The War Path

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 17)

Perhaps the controversy that developed around Hitler’s War encouraged David Irving to write this companion volume that investigates Adolf Hitler’s preparations for war. This book suffers from perhaps greater defects than the earlier work.

As before, Irving proudly relies on newly discovered sources. Among these are unpublished diaries of Hitler’s personal adjutants, generals, and diplomats. Unfortunately, these discoveries merely confirm what we already knew about the Führer’s plans for undoing the Versailles Treaty, rearming Germany, and winning Lebensraum in the East. In his Origins of the Second World War (1961) A. J. P. Taylor argued that Hitler did not really intend to plunge Germany into a European war. Irving’s revisionism contradicts rather than confirms Taylor’s revisionist arguments about Nazi war aims.

Irving’s handling of the primary sources turns up many fascinating anecdotes and bits of information, but the author offers no real revisions of current scholarship on Hitler’s road to war. He seeks to correct Hitler’s image as a “cartoon caricature.” Yet no serious work on Nazi Germany in recent years has portrayed the dictator in this manner. The most important sources uncovered by Irving are the wiretaps obtained by German intelligence from the British and French Embassies in Berlin during the Czech crisis of 1938 and the days just prior to the war with Poland in 1939. They revealed to the Germans the low morale and lack of resolve of the Western powers during those troubled years. But this seeming revelation merely confirms and supplements what we knew all along about Western appeasement. Irving has turned some interesting scoops into an entire book.

The book attempts to trace in some detail the war path taken by Hitler’s Germany from February 3, 1933, when the Führer secretly told his generals of his ambition to launch a war of conquest in the East, to September 3, 1939, when the then triumphant dictator boarded the train to survey the battlefield in Poland. As in his previous book, Irving attempts to reconstruct the Nazi past mainly from Hitler’s desk—his viewpoints, his speeches, conversations, and orders. Irving’s story is smoothly written and interestingly told in narrative form. But some major problems arise with this simple approach and with Irving’s handling of his material.

Despite the author’s pride in having taken fifteen hundred pages of source notes for the book, there are no numbered footnotes in the text itself. This makes it difficult for the reader to relate precisely to the narrative proper the few notes available at the end of the book. Sometimes Irving does not indicate the context of a quotation. For example, we learn that in 1939 Hitler admitted that he had decided to rid himself of Storm Trooper Chief Ernst Roehm in 1934. But there is no indication of the person to whom Hitler made this revelation nor of the circumstances surrounding the statement.

There are a number of serious factual errors scattered throughout the book. Irving asserts that Hitler’s first power base in 1933 was the workers. This might have been true in 1919; but the weight of reliable evidence indicates that it was the lower middle classes that provided the base in 1933. Irving “verifies” his erroneous statement about the workers by a similar statement of Walther Hewel, Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop’s liaison with Hitler. This illustrates Irving’s weakness of sometimes taking newly discovered sources at their face value, without subjecting them to critical analysis. The author also wrongly asserts that the November 9-10, 1938, persecution of the Jews was the first pogrom in Western Europe since the Middle Ages. A wave of pogroms had in fact spread through Germany a century earlier, in 1819. Finally, to illustrate the efficacy of some of the quack remedies used on Hitler by Dr. Theo Morell, Irving smugly asserts that Hitler outlived Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In fact, Hitler lived to be only fifty-six, while Roosevelt was sixty-three when he died.

Some highly questionable judgments also emerge from Irving’s account. After showing in his chapter entitled “Triumph of the Will” how Hitler manipulated his...

(The entire section is 1752 words.)


(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 17)

Economist. CCLXVIII, July 1, 1978, p. 100.

Kirkus Reviews. XLVI, September 1, 1978, p. 987.

Observer. June 18, 1978, p. 28.

Publisher’s Weekly. CCXIV, October 9, 1978, p. 65.

Times Educational Supplement. July 7, 1978, p. 29.