Finest Hour 156, Autumn 2012
Comparative Texts – “The Truth about Hitler,” 1935 “Hitler and His Choice,” 1937
By Winston S. Churchill
How different was Churchill’s first Hitler article from his chapter in in Great Contemporaries? Let readers decide! Ronald I. Cohen herein provides the complete text of the original Strand article, showing (in colored type and strikeouts), what Churchill altered in Great Contemporaries. This is incidentally instructive on WSC’s skill as an editor. Note: Some paragraphing differs; for example, paragraph 3 below is part of paragraph 2 in Great Contemporaries.
It is not possible to form a just judgment of a public figure who has attained the enormous dimensions of Adolf Hitler until his life work as a whole is before us. Although no subsequent political action can condone wrong deeds or remove the guilt of blood, history is replete with examples of men who have risen to power by employing stern, grim, wicked, and even frightful methods, but who, nevertheless, when their life is revealed as a whole, have been regarded as great figures whose lives have enriched the story of mankind. So may it be with Hitler.
Such a final view is not vouchsafed to us to-day.* We cannot tell whether Hitler will be the man who will once again let loose upon the world another war in which civilization will irretrievably succumb, or whether he will go down in history as the man who restored honour and peace of mind to the great Germanic nation and brought them it back serene, helpful and strong, to the forefront of the European family circle. *Written in 1935
It is on this mystery of the future that history will pronounce Hitler either a monster or a hero. It is this which will determine whether he will rank in Valhalla with Pericles, with Augustus, and with Washington, or welter in the inferno of human scorn with Attila and Tamerlane. It is enough to say that both possibilities are open at the present moment. If, because the story is unfinished, because, indeed, its most fateful chapters have yet to be written, we are forced to dwell upon the darker side of his work and creed, we must never forget nor cease to hope for the bright alternative.
Adolf Hitler was the child of the rage and grief of a mighty empire and race who which had suffered overwhelming defeat in war. He it was who exorcized the spirit of despair from the German mind by substituting the not less baleful but far less morbid spirit of revenge. When the terrible German armies, which had held half Europe in their grip, recoiled on every front, and sought armistice from those upon whose lands even then they still stood as invaders; when the pride and will-power of the Prussian race broke into surrender and revolution behind the fighting lines; when that Imperial Government, which had been for more than fifty fearful months the terror of almost all nations, col- lapsed ignominiously, leaving its loyal faithful subjects defenceless and disarmed before the wrath of the sorely wounded, victorious Allies; then it was that one Austrian corporal, a former Austrian house-painter, set out to regain all.
In the fifteen years that have followed this resolve he has succeeded in restoring Germany to the most powerful position in Europe, and not only has he restored the position of his country, but he has even, to a very large extent, reversed the results of the Great War. Sir John Simon said at Berlin that, as Foreign Secretary, said at Berlin that he made no distinction between victors and vanquished. Such distinctions, indeed, still exist, but the vanquished are in process of becoming the victors, and the victors the vanquished. When Hitler began, Germany lay prostrate at the feet of the Allies. He may yet see the day when what is left of Europe will be prostrate at the feet of Germany. Whatever else may be thought about these exploits, they are certainly among the most remarkable in the whole history of the world.
Hitler’s success, and, indeed, his survival as a political force, would not have been possible but for the lethargy and folly of the French and British Governments since the War, and especially in the last three years.* No sincere attempt was made to come to terms with the various moderate governments of Germany, which existed upon under a parliamentary system. For a long time the French pursued the absurd delusion that they could extract vast indemnities from the Germans in order to compensate them for the devastation of the War. *1932-35
Figures of reparation payments were adopted, not only by the French but by the British, which had no relation whatever to any process which exists, or could ever be devised, of transferring wealth from one community to another. To enforce submission to these senseless demands, French armies actually reoccupied the Ruhr in 1923. To recover even a tenth of what was originally demanded, an inter-allied board, presided over by an able American, supervised the internal finances of Germany for several years, thus renewing and perpetuating the utmost bitterness in the minds of the defeated nation. In fact, nothing was gained at the cost of all this friction; for, although the Allies extracted about one thousand million pounds’ worth of assets from the Germans, the United States, and to a lesser extent Great Britain, lent Germany at the same time over two thousand millions more than she had paid. Yet, while the Allies poured their wealth into Germany to build her up and revive her life and industry, the only results were an increasing resentment and the loss of their money. Even while Germany was receiving great benefits by the loans which were made to her, Hitler’s movement gained each week life and force from irritation at Allied interference.
I have always laid down the doctrine that the redress of the grievances of the vanquished should precede the disarmament of the victors. Little was done to redress the grievances of the treaties of Versailles and Trianon. Hitler in his campaign could point continually to a number of minor anomalies and racial injustices in the territorial arrangements of Europe, which fed the fires on which he lived.
At the same time, the English pacifists, aided from a safe distance by their American prototypes, forced the process of disarmament into the utmost prominence. Year after year, without the slightest regard to the realities of the world, the Disarmament Commission explored innumerable schemes for reducing the armaments of the Allies, none of which was pursued with any sincerity by any country except Great Britain. The United States, while preaching disarmament, continued to make enormous developments in her army, navy, and air force. France, deprived of the promised United States guarantee and confronted with the gradual revival of Germany with its tremendous military population, naturally refused to reduce her defences below the danger point. Italy, for other reasons, increased her armaments. Only England cut her defences by land and sea far below the safety level, and appeared quite unconscious of the new peril which was developing in the air.
Meanwhile, the Germans, principally under the Brüning Government, began their great plans to regain their armed power. These were pressed forward by every channel. The air-sport Air-sport and commercial aviation became a mere cloak behind which a tremendous organization for the purposes of air war was spread over every part of Germany. The German general General staff Staff, forbidden by the treaty, grew year by year to an enormous size under the guise of the State guidance of industry. All the factories of Germany were prepared in incredible detail to be turned to war production.
These preparations, although assiduously concealed, were nevertheless known to the intelligence departments both of France and Great Britain. But nowhere in either of these governments was there the commanding power either to call Germany to a halt or to endeavour to revise the treaties, or better still both. The former first course would have been quite safe and easy, at any rate, until the end of 1931, but at that time Mr. MacDonald and his colleagues were still contenting themselves with uttering high- sounding platitudes upon the blessings of peace and gaining the applause of well-meaning but ill-informed majorities throughout our island. Even as late as 1932 the greatest pressure was put by the British Government upon France to reduce her armed strength, when at the same time the French knew that immense preparations were going forward in all parts of Germany. I explained and exposed the follies of this process repeatedly and in detail in the House of Commons, but nobody paid the slightest attention. Eventually, all that came out of the Disarmament conferences was the Rearmament Re-armament of Germany.
While all these formidable transformations were occurring in Europe, Corporal Hitler was fighting his long, wearing battle for the German heart. The story of that struggle cannot be read without admiration for the courage, the single mindedness perseverance, and the personal vital force which enabled him to challenge, defy, overcome, or conciliate, or overcome all the authorities or resistances which barred his path. He, and the ever-increasing legions who worked with him, certainly showed at this time, in their patriotic ardour and love of country, that there was nothing they would not do or dare, no sacrifice of life, limb or liberty that they would not make themselves or inflict upon their opponents.
Here is no place to tell that tale. Its The main episodes of the story are well known. The riotous meetings, the bloody fusillade at Munich, Hitler’s imprisonment, his various arrests and trials, his conflict with Hindenburg, his electoral campaign, von Papen’s tergiversation, Hitler’s conquest of Hindenburg, Hindenburg’s desertion of Brüning –- all these were the milestones upon that indomitable march which carried the Austrian Austrian-born corporal to the life-dictatorship of the entire German nation of nearly seventy million souls, constituting the most industrious, capable tractable, fierce, militaristic and recentful martial race in the world.
Hitler arrived at supreme power in Germany at the head of a national National socialist Socialist movement which wiped out all the states and old kingdoms of Germany and fused them into one whole. At the same time, Nazidom suppressed and obliterated by force, wherever necessary, all other parties in the State. At this very moment he found that the secret organization of German industry and aviation, which the German general staff and latterly the Brüning Government had built up, was in fact absolutely ready to be put into operation.
So far, no one had dared to take this step. Fear that the Allies would intervene and nip everything in the bud, had restrained them. But Hitler had risen by violence and passion; he was surrounded by men as ruthless as he. It is probable that, when he overthrew the existing constitutional Government of Germany, he did not know how far they had prepared the ground for his action, action; certainly he has never done them the justice to recognize their contribution to his success. He even drove the patriotic Brüning, under threat of murder, from German soil.
The fact remains that all he and Goering had to do was to give the signal for the most gigantic process of secret rearmament re-armament that has ever taken place. He had long proclaimed that, if he came into power, he would do two things that no one else could do for Germany but himself. First, he would restore Germany to the height of her power in Europe, and secondly, he would cure the cruel unemployment that afflicted the people.
His methods are now apparent. Germany was to recover her place in Europe by rearming, and the Germans were to be largely freed from the curse of unemployment by being set to work on making the armaments and other military preparations. Thus from the year 1933 onwards the whole available energies of Germany were directed to preparations for war, not only in the factories, in the barracks, and on the aviation grounds, but in the schools, the colleges, and almost in the nursery, by every resource of State power and modern propaganda; and the preparation and education of the whole people for war-readiness was undertaken.
It was not till 1935 that the full terror of this revelation broke upon the careless and imprudent world, and Hitler, casting aside concealment, sprang forward armed to the teeth, with his munition factories roaring night and day, his aeroplane squadrons forming in ceaseless succession, his submarine crews exercising in the Baltic, and his armed hosts tramping the barrack squares from one end of the broad Reich to the other. That is where we are to-day, and the achievement by which the tables have been completely turned upon the complacent, feckless, and purblind victors deserves to be reckoned a prodigy in the history of the world, and a prodigy which is inseparable from the personal exertions and life-thrust of a single man.
It is certainly not strange that everyone should want to know “the ‘the truth about Hitler’ Hitler.” What will he do with the tremendous powers already in his grasp and perfecting themselves week by week? If, as I have said, we look only at the past, which is all we have to judge by, we must indeed feel anxious. Hitherto, Hitler’s triumphant career has been borne onwards, not only by a passionate love of Germany, but by currents of hatred so intense as to sear the souls of those who swim upon them. Hatred of the French is the first of these currents, and we have only to read Herr Hitler’s book, Mein Kampf, to see that the French are not the only foreign nation against whom the anger of rearmed Germany may be turned.
But the internal stresses are even more striking. The Jews, supposed to have contributed, by a disloyal and pacifist influence, to the collapse of Germany at the end of the Great War, were also deemed to be the main prop of communism and the authors of defeatist doctrines in every form. Therefore, the Jews of Germany, a community numbered by many hundreds of thousands, were to be stripped of all power, driven from every position in public and social life, expelled from the professions, silenced in the Press, and declared a foul and odious race. The twentieth century has witnessed with surprise, not merely the promulgation of these ferocious doctrines, but their being enforced enforcement with brutal vigour by the Government and by the populace. No past services, no proved patriotism, even wounds sustained in war, could procure immunity for persons whose only crime was that their parents had brought them into the world. Every kind of persecution, grave or petty, upon the world-famous scientists, writers, and composers at the top down to the wretched little Jewish children in the national schools, was practised, was glorified, and is still being practised and glorified.
A similar proscription fell upon Socialists and Communists of every hue. The Trade Unionists and liberal intelligentsia are equally smitten. The slightest criticism is an offence against the State. The courts of justice, though allowed to function in ordinary cases, are superseded for every form of political offence by so-called people’s courts composed of ardent Nazis. Side by side with the training grounds of the new armies and the great aerodromes, the concentration camps pock-mark the German soil. In these, thousands of Germans are coerced and cowed into submission to the irresistible power of the Totalitarian State.
The hatred of the Jews led by a logical transition to an attack upon the historie historical basis of Christianity. Thus the conflict broadened swiftly, and Catholic priests and Protestant pastors fell under the ban of what is becoming the new religion of the German peoples, namely, the worship of Germany under the symbols of the old gods of Nordic paganism. Here also is where we stand to-day.
What manner of man is this grim figure who has performed these superb toils and loosed these frightful evils? Does he still share the passions he has evoked? Does he, in the full sunlight of worldly success triumph, at the head of the great nation he has raised from the dust, still feel wracked racked by the hatreds and antagonisms of his desperate struggle: struggle; or will they be discarded like the armour and the cruel weapons of strife under the mellowing influences of success? Evidently a burning question for men of all nations! Those who have met Herr Hitler face to face in public business or on social terms have found a highly competent, cool, well-informed functionary with an agreeable manner, a disarming smile, and few have been unaffected by a subtle personal magnetism. Nor is this impression merely the dazzle of power. He exerted it on his companions at every stage in his struggle, even when his fortunes were in the lowest depths. Thus the world lives on hopes that the worst is over, and that we may yet live to see Hitler a gentler figure in a happier age.
Meanwhile, he makes speeches to the nations, which are sometimes characterized by candour and moderation. Recently he has offered many words of reassurance, eagerly lapped up by those who have been so tragically wrong about Germany in the past. Only time can show, but, meanwhile, the great wheels revolve; the rifles, the cannon, the tanks, the shot and shell, shells, the air-bombs, the poison-gas cylinders, the aeroplanes, the submarines, and now the beginnings of a fleet flow in ever-broadening streams from the already largely war-mobilized arsenals and factories of Germany.
Reprinted by permission of Randolph S. Churchill and Curtis Brown, Ltd. The ISI edition covers these changes in endnotes, and includes relevant correspondence.