World War II started due to misconceptions regarding economics?

Goebbels: A Biography shows how much damage can be done by misconceptions regarding economics. The private diaries of Goebbels indicate that the National Socialist leaders of Germany believed that natural resources were the only and/or primary foundation for a nation’s wealth. For people coming of age in the early part of the 20th century, this made sense. Argentina was rich, the United States was rich, Russia was one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, England was rich based on natural resources acquired through her empire. The modern examples of resource-poor countries becoming rich via intelligence, education, and hard work did not exist. South Korea and Taiwan did not exist as technology centers. Switzerland was not the industrial leader (and richer per capita than the U.S.) that it is today.

Here are some excerpts from the book showing what German leaders believed regarding how to achieve prosperity:

In the middle of October Goebbels published an article in Das Reich in which, along the same lines as Hitler’s remarks, rather than focusing on ideological differences he commented in a relatively pragmatic way on the “war aims” for which this continuing conflict was being fought: “This time it’s not about throne and altar but about grain and oil, about space for our growing numbers, who cannot live and cannot be fed in the restricted territory in which they have had to stay up until now.”

With the aim of winning the population’s support for the forthcoming military efforts, at the end of May he published an editorial in Das Reich with the title “What’s It All For?” In it, while not outlining actual political war aims, he nevertheless tried to give “the ordinary man” a foretaste of life in a future Greater German Reich. Concerned to persuade his readers of the rosy prospects that lay ahead, he produced a kitsch vision of the postwar world: “We are dreaming of a happy people in a country blossoming with beauty, traversed by wide roads like bands of silver which are also open to the modest car of the ordinary man. Beside them lie pretty villages and well laid-out cities with clean and roomy houses inhabited by large families for whom they provide sufficient space. In the limitless fields of the east yellow corn is waving, enough and more than enough to feed our people and the whole of Europe. Work will once more be a pleasure and it will be marked by a joy in life which will find expression in brilliant parties and contemplative peace.”

On the following day Goebbels took part in a meeting of Reich leaders and Gauleiters at which Hitler made a three-hour speech in order to convince this small group of elite functionaries of his own confidence in victory; the alternative to “total victory” was “total destruction.” The aims of this war, Hitler concluded, were very wide-ranging and would require many more sacrifices; however, these would be justified since the war “would make possible the lives of millions of German children.

The excerpts above also show how wrong politicians can be about the long-term goals of the citizens who elected them. The National Socialists talked about “clean and roomy houses inhabited by large families” and “our growing numbers,” just a few decades before the birthrate among ethnic Germans plummeted.

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4 Comments

  1. Jack D

    January 10, 2016 @ 2:27 pm

    1

    Perhaps the birthrate plummeted BECAUSE the Germans lost the war. Family size is correlated with the affordability of housing, etc. Now that the Germans are crowded into a small rump state they live in small and expensive high rise apts and not roomy houses. Worst of all , a family cannot survive on 1 salary so wives are forced to work which also cuts down on family size.

  2. Schmidty

    January 10, 2016 @ 5:08 pm

    2

    If “resource-poor countries becoming rich via intelligence, education, and hard work did not exist” until after WW2, how can they already be called proven examples? Today, Germany’s legendary engineering industry is largely subsidized through sales of military equipment by companies such as Rheinmetall to other NATO partners – which is frequently manufactured by and in the client nation while paying a substantial fee per unit. The main thing keeping clients paying that fee is NATO’s military power. Perhaps Germany’s central error in the WW2 era was failing to exploit the *threat* of violence rather than violence itself.

  3. GermanL

    January 10, 2016 @ 9:19 pm

    3

    @JackD – true about the housing situation here. Mostly small apartments and houses that sell for outrageous prices even in the smallest towns (100sqm apartments for 300,000 € in a town of 30,000 people). Albeit the housing is made with much better material than American houses (try punching a hole in a German house wall!). My father owns a class C RV which he uses for his vacations, and I often tell him, living in European housing is like living in an RV 24/7 so I guess I must be on vacation all the time.

  4. Zapiens

    January 12, 2016 @ 6:34 pm

    4

    @Jack D – France and the UK were on the winning side in WW2, however, their (native) birth rates are fairly low and hardly higher that that of Germany. Italy, which switched sides to the Allies (again!), has one of the lowest birth rates in Western Europe.

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