Alternative History: The Soviet Invasion
Military historians debate to this day the wisdom or folly of Adolf Hitler’s decision to invade the Soviet Union. Hitler, in effect, created the two front war that he so desperately wanted to avoid. So why did he do it?
Many historians believe Hitler invaded the Soviet Union to capture Lebensraum, the living space that his country needed to expand and flourish. Hitler believed great nations controlled great landmasses, and, in his second volume of Mein Kompf, he left no doubt where those great landmasses lie. “If we speak of soil in Europe, we can primarily have in mind only Russia and her vassal border states.”(1) Taking Hitler at his word, it was inevitable Germany would invade the Soviet Union. German forces swept into the vast Soviet empire on June 22, 1941.
Testimony at the Nuremberg trials offers another plausible, if self-serving, explanation. Alfred Jodl, Chief of Operations for the German High Command, testified at his trial that the invasion of the Soviet Union was not an act of unwarranted aggression despite the fact the two countries had signed a non-aggression pact just two years earlier. Jodl contended the invasion was a preemptive strike in defense against an increasingly dangerous foe. He based his assertion on a private conversion he held with Hitler a year before the invasion. Jodl said Hitler expressed worry that the Soviets would eventually control the Romanian oil fields which were so vital to the Nazi war effort. He said Hitler believed the Soviet control of the oil fields was part of a conspiracy between Great Britain and the Soviet Union. Jodl quoted Hitler as saying: “No further doubt is possible. England is hoping for this final sword-thrust against us on the continent, else she would have stopped the war after Dunkirk. Private or secret agreements have certainly already been made. The Russian deployment is unmistakable. One day we shall suddenly become the victim of cold-blooded political extortion, or we shall be attacked.” (2) There is some truth to Jodl’s assertion that Hitler believed the Soviet Union would come to the rescue of Great Britain. Hitler believed the Jews controlled both countries (and the United States) and that they were all plotting together to defeat Germany.
Jodl’s testimony was the result of questions asked by his defense attorney so we can assume the questions and answers had been rehearsed. Yet, however rehearsed the testimony, Jodl could not erase the reality that Hitler wrote of the Soviet Union and her vassal states as prime living space for the German nation in 1923, seventeen years BEFORE his alleged conversation with the Fuhrer. At Nuremberg, Jodl was found guilty, sentenced to death and hanged as a war criminal.
(1) Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf in Jackson Spielvogel and David Redles, Hitler and Nazi Germany; A History, 7th ed. (Upper Saddle river, N.J.: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2010), 184.
(2) Nuremberg Trial Transcripts, http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/imt/proc/count.htm