Canadian pp.

Journal of History/Annales



XXXI, August/lOut


257-280, ISSN 0008-4107

0 Canadian Joumal 0/ History

AbstractIResume analytique "Goak Here": A.lP, Taylor and The Origins of the Second World War

Benjamin Carter Hett

A.J.P. Taylor's The Origins of the Second World War has stimulated a great deal of discussion and controversy in the thirty-five years since its publication, without a clear consensus emerging among historians on its merits as an accurate chronicle of interwar diplomacy. In this paper the author concludes that Taylor's book can be read, as Taylor himself himed it should be, as an admonitory fable on the cause and prevention of war, very much addressed to a cold war audience; but that Taylor's brilliance as a narrative historian should not blind us to the defects of his book as a literal account of the era of appeasement. Taylor's book must be interpreted in light of his other writings on diplomatic history, and with the aid of his various comments on the purpose and method of writing history. A review of Taylor's historiographical and journalistic writings from the 1930s to the late 1950s shows that the Origins was in no way a sudden departure from Taylor's earlier work. Virtually all his writings had displayed a concern with Germany's place in Europe, a passionate commitment to disarmament, and a willingness to question any received theory - including, after about 1948, that of Hitler 's culpability for the outbreak of the Second World War. The Origins can also be seen as a characteristic product of Taylor's method as an historian, a method which he himself described as more artistic than scholarly, and one greatly influenced by the polemical style of such nonhistorians as G.B. Shaw. Criticisms have been levelled at the Origins on a number of grounds, but the most fundamental are (1) its internal inconsistencies on the central question of the causes of the war; (2) Taylor's perverse handling of the documentary record of Hitler's warlike intentions; and (3) Taylor's inappropriate equation of historical cause with the subjective intentions of an historical actor. Les origines de la deuxieme guerre mondiale de AJ.P. Taylor a stimule beaucoup de discussion et de controverses depuis sa publication en 1961. Toutefois, un consensus manifeste sur ses mentes en tam que chromque precise de la diplomatie d 'entre-guerre n 'a jamais apparu chez les historiens. Dans cet essai, 1 'auteur conclut qu 'on peut lire les Origines comme une fable eclairee sur les causes et la prevention des guerres, lecture dirigee particulierement vers un auditoire de la guerre froide, comme Taylor lui-meme l'a voulu; mais il ne faudrait pas que Ie genie de narrateur historique de Taylor nous empeche de voir les imperfections du recit comme etant un compte-rendu conforme a la realite diplomatique d'entre-guerre. Au contraire, cette oeuvre de Taylor doit etre interpretee a la lumiere de ses autres ecrits d 'histoire diplomatique et de ses commentaires multiples sur les objectifs et methodes d'ecnture historique. Une revue des travaux historiques et journalistiques de Taylor des annees trente jusqu 'a la fin des annees cinquante demontre que la ligne de conduite des Origines ne fut pas une derogation a ses travaux precedents. De fait, tous ses ecrits ont demontre un interet dans la place qu 'occupe I'Allemagne en Europe, un engagement passionne vis-a-vis du desarmement et une bonne volonte a remettre en question toutes les theories develop pees sur ces sujets, entre autres aux alentours de 1948, celle de la culpabilite d'Hitler pour son role dans Ie declenchement de la deuxieme guerre mondiale. On peut aussi voir les Origines comme etant une oeuvre caracteristtque de Taylor en tant qu 'historien, utilisam des methodes plus artistiques qu 'erudites et tres influencees par le style polemique de G.B. Shaw. On a releve plusieurs critiques sur les Origines et les plus importantes sont: 1) les inconsistences sur la question primordiale des causes de la guerre; 2) la manipulatioin perverse de Taylor des documents officienls sur les intentions belliqueuses d'Hitler; 3) Ie manque d'a propos de mettre sur Ie meme pied une cause historique et les intentions subjectives d'un acteur historique.

Copyright © 2001. All Rights Reserved.

Conodian Journal of HisIOly/ Annal .. canadienn .. d'histoirc XXXI. August/loilt pp. 257·280. ISSN 0008-4107 C ConaJI/on Jou,."aJ of Hillory


Benjamin Carter Hett


Alan John Percivale Taylor could never resist a dig. In the introduction to the second edition of The Origins of the Second World War he wrote that he "ought perhaps to have added' (goak here)' in the manner of Artemus Ward" to his characterization of the Munich settlement as "a triumph for all that was best and most enlightened in British life.'? This reference hardly made the matter clearer for many readers, and Taylor seems to have spent a great deal of time explaining that Artemus Ward was a comedian of such uncertain talents that he wrote "goak here" on his scripts - a misspelling of "joke" - so that no one would miss the punch line.' As I write, thirty-five years have passed since the publication of Taylor's classic and controversial book. The Origins has had a long career in the historiography of appeasement; indeed, something of a cottage industry in attacking and defending its central theses has grown up around it.' lf it is not true, as Taylor claimed, that his book has become the new orthodoxy, there is more justice in his claim that "every historian cashes in on my views, perhaps without realizing that he is doing so." And yet, for all the buckets of ink and forests of trees that have been devoted to Taylor over three and a half decades, the central problem raised by his book remains that suggested by his reference to poor Artemus Ward: How should we read Taylor? What is his punch line? This essay is divided into three sections. The first section considers "the origins of the Origins," Taylor's work and thought on questions of war and diplomacy through the late 1950s. The second section examines Taylor's historical method as it can be divined from both his historical writings and his autobiographical comments. In the concluding section I consider several fundamental criticisms of

'This paper was originally written for a seminar on appeasement with Professor Wesley Wark at the University of Toronto. I would like to thank Professor Wark for suggesting that I write about Taylor. and for his tremendous help and encouragement with the project. I would also like to thank the three anonymous readers of this paper for their extremely helpful criticisms. Of course. all opinions and errors remain my own. I would like to .dedicate this paper to my fiance and favourite proofreader. Corinna Andie!. 'The Origins of the Second World War (Hannondsworth, 1984). p. 7. 'AJ.P. Taylor, Letters to Eva 1969·83 (London, 1991). p. 233. "See Wm. Roger Louis (ed.), The Origins of the Second World War: AJ.P. Taylor and his Critics (NewYoriI, 1972); Esmonde M. Robertson (ed.), The Origins of the Second World War (London, 1971); and Gordon Martel (ed), The Origins of the Second World War Reconsidered: The AJP. Taylor Debate After Twenty-Five Years (Boston, 1986). Taylor also was honoured with no less than three Festschrifts: Martin Gilbert (ed.), A Century of Conflict 1850·1950 (London, 1966); Alan Sked and Chris Cook (eds.), Crisis and Controversy: Essays in Honour of AJP. Taylor (London, 1976); and Chris Wrigley (ed.), Warfare, Diplomacy and Politics: Essays in Honour of AJ.P. Taylor (London, 1986). 'AJ.P. Taylor. A Personal History (London. 1983). p. 235.

Copyright © 2001. All Rights Reserved.

II The Struggle for Mastery in Europe. p. Pribam. loving destruction for its own sake and therefore bent on war without thought of policy. where he became a protege of Sir Lewis Namier . making him. for the remainder of his career. Taylor was an historian of great range and prodigious output. All Rights Reserved. like so many historians of the day.P.10 The Course of German History. 113. Origins. "a tougher. had turned his professional attention to the origins of the First World War. who. 'Taylor. AJ. and it is on these that history is built . this is a rival dogma which is worth developing.. Taylor wrote: Many however believe that Hitler was a modem Attila. 1815-1918. His major books include The Italian Problem in European Diplomacy 1847-1849. U(Oxford. 1962}.' (Emphasis Added). 1948). Throughout his life he made much of this background: the northern upbringing. 1792- 'Taylor. 1934). A Personal History. p. in one capacity or another. Copyright © 2001. 19S4}.F.12 The Troublemakers: Dissent Over Foreign Policy. He was educated at the Quaker school of Bootham and at Oriel College. more rigorous thinker. I submit that this passage provides the interpretative key to Taylor's difficult book. 94. if only as an academic exercise. where he was to remain. There is no arguing with such dogmas . But his policy is capable of rational explanation. Taylor then spent two years studying in Vienna under the nominal direction of A. 1809-1918 (London. new edition published as The Habsburg Monarchy lI(London. Namier had a powerful influence on Taylor. 1848-1918. "'(London. . Taylor: A Biography (London. . his parents' radical-liberal politics.P.· In 1938 Taylor was appointed a fellow of Magdalen College. and I attempt to demonstrate how Taylor's style and intellectual preoccupations combined to create such a startling book. 1994). I will argue that what Taylor gave us was not so much a straightforward historical narrative as a brilliantly constructed admonitory fable that operates on levels other than the literal."? 'Taylor himself admitted that he might not have pressed on with his historical career were it not for Namier.. ."GOAl< HERE": A. Oxford. In a typical aside toward the end of the Origins. At any rate.J. '(Mancliester. 266~7. where he took a first in history. the family of successful Quaker cotton manufacturers. Taylor was born in 1906 in Lancashire. pp. nearly buried in a long paragraph on Hitler's intentions for the year 1939. Oxford. On Pribram's recommendation Taylor secured a teaching position at the University of Manchester. as Sisman writes.perhaps the first person to teach him something of the craft of the practising historian. TAYLOR AND THE ORIGINS OF THE SECOND WORLD WAR 259 Taylor's argument. 'Adam Sisman. 1941}.' The Habsburg Monarchy.

the political cause that interested Taylor in the early 1930s was disarmament. The main arguments of the Origins are familiar and will not be restated here at length. p. A Personal History. 40. as he told it. Origins. . that he had been an anti-Nazi and an anti-appeaser from the moment of Hitler's rise to power. II This is not strictly true.14 To a greater or lesser degree al1of these books were written in Taylor's sharp. with remarkable concision and narrative brio. Hitler's weakness and the certainty he would climb down. 99. 134. epigrammatical style. which "explains the second and. to reparations.260 BENJAMIN CARTER HElT 1939." in Martel. anti-fascism. p. and more vehemently after the Origins controversy broke. In fact. and he served frequently as a speaker for the Manchester Peace Council. His break with the Peace Council came in 1936 when he denounced the German re-occupation of the Rhineland at a public meeting and argued that it was time to re-arm. Origins.caused as much controversy and stimulated as much other work and thought as did his Origins. in so far as one event causes another. pp. "Appeasement. But none of them . "Taylor. and they often reached swprising or perverse conclusions.?" He then surveys. what shocked readers in 1961 was Taylor's apparent attribution of responsibility for the outbreak of war in I939 to nearly everyone or anything but Hitler: to Versailles. "(Oxford. Always came the reply 'What you are advocating means war. The student of Taylor's work might wel1 wish that the leaders were signed. All Rights Reserved.f A Guardian leader concluded in the wake of the accord: l3(London. to blunders on al1 sides rather than evil intentions . p. in fact. 1965). "I tried every argument: national honour. Of course. p. 42 "Taylor. "Taylor. as Taylor said" . 1914-1945. 335-36."" Taylor often claimed.not even all of them together. Origins. "Taylor. to Jozef Beck. "See Paul Kennedy. Taking again to the public platform. and he developed a particular specialty in writing occasional pieces to mark the armiversaries of notable historic events. witty. 147. At Namier's recommendation Taylor began writing book reviews for the Manchester Guardian in 1934. p.3 and English History. caused it. In 1938 he took to writing leaders as well. 1957). "Taylor. In the Origins Taylor picks up the story with the end of the First World War. The Struggle for Mastery in Europe. the twenty-year course of interwar diplomacy. We want peace'." 19 It was also in the I 930s that Taylor first became active as a journalist. Did Taylor write about Munich? Certainly the Guardian viewed the accord with a more sceptical eye than Taylor later remembered. to Nevil1e Chamberlain. Taylor was similarly provoked by the Munich accord.a tendency memorably encapsulated in Taylor'S conclusion that "it seems from the record that [Hitler] became involved in war through launching on 29 August a diplomatic manoeuvre which he ought to have launched on 28 August. Copyright © 2001. The book is essentially a continuation of Taylor'S earlier (and wellreceived) diplomatic history. A Personal History.

a point which will be stressed in this essay with respect to the Origins. and if the dear fellow insists on this or that as the price of renewing eternal friendship. . they were convinced of the justice of German grievances even before the grievances were expressed . 14. . 281.. One can find this characteristic in Taylor's earliest writings. 24sisman. p. The anti-German animus appears in Taylor's work on the Habsburgs. In its pages. 123. Taylor delivered such pronouncements as "It was no more a mistake for the German People to end up with Hitler than it is an accident when a river flows into the sea." A major element of virtually all of Taylor's historiography was his antipathy to Germany and Germans. Co ri ht © 2001.. and a man as politically engaged as Taylor could hardly have overlooked the striking contemporary implications of what he was saying.P. 21 The style and the mention of Duff Cooper suggest Taylor's hand. 118-19. unencumbered by footnotes or bibliography. It is of course far from uncommon for historians to offer judgements on the past with one eye fumly fixed on their own times. p. This sense of sin placed British governments at a disadvantage in their dealings with Germany. Taylor wrote: The average Englishman was ashamed of the British Empire and believed (quite wrongly) that it had been acquired in some wicked fashion . he received an adulatory letter from Taylor the avowed dear fellow. p. but Taylor took this practice farther than most. . In 1938 he published Germany's First Bid For Colonies /884-/885: A Move in Bismarck's European Policy. Of British diplomacy fifty years before his time. there they stood." and "It is unnecessary for any individual to indict the Germans. When the Consetvative first lord of the admiralty and biographer ofHaig resigned. A Personal History. . The Course of German History." "Goak here.. they have indicted themselves. "(London. . AJ. Granville's letters to Herbert Bismarck . Chamberlain has nothing to offer us except the timid hope that he can save our skins by keeping in with the dictators at no matter whose expense. "'-aylor. pp. 1938. Duff Cooper's resignation strongly suggests . ears anxiously cocked for the next German complaint . Certainly the point was not lost on contemporary readers and reviewers. 7. a tendency most clearly demonstrated by his Course of German History. on the basis that he had finished the book before the question of German colonies was raised. 22 Taylor later denied that this assessment had anything to do with Chamberlain's government.are not unique in the record of British policy." he might have added. All Ri hts Reserved. The significance of this passage in the context of the late 1930s went well beyond the question of German colonies. p. TAYLOR AND THE ORIGINS OF THE SECOND WORLD WAR 261 In terms of power politics it seems to mean the crumbling of a "democratic front" . of course he must have it.?" But most of Taylor's work was coloured by similar sentiments. "'Taylor."OOAK HERE". "Manchester Guardian Weekly. .. that Mr. 1938). 7 Oct. It must be said that Mr. published in 1945. what can be wrong? . .

for one. Englishmen Others (London. was quite taken aback at the end when he found that. 1950). p. England and France were really going to war. Hitler was a sounding board for the German nation. Origins. In a review of Namier's Diplomatic Prelude. 2 Oct. He could not have signalled more clearly where he was going. was anyone surprised by the Origins? Another essay could be written on the theme of what it takes to create an historiographical controversy. I gave before the German occupation of the Rhineland brought me to my senses. This was not so. many of these essays were collected and published in book form while stil1 fresh. even driving the trains and filling the gas chambers unaided. -New Statesman and Nation. All Ri hts Reserved. too. Z6 Such passages make it difficult to see how the Origins could have been read as an apology either for Hitler or for Germany. his views on interwar diplomacy began to evolve in more surprising directions after 1948. but he. Although Taylor never abandoned his suspicions of Gennany. and Co ri ht © 2001. for now it is enough to show that Taylor's arguments had a long gestation period. Moreover. 1948. -Quoted in Sisman. against all expectations. as Namier shows." Taylor argued that the guilt for appeasement was common to all Englishmen and that the political leaders of the late 1930s should not be deemed the sole (and in Chamberlain's case. 1956). then. "From Napoleon to Stalin (London. and in the Origins itself. one of the early postwar books on prewar diplomacy. for instance.262 BENJAMIN CARTER HETI in the Struggle for Mastery in Europe. If one reads through Taylor's reviews and occasional essays from 1948 until the publication of the Origins. Taylor concluded: Certainly Hitler aimed at German domination of Europe. Thousands. many hundred thousand. p. in such publications as the New Statesman and the Manchester Guardian. By 1948. in another New Statesman article entitled "Munich Ten Years After.2I Also in 1948." Why. Germans carried out his evil orders without qualm or question. 182. look back with shame to the university lectures . Taylor was already considering the possibility that Hitler was more an opportunist than a calculating would-be world conqueror. throughout the I950s.. . witness Taylor's characteristically tart assessment of the balance of responsibility between Hitler and the Gennan people as a whole: It seems to be believed nowadays that Hitler did everything himself. "29 "Taylor. His focus on Gennan ambitions as the primary dynamic element in European diplomacy became increasingly overlaid by a newer sense of the contingency and unpredictability of events in the 1930s. conveniently posthumous) scapegoats. one may be surprised that his arguments did not cause a controversy until 1961. went about this in a most blundering way and. Taylor stated and restated all of the most controversial claims of the Origins.. Rumours of Wars (London. 27. Taylor even went to the wholly atypical length of admitting a past error: "I. 1952).

7. 428.?" In a review of Hjalmar Schacht's memoirs he dismissed Schacht's suggestion that "all would have been well if Germany had been excused reparations and granted equality of armaments. Taylor wrote of Prague. 1958. >llbid. In the Munich article he wrote that the conference held few mysteries for the historian: "we know. and his prophecy of events bears little relation to what actually happened. p.38 These comments. Co ri ht © 2001. 37Taylor. that caused him to begin rethinking the origins of the war. Hitler had indeed visions of world conquest but no defined plan. 216. 15 Oct. predate the Origins by more than a decade. Rumours of Wars. his articles of 1948 and 1949 still showed some touches of the more "conventional" view that he later would abandon."3s Did the Hossbach memorandwn prove Hitler planned a world war? No . "3~ At the end of the 1940s the diplomatic docwnents of the interwar period began to be published in various national series. especially the German ones. 163. All Ri hts Reserved." New Statesman and Nation. Taylor read and reviewed most of the publications as they came out. even the Germans acquiesced in this conclusion. Taylor said of Hitler and Mussolini. 730. . From Napoleon to Stalin. the Nuremberg trials "with their irrelevant standards [had] bedevilled the study of contemporary history. that Hitler intended all along to destroy Czechoslovakia and that the Sudeten grievances were humbug.. »-raylor. It seems to have been his reading of these docwnents. 17 Dec. p. ")31 In a review of a book by Elizabeth Wiskemann entitled The Rome-Berlin Axis.almost too easy. "Manchester Guardian Weekly.Taylor wrote in 1949 that: [The Hossbach memorandwn] is evidence that [Hitler] was a violent and unscrupulous man. both men were lunatics. he did not follow a consistent line on war origins through the 1950s. Rumours of War. 256." Why did people accept the conventional wisdom? Well. "Taylor. p. p. p. Hitler and Mussolini had planned war . one should spit it out. p. "Of course. 203...'?' and "the causes this time were easy to find . "Ibid. "Hitler took the decisive step in his career without realizing that it was decisive or indeed noticing that he had made it.?" (Taylor obligingly provided a fascinating contrast to this article when he wrote "Munich Twenty Years After" for the Manchester Guardian: "The Czech crisis was made in London not in Berlin. 1949. Taylor being Taylor. it is not evidence that he had any concrete projects. "New Statesman and Nation.. 1949. too. 155."» And he could still be strongly moralistic in his condemnation of Munich: "When a policy tastes wrong. 2 Oct. -Appeasement: German Version. p."GOA]( HERE": AJ. TAYLOR AND THE ORIGINS OF THE SECOND WORIJ) WAR 263 On the other hand. p.. for instance. as ""Ibid. said Taylor. any more than he did within the covers of one book.P. He worked out his revisionist viewpoint in fits and starts. At times in the early I 950s one could find him still upholding the straightforward anti-German view of the 1930s resister. More than ten years before the publication of the Origins. Did Hitler really intend to destroy Czechoslovakia in 1938 and 19391 No the German docwnents told Taylor that the occupation of Prague was forced on Hitler by the Slovakians. .

1 Oct. Taylor allowed his short-term epigrammatical needs. rather than any theoretical grand design. p. 11. as in his historical writing. the question was not rhetorical. 26 . By the mid-1950s Taylor was focusing more clearly on the thesis that it was the disastrous coincidence of German opportunism and British blunders that resulted in war in 1939. it is worth remembering that most English historians were revisionist after 1918 . . In a comment highly revealing of what interested him and what did not. was conspicuous. "41 By 1955 a plaintive tone could be heard in his work now and again . p. 661.Taylor was getting bored with it all. Origins.. p.42 For Taylor.except when he had a dissenter on his hands. 1952. But his constant questioning of every assumption about the war. ""France." Manchester Guardian Weekly. perhaps not a title certain to spark Taylor's admiration. 9 June 1956. "Taylor. 6 July 1950. 407. there was Taylor's reverence for devil's advocacy. In the Origins he suggested in characteristic fashion that he had lost interest in drawing up indictments of the appeasers from over-long experience in the 1930s." ""Gennany. but we also need books which challenge them. Taylor was not a kind reviewer of history books . Copyright © 2001. to dictate his conclusions . Even in the courts of Heaven there was a devil' s advocate. the working out of a tragedy on pre-determined lines. In that year he reviewed a book by Walther Hoffer entitled War Premeditated.rather like the statesmen whom his work portrayed. said Taylor . ·A Devil's Advocate.but a good effort: A democratic foreign policy is possible only if its background and assumptions are constantly discussed. for dissent in any form. p." Manchester Guardian Weekly. such as his suggestion that the Munich conference was the decisive moment in which a previously fluid situation gave way to the inevitability of war: "What happened in 1939 was an epilogue. Quite wrong. Gennany and the Soviet Union. "New Statesman and Nation. waiting for something to turn up.264 BENJAMIN CARTER HErr inhisderisoIyreviewofFreidriche Meinecke's The German Catastrophe. p. One asks at every page: 'Why do I have to read this all over again? What is there that has not been said before?' . and his willingness to consider almost any explanation of its origins. Though tile revisionist case in regard to the Second World War seems pretty good nonsense to our eyes. 30 Oct. ." The British guarantee to Poland was "one of the greatest [blunders] ever made in the history of diplomacy.43 And then. . Reviewing published German documents in 1956. Books which support our current assumptions are all very well. 11 Jan. Accepted and familiar ideas did bore him. 1955. . 1951." At other times he seemed to be trying on revisionist arguments that he did not later pursue. 11. he wrote: "This is not a record of planning for an inevitable war.. one senses. "New Statesman and Nation. but a story of passive drift. All Rights Reserved.. IUIdstood by while Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union destroyed each other. Taylor wrote of Hoffer's argument: "Nothing could be more boring. 12. p." Manchester Guardian Weekly. In 1952 he reviewed a book on Roosevelt's foreign policy in which the author argued that the United States should have backed Japan against China.''" In his reviews. of course.

a concern with Germany's place in Europe. whatever it may be. and from thirty years of study and thought. Even his writing on the subject was. 229. of shocking conclusions. The Origins was not a sudden departure for Taylor. but god spoke through you tonight. 16. 19S8. edited with an introduction by Chris Wrigley (Hannondsworth. or an analyst of his own work. and a passionate conunitment to nuclear disarmament. whether as an historian. TAYLOR AND THE ORIGINS OF THE SECOND WORLD WAR 26S Another sort of tone began to appear in Taylor's writing in 1958. I think. "'-aylor. A Personal History. and active campaigner for. p. "Accident Prone. "A. the proudest moment of his life. and his master's words reduced him to tears.P. Disarmament was. I think. will fail to deter. said Taylor. His contrary nature is the fundamental quality that shines through everything he wrote.?" These historiographical and ideological tendencies were coupled with a lifelong willingness to question any received wisdom and try on any argument. Appeasement was a sensible course. expressed both in his historical work and his political activities. however eccentric. 21. "'-aylor. p."OOAK HERE": AJ." It was. campaign speech. gentler in style and more heart-felt than most of his work. It is difficult to piece together a coherent account of what he thought about questions of historical methodology.. "Taylor. 2 Oct.D." Indeed. From Napoleon to the Second Intemational: Essays on Nineteenth Century Europe. "Accident Prone.N. and it remains the noblest word in the diplomatist's vocabulary. I know you don't believe in god. of the sharp tum of phrase ." p. II Taylor was a difficult customer. was the background that Taylor brought to the writing of the Origins: An extensive knowledge and experience of writing about Central European diplomacy. The lover of irony.D. In "Munich Twenty Years After" he concluded: Has the story a moral? An obvious one: no deal with Hitler was ever possible.N. or What Happened Next. All Rights Reserved. the reader of the Origins should not forget that its author was a founding member of. as cold war politics and the spectre of nuclear war began to haunt Taylor's view of the 1930s. . It followed logically from his principal preoccupations. the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament during the very years that he was researching and writing the book. in fact. He once wrote of his time with the C. that it was "the only public cause to which I devoted myself wholeheartedly and. a goal which Taylor pursued with quite uncharacteristic consistency from the early I 930s through his academic swan song. a conversion to a view of Hitler as something other than the determined madman of popular conception. even though it was tried with the wrong man. p.?" In his autobiography Taylor remembered that his old Bootham history master told him after a C." Such then. 1993). But he was a human phenomenon who occurs once in a thousand years. coupled with a conviction that wars arose from politicians' blunders and that "one day the deterrent. a journalist. Cop ri ht © 2001. the one worthy thing I have done in my life." in Taylor.this is the essential Taylor. 7. the 1981 Romanes lectures.J. of the "Manchester Guardian Weekly.

5. . yet. he swprised his audience by delivering a "dyed in the wool conservative" address. just as I make anti-British remarks in London and would make anti-American remarks in America. he could admit his love of upsetting expectations. I don't care one way or the other. Letters to Eva J 969-83. All Rights Reserved. 14. this story could serve as a parable for his own historical work (recall the phrase in the Origins "If only as an academic exercise"). or of his own work." Typically. and not only for its hyperbole: The historian or scientist does well to lead a [professionally] dedicated life. in shocking readers. Later he confessed to a colleague that he had always dreamed of doing SO. 50 But in more honest moments. And I can't see that there is any harm in having a clear and sharp style."'" One can also not read Taylor's comments on his own work without being struck by the explicit link he drew between a scholar's life and work. is that I have a clear and sharp style. p. Readers who insist on being shocked have only themselves to blame. "Taylor. 52 In his autobiography he told a wonderful story about his father: But surely he was a great romancer. F7y and the F7y Bottle: Encounters 1964). and he said. And in his autobiography he wrote "You can never believe what the Taylors say. he would tell my mother on his return that he had turned left in order to buy tobacco. "Ibid. Copyright © 2001. an "unreliable narrator. "S3 As Taylor seemed to imply. To turn from political responsibility to dedication is to open the door to tyranny and measureless barbarism. paradoxically once again. Poland." And: I have no delight. ss "Quoted in Ved Mehta. The following comment is typical. Many years later he wrote to his wife: .. 8. at a "Congress of Intellectuals" in Wroclaw. and contrarily. p. if they do think that. 2. He was. I asked him why he did this. impish or otherwise. 26. With British Intellectual! (Boston. "Mehta. A Personal History. In 1948. p. I put down what seems to me right without worrying whether it is orthodox or shocking. p.. Ifhe turned right on leaving the house in order to buy a newspaper. he remains primarily a citizen. . 168. if I were ever fool enough to go there. in the literary critic's phrase. p. however dedicated. 182. p. p. "It makes things more interesting. and not only with me. after all I was sure to make some anti-Soviet remark in Moscow.. "Quoted in Louis. 11. . precisely because ofhis contraJy nature. ~oted in Louis. The reason people think that I am paradoxical.266 BENJAMIN CARTER HErr importance of reading and writing history. he denied his own contrariness: I am not at aU paradoxical . "Taylor.

I. p."GOA]( HERE": A. He relied on a gardening metaphor to characterize the proper intuitive skill of the historian . "Taylor."I fell under the spell of his style. to note his defensiveness about his war service. This attitude was implicit in the many comments he made about his critics. "61 "Shaw and Butler. '"Taylor. or at least not academic ones." Taylor wrote. Taylor relied on his intuition.OJ. "'Ibid . To Taylor."green-fingers. too. '"Ibid. too. A Personal History. 136. believed in labourious research." he said. ~6 He could be more vitriolic about Americans: What right have American historians especially to criticize me when their own country would never have entered the war if Hitler had not casually declared war on it?~7 Taylor therefore saw himself as one of the few historians qualified both by training and prewar record to write the book he did. He acquired his style from Shaw . Copyright © 2001." ("a title more than usually impertinent" said Taylor. 59. not historians. His pamphlet. In the Origins itself he noted that "to the best of my recollection. p. or rather lack thereof. Shaw. p. p. 113. Apart from himself. ""Taylor. When he wrote his memoirs he appeared to have forgotten how many Oxford colleagues and students enlisted early in the war. All Rights Reserved. "Quoted in Louis. .• p. he thought. contented himself with a short spell in the Home Guard and some M.?" The influence of Shaw is worth more consideration than most commentators on Taylor have given it. "My critics. 248. perhaps even imaginative." he said. then. "I am more an artist than a scholar."60 His models. Origins.P." Another characteristic element of Taylor's historical method could be called his "artistic" approach to writing and research. Namier. speech-making. He wrote that he learned more from Wells' Outline of History than from anything else.. "Sisman. were literary writers. Letters to Eva 1969-1983. 26. Like political engagement. those who now display indignation against me were not active on the public platform" in the 1930s. he said. wrote about the origins of a war. 2. TAYLOR AND THE ORIGINS OF THE SECOND WORLD WAR 267 There is another implication of this linking of life and work. the few prewar resisters were too busy basking in their vindication to bother questioning the assumptions on which their actions in the 1930s had been based. one purchased the legitimacy of one's historical positions through active engagement in the issues of the day. "were the main sources of my inspiration. p." and for Taylor the real stuff of history was intuitive. and it hardly seemed permissible in Taylor's eyes for an ex-appeaser to write about the question one way or the other. p. It is interesting. young enough for military service. "Common Sense and the War. artistry is an enduring theme in his extra-historical writings and comments. "complain that 1have relied too much on my green fingers and often merelyguessed. Taylor. In retrospect 1think 1have relied on my green fingers too little." In his autobiography he distinguished himself from Namier on precisely this ground. Taylor believed that he had earned the right to say whatever he wanted to about the war because of his political activity before it. The same could not be said of his critics. 59.

rather than to German aggression.'>6." Taylor offered an explanation of Shaw's motives in writing "Common Sense" which.. and her alliance has been sought by invincible Germany.. p. but in the crucial points it is clear enough")." And like Taylor fifty years later. a product of his Irish ability to view the English as foreign. Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey. "Taylor. Shaw had read the published diplomatic documents and trusted himself to interpret them in a way that they had not been theretofore ("All this is recorded in the language of diplomacy . p. 7Olbid." Taylor was indeed under the spell of Shaw's style.A Personal History. and he argued that the "Junker" Grey was as much responsible for the war as were the Junkers of Germany. as a supplement to The New Statesman. almost by everybody who has thought it worthwhile to have a whack at her.. On the other hand he wished to be secure from the attentions of the police and to be received as an honoured guest at GHQ. In a very Taylorian argument he noted that we give the benefit of the doubt to our own statesman but not to others." Like Taylor. I would go farther and argue that in writing the Origins he had Shaw as a primary model. p. by Germany.H. p. 1931). Asquith and Sir Edward Grey and launched him on the path to becoming a gentleman socialist. What J Really Wrote About the War (London. again.. 35. Like Taylor. "Ibid..268 BENJAMIN CARTER HETI no doubt with affection)" appeared in November 1914. Shaw's account of war origins set off a tremendous controversy.S And like Taylor. the writings of an historian are no good unless readers get the same pleasure from them as they do from a novel. In a book about the Englishmen whom he "most revered. 32-33. by Italy. Austria has been beaten repeatedly: by France. Copyright © 2001. Shaw emphasized the uniqueness of his own intellectual and emotional detachment.''" He "'Taylor.. he also enjoyed teasing his fellow Dissenters. .. 125. 125.. and yet she is one of the Great Powers. All Rights Reserved. that language is not so straightforward as my language. Literary influences affected Taylor in other ways as well. 124. pp. Supporting the war on immoral grounds satisfied his requirements exactly." He gave the starring role to the machinations of a British statesman. The Trouble Makers.. sounds as descriptive of Taylor as it does of Shaw: Shaw enjoyed pricking moral pretensions." The parallels between Shaw's version of war origins and Taylor's are striking. 40.. p. "Ibid. as in his rejection of militarism: . "'Taylor. 22. p. "'Ibid. He often likened reading history to reading a novel: " . Shaw thought that "the time has now come to talk and write soberly about the war. Shaw had a fine eye for irony and paradoxical results. "'In George Bernard Shaw. The Trouble Makers. p. much as Taylor emphasized his northern and Nonconformist roots. It had a contemporary impact on Taylor's life: he later remembered that Shaw's argument shocked his father out of his support for the Liberal government of H. 27.

?" Taylor acknowledged his approach was dated. but this is deliberate. narrative approach was a rather aristocratic disdain for thorough research.hardly a justification for my life. I am a traitor within the gates. p. "Quoted in Louis. stating that he was "a nihilist for good or bad. TAYLOR AND THE ORIGINS OF THE SECOND WORLD WAR 169 characterized himself as a narrative historian who believed that the first function of an historian was to answer the child's question "What happened next?"'· It is difficult to imagine embarking on a sustained inquiry into "structural" factors in history through the use of such an approach.we should never get through the stuff otherwise. S2. as one reviewer recently called it. and indeed Taylor had little use for what he called "profound causes": I have a blank spot in my mind about such things ." This attitude was very much of a piece with his emphasis on intuition and his narrative style. but here he found (not surprisingly) a paradox: The framework [of my books] is strictly conventional . p.. But the ideas stuffed into the framework do not conform to accepted views . "Mehta. was risky. p. especially as 1 have often failed to observe it. "Taylor. there is Taylor's approach to questions of morality in history. Taylor often said that he disliked repeating things.P. . He could admit to being cavalier about sources: I have never discovered any message in the writing of history other than the one enunciated by President Routh of Magdalen when he was over ninety years old: "Always verify your references" . The details of sources and proof came a distant second to the important matter of the interpretation and explanation of why things happened as they did. p. "thinking myself. 1S 1. especially when they were clear . If the interpretation happened to be wrong. "Accident Prone. p. 3. 40. 184. 236. Other historians use these concepts. he wrote "I get a reputation for being slightly careless. I assume that others think as well.old fashioned history." Elsewhere. I'm just not good at it. If you wait until every detail is right you will produce nothing. p. Letters to Eva 1969-1983."GOA]( HERE": AJ. and it could still befun. All Ri hts Reserved." p.72 He criticized Namier for "taking the mind out of history" and explained. The very writing of the Origins. 74 Part and parcel of this intuitive. and no doubt they are right .he said something once and went on. . 26. . as he acknowledged in his first chapter.7S Taylor was willing to take considerable risks.?" Ved Mehta heard him argue in a lecture that error can often be fertile." The curious exception to this lack of principles . "Mehta. but perfection is always sterile. p. 20S. it could sti11 be fruitful in provoking further thought. Origins. In his autobiography he disclaimed any allegiance to moral principles. Finally. "Taylor. '"Taylor.and "Ibid. in view of the paucity of documentation at the time. Co ri ht © 2001. A Personal History. "Taylor..

and the apparent quest after moral impartiality was a major thread in Taylor's historical work.soNo doubt it was in part this amoral pose that aroused so much critical ire.?" In the Origins he disavowed any concern with the moral rights and wrongs of appeasement and resistance. In one way.270 BENJAMIN CARTER HEll he said this three times . Certainly his denunciations of Hitler. as for any human event which claims a large number of lives. Nonetheless the amoral pose remained. "'Reprinted in Louis. His characteristic anti-German stance stemmed from a moral interpretation of the wrongs of that history. A love of paradox and controversy. nor at his views on disarmament without a fierce moral opposition to militarism." but simply out of historical curiosity. Taylor was. pp. and he maintained a passionate and lifelong commitment to disarmament. ""raylor. which is probably worthy of another Taylorian "goak here. He wrote not "as a judge. a methodology that stressed intuition and narration over labourious research and "profound" analysis. it may sort of exonerate Hitler by saying that the war was a mistake. and the question of responsibility for the war. even by the standards of a decade rich in controversy among historians of modem Europe." a judgement preserved to this day on the cover of the paperback edition. is inescapably a moral consideration. by letting Hitler off the hook. Taylor debated his arch-rival. p. 14-1 S. a lifelong socialist of one stripe or another. All Ri hts Reserved. a belief in the inseparability of the historian's work from his engagement in current politics.was that he believed strongly in the sanctity of contract. Thirty-five years after its publication. but like so many of Taylor's assertions about himself and his work. A Personal History. Origins. did not lack a moral focus. 171. what should we make of the book? III The contemporary debate over the Origins was fierce. to find out what happened and why. "Mehta. Added together they go a long way to explaining how such a book as the Origins came to be written. not only in print (in a rejoinder to TrevorRoper's criticisms cheekily entitled "How to Quote: Exercises for Beginners" 82). the Regius Professor Hugh Trevor-Roper. at least. of Versailles or Munich. In an interview with Med Vehta he admitted: My book can be read in two ways. S8-61. pp. Co ri ht © 2001. after all." The second of these options. As a child of privilege he would hardly have arrived at socialist inclinations without a moral critique of capitalism. is certainly in keeping with the Taylor of The Course of German History. it must be taken with a good helping of salt. On the other hand vitriolic letters poured in to periodicals such as the Times Literory Supplement and Encounter. in another. and a veneer of moral objectivity masking a profoundly moralistic approach: these were the core elements of Taylor's historical style. in the very same introductory "Second Thoughts" in which Taylor denied that he sought to make moral judgements about appeasement. 7. . The Observer called it "an almost faultless masterpiece. "Taylor. p. it may make all Germans responsible for the war.

writes that: Taylor too has chosen to make a morality play of the inter war years. perhaps.. noting that writers such as Lord Bullock have adopted some elements of the "Hitler as improviser" theory." in Martel. p. "Gordon Martel.8$ By the time of his 1983 autobiography he considered the Origins to be "a period piece of limited value.sparse.: "I must however thank your correspondents for the free publicity which they have given to my book.L. Taylor and the Lessons of European History. Letters to Eva 1969-1983. An indication of the fury Taylor can arouse even from beyond the grave is a recent article by the Oxford historian A. AJ.P."" Two years later he wrote that he thought it was not an important book and that he had erred in ending his account in 1939 and not 1941. so simple and clear that its conclusions come as a shock. p. 93. not surprisingly.?" and concluded: "I said of The Originsof the Second World War that I was trying to present the subject as it would appear to an historian fifty years hence. But over time his enthusiasm for the book cooled.9 June 1961.AJ. have pitched their tents in the former camp.S..P. p." And Gordon Martel. accepts Taylor's self-assessment that his views of war origins have become the orthodoxy. perhaps the most perfect of all his writings. the play he has written bears the signs of genius . Taylor: The Traitor Within the Gates (London.makes it worth reading. I do not now think that 1 succeeded. He replied blithely to a stream of hostile letters in the T. His biographers. p. A Personal History." At the other extreme are those criticisms which bear the stamp of moral disapproval and.. In reading recent assessments of it one is struck by the extremes of adulation and denigration that one encounters. "Ibid. the editor of a collection of essays on the Origins controversy published to mark its twenty-fifth anniversary. "Taylor. ."88 Robert Cole. p.P. 13. 203. "Ibid. Copyright © 2001. 24.. TAYLOR AND THE ORIGINS OF THE SECOND WORLD WAR 271 but on television. All Rights Reserved. Rowse. controlled . p. his work will endure if only because he rescued this vital part of the human story from the vapid simplicities of good versus evil and returned it to its proper place of complexity and paradox. CJTLS. Taylor showed no loss of argumentative vigour. 257. should we continue to find in it something of value? There is still no clear consensus among historians on Taylor's work. 233.. "'Taylor. The style alone . 293. ~obert Cole..P. p. 390. ·Sisman.J. Misleadingly entitled "A. author of a more sober intellectual biography of Taylor."1l And when he wrote the misnamed preface "Second Thoughts" for the 1963 edition of the Origins.L. In 1970 he complained that he had to keep up with the Origins because people were always arguing and asking about it: "It seems to me very simple but not very exciting." ffI If after twenty years the book did not please its creator. Sisman goes so far as to say of the Origins that it is " ."GOAl< HERE": AJ. betray the effects of Taylor's personal unpopularity at Oxford. "Introduction: The Revisionist as Moralist . By then Taylor had decided that it was the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour and Hitler's attack on the Soviet Union that led to the real world war. laconic. p. 1993). But unlike his predecessors.

rather. was a former friend of Taylor'S. . but it was fuel to an existing engine . they fell out in 1953 when Taylor wrote an unfavourable review of a book translated from French and edited by Rowse. he goes on to tell us that "the cause of the war was therefore as much the blunders of others as the wickedness of the dictators themselves. According to Sisman.the society of our time. One of the tamer of Rowse's judgements is that Taylor is "disqualified" as a serious historian.and contributed his share to . "Ibid. But listen to Taylor on this question. p. . are not matters of detail but. What caused the war? This is.':" Chapter 6 opens with a long digression on Taylor's theory of historical causation. Rowse. p. Martel's volume provides an excellent and still comparatively recent collection of articles comparing Taylor'S account of interwar diplomacy to more recent historiography informed by considerable evidence not available in 1961.A. 178-82. without standards. I will start with a more fundamental criticism.272 BENJAMIN CARTER HETI Taylor as Historian. (See Sisman. 42. challenged. self-contradictory output ..?" Then in Chapter 3 he writes. this is why they are annoyed. altogether it is a sad story. Rowse was incensed. and the U. [reparations] cleared the way for the second World war.. "in so far as one event causes another.and therefore "Contemporary Review. 134.. 217). In this essay I would like to focus on three criticisms which. On Hitler: "He supplied a powerful dynamic element. and have been. In that he is characteristic of . confused. It opened the door for Germany's success. p. made at Chamberlain's insistence .'?' Rowse's piece is in fact an embarrassing personal attack which would be libellous were Taylor still alive. like Namier and even Trevor-Roper. The most scurrilous concerns Taylor's "unevenness": It wasn't drink. The first difficulty which Taylor presents his reader is that of determining exactly where he has chosen to stand his ground. Such a book length treatment is necessary to do justice to the many nuances of policy in Italy. One should expect integrity above all from a historian."? In Chapter 2. "Ibid. "Ibid. p. the hub of the matter. Origins. Taylor tells us that it was the First World War that caused the Second. It also opened the door for her ultimate failure. All Rights Reserved. 26.let alone the quality. not to mention Great Britain and Germany." In Chapter 7 Taylor suggests that Hitler would not have conceived of moving into Austria or the Sudetenland had it not been for Lord Halifax's 1937 visit to Berlin. "Ibid.S. 71.. Japan. p. Copyright © 2001. Most of all he was the creation of German history and of the German present. I submit. Taylor'S critics generally begin by conceding to him a large patch of ground. fundamental problems of Taylor's writing and argument which go to the heart of his method and conclusions. Taylor concludes that the occupation of the Rhineland was "a double turning point.. I now realise that it was psychotic and incurable .. April 1994. after all. The word never appears in Taylor's vast. 182. "Taylor. going down the drain. n There are many more substantive grounds on which Taylor's arguments could be. pp. They are confident they know what Taylor is saying. "More than anything else. p. .?" In Chapter 5..

"'Ibid. 1977). Origins.S."IOO Finally. Taylor concludes Chapter 11. even at the cost of contradicting the epigram on the preceding page. Hitler had no plans. pp. in which Hitler appeared to set forth several scenarios for a coming war with Czechoslovakia.. 304. or France or Britain. Perhaps the most obvious of the available criticisms is that based on the documentary evidence.R.!" Look at Mein Kampf. 167-72. it was foreordained. and Hitler would not shrink from a war with anyone. it was Hitler. to his generals.. and Britain. 214-15. it was a record of a domestic political manoeuvre aimed at Hjalmar Schacht and other top level non-Nazis.. it was an accident . p. The Making of the Second World War (London. The Hossbach memorandum. "·Taylor. All tell the same story. pp.'?' was of highly dubious provenencer" and anyway. "Ibid. The documents show that Hitler planned a major war all along." and yet it was a step he took unknowingly. to selected reporters. 172-75.!" When Hitler addressed his generals and ordered them to prepare for war. '''Forthetext see Adamthwaite. "he talked for effect.. insofar as it represented anything at all concerning Hitler's intentions. and his book. with the assessment "It seems from the record that [Hitler] became involved in a war through launching on 29 August a diplomatic manoeuvre which he ought to have launched on 28 August.everything and nothing. p. look at Hitler's speeches . '''Ibid. .. p. p. and the record of the 23 May speech "is now known to be a forgery. In the selection of all these apparently decisive factors.P. . Taylor attempts to dance away from every bit of documentary evidence. '·'Ibid."OOAK HERE": AJ.. He can never resist reaching for an epigram. Germany needed living space. 250. 322. not to reveal the workings of his mind"!" (whatever that means). Mein Kampf was nothing more than recycled beer hall chatter. '"'Ibid. '"Avery convenient sununary collection of documents is Anthony P.. Taylor is claiming that the mistaken impression (on whose part?) that the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact reduced British policy to ruins "did as much as anything else to cause the second world war. one can see the consequences of Taylor's method and style.. 336. the document has been taken seriously by most other scholars. p.S. Taylor argues. as he did for instance on 23 May 1939.101 So there we are: It was something about Germany. with Czechoslovakia or the U. 20-21 ."!" And in any case.. All Ri hts Reserved. pp. 170. France." later Taylor tells us that Hitler took the decisive step of his career when he occupied Prague. p. to get it. the critics say. Co ri ht © 2001.. the dictator was incapable of making them. Nazi party rallies. and may be seen in Adamthwaite. But most critics have felt that they knew their Taylor well enough to diagnose the faults in his account." By the time we reach August of 1939. Adamthwaite. p. it was the Great War. 'OIIbid. what 'Would "Ibid.Ibid. TAYLOR AND THE ORIGINS OF THE SECOND WORLD WAR 273 Chamberlain is an obvious candidate for having given Hitler the first push toward war..VIAnnexing Austria was "the first step in the policy which was to brand [Hitler] the greatest of all war criminals. it was Chamberlain.. 301. . look at the Hossbach memorandum. pp.

57. Weinberg is prepared to rest on the evidence of Hitler's '·Ibid. 13..which at their core consist of a rebuttal of Taylor's position on precisely this question. that Hitler was a traditional statesman." Weinberg then develops over the course of his three impressively documented volumes the thesis that the doctrines of racial Darwinism and the need for Lebensraum provided Hitler with the impetus and blueprint for his conduct of foreign policy. Trevor-Roper differed with Taylor largely over the extent to which Hitler had planned the war." wrote Trevor-Roper.274 BENJAMIN CARTER HErr Hitler tell his generals to do but prepare for war? That is what generals are for. p. Weinberg has written three bulky volumes . in my opinion. '''Ibid. Trevor-Roper is now probably best known for mistakenly authenticating the supposed "Hitler Diaries" in the 1970s. The affair of the Regius professorship in 1957 put a bitter end to Taylor's friendship with both men. suppresses and arranges evidence on no principle other than the needs of his thesis.A World at Arms: A Global History of World War 11(Cambridge.1937·1939 (Chicago. p. and that thesis. demonstrably false. the British government would appear set on war with Germany. All Ri hts Reserved. 1994). I. merely responding to a given situation. vol. Starting World War 11. I I I Weinberg opens his first volume with a chapter entitled "The World Through Hitler's Eyes.. and noted that it is a mistake to assume that a man is lying because it is not tactically necessary for him to tell the truth. Co ri ht © 2001. 2. a few years later Taylor refused a request to visit Namier on his death-bed. striving for revision of the most recent treaty in the same way Maria Theresa attempted to recover Silesia for Austria from the Prussia of Frederick the Great." in which he criticizes Taylor for attempting "to convert Hitler into an eighteenth-century diplomat. If "we were (wrongly) to judge political intentions from military plans. an index of the sincerity with which he denied coveting the Regius chair. '"'Ibid. 110 A variant of criticism based on Taylor's handling of the documents is to rest the argument for Hitler's culpability on the logic of Nazi ideology. when many thought the post should have gone to Taylor.. p. Weinberg." he selects. through Namier's recommendation. The Foreign Policy of Nazi Germany. Gerhard L. rests on no evidence at all. . "Sometimes a man may say the truth even in a document called forth by tactical necessity. and ultimately for his plunge into a global war. Diplomatic Revolution in Europe 1933-1936 (Chicago. on the inseparability of Nazi foreign and domestic policies. not the other way arOlUld"l08 In 1961 it was Taylor's rival and nemesis Hugh Trevor-Roper who established himself as Taylor's leading critic. He based his attack largely on Taylor's use of the documents. 1II0erbard L. 1971) and vol. 1980). ignores essential evidence.two on German foreign policy in the 1930s and one on the Second World War itself . 52. of limited aims. In 1961 he was best known for having been awarded the Regius professorship of modem history at Oxford. 109 He concluded: In spite of his statements about "historical discipline. and is.

." is not completely satisfying. Historical truth is never self-evident. He speculated about his goals. without a clear idea of how he would achieve them. somehow. he did. III But Taylor catches himself. 250. Hitler took them at their word. in effect." in Martel. '''Norman Rich. but the documentary question is not free from difficulty. It is supported by the spaces between the evidence . Evidence of the past is not found in documents.. IUlbid. followed a consistent pattern with everything he did. Not many Germans really cared passionately and persistently whether Germany again dominated Europe. "The unique quality in Hitler. pp. are we not entitled to take seriously the records of his speculations? As Norman Rich has argued. on the contention "my interpretation of the document proves that your interpretation is wrong. It was the same with foreign policy. 10-12. It is an imaginary wall. pp.P." he says. no. Taylor cannot have it both ways." Hitler. in a major contradiction. He might be right about Mein Kampf. "a not unnatural source in the case of a man who devoted his full time to political agitation. TAYLOR AND THE ORIGINS OF THE SECOND WORLD WAR 275 speeches and writings. ifnot in fact plausible. But all of it? There are simply too many mWeinberg. Then. . Pull out all the bricks? The wall still stands.."!'! This may very well be. vol. 1-2. in other words.. or down to them much to their regret. was animated by "a terrifying literalism": Writers had been running down democracy for half a century. pp. In a predictably critical review of Weinberg's first volume Taylor refers dismissively to the ideological question as "Hitler's world picture . 140-43. 116 Then there is the very bulk of the documentary evidence. '''Taylor. only in what historians decide that documents mean.race. Like most historians who have studied Hitler's ideas he concludes that the dictator was not at all an original thinker. To base one's case. 114 Hitler.. pp.. perhaps the record of the speech of 23 May 1939 is a fake. 44. March 1972. 99-100. living space and the rest. It took Hitler to create a totalitarian dictatorship . Pull out a brick and the wall will stand. in fact. some source external to the documents. Edward Ingram puts his finger on this point when he writes of Taylor: How may one fault such an argument? On what does it rest? On the documentary evidence? . 106. He made the Germans live up to their professions. says Taylor. But they talked as if they did. he might be right about the Hossbach memorandum. All Rights Reserved.. "Hitler's Foreign Policy. Copyright © 2001. Arguing over the interpretation of documents is a game that needs a referee. once again. I. By the end of his book. Diplomatic Revolution in Europe. ll3"A Patriot For Me. p. "was the gift of translating commonplace thoughts into action. Taylor's evasions of the apparently clear meaning of every source begin to sound like the desperate manoeuvrings of a defence counsel confronted by a smoking gun and three inculpatory statements." in Martel.!" If this is so. p." Journal of Modern History. Taylor is too tricky to be entirely caught this way. His alternative explanations of the Hossbach memorandum and of Hitler's military directives are ingenious. Of course not. Origins."GOAl< HERE": AJ.

229. 117 is not enough. 103-43. as a lawyer for whom I once worked used to say of her opponents' arguments in court." History and Theory. and gives trouble to both of their arguments. insisting on full premeditation and subjective foresight to convict Hitler of causing the war aims too high. vol. in other words. at best. Paraphrasing typical legal formulas. 1992). Is an historical cause rooted in the subjective intent of the actor? If so. Tortious liability in a wide range of situations may be founded on the negligence of the tortfeaser. for example. s." falling a good deal short offull subjective foresight by the accused. Criminal Law: 2nd Edition (Toronto.119Dray diagnoses four or perhaps five notions of the meaning of historical cause implicit both in Taylor's work and that of his critics. Hitler launched his attack "reckless whether war ensued. 192-224. pp. chiefly Trevor-Roper. But in any case.C. especially pp. c.S. especially pp. 1978. "Concepts of Causation in AJ. Copyright © 2001. The courts rule every day on questions of causation and responsibility. but in arguing that II10n the Tortious principles see John O. debates which Taylor's book preceded. . it is a very different thing to say that Hitler did not plan or foresee the exact shape of the Second World War than it is to say that his actions did not cause it or that he does not bear the overwhelming share of responsibility for starting it. will often satisfy the mens rea requirement. on the very failure of the tortfeaser to foresee what the court deems a "reasonable person" should have foreseen under the circumstances. guilty mind and culpable act) in the case of the accused. Taylor's Account of the Origins of the Second World War. This is familiar terrain to specialists in German history enmeshed in the debates of functionalists and intentionalists. the definition of murder in the Canadian Criminal Code. To secure a conviction the criminal law generally requires that the prosecution prove the coincidence of mens rea and actus reus (essentially. In the common law cause and intent are very different things. then.H. C-46. In this difference lies the third fundamental objection to the Origins. see Alan w. The Law of Torts: 8th Edition ( on balance. 27:2. Ontario. Taylor's weaknesses on questions of causation are the subject of a 1978 article by the historical philosopher W. 1985.276 BENJAMIN CARTER HETI indications that the terrifyingly literal Hitler foresaw and planned something rather like what happened for Taylor to dismiss them all. All Rights Reserved.H. "It won't take him where he wants to go.that Hitler did not cause the war because he planned something entirely different. and leaves his causal agency intact. 1985). Dray. Taylor has to change his ground on exactly what Hitler did or did not foresee to downplay Hitler's efficacy as a causal agent. "'See. P. the court of history could easily conclude that the reasonable person should foresee that general war would result from an invasion of Poland. Mewett and Morris Manning. I think he is . then Taylor's thesis is beside the point. or that. R. It to dismiss the causal efficacy of an actor by playing down the degree of premeditation in his or her actions. what does an actor have to have foreseen in order to be deemed a cause of the event? Dray notes that the understanding of cause as SUbjective intent is common to both Taylor and Trevor-Roper. "oW. or did not plan anything at all. 140-74. and the law books are filled with sophisticated analyses of these problems."!" In short. on the question of criminal intent. But various degrees of "recklessness" or "advertent negligence. If Taylor is arguing ." The legal analogy is not out of place. Dray. Fleming.

Bosworth sets out to give an overview of the historiography of what he calls "the long second world war. the pricking of moral pretensions and assumptions. Bosworth throws in his lot with the UOlbid. for Kennedy.the "guilty men" school. '''Paul Kennedy. p. 173. whereas for Trevor-Roper it is the settlement of Versailles. Bosworth is as much a Taylor enthusiast as Sisman or Martel. the constraints put on British policy in the 1930s by economic and military weakness. 161-63. TAYLOR AND THE ORIGINS OF THE SECOND WORlD WAR 277 Hitler caused the war by pursuing a policy with war as its probable outcome. pp.also terms of art in his account.. of trade flows and reparations.24 the Australian historian R.P. Copyright © 2001. If so. 1993). his subject was the spectacle of human folly and blunder. Statesmen and their foibles make better copy. In his recent book Explaining Auschwitz and Hiroshima: History Writing and the Second World War 1945-1990. III Interestingly. U4(London and New York." Quoting Umberto Eco. For Taylor normality (and. "Appeasement. or of the politics of cultural pessimism." in Martel. TrevorRoper hangs Polish Foreign Minister Jozef Beck and Neville Chamberlain on Hitler's rope. Dray continues. Taylor was interested in human stories. 12'lbid. Why did Taylor discuss "profound" causes only to dismiss them. Taylor puts forward a theory based on the autonomy of"particular" or surface causes from the "profound." the process beginning with the first war and culminating in "Auschwitz" and "Hiroshima" . then we really have two parts of a whole explanation.. Taylor's presentation of well-intentioned bungling. 140-61. 12I1bid.B. Indeed. apparently. the question of establishing a "datum" for normality becomes essential (and inescapably subjective). but his answer to the question of Taylor's continuing relevance is both striking and troubling. Like Shaw. If each level of causation cannot explain the war without the other. Kennedy's article is essentially an argument for a more complicated interpretation of appeasement which takes account of all of the various "schools" . in his contribution to the Martel volume of essays.J. III Perhaps. III As Dray suggests. . Paul Kennedy supplies a practical example of Dray's argument for the integration of causal factors. All Rights Reserved. pp. Their respective arguments flow inevitably from these rather arbitrary starting points." But there is a serious problem here too. 154-59. and rest his argument on the particular? Imagine trying to make a gripping human drama of economic forces. Bosworth's book is expressly dedicated to the proposition that history is. "an argument without end. is that it contributed one of the threads in this larger tapestry. and the historical continuity of British efforts to mediate continental disputes.!" But perhaps the causal agent is necessarily the abnormal one. it is highly unlikely that Taylor thought much about theories of causation.. pp. the one neither autonomous nor generically distinguishable from the other. in Pieter Geyl's phrase."GOAl< HERE": AJ. moral validity) is represented by the settlement of Brest Litovsk. The value of Taylor's work. perhaps the entire question of whether Taylor was right or wrong is beside the point.

Taylor's contrary nature. his intuitive and literary approach to historical study. But I have also argued that the book operates on levels other than the literal. "if only as an academic exercise") drove not only his conclusions. xii. In the longer term. 34. IlIlbid. in the end. He got the process of history moving again. .perhaps too long. He knew the sources to the point of boredom. and that Taylor intended it to do so. or shocking conclusion. would encourage an unfreezing of time in British historiography and signal the commencement of the Sixties in British society. p. especially in the 1980s. We can still read the book with profit . p. and his avowed amorality. in the short term. the reswnption of debate would also permit those who disliked the People's war to re-work their versions of history and. be concerned with producing an accurate account of what happened? Is the importance of an historian's work only in its contribution to the process of historiography. 126 In other words.l25 This is Bosworth's conclusion on the merits of the Origins: The Origins of the Second World War. Here I would like to stake out a position somewhere between Trevor-Roper and Bosworth. open the door to a despairing relativism. I have stressed the long roots of the Origins' theses. It was an inevitable corollary of Taylor's method that this love of the shocking conclusion led him to positions for which there was no evidence. not to results. Copyright © 2001. An argwnent such as Bosworth's may. First. he kept the argwnent from ending. His restless mind was looking for something new to say.. This love of argwnent for argwnent's sake (remember. Second. and thinking extensively about the origins of the war for fifteen years by the time his book was published. or old answers in new words. There is hardly a sentence of the Origins that does not seem to reach for an ironic. All of these elements played a part in the kind of book Taylor wrote and determine how we should read it. and his belief that such argwnent was necessary to maintain a democratic foreign policy. like Wile "'lbid. we have seen his reverence for devil's advocacy. if one doesn't even stand a chance of being right? Should an historian not.278 BENJAMIN CARTER HETI postmodemists in stressing what books mean rather than what they Say. the point is not that Taylor might be right. or even wrong. A long time . of course. that (in so far as it can be discovered) this thesis is highly suspect in view of the available evidence. his sense of political engagement. writing. and that it rests on a misplaced equation of cause and intent. come up with new answers. Taylor had been reading. Why argue.and the reason rests as much on Taylor's historical method as do his errors. but his very method. a dedicated controversialist like Taylor could hardly have been unaware of the incendiary nature of the book he was writing. His contribution was to a process. We have seen how he often -admitted his love of stirring up trouble among the orthodox and complacent. The argwnent in this essay has dealt with the intellectual origins of the Origins and with Taylor's methods. All Rights Reserved. once again. rather than its accurate answers to questions about the past? I have argued that the central thesis of the Origins is difficult to discover from the text itself. paradoxical.

!" The lesson of the Origins was that a major war could start by accident . p. he hardly seemed to like what documentation was available to him. 1 am not at all convinced that in his heart Taylor believed in the literal truth of every word he wrote. for resistance to Hitler or for nuclear disarmament. as Trevor-Roper thought it was. . Copyright © 2001. he argued that major wars start when states feel themselves in decline and threatened by a hostile coalition. All Rights Reserved. blessed with an enviable linguistic competence and a great command of the source materials of modem diplomatic history.N.D. "'Taylor. Origins. and with a conspicuous ability to compress a great deal of information into a coherent and highly readable narrative line. It would have been unthinkable in 1961. Taylor had written in 1959 that he expected to see a nuclear war by 1965. even error could be fruitful. like a novelist. Then there is Taylor's rather submerged morality.121 The lesson need not have been. They do not write books that can be read as moral condemnations of an entire nation or as a plea for responsible statesmanship in the nuclear era.well. that the Soviet Union should be appeased. intuition was a more important historical resource than documentation. an argument in favour of nuclear disarmament. then."GOAl< HERE": AJ. p. to see his book separately from his C. and in this every statesman failed. intent on the roadrunner.P. given Taylor's views on scholarly political engagement. It is also difficult. He was capable of writing with terrific energy and wit. 40. a "goak. for whatever reason. And ifhe was wrong ." I would venture to say that nihilists do not believe that their actions can change the world for the better: they do not campaign publicly for political causes. p." But not entirely a joke. This was quite bad enough in 1939. He had a high opinion of his own powers of intuition. Coyote when. His expressed denial of a moral perspective on the Second World War merits another notation of "goak here. 40. and much might be lost. more an artist than a scholar. he has run off a cliff and unwittingly treads the air until he falls.. his "green fingers. He was unafraid of substituting his own intuition for the common sense of the postwar west. Taylor was clearly not troubled by the relative scarcity of primary sources on his subject. 3 September 1959. The few survivors of civilisation may have given up reading books by then. and by extension. But the book does appear to be an explicit warning against the dangers of accidental war." For Taylor. As we have seen. Guardian Weekly. there are hints enough. Taylor's concerns were intensely statesmen's blunders. . Why did he condemn the statesmen of the I 930s1 He obligingly tells us in the Origins: "The purpose of political activity is to provide peace and prosperity. 117"HowNear is World War Three?' Manchester "'Taylor. an academic exercise. is Taylor's book: brilliant and maddening and perverse. When he wrote the Origins Taylor was a great scholar at the height of his powers. a bit of devil's advocacy. TAYLOR AND THE ORIGINS OF THE SECOND WORLD WAR 279 E. activities (just as it is hard to see his book on Gennany's colonies separately from the question of appeasement). let alone writing them. Origins. 5. And so he told his story."!" Such. and in a characteristic example of his willingness to draw historica11essons when it suited him. Taylor seemed to admit this purpose when he wrote in the Origins itself that: "I doubt whether much will be gained by waiting another ten or fifteen years [to write the book].

within the limits of hwnan fallibility. open our minds to listen to them. 1984). but in the end we should not lose sight of the fact that his enormous contributions to the process of historiography do not entirely negate the fact that he was. resulted in a rough consensus. Like the subjects of his "favourite brainchild. and Considerations (London. Mill never lost sight of the principle that the point of argument is truth. So we may still read Taylor with pleasure. An intelligent and vigorous debate is no doubt the surest means we mortal humans possess of arriving at satisfactory answers." Taylor was a trouble maker. in some important respects. on Representative Government Co ri ht © 2001. perhaps the graffiti on the western face of the Berlin Wall could be redrawn as well. I think. let us thank them for it. and perhaps with indignation. I suspect that Taylor.280 BENJAMIN CARTER HETI both within the Origins and in other sources. 113. to do with much greater labour for ourselves. could be portrayed as something very different. can entirely undercut the purpose of inquiring about the past. Thus I would argue that Taylor's book can and should be read as something of an admonitory fable. But this is not to say that Taylor's work was without serious intent. On Liberty. getting there may be half the fun but it is not half the point. His belief in the need for dissent and devil's advocacy in questions of foreign policy meshed neatly with his own perverse temperament. But arriving at answers is still the goal. and rejoice that there is someone to do for us what we otherwise ought. Utilitarianism. John Stuart Mill wrote in On Liberty: If there are any persons who contest a received opinion. If Hitler's war. 130 While whole-heartedly welcoming argument. All Ri hts Reserved. would agree. He was virtually incapable of writing a line that did not seek to shock or offend. a man who dedicated his professional life to tilting at received opinions. if we have any regard for either the certainty or the vitality of our convictions. An approach like Bosworth's. . the most accurate answers to what are often urgent questions. There are many examples of historiographical controversies which have. Edmonton ""John Stuart Mill. with profit. of Taylor's willingness to treat the writing of history as something of an intellectual game. should we. or who will do so if law or opinion will let them. seemingly the least accidental in history. p. Few historians would be so vain as to suppose that they were capable of authoring a complete and definitive account of an historical episode. with admiration. which invests all significance in the process. wrong. But the point of the "argument without end" is surely to provide. and as we read Taylor so. Sometimes the argument does end. or at least diminishes. in time. His passionate commitment to disarmament and his fear of war by blunder in the nuclear age provided sound enough reasons to sharpen the general public appreciation of the role of contingency in diplomacy.

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