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COMMENTARY: HISTORY FROM ANCIENT TO MODERN

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No Hitler, No War?

Steven Pinker quotes the historian F H Hinsley, who wrote:

Historians are, rightly, nearly unanimous that ... the causes of the Second World War were the personality and the aims of Adolf Hitler.

Pinker quotes John Keegan as agreeing. Keegan: "Only one European really wanted war – Adolf Hitler." And Pinker quotes the political scientist John Mueller, who wrote that if Hitler had died anytime before September 1939 "Europe's greatest war would most probably never have happened." (The Better Angels of Or Nature, p. 208-09)

In my opinion it is easy to ignore social context in developments and to over-emphasize the power of a single individual. We cannot dismiss the possibility that German politics would have remained the same through the 20's and 30's had Hitler not existed. Whoever emerged as fuhrer of a revanchist and hawkish party in Germany might have been equal to Hitler in wanting to undo the Versailles Treaty and to push Poland back from Danzig. No German politician could have led his nation into a war against Poland if Germans in 1939 had the attitudes that Germans in general do today. This is a reference to social context. It was social context that allowed Hitler to create war in 1939, and we cannot say it would not have happened had there been an impatient and hawlkish leader in power in Germany other than Hitler.

Copyright © 2013 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.