A history of nineteenth-century Germany opens with the words ‘In the beginning was Napoleon’.1 The same could be said in relation to the writing of the history of the Third Reich about Hitler. Particularly as regards foreign policy, interpretations were and remain Hitler-centric.2 But that is not the whole story. In 1961 A. J. P. Taylor stirred up a hornets’ nest by arguing that while Hitler may have had some vague notions of expansion to the East he had no clear plans.3 In Taylor’s view he simply seized the opportunities presented to him as any German statesman would have done. That challenged the general consensus among historians that Hitler’s aims were both radical and implemented in a logical order. Those who subscribed to that view included Hitler’s then leading English biographer, Alan Bullock, and Hugh Trevor Roper and German scholars like Klaus Hildebrand and Andreas Hillgruber.4 With varying emphases they maintained that Hitler imposed on German foreign policy the specific goals, timing and methods of expansion. He followed, they suggested, a clear programme, from removing the sanctions clauses of Versailles, to expansion in Europe, to living space in the Soviet Union and from there to an — albeit less well-defined — final conflict for world mastery. These historians became loosely lumped together in the discussion as the ‘intentionalists’ because they stressed Hitler’s intentions as the primary part of any explanation. Taylor too was an intentionalist — he simply did not believe that Hitler had any real intentions.
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