To what extent could Hitler be said to have had a blueprint for Germany's expansion ?
There has been much controversy among historians on the topic of Hitler's foreign policy. There are those, like A.J.P Taylor who believe that Hitler had only "speculated a great deal about what he was doing" and merely grasped opportunities as they arose and others who believe that Hitler did have a clear and consistent plan in regards to his foreign policy. Mein Kampf is used to back up the claim that Hitler did have a clear programme of expansion, along with his speeches and the much disputed Hossbach memorandum. The "opportunist" school of thought analyse Hitler's actual foreign policy to show that it doesn't correlate to a plan of any sort and highlight how it wasn't Hitler's style to fix a definite plan. This debate has continued for over fifty ye ars now with neither school of thought achieving a break-through and proving its theory as completely correct. Much has been analysed and documents have had very selective quotations used to forward one theory and then another. Mein Kampf is misrepresented as being full of references to Lebensraum (living space), when in actual fact only seven pages out of the seven hundred refer to it. Hitler did have a blueprint for Germany's expansion , but only to the extent that it was open to flexibility in different situations. Hitler's foreign policy during the 1930`s had a consistency of aims with the flexibility of tactics, so it would be wrong to assume that he had a complete blueprint for all his foreign policy exploits and also wrong to conclude that he was merely an opportunist.
Historians in the past have seemed to cling to their theory and ignore or misrepresent sources to achieve the aim of forwarding their theory as best they can. The "opportunist" camp ignore Hitler's references to Lebensraum in Mein Kampf and his last words; "the aim must still be to win territory in the east for the German people"1. If Hitler was just an opportunist then why was his country on a war footing as early as 1933 with two thirds of the economy geared for war? Why did Hitler systematically unite all the German speaking people with his first campaigns as he had said he would do in Mein Kampf? It is clear that Hitler did have definite plans for Germany's expansion, as he "maintained the purity of his war aims"1.The 'Z Plan' also reaffirms the claim that Hitler did have clear and consistent aims as the priority in expanding the Navy showed his intention to expand even against Britain's wishes. . Hugh Trevor-Roper states that Mein Kampf "is the expression of a political philosophy fully formed"2, which is a vast overstatement as Hitler did change his foreign policy to suit events and by no means was everything planned. For example Hitler did sign the Nazi-Soviet pact in 1939, which was against his so called 'fully formed' philosophy and Germany's expansion wasn't planned until 1942-43 originally. It is true however that Nazism needs a philosophy of some sort to function properly, whether its racial, expansionist or otherwise as there needs to be a common aim and focus. There is enough evidence to show that Hitler did have certain plans for Germany's expansion, but it is insufficient to argue let alone prove that Hitler had a "fully formed" blueprint. Hitler's plans for expansion to the East were as clear as his intention to eventually destroy the French and to re-unite all German speaking people. A.J.P Taylor argues that Hitler's references to destroying the French in Mein Kampf were due to the fact that the French had invaded the Rhur in 1924 and Hitler was bitter, but the fact remains that if Hitler achieved power in Germany, his plan was to destroy the French for what they did in the first world war and after.
The belief that "Hitler speculated a good deal about what he was doing"3, but never actually had a blueprint for Germany's expansion largely rely's upon Hitler being a supreme opportunist. A.J.P Taylor argues that Hitler only had ideas and dreams, but n ot a coherent plan of any sort, infact he says "He exploited events far more than followed precise coherent plans"4. The sole fact that what Hitler 'dreamed' of became reality when he gained power in Germany shows that these ideas were in actual fact plans for German expansionism. If Hitler had ideas that he would put into action if he attained power then surely they qualify as blueprints. Taylor passes off Lebensraum as an idea in Hitler's head whereas Hitler had stated before in 1925, during his reign in power and just before he killed himself that Lebensraum must be acquired for the German people. As regards Hitler's foreign policy in the West, the opportunist school of thought do have a concrete argument. Appeasement by the western powers gave Hitler 'opportunities' that he then willingly took. Hitler did not have immediate clear and consistent plans for expansion to the West as the East was his priority and his obsession, but instead he adopted an opportunist stance to gain all he could. As Taylor puts it "Hitler did not make precise demands. He announced that he was dissatisfied and then waited for the concessions to pour into his lap"5. Appeasement gave Hitler more than he had ever planned for and this is where Hitler was a supreme opportunist. The Nazi Soviet Pact has also been a fact that has been used to forward both the "Opportunist" and the "Programme" schools of thought. The opportunists argue that this fact shows that Hitler was an opportunist and did not have a plan, whilst the 'program me' school of thought conclude that Hitler used the Nazi Soviet pact to achieve the execution of his plan to expand eastwards. The Nazi Soviet pact clearly shows that Hitler's foreign policy had a consistency of aims with the flexibility of tactics. Another hotly contested source is the Hossbach memorandum of 5th November 1937, where it is alleged that Hitler spelled out exactly what his foreign policy aims were. There is some doubt as to whether the source is reliable, as it could have been fabricated in order to acquit the German people of any aggressive tendencies and purely blame Hitler, so that after the War Trials at Nuremberg, West Germany could be rebuilt to the Allies great gain. Colonel Hossbach is also alleged to have written his memorandum days after the meeting in question and this has led to doubts about its accuracy. Nevertheless the Hossbach memorandum acts as a reinforcement to the argument that Hitler did have a blueprint for Germany's expansion. Even though its accuracy is doubted , with all the other evidence that suggests the same conclusion, it is relevant. Of course as Trevor-Roper puts it, you "can never believe anything to be true merely because he said it6, but there is enough accumulative evidence to prove that Adolf Hitler did have a blueprint for German expansion. There is too much evidence to prove Hitler had plans for Germany's expansion to say that he was purely an opportunist, but he was flexible with these plans to the extent that he gladly accepted the concessions that the western powers offered him in their vain attempt to appease. Hitler had a blueprint for Germany's expansion to the extent that he saw expansion to the East as a necessity and the Nazi political philosophy that saw Germans as the superior race, also saw Germany as dominating Europe then the whole world. The evidence available shows a consistency of aims with the flexibility of tactics in Hitler's foreign policy that suggests that Hitler did have a blueprint for Germany's expansion, but was also open to tactical manoeuvres within his plan and gains outside his plan.
1. Hugh Trevor-Roper, Hitler's War Aims, 1960.
2. Hugh Trevor-Roper, Hitler's War Aims, 1960.
3. A.J.P Taylor The Origins Of The Second World War, 1961.
4. A.J.P Taylor The Origins Of The Second World War, 1961.
5. A.J.P Taylor The Origins Of The Second World War, 1961.
6. Hugh Trevor-Roper, Hitler's War Aims, 1960.
Bullock, Alan Hitler And Stalin- Parallel Lives, 1991.
Taylor, A.J.P The Origins Of The Second World War, 1961.
Trevor-Roper, Hugh Hitlers War Aims, 1960.
Hauner, Milan 'Did Hitler Want A World Dominion?' - Journal of Contemporary History, Vol 13, 1978.
Mason, T.W Some Origins Of The Second World War, 1964.
Hitler, Adolf Mein Kampf, 1925.