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Sir John Wheeler Wheeler-Bennett, GCVO, MCG, OBE, FRSL, FBA, was a conservative Britishmarker historian of Germanmarker and diplomatic history.

Wheeler-Bennett was born in Kestonmarker, Kentmarker, the son of a wealthy importer on 13 October, 1902. He was educated at a school in Westgate on Seamarker and Malvern Collegemarker. He did not regard his youth as a happy one. In the 1920s, Wheeler-Bennett worked as an aide to General Sir Neil Malcolm, whom Wheeler-Bennett worked with in the Middle East and Berlinmarker.

After leaving Malcom's employ, Wheeler-Bennett served in the publicity department of the League of Nations in 1923-1924 in Genevamarker. Afterwards, Wheeler-Bennett worked as the director of the Royal Institute of International Affairsmarker's information department. In particular, Wheeler-Bennett worked as the editor of the Bulletin of International News between 1924-1932.

He lived in Germanymarker between 1927-1934 and witnessed first-hand the collapse of the Weimar Republicmarker and the rise of Nazi Germany. Throughout his life, Wheeler-Bennett was to have a love-hate relationship with the Germans. During his time living in Berlinmarker, he enjoyed some success as a horse-breeder. During this period, he became an unofficial agent and advisor to Londonmarker on international events.

His biography of Paul von Hindenburg created his reputation as a historian. Another great success was The Forgotten Peace, a study of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. In the pre-1939 period, Wheeler-Bennett befriended or was at least on speaking terms with a number of well-known people all over Europe.

Some of the people he knew included Heinrich Brüning, Basil Liddell Hart, Franz von Papen, John Buchan, Carl Friedrich Goerdeler,Leon Trotsky, Hans von Seeckt, Max Hoffmann, Lewis Bernstein Namier, Benito Mussolini, Bruce Lockhart, Karl Radek, Sir Robert Gilbert Vansittart, Kurt von Schleicher, Sir Isaiah Berlin, Tomáš Masaryk, Engelbert Dollfuss, the former Kaiser Wilhelm II, Adam von Trott zu Solz, Louis Barthou, Lord Lothian, Winston Churchill, and Dr. Edvard Beneš.

Later, Wheeler-Bennett was to become a critic of Appeasement and wrote a book Munich : Prologue To Tragedy condemning the Munich Agreement that became an early classic of anti-appeasement literature. In 1939, he went to the United Statesmarker to serve as a lecturer on international relations at the University of Virginiamarker. Wheeler-Bennett was strongly pro-American and always considered the American South to be his favorite part of the American republic.

From 1940 onwards, he worked with the British Information Service in New York Citymarker, an agency charged with trying to persuade the United States to enter the war on the Allied side. Starting in 1942, Wheeler-Bennett worked in the Political Warfare department of the British government in Londonmarker. He was promoted to the Assistant Director General of Political Intelligence Department before going on to serve in the Political Adviser's Department in SHAEF in 1944-1945. In 1945-1946, Wheeler-Bennett assisted the British Prosecution at the Nuremberg Trialsmarker.

Afterwards, he was the British editor-in-chief of the German Foreign Ministry's archives and oversaw the early publications of the German Documents on Foreign Affairs from 1946-1948. From 1948-1956, he served as the Historical Adviser to the Foreign Office Project for publishing the German Foreign Ministry Archives.

In 1945, Wheeler-Bennett married an American woman named Ruth Risher and settled after the war in a country house at Garsingtonmarker, United Kingdommarker. Despite his lack of university education and his status as a self-proclaimed amateur historian, Wheeler-Bennett was hired to teach International Relations at St. Antony's College and at New College at Oxford Universitymarker after World War Two from 1946-1950.

A devout Anglican, he enjoyed his life in the English countryside. From 1959 until his death, he worked as the Historical Adviser for the Royal Archives. He became founding chairman of the Ditchley Foundation, the Anglo-American conference group, in 1958. In 1972, he was elected to the British Academy.

An intelligent, shy man who talked with a strong stammer, Wheeler-Bennett was a mixture of the romantic and the practical, which was very much reflected in his historical writings. He was a follower of the Great Man school of history and his writings usually explained historical events in terms of the leading personalities of the period under study. This view of history together with his own right-wing outlook led him to make Churchill the principal hero of his writings.

Wheeler-Bennett was best known for The Nemesis of Power which documented the German Army's disastrous efforts at playing politics. His thesis was that under von Seeckt's leadership during the Weimar period, the Reichswehr formed a "State within the State" that largely preserved its autonomy from the politicians in Berlinmarker, but that it did not, however, play an active role in day-to-day politics.

After Seeckt's downfall in 1926, which had been engineered by Schleicher, the Reichswehr became increasingly engaged in political intrigues. In Wheeler-Bennett's view, Schleicher was the "Gravedigger of the Weimar Republic" who succeeded in undermining democracy, but failed completely to build any sort of stable structure in its place. Thus by a mixture of cunning, intrigue and inept maneuvers, Schleicher inadvertently paved the way for Adolf Hitler.

In the revised 1964 edition of The Nemesis of Power, Wheeler-Bennett continued his story right up to the July 20 Plot of 1944. He contended that under the leadership of Werner von Blomberg and Werner von Fritsch, the German Army chose to acquiesce in the Nazi regime as the kind of government best able to achieve what the Army wanted; namely a militarized society that would ensure in the next war that there would be no repeat of the “stab in the back”.

By agreeing to support the Nazi dictatorship, the Army tolerated a regime that quietly and gradually dismantled the “State within the state”. After Blomberg's and Fritsch's fall in 1938, the Army increasing became just a tool of the Nazi regime rather than the independent actor that it had been before. Though Wheeler-Bennett played tribute to the courage of men such as Claus von Stauffenberg, overall he concluded that the conservative opposition within the Wehrmacht had done too little, too late to overthrow the Nazis.

Wheeler-Bennett died of cancer in Londonmarker on 9 December, 1975, aged 73.

He was very well known in his lifetime and his interpretation of the role of the German Army influenced numerous historians, though he is largely forgotten today.

References

  • Cull, Nicholas Selling War : The British Propaganda Against American "Neutrality" In World War II, New York : Oxford University Press, 1995.
  • Roberts, Frank (editor) Obituaries From The Times 1971-1975, Meckler Books, 1978.


Work

  • Information On The Reduction Of Armaments, with an introduction by Major-General Sir Neil L. Malcolm, 1925.
  • Information On The Renunciation Of War, 1927-1928 with an introduction by Philip H. Kerr, 1928.
  • The Wreck Of Reparations, Being The Political Background Of The Lausanne Agreement, 1932, 1932.
  • Disarmament And Security Since Locarno 1925-1931; Being The Political And Technical Background Of The General Diarmament Conference, 1932, 1933.
  • Hindenburg: The Wooden Titan, 1936.
  • Brest-Litovsk : The Forgotten Peace, March 1918, 1938.
  • Munich : Prologue To Tragedy, 1948.
  • The Nemesis Of Power : The German Army In Politics, 1918-1945, 1953, revised edition 1964.
  • King George VI, His Life And Reign, 1958.
  • John Anderson, Viscount Waverley, 1962.
  • A Wreath To Clio: Studies In British, American and German Affairs, 1967.
  • Action This Day; Working With Churchill. Memoirs by Lord Norman Brook (And Others), edited with an introduction by Sir John Wheeler-Bennett, 1968.
  • The Pipe Dream Of Peace; The Story Of The Collapse Of Disarmament, 1971.
  • The Semblance Of Peace : The Political Settlement After The Second World War, co-written by J. Wheeler-Bennett and Anthony Nicholls, 1972.
  • The History Makers; Leaders And Statesmen Of The 20th century, edited by Lord Longford & Sir John Wheeler-Bennett, Chronologies and editorial assistance by Christine Nicholls, 1973.
  • Knaves, Fools And Heroes In Europe Between The Wars, 1974.
  • Special Relationships : America In Peace And War, 1975.
  • Friends, Enemies, And Sovereigns, 1976



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