COLLAPSE OF THE READER – Review

THE COLLAPSE OF THE THIRD REPUBLIC, William L. Shirer

The Collapse refers to World War Two. The Germans attacked in the West on May 10, 1940. The British finished evacuating Dunkirk by June 2, 1940. During the last third of June 1940 Hitler took his morning tour of Paris.

This is not Shirer’s best book. It is very journalistic. I cannot recommend it. Shirer attempts to tell the structural weaknesses of the Third Republic from its inception in 1871, 69 years before World War Two. And Shirer along with the reader becomes bogged down in sundry and many details, some of which could support stories and characters for an excellent miniseries: Investment and fraud schemes play out over a decade or decades. Witnesses and participants are murdered, one being tied to a railroad track. In all this Shirer’s point is the Third Republic never had a reliable Constitution and accepted legislative procedures in place to give the French people confidence in their government.

In 1936 as the Nazis carefully moved into the Rhineland, remilitarizing it and removing a 30-50 mile buffer between France and Germany, the French were indecisive. France hoped that the British would give them backbone. However, Hitler has moved on a Saturday because the Germans know that members of the British government depart for their country houses on weekends. The British are concerned…

“Eden made it clear to the French Ambassador in London that nothing could be decided in London until the following Monday, when the Prime Minister and his colleagues would be back. That would give the Germans forty-eight hours to consolidate their hold on the Rhineland without interference. Nowhere in his own account nor in the dispatches of the French Ambassador describing the meeting does the British Foreign Secretary seem to have given thought to the consequences of such procrastination. His only thought was to discourage the French from doing anything over the weekend.” (p. 263)

It behooves any country in a dangerous world to have men and women (policymakers) who are up to speed and ready to act at anytime. If someone with authority must be in the office over the weekend – not fly fishing, watching sports, bicycling, golfing –¬†then be there, listen, consider and exercise authority.

The remilitarization of the Rhineland in 1936 was Hitler’s first step. Historians and later politicians generally acknowledge had the French Army marched into the Rhineland in response, the German army would have retreated. In fact the consensus among historians is that Hitler would have been finished in Germany, and there would have been¬†NO World War Two.These historians and politicians know what the British and French politicians should have known in March 1936: The Rhineland escapade was a desperate gamble that the West ignored. Immediate decisions and action were necessary, but were put off. The chance for effective, decisive action did not arise without greater costs.

Undoubtedly, Shirer recounts in painful detail each and every poor ignorant decision made by the French, the British and others. I can no longer read of that incompetence and ignorance found in other books (French, English speaking authors). I know it happened.

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