Ian Kershaw is correct when he argues that while Hitler was responsible for the execution of the German foreign policy that inevitably led to World War II, Hitler was not free from the influence of outside forces. Kershaw, a professor of history at the University of Sheffield, is a structuralist. Structuralists generally believe Hitler cannot be held solely responsible for World War II and that he was “was a product of the environment he helped to create”. When it comes down to specifics, the structuralists tend to emphasize different aspects; for example, one may focus on the effects of socioeconomic pressure while another may focus on the lack of a coherent plan (343). Kershaw’s article draws from many aspects of structuralism and delivers a sufficient comprehensive argument in his excerpt.
German foreign policy during the Third Reich is a great source of great debate. Many historians agree that Hitler did make the big decisions of foreign policy after 1933. However, the disagreement occurs when discussing the extent which the foreign policy was derived from Hitler’s own “ideological pre-possessions and programme” (356). According to the structuralists, the foreign policy emphasized expansion and contained unclear and unspecific aims. This was due to the “uncontrollable dynamism and radicalizing momentum of the Nazi movement and governmental system” (353). Hitler’s foreign policy stressed his image and ideological fixations, not his direct intervention and initiative. Hitler is seen as an opportunist who makes spur-of-the-moment decisions, rather than a man with a concrete plan (354).
Kershaw provides support for his argument by including the views of other structuralists, such as Hans Mommsen, Martin Broszat, and Tim Mason. Mommsen’s approach displays an emphasis on “Hitler’s improvised, spontaneous responses to developments he did little directly to shape”, and views Hitler “as little more than a gifted opportunist”. The execution of Germany’s foreign policy was inconsistent and illogical, and only appears to be consistent in retrospect (354). Broszat also saw “little evidence of a design or plan behind Hitler’s foreign policy”. One particularly strong piece of evidence Broszat provides is the lack of any plan about Poland before 1939, despite the fact that Poland was in a prime geographical location for an attack on the Soviet Union. Broszat says Hitler should not have been viewed as a self-directed person who worked “independently of social motivation and political pressures of his mass following”. Mason states that an inability to come to terms with foreign affairs caused Hitler to turn to foreign policy. The 1930’s caused more confusion than development in Hitler’s foreign policy (355). Nazi foreign policy can be viewed as a “barbarous variant of social imperialism” (356).
Looking at the role Hitler played in dealing with other countries is helpful in showing just how Hitler was responsible for the execution of...