This is definitely a departure from my usual topics, but WWII history has always been a hobby of mine. A recent article “The Fate of a Fascist Man“, by Olga Fedyanina published in the 21st edition of the Russian “Kommersant Weekend” magazine (July 3, 2020) about the flight of Rudolf Hess, just begs for a rebuttal.
The article has two parallel narratives running counter to each other. The first story line is that Hess was an idiot and a fanatic and his plan was beyond stupid, explaining why nobody from the British government even talked to the man, or so declassified British records show.
The second narrative still has Hess as Hitler’s brainless lapdog, but now he’s under the influence of his mentor Karl Haushofer – a man of great intelligence and outstanding education, as he is described.
Haushofer convinces Hess that a truce between Germany and England is what Hitler desires most. Eager to please Hitler in any way he can and in an attempt to restore his lost influence within the Reich, Hess jumps at the idea to enter into secret negotiations with the British.
So now the plan is not stupid. The plan belongs to Haushofer – the “father of geopolitics”. Hess is just a high-ranking delivery vehicle to help convince the British that Hitler himself is behind the negotiations.
The obvious problem here is that you can’t have it both ways: either the plan had merit or it didn’t. We don’t know for a fact who came up with the idea, but we do know that Haushofer and his sons helped Hess plan and organize his flight. That’s a very deep commitment on Haushofer’s part: he had to have known what a failure would mean for him and his family.
Finally, the declassified British records show that no government official even talked to Hess: his initial debriefing and followup interrogations were handled by various intelligence officers.
In May of 1941 Axis troops occupied most of Western and Northern Europe. The Battle of Britain was a great victory that came close to being a great defeat. The resulting strategic stalemate was not expected to last for more than a few months. America’s aid was limited, at best.
Under these circumstances, I just find it unfathomable that Hitler’s right-hand man drops in bearing gifts and nobody who’s anybody wants to chat.
The documents carried by Hess, possibly including a draft peace treaty, remain hidden and without them we’ll never know the full facts about his mission.