Friday, June 30, 2017

An Economist's High Level Take on WW II

Bundesarchiv: l-r Neville Chamberlain, Edouard Deladier,
Adolf HitlerBenito Mussolini, and Galeazzo Ciano
before signing of Munich Accord Sept. 30, 1938
For Alan Furst fans, World War II buffs, and anyone else interested in understanding our world, Brad DeLong's Very Short Take on World War II  is worth your 20 minutes.

Here's Brad . . .
To Munich 
While most other countries continued to stagnate in the Great Depression, the German economy recovered rapidly. But peaceful spending-fueled recovery was not what Hitler thought his regime was about. His regime was about German rearmament: the breaking of the shackles of the Treaty of Versailles that restricted the German military to a total strength of 100,000; and eventually aggressive war with the Soviet Union and the other powers to Germany's east with the aim of increasing the “living space” of the German people. 
Hitler announced that Germany was rearming, and met with no complaints. The victorious allies of World War I faced a knotty foreign policy problem. The isolationist United States was uninterested in sending soldiers and garrisons to Europe. The British and French electorates definitely did not want to do World War I again. And Hitler’s program of rearmament and national self-assertion demanded that Britain and France make a choice. 
The treaties of Muenster and Osnabrueck in 1648—the Peace of Westphalia—and the earlier peace of Augsburg in 1555 established the principle in European international law that internal affairs were nobody else’s business. Not all rulers agreed. Pope Leo X condemned the Peace of Westphalia. The French revolutionaries sought the overthrow of kings and oppressors and the creation of sister republics all across Europe—until Napoleon taught them the joys of conquest and empire. (The American republic, by contrast, positioned itself as, in the words of John Quincy Adams: “the friend of liberty everywhere but the guarantor only of our own.”) Nevertheless, the idea that it was no concern on one duly recognized government what another did within its borders became one of the strongest taboos of European international law: freedom from nosy oversight was something all governments could agree on. 
When you combine this Westphalian sovereignty principle with the particular features of the post-World War I settlement, you brewed an explosive cocktail. World War I ended with a settlement notionally based on the Fourteen Points of Woodrow Wilson. Most important, there was supposed to be: 
  • Universal disarmament.
  • The abolition of offensive war—international disputes to be settled by arbitration in the League of Nations.
  • Adjustment of national borders to correspond to linguistic groupings: people should be ruled from a capital where people spoke the same language that they did.
When Hitler began his diplomatic campaign he thus had a powerful array of arguments on his side. The Versailles Treaty that had ended World War I had restricted the size of the German army to 100,000. But the other nations of the world had never cut back their own armies. Was Germany to be the only great power to fear invasion from Denmark or Yugoslavia? That was not fair. . . . 
The Versailles Treaty and the other aspects of the post-World War I settlement had tried, imperfectly but as much as was possible, to redraw national borders along linguistic lines. . . .  As long as Hitler restricted his foreign policy goals to (a) removing the restrictions on German armaments that made Germany a less than equal nation, and (b) trying to “settle” national minority problems by redrawing borders to more closely match linguistic lines, it was hard for Britain and France and others to say no. . . . 
In the middle of the Great Depression, French and British political leaders believed that they had bigger problems than enforcing every jot and tittle provision of the Treaty of Versailles, and that they wished to see Germany rejoin the community of western European nations. . . .  
Read on at Grasping Reality with All Tentacles: Bradford-DeLong.com

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