In response to:
Hitler: Hard to Resist from the September 15, 1977 issue
To the Editors:
Professor Galbraith takes a very light view of other people’s plight while he volubly reports on his own (NYR, September 15). How dramatic is this incident where he hears about General Halder’s conspiracy to depose Hitler during the Sudeten crisis of 1938! In fact he has no information to add to the book he is reviewing (The History of the German Resistance); nevertheless he volunteers the judgment: “Halder and Field Marshal von Brauchitsch were, as Professor Hoffmann shows, the ultimate in ambiguity and reluctance. Had it not been for [Chamberlain’s] trip to Berchtesgaden, they would, it is absolutely certain, have found some other reason for bugging out.” Professor Hoffmann shows nothing of the kind. On the contrary, he makes it “absolutely certain” that the German generals were acting in dead earnest. In fact, they put their heads on the line; they sent no fewer than three confidential messengers to the British government, and in addition conveyed the same message through C.F. Burckhardt, the League of Nation’s commissioner for Danzig. The message was: “Please make a clear statement to the effect that an invasion of Czechoslovakia will be resisted. If Hitler then proceeds with his plans we can act against him.” The messengers spoke to the Foreign Secretary and his advisers, as well as to Churchill; they made it clear that in doing so, they were violating their oath of office and committing high treason. The British officials acknowledged this by receiving them in deep secrecy. After the Munich conference Lord Halifax said to one of the conspirators: “We were not in a position to be as frank with you as you were with us. When you passed your message to us, we were already considering Chamberlain’s mission to Germany.”
Far from showing that Halder and Brauchitsch were ambiguous, Professor Hoffmann is rather “absolutely certain,” to use Professor Galbraith’s hyperbole, that Chamberlain and Halifax failed to use the information which courageous men had given them at the peril of their lives. A reviewer might disagree with the author but he has no right to quote him in support of a position he does not hold. I hold no brief for either Brauchitsch or Halder; they were caught, as Professor Hoffmann says, between their duty as soldiers and their moral duty. Nor do I agree with Professor Galbraith that Hoffmann’s book tells all about the German Resistance (I have indicated the glaring lacunae in the summer 1977 issue of Dissent). But in the particular crisis of 1938 their behavior and the risk they were taking seem sufficient proof of their sincerity. Can Professor Galbraith name an American general who sent a message to Ho Chi Minh encouraging him to resist?
New York City
John Kenneth Galbraith replies:
Were it not that Mr. Pachter badly needs a lesson in personal amiability and the general principles of agreeable discourse, I would say that he seems mostly to be a man who wanted to write a letter. I did not quote Professor Hoffmann against himself; on the ambiguity of the generals and their search for any excuse to avoid action, I relied on the massive evidence that he assembled. The relevance of the reference to Ho Chi Minh escapes me.
February 9, 1978