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History Down the Danube

But again, at the time remember the Nazi logic, not all of it quite so unhinged as it is in light of the subsequent disaster: the full actualization of the dark ideas in Mein Kampf could only take place in the east. The Wehrmacht was largely undefeated and had little worries of losing anywhere. Britain was a relatively quiet front; and victory in the east was seen as a way of turning back again in more confidence to the west. Russian strategic materials in hand would ensure that a British sea blockade as in World War I would have no effect. Stalin had sort of cheated on of his deals with Hitler and was carving up territory in the Baltic states and Romania. The World War I calculus (4 years and defeat in the west versus 3 years and victory in the east) loomed large in 1941, and so suggested Russia would fall even more quickly than had France.

The Soviet Union had also done poorly in Poland both in the 1920s and again in 1939 and was undistinguished in its “victory” over Finland. Its officer corps had not long earlier been wiped out by Stalin. Hitler added all that up and with some evidence felt the Red Army would fold when 200 plus divisions of Germans and allies surprised it with complete air superiority.

Germany was not at war with the U.S. in June 1941, and had no idea that it would be in the immediate future — much less that Russia would ever be supplied by the full American industrial colossus via Iran. To Hitler, perhaps, more likely than a Pearl Harbor was the scenario that Japan might get over its bruising from the Red Army in 1939, forgive the Axis treachery of the Ribbentrop-Molotov non-aggression pact, and thus return to an offensive on Russia’s eastern front, ensuring Stalin an eventual two-front war.

By late 1941 Operation Barbarossa (Hitler could not have invented a more give-away codename for the invasion) was revealed as the flawed and suicidal plan that it inherently was; but in June 1941, if one were a demonic Hitler, there were logical reasons to think it would work (even with his lunatic intrusion into daily command decisions and the winter of 1941-2).

As a general rule when reviewing historical idiocies, it is always wiser to understand the thinking of the time rather than just the post-facto realities. (e.g., Bin Laden after the first World Trade Center attack, the east-African embassy bombings, the USS Cole and other unanswered assaults could reasonably expect two big holes in the otherwise indestructible Twin Towers, a brief retaliatory cruise missile shower, and a Clintonian speech from a new and unknown president — and more such attacks on the agenda. That both towers collapsed from the enormous explosive force killing 3,000, that the American dragon was aroused, and that Bush was not Clinton seems logical to us, but not necessary to our enemies.)

A Final Note

As much as we suspect the pretensions of the European Union, Americans must appreciate its achievement in lessening European tensions after the fall of the Cold War, the end of a common enemy in the Soviet Union, and the gradual diminution of a U.S. presence. If this implosion begins to unravel the EU, I think we will be once again right in the middle, rather than at the end, of history. There is simply too much history, too much memory, too many players over here to think a post-EU continent is going to always look like the Netherlands rather than from time to time the former Yugoslavia. Just think of Cyprus, the Turkish-Greek rivalry in the Aegean, the rise of radical Islam within Europe, Russia energy extortion, the large number of nuclearly capable but now non-nuclear states, and a hundred other scenarios that would have been unthinkable a year ago (but then so was the current meltdown).