Richard Evans:

… Already in the decade from 1924 to 1935, the total national income of the US averaged three times more than that of Great Britain, nearly four times more than that of Germany, and around five times more than that of France or the Soviet Union…. Over the same period, British per capita Gross Domestic Product was running at 89 percent of the comparable US figure, French at 72 percent, German at 63 percent, and Soviet at 25 percent.

European contemporaries were very much aware of these facts; and none more so than Adolf Hitler. Already in his unpublished “Second Book,” written in 1928, he was declaring that “the European, even without being fully conscious of it, applies the conditions of American life as a yardstick for his life.” For Hitler, who read the Wild West novels of Karl May during his childhood and adolescence, it seemed obvious that America had achieved its industrial advantage and high standard of living through its conquest of the West and its extermination of the Native American population. If Germany, as Europe’s leading power, did not do something similar, the “threatened global hegemony of the North American continent” would degrade all the European powers to the level of “Switzerland and Holland.” Far from being the revival of some medieval dream of conquest sparked by the example of the Teutonic Knights, Hitler’s drive to conquer Eastern Europe was based on a very modern model, a model of colonization, enslavement, and extermination that had its parallels in the creation of European empires in Asia and Australia, or the nineteenth-century Russian conquest of Central Asia and Siberia.1

Here again, as with Stanley, this is provocative but not obviously quite right. The novelist May and the fantasist Hitler projected an image of racial conquest onto the American West, without really knowing what was going on out there. What we have in both cases seems to be the European hope that the West proved a vindication of certain racist fantasies — whether it really did or not — the West was a helpful idea for European conquerors. But the idea came from May’s head, not from American practice. And thus may indeed have had more to do with myths of Teutonic conquest than with the “very modern model” purportedly before German observers.


1Richard J. Evans, “Immoral Rearmament,” review of Adam Tooze, The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of Nazi Germany, in The New York Review of Books, December 20, 2007, 76-78; quotation on 76.