The Germans came damn close to winning World War II. There has been a lot alternative history and speculation about how the Nazi's could have won the war by making a few slightly different decisions. What if the panzers had been allowed to wipe out the British at Dunkirk? What if the RAF had lost the Battle of Britain? What if the Germans had not invaded the Soviet Union in 1941? What if the Germans had treated the subjugated people in Eastern Europe better?
The list of potential 'what if' scenarios is nearly endless. All of them offer a chance that history may not have turned out as it did had the Hitler and the Germans only done this one thing differently.
Leaving out of the discussion for the moment the fact that Germany possessed neither the manpower nor that resources to win the war in its final scope, we should focus on one simple truth:
The Nazi-led Germans could never have won the war precisely because they were the Nazi-led Germans.
The very nature of Hitler, the Nazi ideology, and the nature of totalitarian states was
such that they contained the seeds of their own destruction. There is no scenario in which Hitler and the Nazis, acting within the bounds of their worldview, could have selected these alternative options.
The simplest example of this conundrum is the Battle of Dunkirk. In the spring of 1940, the BEF lays defeated and prostrate on the beaches of France, and the Germans Panzer division are just a few miles away. An hour's drive forward by the Wehrmacht and the British will be forced to surrender. With their entire army destroyed and the Home Islands defenseless, the British would be forced to surrender, ensuring German victory. But Hitler stops the Panzers and orders Herman Goering's Luftwaffe to complete the attack by air. This effort fails, the British escape, and the rest is history.
There has been endless speculation about what might have been if Hitler does not give this fateful order. But the fact is that Hitler could not have done anything else. There was never a chance that the Armee would be allowed to singlehandedly wipe out the British.
Hitler ruled, as many tyrants do, through setting up competing factions and keeping them set against each other. This balance of power is critical, and any one faction must not be allowed to become too strong for fear that it will topple the dictator. Hitler feared, and rightly so, that the High Command generals would stage a coup.
Thus, as the German High Command was about to achieve complete strategic victory, it also became a threat to Hitler. Who knows what might have happened if the glory of the victory over Germany's foes was credited to the Armee. Hitler could not allow this to happen, and thus the Panzers were stopped in their tracks and the Luftwaffe was unleashed.
This scenario repeats itself with virtually every one of these alternative history scenarios. Each time the historian presents an alternative choice that in reality could never have been adopted by the Germans.
What if the Germans treated the Ukrainians and White Russians better and they joined forces with the Germans? Doesn't matter. By it's very nature, a Nazi-led war effort could never treat the 'under menschen" better. While this seems like a rational choice that could have been made, it was not one that was actually available to the Germans.
What if the Germans treated the Jews better and developed the Atomic bomb instead of the actual history in which many Jewish scientists fled to the United States? This is not a viable option in a country where the ruling party rose to power on largely on Nationalism and Anti-Semitism.
What if the Germans had not attacked East in 1941, instead focusing on defeating the British before opening a fatal second front? Again, this was not an option available to Hitler at this time. He had risen to power quickly, and the demands of the war were beginning to place tremendous strain on the German economy. Maintaining a massive army is extremely expensive, both in terms of gold and political capital. Perhaps Hitler's grip on power could have survived a year of limited war time victories while the British were slowly starved into submission. But this was not a risk Hitler could take. Like a shark that can only breath while moving, the Germans war machine needed to strike somewhere in 1941, and the Soviet Union was the only real choice.
We see that most of the alternative history timelines hinge on the Germans making choices that were not available to them at that time. As long as Hitler and the Nazi's were in control, none of these alternatives could come to pass.
So what if Hitler was not the leader of Germany? What if he was assassinated at some point early in the war?
This set of alternative histories fails as well. Only Hitler had the charisma and the force of will to unite the German people to execute the war. The German people loved this man, and followed him to the very gates of hell.
By the end of the war, Hitler had made a series of catastrophic decisions, both major and minor. All of the 'Hitler is taken out' alternatives take advantage of the fact that these disasters would be prevented without Hitler in charge. But these scenarios ignore the fact that Hitler also made some very good decisions early in the war. It was Hitler, for example, that over ruled the General Staff in 1940 and selected the Manstein plan to invade through the Ardennes. Absent that decision, it is likely that the war would have played out exactly like WWI, devolving into static trench warfare.
It is extremely unlikely that another, less capable and charismatic politician could have united the people in the same manner. Without this unifying force, the Germans would have fallen back into the pattern of petty internal bickering and infighting that marked the post-WWI era under the Weimar Republic.
The Germans could never have fought the way they did for a lesser leader. They would not have prevailed under lesser Nazi's.
In summary, Germany would never had the success it enjoyed during the Second World War without the charismatic and unifying leadership of Adolf Hitler. But the inept military leadership of Hitler and the evil influence of Nazi ideology doomed the Germans to lose from the very outset of the war.