Why did A.J.P Taylor’s analysis of the origins of the Second World War cause such controversy among historians?
It was broadly considered that the Second World War began in 1939 because of Hitler’s plan for world domination; many historians validated this view at the time until A.J.P. Taylor published his book ‘Origins of the Second World War’ in 1961. A. J. P Taylor was the first historian to examine the war with a completely open mind, forcing people to view the origins not as a moral issue but as a political history. Taylor regards the start of the war as a blunder on both sides, stating that “Hitler had no clear-cut plan and instead was a supreme opportunist, taking advantages as they came.” From this Taylor suggests that neither Hitler nor any other Powers want this war. However, because his argument caused such a debate, it led other historians to criticise the methods Taylor used to establish his argument. Hugh Trevor-Roper says that “Mr Taylor hardly ever refers to Mein Kampf...” Mein Kampf is seen as an essential piece of writing when examining the origins of the war. Within Mein Kampf was not a detailed policy of what Hitler planned to do, but the “oracular pronouncement, pointing the way towards the harsh historical path that Germany must tread” argues Overy. Therefore, Taylor’s analysis was so controversial because it forced people to view the origins of the war in a totally new way, not looking at Hitler as a world dominating fascist like everyone thought, but as a normal statesman.
The Second World War was caused by Germany’s desire to revoke the Treaty of Versailles of 1919 and Hitler’s relentless quest for empire. This was considered a valid response to why the war began in 1939, until 1961 when A. J. P Taylor published ‘Origins of the Second World War.’ A. J. P. Taylor’s analysis went against what everyone believed, arguing that Hitler never thought about anything, that there was no master plan for world conquest. Taylor backs this up by stating “this is a war without heroes; and perhaps even without villains.” This shows that he does not regard Hitler to have committed any ‘war crimes,’ he was just a normal statesman. “Hitler did not act alone in the conduct of foreign policy in the 1930’s neither did he dictate its course exclusively.” In the early years of Hitler’s reign Taylor was correct to identify him as an ordinary statesman because during this time there was a different formation of Government compared to the later years in the war. However, it is difficult in retrospect to dispute that Hitler was a normal statesman when looking at atrocities of his domestic policies such as; the extermination of Jews in concentration camps. The war was still in the public memory when ‘Origins’ was published and the myth created about Hitler that he was a madman with brutal policies was strongly embedded in society, therefore to argue against this would obviously create much controversy.
The fact that A. J. P. Taylor does not...