In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin

by Erik Larson

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What would have been the likely outcome of preemptive military action during Hitler's rise to power in "In the Garden of Beasts"?

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As the other answer so well states, Hitler could have been easily stopped by the other world powers had they chosen to act against him at the time. The Allies had cause: he was in direct violation of the Treaty of Versailles in declaring he would re-arm. He had almost no army at this point. He would have been, at least, badly set back in his bid for world power.

What Larson is exploring throughout the book, however, as well as in this chapter, is how people make decisions in real time. In hindsight, we can clearly see it was a huge mistake not to oppose Hitler while he was still weak. But as Larson points out over and over, while there were ominous signs of the Nazi's brutality, and of their ruthless and sociopathic tendencies, people really didn't know how the regime would turn out. Many people looked at the youth and beauty of the Nazis and the order the regime imposed on Germany and saw it as a positive force for the good. Others saw the excesses but thought these would wear away as the first enthusiasm faded. They thought the regime would "normalize." Other voices cried out against the regime, warning that disaster and war were coming, but were ignored no matter how desperate their voices got.

Larson's point is that while people should have seen the evil, it is confusing to figure out what is going on while it was happening. Too many people wanted to give Hitler the benefit of the doubt. As the book goes on, we see the reality of the Nazis as a horror show becoming clearer and clearer.

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The answer to this can be found on the last page of Chapter 18.  There, Larson tells us that any military action taken against Hitler and Nazi Germany at that time would surely have led to the downfall of the regime.

Let us look at the context in which this statement is made.  On October 14, 1933, Hitler announced that, in essence, he was going to break practically every commitment that Germany had under the Treaty of Versailles.  He was going to pull Germany out of the League of Nations.  He was going to pull the country out of disarmament talks that were going on in Geneva as well.  He was, Larson says, announcing that he was going to rearm Germany (it had been prohibited by the Treaty of Versailles from having a large military with offensive capabilities). 

Larson argues that the Allies could easily have defeated Germany if they had decided to take military action at that point.  He quotes William Shirer’s classic The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, in which Shirer says

That the allies at this time could easily have overwhelmed Germany is as certain is as certain as it is that such an action would have brought the end of the Third Reich…

Thus, Larson is arguing that Nazi Germany could have been destroyed easily at this time and World War II might never have happened.

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