As with Hitler, we should have seen Putin coming

This paper was one of the few to early and consistently warn of the Nazi threat

Charles Moore

32 January 2023 •

Adolf Hitler

Telegraph columnists are rightly discouraged from writing articles solely based on an article in our own paper. I am doing so today, however, with the excuse that the article in question appeared a century ago. Indeed, I know about it only because it was reprinted in our “One Hundred Years Ago” column last Friday.

“DISQUIETING REPORTS OF BAVARIAN SITUATION,” said the headline in this newspaper on Saturday January 27, 1923. The sub-head read: “FASCIST REVOLT MENACE.” Germany, the story reported, “is threatened by a complication of the gravest kind.” Following the success of the fascist March on Rome the previous October, “Mussolini’s Teuton counterpart, Adolf Hitler, has decided to … declare ‘war to the knife’” against the Bavarian government.

This news was “of very gloomy omen”: “This Austrian house painter who, during the war, served as a simple soldier in the German army, has in Bavaria a large body of fanatically devoted adherents prepared blindly to do his bidding.” The danger went wider than Bavaria, the reporter added: “It is impossible to say what latent forces might come to the surface in his support in other parts of Germany were he once to attempt the revolution so often threatened by his disciples.”

The writer then explained how the Nazis (that acronym was not yet used in the British press) had recently filled “six of the chief brewery halls, which are the largest places of public assembly in Munich” for angry meetings. He described Hitler’s National Socialists and their paramilitary activities more fully: they were organised in “storm troops”, “whose field-grey uniforms and Austrian kepis are now a familiar feature in the streets of the Bavarian capital”. On their arms, “they wear a brassard in the black, white and red of the old empire, and with the ‘Swastika’, which in this country is the recognised symbol of anti-Semitism”.

Hitler’s aim was to overthrow what he saw as “the traitors of November 1918”, who had forced the German surrender to the Allies. It remained to be seen, the writer concluded, whether the Bavarian government would be “strong enough to suppress this Frankenstein monster”.

In the short term, the Bavarian government did, rather narrowly, prevail. When Hitler attempted his Munich Beer Hall Putsch 10 months after this report, in November 1923, he was arrested, convicted and imprisoned for treason. In prison, he wrote Mein Kampf, where, with appalling frankness, he set out his ideas and aims. Roughly 10 years later, he became chancellor of Germany. The “latent forces” had won.

Nothing in the Telegraph report was completely new. The readers would already have heard something of Hitler. But I find it striking and impressive how fully, at such an early stage, the paper’s unnamed correspondent grasped the elements of the man and his mission – his mesmerising qualities and propaganda skills, his bitterness about the war, his propensity towards violence and his racism. He also understood why, in febrile, defeated Germany, Hitler was so dangerous to the whole nation.

This should give some answer to those who still maintain that it was not possible to discern Hitler’s aggressive and destructive intent until he invaded Poland 16 years later. I have never fully studied British newspapers in the inter-war years, but I believe it to be the case that the only two mainstream titles that were consistent in their warnings against appeasing Hitler were the liberal News Chronicle and the conservative Daily Telegraph.

In the 1930s, it took most of the West a dreadfully long time to face a fairly obvious truth. Our slowness has been replicated this century in our reluctance to face what Vladimir Putin was up to, which became pretty clear from 2008.


  1. Selected comments from DT readers:

    Christopher Samuelson:
    “I met Putin when he was Deputy Mayor of St Petersburg, we spoke German together. He had the coldest, most calculating eyes of any Russian I have met. A complete control freak. Boris Beresovsky thought he could influence him like Yeltsin. I disagreed. I stopped all activities in Russia when Putin became President. He miscalculated invading Ukraine. A cornered person is dangerous but he won’t resort to nuclear.”

    Rupert Law:
    “Fascinating that you actually met and even spoke with the man. What did you say together in German? If he won’t go nuclear and I agree with you then what means of dangerous are left for a cornered Putin in your view?”

    Rachel Vernon:
    “Even a cursory study of Russian history shows that autocracy has been ever present since at least the invasion of Ghengis Khan.
    Romanov, Bolshevik and latterly Mr Putin; the collapse of one regime is followed by a period of turmoil which sees short lived experiments with representation before another dictator gathers the levers of power. The only unanswered question for now is will Putin’s demise be followed instantly by a succession to a new dictator, or will there be a period of turmoil first.
    I hope the governments of the west will cease to delude themselves that Russia will morph into a meaningful democracy anytime soon.”

    Marcel Stchedroff
    “We’re not taking this matter as seriously was we should do, in the same way that we didn’t take Hitler as a big threat in the late ’30s.
    The current war (Russian [with Iranian, N. Korean] help) vs. Ukrainian (with Nato = USA/UK help]) somehow shows signs of a signal lack of total commitment on the pt. of the main Allied players to defeat Russia on the Ukrainian only battlefront.
    As a non-military man, I find it hard to credit Biden’s & Sunak’s short-sightedness shown in providing the necessary planes required to work in tandem with tanks to successfully pursue & expel the Russians from Ukraine including Crimea.
    Their pusillanimity is simply encouraging the murderous thug i.e., Putin to pursue & prolong his megalomania.”

    Elizabeth Foster:
    “Why was Britain so supine when first Litvinenko and then the Skripals were poisoned on British soil? That should have been the last wake up call after the flattening of Chechnya on staged terrorist bombing excuses, and Aleppo, showed Putin in his true colours.
    The looking the other way over the invasion of Crimea was inexcusable. The running down of Britain’s defences is inexcusable. And so is the cosying up to Russia by Germany and France.
    The world is also doing the same with China – looking the other way and too scared of China’s massive power and influence.”

  2. The West has completely thrown out all lessons learned a hundred years ago. No one – NO ONE – had the fortitude to see Putler for what he really is. Only the eastern countries knew it and warned the West on multiple occasions, all for naught. Even now, the response to the aggression of this gigantic crime syndicate is not what it should be.
    It is very clear that the combined leadership of the West is too weak, too narrow-minded and too stupid to lead us in a world with dangerous opponents, especially two, mafia land and bat virus land.

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