Was not the war of 1939–45 avoidable? When historians look at the diplomacy of the 1930s that failed to forestall the outbreak of war in 1939, they tend to ignore core elements of continuity with the 1920s. They deal with the earlier period only for an explanation of Germany’s relations with the democracies; Britain, in particular. This makes sense. Hostilities were, after all, started against Poland by Hitler’s Germany. And was it not London that declared war on Berlin in September 1939? But when one searches for explanations as to why Hitler was not stopped short of war, it no longer suffices merely to focus on British appeasement of Germany or French weakness, or relations between the powers of western and central Europe, or, indeed, on the causes of American isolationism. Although resolutely and consistently shut out of all serious negotiations by the British government and although militarily incapable of launching an offensive against Germany even before Stalin’s terror struck the Red Army, the Soviet Union has also to be taken into account; the nature of its relations with the democracies, as well as with Hitler’s Germany. And those relations were forged in the 1920s and their nature was incontestably one of barely suppressed hostility; a peace in name only. Moreover, not only was Moscow still seen on all sides as the citadel of revolution in the 1920s, it was also seen as such well into the 1930s; not least because of the Spanish Civil War. For although the Russians might not have been able alone to counterbalance the might of German arms, the consequences of marginalising them into fearful and hostile isolation cost Europe dearly, as the events that unfolded from August 1939 dramatically attested.
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