ORIGINAL: Capt. Harlock
Fair points, except that there is a gray (grey?) area between public opinion being all-important or worthless. For a short war, such as the French would have had if they had attacked in 1936 after the re-militarization of the Rhineland, public opinion has much less weight than it would for a long-haul conflict.
I think this ignores the actual problems of the time that caused inaction, and what British or French action would have meant – something neither of us can ever know.
The view you’ve taken is that there is a ‘short war’ and then all will be right. Well maybe… but I’d venture almost certainly not, and there is nothing in what we know about Hitler to suggest this would be the case.
There are the practical – and very real – aspects that led to inaction; the general (and worldwide) feeling that the Germans were probably dealt too harshly at Versailles, the cost of mobilisation to the already crippled French economy (stopping re-militarisation all sounds so simple, but if French troops are going in, they need to be prepared to be met with force), public opinion that did not want another war. To name but three.
There was mention by one poster of sanctions on Germany as one possibility for dealing with the German action. But this was never going to happen. Trade with Germany was vital for many countries who simply refused to countenance such action (and how many of those ultimately fell under the heel of the jack-boot?) and of course without US involvement it was pointless anyway.
There is also the matter, which bizarrely is never questioned (certainly in no book I’ve ever read), of what would have been the result of French action anyway? Would it, as some like to believe, simply stopped WWII in its tracks?
Well worst case (for the French) is that the Germans refuse to budge. So now what? The French troops have no choice but to start shooting – or they turn back themselves. And we know what happens in the case of the former. Civilians die, property is destroyed and it’s a mess. In 1936, the Germans have no choice but to withdraw eventually, but the damage has been done. So do you think that little episode makes the general German feeling of being hard done by go away? From everything we know about Hitler, is he likely to have taken that on the chin? And even if there was no shooting war and the German troops withdraw, then what?
Is Hitler going to go away as a result of this? Goebbels would have set about this with a passion? The French, marching in to German sovereign territory (the unjust Versailles means nothing here), would simply feed the anger that has never dissipated since 1918. French occupation troops are now seen as the aggressors who marched in thanks to a breach of a treaty provision that world opinion – yes including the US – thinks is unjust anyway. Whichever way you slice it, the poor French are onto a loser here.
Occupation costs the French treasury a fortune (I’ve seen an article which quoted some numbers but annoyingly can’t locate at present) and that is only going to rise if Hitler takes the next logical step. Manufacture some atrocity carried out by occupation troops, civilians are killed, world opinion turns even more against the French etc. etc. And how long are the French supposed to stay? No support from other League of Nations members, their treaty with the Soviets is irrelevant as that only kicks in if Germany attacks France and, if Hitler plays things right, world opinion increasingly turning against France and German public opinion actually getting more polarised. And of course it’s not just the German public. At this stage – 1936 – with Germany being ‘humiliated’ the German General Staff are going to be siding with Hitler.
Was inaction an opportunity missed? Possibly because there is always the dream possibility that action could have avoided WWII. But I think there are plenty of logical, sound reasons at the time, to excuse inaction by everyone – not just the French - and moreover, I personally don’t believe that action was in any way shape or form a sure fire guarantee that a European war, in some form or other would not have resulted at some point. At very best I believe such action would simply have kicked the can down the road a few years. Hitler’s very being would be reason for that.
ORIGINAL: Capt. Harlock
I would like to point out that I, at least, have never stated that Hitler would have been happy with just a revision of Versailles. (I did opine that such a revision, early on, might have prevented Hitler from coming to power.)
The possibility that Hitler may have been happy with a simple Versailles revision, despite everything we know, came from another poster and I have not attributed this comment to you.
The main problem with earlier Versailles revision is, while it sounds oh so easy in theory, in practice it was never likely to happen and for very understandable reasons. To stop Hitler from coming to power we are talking about late twenties at the latest. But this raises at least two issues. Firstly, and this keeps needing to be re-stated as it is so easy to forget; there are no crystal balls. Action taken, even by politicians with a degree of foresight, would not be being taken in order to avoid WWII, the Holocaust, 50 million dead etc. This would have been in no one’s thinking – rather the issue in the 20’s was to do with reparations, economic depressions and world trade.
So having spent a colossal amount of time and money on the whole peace process after WWI, and (certainly in the eyes of the French) having got ‘justice’ for Germany starting WWI (whether people think that now or not is irrelevant), why would any Frenchman unilaterally want to tear up, or even amend, Versailles?
But even if that process (and this takes a big leap of faith) was started by the ‘Allies’ then what realistically does it set out to achieve? There are the territorial aspects of Versailles and the economic. The economies of Britain and France were crippled by WWI too, the Great Depression had added to the general feeling of misery, there is only so much that could be done that was remotely palatable. And of course, the less that is done, the more room is left for a Hitler-type character to still emerge anyway. What’s the saying “Give ‘em an inch and they’ll take a mile”. Well unilateral revision of Versailles would, in my view, have simply given Germany the wrong signals – just as we now know appeasement gave Hitler the wrong signals. As far as Germany was concerned, she never started the war and was never beaten. The Allies going back on Versailles would simply embolden that belief and sense of entitlement. The Allies offering a token revision would be actually worse than no unilateral revision at all as it would get their hopes up and then kick them in the face.
ORIGINAL: Capt. Harlock
And there is a possible middle ground. It must be remembered that Hitler's seizure of all of Czechoslovakia was a violation of the Munich agreement. That, in my opinion, would have provided a reason for France, Britain, and Czechoslovakia to declare war with a reasonable amount of popular support in March 1939. Germany was not at its 1940 strength, and the fall of France at least might have been avoided. However, the secession of Slovakia means this would have been a very tricky call. What was Czechoslovakia, and what was not anymore?
But, as you admit yourself re Slovakia (and don’t forget Poland and Hungary here), once Munich happens there is essentially no ‘Czechoslovakia’ to fight over. If Hitler is now to be confronted then Poland thus becomes the obvious line in the sand.
England expects that every man will do his duty. Horatio Nelson October 1805