Leadership: Hitler and Mussolini

Historian Jon Kofas writes: "I must confess that I could not disagree more with Christopher Jones, though I do enjoy reading his candid views on various matters, including the extraordinary apologia of Hitler and Mussolini, two of the most notorious dictators of the 20th century who along with imperial Japan were responsible for the Second World War which claimed the lives of an estimated 60 million people. I doubt that any historian familiar with the Weimar Republic and Nazi Germany does not recognize that Hitler was the product of Germanic culture and his Social Darwinian times. His foreign policy and strategy was in many respects a copy of that of Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg, as the great German historian Fritz Fischer argued a generation ago. And of course the Treaty of Versailles was the first long-term cause of WWII and it contributed to the alienation of the German middle class that voted for Hitler amid the universal despair of the Great Depression. If Lenin's Revolution had never taken place, would Hitler have been possible? If Clemenceau and Wilson never existed, would Hitler have been possible? No one knows, but that is hardly a justification for defending Nazi Germany, no matter what one thinks of the Weimar Republic's decadence, which was not very different than today's U.S., or any other western society. As far as Mussolini, Christopher Jones is right that IL Duce was less harmful than Hitler, but let us not forget that his military forces invaded Ethiopia and killed innocent villagers using mustard gas. Albania and Greece were also invaded because Il Duce's mania knew no boundaries, and the West was more concerned about the USSR than the immediate Nazi-Fascist threat to Europe. Contrary to Christopher Jones statements, neither Hitler nor Mussolini achieved much for their people except destruction and chaos for their respective countries and the rest of Europe. If the contention if that Hilter and Mussolini were not that different than other butchers in history, like Napoleon, I would have to agree with some qualifications, most notably the anti-Semitism of the Nazis. If the argument is that they were good patriots and tried to defend the fatherland from domestic and foreign threats, then I must ask Mr. Jones to
send to WAIS the pro-Nazi and pro-Fascist bibliography that disproves what has been written thus far by mainstream scholars".

Paul Preston, the well-known specialist on modern Spain, says:"Jon Kofas wrote 'As far as Mussolini, Christopher Jones is right that IL Duce was less harmful than Hitler, but let us not forget that his military forces invaded Ethiopia and killed innocent villagers using mustard gas. Albania and Greece were also invaded because Il Duce's mania knew no boundaries, and the West was more concerned about the USSR than the immediate Nazi-Fascist threat to Europe.' I agree entirely but it would strengthen Jon's case even more if he added the Italian intervention in Spain, which was on such a scale as to be tantamount to outright, and unprovoked, war against the Spanish Republic".

John Wonder says: "Mirabile dictu! I agree entirely with Christopher Jones's analysis of the situation in Europe following WWI. The only thing he left out was the enormous stupidity of the Versailles treaty makers (or avengers) in dismembering the Austro-Hungarian Empire. We are still paying today for that egregious mistake", Christopher Jones now comments: "Curiously, I really don't disagree all that very much with Jon Kofas' reply, only to say that it wasn't meant as an apologia -- it was a simple statement of "uncomfortable"facts. Obviously the end was cataclysmic and in retrospect, any possible democratic or monarchical alternative to the Nazi regime would have been preferable. But that is precisely where the guilt of Wilson, Clémenceau is so obvious. I have to return to Erik von Kuehnnelt Leddin again who said that if Hitler had had a shred of humor, he would have erected a monument to Wilson; in fact he owed his success to the American president's demolition of the old European monarchical concert and the break up of the Austrian Empire that could have been a prototype for the Unites States of Europe.

Could Hitler have happened if the Hohenzollerns were still ont the throne? If Otto von Hapsburg was sitting in the throne in Vienna, could the Anschluss have taken place? The answer is obviously no because the Kaiser was a deeply religious Christian. Otto von Hapsburg is an outstanding personage whose talents have been wasted by the American demolition of "old" Europe. Of course as Paul Preston pointed out by 1937, the cards were dealt and war was top priority in many places including Spain. But it would be extraordinarily hypocritical to fault Mussolini for the very same colonial methods used and approved by Winston Churchill and the British government. Unfortunately, most historians have their pets and participate in an effort to cement a politically correct view of the world in place since 1945 and defended as dogma by today's political elite (including the press). I can give Jon a good example: a few days ago, German TV aired a documentary about the foreign ministry under Ribbentrop. Interviewed was among others Baron von Weizsäcker, the former president of the Federal republic and son of the Reich's ambassador to the Vatican. He said something that would make most politicians and press people around the world cringe: "That Adolf Hitler considered the 1938 Munich agreement as the greatest defeat in his career. and this at one week before he shot himself." What happened to the "appeasement" sell-out mentality? We always use the word "Munich" in connection with the appeasement of dictators -- well, here was a dictator who strangely didn't want to be appeased. Finally, I would never say that the Duce's government was "Good government" after 1937 -- but Mussolini certainly saw the dangers that Hitler posed to the Western world because if not, he would never have asked the Vatican to excommunicate the Nazi leader. For me Mussolini had no choice to ally himself with Hitler after the Anschluss. As De Gaulle so wisely pointed out, geography is the determining factor is politics. For starters, Jon should read My Rise and Fall, by Benito Mussolini".

RH: Presumably Hitler viewed Munich as a defeat, since his breaking the agreement was the pretext for theWest's declaring war on him. Otherwise the Cliveden group, which wanted to stay out of Europe and let Hitler attack the Soviet Union, might have prevailed.

Adriana Pena writes: "I have a certain (rapidly dwindling) sympathy for Christopher Jones' view in that we must try to view the beginnings of the Nazi and Fascist somewhat forgetting the end, to recapture the reasons that people who could not see into the future might have for supporting them. It is not to justify their excesses to find it plausible that men of god will, based on the information available, could have believed in them.

I call this the "Seventh Victim" syndrome. In the movie "The Seventh Victim" there is a scene where the female protagonist is taking a shower and a woman's shadow appears in the bath curtain. We see it, and we jump out of our skin. Why? Because we have seen "Psycho" and we know that the protagonist is going to get herself knifed. But no such thing happens. The woman at the other side of the curtain merely tells her unpleasant news. Then "Psycho" was filmed in the 60's and "The Seventh Victim" in the 40's, thus we are judging the earlier movie on the later one. The movie we see is not the same that the 40's audiences saw.

It is a fact that most of the plotters against Hitler were men who had, to a certain extent believed in him. Carl Goerdeler, the soul of that rebellion had been an early supporter, becoming disillusioned quite early with the new regime, and became the nucleus of the permanent conspiracy. There was an extent in which Hitler could appeal to what was best in men, or provide hope when there was none. Men deceived themselves with him, true, but people deprived of hope will believe strange things...

As for Mussolini, a description of Italy at the times of the Fascist takeover leads to the belief that while the rise of Fascism itself was not inevitable, what was inevitable was the arrival of an authoritarian regime of one sort or another. Fascism, at least early on made possible for many things to get done, by first providing order (things get done a lot faster when people are not exchanging gunfire on a daily basis), and then by providing continuity (as opposed to the situation that a goverment comes, starts something, is expelled, a new one comes in who does not want to continue the previous government project, but start its own, and so ad infinitum). It was not particulary bloodthirsty (It is to be noted that the great classic that came out of the Fascist repression of its adversaries was "Christ stopped at Eboli" of Carlo Levi). True, its wars and colonial expansion were quite brutal, but then the great colonial empires of the two great democracies, England and France, were also based on brutal conquest. (Compared with the rule of Belgium in the Congo, the behavior of the Italians in Ethiopia was angelical).

A more depressing thought is that the worst elements of Nazism (eugenics, institutional racism, planned extermination of "subhumans" to acquire their territories), came not from Fascism, but from the USA. It was in the USA that people were forcibly sterilized by judicial decree in many states. The Nuremberg Laws were inspired by the Jim Crow laws in the South. As for the extermination of inferior races, what else was the Indian wars? As Theodore Roosevelt said 'a few savages should not stand in the way of progress'."

RH: When I was in Germany in 1933 almost everyone placed great hope in Hitler, just as when I came to the US in 1937 the Depression had led good people to believe that Communism was the solution.

Ronald Hilton -