Saturday, March 24, 2007

Nazi Germany, thru an economic lens

Eight hundred-page books tend to threaten the already teetering structural integrity of my tower o' reading, so I try to avoid piling them on. But I have to make an exception for University of Cambridge prof Adam Tooze's economic history of Nazi Germany, The Wages of Destruction, released last year in the UK and just now in the US by Viking.

According to everything I've read, the book has broken new ground in our understanding of WWII by tracking the economic forces that both supported Hitler's rationale for war and guaranteed the defeat of Nazi Germany. It has been getting good reviews, too (in the Financial Times here and in the NY Sun here).

Tooze's analysis of Hitler's perceptions of the US suggests that the war was inevitable long before the first bullet was fired. He finds that the rising industrial might of the US led Hitler to believe that Germany must carve out its own empire in order to survive, that the Great Depression's impact on the US offered what seemed like the best opportunity to establish that empire, and that our leadership was inextricably linked to that figment of Hitler's diseased imagination -- the "worldwide Jewish conspiracy." Thus, Tooze concludes, "For Hitler, a war of conquest was not one policy option amongst others. Either the German race struggled for Lebensraum [living space] or its racial enemies would condemn it to extinction."

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