A panoramic narrative of the years leading up to the Second World War—a tale of democratic crisis, racial conflict, and a belated recognition of evil, with profound resonance for our own time.
Berlin, November 1937. Adolf Hitler meets with his military commanders to impress upon them the urgent necessity for a war of aggression in eastern Europe. Some generals are unnerved by the Führer’s grandiose plan, but these dissenters are silenced one by one, setting in motion events that will culminate in the most calamitous war in history.
Benjamin Carter Hett takes us behind the scenes in Berlin, London, Moscow, and Washington, revealing the unsettled politics within each country in the wake of the German dictator’s growing provocations. He reveals the fitful path by which anti-Nazi forces inside and outside Germany came to understand Hitler’s true menace to European civilization and learned to oppose him, painting a sweeping portrait of governments under siege, as larger-than-life figures struggled to turn events to their advantage.
As in The Death of Democracy, his acclaimed history of the fall of the Weimar Republic, Hett draws on original sources and newly released documents to show how these long-ago conflicts have unexpected resonances in our own time. To read The Nazi Menace is to see past and present in a new and unnerving light.
In this crisp and well-researched account, Hunter College history professor Hett (The Death of Democracy) portrays the lead-up to WWII as a "crisis in democracy" during which Allied leaders struggled to articulate an "open and international" world vision in response to the rise of totalitarianism. Hett highlights how the redrawing of central and eastern Europe following WWI inflamed ethnic tensions, and argues that the Great Depression "accelerated the trend toward authoritarian politics" across the region. He documents domestic pressures, including organized labor's anti-immigrant stance, that contributed to President Roosevelt's initial downplaying of the plight of German Jews, and traces the growth of Winston Churchill's commitment to democracy through the 1930s. Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union used new media technologies to weaponize propaganda, Hett explains, noting that Orson Welles's War of the Worlds broadcast both revealed the power of radio to incite mass movements and influenced American and British efforts to sway public opinion in favor of confronting Hitler. Hett wisely introduces each chapter with vivid sketches of historical figures, including R.J. Mitchell, designer of the Spitfire fighter plane, and American journalist Dorothy Thompson, humanizing his analysis of political and military developments. This history makes a solid contribution to the understanding of the driving forces behind WWII.