Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Hossbach Memorandum

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The Hossbach Memorandum has been presented as conclusive proof that Hitler planned the war. Yet Taylor dismisses it. Why?

With the publishing of The Origins of the Second World War in 161, Alan John Percivale Taylor systematically destroyed the conventional view that Hitler had planned World War II. Widely criticised by his peers, Taylor’s thorough re-examination of the events leading to the invasion of Poland in 1 by the Axis, encountered and dismissed a number of important documents. One of which being the Hossbach Memorandum, which was used as conclusive proof of Hitler and his Henchmen’s war-guilt during the Nuremberg trials in 146 (Hasley, ed. 178). However, Taylor refutes its significance simply stating “Hitler’s exposition was in large part day-dreaming, unrelated to what followed in real life (161, p. 16). Yet the memorandum clearly states Hitler’s expansionist plans and his willingness to use force if required (Hossbach Memorandum). Therefore it can be argued that although the events leading to the Second World War didn’t exactly follow Hitler’s plans outlined in the Hossbach Memorandum, the culmination of events represented stages of a broad plan (mentioned in the document) with aims that could not be achieved without conflict, and Hitler knew this.

A number sources will be consulted to reinforce the argument including the works of Taylor, Goda, Dray, Pridham and other historians, as well as significant documents from the time and numerous speeches made by important figures. These will be supported through electronic sources and encyclopedias.

The Hossbach Memorandum was written on the 10th of November, 17, five days after the secret meeting took place at the Reich Chancellery (Joll, 10). Present at the conference were Fuehrer Hitler, German War Minister, Blomberg, Commander in Chief of the Army, Fritsch, Commander in Chief of the Navy, Raeder, Commander in Chief of the Airforce, Goring, Foreign Minister, Neurath, and Colonel Hossbach who took the minutes at the conference (Hughes-Warringtion, 000). The meeting began with Hitler stating that the following was of such importance that in the event of his death, the exposition should be regarded, as his last will and testament (Hossbach Memorandum). He then explained that his aim was the propagation of the German race outlining their need for Lebensraum (living space) (Hossbach Memorandum). Hitler also mentioned that Britain and France were two hate inspired antagonists who would surely oppose Germany soughting after the space necessary to ensure their survival (Hossbach Memorandum). The Fuhrer then went on to state that Germany’s problem could only be solved by means of force and this was never without attendant risk (Hossbach Memorandum). Here he proposed three separate scenarios that would be favourable for Germany to obtain Lebensraum at the lowest cost (Hossbach Memorandum). The first case was the period 14-145 where Germany would be at her strongest and any time after this period would be a turn for the worst (Hossbach Memorandum). The second was if civil war erupted in France with time for action against Czechoslovakia presenting itself (Hossbach Memorandum). The final case was if Italy and France became embroiled in a war with the need to overthrow Austria and Czechoslovakia simultaneously, in order to prevent any threat to the German flanks from a possible advance westward (Hossbach Memorandum). According to Goda, “Blomberg, Fritsch and Neurath objected to Hitler’s timing (though not to his aims),” with all three being replaced in February 18 (001, p. 108). The notes on the conference were ended with Hossbach stating that the second part of the conference was concerned with concrete questions of armament.

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As mentioned earlier, Taylor quickly dismisses the memorandum as mere day dreaming or as Hugh Trevor-Roper describes, “puffs it aside” (Dray, 178). He believes that it tells us what we already knew, that Hitler (like all German statesman) intended Germany to become the dominant Power in Europe and speculated how this might happen (Taylor, 161). Taylor continually down plays Hitler’s expansionist ideals through force simply stating, “force apparently meant to him [Hitler] the threat of war, not necessarily war itself” (161. p. 16). Another of his arguments states that because the crises of events leading to war didn’t exactly follow any of the cases outlined in the memorandum, it can’t have possibly been a blue-print for war (Taylor, 161). Taylor also questions the validity of the document itself claiming that Hossbach took no notes and wrote an account of the conference five days later from memory (161). It was never shown to Hitler and filed away until found in 14 by Count Kirchbach who made a copy for himself (Taylor, 161). Following the war Kirchbach’s copy was handed over to the Americans who in turn also made a copy and ultimately it was used at the Nuremberg Trials (Taylor, 161). Taylor sarcastically devalues the overall worth of the memorandum describing it as a “very hot potato” (161. p. ). His final argument goes as far as offering an alternative reason for the meeting despite Hitler stating that the following exposition was to be, in the event of his death, his last will and testament (Goda, 001). He claims that Hitler had little faith in any of the attendants, asking why then would someone reveal their inmost thoughts to men he distrusted (Taylor, 161). Taylor’s simple answer is, “he did not reveal his inmost thoughts” (161. p. 170). Rather Taylor believes the conference was a tactic to put pressure on the Economic Minister Schacht to commit to Goring’s four-year re-armament plan (161). However, the other ministers were expressing doubts in the Fuhrer’s timing for executing his aims and were replaced within months of the conference (Joll, 10). Taylor puts this down to Hitler’s distrust of the ministers as well as supporting the accusations reflecting on some of the ministers sexual behaviour (Noakes, Pridham, 15). Therefore it can be seen that Taylor firmly believes that the events discussed and recorded in the Hossbach Memorandum bear hardly any relation to the outbreak of war in 1, thus they provide no evidence for a blueprint for world conquest (161).

However despite Taylor’s convictions, his arguments lack the depth and validity provided by that of other historians. Taylor has been criticised for selecting and twisting evidence only relevant to him and the latter is a good example of his interpretations of the Hossbach Memorandum (Dray, 178). By simply rejecting or merely stating that Hitler was talking for effect, Taylor can argue every event the memorandum foreshadows, namely the beginning of World War II, was an accident (Goda, 001). Many historians refute this stating there is no doubt that Hitler knew he could not reach his aims without aggressive opposition as outlined in the memorandum (Kershaw, 000). Also, Taylor’s argument that because events didn’t unfold as Hitler had planned, therefore he’s relinquished of guilt, not only lacks insight, it blatantly disregards the fact that within months of the conference, both Austria and Czechoslovakia fell into the hands of Hitler (Rees, 18). To simply state that this didn’t correspond to the time frame Hitler had mentioned is quite irrelevant. Taylor’s argument regarding the true purpose of the meeting and the following dismissals of nearly all the ministers attending, is another area that’s debatable. Although Taylor claims that there was nothing suspicious about the sackings, a more valid reason can be offered by Joll, who claims that because the ministers expressed doubts in the Fuhrer’s plans, they were all replaced within months by people with more confidence in Hitler (10). Probably the only argument of Taylor’s that does hold up is his view that the memorandum is a copy of a copy and therefore not an official record (161). However, he only dwells on this minutely probably because the overwhelming majority of historians regard it as authentic (Noakes, Pridham, 15). Thus clearly, Taylor’s premature dismissal of the Hossbach Memorandum was unjustified with other historians proving beyond doubt, that it clearly indicates Hitler’s aggressive intentions.

Therefore, although Taylor has raised some questions regarding the validity of the document, the overwhelming evidence suggests that his claims are unfounded. The Hossbach Memorandum may not be a complete blueprint for war but it is a clear statement of expansionist intention (Rees, 18). It is evidence of a foreign policy, which would offer the rest of the world a simple choice as to how it could react; surrender or fight. Therefore it can be seen, that although the events leading to the Second World War didn’t exactly follow Hitler’s plans outlined in the Hossbach Memorandum, the culmination of events represented stages of a broad plan (mentioned in the document) with aims that could not be achieved without conflict, and Hitler knew this.

Documents on Germany Foreign Policy 118-145. (17) Hossbach Memorandum. Retrieved April 1, 00, from, http//

Dray, W. H. (178). Concepts of causation in A.J.P. Taylor’s account of the origins of the Second World War., History and Theory, 17 (1).

Goda, N.J.W. (001). A.J.P. Taylor, Adolf Hitler and the origins of the Second World War., International History Review, (1),

Hasley, W. D (Ed). (178). Colliers Encyclopedia. London Macmillan Education Corporation.

Hughes-Warrington, Marnie. (000). Fifty key thinkers on history, London Routledge

Joll, James. (10). Europe since 1870, London Penguin

Kershaw, Ian. (000). Hitler16-45 Nemesis, New York W.W. Norton & Company

Noakes, J. and Pridham, G.. (15). Nazism 11-145 volume foreign policy, war and racial extermination, Exeter University of Exeter Press

Rees, J. (18). Hossbach Memorandum. Retrieved April 1, 00, from http//

Taylor, A. J. P. (161). The Origins of the Second World War. London Hamish Hamiliton.

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