How to Confront a Dictator

  • January 30, 2023
  • 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM
  • Zoom virtual lecture

      Benjamin Hett, PhD  

Benjamin Carter Hett was born in Rochester, New York, but grew up in Edmonton, Alberta.

He earned a J.D. at the University of Toronto (1990) and practiced litigation in Canada before earning a Ph.D. in history at Harvard (2001). He has taught at Harvard College and the Harvard Law School and, since 2003, at Hunter College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York.

He is the author of The Death of Democracy: Hitler’s Rise to Power and the Downfall of the Weimar Republic, winner of the 2019 Vine Award for History and named one of the year’s best books by The Times of London and the Daily Telegraph.   His book The Nazi Menace: Hitler, Churchill, Roosevelt, Stalin, and the Road to War, was named an editors’ choice by the New York Times Book Review. His other books include Burning the Reichstag (Oxford, 2014), winner of the 2015 Hans Rosenberg Prize, and Crossing Hitler (Oxford, 2008), which won the 2007 Fraenkel Prize and was made into a documentary film and a television drama for the BBC. Hett is presently working on a project about Arthur Nebe and the German criminal police during the Second World War.

Hett also makes regular appearances as a speaker, on radio, television, and podcasts, and in historical documentaries. He lives in New York City.

How to confront a dictator 

The “era of appeasement” of the late 1930s continues to form a paradigmatic example of how democracies should cope with aggressive, authoritarian challenges – or rather, how they should not do so: the efforts of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain to arrive at a settlement with Adolf Hitler continue to be seen as grossly mistaken and morally indefensible. In this talk, Benjamin Carter Hett will offer a reinterpretation of this era.

It is important to remember how much in the world of the 1930s was new: total war with air power, totalitarian regimes, electronic communications, even democracy itself (and even in places like Britain and the USA, which had both just seen a dramatic increase in the size of their electorates). In this context, democratic leaders had to learn as they went how to deal with a range of new threats. Hett will argue that Neville Chamberlain was a much more acute strategist than is often thought, with a shrewd appreciation of what kind of war Britain could fight and win. Franklin Delano Roosevelt had arrived at many of the same conclusions. But there was also a point of transition at the time of the 1938 Munich crisis in which Winston Churchill’s more moralistic response to totalitarianism became a strategically wiser policy as well.

This event is part of the Winter 2023 Speaker series. 

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