Origins of the Second World War by Term Paper

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Origins of the Second World War, by A.J.P. Taylor. Specifically, it will critically analyze the book, its theme, and the author's methods.


Author of "The Origins of the Second World War," A.J.P. Taylor, was a noted British historian who wrote widely on European and world politics, policies, and history. His views were often unorthodox and controversial. "Taylor practiced a legitimate revisionism that is found in every field of history. Similar revisionists included Daniel J. Goldhagen who has argued that a deep-rooted anti-Semitism in Germany caused the Holocaust, not just Hitler and the Nazi party" (Schoenherr). He wrote numerous books and publications, including "The Struggle for Mastery in Europe 1848-1918," and "English History 1914-1945." He also worked as a broadcaster for the BBC. He was primarily interested in English and German history, but wrote extensively on a variety of historic and political subjects. Taylor died in 1990, and is still "regarded as one of the most important British historians of the 20th century" (Schoenherr). His purpose in writing the book is summed up succinctly in the Preface, where he notes the book is "directed solely to the question: why did Great Britain and France declare war on Germany?" (Taylor v).

The Origins of the Second World War" is a treatise on the French and British entry into the war. It does not include theories on why the rest of Europe and even Japan became involved, Taylor's purpose is to expound his theories on Germany, and how their actions led (or did not lead) to a declaration of war from France and Britain. First written in 1961, and updated before Taylor died in 1990, the book discusses events from the First World War to the declaration of war in 1939, and assesses how each of these events added fuel to the fire that grew into World War II.

Taylor's writing seems a bit old fashioned and is sometimes difficult to follow. He gives much effort to the events leading up to World War II, which is of course necessary to understand the background leading up to war, but is sometimes tedious reading and easy to set aside. Taylor opens the book by noting, "The second World war has ceased to be 'today' and has become 'yesterday'" (Taylor 7). This seems exceedingly true of many important world events, causing the reader to mull over how long it will be before the events of September 11 fall into the same category. Memories fade with time, and so do historic events, and Taylor points this out poignantly.

Throughout the book, Taylor lays down reason after reason why France and Britain were ripe for attack, and Germany was ready for war. He felt France and Britain did not have consistent policies regarding Germany, and they failed to appease Germany after World War I, since they did not destroy her (Taylor 39). Neither did they deter Hitler from rearming Germany; in fact, by ignoring his increasing armament, they showed him his "bluff would never be called" (Taylor 86). When it seemed to become apparent that war was indeed on the horizon, they did not recognize the scope of Hitler's quest for power, and felt the war would be confined to Europe, so there was no reason to involve anyone else, such as the Soviet Union or the United States in early peace talks (Taylor 130).

Through it all, Taylor maintains that for far too long, France and Great Britain maintained their own interests above all others, and this inward thinking also helped them turn a blind eye to Hitler and his defensive posturing. Ultimately, while he shows many flaws in British and French policy, he shows how Hitler and his own posturing left France and Britain little choice but to declare war. Hitler may have thought France and Britain would turn their back on Poland. He also showed a serious lack of judgment when he broke his peace pact with the Soviet Union in 1941, and then declared war on the United States, who "asked only to be left alone" (Taylor 278). Hitler's antics led to declaration of war just as much as Britain and France's lack of coherent policies did.

Some critics have argued Taylor shows a serious leaning toward Hitler and his…

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