The international complexities before World War II are easily misunderstood and I may get a library card and find and read the revisionist tome of Pat Buchanan. I have a profound distaste for a man who smells of a subtle racism that is not a rational disdain for the fraud of Affirmative Action and illegal immigration but a deep-seated sickness. He is a hustler who exploits popular ignorance. He has made a fortune from politics without ever being a real player other than in his sham presidential farce.
Hitler took full advantage of the vindictiveness of the victors at Versailles and many on the other side saw the wrongs that had been done to Germany. They would pay the price. The ‘Bad Peace’ had provided some boon to a Japan eager to expand. Tiny islands that once flew the flag of the Kaiser were now ‘mandates’. Japan was to administer the island but not fortify them. How many tank car loads of American blood were spilled to expel the benevolent Japanese during the ‘Island Hopping’ campaign?
Our participation in World War I had tipped the scales for the allies. Wilson dreamed that world opinion and not the credible threat of force of arms would deter future aggression. Postwar America rejected internationalism in all of its form. There was no thought of true collective security. A paper peace would be maintained and the United States embarked on an orgy of disarmament. A Naval Treaty was signed in Washington and most of out battleships went to the scrapyard. There was no loss with the pre-Dreadnought designs but some survivors of the World War I fleet would serve in the next war. Our Army was reduced to an insignificant force.
Japanese militarists saw continued economic growth sustainable only through conquest. China, with its internal conflicts, seemed an attractive and soft target.
Italy under a man who had suffered childhood emotional trauma over a defeat in Ethiopia sought imperial status. North Africa seemed to be a place for expansion and bloody vengeance was wreaked on Ethiopia. An appeal to the League of Nations brought little more than sanctions against the aggressors. Italy was not to import horses nor aluminum. It was a major exporter of the latter, so the penalties were meaningless.
Hitler, Tojo, and Mussolini had a superficial knowledge of the United States. We were seen as a pleasure loving country with little concern for anything beyond our borders. There was a certain accuracy in this assessment then and even now. The National attention is often concentrated on some sporting event that really has no impact on anyone but bookmakers and their clients. Political campaigns interfere with television schedules and favorite shows where the dullard audience often needs canned laughter to appreciate the funny parts. Yet there is a backbone of spirit that seems invisible but comes to life in a time of real crisis and emboldens the multitude to make what sacrifice is necessary to meet the latest challenge of evil.
One aspect of evil on a grand scale was displayed in the USSR. There were the Purge Trials that sent untold Old Bolsheviks to either a rapid or slow death. The lucky ones got a bullet in the back of the head in a Lubyanka cellar. There was death on a megascale in Ukraine to satisfy Stalin’s demand for agricultural collectivism. The death toll was greater than that of Hitler’s final solution but who remembers?
Spain provided a set of horror tales in a conflict between two evils. Franco fought against the ‘legitimate’ government and got assistance from Germany and Italy. It provided a good training ground for the Axis powers. The effectiveness of bombing and the 88 mm gun were proven. Guernica assumed a meaning that was much more than a point on a map but who remembers?
Japan’s excesses in China were appalling. News photographers captured a hint of the enormity of in the Rape of Nanking. The American river gunboat Panay was attacked by the Japanese and photographers on board provided evidence. The incident was blamed on bandits. Who remembers?
Hitler’s intentions were telegraphed in Mein Kampf but few took those words seriously. Those who failed to perceive the threat did so at their own peril. Hitler saw history and geopolitics from a racial point of view. Scandinavians and Englishmen and other Northern Europeans were seen as equals and potential allies. Slavs had potential as slaves, Indians were prayer-wheel spinners, and Africans were ‘lacquered semi-apes’. Japanese could be deemed ‘honorary Aryans’ as long as they suited his geopolitical schemes. The United States counted for little but the racial majority would likely find cooperation with the Thousand Year Reich comfortable and profitable. Ford and General Motors did have holdings in Germany.
Pacifism and isolationism were powerful forces in the United States and any whiff of Internationalism could be politically toxic. The Hoover era saw the Black Chamber in the Department of State abolished. In the highly moral climate of the times ‘Gentlemen did not read other gentlemen’s mail’. This put one Herbert Yardley out of a job and he wrote an expose that may have exalted his role in the breaking of the Japanese diplomatic code during the Naval Conferences. The information obtained gave the US delegates an insight as to the Japanese negotiation limits and provided a certain paper advantage. Publication of the Yardley book caused some anti-Americanism in Japan and remedial legislation was passed by Congress.
Anti-militarism was also a popular sentiment and a duo of Republican Midwestern Senators named Nye and Borah made a media splash with the so-called ‘Merchants of Death’. They were able to use their subpoena powers to look into the corporate files of firms such as DuPont. Committee staffer Alger Hiss might have found some files particularly interesting to his friends at the GRU. Conspiracy theories of the day often blamed international bankers as the culprits. Such accusations may have been echoed (by or from) articles in Die Sturmer, one of the most vile propaganda sheets of the Third Reich.
Many a patriotic citizen was part of the isolationist movement, from the always entertaining and sharp-tongued Alice Roosevelt to Charles Lindbergh. The ‘Peace Movement’ seemed to take a lot of direction from Moscow Central.
In the eyes of many, there seemed to be no credible external threat to the United States of America.
The spirit of the Land of Hope and glory seems to have been spilled on many a battlefield in France. Often senseless frontal infantry assaults had traded thousands of lives for a few yards of gain that would be lost the next day.
Neville Chamberlain sought peace through appeasement and acquiesced in Hitler’s demand for what became the incremental dismemberment and destruction of Czechoslovakia. Hitler had relied on bluff and a superiority of will over two of his likely opponents, England and France. Stalin was another matter but his turn would come. Hitler’s plans were at odds with the rational thinking of the German General Staff. Even before World War I they had known that geography meant that Germany could not prevail in a two-front war. Geopolitics dictated that any war Germany started would become a two-front war. The exception of the Seven Years War might be explained by the shifting position of Russia towards an alliance with Prussia. Germany could be on the winning side as part of a Grand Coalition. The coalition that linked Blucher’s forces with those of Wellington may have presaged NATO.
Hitler’s first gamble in the Rhineland was a risky bluff and France could have intervened and crushed the German forces, This would have reflected German logic but Hitler was more of a Romantic (in the dark, Germanic sense of the word) than a logic-based realist. Hitler had a demonstration of his superiority in will.
Anschluss went off without a hitch and Austria was part of the Reich. There was no great loss of life other than the suicide of prescient Austrian Jews who decided to avoid a more painful fate.
Selling out of Czechoslovakia was the last act before the real conflict half began. From an economic standpoint, the nation-building that created this state was a success. The nation had a living standard on the par with Switzerland. There was heavy industry and the Skodawerk was on a par with Krupp. Geographically, the Sudeten Mountains provided the nation with a natural fortress stronger than the vaunted Maginot Line. The boundaries of the new nation encompassed many ethnic Germans. During the Holy Roman Empire era, the King of Bohemia (now part of the new nation) was one of the Imperial Electors even though he was not considered a German. The propaganda campaign orchestrated from Berlin portrayed the Sudetendeutsch as an oppressed minority on the order of the ethnic Arabs allegedly under the Zionist yoke. Riots and demonstrations were staged. “Peace in our time” could come only through the alteration of the borders of Czechoslovakia. Chamberlain returned to England and his popularity was high.
Stalin was still the wild card on the Continent. He and Hitler were ideological enemies and Hitler saw Slavic territory as future farmland for Teutonic masters. Yet the fear of a two-front war was real. The smaller countries of Europe saw a military logic in alliance with the USSR but knew that it would be national suicide.
Poland had treaties with England and France that seemed to provide a measure of protection. The Poles were a proud and courageous people who would resist aggression. German demands on Poland were not meant to be met and were simply a part of a fabric of deception. With an enhanced industrial base, Germany attacked Poland after a contrived ‘border incident’. German prisoners in Polish uniforms ‘attacked’ a German facility and none survived. The attackers (given the code-name of Konserven -the German word for canned goods) were killed at the start of the incident.
Hitler had assured his success by a treaty with Stalin that divided up the Baltic States and Poland with the USSR.
The treaty between Germany and the USSR was paralleled by more pacifist activism in the United States. France and England declared war on Germany soon after the invasion of Poland but gave no meaningful military support. An English expeditionary force was sent to France.
Hitler seemed to think that racial ties with England could be exploited to assure an accommodation if not an alliance. Such thoughts would be echoed by the antics of Rudolf Hess and his flight to England.
Lightning war was unleashed against the smaller nations of Western Europe and proved effective.
French military planners had treated the brilliant Charles deGaulle (a man on a par with Guderian and Patton in the military sense and a student of history) with utter contempt and had assured defeat with the Maginot Mindset.
The English forces were pushed from France at Dunkirk and the German military seemed to allow them to withdraw with minimal casualties. Did this reflect the Hitlerian hope for a ‘Teutonic Alliance’?
WIth Churchill in charge, there was little hope of an alliance or even an accommodation. Chamberlain had already given a boost to the production of the Hurricanes and Spitfires that would drive the Luftwaffe from the skies. The United States was building aircraft for export to the defenders and Americans were going to Canada not to escape military service but to become part of the fight as pilots in the RCAF.
The domestic peace and isolationist movements were still noisy.
Soon after the evacuation of British ground forces from France, the Battle of Britain began. The initial targets were RAF facilities and aircraft factories. Stripping the English Channel of defensive air cover would make an amphibious attack possible. Germany had a numerical advantage but the British had superior aircraft and American Mustangs (upgraded with the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine that would be co-produced by Packard) were added to the mix.
The accidental bombing of London as a result of a navigational error brought about a retaliatory attack on Berlin. This unhinged the Bohemian Corporal and the target became London. The Blitz save the RAF and the Battle of Britain soon ended with a defeat for the Luftwaffe.
The USSR welcomed the ‘restoration’ of Poland to the old boundaries of Holy Russia. The threat from a Polish intelligencia in a postwar era was reduced by the murder of reserve officers in the Katyn Forest and elsewhere. Nearly 30,000 of the brightest and best of a nation were slaughtered? Who remembers them? Certainly not many of the revisionists and outright liars who pose as Professors of History, including the unrepentant Stalinist Howard Zinn.
The United States was crippled by Neutrality Act but the deceptive Franklin D. Roosevelt contrived a loophole called Lend-Lease. It included the ‘trade’ of 100 WW I destroyers for some bases that we did not need.
Bootlegger Joseph Kennedy had sufficient clout to buy his way up from the ranks of shanty Irish to the exalted post of Ambassador to the Court of St. James’s. He saw the latent isolationism of the American electorate and the likely fall of England as a way of winning the Big Prize. There was also a percieved distaste for a third term presidency. He was also strongly anti-Bolshevik and found a mutual death struggle between Hitler and Stalin to be an attractive scenario. FDR smelled his scheme and Joe Senior was pulled from his post and saw his Presidential hopes dashed. There was always the stable of four sons.
After conspiring with Stalin to carve up Poland and taking most of Europe, Hitler showed his true intentions by invading the USSR. The outcast nation suddenly became an ally and the subversion of the COMINTERN and the rather difficult conquest of Finland were forgotten by the West. The domestic ‘peace movement’ suddenly collapsed and the demonstrators now called for ‘A Second Front’ and praised the ‘Arsenal of Democracy’ in lieu of condemning the ‘Merchants of Death’.
The United States was informally in a shooting war in the North Atlantic and blood had been shed in the icy waters. The old destroyer Reuben James had been lost. The sinking would inspire a song. Who would remember their names?
In the Pacific, Japan was considered a threat and certain actions by the United States, while morally justifiable, were militarily irrational. A low-risk incident could have been provided by an ancient sailing vessel armed with a Spanish-American War era cannon and equipped with a ‘fire control station’ in the rigging that was an empty crate for a soda vending machine. This vessel was equipped with a radio and was commanded by an officer who hailed from Baltimore.
The State Department pushed for an embargo on scrap metal to Japan that had long included alloys used to build warships. This was the byproduct of our disarmament spree and would be reshaped in vessels with the names of Mogami and Yamato rather than the more innocuous marus. There was the more serious embargo on petroleum products. The Pacific Fleet was to be moved to Pearl Harbor, where it would be closer to the action when it came. The War Department was more cautious and wanted a six month delay in implementation of acts that could be considered provocative. The State Department obviously was calling the shots.
There was concern that the safety of the Fleet at Pearl Harbor could not be ensured because of the lack of sufficient aircraft and pilots to maintain a 360-degree observation of any threat from carrier aircraft. This was demanded by a report on the state of readiness for Hawaii. There was no way the demand could be satisfied with the available resources so Admiral Kimmel became a scapegoat for the defeat that would occur on 7 December. How many remember that date?
What were the options other than war?
We could have avoided a conflict with Japan by keeping the Pacific Fleet in California and pulled our destroyers and subchasers out of the North Atlantic. England would not have become a vast aircraft carrier for our bombers. Where would Hitler have stopped after Europe was effectively in his hands? Might the ‘honorary Aryans’ in the Axis have been deemed a bit less than human after they were no longer needed?
The victory in war could have been followed by another bad peace, perhaps the worst. The documented postwar plans of FDR would have American forces promptly returned home. This would be good short-term domestic politics. England would both regurgitate its Empire and be the sole guarantor of the liberty and economic recovery of liberated Europe. The timely demise of Roosevelt produced some revision to the plans.
England would lose its empire but the Marshall Plan and NATO would take up the economic and military slack in Europe. Yet there were some who simply forgot the lessons of the past and opposed both concepts. Were they motivated by that ‘old time isolationism’ or a perverse fondness for Stalin and is ever-changing ‘Party Line’?
The Evil Empire was cut down to size by a policy of containment begun by Truman and somewhat fitfully maintained. There are still a few survivors of the Nomenklatura who long for what were their good old days and not nation can harbor a grudge as long as Russia. Russians continue to work the mischief that was a source of concern to the West during the playing of The Great Game.
The new threat includes an amorphous evil that knows no national boundaries, has no command and control centers, no identifiable choke points, and no reluctance to use techniques that would be considered unthinkable by the standards our former Axis foes.
Achille Lauro, USS Cole, WTC 1, 9/11, Munich, Beirut, Entebbe, Madrid, Mumbai. The full list is longer but who remembers?
Perhaps the Era of Change will include provisions for more effective Memory Holes. Big media will gladly provide a politically-correct selectivity in what is and is not news.
More bread and circus may well keep the masses content.