March 7, 2012
We’re often told that Hitler started World War II. The reality is not so simple. In early 1939, Hitler asked Poland’s leaders for a peaceful resolution of the long-standing Danzig issue by permitting the city-state to return to Germany, in accord with the wishes of its people. But the Poles rejected a diplomatic solution, confident that they would prevail in any armed clash, and emboldened by a British pledge of military support in case of war. In the months that followed, tensions between Germany and Poland worsened, with growing violence against Poland’s ethnic German minority population. As the outstanding British historians A. J. P. Taylor and B. H. Liddell- Hart, along with other scholars, have pointed out, Hitler did not want and did not prepare for a general war in 1939. He sincerely sought peace with Britain and France. US President Franklin Roosevelt secretly encouraged Britain, France and Poland to adopt belligerently anti-German policies, and to reject any peaceful resolution of the German grievances. The British and French declarations of war against Germany transformed a limited German-Polish conflict into a global war. As often happens in history, leaders in all the major countries involved badly miscalculated in 1939.
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