Today is not only the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, but also the 75th anniversary of the nearly-successful plot to assassinate Hitler and overthrow the Nazis. The plotters deserve our admiration and respect - especially since most of them paid for their efforts with their lives.
The question of what would have happened had the plot succeeded (Hitler avoided death only by very good luck on his part) is an interesting alternate history issue. A few thoughts on it:
- I doubt the long-term history of Europe would be very much different. Germany would still have been occupied by the Allies, and the plotters probably would NOT have been allowed to form a government and rule Germany as they saw fit. However, some of them might have played significant roles in postwar Germany. Not clear if that would have made either West or East Germany much different than they were otherwise.
- In the best-case scenario, the plotters would not only have killed Hitler but also successfully carried out their plan to take over the government. They would then have let in the Western Allies, while keeping out the Soviets (which is in fact what many of them intended to do). This would have saved the hundreds of thousands of lives lost in the last 10 months of WWII in Europe, AND also ensured that very little of Germany would have ended up under communist rule.
- It seems more likely, however, that the Nazis and their supporters in the military would have defeated the coup plotters. They had substantially more support in the military (and probably the general population) than the conspirators did. Someone like Goering or Himmler becomes the new Fuehrer. Even in this scenario, however, we probably end up with an earlier German surrender (the other Nazi leaders were not as enthusiastic as Hitler about fighting to the bitter end). Also, the conspirators were especially well-organised in the West, and their military supporters there would probably have still been able to open the front to the Western Allies. The result here is still an early end to the war, and many lives saved.
- In the unlikely event that the conspirators both defeated the Nazis AND somehow managed to stay in power (e.g. - if the Western Allies decided to back them instead of insisting on unconditional surrender), it is not clear whether the result would have been better than what we actually got. On the positive side, many lives saved because of an early end to the war and none of Germany goes communist (Czechoslovakia likely gets saved from communism as well here). On the other hand, many of the military conspirators, though hostile to Nazism, were still authoritarian nationalists. There were more liberal elements among the conspirators too. But the military officers would have had disproportionate influence. So we probably end up (at least initially) with a fairly illiberal Germany, albeit one with considerable potential for liberalisation. There would be a strong potential for a second "stab in the back" myth to arise, as after WWI, which could help bring more extreme nationalists to power again.
Overall, the narrow failure of the July 20 plot was a terrible tragedy. At the very least, its success would likely have led to an earlier end to the war in Europe, thereby saving many lives.