trial and now the trial of the Auschwitz guards have brought vivid and horrifying reminders of the atrocities committed in the Third Reich and of the part played in them by seemingly ordinary Germans. Although the investigations leading up to the trials of ex-Nazis are often disagreeable and unpopular — it was recently reported that the police conducting them had asked to be transferred to other jobs — it cannot be said that the Germans are being allowed to forget. Again and again in articles and discussions the phrase ‘the unconquered past’ (die unbewaltigte Vergangenheit) recurs, and nineteen years after Hitler’s death and the collapse of his Reich, the analysis of its origins and the search for an explanation are being pursued more vigorously than ever before.
James Joll

3. A. J. P. Taylor, Hitler and the War

It is over twenty years since the war began. A generation has grown up which never knew the 1930s, never shared its passions and doubts, was never excited by the Spanish civil war, never boiled with indignation against the ‘appeasers’, never lived in suspense from Nuremberg rally to Nuremberg rally, awaiting the next hysterical outburst, the next clatter of arms, from the megalomaniac in Berlin. Those of us who knew those days and who try to teach this new generation are constantly made aware of this great gulf between us. How can we communicate across such a gulf the emotional content of those years, the mounting indignation which finally convinced even the ‘appeasers’ themselves that there could be no peace with Hitler, and caused the British people, united in pacifism in 1936, to go, in 1939, united into war? For it was not the differing shades of justice in Germany’s claims upon the Rhineland, Austria, the Sudetenland, Prague and Danzig which caused men who had swallowed the first of these annexations to be increasingly exasperated by those which followed and take up arms against the last.
H. R. Trevor-Roper

4. How to Quote: Exercises for Beginners

Without Abstract
A. J. P. Taylor, H. R. Trevor-Roper

5. Some Origins of the Second World War

The fifth impression of Mr A. J. Taylor’s The Origins of the Second World War contains a new introductory essay entitled ‘Second Thoughts’, in which he makes explicit some of the important underlying propositions of the book, and deals in greater detail with a number of specific problems. The central issues are now clear beyond dispute.
T. W. Mason

6. War Origins Again

Any author should be grateful for such careful scrutiny as Mr T. W. Mason has given to my book on The Origins of the Second World War (‘Some Origins of the Second World War’, Past and Present, no. 29 (Dec 1964) 67–87 (Paper 5)). The informed critic always sees faults which the author has overlooked. I had already found some of them myself. For instance, I was quite wrong in suggesting that the meeting presented in the so-called Hossbach Protocol was designed by Hitler as a move against Schacht. I was overawed by previous writers who all asserted that the meeting was of great importance. When I read the record, itself highly dubious, I discovered that it would not bear the interpretations put upon it — ‘a blueprint of German policy’ or ‘Hitler’s last will and testament’. But surely, I thought, the meeting must have had some significance, seeing that everyone takes it so seriously. So I tried to discover one. However I was mistaken. The meeting had no significance. It followed a dispute between Blomberg and Göring over priorities, and Hitler evaded decision by ranting in his usual fashion.
A. J. P. Taylor

7. Critics of the Taylor View of History

Since its publication in 1961, The Origins of the Second World War has been closely read by friend and foe. Its general argument that the Second World War resulted from misunderstanding, mistakes and traditional patterns of statecraft for which no one can be blamed proved unpalatable to many English and American scholars, who raised two basic objections to Taylor’s book. Firstly, he had cast doubt on the validity of moral judgements in dealing with Nazi Germany and historical events generally, and he had also repudiated the Nuremberg verdict that the war was an integral part of National Socialist policy. It was feared that the first point would obfuscate historiographical thought while the second could endanger current and future political developments.
C. Robert Cole

8. Hitler and the Origins of the Second World War: Second Thoughts on the Status of Some of the Documents

Ernst Nolte in his Die Epoche des Faschismus writes that Hitler undoubtedly in principle had wanted war ‘but hardly that war at that time’,2 meaning the war of 1939. This somewhat muddled thesis conceals two distinct issues, namely the argument that in 1939 contingencies were not entirely to Hitler’s liking and the argument that in 1939 contingencies were so little to his liking that we must conclude that Hitler took no conscious steps to risk a general war. Few would question the first argument, it is the second which is in need of further examination. Did Hitler in 1939 set out on a premeditated course towards war with Poland and with France and Britain as Walter Hofer implies;3 or was his aim confined to war with Poland exclusively? Or, last but not least, while accepting the risk of war with Poland, were his diplomatic manoeuvres calculated to repeat Munich all over again?
H. W. Koch

9. Hitler and the Origins of the Second World War

In the twenty years since the end of the war and the Nuremberg trials, historical controversy has been largely concerned with the share of the other Powers in the responsibility for allowing war to break out in 1939. Thus, the British and French governments of the 1930s have been blamed for their policy of appeasement and for failing to secure an agreement with Russia; Mussolini for his alliance with Hitler; Stalin for the Nazi-Soviet Pact; the Poles for the illusions which encouraged them to believe that they could hold Russia as well as Germany at arm’s length. Taking a wider sweep, historians have turned for an explanation of the origins of the Second World War to the mistakes made in the peace settlement that followed the First; to the inadequacies of British and French policy between the wars; the retreat of the United States into isolation; the exdusion of the Soviet Union; the social effects of the Great Depression, and so on.
Alan Bullock

10. Document: The Secret Laval-Mussolini Agreement of 1935 on Ethiopia

On 5 January 1935 the French foreign minister, Pierre Laval, and the Italian dictator, Mussolini, met in Rome. Two days later, on 7 January 1935, the two men concluded eight separate agreements. Four of these were published:1 a general declaration; a treaty regulating Franco-Italian conflicts of interest in Africa; a special protocol on the status of the Italian minority in French-occupied Tunisia; and a procés-verbal proposing a collective non-aggression pact of all the states in Europe bordering on the Republic of Austria, then gravely threatened by Nazi Germany. The contents of the other four agreements, which were kept secret, purported to be covered by a communique issued the same day.2 On three of these four agreements, the communique was, to say the least, misleading. They comprised a protocol providing for joint consultation in the event of Nazi Germany denouncing the restrictions still imposed on her by the 1919 Treaty of Versailles; a protocol protecting the status quo at the mouth of the Red Sea; and two exchanges of letters, proclaiming French disinterest in the economic sphere in Ethiopia, and promising Italian capital participation in the share capital of the Addis Ababa-Jibuti railroad, the one avenue for Ethiopian trade with the outside world.3
D. C. Watt

11. Japanese Imperialism and Aggression: Reconsiderations, II

Taiheiyō sensō e no michi: kaisen gaikō-shi [The Road to the Pacific War: A Diplomatic History before the War], edited by Nihon Kokusai Seiji Gakkai Taiheiyo Sensō Gen‘in Kenkyūbu [The Japan Association of International Relations, the Committee to Study the Origins of the Pacific War] (Tokyo: Asahi Shimbun Sha, 1962–3):
  • Vol. I: Manshū jihen zen‘ya [The Eve of the Manchurian Incident] xii, 498. Appendixes, Index. 650 yen.
  • Vol. II: Manshū jihen [The Manchurian Incident] viii, 435. Appendixes, Index. 650 yen.
  • Vol. III: Nit-Chū sensō: jō [The Sino-Japanese War: I] x, 404. Appendixes, Index. 650 yen.
  • Vol. IV: Nit-Chū sensō: ge [The Sino-Japanese War: II] viii, 426. Appendixes, Index. 650 yen.
  • Vol. V: Sangoku dōmei, Nis-So chūritsu jyōyaku [The Axis Alliance, the Japanese-Soviet Neutrality Treaty] vi, 393. Appendixes, Index. 650 yen.
  • Vol. VI: Nampō shinshutsu [The Southward Advance] x, 437. Appendixes, Index. 650 yen.
  • Vol. VII: Nichi-Bei kaisen [The Outbreak of War between Japan and the United States] x, 493. Appendixes, Index. 650 yen.
Akira Iriye

12. Japan’s Foreign Policies between World Wars: Sources and Interpretations

Gendaishi shiryō [Documents on Contemporary History] (Tokyo: Misuzu Shobō, 1964–6):
  • Vol. VII: Manshū jihen [The Manchurian Incident] lxiv, 606. S500 yen.
  • Vol. VIII: Nit-Chū sensō: I [The Sino-Japanese War: I] lxxv, 821. 3000 yen.
  • Vol. IX: Nit-Chū sensō: II [The Sino-Japanese War: II] Iv, 798. 3000 yen.
  • Vol. X: Nit-Chū sensō: III [The Sino-Japanese War: III] ci, 705. 3000 yen.
  • Vol. XI: Zoku Manshū jihen [The Manchurian Incident, continued] xxxii, 991. 3500 yen.
  • Vol. xii: Nit-Chū sensō: IV [The Sino-Japanese War: IV] xxxiii, 596. 2500 yen.
  • Vol. XIII: Nit-Chū sensō: IV [The Sino-Japanese War: V] xxiii, 731. 2800 yen.
Akira Iriye

13. Pearl Harbor and the Revisionists

It was perhaps inevitable that after the Second World War, as after the war of 1914–18, there should appear in the United States a school of historians questioning the purposes of the war and the motives of the wartime statesmen. The cost of both world wars, in human lives and in physical resources, was very high; and it was only natural that some individuals should question such expenditure. Yet the new school of ‘revisionism’ appearing after the Second World War has undertaken a line of investigation which, if successful, will force the rewriting of an entire era in American history. The revisionists hope to prove that in 1941 President Franklin D. Roosevelt purposely exposed the Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor, and goaded the Japanese into attacking it, thus bringing the United States into the war on the side of the Allies. As Professor Harry Elmer Barnes has put the case, in rather plain English, ‘The net result of revisionist scholarship applied to Pearl Harbor boils down essentially to this: In order to promote Roosevelt’s political ambitions and his mendacious foreign policy some three thousand American boys were quite needlessly butchered….’1
Robert H. Ferrell
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