Treason doth never prosper: what's the reason? Why, if it prosper, none dare call it treason.
~ Sir John Harrington (1561-1612)
War is the health of the State.
~ Randolph Bourne (1886-1918)
Q: Why did the USA intervene in what became World War II?
A.: Because if we didn't, we'd now all speak German or Japanese.
Q. Who benefited the most from the defeat of Germany and Japan in WWII?
A. The USA.
This, with variations, has been the standard Q&A about the history of and the events surrounding our entry into that war and usually ends further discussion. But the standard answers, on closer examination, are just plain wrong.
The first question first, since it takes a bit of detailed explanation.
The German General Staff, which had codenamed contingency invasion/occupation plans for dozens of nations (even one for the never-tried conquest of Switzerland called "Operation Christmas") had none for the USA. Neither did the Japanese High Command. Neither nation's economy was ever fully mobilized for total war to the extent the USA's and Great Britain's had been. An invasion of North America would have required a major and early commitment by Berlin and Tokyo of financial, human and material resources to two forms of warfare, the first being large, long-range strategic bomber, transport and fighter escort aircraft, something neither Germany nor Japan had done. Both nations had superb short and medium range fighter/interceptors and medium bombers, but no bombers like the four-engine US B-17 or, later, the British Lancaster.
The second major and early commitment would have to have been to a sizable "blue water" naval "long-range power projection" force. Germany (unlike Japan) didn't have this and did not seriously plan on acquiring it—something requiring numerous aircraft carriers, auxiliary and amphibious ships, carrier-based combat and reconnaissance aircraft, plus a sizable force of marines. There were minor proposals made early in the war to build an aircraft carrier to be christened "Frederick the Great" along with two large cruisers, all of which "land animal" Hitler soon nixed.
The German submarine threat, although still quite dire in W.W. II (thanks in great part to FDR's long and controversial delay in ordering the Navy to conduct aggressive antisubmarine warfare operations off the U.S. East Coast), was not nearly as potent as it was in W.W. I. This was in large part due to defensive seagoing escort and convoy tactics developed in 1917-18 and improved submarine detection techniques, like active sonar, created in the interwar years. Submarines alone could not effectively project broad-based, large-scale offensive naval power great distances (something demonstrated brilliantly by Admirals Nimitz, Mitscher and Halsey and the aircraft carrier-based "task force" concept in the Pacific war against Japan).
The goal of the German U-boat campaign remained much the same as that in W.W.I, chiefly defensive "commerce raiding;" attempts to cut off the flow of needed supplies to Great Britain and, this time, to the USSR as well. Its surface navy, consisting mainly of smaller sized "pocket" battleships as well as cruisers and some destroyers and patrol boats, operated in much the same commerce raider fashion – voyaging about individually attacking and sinking tankers and freighters in the North and South Atlantic.
Germany's navy had not fought a major set-piece surface battle since Jutland in 1916, in which it was tactically victorious against but strategically defeated by the British. The Royal Navy forced the scuttling of one of the war’s earliest effective German surface commerce raiders, the pocket battleship “Graf Spee,” off the Uruguayan coast at the end of 1939. The German Navy was thrashed by the British in the smaller 1940 naval battle at Narvik, Norway, the former losing several destroyers and patrol craft in that engagement. By the time the battleship “Bismarck” was sent to the bottom by two British warships, the HMS Rodney and King George, in May 1941, the German surface fleet threat was all but eliminated.
This was the illustrious naval record of a nation supposedly planning to and capable of invading and conquering the USA?
Hitler failed to subdue Great Britain in 1940 (in good part due to the moral strength of the Brits, a great deal of US aid, and because conquering Britain was not part of the Fuehrer's eastern living space plan), so he would have had little chance of succeeding against the much more distant, much larger, more populous, and better-armed USA. Even Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto (the chief planner of the Pearl Harbor attack) spoke warningly of "a rifle behind every blade of grass" when discussions of invading the USA came up.
A successful invasion of North America by both Nazi Germany and Japan would have also required a high degree of interservice and binational coordination and cooperation, something that even in the best of forces and times is difficult to achieve and maintain. The Germans and Japanese, despite appearances, were notorious for the utter lack of that, and given their respective highly xenophobic beliefs in their own complete racial superiority to any other group, there would have been little basis for any significant long-term cooperation between them. Both Hitler and Tojo would have also needed reliable and broad-based intelligence gathering and interpretation assets, and a sizable "fifth-column" of active native sympathizers here, something neither had in sufficient quality or quantity. German military intelligence, the Abwehr, was already long compromised by British spies – its longtime director, Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, was an active British sympathizer since the 1930s, while Japan's military and diplomatic ciphers were quickly and easily broken.
Both nations' forces featured the glaring absence of sophisticated and secure large-scale supply support and sizable long-range air, sea, and ground transport capable of logistically sustaining a long offensive war which was vital to any attacking force operating over long distances in hostile territory. This major weakness of the Wehrmacht was first confirmed on the Eastern Front in the fall of 1941 and by Japan early on in its war of attrition in China and later in the Pacific campaigns against the Americans. Authors Meirion and Sue Harries disclosed in their 1992 book "Soldiers of The Sun: The Rise and Fall of the Imperial Japanese Army" that for each US GI there was an average of four tons of material produced, for the Japanese counterpart, an average of two pounds.
Furthermore, Germany (given the Fuehrer's erratic nature, disdain for the daily tasks of governing and administration, and fixation on short-term solutions for every problem) never pursued an advanced weapons project (assault rifles, cruise and ballistic missiles, jet warplanes, atomic bombs) for any sufficient length of time to make a real difference in combat. The German "Atomic Association" was a quite pale and poorly funded and staffed version of our Manhattan Project (due in large part to the previous "brain drain" of numerous talented physicists out of Germany and into the USA and Great Britain throughout the 1930s), and even that was directed more toward development of a workable nuclear reactor for submarine propulsion, not an atomic bomb. Japanese advanced weapons research was practically nonexistent. Japan, whose government and military was long riddled with fierce, often-bloody factional political intrigue, was at first glance better prepared to mount an invasion of the USA given its large long-range carrier-based navy. However, Tokyo would have been badly hampered in such an attempt by its key strategic focus on a quickly completed regional land/island war and its unwillingness or inability to exploit large-scale submarine warfare.
Like Germany in the East, resource-poor Japan, via its "Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere," was only interested in securing and consolidating economic and territorial gains in a certain area of its own region (the Asian mainland and the far Western Pacific islands), a politico-economic relationship that Premier Tojo Hideki pointedly referred to as similar to that of the USA's in regard to Latin America. There was the lack of sufficient training, resources, and tactics to wage a long, decisive, large-scale continental ground war that an invasion of North America would have required—a lack reflected in Japan's costly and ultimately fatal 1937-45 stalemate in China. There was also Japan's stunning and bloody defeat by the Red Army's large combined force of tanks, motorized infantry, and long-range artillery at the pivotal but little-known Battle of Nomonhan (on the Soviet-Manchurian border) in the summer of 1939. This battle exposed several glaring, never-to-be-resolved weaknesses in the quality of Japanese artillery, ground transport, tactics, and logistics and eventually led to a Soviet-Japanese nonaggression pact that lasted until the final days of the war.
Even Japan's raid on Pearl Harbor ended up more a fatally botched propaganda stunt than a decisive strategic blow to mortally wound the US Pacific Fleet and keep the USA from presumably getting in the way of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. It just got Japan in a war with an angry United States that many in Tokyo knew couldn't be won; Admiral Yamamoto predicting at the time Japan would exhaust its existing petroleum and fuel reserves by 1944. For instance, despite the terrible images of death and destruction, many of the ships sunk at their piers in the attack on Oahu were raised and refitted. Most piers, drydocks, repair facilities, fuel bunkers and supply depots were untouched or only slightly damaged by Japanese bombs.
And lastly, both Germany and Japan were notorious for consistently and severely underestimating their adversaries and for quickly alienating and then oppressing the vast majorities of the native populations of any country they invaded, even ones that may have been initially sympathetic to the invaders.
Worst of all, much of the above was already well known by the Roosevelt administration before Pearl Harbor.
Neither Germany nor Japan planned for or could have launched a successful invasion and occupation of the USA. It’s that simple. Even the legions of King George III nearly 200 years before, quite benign in contrast to those of Berlin and Tokyo, were eventually worn down and booted out of what soon became the USA.
But, again, why did we really intervene in what became World War II and who benefited the most from the defeat of Germany and Japan?
By 1937-38, FDR’s New Deal welfare state was an expensive, widely unpopular and abject failure and was in serious danger of being all but thoroughly dismantled by a hostile public and Supreme Court (which FDR openly and foolishly tried to “pack” at the time, alienating many of his staunchest supporters) and an increasingly combative Congress, many of its bitterest critics being among Roosevelt’s own ruling Democrats. So Franklin tried another form of domestic socialism, a “warfare state” inaugurated under the auspices of a pricey pork-barrel caper called “Lend-Lease,” and he and his successors had hit the jackpot for decades to come. Germany and Japan were the perfect and convenient excuses for both FDR and Stalin to flex their muscles on a global scale in a way that Marx and Lenin would have envied (and, as Winston Churchill desired, to keep both of those nations from emerging as major world players in their own right).
The conduct of the war all but guaranteed that. The Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, as expected, quickly flattened a strong and influential US noninterventionist movement that the Roosevelt administration (which probably knew of Tokyo’s plans well in advance and did everything it could, legally and illegally, to provoke Tokyo into that “sneak attack”) was already viciously and unfairly trying to destroy, smear and discredit. Our enemy was then presumably Japan, a nation to whom we had long sold large subsidized amounts of our iron ore, scrap metal, and petroleum, all under the provisions of a 1911 trade treaty that FDR had personally and suddenly abrogated two years before.
While our GIs fought fiercely and died en masse in the Philippines and on Guam and Wake Island in the face of the invading Japanese, FDR blatantly wrote them off and pursued a "Europe First" policy. A key feature of this policy included the immediate transfer of huge amounts of financial and material aid to the recently-former German ally, Stalin's USSR, a nation whose leaders, like those of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, openly cared little for the supposed "democratic spirit" of the Atlantic Charter, and to which FDR (with the traitorous Alger Hiss in tow) made an all but open invitation at Yalta in February 1945 for it to occupy Eastern Europe.
Despite FDR's "Europe First," no US troops set foot in the subjugated portions of the continent in any strategically significant numbers until Operation Overlord in June 1944, by which time the Soviets were midway through their massive broad-front push westward toward conquest of most of Eastern Europe and a sizable portion of eastern Germany. The latter was literally handed to the Soviets while our GIs were ordered to pull back and let the Red Army grab Berlin and the surrounding areas, actions which publicly infuriated Gen. George S. Patton and others. The notorious "Operation Keelhaul," which forcibly sent millions of by then fiercely anti-Communist Soviet POWs back to certain death in the USSR, was next put into play.
In July 1945, at Potsdam, FDR/Churchill successors Harry Truman and Clement Attlee respectively certified Stalin's hold on Eastern Europe as originally proposed at Yalta. They also permitted him to break his 1941 nonaggression pact with Tokyo and sweep into Manchuria, northern Korea, and Sakhalin Island in the final days of the war against an all-but-beaten Japan. This final act ensured Moscow an easily obtained, major role in the carving up of the Far East into various spheres of influence. Japan's eventual self-defeat in China (predicted by then-President Herbert Hoover in 1931 as part of his refusal to ask Congress for US troops to aid the Chinese against Japanese encroachment) and its collapse in the western Pacific opened up a large power vacuum in Asia. In less than five years, this vacuum was quickly filled in large part by Stalin's brutal trio of Asian Communist proteges – Mao Tse-tung, Kim Il-Sung, and Ho Chi Minh – all with the prior blessings of FDR and his Red-riddled "brain trust."
The winner of W.W. II, tragically, was in reality not the Allies but instead the theory and practice of the large-scale coercive collectivist state, be it in the form of Communism or the large-scale welfare/warfare states of various types and the consequent rise of a violent, unstable, impoverished Third World addicted to the benefits of the same as cavalierly dispensed by the meddlesome mandarins of the First World. True, since 1945 we've been speaking a different language, and it's not German, Japanese, or even Russian or Chinese. Rather, it's the language of socialism couched in perpetual, petulant demands for ever-more forced, taxpayer-supported "fairness and social justice" on a global scale (commonly called "humanitarian intervention") at the heavy expense of true peace, prosperity, and individual liberty. And the price, as usual in the imposition and maintenance of socialism, was and still is the untold millions of dead, impoverished, miserable, and imprisoned.
Michael E. Kreca [send him mail] lives in San Diego and has been a financial reporter for Knight-Ridder, Business Week and the Financial Times of London.