Regarding events in the six years prior to World War II, the usual interpretation that we are presented is that the passive and ambivalent Allies, who should have been enforcing the Treaty of Versailles and keeping the dangerous German war-machine from rising again, instead allowed a treacherous thug named Adolf Hitler to get away with one transgression after another until he was so emboldened as to undertake a war to conquer the entire world.
This historical interpretation, by the way, has been used over and over to goad U.S. citizens into supporting wars since World War II, on the premise that somebody else is now the new Hitler and that it is imperative not to make the old mistake of attempting to deal with him peacefully.
What has been dropped down the memory hole is that the Allies as well as Germany had been supposed to reduce their armed forces, according to the Treaty of Versailles. They never did.* Hitler's decision to reintroduce German military conscription, and an air force, and to have an army exceeding 100,000 men, followed a decision by France to increase the size of her own army. (Even at the time of her defeat by Germany in 1940, France had a larger tank-force: its fault lay in being designed for the tactics of the previous war.)
Hitler's characterization of the Treaty of Versailles as unjust, imposed as it was on an unwilling but helpless Germany, is often treated with scorn. Be that as it may, is it not the case that a treaty having been ignored with impunity by one side may legitimately be considered null and void by the other? It seems reasonable to argue that from the viewpoint of justice, at the time that Hitler announced the rearmament of Germany in 1935, the so-called treaty had already been effectively rendered a dead letter.
Read what a former British Prime Minister and a former U.S. Secretary of State had to say about it.
Lloyd George Blames Allies
David Lloyd George, Britain's war-time prime minister, said tonight the former Allied powers were to blame for forcing Germany to re-arm.
"Let us keep our heads," the shaggy-maned old statesman said. "The signatories to Germany's Treaty of Versailles are in no position morally to enforce those parts of the treaty which they themselves have so flagrantly and defiantly broken....
"The British government after the issue of its recent White Paper has no right to complain at Germany's gesture coming before the proposed Berlin conversations. We are now face to face with reality....
"We should regard recent developments, including the white paper and France's decision to increase her army and finally Hitler's declaration as finally giving us a providential opportunity to clear up the whole mess."
Frank B. Kellogg, former U.S. Secretary of State:
I don't believe the nations of Europe are entirely free from from blame in this situation. In the Versailles Treaty, they pledged themselves to disarm. If any of them have done so, I do not recall which and when.
Of course, that is no excuse for Germany to violate her treaty agreements, but there is some truth in Hitler's statements, if I read them correctly, that the other nations have agreed to reduce armaments and none of them has done so.
* Among the victorious powers of World War I, only Britain and Japan ratified the Treaty of Versailles. The French parliament rejected the treaty, with some members calling it vengeful. The fact that Germany was expected to abide by the terms of the treaty while France was not, and Britain did not, created an untenable situation. On 23 March 1933 Hitler stated before the German pariliament: "Germany has been waiting years for other nations to fulfill their promises to reduce armaments. We would gladly refrain from increasing our own if the others would agree to radical reduction of theirs." (AP, 24 March 1933)