Hitler was nourished by war and the prospect of war all his adult life. War, he told his military entourage in 1938, ‘ is the father of all things’. When the generals seemed a bit restless at the thought of taking on Britain and France late in 1939, Hitler grumbled to one of his adjutants that he ‘could not understand a soldier who feared war’. War was his bread and butter and he gambled everything he had achieved in the 1930s on the prospect of waging and winning the biggest war of all time when he invaded the Soviet Union. War destroyed him and his dictatorship four years later.
This dimension of the Hitler story is not, of course, headline news. Western observers in the 1930s were made anxious about Hitler’s Germany because they assumed that the militarism the West had tried to suppress through the Versailles settlement h ad revived and a new war was now a possibility. The first post-war interpretations of the Third Reich also took for granted that war was central to understanding the dictatorship. It was only the growing focus on ideas about ‘totalitarianism’ and generic fascism in the 1960s that turned the spotlight away from war. Then came an emphasis on race as the driving force of the regime, and the militarism of the system became subsumed into explanations based on the imperatives of racial struggle in the context of European racism.