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Adolf Hitler, Peace Maker?
April 11, 2010
by William P. Meyers

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I like bizarre bits of true history, bits that don't fit into how we normally look at historical figures and institutions.

You have to be careful about saying anything nice about Adolf Hitler, mostly because he did not do very much that was nice, and partly because you get attacked as being a simpathiser even if you are just trying to clarify the historical record so people can be objective about history. While I have made it clear in many other essays that I hate Fascism, some one reading this one essay in isolation might miss that point.

I found this historical detail in John Toland's The Rising Sun, volume 1, page 65. In December, 1937, after Japanese troops captured Nanking (see Battle of Nanking), the Japanese government really, really wanted peace with China, which is to say with its leading war-lord, Chiang Kai-shek. They had already made peace with a number of war lords in northern China, and had no intention of making peace with the other claimant to Chinese governance, the Communist Party of China, which back then was actually holding elections in the areas it controlled.

In 1937 Adolf Hitler was busy in Europe trying to unite all German-speaking people into a consolidated German state; he had threatened war but not conducted it. But, for all his racism, Adolf Hitler had friendly relationships with both Chiang Kai-shek and the Japanese government headed by Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoye (or Konoe, according to Wikipedia). In Chiang Kai-shek's case, the German military had been training and advising Chinese troops for decades, and a little war with Japan was a good chance to test weapons and tactics. In Japan's case, both nations were very anti-communist and afraid of Russia (then the U.S.S.R.), and had joined together in the Anti-Comintern Pact.

Had Hitler succeeded, he might have won a Nobel Prize. And having won a Nobel Prize, maybe he would have thought twice before using military force to take back the areas of Poland that had been taken from Germany at the end of World War I.

But probably not. Giving the Peace Prize to Obama did not stop him from escalating the U.S. wars of aggression in Afghanistan or Somalia. Barack Obama, I am pretty sure, likes to think about himself as a peace-loving guy. It is just that like the Japanese leaders of the 1930's, he just wants peace his way. Who doesn't?

Why did Hitler not bring peace to East Asia in 1937? Franklin D. Roosevelt decided it was not in the interest of the United States, and encouraged Chiang Kai-shek to keep fighting. During the relatively pacifist Republican administrations of the 1920's (Presidents Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and Herbert Hoover) the United States had partially disarmed, and during the Depression the military was further weakened by the need to shift the federal budget to New Deal welfare programs. Roosevelt was keen to make Japan and China both part of the U.S. commercial empire; the more they fought, the easier it would be for the U.S. to knock them both over when it became convenient. The more trouble Chiang was in, the more dependent he would be on the U.S.

Hitler did not seek peace because he was a good guy. He wanted the Japanese and Chinese to stop bickering so they could both fight his own arch enemy, the Soviet Union (and Chinese communists). Whether Roosevelt's intentions were good or bad can be debated, but his decision to push China to continue the war meant that China would be torn by war until the victory of the Chinese Communist regime in 1950. Given how demolished China was by 1950, it is remarkable that this year its economy will become the second largest in the world.

In effect in December 1937 Chiang was weak, and had to decide whether he would be a U.S. puppet or a Japanese puppet (a third realistic choice was becoming a Soviet puppet). Being the U.S. puppet, all he got in the end was Taiwan.

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