IT IS WITH Hitler and Hitler’s intentions,” remarks Zara Steiner at the beginning of this magisterial account that opens with the Nazi seizure of power and ends with the outbreak of World War II, “that any student of European international history must start.” From the moment he became German Chancellor, Hitler acted and other statesmen reacted.
His intentions were fixed long before he came to power. They were breathtaking in their ambition. Hitler was not a conventional European statesman. Governed by a Social Darwinist belief in international affairs as a perpetual struggle between races for survival and supremacy, Hitler repeatedly told his leading military and naval officers that Germany would conquer Eastern Europe, aggrandizing its vast agricultural resources for itself and pushing aside those who lived there to make way for the expansion of the German race’s “living space.” France, Germany’s traditional enemy in the west, would be subjugated to allow Germany to become Europe’s dominant nation. This was not conventional German foreign policy in any sense; nor was it determined by the structural factors inherent in the international system of Europe since the nineteenth century, as some have argued.