U.S. poster from 1953.
Excerpted from Leaving World War II Behind
Hitler was clearly preparing for war long before he started it. Hitler remilitarized the Rhineland, annexed Austria, and threatened Czechoslovakia. High-ranking officials in the German military and "intelligence" plotted a coup. But Hitler gained popularity with every step he took, and the lack of any sort of opposition from Britain or France surprised and demoralized the coup plotters. The British government was aware of the coup plots and was aware of the plans for war, yet chose not to support political opponents of the Nazis, not to support the coup plotters, not to enter the war, not to threaten to enter the war, not to blockade Germany, not to get serious about ceasing to arm and supply Germany, not to uphold the Kellogg-Briand Pact through court proceedings like those that would happen after the war in Nuremberg but could have happened before the war (at least with defendants in absentia) over Italy's attack on Ethiopia or Germany's attack on Czechoslovakia, not to demand that the United States join the League of Nations, not to demand that the League of Nations act, not to propagandize the German public in support of nonviolent resistance, not to evacuate those threatened with genocide, not to propose a global peace conference or the creation of the United Nations, and not to pay any attention to what the Soviet Union was saying.
The Soviet Union was proposing a pact against Germany, an agreement with England and France to act together if attacked. England and France were not even slightly interested. The Soviet Union tried this approach for years and even joined the League of Nations. Even Poland was uninterested. The Soviet Union was the only nation that proposed to go in and fight for Czechoslovakia if Germany attacked it, but Poland which ought to have known it was next in line for a Nazi assault denied the Soviets passage to reach Czechoslovakia. Poland, later also invaded by the Soviet Union, may have feared that Soviet troops would not pass through it but occupy it. While Winston Churchill seems to have been almost eager for a war with Germany, Neville Chamberlain not only refused to cooperate with the Soviet Union or to take any violent or nonviolent step on behalf of Czechoslovakia, but actually demanded that Czechoslovakia not resist, and actually handed Czechoslovakian assets in England over to the Nazis. Chamberlain seems to have been on the side of the Nazis beyond what would have made sense in the cause of peace, a cause that the business interests he usually acted on behalf of did not completely share. For his part, Churchill was such an admirer of fascism that historians suspect him of later contemplating installing the Nazi-sympathizing Duke of Windsor as a fascist ruler in England, but Churchill's more dominant inclination for decades seems to have been for war over peace.
The position of most of the British government from 1919 until the rise of Hitler and beyond was fairly consistent support for the development of a rightwing government in Germany. Anything that could be done to keep communists and leftists out of power in Germany was supported. Former British Prime Minister and Leader of the Liberal Party David Lloyd George on September 22, 1933, remarked: "I know there have been horrible atrocities in Germany and we all deplore and condemn them. But a country passing through a revolution is always liable to ghastly episodes owing to the administration of justice being seized here and there by an infuriated rebel." If the Allied powers overthrew Nazism, Lloyd George warned, "extreme communism" would take its place. "Surely that cannot be our objective," he remarked. [i]
So, that was the trouble with Nazism: a few bad apples! One must be understanding during times of revolution. And, besides, the British were tired of war after WWI. But the funny thing is that immediately upon the conclusion of WWI, when nobody could have possibly been more tired of war due to WWI, a revolution happened one with its share of bad apples that could have been magnanimously tolerated: the revolution in Russia. When the Russian revolution happened, the United States, Britain, France, and allies sent first funding in 1917, and then troops in 1918, into Russia to support the anti-revolutionary side of the war. Through 1920 these understanding and peace-loving nations fought in Russia in a failed effort to overthrow the Russian revolutionary government. While this war rarely makes it into U.S. text books, Russians tend to remember it as the beginning of over a century of opposition and insistent enmity from the United States and Western Europe, the alliance during WWII notwithstanding.
In 1932, Cardinal Pacelli, who in 1939 would become Pope Pius XII, wrote a letter to the Zentrum or Center Party, the third largest political party in Germany. The Cardinal was worried about the possible rise of communism in Germany, and advised the Center Party to help make Hitler chancellor. From then on the Zentrum supported Hitler. [ii]
President Herbert Hoover, who lost Russian oil holdings to the Russian revolution, believed that the Soviet Union needed to be crushed. [iii]
The Duke of Windsor, who was King of England in 1936 until he abdicated to marry the scandalously previously married Wallis Simpson from Baltimore, had tea with Hitler at Hitler's Bavarian mountain retreat in 1937. The Duke and Duchess toured German factories that were manufacturing weapons in preparation for WWII, and "inspected" Nazi troops. They dined with Goebbels, Göring, Speer, and Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop. In 1966, the Duke recalled that, "[Hitler] made me realize that Red Russia was the only enemy, and that Great Britain and all of Europe had an interest in encouraging Germany to march against the east and to crush communism once and for all . . . . I thought that we ourselves would be able to watch as the Nazis and the Reds would fight each other."[iv]
Is "appeasement" the proper denunciation for people so enthused about becoming spectators to mass slaughter?[v]
There's a dirty little secret hiding in WWII, a war so dirty that you wouldn't think it could have a dirty little secret, but it's this: the top enemy of the West before, during, and after the war was the Russian communist menace. What Chamberlain was after in Munich was not only peace between Germany and England, but also war between Germany and the Soviet Union. It was a longstanding goal, a plausible goal, and a goal that was in fact eventually achieved. The Soviets tried to make a pact with Britain and France but were turned away. Stalin wanted Soviet troops in Poland, which Britain and France (and Poland) would not accept. So, the Soviet Union signed a non-aggression pact with Germany, not an alliance to join in any war with Germany, but an agreement not to attack each other, and an agreement to divide up Eastern Europe. But, of course, Germany didn't mean it. Hitler simply wanted to be left alone to attack Poland. And so he was. Meanwhile, the Soviets sought to create a buffer and expand their own empire by attacking the Baltic states, Finland, and Poland.
The Western dream of bringing down the Russian communists, and using German lives to do it, seemed ever closer. From September of 1939 to May of 1940, France and England were officially at war with Germany, but not actually waging much war. The period is known to historians as "the Phoney War." In fact, Britain and France were waiting for Germany to attack the Soviet Union, which it did, but only after attacking Denmark, Norway, Holland, Belgium, France, and England. Germany fought WWII on two fronts, the western and the eastern, but mostly the eastern. Some 80% of German casualties were on the eastern front. The Russians lost, according to Russia's calculations, 27 million lives. [vi] The communist menace, however, survived.
When Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, U.S. Senator Robert Taft articulated a view held across the political spectrum and by civilians and officials in the U.S. military when he said that Joseph Stalin was "the most ruthless dictator in the world," and claimed that "the victory of communism . . . would be far more dangerous than the victory of fascism."[vii]
Senator Harry S Truman took what might be called a balanced perspective, though not so balanced between life and death: "If we see that Germany is winning we ought to help Russia and if Russia is winning we ought to help Germany, and that way let them kill as many as possible, although I don't want to see Hitler victorious under any circumstances."[viii]
In line with Truman's view, when Germany moved swiftly into the Soviet Union, President Roosevelt proposed sending aid to the Soviet Union, for which proposal he received vicious condemnation from those on the right in U.S. politics, and resistance from within the U.S. government. [ix] The United States promised aid to the Soviets, but three-quarters of it at least at this stage didn't arrive. [x] The Soviets were doing more damage to the Nazi military than all other nations combined, but were struggling in the effort. In lieu of promised aid, the Soviet Union asked for approval to keep, after the war, the territories it had seized in Eastern Europe. Britain urged the United States to agree, but the United States, at this point, refused. [xi]
(Note: You can view every article as one long page if you sign up as an Advocate Member, or higher).