Course of War

What was special about these cases of totalitarianism was their ideological and pseudodemocratic-cum-plebiscitary character. Here, much more radically than elsewhere, an extensive conformity of population, extending also to the social and intellectual spheres, was sought and achieved with all the means of mass indoctrination

Course of War


Viewed in retrospect, a privilege that historians have always enjoyed, it can be seen that wars at some crucial juncture, have speeded up processes that might otherwise have taken a long time to happen.

For instance, it is universally conceded that the circumstances in which World War I took place and the critical moment at which it happened accelerated the downfall of the Czarist regime in Russia and paved the way the October Revolution.

Hypothetically, had there been no World War I, the Czarist regime could have managed to be more virulently regressive, and its overthrow might have taken much longer with altogether different consequences.


In similar fashion, World War II increased the pace of decolonisation. It can safely be argued that the colonial powers would have managed to stay on much longer had the war not driven them to a point where change was hard to put off.

30 January 1933 marked the beginning of the Hitler regime in Germany, which six years later drove Europe and most of the world into war.

The consequences of those twelve years of totalitarian dictatorship not only divided and profoundly changed Germany and Europe, but also markedly accelerated the radical political changes in other continents by signaling the end of colonial empires.

How could it have happened? We are confronted with two questions: first, how could an economically developed, highly cultured democratic state such as Germany throw democracy overboard and develop into a totalitarian state of injustice with no regard for achievements of modern civilization.

Secondly, to what extent do the effects of the German catastrophe (as the leading historian Friedrick Meinecke called it in 1945) have European and international importance, making it, together with the two world wars and the October Revolution, decisive factors in 20th century history?

The National Socialists managed to assert themselves against the growth of parliamentary democracy, still vulnerable in many European countries at the time. During the 1920s and thirties, many nation states fell victim to totalitarian coups, whether in Çentral, Southern or Eastern Europe or Latin America, Japan, and China.

These “authoritarian ways” of the period between the wars was generally regarded as some kind of national protective dictatorship in view of the political disintegration, weaknesses, and malfunction in the system of parliamentary government. It put strong men into power ~ men who ruled, aided and abetted by the military or a one-party system. In Hungary, there was Admiral Horthy (1920), in Poland, General Pilsudski (1926), in Portugal, Professor Salazar (1932), in Austria, Chancellor Dollfuss (1934), in Spain, General Franco (1936), and in Greece, General Metaxas (1936).

Throughout the Balkans and the Baltic (since 1934), dictators and interim governments took over from constitutional governments.

Such was the importance of Lenin’s communist revolution that five years later, Mussolini’s fascist takeover in Italy had happened and finally, in 1933, Hitler’s National Socialists came to power.

What was special about these cases of totalitarianism was their ideological and pseudo- democratic-cum-plebiscitary character. Here, much more radically than elsewhere, an extensive conformity of population, extending also to the social and intellectual spheres, was sought and achieved with all the means of mass indoctrination.

The development in Germany from democracy to dictatorship was also part of the general development in most European states. In its radicality, it did not at first seem to venture beyond the Bolshevik and earlier fascist takeovers.

After its abortive coup of 1923 (Munich), the dictatorial National Socialist Party under Hitler had made a “policy of legality” its declared objective.

During the-much discussed Reichswehr Trial in Ulm (1930), at which the infiltration of the army was investigated, their “Fuhrer” Hitler personally took such a “legality oath”.

That meant fighting democracy with democratic means “only” and overcoming it quasilawfully by explaining the emergency powers of the President of the Republic. This was successfully done during the period from 1930 to 1933, when the great economic crisis plunged the population, shattered and intimidated by the lost war and inflation, into mass unemployment. Reactionary as well as revolutionary enemies of the Republic seized the opportunity. Finally, in 1932, the antiparliamentary parties of the Left and Right, the Communists and the National Socialists, even gained a destructive majority over the democrats.

In this situation resembling civil war, Hitler succeeded in outwitting all other parties with his demagogic talent and ideological obsessiveness.

In 1933, Hitler knew how to make this power his own and increase it to a dictatorship of totalitarian dimensions by forming an alliance with the conservative nationalists led by the former imperial Field Marshal von Hindenburg who, like other European generals, had assumed the role of President.

Basic rights seemed to be suspended in February 1933 when the German provinces and parliaments (March 1933), the economic associations and political parties (April-July) were brought into line, and when intellectual and artistic life was placed under the control of the Cultural Ministry of the Reich (autumn 1933). Terror and deception were used to secure the mandate of a majority of the population.

There were conflicts and opposition even in this totalitarian system, and yet it could present surprising successes to the population, both in its speedy removal of the economic crisis through rearmament and violent revision of the controversial Versailles Peace Treaty.

Behind it all were Hitler’s own expansionist aims: persecuting the Jews, mobilization of the comrades and suppression, finally extermination of the enemy.

Any dictatorship once established tends to transfer internal tensions to the outside, to strengthen domestic rule by outside successes ~ especially when this is explained in terms of a total political creed such as the ideology of lebensraum and the racism of National Socialism.

Hitler’s War in alliance with Italy and Japan and against an alliance of Western powers and the Soviet Union (which had occupied eastern Europe between 1939 and 1941 in cooperation with Hitler) resulted not only in the fall of National Socialist Germany but also in major consequences that persist ~ the emergence of two superpowers accompanied by a worldwide confrontation of liberalism and collectivism; the decline of Europe and the forming of political power blocs.

But it also led to the revival of free democracies and the unification of Western Europe, and the emancipation of the Third World as a result of disbanding of colonial empires.

But the same cannot be predicted about a big war, which, it is feared, may take place following the ongoing UkraineRussia war.

Historically speaking, after World War II, a major world-scale war may not be contemplated. For, it has the potential of not just affecting some change in the course of mankind but of putting an end to it.

That is one reason why despite so many wars in the eight decades since World War II, and their potential for larger conflagrations, the world has been saved so far from a widespread disaster.