WW2 75th Anniversary Poll–- # 2 SEPTEMBER 1939



  • The Invasion of Poland, also known as the September Campaign or 1939 Defensive War (Polish: Kampania wrześniowa or Wojna obronna 1939 roku) in Poland and the Poland Campaign (German: Polenfeldzug) or Fall Weiss (Case White) in Germany, was an invasion of Poland by Germany, the Soviet Union, and a small Slovak contingent that marked the beginning of World War II in Europe. The German invasion began on 1 September 1939, one week after the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, while the Soviet invasion commenced on 17 September following the Molotov-Tōgō agreement which terminated the Russian and Japanese hostilities (Nomonhan incident) in the east on 16 September.  The campaign ended on 6 October with Germany and the Soviet Union dividing and annexing the whole of Poland.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invasion_of_Poland

    Now my question for the month is:
    If the UK and France had LIVED up to their promise of protecting Poland when Germany invaded them…and both Allies attacked Germany from the west or from the English Channel, instead of being pretty much couch potatoes, what would have happened to Poland?

    This is a good question…lets hear it!!


  • 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 '14 '13 Moderator

    I think it would still have been a quick affair.
    I know Germany had far fewer Divisions in the West than France, none of them Armoured, but offensive action would have been hard for the French. They were unprepared mentally and militarily. They had too few commanders with the necessary panache and verve to push on. More than the Germans, the top Generals still remembered the horrors of WW1. 
    I do believe the Germans would have been in position to defend appropriately. before the French got going. And the UK was not ready in September.


  • 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 '14 Customizer '13 '12 '11 '10

    If France and Britain had launched a serious ground assault on western Germany during the early months of the war, Poland would still have been overrun in fairly short order (from two directions, it should be remembered: by Germany and the USSR).  The real “what if” issue isn’t what would have happened to Poland, it’s what would have happened to Germany.  The Wehrmacht had negligeable forces in the west at the time, and no armour.  In fact, its armour was so badly needed for the Polish campaign that the Panzer divisions earmarked for the attack in the east to be bulked up by including little Panzer Is and Panzer IIs, which were supposed to be little more than training tanks.  I once saw an interview with a German general (possibly Warlimont; I can’t recall exactly) in which he stated that the Wehrmacht could only have lasted a couple of weeks in the west if France and Britain had attacked in force.

    As Wittman points out, that wasn’t going to happen.  Chamberlain’s priority was to avoid British casualties and his great hope was that Hitler could be overthrown by dropping propaganda leaflets on Germany.  As for France, the armour was strong but the spirit was weak (to paraphrase Matthew 26:41).  Apart from the trivial “Saar Offensive” (France captured a few kilometers of German soil, then scooted back behind the Maginot Line at its own initiative), France basically stayed on the defensive, Gamelin’s intention being to build up his forces until he could attack with confidence sometime around 1941 or 1942 (if I recall his plans correctly).



  • In 1939, Poland had incompetent political and military leadership. As others hinted at, Poland’s main political mistake was to believe the promises made by French and British political leaders. But if it was going to pursue a grand strategy like the one it did, it should have been willing to accept the loss of some of its western territory during the opening phase of the conflict. Instead, the vast majority of its forces were relatively far to the west, in places where they were easily surrounded and destroyed by Germany.

    Rather than thinking in terms of holding onto every last square mile of territory, Polish leaders should have thought in terms of prolonging the conflict while keeping the core of their military strength intact. Good military planning would have been necessary for Poland to derive benefit from the promised French general offensive against Germany. However, not even good military planning would have sufficed to offset Poland’s diplomatic and political blunders. In 1938 and early '39, Hitler had tried to come to some kind of friendly arrangement with Poland. (Similar to the friendly arrangements the Germans would make with other Eastern European nations, such as Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria.) Poland’s leaders shot those efforts down, and did not seriously pursue any kind of understanding with the Soviet Union either. The Nazi-Soviet pact made Poland’s situation untenable, and France’s refusal to launch the promised general offensive was the last nail in the coffin.


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    @KurtGodel7:

    In 1938 and early '39, Hitler had tried to come to some kind of friendly arrangement with Poland. (Similar to the friendly arrangements the Germans would make with other Eastern European nations, such as Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria.)

    Those arrangements varied per country. Hungary was a willing ally to Germany, Romania joined the Axis after already having lost significant territory followed by a regime change, and Bulgaria was half forced into the Axis, and half bribed with the promise of Greek territory. While I’d agree that the term “friendly arrangement” applied to Hungary, it seems like the other two countries had little choice in the matter.
    In the case of Poland, any “friendly arrangement” would have involved the cessation of Polish territory to Germany. The fate of Czechoslovakia was a clear demonstration that giving in to German demands was not a very promising cause of action and would provide no guarantee that those demands would stop at any point in time or space. I agree that the Polish leadership could have done better politically and militarily (for example, actually helping in the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia was particularly naive), but I doubt that they could have preserved their independence. Dividing Poland between them suited Germany and Russia just fine at the time  - they did it before, and they were doing it again.

    As for the original question…. as pointed out by Wittmann, France wasn’t going to invade. But if they would have done so, together with the UK, then Poland could well have survived the German invasion. The Wehrmacht would have to pull back from Poland to defend against the French and British…. because I don’t really think Germany would want to gain Posen or even Warsaw at the cost of losing Cologne, Frankfurt or Stuttgart. What would have happened next in the west, remains entirely uncertain. But in Moscow, Stalin would have been smiling… and might have captured “his” share of Poland anyway, or a little bit more.
    Anyway, that’s all speculation. But I can’t vote, because “would have been overrun by the Soviet Union” is not in the poll!


  • 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 '14 '13 Moderator

    Nice, Herr KaLeun. Of course Western Germany mattered more and could not be overrun at the expense of Polish territory.



  • @Herr:

    Those arrangements varied per country. Hungary was a willing ally to Germany, Romania joined the Axis after already having lost significant territory followed by a regime change, and Bulgaria was half forced into the Axis, and half bribed with the promise of Greek territory. While I’d agree that the term “friendly arrangement” applied to Hungary, it seems like the other two countries had little choice in the matter.
    In the case of Poland, any “friendly arrangement” would have involved the cessation of Polish territory to Germany. The fate of Czechoslovakia was a clear demonstration that giving in to German demands was not a very promising cause of action and would provide no guarantee that those demands would stop at any point in time or space. I agree that the Polish leadership could have done better politically and militarily (for example, actually helping in the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia was particularly naive), but I doubt that they could have preserved their independence. Dividing Poland between them suited Germany and Russia just fine at the time  - they did it before, and they were doing it again.

    As for the original question…. as pointed out by Wittmann, France wasn’t going to invade. But if they would have done so, together with the UK, then Poland could well have survived the German invasion. The Wehrmacht would have to pull back from Poland to defend against the French and British…. because I don’t really think Germany would want to gain Posen or even Warsaw at the cost of losing Cologne, Frankfurt or Stuttgart. What would have happened next in the west, remains entirely uncertain. But in Moscow, Stalin would have been smiling… and might have captured “his” share of Poland anyway, or a little bit more.
    Anyway, that’s all speculation. But I can’t vote, because “would have been overrun by the Soviet Union” is not in the poll!

    it seems like the other two countries had little choice in the matter.

    I’m not sure why you think that comment applies to Romania. (Unless you feel Germany was responsible for the regime change.) The leader of the then-new Romanian regime was a willing member of the Axis.

    The fate of Czechoslovakia was a clear demonstration that giving in to German demands was not a very promising cause of action

    In 1935, Czechoslovakia signed a defensive alliance with the Soviet Union. It also did its best to become part of a Western democratic anti-German encirclement strategy. It backed down because no anti-German major power was willing to start a war on its behalf. Hitler intended its dismemberment as an object lesson to any other Eastern European governments which might find themselves tempted to adopt pro-Soviet or anti-German foreign policies. His overall strategy seems to have worked: the diplomatic climate in Eastern Europe was far more favorable to Germany in early 1941 (just before the invasion of the Soviet Union) than it had been in the late '30s.

    for example, actually helping in the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia was particularly naive

    Polish participation in the Czech dismemberment led Hitler to believe Poland had adopted a pro-German foreign policy. When it later became clear Poland had adopted a highly anti-German foreign policy, the Czech land Germany had given to Poland probably proved an additional source of vexation. But that vexation could probably have been undone at any point, had the Polish been willing to return to Germany the Polish-occupied German territory; and to enter into some kind of friendly arrangement with Germany.

    But if they would have done so, together with the UK, then Poland could well have survived the German invasion.

    Maybe. The core of Poland’s military strength had been destroyed in the first two weeks of fighting. Had France merely launched a slow, ponderous invasion–the kind of invasion you’d associate with Montgomery, for example–Germany could have destroyed the heart of Poland’s military strength before being forced to shift its focus westward. But with better military planning, the Polish would have withdrawn eastward, instead of leaving their forces in such an exposed, westward position.


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    @KurtGodel7:

    it seems like the other two countries had little choice in the matter.

    I’m not sure why you think that comment applies to Romania. (Unless you feel Germany was responsible for the regime change.) The leader of the then-new Romanian regime was a willing member of the Axis.

    Of course, terminology such as “making a friendly arrangement”, “having little choice” or “being a willing member” do little justice to the social and political complexities in those countries during the years preceding the war, and I don’t claim to be an expert there. But I think there’s a difference between Hungary, that adopted a pro-German attitude rather early and reaped the benefits in terms of economical and territorial gains, and Romania, that had lost significant territory to Hungary and to the Soviet Union, and joined the Axis after a coup d’etat by a fascist strong man. Of course Antonescu had his supporters and sympathizers among the general population, but the entire geopolitical situation of Romania at the time was such that it wasn’t hard to think that the country would not survive on its own.

    @KurtGodel7:

    The fate of Czechoslovakia was a clear demonstration that giving in to German demands was not a very promising cause of action

    In 1935, Czechoslovakia signed a defensive alliance with the Soviet Union. It also did its best to become part of a Western democratic anti-German encirclement strategy. It backed down because no anti-German major power was willing to start a war on its behalf. Hitler intended its dismemberment as an object lesson to any other Eastern European governments which might find themselves tempted to adopt pro-Soviet or anti-German foreign policies. His overall strategy seems to have worked: the diplomatic climate in Eastern Europe was far more favorable to Germany in early 1941 (just before the invasion of the Soviet Union) than it had been in the late '30s.

    Obviously so, and the same could be said of the diplomatic climate in the remainder of Europe. After all, with a few willing allies, a few somewhat reluctant allies, and most of what remained of Europe under German military occupation, it’s safe to state that things were going smoothly from a diplomatic point of view, at least in Germany’s immediate geographical environment.
    As for Czechoslovakia - my point was, that it made a decision not to fight, and after giving up its border regions, military resistance had become virtually impossible. So what happened there, could serve as a warning not to surrender any territory to Germany, because you’d never know where they would stop - if at all.

    @KurtGodel7:

    for example, actually helping in the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia was particularly naive

    Polish participation in the Czech dismemberment led Hitler to believe Poland had adopted a pro-German foreign policy. When it later became clear Poland had adopted a highly anti-German foreign policy, the Czech land Germany had given to Poland probably proved an additional source of vexation. But that vexation could probably have been undone at any point, had the Polish been willing to return to Germany the Polish-occupied German territory; and to enter into some kind of friendly arrangement with Germany.

    I’m not quite sure which “Polish-occupied German territory” you’re referring to here. If it’s about the small areas along the Slovak border that they took in 1938, then it seems very unlikely that Germany would want to have those. They were geographically remote from Germany itself and not inhabited by people of German descent. Also, those areas weren’t precisely “given” to Poland by Germany: they were occupied as a result of the Munich agreements.
    If you’re talking about the area from which the western part of Poland was formed after World War I - well, I don’t think that giving up a large part of Poland that is mostly inhabited by ethnic Poles counts as a “friendly arrangement”.

    @KurtGodel7:

    But if they would have done so, together with the UK, then Poland could well have survived the German invasion.

    Maybe. The core of Poland’s military strength had been destroyed in the first two weeks of fighting. Had France merely launched a slow, ponderous invasion–the kind of invasion you’d associate with Montgomery, for example–Germany could have destroyed the heart of Poland’s military strength before being forced to shift its focus westward. But with better military planning, the Polish would have withdrawn eastward, instead of leaving their forces in such an exposed, westward position.

    I don’t associate any particular type of military campaign specifically with Montgomery, and in general terms, think of him as a competent commander. But I won’t go into that debate - it’s been done before on this forum and has run its course.
    Otherwise, this is all highly speculative of course. For the premise to work at all, we already have to assume that a French invasion would happen in earnest, and that the Poles would have adopted a better military strategy. If both would indeed have been the case, I’m fairly convinced that Germany would have been in big trouble. The Polish campaign as it happened, was already a big drain of their resources, ammunition in particular. The 1939 German army wasn’t as strong as it would become a few years later, and I don’t think they could have held out against the French under those circumstances.
    But like I said, it’s mere speculation.



  • @Herr:

    Of course, terminology such as “making a friendly arrangement”, “having little choice” or “being a willing member” do little justice to the social and political complexities in those countries during the years preceding the war, and I don’t claim to be an expert there. But I think there’s a difference between Hungary, that adopted a pro-German attitude rather early and reaped the benefits in terms of economical and territorial gains, and Romania, that had lost significant territory to Hungary and to the Soviet Union, and joined the Axis after a coup d’etat by a fascist strong man. Of course Antonescu had his supporters and sympathizers among the general population, but the entire geopolitical situation of Romania at the time was such that it wasn’t hard to think that the country would not survive on its own.

    Obviously so, and the same could be said of the diplomatic climate in the remainder of Europe. After all, with a few willing allies, a few somewhat reluctant allies, and most of what remained of Europe under German military occupation, it’s safe to state that things were going smoothly from a diplomatic point of view, at least in Germany’s immediate geographical environment.
    As for Czechoslovakia - my point was, that it made a decision not to fight, and after giving up its border regions, military resistance had become virtually impossible. So what happened there, could serve as a warning not to surrender any territory to Germany, because you’d never know where they would stop - if at all.

    I’m not quite sure which “Polish-occupied German territory” you’re referring to here. If it’s about the small areas along the Slovak border that they took in 1938, then it seems very unlikely that Germany would want to have those. They were geographically remote from Germany itself and not inhabited by people of German descent. Also, those areas weren’t precisely “given” to Poland by Germany: they were occupied as a result of the Munich agreements.
    If you’re talking about the area from which the western part of Poland was formed after World War I - well, I don’t think that giving up a large part of Poland that is mostly inhabited by ethnic Poles counts as a “friendly arrangement”.

    I don’t associate any particular type of military campaign specifically with Montgomery, and in general terms, think of him as a competent commander. But I won’t go into that debate - it’s been done before on this forum and has run its course.
    Otherwise, this is all highly speculative of course. For the premise to work at all, we already have to assume that a French invasion would happen in earnest, and that the Poles would have adopted a better military strategy. If both would indeed have been the case, I’m fairly convinced that Germany would have been in big trouble. The Polish campaign as it happened, was already a big drain of their resources, ammunition in particular. The 1939 German army wasn’t as strong as it would become a few years later, and I don’t think they could have held out against the French under those circumstances.
    But like I said, it’s mere speculation.

    I’m hardly what you’d call an expert on Romania’s political situation in the late '30s or early ‘40s. That said, it’s quite possible that the reason a military dictator was able to take over in the first place was because it was clear his predecessors’ policies had failed. A military alliance with Germany–such as the one embraced by Romania’s dictator–offered the prospect of regaining what Romania had lost.

    As for the Polish-occupied German territory to which I’d referred in my earlier post–mostly what I’d had in mind was West Prussia and parts of Pomerania. Areas which were mostly German; which had nonetheless been included into Poland at the end of WWI.

    Speaking of German territory under hostile foreign occupation–the Germans in Czech-occupied Sudetenland were treated as second-class citizens. They were subjected to increasingly heavy handed discrimination; with the apparent plan being to eventually replace them with Czechs. Czechoslovakia could get away with this with a demilitarized Germany. But once Germany began regaining its strength, it became necessary for the Czech government to find anti-German allies where it could. Which is one reason they signed a defensive alliance with the Soviet Union just two years after the Soviets had put the finishing touches on the Ukrainian famine. Given the seriousness of Czechoslovakia’s commitment to an anti-German foreign policy, there was never any question that it was in Germany’s interest to eliminate that government if it could do so without overly severe diplomatic or military repercussions.

    As for whether the Western invasion of Germany would have the intended effect–intended by Poland, at any rate, if not by the French–that would largely have depended on French commanders’ willingness to sacrifice complete preparation in favor of speed. They would need the attitude that a good invasion today is better than a perfect invasion tomorrow. This is not necessarily the type of thinking I’d associate with the French military leadership of 1940.


  • 2019 2018 2017

    @KurtGodel7:

    I’m hardly what you’d call an expert on Romania’s political situation in the late '30s or early ‘40s. That said, it’s quite possible that the reason a military dictator was able to take over in the first place was because it was clear his predecessors’ policies had failed. A military alliance with Germany–such as the one embraced by Romania’s dictator–offered the prospect of regaining what Romania had lost.

    I think we agree on this one.

    @KurtGodel7:

    As for the Polish-occupied German territory to which I’d referred in my earlier post–mostly what I’d had in mind was West Prussia and parts of Pomerania. Areas which were mostly German; which had nonetheless been included into Poland at the end of WWI.

    The areas lost by Germany in the east weren’t so very German at all. I happen to own a few atlases from that period, and the southern part of Pomerania (the Posen region) was largely Polish, as was the small part of Silesia that was added to Poland. In the north, the actual West Prussia, the areas with a Polish or Kasubian majority and that with a German majority were roughly equal in size. Also, the southern part of East Prussia, which was retained by Germany, was inhabited by the Masurians. So the line between German and Polish areas could probably have been drawn better, but it wasn’t unreasonable, considering the fact that the population of the varied between one village and the next. The notable exception was Danzig, which was a German city. But overall, the population of those areas was by no means similar to that of, for example, Austria or the Sudetenland.

    @KurtGodel7:

    Speaking of German territory under hostile foreign occupation–the Germans in Czech-occupied Sudetenland were treated as second-class citizens. They were subjected to increasingly heavy handed discrimination; with the apparent plan being to eventually replace them with Czechs. Czechoslovakia could get away with this with a demilitarized Germany. But once Germany began regaining its strength, it became necessary for the Czech government to find anti-German allies where it could. Which is one reason they signed a defensive alliance with the Soviet Union just two years after the Soviets had put the finishing touches on the Ukrainian famine. Given the seriousness of Czechoslovakia’s commitment to an anti-German foreign policy, there was never any question that it was in Germany’s interest to eliminate that government if it could do so without overly severe diplomatic or military repercussions.

    I’m not sure what the Ukrainian famine has to do with it, but if the reference is meant to illustrate how evil the Soviet regime was, then Czechoslovakia certainly wasn’t the only country to sign a treaty with them. Politicians have never been to squeamish about the humanitarian qualities of their allies, and we don’t need to go back very far in history to find lots of examples of such opportunism. But I’d better not derail this thread towards modern politics.
    One look at the map suffices to illustrate the strategic and economic benefits for Germany to conquer  Bohemia and Moravia. If you foresee a war with the USSR, you don’t want the Red Army marching through Czechoslovakia and into the heart of Germany. Also, Czechoslovakia was a prosperous country at the time, with a lot of heavy industry that benefited the German army later on.
    I think that the only chance for the Czechs to try to avoid being absorbed into the Axis sphere of influence, would have been military resistance to Germany taking the Sudetenland. But their chances of success seemed limited against a much bigger country, an after being sold out at Munich.
    On a side note, referring to the Sudetenland as “German territory under hostile foreign occupation” is historically incorrect. The area was part of Austria-Hungary before World War I and became part of Czechoslovakia when that empire was dissolved. It was never a part of Germany because the German unification during the 19th century, didn’t include Austria.

    @KurtGodel7:

    As for whether the Western invasion of Germany would have the intended effect–intended by Poland, at any rate, if not by the French–that would largely have depended on French commanders’ willingness to sacrifice complete preparation in favor of speed. They would need the attitude that a good invasion today is better than a perfect invasion tomorrow. This is not necessarily the type of thinking I’d associate with the French military leadership of 1940.

    True enough. But it was a premise in this poll that they would indeed attack.



  • @Herr:

    I think we agree on this one.

    The areas lost by Germany in the east weren’t so very German at all. I happen to own a few atlases from that period, and the southern part of Pomerania (the Posen region) was largely Polish, as was the small part of Silesia that was added to Poland. In the north, the actual West Prussia, the areas with a Polish or Kasubian majority and that with a German majority were roughly equal in size. Also, the southern part of East Prussia, which was retained by Germany, was inhabited by the Masurians. So the line between German and Polish areas could probably have been drawn better, but it wasn’t unreasonable, considering the fact that the population of the varied between one village and the next. The notable exception was Danzig, which was a German city. But overall, the population of those areas was by no means similar to that of, for example, Austria or the Sudetenland.

    I’m not sure what the Ukrainian famine has to do with it, but if the reference is meant to illustrate how evil the Soviet regime was, then Czechoslovakia certainly wasn’t the only country to sign a treaty with them. Politicians have never been to squeamish about the humanitarian qualities of their allies, and we don’t need to go back very far in history to find lots of examples of such opportunism. But I’d better not derail this thread towards modern politics.
    One look at the map suffices to illustrate the strategic and economic benefits for Germany to conquer  Bohemia and Moravia. If you foresee a war with the USSR, you don’t want the Red Army marching through Czechoslovakia and into the heart of Germany. Also, Czechoslovakia was a prosperous country at the time, with a lot of heavy industry that benefited the German army later on.

    I think that the only chance for the Czechs to try to avoid being absorbed into the Axis sphere of influence, would have been military resistance to Germany taking the Sudetenland. But their chances of success seemed limited against a much bigger country, an after being sold out at Munich.
    On a side note, referring to the Sudetenland as “German territory under hostile foreign occupation” is historically incorrect. The area was part of Austria-Hungary before World War I and became part of Czechoslovakia when that empire was dissolved. It was never a part of Germany because the German unification during the 19th century, didn’t include Austria.

    True enough. But it was a premise in this poll that they would indeed attack.

    In the north, the actual West Prussia, the areas with a Polish or Kasubian majority and that with a German majority were roughly equal in size.

    I do not dispute the above. However, the Germans in West Prussia greatly outnumbered the Poles.


    In the German census of 1910, the population of West Prussia was put at just over 1.7 million, of whom 65 percent listed their first language as German, 28 percent Polish and 7 percent Kashubian.


    I’m not sure what the Ukrainian famine has to do with it, but if the reference is meant to
    illustrate how evil the Soviet regime was, then Czechoslovakia certainly wasn’t the
    only country to sign a treaty with them.

    I agree the Czech government was hardly alone in adopting a pro-Soviet foreign policy. One would expect politicians–especially democratically elected politicians–to care about things like mass murder. Time and again, their actions show they do not.

    The Ukrainian famine is worth mentioning not only to show the evil of the Soviet Union, but also to illustrate why the Germans found the Soviets threatening. If the Soviets were willing to starve 7 million of their own people for having resisted collectivization, then the Germans of the '30s might have wondered how they would be treated if their nation were to ever fall to Stalin’s Red Army.

    If you foresee a war with the USSR, you don’t want the Red Army marching through Czechoslovakia and into the heart of Germany.

    Exactly. Czechoslovakia’s defensive alliance with the USSR transformed the above from a hypothetical scenario to a real possibility.

    Also, Czechoslovakia was a prosperous country at the time, with a lot of heavy industry that benefited the German army later on.

    Agreed. This was especially true of tank production.

    But their chances of success seemed limited against a much bigger country, an after being sold out at Munich.

    Woodrow Wilson claimed that one of the ideals for which the United States fought in WWI was self-determination. Giving the Sudetenland to Czechoslovakia flew in the face of this lofty rhetoric. Moreover, Sudeten Germans were treated as second-class citizens. The German government arguably had a duty to defend them against mistreatment by the Czech government. If the Western democracies had insisted upon honoring their treaty obligations to defend every last square centimeter of Czech-held land against foreign intrusion, then their responsibilities would have collided with the responsibilities of the German government. This would have meant war–a war the Western democracies would be waging in active opposition to the Wilsonian principle of self-determination. As a citizen of a Western democracy myself, I would not want to give my life for such a ridiculous, ill-conceived, unjust war. Especially considering that the sole beneficiary of such a war would have been the Soviet Union.

    On a side note, referring to the Sudetenland as “German territory under hostile foreign occupation” is historically incorrect.

    The overwhelming majority of the people in the Sudetenland were German in terms of ethnicity, language, and culture. However, as you hinted at in your post, the work of unifying Germany into a single nation-state was not completed during von Bismarck’s time. Even after the Franco-Prussian War, the Germans of Central Europe were still divided into two Germanic states: Germany and Austria.

    Before its dissolution, the Austrian Empire had large numbers of non-Germans. The German minority was generally referred to as “German,” to distinguish it from the Slavic majority. Likewise, if some tiny German nation-state had never been incorporated into Germany proper, I would still refer to the people within it as Germans. (Assuming, of course, that they were in fact Germans.)


  • 2019 2018 2017

    @KurtGodel7:

    In the north, the actual West Prussia, the areas with a Polish or Kasubian majority and that with a German majority were roughly equal in size.

    I do not dispute the above. However, the Germans in West Prussia greatly outnumbered the Poles.


    In the German census of 1910, the population of West Prussia was put at just over 1.7 million, of whom 65 percent listed their first language as German, 28 percent Polish and 7 percent Kashubian.


    There are several things to be said about this.
    First, the facts themselves. The data you’re referring to are about West Prussia as it existed in 1910. But not all of West Prussia was ceded to Poland: densely populated and predominantly German-speaking areas in the east and the west of the former province, were added to adjacent provinces that remained with Germany. Therefore, the 1910 statistics are not representative of the West Prussian area actually acquired by Poland.
    Second, the question whether language is a good criterion to identify someone as belonging to a certain population group. The areas that Germany lost after World War I, had been acquired by Prussia in the late 18th century, when the then-existing Poland was split between Prussia and Russia. Since then, a policy of Germanization had been installed in those areas, and in such cases it’s obvious that the language of the rulers would gain ground at the expense of the language of the ruled. By the early 20th century, German had thus become the language of the cities and the upper class, while Polish was lingering in the countryside. If not for both World Wars, this process would very likely have continued - one only needs to look at the current position of the Irish language in Ireland for an example of this mechanism.
    Third, and related to the second point: nobody ever asked the opinion of the population of West Prussia about the transfer of the area. I hold it for quite possible that regardless of their language, they would have voted to remain with Germany as opposed to becoming a part of the newly formed Polish state. As an example of that, in some areas of East Prussia a plebiscite was indeed held, and the people voted to stay with Germany by an overwhelming majority, even in areas that were mostly Polish-speaking.
    Fourth, there’s politics and geography. When Poland was carved out from lands formerly owned by German and Russia, but definitely Polish until the 18th century, it was given access to the sea. To create a somewhat reasonable border, certain areas that were mostly German speaking were indeed given to Poland, notably the city of Bromberg. And there was the clumsy Danzig compromise of course.

    So there were arguments one way or the other. But do any of those justify a military invasion of another state, or necessitate that state to make certain concessions in an attempt to establish “friendly” relations? No. There’s such a thing as international law, and invading another country simply because you want something from them, is a clear violation of that law. Politicians always manage to come up with some sort of distorted justification anyway, but that doesn’t make it legitimate.

    @KurtGodel7:

    I’m not sure what the Ukrainian famine has to do with it, but if the reference is meant to
    illustrate how evil the Soviet regime was, then Czechoslovakia certainly wasn’t the
    only country to sign a treaty with them.

    I agree the Czech government was hardly alone in adopting a pro-Soviet foreign policy. One would expect politicians–especially democratically elected politicians–to care about things like mass murder. Time and again, their actions show they do not.

    “Signing a treaty with the Soviet Union” is not the same as “adopting a pro-Soviet foreign policy”. Germany signed several such treaties, and I don’t think anyone can accuse them of being pro-Soviet. The conservative ‘bourgeois’ regimes of eastern Europe were no friends of Stalin, but out of necessity, needed to find a modus to deal with a powerful and potentially aggressive neighbor. Being a small country locked in between Hitler and Stalin wasn’t an enviable situation.

    @KurtGodel7:

    The Ukrainian famine is worth mentioning not only to show the evil of the Soviet Union, but also to illustrate why the Germans found the Soviets threatening. If the Soviets were willing to starve 7 million of their own people for having resisted collectivization, then the Germans of the '30s might have wondered how they would be treated if their nation were to ever fall to Stalin’s Red Army.

    I’m not actually certain how much information about the Ukrainian famine would have been available to the average German citizen of the 1930’s. A massive campaign of cover up and denial was put in place by the Soviets, and maintained until the 1980’s. But in general terms, it’s easy to understand why anyone found the Soviet Union threatening during most of the existence of that state, and especially during the Stalin years. A big country with a big army, not very far away, and consistently preaching “international revolution” - I’d say that would make people nervous.

    @KurtGodel7:

    But their chances of success seemed limited against a much bigger country, an after being sold out at Munich.

    Woodrow Wilson claimed that one of the ideals for which the United States fought in WWI was self-determination. Giving the Sudetenland to Czechoslovakia flew in the face of this lofty rhetoric.

    There’s something to be said for that. However, I suppose that the political and geographical situation took precedence at the time. The Habsburg monarchy was carved up in such a way that viable countries would be created.

    @KurtGodel7:

    Moreover, Sudeten Germans were treated as second-class citizens. The German government arguably had a duty to defend them against mistreatment by the Czech government.

    The German government had no such duty at all. The fact that people existed that identified themselves as German and were considered German by culture and tradition, did not imply that Germany, as a country, had a right or even a duty, to act against a neighboring country where those people happened to live. It’s a classic imperialistic trick to claim that people have been wronged that you consider to be your citizens, and has always been an instrument in the hands of powerful countries to further their ambitions. It’s not that I approve of the attitude or treatment of German-speaking citizens by the Czech government, but that situation simply didn’t qualify as a pretext for annexation by Germany.

    @KurtGodel7:

    If the Western democracies had insisted upon honoring their treaty obligations to defend every last square centimeter of Czech-held land against foreign intrusion, then their responsibilities would have collided with the responsibilities of the German government. This would have meant war–a war the Western democracies would be waging in active opposition to the Wilsonian principle of self-determination. As a citizen of a Western democracy myself, I would not want to give my life for such a ridiculous, ill-conceived, unjust war. Especially considering that the sole beneficiary of such a war would have been the Soviet Union.

    Of course Stalin would have loved it. But I wouldn’t consider the defense of international law and the honoring of treaties an unjust war. On the other hand, I do agree that it doesn’t seem right to go to war to keep the Sudetenland with Czechoslovakia against the will of its inhabitants. Chamberlain and Daladier have been much criticized for the Munich agreements, but those who do so have the benefit of hindsight.

    @KurtGodel7:

    On a side note, referring to the Sudetenland as “German territory under hostile foreign occupation” is historically incorrect.

    The overwhelming majority of the people in the Sudetenland were German in terms of ethnicity, language, and culture. However, as you hinted at in your post, the work of unifying Germany into a single nation-state was not completed during von Bismarck’s time. Even after the Franco-Prussian War, the Germans of Central Europe were still divided into two Germanic states: Germany and Austria.

    Before its dissolution, the Austrian Empire had large numbers of non-Germans. The German minority was generally referred to as “German,” to distinguish it from the Slavic majority. Likewise, if some tiny German nation-state had never been incorporated into Germany proper, I would still refer to the people within it as Germans. (Assuming, of course, that they were in fact Germans.)

    There’s a difference between an area inhabited by Germans, and territory belonging to, or having belonged to, the country known as Germany. The Sudetenland had never belonged to Germany and could therefore not be considered “occupied German territory”. It wasn’t occupied by anybody - it was a part of Bohemia, and had been so since the Middle Ages. Maybe it should have been added to Germany in the 19th century, or after World War I, and maybe Austria should have been added, too. But that didn’t happen on either occasion.



  • @Herr:

    There are several things to be said about this.
    First, the facts themselves. The data you’re referring to are about West Prussia as it existed in 1910. But not all of West Prussia was ceded to Poland: densely populated and predominantly German-speaking areas in the east and the west of the former province, were added to adjacent provinces that remained with Germany. Therefore, the 1910 statistics are not representative of the West Prussian area actually acquired by Poland.
    Second, the question whether language is a good criterion to identify someone as belonging to a certain population group. The areas that Germany lost after World War I, had been acquired by Prussia in the late 18th century, when the then-existing Poland was split between Prussia and Russia. Since then, a policy of Germanization had been installed in those areas, and in such cases it’s obvious that the language of the rulers would gain ground at the expense of the language of the ruled. By the early 20th century, German had thus become the language of the cities and the upper class, while Polish was lingering in the countryside. If not for both World Wars, this process would very likely have continued - one only needs to look at the current position of the Irish language in Ireland for an example of this mechanism.
    Third, and related to the second point: nobody ever asked the opinion of the population of West Prussia about the transfer of the area. I hold it for quite possible that regardless of their language, they would have voted to remain with Germany as opposed to becoming a part of the newly formed Polish state. As an example of that, in some areas of East Prussia a plebiscite was indeed held, and the people voted to stay with Germany by an overwhelming majority, even in areas that were mostly Polish-speaking.
    Fourth, there’s politics and geography. When Poland was carved out from lands formerly owned by German and Russia, but definitely Polish until the 18th century, it was given access to the sea. To create a somewhat reasonable border, certain areas that were mostly German speaking were indeed given to Poland, notably the city of Bromberg. And there was the clumsy Danzig compromise of course.

    So there were arguments one way or the other. But do any of those justify a military invasion of another state, or necessitate that state to make certain concessions in an attempt to establish “friendly” relations? No. There’s such a thing as international law, and invading another country simply because you want something from them, is a clear violation of that law. Politicians always manage to come up with some sort of distorted justification anyway, but that doesn’t make it legitimate.

    “Signing a treaty with the Soviet Union” is not the same as “adopting a pro-Soviet foreign policy”. Germany signed several such treaties, and I don’t think anyone can accuse them of being pro-Soviet. The conservative ‘bourgeois’ regimes of eastern Europe were no friends of Stalin, but out of necessity, needed to find a modus to deal with a powerful and potentially aggressive neighbor. Being a small country locked in between Hitler and Stalin wasn’t an enviable situation.

    I’m not actually certain how much information about the Ukrainian famine would have been available to the average German citizen of the 1930’s. A massive campaign of cover up and denial was put in place by the Soviets, and maintained until the 1980’s. But in general terms, it’s easy to understand why anyone found the Soviet Union threatening during most of the existence of that state, and especially during the Stalin years. A big country with a big army, not very far away, and consistently preaching “international revolution” - I’d say that would make people nervous.

    There’s something to be said for that. However, I suppose that the political and geographical situation took precedence at the time. The Habsburg monarchy was carved up in such a way that viable countries would be created.

    The German government had no such duty at all. The fact that people existed that identified themselves as German and were considered German by culture and tradition, did not imply that Germany, as a country, had a right or even a duty, to act against a neighboring country where those people happened to live. It’s a classic imperialistic trick to claim that people have been wronged that you consider to be your citizens, and has always been an instrument in the hands of powerful countries to further their ambitions. It’s not that I approve of the attitude or treatment of German-speaking citizens by the Czech government, but that situation simply didn’t qualify as a pretext for annexation by Germany.

    Of course Stalin would have loved it. But I wouldn’t consider the defense of international law and the honoring of treaties an unjust war. On the other hand, I do agree that it doesn’t seem right to go to war to keep the Sudetenland with Czechoslovakia against the will of its inhabitants. Chamberlain and Daladier have been much criticized for the Munich agreements, but those who do so have the benefit of hindsight.

    There’s a difference between an area inhabited by Germans, and territory belonging to, or having belonged to, the country known as Germany. The Sudetenland had never belonged to Germany and could therefore not be considered “occupied German territory”. It wasn’t occupied by anybody - it was a part of Bohemia, and had been so since the Middle Ages. Maybe it should have been added to Germany in the 19th century, or after World War I, and maybe Austria should have been added, too. But that didn’t happen on either occasion.

    But do any of those justify a military invasion of another state, or necessitate that state to
    make certain concessions in an attempt to establish “friendly” relations? No.

    Suppose (for example) that the United States had lost a war. And that as a result of this defeat, the Pacific Northwest was placed under hostile foreign occupation? (Including Alaska, Washington State, Oregon, and Northern California.) Would the U.S. be justified in seeking the return of this territory? If it started a war to regain this lost land; would that war be less justified than (for example) George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq?

    You could argue that Germany’s claim to West Prussia wasn’t as clear-cut as America’s claim to the above-described lands; due to the presence of a significant Polish population in West Prussia. But suppose (in my example) that Texas had been placed under Mexican occupation. Would the presence of large numbers of Mexicans within Texas invalidate any right the United States might otherwise have had to take Texas back?

    But the Germans’ justification for the invasion went beyond merely reclaiming lost territory. John Toland’s book Adolf Hitler was favorably endorsed by the New York Times, Newsweek, the Chicago Tribune, and Library Journal. Below is a quote.


    [A.I.] Berndt [a German government official] thought the reported number of German nationals killed by Poles too small and simply added a nought. At first Hitler refused to believe such a figure but, when Berndt replied that it may have been somewhat exaggerated but something monstrous must have happened to give rise to such stories, Hitler shouted ‘They’ll pay for this! Now no one will stop me from teaching these fellows a lesson they’ll never forget! I will not have my Germans butchered like cattle!’ At this point the Fuhrer went to the phone and, in Berndt’s presence, ordered Keitel to issue ‘Directive No. 1 for the Conduct of the War.’ (pp. 566 - 567)


    The fact that Polish leaders were willing to take things as far as that demonstrates a) that they felt France would launch its promised general offensive, and b) that their military/government would survive the opening phases of the engagement.

    “Signing a treaty with the Soviet Union” is not the same as “adopting a pro-Soviet foreign policy”. Germany signed several such treaties . . .

    Yes, but there was a difference. Germany signed a non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union as a temporary measure. Czechoslovakia signed a defensive alliance with the Soviets. The Soviets appear to have ignored whatever obligations they might have had under the treaty. But the reverse might not have been true. Had Hitler invaded the Soviet Union without first annexing Czechoslovakia, it’s quite possible the Czech government would have felt itself bound by its treaty to declare war on Germany.

    The stated long-term goal of Soviet foreign policy was world conquest. During the late '20s and '30s, the Soviet Union aggressively built up its industry and military. Prior to 1948, the major Western democracies had no interest at all in preventing Soviet expansionism. Hitler knew that a completely passive foreign policy would give the Soviets time to build up. After which, they would likely invade Eastern and Central Europe. Hitler knew that in such a scenario, the Western democracies would stay neutral or side with the Soviets. Hitler felt Germany’s best chance of avoiding defeat–and the horror of Soviet occupation–was to launch a preemptive attack against the Soviet Union; before it was ready for war. But for that preemptive attack to have its best possible chance for success, would-be Soviet allies–such as the Czechoslovak government–first had to be removed from the chess board.

    A massive campaign of cover up and denial was put in place by the Soviets

    True. Most “big name” newspaper publications–in both Western Europe and North America–didn’t exactly bend over backwards to oppose that coverup. The same was true of most “big name” German newspapers–at least during the Weimar Republic. However, a number of refugees from the Soviet regime had fled to Germany; which is why the Germans weren’t quite as protected from the truth as were their neighbors to the west. I imagine refugees had also fled to Czechoslovakia; partially undermining the Soviet/big media coverup. Also, political leaders tended to be better-informed than their constituents.

    The fact that people existed that identified themselves as German and were considered German
    by culture and tradition, did not imply that Germany, as a country, had a right or even a duty,
    to act against a neighboring country where those people happened to live.

    I’m an American. Americans are not united by race, religion, a common culture, or even a common language. The people I know define Americans as people who were either born within the United States, or who have legally become citizens. There isn’t (as far as I know) any other logical way of defining us.

    But just because this is how we are used to thinking, doesn’t mean mid 20th century Europeans thought in those same terms. The people of the Sudetenland were ethnic Germans, they spoke German, were part of the German culture, and for centuries had been ruled by the Germanic nation of Austria. The fact that they hadn’t been included in von Bismarck’s efforts to reunite Germany was quite beside the point in determining whether they were Germans. They saw themselves as Germans. The people of Germany saw them as Germans. The Czech government saw them as Germans, which is why they were treated as second-class citizens. (Ultimately to be replaced with Czechs.) If we take our method for determining who is or isn’t an American, and try to apply that to them, we’d be engaging in thinking that would have been alien to all parties involved. While there’s sometimes something to be said for alien thinking; in this case it would serve no useful purpose.


  • 2019 2018 2017

    It had been my intent to return to this interesting discussion much earlier, but a propensity towards procrastination has prevented that so far.

    Your last post, and correct me if my interpretation of it is off, seems to address both actual historical issues and underlying ethical and philosophical ones. I’ll start with those, because they are relevant to the entire question of the circumstances that could justify an invasion of a sovereign country. It’s not necessarily something we need to agree on, and if we don’t, our opinions will probably remain based solely on what we believe to be “right”.

    I’m talking about these parts of your post:

    Suppose (for example) that the United States had lost a war. And that as a result of this defeat, the Pacific Northwest was placed under hostile foreign occupation? (Including Alaska, Washington State, Oregon, and Northern California.) Would the U.S. be justified in seeking the return of this territory? If it started a war to regain this lost land; would that war be less justified than (for example) George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq?
    You could argue that Germany’s claim to West Prussia wasn’t as clear-cut as America’s claim to the above-described lands; due to the presence of a significant Polish population in West Prussia. But suppose (in my example) that Texas had been placed under Mexican occupation. Would the presence of large numbers of Mexicans within Texas invalidate any right the United States might otherwise have had to take Texas back?

    I’m an American. Americans are not united by race, religion, a common culture, or even a common language. The people I know define Americans as people who were either born within the United States, or who have legally become citizens. There isn’t (as far as I know) any other logical way of defining us.
    But just because this is how we are used to thinking, doesn’t mean mid 20th century Europeans thought in those same terms. The people of the Sudetenland were ethnic Germans, they spoke German, were part of the German culture, and for centuries had been ruled by the Germanic nation of Austria. The fact that they hadn’t been included in von Bismarck’s efforts to reunite Germany was quite beside the point in determining whether they were Germans. They saw themselves as Germans. The people of Germany saw them as Germans. The Czech government saw them as Germans, which is why they were treated as second-class citizens. (Ultimately to be replaced with Czechs.) If we take our method for determining who is or isn’t an American, and try to apply that to them, we’d be engaging in thinking that would have been alien to all parties involved. While there’s sometimes something to be said for alien thinking; in this case it would serve no useful purpose.

    I don’t think it’s particularly easy to respond to the questions you’re asking in the first quote (quite apart from their hypothetical nature, considering the military might of the United States). I’d better not address the comparison with the invasion of Iraq, because doing so might either violate the forum terms of staying away from debates about (recent) politics, or attract comments specific to that war, which we’re just using as an example here.

    But suppose that the situation you’re describing would indeed exist, and that as the result of a war, certain parts of the current United States would indeed have been occupied and possibly annexed by a foreign power. And let’s say that the people living in those areas would still think of themselves as Americans, and be thought of as Americans by everybody else. Finally, to make it a bit worse, suppose that the Americans in these occupied areas were being discriminated against, and were being pressed into assimilating with the native population of the occupying power.
    Now, would those circumstances imply that if the remaining United States would start a new war to regain the lost territories, that war would be “just”? Even if most neutral observers would agree that the occupied areas should be returned to the United States because a solid majority of the people living in those areas would strongly support and even long for such a return, would that justify an actual war when at the time, a situation of relative peace exists? I think we earnestly need to consider the horrors and destruction of war itself in answering that question. And I’m not at all sure when the anticipated results of the war (doing “justice” according to the vision of certain groups of people), outweighs the violence of war. Wars are started by politicians, but soldiers and civilians suffer the consequences.

    I’ll provide you with an example from the history of my own country (I’m a Dutchman), where a war between the Netherlands and Belgium could have taken place, and claims could have been made that the war was “just”. During the second half of the 19th century, the inhabitants of the Dutch-speaking northern part of Belgium were being discriminated against by the Belgian government, and in order to get anywhere in life, they needed to learn French, the language of the ruling elite. On the other hand, the Roman Catholic inhabitants of the southern part of the Netherlands were also being discriminated against, as their religion was being suppressed by the ruling Protestant elite.
    So you could say that the Dutch could have started a just war against the Belgians, to liberate “their” people (as defined by language) from their Belgian oppressors. Or the Belgians could have started a just war against the Dutch, to liberate “their” people (as defined by religion) from their Dutch oppressors. But either war would have been started by the politicians of each country, and would have been fought on the land of the people those politicians would have claimed to liberate. So I’m rather glad that neither of these “just” wars actually happened.
    Now of course, we can differ in opinion as to whether the German invasion of Czechoslovakia in order to take the Sudetenland, was a “just” war. I don’t think so, regardless of how German the people who lived in that area were. But in the end, it still remains a matter of opinion.

    Apart from this rather philosophical point, I’ll address a few other things you’ve mentioned.

    But the Germans’ justification for the invasion went beyond merely reclaiming lost territory. John Toland’s book Adolf Hitler was favorably endorsed by the New York Times, Newsweek, the Chicago Tribune, and Library Journal. Below is a quote.


    [A.I.] Berndt [a German government official] thought the reported number of German nationals killed by Poles too small and simply added a nought. At first Hitler refused to believe such a figure but, when Berndt replied that it may have been somewhat exaggerated but something monstrous must have happened to give rise to such stories, Hitler shouted ‘They’ll pay for this! Now no one will stop me from teaching these fellows a lesson they’ll never forget! I will not have my Germans butchered like cattle!’ At this point the Fuhrer went to the phone and, in Berndt’s presence, ordered Keitel to issue ‘Directive No. 1 for the Conduct of the War.’ (pp. 566 - 567)


    The fact that Polish leaders were willing to take things as far as that demonstrates a) that they felt France would launch its promised general offensive, and b) that their military/government would survive the opening phases of the engagement.

    I don’t understand this at all. The quote you’re giving seems to be saying here that Berndt forged those figures, and that Hitler then became enraged on the basis of forged information. And you follow that up by saying that “Polish leaders were willing to take things as far as that”? I fail to see any Polish involvement in Berndt’s deceit.

    Yes, but there was a difference. Germany signed a non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union as a temporary measure. Czechoslovakia signed a defensive alliance with the Soviets. The Soviets appear to have ignored whatever obligations they might have had under the treaty. But the reverse might not have been true. Had Hitler invaded the Soviet Union without first annexing Czechoslovakia, it’s quite possible the Czech government would have felt itself bound by its treaty to declare war on Germany.

    After some searching, I found an English translation of the Soviet-Czech treaty. It contains an interesting clause: “At the same time, the two Governments recognise that the undertakings to render mutual assistance will operate between them only in so far as the conditions laid down in the present Treaty may be fulfilled and in so far as assistance may be rendered by France to the Party victim of the aggression.”

    So basically, if France did nothing, the treaty was void for all practical purposes, despite its intentions. I hold it for very unlikely that the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia were really such close allies. The only democracy in Eastern Europe on the one hand, and a Communist dictatorship on the other hand. Czechoslovakia would have been among the first countries to be annexed by the Soviets, if they would have indeed sent the Red Army across their western border in the 1940’s. I suppose that the only thing the treaty might have done for the Czechs, would be that if France would have gone to war over the intended German annexation of the Sudetenland, the Soviets might have assisted them. But how likely was that, really? Conversely, that Czechoslovakia would ever have declared war on Germany to help the Soviet Union, seems like an even more remote possibility. They had absolutely nothing to gain there.

    Finally, about the concept of Barbarossa being a preemptive attack… I’ve read about that theory before, and there’s another post on the forum about it too. It’s an old story by now, even when it was quite spectacular when it was first brought up. But I don’t think it’s a good idea to also discuss it here, as it would divert us from the original topic, and would require a lot of additional text in its own right. After all, entire books have been written explain to either support or debunk that theory.



  • @Herr:

    It had been my intent to return to this interesting discussion much earlier, but a propensity towards procrastination has prevented that so far.

    Your last post, and correct me if my interpretation of it is off, seems to address both actual historical issues and underlying ethical and philosophical ones. I’ll start with those, because they are relevant to the entire question of the circumstances that could justify an invasion of a sovereign country. It’s not necessarily something we need to agree on, and if we don’t, our opinions will probably remain based solely on what we believe to be “right”.

    I’m talking about these parts of your post:

    I don’t think it’s particularly easy to respond to the questions you’re asking in the first quote (quite apart from their hypothetical nature, considering the military might of the United States). I’d better not address the comparison with the invasion of Iraq, because doing so might either violate the forum terms of staying away from debates about (recent) politics, or attract comments specific to that war, which we’re just using as an example here.

    But suppose that the situation you’re describing would indeed exist, and that as the result of a war, certain parts of the current United States would indeed have been occupied and possibly annexed by a foreign power. And let’s say that the people living in those areas would still think of themselves as Americans, and be thought of as Americans by everybody else. Finally, to make it a bit worse, suppose that the Americans in these occupied areas were being discriminated against, and were being pressed into assimilating with the native population of the occupying power.

    Now, would those circumstances imply that if the remaining United States would start a new war to regain the lost territories, that war would be “just”? Even if most neutral observers would agree that the occupied areas should be returned to the United States because a solid majority of the people living in those areas would strongly support and even long for such a return, would that justify an actual war when at the time, a situation of relative peace exists? I think we earnestly need to consider the horrors and destruction of war itself in answering that question. And I’m not at all sure when the anticipated results of the war (doing “justice” according to the vision of certain groups of people), outweighs the violence of war. Wars are started by politicians, but soldiers and civilians suffer the consequences.

    I’ll provide you with an example from the history of my own country (I’m a Dutchman), where a war between the Netherlands and Belgium could have taken place, and claims could have been made that the war was “just”. During the second half of the 19th century, the inhabitants of the Dutch-speaking northern part of Belgium were being discriminated against by the Belgian government, and in order to get anywhere in life, they needed to learn French, the language of the ruling elite. On the other hand, the Roman Catholic inhabitants of the southern part of the Netherlands were also being discriminated against, as their religion was being suppressed by the ruling Protestant elite.
    So you could say that the Dutch could have started a just war against the Belgians, to liberate “their” people (as defined by language) from their Belgian oppressors. Or the Belgians could have started a just war against the Dutch, to liberate “their” people (as defined by religion) from their Dutch oppressors. But either war would have been started by the politicians of each country, and would have been fought on the land of the people those politicians would have claimed to liberate. So I’m rather glad that neither of these “just” wars actually happened.
    Now of course, we can differ in opinion as to whether the German invasion of Czechoslovakia in order to take the Sudetenland, was a “just” war. I don’t think so, regardless of how German the people who lived in that area were. But in the end, it still remains a matter of opinion.

    Apart from this rather philosophical point, I’ll address a few other things you’ve mentioned.

    I don’t understand this at all. The quote you’re giving seems to be saying here that Berndt forged those figures, and that Hitler then became enraged on the basis of forged information. And you follow that up by saying that “Polish leaders were willing to take things as far as that”? I fail to see any Polish involvement in Berndt’s deceit.

    After some searching, I found an English translation of the Soviet-Czech treaty. It contains an interesting clause: “At the same time, the two Governments recognise that the undertakings to render mutual assistance will operate between them only in so far as the conditions laid down in the present Treaty may be fulfilled and in so far as assistance may be rendered by France to the Party victim of the aggression.”

    So basically, if France did nothing, the treaty was void for all practical purposes, despite its intentions. I hold it for very unlikely that the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia were really such close allies. The only democracy in Eastern Europe on the one hand, and a Communist dictatorship on the other hand. Czechoslovakia would have been among the first countries to be annexed by the Soviets, if they would have indeed sent the Red Army across their western border in the 1940’s. I suppose that the only thing the treaty might have done for the Czechs, would be that if France would have gone to war over the intended German annexation of the Sudetenland, the Soviets might have assisted them. But how likely was that, really? Conversely, that Czechoslovakia would ever have declared war on Germany to help the Soviet Union, seems like an even more remote possibility. They had absolutely nothing to gain there.

    Finally, about the concept of Barbarossa being a preemptive attack… I’ve read about that theory before, and there’s another post on the forum about it too. It’s an old story by now, even when it was quite spectacular when it was first brought up. But I don’t think it’s a good idea to also discuss it here, as it would divert us from the original topic, and would require a lot of additional text in its own right. After all, entire books have been written explain to either support or debunk that theory.

    Thanks for this post. You’ve raised some good points which I wish to address.

    1. The question of a just/versus unjust war. Any war without a legitimate casus belli is an unjust war. Examples include the Soviet Union’s invasion of Finland; and Britain’s invasion of the Boer Republics.

    But just because a perfectly good casus belli exists does not necessarily mean the war in question would be worth the bloodshed. Your example of a potential war between the Netherlands and Belgium seems like a good example of a war which wouldn’t have been worth the bloodshed; despite the fact that each side had a legitimate casus belli against the other.

    2. Germany had two casus belli against Poland. One was the Polish occupation of West Prussia. The other was the killing of German nationals within Polish-occupied territory. Below is the most relevant portion of Toland’s text.


    [A.I.] Berndt [a German government official] thought the reported number of German nationals killed by Poles too small and simply added a nought. At first Hitler refused to believe such a figure but . . .


    If you look closely at the above text, you’ll see that German nationals being killed wasn’t something Berndt fabricated out of whole cloth. Instead, Berndt took an existing government report, and multiplied the reported number by ten before passing it along to Hitler. Government agencies will sometimes err on the side of conservatism; of under-counting things. Berndt seems to have felt that whichever government agency had prepared the initial report had under-counted the number of Germans killed. He therefore “corrected” the report before passing it on to Hitler.

    Should Berndt have altered the report before passing it along to Hitler? Perhaps not. But if we disregard Berndt’s alterations, and look only at the original government report, we see that German nationals were still being killed. That constitutes a legitimate basis for going to war; and puts the German invasion of Poland into a different category than the Soviet invasion of Finland or Britain’s invasion of the Boer republics.

    In 1939, Britain and France had made two promises to Poland. 1) If Germany went to war against Poland, Britain and France would declare war on Germany. 2) If Germany went to war against Poland, France would launch a major offensive against Germany within 15 days of general mobilization. This latter promise was very important; because it would prevent Germany from concentrating the bulk of its military strength on its eastern (Polish) front. Obviously French leaders had no intention of keeping that particular promise. They made it in order to put Poland in a false position. To give it the (false) confidence necessary to adopt a strongly anti-German foreign policy.

    Once Germany invaded Poland, France launched a very minor offensive against Germany. French leaders informed Poland that the minor offensive was the beginning of the general offensive they’d promised; and that they were in the process of expanding it. Instead of which, the French simply sent their forces back to the border. I think it’s fairly obvious that, in 1939, British and French politicians had decided the time had come for war with Germany. They used false promises to Poland to con Poland into adopting an anti-German stance; thereby provoking the general European war British and French politicians wanted. Hitler’s decision to invade Poland was justified not only on the basis of saving the lives of German nationals; but also because it’s very likely that British and French politicians would eventually have succeeded in getting the war they wanted.

    Thanks for the information regarding the defensive alliance between Czechoslovakia and the U.S.S.R. I hadn’t previously been aware of the provision regarding France. As for the likelihood of Stalin using Czechoslovakia as a staging ground for his invasion of Central Europe: that invasion was going to happen sooner or later. It was just a question of when. However, there is a question of whether the Czechs would have cooperated with this Soviet invasion. In Germany there was concern that this cooperation would happen. But that does not necessarily mean that concern was justified. As for what the Czechs had to gain from that cooperation: Stalin could have told them that if they didn’t cooperate, they would be annexed; and after annexation would be treated the same way the Ukraine was treated. But if they cooperated, they could retain their independence; and even receive territorial grants at Germany’s expense. That combination of threats and bribes might or might not have been sufficient to attain Czech cooperation. But one cannot dismiss the possibility of Czech cooperation out of hand.


  • 2019 2018 2017

    @KurtGodel7:

    1. The question of a just/versus unjust war. Any war without a legitimate casus belli is an unjust war.

    A casus belli is nothing else than a stated reason by any nation to go to war. The term “legitimate” doesn’t really apply to a casus belli: it’s a one-sided declaration that typically satisfies those who intended to start the war anyway, or provides a somewhat acceptable explanation to persuade opponents of the war within the country that starts it.
    The term that applies to distinguish “just” wars from “unjust” wars, is jus ad bellum. Various international treaties exist to define justified reasons for going to war, and the most significant pre-WW2 treaty was the 1928 Kellogg-Briand Pact, to which Germany was a signatory. In itself, the Kellogg-Briand Pact wasn’t particularly effective, but it was a precursor to later treaties against the so-called “war of aggression”: a war waged without the justification of self-defense.
    Whatever may have been in the forged report by Berndt, and whatever area of pre-WW1 Germany may have been part of Poland in 1939: neither would have been enough to justify a German war against Poland that would have been considered “just” by the international standards of that time. And Germany knew that all too well. They needed an actual act of agression against German territory by Poland, and when nothing happened, they staged the Gleiwitz incident as an excuse.
    On top of that, there’s the principle of proportionality. Even if Germany’s claim to the Polish part of Western Prussia would have been justified (which it wasn’t), occupying the entire western half of Poland was disproportional. So this was clearly a classic war of conquest.

    On a side note, does Tolland give the actual content of the report, and does he provide the original figures before Berndt forged them, and the original source of those figures? Also, who were these “German nationals”? A German national is a citizen of Germany. A citizen of Poland who happens to be of German descent, is not a German national.

    @KurtGodel7:

    In 1939, Britain and France had made two promises to Poland. 1) If Germany went to war against Poland, Britain and France would declare war on Germany. 2) If Germany went to war against Poland, France would launch a major offensive against Germany within 15 days of general mobilization. This latter promise was very important; because it would prevent Germany from concentrating the bulk of its military strength on its eastern (Polish) front. Obviously French leaders had no intention of keeping that particular promise. They made it in order to put Poland in a false position. To give it the (false) confidence necessary to adopt a strongly anti-German foreign policy.

    Once Germany invaded Poland, France launched a very minor offensive against Germany. French leaders informed Poland that the minor offensive was the beginning of the general offensive they’d promised; and that they were in the process of expanding it. Instead of which, the French simply sent their forces back to the border. I think it’s fairly obvious that, in 1939, British and French politicians had decided the time had come for war with Germany. They used false promises to Poland to con Poland into adopting an anti-German stance; thereby provoking the general European war British and French politicians wanted. Hitler’s decision to invade Poland was justified not only on the basis of saving the lives of German nationals; but also because it’s very likely that British and French politicians would eventually have succeeded in getting the war they wanted.

    If Britain and France really wanted to go to war against Germany, they picked a very strange way to fight that war. They had no plan to invade Germany, they hadn’t secured the cooperation of Belgium and the Netherlands, and when the opportunity came with the German army fighting in Poland, they totally failed to capitalize on that. And after that, they had learnt nothing about Germany’s strength and tactics, and patiently waited for another eight months to be wiped out by Fall Gelb. Now I’m willing to allow for a lot of sheer incompetence, but I find it very hard to believe that any serious French-British plan to militarily attack Germany, existed in September, 1939.

    @KurtGodel7:

    Thanks for the information regarding the defensive alliance between Czechoslovakia and the U.S.S.R. I hadn’t previously been aware of the provision regarding France. As for the likelihood of Stalin using Czechoslovakia as a staging ground for his invasion of Central Europe: that invasion was going to happen sooner or later. It was just a question of when. However, there is a question of whether the Czechs would have cooperated with this Soviet invasion. In Germany there was concern that this cooperation would happen. But that does not necessarily mean that concern was justified. As for what the Czechs had to gain from that cooperation: Stalin could have told them that if they didn’t cooperate, they would be annexed; and after annexation would be treated the same way the Ukraine was treated. But if they cooperated, they could retain their independence; and even receive territorial grants at Germany’s expense. That combination of threats and bribes might or might not have been sufficient to attain Czech cooperation. But one cannot dismiss the possibility of Czech cooperation out of hand.

    The Soviet Union indeed intended to spread communism all around the world, but whether that would necessarily have implied a military invasion of central Europe in the 1940’s, is not certain. Their approach varied quite a bit, from inciting revolutions of the “working class” in other countries, to promoting wars between “bourgeois” powers, to actual war. Stalin’s power within the Soviet union also waned during the war, because he needed to bank on Russian nationalistic sentiments rather than the ideals of international communism. Also, the poor performance of the Red Army in Finland was hardly an encouragement to attack much stronger nations in central Europe. Of course, a German invasion of eastern Europe was also to be expected, as the acquisition of “Lebensraum” in that area was Hitler’s stated intent. So a major conflict between the two countries was inevitable one way or the other. And all in all, it’s rather speculative to consider the role Czechoslovakia might have played in events that never took place. That Germany conquered it for strategic reasons is understandable, but it was another unjust war.


  • 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 '14 Customizer '13 '12 '11 '10

    @Herr:

    The Soviet Union indeed intended to spread communism all around the world, but whether that would necessarily have implied a military invasion of central Europe in the 1940’s, is not certain. Their approach varied quite a bit, from inciting revolutions of the “working class” in other countries, to promoting wars between “bourgeois” powers, to actual war.

    Also, if I remember correctly, Lenin’s death was followed by a power struggle in the USSR between the Trotsky faction, which wanted to pursue an agenda of internationalist communism, and the Stalin faction, which wanted to focus on communism at home (or whatever the phrase was).  The Trotsky faction lost, with Trotsky himself eventually going into exile and ultimately being assassinated.


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