On July 17, 1918, in the waning months of World War I, Pvt. Adolf Hitler of the 16th Bavarian Reserve Regiment escorted two American prisoners to brigade headquarters. The encounter with his prisoners changed Hitler’s life, according to Brendan Simms in his fascinating “Hitler: A Global Biography.” From that day on, the Austrian soldier—and, soon, the war veteran-turned-racist ideologue—convinced himself that the doughboys were in fact descendants of sturdy German emigrants to the New World whom the Fatherland had allowed to slip away. They had now, in Mr. Simms’s words, “returned as avengers in the ranks of an unstoppable enemy.” Stopping that unstoppable enemy, America, became Hitler’s lifelong obsession—an obsession that, according to Mr. Simms, led to the creation of the Third Reich and eventually to Auschwitz and World War II.
A weary reader might ask why we need yet another biography of Adolf Hitler. Mr. Simms, a fellow of Peterhouse College, Cambridge, and the author of several books on European history, believes that, despite the attention Hitler has received, there is an unknown Hitler that other biographers and historians have missed—the Hitler who spent his political career grappling with the emergence of America as the dominant power of the 20th century. After reading “Hitler: A Global Biography,” one has to agree.
Mr. Simms’s thesis is that, in Hitler’s mind, Germany’s greatest nemesis was never communism or the Soviet Union, or even the Jews, but America—specifically, an Anglosphere represented by Great Britain and the United States, a country that, by the end of World War I, was clearly destined to replace imperial Britain as the world’s superpower. The last third of Mr. Simms’s chronicle presents a powerful argument that Hitler’s strategy in World War II was never focused on the Eastern Front, where the vast bulk of German forces were engaged, but in the West, where he scrambled from one expedient to another—U-boats, the Atlantic Wall, the V-2 rocket—to halt an Anglo-American juggernaut that was outproducing German munitions factories by a factor of nearly 3 to 1.
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