In the pre-dawn hours of 1 September, 1939, German forces began crossing into Poland, marking what most consider to be the start of the six nightmare years of the Second World War. The conflagration would consume more than 30 million souls by the time Japan officially signed the instruments of surrender in Tokyo Bay, six years and one day later. How the eventual defeat of the Axis came about is the subject of countless volumes, with countless more to yet be written.

As instructive to our generation and those which follow is just how the world came to the threshold of catastrophe that was unleashed seventy years ago this day.

The world had spent the majority of the previous decade negotiating with a cruel and despotic dictator whose virulent anti-semitism and design for world domination had been lain open in Mein Kampf for all to see and read.


Among the first acts of this dictator is to withdraw his country from the League of Nations (1933). The hope of controlling his ambitions through collective security was shattered forever. Shortly afterward, agents of his country had a direct hand in the assassination of a neighboring head of state, with the murder of Austrian Chancellor Dollfuss in 1934.

The democracies of Europe, England and France, recoiling from the horrors of the last war, looked the other way as this dictator acquired and developed weapons in direct violation of existing treaties, creating an air force and tank force. To challenge such violations was to risk war. And a European war was an unthinkable, to be avoided at all costs.


Emboldened, this dictator marched into the Rhineland in 1936, an area that had been forbidden military forces and fortifications. Again, rationalizing that such an act could be reasonably justified, and was not worth risking a wider European war, the European Democracies did nothing.

In 1937, as civil war raged in Spain, this dictator sent his legions with their new weapons to use this civil war as a testing ground. Those weapons had been developed and tested with the complicity of Russia, ruled by another dictator whose enemy was the West. The Democracies of Europe were once again silent. To challenge this dictator risked provoking him, leading to a wider European war.

There were those, like Churchill, who warned of this dictator and his ambitions, but were shouted down and dismissed as war-mongers for preaching preparedness and strength. War must be avoided. The dictator’s ambitions, satiated.

The next year, 1938, singing the now-familiar tune of “protection of German minorities from persecution” amidst the supposed chaos of unrest, this dictator subsumed Austria. Expressly forbidden by the Versailles and St Germain treaties, the Anschluss (joining) was allowed to stand, for fear of risking a wider European war.

In the autumn of that year, once again tales of abuse of Germans at the hands of an ethnic majority led to demands for annexation of the Czech Sudetenland. This time, Europe’s Democracies actively participated in the dismantling, meeting at Munich and handing over the territory of a sovereign nation. They did so clinging to the promise that this act of betrayal represented the dictator’s “last territorial demand in Europe”.


Chamberlain returned from Munich to a hero’s welcome, waving the document that represented “peace in our time”. A sigh of relief, war had once again been averted. “Peace in our time” would last exactly 334 days.

In March of 1939, this dictator’s army occupied the rest of unfortunate Czechoslovakia. Without the modern fortifications of the Sudetenland so graciously handed the Germans, the Czechs were defenseless.


By the summer of 1939, rumblings in the East centered around the city of Danzig, whose German population “suffered” at the hands of the Poles. By August, agitation among the Germans in Danzig made it clear to even the wildest optimist in the European Democracies that the dictator had found his casus belli.

Yet, in the previous six years, the Western Democracies had stood idly by while the dictator had:

  • Violated the peace treaty by building and testing banned weapons and expanding his armed forces
  • Brought about the assassination of the head of a neighboring state
  • Reoccupied the Rhineland
  • Sent forces to be battle tested in Spain
  • Annexed Austria
  • Grabbed the Sudetenland
  • Occupied Czechoslovakia

This had not satiated the dictator’s thirst for conquest. Instead, such vacillation, weakness, and inaction had only emboldened. “My enemies are worms,” the dictator had said. “I saw them at Munich”.

So, when the Poles refused to accede to the threats of the dictator, there would be war. All that had been surrendered, all that had been conceded, the honor that had been betrayed in order to prevent war had been for naught.

S.M.S. Schleswig-Holstein 1939solpara

On 1 September 1939, war came after all. The dictator had wanted it all along. He had told us so. We simply hadn’t the courage to believe him.


Posted by UltimaRatioReg in Foreign Policy

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  • RickWilmes

    Indeed, this is a teachable moment and I would like to offer the following excerpt and have us consider Hitler’s attack on reason.

    Chapter 3: Hitler’s War Against Reason

    Statism and the advocacy of reason are philosophical opposites.  They cannot coexist-neither in a philosophic system nor in a nation.

    If men uphold reason, they will be led, ultimately, to conclude that men should deal with one another as free agents, settling their disputes by an appeal to the mind, i.e., by a process of voluntary, rational persuasion.  It men reject reason, they will be led, ultimately, to conclude the opposite: that men have no way to deal with one another at all–no way except physical force, wielded by an elite endowed with an allegedly superior, mystic means of cognition.

    The branch of philosophy that deals with the powers of reason as a cognitive instrument is epistemology, and this issue is the key to its relationship to politics.  It is not an accident that Plato, Kant, Hegel, Marx, and the whole tradition of German nationalism from Luther on, advocated a variety of anti-senses, anti-logic, anti-intellect doctrines.  The statism all these figures upheld or fostered is a result; the root lies in their view of knowledge, i.e., of man’s mind.

    The aspiring dictator may not be able to identify in philosophic terms the clash between reason and his particular schemes.  But he, too, is aware of it.  In some (usually unverbalized) form, he knows that he cannot demand unthinking obedience from men, or gain their consent to the permanent rule of brutality, until he has first persuaded his future subjects to ditch their brains and their independent, self-assertive judgment.  He knows that he can succeed only with a populace conditioned to seek neither evidence nor argument, a populace which, having shrugged aside the demands of logic, will agree with, and then endure, anything.  Hence the spectacle of statists, of every variety and throughout history, both before and during their period in power, systematically attacking the mind.  In some terms, these men have grasped that their political goals cannot be acheived until the proper epistemological base is established.

    Hitler grasped it too…

    What should men appeal to for guidance once the intellect has been rejected? “We must distrust the intelligence and the conscience,” states Hitler, “and must place out trust in our instincts.”  “Trust your instincts, your feelings, or whatever you like to call them,” says Hitler.  The last clause indictaes the latitude permitted to the Nazis on this question.  They were free to advocate–and did advocate, privately and publicly- every nonrational source of alleged knowledge that men have ever invented, including revelation, intuition, trances, magic, and astrology(the latter was a special favorite of Goebbels).  What they could not advocate and were urged not to practice was a single cognitive method, the one Hitler grasped to be incompatible with Nazism: “At a mass meeting,” said HItler to Rauschning,

    thought is eliminated.  And because this is the state of mind I require, because it secures to me the best sounding-board for my speeches, I order everyone to attend the meetings, where they become part of the mass whether they like it or not, ‘intellectuals’ and bourgeois as well as workers. I mingle the people. I speak to them only as the mass.


    “The masses are like an animal that obeys its instincts. They do not reach conclusions by reasoning.” (2)

    (2) Raushining, The Voice of Destruction, pp. 224, 184, 212, 210-11.

    (Excerpt taken from The Ominous Parallels by Leonard Peikoff, pp. 45-47)

  • UltimaRatioReg

    “The Associated Press, citing a secret document it had seen, reported Thursday that the International Atomic Energy Agency had concluded that Iran does have the ability to make a nuclear bomb. The agency later issued a statement, saying it had “no concrete proof” of a nuclear weapons program.

    Ahmadinejad did not clear anything up, rebuffing repeated requests to affirm that there were no scenarios under which it would develop nuclear weapons.”

    What will the democracies do?

  • UltimaRatioReg

    (Reuters) Ahmedinejad speech:

    “This regime (Israel) will not last long. Do not tie your fate to it … This regime has no future. Its life has come to an end,” he said in a speech broadcast live on state radio.

    Remind us of anyone?

  • NaCly Dog

    British forces were weak in the early 1930s (due to the 10-year rule), and French politics was a swamp of mediocrity. 

    UK Prime Minister Baldwin started the rearmament of the UK in 1934. Chamberlin continued to play for time while he was in office. The time gained led to new technologies that protected the country, esp. radar and Fighter Command’s organization and force structure. Fighter Command was ready just in time. An earlier start of war was problematic. AM Dowding used the time gained wisely.

    Poor political and military leadership harmed 

the French. The French Army did not have the doctrine or training needed to attack Germany after the Rhineland was occupied. The obsolescent French Air Force had new fighters in production. Labor difficulties crippled the modernization effort.

    An all-out French attack on Germany while Poland was invaded was theoretically possible and could have been decisive. French military leaders balked at that attack. 

    Inaction after the Rhineland occupation was the critical failure. Retrospective analysis is wonderful.