On August 22, 1939, Adolf Hitler summoned his top military generals to Obersalzberg, where he delivered a speech explaining his plans for war, first with Poland, then with the rest of Europe. Despite resistance from those both inside and outside Germany, Hitler felt exceedingly confident that he could defy the will of the international community and conquer vast amounts of land. In his speech at Obersalzberg, he laid out numerous factors he believed would contribute to the success of his war plans.
Chief among Hitler's sources of confidence in Germany's brazen war plans was German military quickness. Hitler said, "Our strength lies in our quickness." On the advice of Colonel-General von Brauchitsch, Hitler believed Poland could be captured in a few weeks, an astonishingly short amount of time given the recent history of trench warfare and the long history of protracted European military engagements that resulted in minimal land gains and high casualty counts.
Hitler's confidence in the ability of the German military to inflict considerable brutality further strengthened his determination to pursue an exceedingly ambitious plan of territorial aggrandizement. He said, "I shall shoot everyone who utters one word of criticism" and noted that "the goal to be obtained in the war is not that of reaching certain lines but of physically demolishing the opponent." In this vein, Hitler ordered his military to "be hard, be without mercy, [and] act more quickly and brutally than others…for it scares the others off." Hitler believed that enemies, not used to this type of brutality, would surrender quickly.
In addition to speed and brutality, Hitler believed that, in the end, history would overlook his inhumane conduct. To support this view, which turned out to be anything but prescient, Hitler invoked a Pollyannaish view of Asian leader Genghis Kahn. In Hitler's eyes, Kahn "sent millions of women and children into death knowingly and with a light heart," yet "history sees in him only the great founder of States."
Although Hitler brimmed with confidence and experienced initial yet widely-expected success in Poland and then in Denmark, he overlooked important considerations. In many ways, Hitler made the same mistake Napoleon Bonaparte made years earlier. Hitler believed he could advance further and conquer Britain, yet, like Napoleon, Hitler did not adequately foresee the insurmountable barrier posed by Britain's island status. Despite the damage inflicted at the hands of the German Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain (1940), British forces eventually won this important battle. Nevertheless, Hitler pressed on and, in an even more fateful decision that carried echoes of a Napoleonic tactical misstep, invaded the USSR where his forces suffered the decisive defeat of World War II at Stalingrad in 1943. In the end, Hitler's reputation in history proved to be as brutal and decisive as the battle plans and philosophy he announced at Obersalzberg.
Common Information Question: 3/7
Which of the following best characterizes the author's view of the relationship between Hitler and Napoleon?
Governed with similar styles
Fought military conflicts with similar ideologies
In general, shared a legacy as overly ambitious leaders
At a high-level, some similarities in military missteps existed
Both suffered final defeats by impetuously charging east
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