When Germany invaded Poland, Adolf Hitler believed the war would simply be a border war. However, once Germany invaded the Soviet Union, things changed.
At least, according to historian Victor Davis Hanson, who presented his speech “How a Border War in Europe Led to World War II” to more than 400 students, faculty, and campus visitors on Sept. 12.
Hanson teaches a course at Hillsdale College every fall and, this semester, taught a class titled “The Nature of War.”
“I’ve done this for 14 years, and I always enjoy it,” Hanson said. “It’s very enjoyable to see the college produce better and better graduates.”
Sophomore Josiah Leinbach, a student in Hanson’s course, said he enjoyed both the speech and the class.
“The class has doubled my knowledge every time I enter the classroom,” he said. “The speech contained many themes emphasized in class, with new applications to World War II.”
Leinbach added that in exploring the nature of war, the course also focused on the complex nature of human beings.
“Their dealings with each other cannot be reduced to one maxim,” he said. “They are complex creatures and have to be understood through that lens.”
Jack Stone, a World War II veteran who served in the South Pacific, praised Hanson’s speech.
“It was very good,” he said. “It’s what I remember.”
Stone added that he looked forward to reading Hanson’s forthcoming book, “The Second World Wars.”
The book is set for release on Oct. 17, and was available for pre-order at the event.
“I use the plural [because] this was the first war that was almost unconnected,” Hanson said.
Hanson explained that the theaters of war were very diverse and the methodologies of fighting differed greatly in an unprecedented way.
“You could be in a tank, you could be on the ground, you could be in artillery, you could be in a heavy cruiser, you could be in a high bomber,” Hanson said. “This had never really happened before. Most wars were one dimensional.”
President Larry Arnn introduced Hanson before his speech.
“He has a commanding kind of understanding,” Arnn said. “He makes complex things seem simple. All who attend to him learn from him, and they are legion all over the country.”
Hanson explained that when Germany invaded Poland, Adolf Hitler believed the war would simply be a border war. However, once Germany invaded the Soviet Union, things changed.
“That changed everything, and changed the second world wars into a global war,” Hanson said. “For the first time, the Wehrmacht was not fighting someone next to their borders, fighting someone they outnumber, and fighting someone that was clearly technologically inferior. That process then changed border wars that all had certain things in common.”
Hanson said once the Allies got involved, the border wars became a global war.
“The German army fought people nearby,” he said. “They fought them through surprise, and they had easy logistics. Then they found out that Britain didn’t quite fit that bill, the Soviet Union didn’t quite fit that bill, and by Dec. 7– when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor– the United States didn’t fit that bill. Then they got into a global war that they could not win.”