The Good War (....or was it?)

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The Great Dictators

Even if one manages to convince another that Hitler's ambitions were limited or would never have completely succeeded, problems arise. For example, when one suggests that the United States' participation in World War II might have had little to do with preserving the safety of the nation, a curt rejoinder is consistently trotted out to admonish the individual making such a foolish, perhaps even racist, statement. The point? Hitler's regime brutally murdered approximately 11 million individuals, thus requiring US intervention into the conflict. However, if one judges US participation in the war by this criteria exclusively, then one must be prepared to condemn the US government for not invading Stalinist Russia, Communist China, Saloth Sar's (Pol Pot) regime, and so forth. These three tyrannical regimes alone account for the systematic liquidation of approximately 84 million human beings, far exceeding even the extreme brutality of Nazi Germany.

Joseph Stalin, arguably an even more demonic tyrant than Hitler, managed to commit murderous acts even before his ascension to political power. As professor Yuri Maltsev explains:

"Stalin was a fundraiser for the Communist Party in Georgia…he was their chief fundraiser in Georgia. This fundraising was done through the bank and highway robberies. He killed forty-seven people himself, just robbing banks to get money for the Bolshevik cause…. He killed almost everyone he worked with all his life, the worst thing was to be his relative, they went first…"

So this raises a question: Can it be legitimately argued that the United States should have invaded the nations ruled by the above regimes because of their genocidal acts? Ironically, it would likely require the very thing that many Americans feared as they watched Germany rapidly carve up substantial amounts of territory in Europe during the early stages of the Second World War: global conquest. Even if this impossible dream were somehow achieved, the casualties to American liberty would be catastrophic. The American government would certainly become as tyrannical as other regimes in an effort to save the world from itself.

The Economic Reasons for Conquest

Many Americans observe Hitler's imperial ambitions without understanding the reasons of why (beyond the notion that he desired complete world domination and the deportation or extermination of ethnic undesirables). For many, he appears as simply a madman with an unfocused rage expressed in his maniacal desires for becoming a world dictator. The reality, however, appears significantly more modest, though certainly extremely ambitious and certainly evil. Hitler's reasons for starting the war, with vital help from Stalin embodied in the Molotov-Rippentrop Pact, were largely economic. The following presents the Nazi economic system (a.k.a., corporatism):

  • National Self-Sufficiency
  • Planned Economy
  • Manipulation of Money & Credit
  • Nationalization of Investment

National self-sufficiency (i.e., the attempt to achieve economic autarky) could not be achieved, in Hitler's view, without the acquisition of a rich variety of natural resources. Germany produced very little oil, and was deficient in steel and other metals (such as chromium and nickel) that were perceived as necessary for the autarkic economy Hitler wished to achieve. Individuals rarely ask themselves the following question: Why, after the conquest of most of Western Europe and the Balkans thus making Hitler the existential master of Europe, did he then move 65–75% of the German armed forces to the east for yet another military campaign? The answer to this question may be broken down into three very essential points:

  • Acquisition of Natural Resources

This step would provide Hitler with the natural resources required to sustain his thousand year Reich. The wealth of steel (and other metals), oil, farmland, etc., available in Europe was located in Soviet territory. That fact leaves little in the way of economic reasons for the conquest of nations to the west and south of Germany.

  • Hitler's Desire for Lebensraum

Victory on the Eastern Front would provide the "living space" Hitler desired for the regime. Under this goal, the conquest of Western Europe and the Balkans would seem superfluous even from Hitler's perspective.

  • Destruction of Communism

Hitler officially denounced the ideology of communism in a speech in 1938, calling for its eventual destruction. The "hub" of communism was of course the Soviet Union.

It isn't unreasonable to surmise that if Britain and France had remained neutral, at least initially, the conflict wouldn't have escalated into a world war, but would have largely been limited to a titanic struggle between two extremely brutal dictators and their respective ideologies: the fascist versus the communist.

Reasons for the Acquisition of Certain Nations

Yugoslavia and Greece were invaded largely in response to British political and military intervention in the region. In relation to the former, a coup d’état was staged in order to overthrow the pro-German government in Yugoslavia, thus forcing Hitler's hand in order to protect his southern flank in preparation for Operation Barbarossa. Greece was seen as a potential threat as a British invasion would be a likely threat to their southern flank (coupled with the failed invasion by Italy the previous year). This eventually became a reality, again forcing the Germans to intervene.

The invasion of Norway and Denmark was largely due to the potential threat of a repeat of the British blockade (resulting in hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths in Germany) that was conducted in the North Sea during World War I. Thus, each new intervention by the Allied Powers led to an expansion in the scope of the war.

Operation Barbarossa

The plan was to culminate in the complete destruction of the Soviet military and establish a defensive position along the Volga River, stretching from the Caspian Sea to Archangel. The industrial centers near the Ural Mountains would then be in easy reach of the German Luftwaffe and would be bombed into the ground.

Before the invasion of the Soviet Union, the German High Command drew up a plan called Operation Otto. The idea differed from the final plan (Operation Barbarossa) that was eventually decided upon by Hitler. Three army groups would launch Operation Otto:

  • Army Group North was to complete a straight drive toward Leningrad, thus securing a vital industrial center and port. This operation would have reduced the supply problems experienced by the German military in this sector.
  • Army Group Center would own the most important task: a drive straight toward Moscow, the hub of the Soviet system.
  • Army Group South would attack Kiev and Rumania. After reaching Kiev, the panzers would join Army Group Center on the drive toward Moscow.

Four panzer armies were available for the invasion. General Heinz Guderian's 2nd Panzer Army would be supplied by parachute drop to support a very deep penetration into the Russian rear flank, effectively cutting all lines of supply and communication, along with the possible acquisition or destruction of key supply dumps. This maneuver would effectively paralyze the Soviet troops, forcing a potentially quick capitulation.

Hitler, far from satisfied, switched the entire emphasis of the campaign. Rather than utilizing the reliable tactical methodology of Blitzkrieg that Guderian had adopted for the German Army, Hitler instead insisted upon fighting classic battles of encirclement. In an act of masterfully underestimating the enemy, he incorrectly believed the Russians could field a maximum of 3.5 million men. While this figure did constitute the bulk of Soviet Forces that lay west of the Stalin line (linking the rivers Dnieper and Dvina), the Russians were eventually capable of fielding a force significantly larger than originally anticipated by Hitler and the German High Command.

By September of 1941, a good three months after the start of Operation Barbarossa, the German army had captured or killed the bulk of the 3.5 million men. The severe delay the encirclement approach created in relation to the drive toward Moscow however sabotaged any chance the Germans had of successfully winning the war in the East. By October, the autumn rains had arrived, semi-paralyzing the Wehrmacht until the ground hardened with the onset of winter (a season with its own series of problems).

Limitations of the German Military Machine & Initial Successes

In the minds of most individuals, the assumption that the Wehrmacht would have remained an invincible force without US intervention is in, all likelihood, false. In fact, the German military machine was significantly more limited in its ability to wage war than most realize. German armed forces were too reliant on Blitzkrieg tactics. This fatal weakness became obvious during Operation Barbarossa.

An interesting note as to the limitations of German resource capacity can be observed by Hitler's actions after what appeared to be a stunningly successful military campaign in Soviet Russia. Within a few months after the beginning of Operation Barbarossa, Hitler switched the emphasis of German industrial production from the Wehrmacht to the Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine, believing the war in the east already won. Additionally, Germany was not even placed on a wartime economy until 1943, far too late to have any significant impact on the outcome of the war.

The Channel and the Bomb

The inability of the Germans to cross the English Channel exposed not only a fatal weakness in the German military, but also two other factors:

  • Improper Planning: Hitler, in his impatience, had insisted upon beginning the war as soon as possible. This meant, even according to his own economic advisors, that Germany was not economically prepared for war, particularly should it become a war of attrition. His ambitions, though limited, were still beyond the reach of Germany's economy, resources, and manpower.
  • The Kriegsmarine: The surface fleet was numerically inferior to the British Royal Navy and quite obviously never a serious threat. Hitler actually appeared somewhat uninterested in this sector of the German Armed Forces and never considered the positive impact that developing a series of aircraft carriers would provide to vastly increase German naval power. It is possible that he would have preferred a powerful navy but found it impossible to implement given the scarcity of available resources.

Hitler’s ambition for the nuclear bomb would likely have remained an unlikely goal. After the war, it was revealed that German physicists had gained little, if any, ground in their attempt to develop the atomic bomb. The anti-Semitism the Nazis practiced caused the bulk of German nuclear scientists, who were Jewish, to flee Germany during the 1930′s, immigrating as many did to America. It is also interesting to note that Hitler, despite his irrational disposition, actually banned the usage of chemical and biological weapons that were readily available. During World War I, General Ludendorff was willing and did utilize these extraordinary dangerous weapons against his opponents.

Hitler’s apparent wise military decisions appeared to have taken a dramatic reversal after the failure of Operation Sea Lion against England in 1940. As with Napoleon before him, one of Hitler’s primary faults was impatience. His obsession with the acquisition of the Eastern territories in European Russia led him to launch a premature invasion with Britain still defiant. Worse, his decision to insist upon a “stand and fight order” (the absurd proclamation that Germans “do not give up territory") led to extraordinarily high casualties, particularly in Soviet Russia. The sheer waste of manpower by insisting upon a completely inflexible ground strategy was simply staggering. The Eastern Front alone witnessed the deaths of 3.2 million German soldiers. Divisions were routinely being encircled and destroyed from 1942 until the end of the war, Stalingrad being perhaps the most infamous of examples.

The natural outcome of this order was the complete destruction of Army Group Center by 1944. Additionally, Army Group North eventually became trapped in the Baltic States. Hitler’s refusal to remove troops from the area in preparation for the defense of Germany ensured his own downfall and the eventual destruction of the Third Reich.

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Mistakes and Desires

Roosevelt was quite eager to involve the United States in the conflict in Europe as his economic policies had achieved little to nothing to alleviate the ongoing Great Depression. In order to achieve this without raising the suspicions of the heavy antiwar sentiment that permeated American society before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the president would have to ensure that the Japanese would attack first. This was achieved, unsurprisingly, by an economic ploy.

The Japanese Empire, embroiled in a harsh land battle in China, required huge amounts of fuel to sustain its fighting forces. Large imports from the United States and British colonies were originally forthcoming. However, Roosevelt, eagerly seeking an excuse to enter the war, worked with Britain to obtain a fuel embargo on Japan (later expanded to include other materials), the blockade soon forcing the Japanese to launch attacks upon Indonesia (a source of significant oil reserves), the Philippines, and Pearl Harbor. The Japanese mistakenly believed that it would be possible to destroy the American fleet at Pearl Harbor, theoretically destroying any potential naval threat for the foreseeable future.

Neither the Japanese nor German plans ever included the conquest of the United States, a myth that persists to this day. Assuming otherwise, however, the logistics involved in sustaining campaigns of conquest across the massive Pacific and Atlantic Oceans were well beyond the resources of the German and Japanese industries/militaries. Furthermore, neither nation possessed the manpower to occupy their already over-stretched empires, advanced “super-weapons” notwithstanding.

In Europe, the Germans were bogged down in an un-winnable war of attrition with the Soviet Union. The extensive partisan activity the Germans faced in Russia was also a significant contributory factor to their failure in the East.

Japan, with little resources and limited manpower, also found itself bogged down in a massive attrition war with China.

Ironically, America’s entry into World War II ensured the conquest of Eastern Europe by Stalin and Communism, plus the eventual takeover of China by the Communists (resulting in Mao’s political ascension). As many are aware, this outcome resulted in the death of over 40 million Chinese peasants.

Conclusion

The general idea that Germany would have achieved world domination or even permanent European hegemony is absurd and unlikely. Germany's small size and scarce resources prevented not only the achievement of world conquest but even the acquisition of the territory Hitler desired in European Russia. However, if Eastern Europe were to be dominated by the Nazis or Soviets, which one would be preferable? One must either choose between racist murderers or (in the words of the brilliant economist Walter Block) "equal-opportunity killers."

Ryan Bassett [send him mail] resides in Georgia.

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