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The situation, of course, is more complicated than portrayed. In 1933 there were several empires in existence: British, French, Dutch, Japanese, Russian, and US, at a minimum. Germany had been deprived of her imperial possessions at Versailles. The empires with the shortest history had been the US, dating from the Spanish-American War in 1898, (excluding the subjugation of the various Native American populations), the Japanese, which effectively dated from the time of the Sino-Japanese War, 1895, partly over influence in Korea, and the German, from 1884, when Bismark accepted the idea that colonial possessions might have some value.

But, prior to WW II, Great Britain was the hegemon and the holder of the largest empire. The British Navy was the dominant naval force and GB tolerated the continued existence of other colonial empires, even while contesting Imperial Russia in Central Asia and worrying about the rise of the German navy. The British somewhat reluctantly undertook a policy of de-colonialization after WW II while with the French, it was an involuntary process. The Neatherlands really made no serious effort to reestablish colonial possessions in South East Asia after WW II and only kept some Caribbean islands and one South American Colonial possession.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sat Sep 3rd, 2011 at 02:53:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
True enough, but in what way was WWII (in Europe, I concede the Pacific) either:

  • caused by imperialist friction ie between empires for reason of empire

  • caused by a hegemonic imperialist power intervening in the affairs of its supposed vassals or subordinates?
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sat Sep 3rd, 2011 at 03:55:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Most directly, Hitler saw his territorial expansion as a response to the impositions of Versailles, against which he railed. These did include the loss of colonies, though that was a relatively minor real price, (Bismark had likely been right about the worth of Germany's African colonies.) Hitler opted out of the monetary system, especially the gold standard, (Germany having almost no gold), and enthusiastically embraced a command economy in cooperation with industrialists.  In order to guard against the sort of blockade that had been used against Germany in WW I, he sought to secure needed resources via routes he could control - land routes.

I see little evidence that he counted on anything that he could not get by force and suspect that he expected that to be the end game. Hitler never accepted the Versailles Treaty and sought to overturn it by force. To the extent that colonial empires entered into his calculations it was primarily for access to resources and control of trade routes, though he resented Germany having been stripped of her colonies.

Rommel's adventures in North Africa really were just grabbing low hanging fruit unless Germany could seize Egypt and the Suez Canal and, had that been accomplished, he may have been able to secure access to mid east oil as well as to hamper the Allied effort in Asia. I am far from an expert on WW II, Hitler or Germany, but I believe that Hitler saw colonial empires mostly as an aspect of realpolitik.

In effect, WW II may, to a significant degree, have been an echo of pre-WW I imperial rivalries in addition to an attempt to change the outcome of that conflict. Some people have long memories.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sat Sep 3rd, 2011 at 11:14:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Your three first paragraphs don't seem to me to lead to your conclusion.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sun Sep 4th, 2011 at 03:50:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
in what way was WWII...caused by imperialist friction ie between empires for reason of empire...

It was not, because the German Empire ceased to exist at Versailles. Further, the German overseas colonies had not been particularly significant to Germany's overall military machine before and during WW I. But the goal of French diplomacy at Versailles was to render Germany incapable of reconstituting its military power, in no small part by preventing Germany from having secure access to important resources, especially oil. In addition to depriving Germany of her overseas colonies, Versailles also broke up her chief ally, The Austro-Hungarian Empire, which limited the extent to which Germany could count on oil from Romania.

Germany chafed against these conditions from the start. Then there was the occupation of the Ruhr and the hyperinflation. To get out of the box into which the French had put her at Versailles Germany needed to reconstitute her continental empire, which had been largely commercial under the Hapsburgs. The fact that the Nazis called it The Reich instead of The German Empire is largely inconsequential. Germany wanted the functional equivalence of what they had possessed prior to WW I, but wanted better control. The envisioned Thousand Year Reich was to be an empire to end all empires. Hitler hoped that the UK and US could be persuaded to accept German hegemony in Europe and Africa.

That is what I meant by referring to WW II as the echo of the old imperial conflict which Germany had lost. And it is still not inconceivable that Germany might not have succeeded with different tactics, such as not attacking the Soviet Union or Poland. Had Germany been able to seduce Hungary into an alliance and, through Hungary gained access to Romanian oil, without provoking war, who knows what might have developed. Whether this is called imperial conflict or power politics is largely irrelevant.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sun Sep 4th, 2011 at 05:56:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But the few colonies Germany had were of minimal importance in the crushing conditions of Versailles that crippled the German economy and kept the industrial heartland under occupation. This was Germany-France in the ding-dong one side takes a piece of the other / the other takes it back and ups one battle since 1870.

This was nations defining their borders and fighting for them, not imperial rivalry. It was Europe still seeking its spatial distribution after the upheavals of nineteenth-century romantic nationalism - which was much more what the Nazis packaged into their tinpot ideology than imperialism. Even the notion that they had a right to vast territories to the East was posited on the need for the great, dynamic German people to have room to grow and settle - Lebensraum - than on an imperial theme.

In other words, in 1930s continental Europe, I don't see empire as a reason for war, I see nationalism.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Sep 5th, 2011 at 03:12:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
This was nations defining their borders and fighting for them, not imperial rivalry.

It was a continuation of the 19th century great power rivalry in Europe - where the dominant European powers had not realized or accepted that they were no longer truly the relevant great powers. But, again, the access to resources afforded the UK and France by the UK's effective control of the sea lanes was perceived as an advantage which Germany sought to offset. Japan did more to put an end to European overseas colonies than anything else. That was one reason Germany entered into an alliance with Japan. For Germany the role of colonies was more that of phantom limb pain.

The ideologies of national exceptionalism were virtually universal - to the extent it is surprising that the nations involved could even form alliances. But reality trumps ideology provided there is no hard requirement to repudiate ridiculous ideologies.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Mon Sep 5th, 2011 at 11:19:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'd like to add this:

Adolf Hitler

In Mein Kampf and in numerous speeches Hitler claimed that the German population needed more living space. Hitler's Lebensraum policy was mainly directed at the Soviet Union. He was especially interested in the Ukraine where he planned to develop a German colony. The system would be based on the British occupation of India: "What India was for England the territories of Russia will be for us... The German colonists ought to live on handsome, spacious farms. The German services will be lodged in marvellous buildings, the governors in palaces... The Germans - this is essential - will have to constitute amongst themselves a closed society, like a fortress. The least of our stable-lads will be superior to any native."

So while the actual German pre-wwI colonies did not matter so much, the idea of a colonial empire was very much involved. One can speculate about what would have happened if France and Britain had not declared war on Germany in September 1939, but backed down again. Would Hitler have gone directly for the Soviet Union then?

I would argue that either way Htiler attacked the order upheld by Britain, as that order included that no single power might dominate the European continent.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Mon Sep 5th, 2011 at 12:30:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
One can speculate about what would have happened if France and Britain had not declared war on Germany in September 1939, but backed down again. Would Hitler have gone directly for the Soviet Union then?

Unlikely. The whole purpose of the Russo-German partitioning of the Baltic region, from the German point of view, was to leave Germany free to curbstomp France without having to worry about an Eastern front. If war had not been declared, they'd probably have made a slightly greater effort to pretend that they were simply allying with Denmark and Norway rather than conquering them. But that would likely be about it.

After all, the Germans knew that the peace in the East would be unlikely to last forever, and they had already tried and failed to secure a deal with the Western powers to go after Russia together. So the whole "curbstomp France" project came with a sell-by date.

They might have tried partitioning the Balkans with either Russia or Turkey, but then they would have risked their relationship with Italy. Which was of ideological, if not particular practical, value to Germany.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Mon Sep 5th, 2011 at 04:54:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Hitler's notion of what India was for Britain was largely delusional. And dreams of imperial adventure and grandeur are one thing, but the essential causes of the war lay in the power relations between European nations (some recent creations of 19th-century nationalism) - as you point out:

A swedish kind of death:

I would argue that either way Htiler attacked the order upheld by Britain, as that order included that no single power might dominate the European continent.

The British Empire, however, did not include the European continent, and Britain could support but not impose that policy (Hitler thought Britain would accept the change he intended to bring about). Again, we're in the field of the definition of nations (subtext nationalism), their extent and borders, and their relative power positions, because some at least (Germany most) considered those questions as not yet having been satisfactorily settled.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Sep 6th, 2011 at 11:07:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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