The following text is an excerpt from J. F. C. Fuller’s The Generalship of Alexander the Great (Rutgers, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1960), pp. 308–311. The quote from Hermann Rauschning’s fraudulent book Hitler Speaks does not invalidate Fuller’s argument. The title is editorial.
The profoundest political change the First World War gave rise to, or was followed by, was a series of catastrophic revolutions: the Austro-Hungarian empire vanished, the Russian was upheaved by Marxist Communism, the Italian by Fascism, the German by National Socialism, and in many other countries throughout the world Communist and Fascist movements of various shades took root and challenged nineteenth-century civilization. This meant that while in 1914, to all intents and purposes all belligerents had been firmly united nations, whose peoples staunchly supported their respective governments, in the next war, and more particularly in those countries in which revolutionary governments were established, there would exist reactionary inner fronts, and that these hostile factions would enable an enemy, who set out to cooperate with them, to attack these governments internally. Was this change recognized by the statesmen of 1939? Except in Soviet Russia, either not at all, or only superficially. How did this come about?
Hitler’s political aim was to establish a German hegemony over Europe, and its attainment depended on the solution of two problems. The first was, how to conquer and annex the greater part of Russia in Europe, so that the Third Reich might become economically so powerful that it would dominate the rest of Europe? The second was, how to defeat Great Britain and France should they come to Russia’s support?
In character these two problems were very different. Though the inner front in Great Britain was negligible, and in France composed mainly of people opposed to war and not necessarily disloyal to their country, in Russia the position was the reverse. Most of her western provinces, notably the Ukraine and Bielorussia (White Russia), inhabited by some forty million people, had been subjugated by the Russians, and because the vast majority of their inhabitants was antagonistic to the Soviet regime, the Russian inner front was immense. In 1939, Russia was still as Theodor Mommsen, nearly 100 years earlier, had described her, “a dustbin held together by the rusty hoop of Tsardom”; fracture the hoop and the bin would fall to pieces. Hitler’s western problem was essentially military, his eastern essentially political.
Hitler set out on sound Philippian lines to establish his hegemony; he created a new model army based on mobility, and immediately before he launched his war, he tricked Stalin into a faked alliance. Next, he overran Poland in twenty-seven days, and to show his good-will towards Russia, he shared his plunder with her. Then he turned against the West, overran Denmark in one day, conquered Norway in twenty-three days, Holland in five, Belgium in eighteen, France in thirty-nine, Yugoslavia in twelve, and Greece in twenty-one. Philip could not have improved on this strategy, and had Hitler died on the day his Swastika flag was broken over the Acropolis, in the pages of history he might well have taken his place alongside the founder of the Macedonian hegemony. He lived on, but the Philippian light died within him, and that at the very moment when it was needed to illumine his Alexandrian task.
Some years before the war, in a conversation with Hermann Rauschning, Hitler is alleged to have said:
The place of artillery preparation for frontal attack by infantry in trench warfare will in future be taken by revolutionary propaganda, to break down the enemy psychologically before the armies begin to function at all . . . How to achieve the moral break-down of the enemy before the war has started — that is the problem that interests me. Whoever has experienced war at the front will want to refrain from all bloodshed. . . . We shall not shrink from the plotting of revolutions. . . . The lessons of revolutions, these are the secrets of the new strategy. I have learnt from the Bolsheviks. I do not hesitate to say so. One always learns more from one’s enemies. Do you know the doctrine of the coup d’état? Study it. Then you will know our task. . . . I have made the doctrine of revolution the basis of my policy.
This was sound Philippian strategy: Subvert your enemy from within, and when it is politically possible it is both easier and more profitable than to attempt to crack his skull.
If this doctrine were true in preparing for war, it was doubly true when it was waged, and trebly true vis-à-vis Russia, because of her enormous inner front. France was down and out, and Great Britain for the time being impotent; that problem had been solved, and all that was needed to solve the other problem — how to conquer and annex the greater part of Russia in Europe — was for Hitler to put his revolutionary policy into operation. In other words, to enter into alliance with the subjugated peoples in Russia and destroy the Soviet Imperium from within, as in his day Alexander had destroyed the Persian Imperium.
He was advised to adopt this course by Dr. Alfred Rosenberg, his expert on foreign affairs, a Baltic German well acquainted with internal conditions in Russia. He pointed out to Hitler that Russia “has never been a national state, but a state of nationalities”; that the German problem was not to reconstruct the Russian empire, but to dissolve it; not to impose a new political system upon its subjugated peoples, but to recognize each nationality and foster each nation’s independence. “We should declare,” he said, “that we are not fighting the Russian people but the Bolshevik system,” and that “our fight will take place in the name of national self-determination of nations.” In other words, Hitler should proclaim that his war aim was to liberate the subjugated peoples of western Russia; this was sound Alexandrian policy. But Hitler had become so intoxicated by his military successes that he abandoned all idea of relying on the revolutionary strategy he had expounded to Rauschning. He expected that Russia would collapse as France had done, in spite of the fact that the Russians had unlimited space to fall back in, as every former invader had learnt to his cost. Contemptuously he set Rosenberg’s suggestions aside, and declared that: “Our policy is to cut the gigantic cake with skill, so that it can be first mastered, secondly administered, and thirdly exploited . . . Naturally,” he said, “the vast territories have to be pacified as soon as possible; this can best be achieved by shooting everybody who shows a wry face.” Instead of offering the subjugated peoples their freedom, he set out to enslave them, and should they resist, to exterminate them.
In the initial stage of the invasion the Germans were everywhere welcome by the common people as liberators; the Ukrainians looked upon Hitler as the saviour of Europe; the Bielorussians were eager to fight on the German side; whole regiments of Cossacks deserted to their enemy; and Georgians, Armenians, Turkomans, Tartars, and Usbeks, as well as Ukrainians, Bielorussians, and Cossacks, surrendered in droves. At Rostov, writes Erich Kern, “all over the city there were people waiting on the streets ready to cheer and welcome us in. . . . Never before,” writes Kern, “had I seen such a sudden transformation. Of Bolshevism, there was no more. The enemy had gone . . . wherever we went now we met laughing and waving people. . . . The Soviet Empire was creaking at the joints.”
Then came Himmler and his assassins, and “by rousing the Russian people to a Napoleonic fervour,” writes Kern, “we enabled the Bolsheviks to achieve a political consolidation beyond their wildest dreams and provided their cause with the halo of a ‘patriotic war.’” And Walter Görlitz writes: “The fact that the destruction of Bolshevism began soon to mean simply an effort to decimate and enslave the Slav people was the most fatal of all the flaws in the whole campaign.”
More than one historian has considered that Hitler’s failure to occupy Moscow in 1941 was the turning point of the war; but the turning point lay in his policy. Had he assumed the role of a liberator instead of a butcher, the high probability is that he would have dissolved the Soviet Imperium long before the United States entered the war, and thereby have avoided the one thing he dreaded most — a full-scale war on two fronts. In spite of his military ineptitude, his crucial error was far more political than strategical: had he relied on counter-revolution instead of conquest, for him there would have been no turning point at all. He was decisively defeated, not by the Russians, but by his own stupidity.
1. Hitler Speaks (1939), pp. 19–21.
2. Abstracted from Russian World Ambitions and World Peace, R. Ilnytzky (1953), pp. 4–12.
3. Ibid., pp. 12–15, citing Nuremberg Documents in evidence at the trial before the International Military Tribunal, Nuremberg, 1945–46.
4. Dance of Death (English trans., 1948), pp. 86, 94, and 102. Kern was an N.C.O. in the Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler.
5. Ibid., p. 108.
6. The German General Staff (English trans., 1953), p. 397.