Edited by Gavriel D. Rosenfeld

Edited by Gavriel D. Rosenfeld

Thursday, December 1, 2016

More Hitler Counterfactuals -- This Time With a Trumpian Subtext

In the context of Donald Trump’s recent presidential victory in the electoral college, counterfactual claims have been proliferating in the mass media.  (See some of my posts from last month).

In a new story in The Guardian, in which historians were asked about the parallels between Trump’s election and the rise to power of Adolf Hitler, Volker Ullrich (who recently published a book on the German dictator) offered a variety of “missed opportunity counterfactuals” that express the familiar fantasy of somehow averting his political ascent.

The article makes clear at the outset that “Hitler’s rise was neither an accident nor inevitable, and could have been prevented very early on.”

It proceeds to quote Ullrich noting:

“There were many situations where he could have been stopped. For example in 1923 after the failed Munich putsch – if he’d served his full prison sentence of several years, he wouldn’t have made a political comeback. Instead, he only spent a few months behind bars, [having been released after political pressure] and could rebuild his movement.”

The western powers made the same mistake with their appeasement politics, indecision and indulgence. “In the 1930s Hitler strengthened, rather than weakened, his aggressive intentions,” Ullrich says. “So you could learn from this that you have to react faster and much more vigorously than was the case at the time.”

"Ullrich also contends that if Hindenburg, the president of the Reich, had allowed Chancellor Brüning, of the Centre party, to remain chancellor to the end of 1934, rather than responding to pressure from conservatives to dismiss him in 1932, “then the peak of the economic crisis would have passed and it would have been very questionable whether Hitler could still have come to power.”

"At the same time, Hitler’s ascent was no mere fluke. “There were powerful forces in the big industries, but also in the landowning class and the armed forces, which approved of a fascist solution to the crisis.”

While many of these questions cannot be answered with any certainty, what is certain is that Donald Trump ended up beating Hillary Clinton by a total of 80,000 votes in three key states. 

As his administration unfolds in the years to come, we can only hope that this tiny number does not end up being retrospectively viewed as a major point of divergence in American history.


  1. Someone should write a book on counterfactuals about Hitler. I mean various counterfactuls that are realist(not like he retire from politics in 1932 and resume is painting career.

    The book should start from 1923 when he made the Munich pustch to what if the Stauffenberg bomb has sucedded to kill him in the July plot.

    There counterfactuals here in there from Robert Cowley book What if (like if Chamberlain had stood up for Chekoslovakia in 1938) or Dennis Showalter What if the Allies had fallen.

    The book should have chapters from the 1923 pustch, 1932-33 political intrigues at the Reich chancellorship when various right wing politicans wanted to name Hitler chancelor to dupe him(they were instead duped by him). 1938 if The Anglo-French had stood up to him or the generals coup would have had support. 1939 if Esler had killem him(thank you Mr Rosenfeld to have written a counterfactual on it). 1940 if Chamberlain had been prime minister and dealed with Hitler(well someone in What If Book of Robert Cowley had written an counterfactual on it). 1941 what if Hitler had stick with Moscow instead of taking Kiev. 1943 what if the bomb of General Treskow had blown up Hitler plane. Finaly in 1944 if Colonel Stauffenberg bomb had sucedded in blowing up Hitler(if Hitler would have been in a concrete room instead of a wood shack).

    Anyway its just an idea. Keep up the good work.

  2. Hi Mathieu,
    Thanks for your comment. It would, in fact, be a good idea for a book. Perhaps someone will take it on as a project at some point.