Hitler AND Stalin Started WW II
On Aug. 23, 1939, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union signed the Non-Aggression Pact, which in reality was an agreement to begin the European phase of the Second World War, to conquer and partition Poland, and to divide up much of Eastern and Northeastern Europe. The Asian phase of the war began in July 1937, when Japan invaded China after an incident at the Marco Polo Bridge near Beijing. The responsibility for unleashing the most destructive war in history belongs to the Japanese militarists -- and Hitler and Stalin.
Stalin’s culpability for starting the war too often gets ignored or downplayed because the Soviet Union became a target of Germany’s aggression in June 1941 and its people suffered tremendously and fought bravely throughout the war. Western historians also rightly point out that the failures of British and French diplomacy during the mid-1930s limited Stalin’s diplomatic options by the late summer of 1939. Stalin also made himself increasingly vulnerable to military aggression by systematically murdering much of the Red Army’s officer corps in the great purges in the mid-to-late 1930s.
None of that excuses Soviet perfidy and ruthlessness. And the Nazi-Soviet Pact fueled both German and Soviet aggression. As George F. Kennan explained in Russia and the West Under Lenin and Stalin, the pact’s secret protocol “provided . . . for the division of eastern Europe into spheres of influence.”
First, the Polish state was to be destroyed — divided in two by the totalitarian powers. The Soviet sphere of influence included Finland, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, and the Romanian province of Bessarabia, while west of that line was the German sphere. As Kennan lamented, “[d]elivery into the hands of either of these great powers . . . was a calamity of the first order for almost everyone concerned.” “The Germans,” Kennan continued, “practiced their usual measures of sadism and extermination . . . and terror,” while the Soviets “took their customary reprisals against "class enemies” with “callous brutality.”
Misery and horror follow Nazi-Soviet pact
British historian Paul Johnson in his magnificent book Modern Times accurately described the agreement as an “aggression pact.” Stalin ordered communist parties throughout the world to reverse their anti-Nazi attitudes and instructed them to praise the pact and peace with the Nazis. He also provided Germany with needed grain, oil, aircraft fuel, iron-ore, manganese, and cotton. Stalin kept faith with the pact right up to the day the Germans launched Operation Barbarossa on June 22, 1941.
The publication of the Nazi-Soviet Pact, Kennan wrote, “burst on the unsuspecting world like a bombshell, throwing consternation into Western chanceries, bewilderment into the ranks of the Western liberal friends of the Soviet Union, and utter chaos into the foreign Communist parties which for six years, at Moscow’s direction, had been following the . . . anti-Nazi line.”
The miseries and horrors that followed the pact — the destruction of Polish independence and freedom, the communization of the Baltic states, the Soviet war against Finland, the Nazi invasion and occupation of the low countries and France, the German blitz against England, the bombing of European cities, the tens of millions of deaths and casualties of the war, and the extermination of most of the Jews of Europe — can be laid at the feet of the two totalitarian powers that unleashed the dogs of war.
The Nazi-Soviet Pact was, in the words of Anthony Read and David Fisher in their detailed history of the agreement, a “deadly embrace.” It was, according to Paul Johnson, an agreement between rival “gangster-statesmen.” Writing in the Daily Mirror the next day, Aug. 24, 1939, Winston Churchill opined that it was “increasingly difficult to see how war can be averted.”
Events, he decried, were “moving forward from every quarter and along all roads to catastrophe.”