David R. Henderson  

Happy "Almost Assassinate Hitler Day"

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Today is the 70th anniversary of the failed attempt to assassinate Hitler. That the death of Hitler on July 20, 1944 would have been a Good Thing [those who studied British history and read 1066 and All That will get the joke] is not an economic point, per se, although I guess you could stretch and say that it's based on a crude cost/benefit analysis.

I think this date is under-celebrated. I notice that some Germans are celebrating it. Good for them. So Happy Almost Assassinate Hitler day.


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CATEGORIES: Public Choice Theory



COMMENTS (7 to date)
Greg Heslop writes:

What evidence is there that German policy would have improved in Hitler's absence? Many measures of policy seem not to change substantially depending on which party is in power (a good but gated review is here). Perhaps Nazi policies were the product of large socioeconomic forces which made it impossible for non-Hitlers to reach power?

Maybe I am embarrassingly ignorant and there is a clear and well-known response to this which I just have not seen yet. But it strikes me that many times it goes unmentioned when points similar to the one in this blog post are made.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Greg Heslop,
Good question. The evidence was in who the perpetrators of the plot were. It wasn’t as if Himmler or Goering were carrying it out because Hitler wasn’t radical enough. It was career soldiers and such soldiers almost always are (and, in this case, were), more conservative than the radical politicians who like war.

Mark Bahner writes:
What evidence is there that German policy would have improved in Hitler's absence? Many measures of policy seem not to change substantially depending on which party is in power...

As David Henderson points out, there's the fact that the perpetrators of the plot were career soldiers.

It seems pretty clear to me that if they had succeeded in killing Hitler in July 1944, Germany would have surrendered much earlier, and a tremendous number of lives would have been saved. For example, wonderful Wikipedia has the following estimates regarding the Battle of Berlin:

Germany:

Estimate:
92,000–100,000 killed
220,000 wounded[11][e]
480,000 POW[12]
Inside Berlin Defence Area:
about 22,000 military dead
22,000 civilian dead

USSR and Poland

81,116 dead or missing
280,251 sick or wounded

And it's significant that the deaths among German POWs were incredibly high. (The USSR itself estimates 380,000 deaths among all German POWs throughout WWII. Other estimates run as high as 1 million German POW deaths in the USSR throughout the war.) So it's possible that half a million people died as a result of the Battle of Berlin alone.

Such an incredible waste...especially since Germany was clearly defeated even before the battle.

Mark

B.B. writes:

I am not impressed with the attempted coup.

If the generals had tried to overthrow Hitler in 1940, I would have been impressed.

But they waited for July 1944, when it was clear that Germany was in retreat in France, in the USSR, and in Italy, not to mention in the Atlantic. In other words, they wanted to negotiate the end of a war they were losing. They wanted to avoid being killed, as opposed to wanting to end the Third Reich.

I do not congratulate people for pursuing their self interest. Those generals did nothing to preserve civilian life anywhere before July 1944.

Arguable, Hitler was so mad that he accelerated the defeat of Germany. Removing him may have improved Germany's strategy and lengthened the war.

Finally, if a truce had been negotiated with Germany, it could have left a unified German Reich, albeit without Hitler, which would have remained a threat to future peace. On the other hand, if Germany refused unconditional surrender and fought on, what difference would the death of Hitler have made?

Greg Heslop writes:
"@Greg Heslop, Good question. The evidence was in who the perpetrators of the plot were. It wasn’t as if Himmler or Goering were carrying it out because Hitler wasn’t radical enough. It was career soldiers and such soldiers almost always are (and, in this case, were), more conservative than the radical politicians who like war."

Thanks. Not being normally into WWII-related stuff, I had not kept in mind that career soldiers were behind the attempt. Thanks also to Mark Bahner for filling in details.

However, I am still uncertain what quality to attach to this evidence. I mean, the signal which an assassination attempt sends is the same whether it is successful or not, isn't it? Only in one case Hitler gets to respond to it and in the other case, Hitler's replacement responds. Maybe successful politicians will respond similarly?

Perhaps the fact that career soldiers attempted the deed is an indication that they had someone lined up to become the new Führer or knew something about the likely replacement, but then the new guy would have had to deal with German politics, too. All the underlying conditions of Nazi Germany would have been substantially the same, and so maybe they would have required similar navigation as that carried out by Hitler? So what am I missing?

I seem to recall a working paper some years ago which looked at whether an assassination attempt was successful or not in various nations and then examined whether and by how much policy changed afterwards. Seems like a good approach to this sort of issue. Unfortunately I forgot to download it at the time and I haven't been able to find it since then. If this paper rings a bell to anyone, I'll be very grateful for a link!

Otto Maddox writes:

Don't forget an earlier end to the European war would have probably resulted in the entire Korean peninsula being Soviet. Who knows what other mischief Uncle Joe would have created in the Far East?

If the generals had tried to overthrow Hitler in 1940, I would have been impressed.

How impressed are you, then, that German generals had a plan to overthrow Hitler in 1938? Because they did.

That coup was to be activated by Hitler giving an order for the German army to invade Czechoslovakia. The generals believed that would incite a war they couldn't win. However, at the last minute Chamberlain and Daladier flew to Munich and gave Hitler pretty much what he wanted, so he didn't have to give his army their marching orders.

'Appeasement' inadvertently derailed a coup by the German military. Further, several of those generals re-evaluated their opinions of Hitler after this. Essentially saying, 'Maybe he's right after all.' So, when the order to invade Poland came, there were fewer German generals in opposition to the Nazis.

Btw, there were several plots to assassinate Hitler that failed less spectacularly during the war. There were many Germans who plotted with American and English diplomats in Switzerland and Turkey to get rid of Hitler and end the war. Including Wilhelm Canaris, Hitler's intelligence head. He was executed by Hitler shortly before the end of the war.

There is a lively controversy about why FDR and Churchill didn't give more support to the anti-Nazi Germans. Most likely; they didn't want to antagonize Stalin.

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