Go-Betweens for Hitler
Oxford University Press, New York, 2017, 408 pages
Book Review published on: June 15, 2018
The centennial anniversary of World War I brought forth a steady stream of books reexamining the causes, conduct, and results of the “War to End All Wars.” While much of the subject matter is well known, author Karina Urbach explores new territory in Go-Betweens for Hitler. The book’s rather unique narrative examines the use of so-called “go-betweens,” such as European nobility, in diplomacy during two key periods of twentieth-century history, namely the two world wars. The first half of the book is devoted to examining the role of go-betweens before Adolf Hitler’s rise to power, with the focus on World War I. The second half analyzes Hitler’s own use of aristocracy in the forging of the Third Reich and explains his appeal to the nobility. The rise of democratic governments before World War I and the threat of Russian Bolshevism after the Treaty of Versailles gave common cause for the various European aristocracies to unite behind strong nationalist leaders like Hitler and Benito Mussolini. Both parts of the book are richly detailed with insight into the private affairs and inner workings of Europe’s political landscape.
The aristocracy was ideally suited to play a part in world diplomacy. They lived in an all-but-closed society—inaccessible to the middle and lower classes—that provided privacy from the public and the press. Blood relations and arranged marriages between noble houses ensured access to national leaders, while frequent international travel afforded explanations to cover covert diplomatic activities. Even today, the exact role of royal personages in foreign diplomacy remains unclear, as research is challenged by the far-too-often sealed European government records and the aristocracy’s closed personal files. While this reticence is understandable and even expected within the rules of international relations, it precludes the general public from knowing how their government interacts with other nations outside the public spotlight. Urbach goes to great lengths to shed light into the work of go-betweens, undoing much of the post-World War II revisionist history that falsely distances royal and government figures from their association with the Nazi regime.
While the book’s content is useful to finding a more holistic understanding of international relations, Go-Betweens for Hitler’s overall value would be improved by the addition of period-accurate geopolitical maps and photographs of the major players. Urbach’s account is detailed, no doubt, but the primary figures are not well known, requiring additional independent research by the reader. There are two critical lessons for professional soldiers in this book. First, given the military’s expanding role into the other aspects of the DIME (diplomacy, information, military, and economic) construct, namely diplomacy, it is imperative we recognize the part go-betweens hold in global politics. The second and perhaps more important lesson is an understanding of the long-term effects of short-term thinking. The nobility sought salvation for their way of life in the guise of fascism. Their failure to understand Hitler’s abhorrent nature not only laid the grounds for his ascendancy but also for the deaths of over sixty million people in World War II. That lesson must be remembered as the United States charts an unknown course into the twenty-first century.
Book Review written by: Lt. Col. Chris Heatherly, U.S. Army, Wiesbaden, Germany