In preparation for the debate over British liberalism, I have been reading a number of sources about pre-war Britain and the road to war. I’m working through Ian Kershaw’s Making Friends with Hitler: Lord Londonderry, the Nazis and the Road to World War II at the moment. Here are a few revealing excerpts worth sharing:
Though Hitler in 1936 would certainly have been prepared to reach agreement with Britain on a non-aggression pact for the subsequent twenty-five years (or some other lengthy period of time), or a more limited air pact, the price would have been the free hand in eastern Europe which he had always wanted. . . .
Irrespective of German intentions, the prospects of Baldwin taking Britain into any wide-ranging accomodation with Hitler’s Reich in the summer of autumn of 1936 were as good as non-existent. (Kershaw, 186)
In 1936, Hitler offered his hand in friendship to the British. He was ready to sign a twenty-five year non-aggression pact with them. Kershaw admits that Baldwin spurned the offer.
In the early years of the Nazi regime, Hitler had repeatedly sought to win British friendship, but had met a cool reception. (Kershaw, 202)
Hitler never wanted a war with the British Empire. Even Ian Kershaw admits that Hitler sought an alliance with Britain on several occasions. It was the British who turned Hitler down again and again.
The current moment, following Prague, was however scarcely propitious, and time would have to be allowed for the dust to settle. Whatever negotiations proved possible would then have to be on the basis which the Nazi leadership had always wanted: recognition of German pre-eminence on the Continent and a free hand for Germany in the each in exchange for what he took to be the unthreatened existence of the British Empire. (Kershaw, 282)
Right down to 1939, Hitler was willing to cut a deal with the British: he would guarantee the security of the British Empire in exchange for a free hand to expand eastward. If the British had accepted his offer, and France had backed down, there never would have been a war in the West. As a consequence, America would never have entered the war.
When Hitler did make an offer – in his speech to the Reichstag on 6 October 1939 – to settle Europe’s problems of peace and security, on his own terms of course, it was half-hearted, and was outrightly rejected by the British government. (Kershaw, 300)
Even after the war had started, Hitler continued to make peace offers to the British government. Hitler was turned down yet again by the British who were bent on war. The onus of the war rests exclusively on the shoulders of the British. The war against the Third Reich was a war of choice.