Hitler, the Origins of WWII, and the Parallels with Today


A new book about the origins of World War II lays out alarming parallels between the 1930s and the world today. The book, by Professor Benjamin Carter Hett (Hunter, The Graduate Center), is called The Nazi Menace. It’s Hett’s fourth book on Nazi Germany.

“The world of the 1930s was wracked by a fundamental conflict: Should the world system be open and international, based on democracy, free trade, and rights for all, anchored in law? Or should the world be organized along racial and national lines, with dominant groups owing nothing to minorities and closing off their economic space as much as possible to the outer world?” he writes. “Today we face this very conflict once again.”

One of the most riveting threads in the book details a resistance movement among German officers who planned, but ultimately failed, to carry out a coup.

“One of the remarkable things about the Third Reich is that Hitler’s rule and even his greatest successes were always accompanied by a resistance movement from within,” Hett said in an interview with The Graduate Center. “The resistance movement I describe in this book that began amid the crises of 1938 continued right up until the point of the famous Valkyrie assassination plot of 1944.”

Operation Valkyrie culminated with the explosion of a bomb at a meeting Hitler was attending, though he was not seriously harmed. But the conspiracies described in The Nazi Menace began forming years earlier, among generals who “thought Hitler was driving Germany to ruin” and who were “horrified” by the “barbarity” of the invasion of Poland and Hitler’s intention to reduce the population there to slave labor, Hett wrote.

“We can safely say that the people involved in these plots were not very effective or successful conspirators,” he told the GC. “But we should also recognize just how many difficulties they were up against.”

In a comment that suggests a not-so-subtle comparison with a certain controversial head of state in today’s world, Hett says that “responsible people in the armed forces, the intelligence services, and the diplomatic community” all regarded their leader as “crazy and dangerous, and they saw themselves as the adults in the room who had the task of controlling him. However, they failed to do so and the crazy leader got rid of the adults one by one.”

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The Nazi Menace
Macmillan, 2020

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Benjamin Carter Hett (Professor, History) | Profile 1