Was the Second World War Avoidable?

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: After 1900' started by Aidan Todd, Feb 11, 2019.

  1. Aidan Todd Well-Known Member

    Nov 26, 2017
    In history, all dominant narratives are challenged sooner or later by a fresh layer of historians who want to expand understanding on the period. For decades, it has been the dominant narrative that WW2 was inevitable. The Great Depression rendered all of Europe susceptible to the rise of far right nationalism, and with that, came WW2. Fascism was also provoked by the rise of communism, which gave it a totalitarian character due to its need to repress a vigorous and international movement.

    It is true that those factors were huge contribution to the rise of the Nazis in Germany. The Treaty of Versailles and economic difficulties due to the Great Depression led to huge resentment amongst the populace, and when big businesses had to make a choice between Hitler or the communists, they chose Hitler.

    I'm not saying the demise of democracy was avoidable in such strained conditions, I think it was probably inevitable without a workers revolution, but did that necessarily have to lead to war? How much was Hitler personally responsible for the outbreak of war in Europe, and how much was it long term materialist causes?

    Just because a government is right wing and authoritarian, doesn't mean it is necessarily recklessly expansionist. Mussolini had been in power for 18 years when Italy joined the war, but yet had not posed a serious threat to other European nations until that point. Abyssinia certainly created huge controversy, but at the end of the day, the British and the French let him have his way of things. Mussolini only decided to invade Greece and Albania once Germany gave it the go ahead by invading Poland and declaring war on the allies, before then Italy was on good terms with Britain and France. Likewise, Miklos Horthy in Hungary didn't invade Czechoslovakia and Romania for Hungarian ethnic territory, even though he wanted to and did during the war.

    What I'm trying to say is that fascist dictators, before Hitler, did manage to stay out of conflict with the allies and mostly went upon their business. Yes, the Treaty of Versailles was damaging, but by the 1930's the US, Britain, and France had largely abandoned the terms of the treaty and allowed Hitler to have his way. They let him bring back conscription and rearm, invade Austria, and even annex the Sudetenland. Hitler had already torn up the Treaty and made Germany a strong power again, he should have stopped there, and indeed that's what many of his generals thought. The Blomberg and Fritsch affair in 1938 was essentially over the generals wanting to stay out of war, and Hitler ignoring their advice.

    Say if Hitler had been a more level headed leader, and had stopped whilst he was ahead, could WW2 have possibly been avoided? Being afraid of the Soviet Union, Britain and France were very willing to be an ally to Hitler so long as he didn't continue to invade other countries, because he was a buffer to communist influence. WW2 in reality was kind of a strange accident, and never what politicians at the time wanted. Perhaps in this alternate scenario, tensions reach a very high level, but they never blow up into a full scale European war. Eventually, these tensions ease, trade between the European powers is restored, and the Nazi's, whilst still strongly antisemitic, don't go on a Europe wide killing spree and most German Jews end up fleeing the country to avoid annihilation, as they nearly all did before the war.

    Do you think that the post-war boom would cease to happen in this timeline, due to their being a lack of fresh demand for infrastructure that WW2 created? Or would the world eventually recover from the crash and still build mass consumer markets for household goods? How long would the Nazi regime last if it hadn't have been destroyed by the war? Would the USSR still survive until 1991 or would it collapse?

    Please tell me what you think of this.
    Last edited: Feb 11, 2019
  2. Lalli Well-Known Member

    Feb 28, 2010
    I think that WW2 was totally avoidable. Rise of fascism was inevitable but even Germany could had got easily such normal fascist or at least authotarian right-wing government which not be aggressively expansionist. It might had been possible avoid WW2 even few years after rise of Naizis. Let's say that Hitler dies soon after he invaded Czechoslovakia. Perhaps there would had been more reasonable leader who focuse build Germany and avoid conflict with France and United Kingdom. Hitler and some other top Nazis were pretty much responsible for the war. And it was too economic necessary. Germany was on brink of economical disaster due command economy of Nazis. Another vital thing was Stalin. Without Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact Germany hardly would had been so aggressive towards Poland. So someone another follow Lenin as Stalin.

    And perhaps Hitler could had been stopped with short war if Chamberlain wouldn't had been such stupid and saw Hitler as risk to Europe.
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  3. anotherlurker Well-Known Member

    Aug 12, 2010
    Mountains, everywhere...
    The German generals were willing to go against Hitler had they encountered too much resistence until 1939, after that the war is on anyway. A firm French and British commitment to Czechoslovakia could very well end the German ambitions in Europe, then in a hand full of years the bills for the rearmament program in Germany come due and the Nazis get their own late Weimar experience.
  4. FillyofDelphi Well-Known Member

    Mar 7, 2017
    You could delay it, but inevitably the German Question is going to need a decisive answer. Germany is too populous and economically powerful of a united entity to permenantly keep excluded from halls of the Great Powers, and the world will need to integrate them into the system one way or another. And if it's not Germany,than the Soviet Question of just where Russian influence begins and ends will eventually come to a head in Eastern Europe as the sheer size of the Soviets start drawing those regions into it's orbit without a strong German counterweight. The Franco-British Versailles order isent sustainable, and if they try to hold it down at some point somebody is going to call their bluff
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  5. Drunkrobot Well-Known Member

    Oct 5, 2014
    Wales, Unfortunately
    Weimar is often portrayed by pop historians as being like some kind of Mad Max world that was crying out for some group like the Nazis to 'restore order' and 'put people back to work', and while this was closer to the truth in the early 20s, things had greatly settled down a few years later, the Great Depression probably wasn't the biggest bump it faced and probably could've gotten over it had the other parties held their nerve and didn't let the Nazis step into power.

    What the Weimar Republic may have really done well with, though, might be an equivalent to De Gaulle, an unquestionable patriot and war hero who is hostile to the Soviets (satisfying the conservative right) while also anti-fascist, loyal to the democracy and aware that some state intervention was needed to alleviate the condition of the working class (so satisfying the liberals and social democrats). This man as Chancellor might smooth relations with France and Poland in the interest of containing the Soviets, easing the concerns of the army and militarists by renegotiating Versailles to allow some limited rearmanent and remiliterising the Rhineland. Having the confidence of the people, he might then move the country toward a new constitution that offered more stability and had more resilience against extremist, antidemocratic parties like the NSDAP and KPD.

    This, at least, would defuse Germany as a potential motive force for a European conflict that equals WWI in scale, which is what I'd take you mean by 'World War II'. The next likely candidate would probably be the Soviet Union, some time in the 40s after having caught up with the western powers industrially.
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  6. Aidan Todd Well-Known Member

    Nov 26, 2017
    I think that would be an interesting scenario. The Weimar constitution would have been suitable for a De Gaulle like figure to come and take the reigns, but the question is who it would have been? Perhaps Hammerstein-Equord: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kurt_von_Hammerstein-Equord, or Wilhelm Groener...?
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  7. Mikestone8 Well-Known Member

    Mar 13, 2010
    Peterborough, UK.
    Lettow-Vorbeck perhaps?

    Alternatively, If Hindenburg dies c1930, might the Bavarians have tried to get Prince Rupprecht elected? "We've had a Prussian Feldmarschall, now it's Bavaria's turn." The Prussians wouldn't have been keen, but might have acquiesced in return for a promise that Rupprecht would not try to make his position hereditary, so that after his death a Hohenzollern might be elected.
    Last edited: Feb 12, 2019
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  8. Zen9 Well-Known Member

    Nov 18, 2018
    It's certainly the case allowing German rearmament is driven by the need to have a strong bulwark against the USSR.

    But I suspect that cultural issues played a part in the failure of them to produce a DeGaull.
  9. Cryhavoc101 Well-Known Member

    Jun 27, 2014
    1123 6536 5321
    Possibly - A late 30s defence treaty between France and Russia would head of the MolotovRibbentrop Pact quite nicely

    Perhaps Britian and France involving Russian in the 1938 Munich Talks regarding Czchoslovakia might have resulted in a different outcome - but even if not it might have been something to build a future French - Russian Alliance upon
  10. David T Well-Known Member

    Nov 8, 2007
    One of the most famous statesmen of the War certainly didn't agree: "Churchill repeatedly asserted that the Second World War could have been easily avoided through firm and resolute action. Indeed, that claim stands at the beginning of his war memoirs, appearing in the preface to the first volume of The Second World War: “One day President Roosevelt told me that he was asking publicly for suggestions about what the war should be called. I said at once ‘The Unnecessary War.’ There never was a war more easy to stop than that which has just wrecked what was left of the world from the previous struggle.” This is but one of many such assertions. In his “Iron Curtain” Address at Fulton, Missouri in 1946, he declared his belief that the war could have been prevented “without the firing of a single shot.”" https://winstonchurchill.hillsdale.edu/churchill-and-the-avoidable-war/

    Well, of course Churchill was biased in that he wanted to show that his proposed actions would have prevented the war. But even if we were to confine ourselves to professional historians, it would be hard to say there was a consensus the war was inevitable--though of course the question of inevitability may depend on when your starting point is. [1] Was it inevitable after Hitler attacked Poland? (Probably--even if Chamberlain wanted to back down, it would be politically very difficult.) After Chamberlain's guarantees to Poland? After Munich? After the Rhineland remilitarization? After Hitler announced he was rearming and France did not adequately respond? After Hitler came to power? (Henry Ashby Turner has argued not only that Hitler's accession to power was not inevitable as of late 1932 but that the most likely alternative, a military regime, would not have led to a world war, though there might have been a localized war with Poland. https://www.alternatehistory.com/fo...s-over-in-193ps-germany.413448/#post-14516643) After the Great Depression? (There are after all plenty of people who argue it was not inevitable or at least not have been as severe as it was, had world leaders--including Bruning in Germany--followed different fiscal and/or monetary policies.) After the Versailles Treaty? Etc.

    In short, saying "For decades, it has been the dominant narrative that WW2 was inevitable" seems to me either false or ambiguous.

    [1] This is of course true of other wars as well. As David Donald wrote about the ACW, "The question of inevitability is also partly a matter of timing. Virtually no one would argue that a Civil War was inescapable as early as 1820 or 1830; hardly anyone would suggest that it was avoidable after the first gun was fired on Fort Sumter." https://books.google.com/books?id=FkN_CwAAQBAJ&pg=PT50
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  11. Dolf Well-Known Member

    Dec 8, 2011
    Kingdom of Westphalia

    The red General as Reich President. Fun times
    The world would definitely be another very different
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  12. jerseyguy Well-Known Member

    Feb 25, 2017
    I'd say WW2 was definitely avoidable, Germany likely would've become reactionary and expansionist, but the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact that divided up Eastern Europe was far from inevitable. It would've been more rational to economically exploit central and eastern Europe in an informal German empire rather than establishing formal rule over half the continent Germany did in WW2.

    Pan-Germanism was a popular at the time, but a different German government could've just set up an Israeli style right of return law that makes it easy for ethnic Germans in Eastern Europe to move to Germany, or just bullied Czechoslovakia, the Baltic states, and Romania into giving German speakers preferential treatment. By the late '30s Hungary was an economic satellite of Germany, and the Balkan states (Bulgaria, Romania, Yugoslavia) conducted most of their trade with Germany as well, this provided Berlin with substantial diplomatic leverage.

    Germany's main economic dilemma was being caught between the rock of gold-based reparations and the hard place of losing its colonies and eastern territory. To pay reparations, Germany would need a current account surplus in order to pay back the reparations. However, German industry depended on its supplies of foreign currency and world markets in order to import raw materials for German industry and export the finished goods. In the medium to long term Germany's dependence on world trade wasn't sustainable. The Weimar Republic ran persistent trade deficits, the short loans from Wall Street made it dependent on America's economy doing well, and the beggar-thy neighbor trade wars (Smoot-Halley Tariffs, Imperial Preference) cut the German economy off from raw material inputs for industry and markets for finished goods.

    The two possible solutions would have been a political agreement to dramatically reduce reparations, or the return of Germany's colonies/League Mandates (so German industry could gain access natural resources without foreign currency. Gustav Stresemann attempted to regain the ex-German League of Nations Mandates, but Britain shot Berlin's proposals down. Hjalmar Shacht, the Reichsbank head who ended hyperinflation and finance minister under Hitler, also supported the return of Germany's colonies.

    OTL, Germany used the Spanish civil war to turn Spain into an informal German colony and gain access to resources like tungsten for Germany's industry and war machine. A less insane Germany could've used economic influence or barter agreements to gain access to resources like Romanian oil and wheat and Spanish tungsten, as well as captive markets for German big business. Without WW2, Germany would have a larger share of markets in Asia and Latin America as well.
  13. History Learner Well-Known Member

    Apr 13, 2012
  14. Dunning Kruger Often Wrong But Never in Doubt

    Jul 6, 2013
    Los Angeles, CA
    As it existed, yes. All history as we know it is avoidable. However, the amount of social, economic, and national upheaval makes some sort of large conflict highly likely. Asia was already at war. The rise of the USSR would have created a catalyst for conflict.
  15. ObssesedNuker Commander of 10 million men

    Jul 8, 2007
    In the Kremlin, Activating Perimetr
    Sure. Shoot Hitler and you’ll probably avoid it around 90% of the time.
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  16. Lafayette_ Well-Known Member

    Dec 9, 2016
    United States of America
    The other 10% of the time, a more competent Nazi takes his place and fascism survives a couple of decades longer as a viable ideology.

    I don’t think you can pin a second Great War mostly on Hitler without taking Versailles, German irredentism and the threat of a rapidly-industrializing Bolshevist state into account. He was a key figure, but there were plenty of contenders ready to take his place.
  17. Ian_W Well-Known Member

    Aug 2, 2015
    No there weren't. You need a very special sort of stupid to, as Germany with no meaningful allies, go looking for a war against France, Britain and Poland in the late 1930s.
  18. Vault Dweller Well-Known Member

    Nov 3, 2009
    If a less expansion-minded German alt-Nazi regime had in September 1939 limited its war aims in an invasion of Poland to seizure of the West Prussian "corridor" and Danzig (and after extorting the Memel strip off Lithuania as in OTL) only, and halted offensive operations once they had attained those boundaries, leaving say 80-85% of Polish state territory intact and pointedly not advancing any annexations of Posen or Polish Silesia, is there a chance they could have brokered a reasonably easy peace with the UK and France, with the fig-leaf justification of having merely righted "unfair" post-1919 border delineations in the east?
  19. Ian_W Well-Known Member

    Aug 2, 2015
    Any sane government goes 'And if we are wrong, it is 1914 all over again', and realises the West Polish corridor and Danzig just aren't worth it.
  20. Mikestone8 Well-Known Member

    Mar 13, 2010
    Peterborough, UK.
    Would a sane government have triggered the guarantee of Poland by occupying Prague only six months after Munich?
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