In March of 1940 George Orwell wrote: “The plan laid down in Mein Kampf was to smash Russia first, with the implied intention of smashing England afterwards. Now, as it has turned out, England has got to be dealt with first, because Russia was the more easily bribed of the two. But Russia’s turn will come when England is out of the picture–that, no doubt, is how Hitler sees it. Whether it will turn out that way is of course a different question.” The accommodation with Russia had taken the form of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of August 1939.
A couple of thoughts that occur to me are, first, that although historical accounts of Germany’s pact with Russia tend to stress how flabbergasted the world was that these two “ideological enemies” (different hues of totalitarian) should agree to be cooperative comrades in divvying up Poland, Hitler’s short-term agreement with Russia does not at all contradict his long-term goal of smashing Russia, so that somebody at all perceptive, like Orwell, would not be surprised by such a pragmatic mere deferment; and, two, it was obvious to Orwell that the short-term agreement was short-term. And, indeed, Operation Barbarossa began in June of 1941, a little more than a year after Orwell published his column.
A third thought that occurs to me is that Orwell sees in Mein Kampf an “implied intention” to go after England sooner or later, whereas others see in it a desire only to come to terms with Britain, perhaps even as an ally. In Jeff Walker’s interview of the late, great Roy Childs, published in Liberty magazine in 1993, Roy says: “That Hitler had no intentions against Britain, I think can be argued very well. I mean Britain declared war on him and not vice versa. Hitler wanted to go East. Walker: Yeah, he thought that Britain could be his ally. Childs: Yeah. He didn’t want to knock off the French either. Why did he let the British escape at Dunkirk? He wanted to appease them, to a certain extent. He wanted to take central and eastern Europe.”
When I read this, I thought that RAC’s remarks neglected a lot of pertinent facts about Hitler; including, for example, the fact that Der Fuhrer could not exactly be relied upon to keep any very firm promise about what he would or would not do with respect to invading other countries, despite endless wishful thinking by Chamberlain and others. Shire’s heavily documented tome on the Nazi regime is full of behind-closed-doors contradictions of Hitler’s blatant, reassuring public lies about his intentions. Historians debate about why the Germans dithered at Dunkirk, but this is in any case a subsidiary question. What contemporaries could see is that Hitler’s many public assurances and instances of disingenous grandstanding were followed by actions that flagrantly contradicted his playacted promises.
Roy even goes so far as to say that it was a “bunch of lies” for anyone at the time to suppose that Britain might well have eventually been attacked by Germany if it had not gone to war over Hitler’s invasion of Poland. It’s not a certainty that Germany would have attacked Britain in that alternate timeline, of course. Perhaps Hitler would not have attacked the West immediately if he had gotten his way in the East. But was it a certainty that Hitler would never have turned his attention westward had he secured the East? And is it really a “lie” to have been concerned about the prospect? Was Hitler’s track record to date so auspicious? Roy is right about the terribleness of the West’s becoming allied with Stalin and handing Poland to the Soviet Union. But that is not the same question.
Of course, I could not raise these questions with Roy either when I first read the interview in 1993 or reread it later. He had died in the spring of 1992.