Should the Allies have fought World War II? It is probably a question that has not occurred to you before; this is certainly forgivable considering for generations the Second World War has been immortalized as “The Good War” and is considered by some to be the last moral war. Too bad the truth of that terrifying conflict is very different then the often repeated myth.
One of the darker parts of World War 2 that it seems people are becoming more open to discussing is the conduct by the allies at varies times of the war known simply as Allied War Crimes.
You might have heard about some of these ignored events of Second World War during your history class, but it is unlikely that any of them took the next step and called the entire morality of the war into question. Now, this is perfectly logical, just because something immoral occurs during a war does not change whether it was a just war to begin with. Of course, the list of atrocities committed by the Americans, French, British, and other Allied Powers in World War 2 is actually quite lengthy and ugly. For instance, when the Dachau concentration camp was liberated several American soldiers simply lined up and executed several nearby S.S. troops without anything resembling a fair trial. Operation Keelhaul saw Allied soldiers force Russian refugees and prisoners on to vehicles at gun point back to the oppressive Soviet Union they had tried to escape and some had taken up arms with the Nazis to fight against. Several times during the war (at Normandy for example) no quarter was offered by Allied soldiers to surrendering Nazis. No quarter was particularly brutal in the Pacific where, according to historian Neil Ferguson, the Americans saw the Japanese soldiers the same way the Nazis saw the Jews and Communists, as “untermensch,” life unworthy of life. The firebombing of Tokyo was another fine example of Allied terror bombing and took more lives than either of the atomic bombings, which themselves were highly immoral.
As I’ve said, war crimes committed during a war do not invalidate a war’s just cause, although they should, of course, be discouraged and punished, but they do not suddenly turn a just war into an unjust one.
Many students of World War 2 history know that the two situations in Europe and the Pacific were separate and unrelated situations (aside from the defensive pact between Germany and Japan) and I will thus deal with them individually.
The main basis for the morality of the war in Europe is basically this: the evil Adolf Hitler and his Nazis wanted to take over the world and commit mass genocide against the inferior races. If it weren’t for “the greatest generation” we would all be speaking German.
I won’t try in any way to say Hitler and his cohorts were not incredibly evil and morally depraved, (because they were) but I will disagree strongly with the common justification for the war; no I don’t believe world domination was on Hitler’s agenda, nor do I believe that the Holocaust was anything other than a war crime—but what if there had been no war?
Patrick Buchanan author of the landmark work on the causes of the World Wars, “Churchill, Hitler, and The Unnecessary War: How Britain Lost its Empire and How the West Lost the World” has argued that if there had been no world war there would have been no Holocaust. After all, when the war started Hitler had reduced Germany’s Jewish population by 50% and killed “only” hundreds in the process (and many of those killed were not Jews). Most of those Jews either fled Germany (mainly due to the oppressive Nuremberg Laws) by their own will or were deported by the Reich. However, it was not until the war was halfway through that alternative solutions to “the Jewish question” were brought forward. To quote Hitler’s propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, in 1942, “Fortunately, a whole series of possibilities presents itself for us in wartime that would be denied us in peacetime. We shall have to profit by this.” Essentially, it was the Second World War that put most of Europe’s Jewish population in the clutches of the Nazis and it was the war that moved the Nazis to begin the extermination of Jews, whereas before they had been content to force Jews out of Germany through less violent means.
When addressing Hitler’s war aims I think it really comes down to accepting one of two Hitlers—Hitler the idiot and a Hitler who was expansion minded, just not in the direction everyone thinks he was.
Historians point to numerous points in WW2 where it seems that Hitler was utterly incapable of conquering the world; most accept this as evidence that Hitler just wasn’t a mad genius, but I say that it is because Hitler simply did not want to take over the world. Why let the British expedition force escape at Dunkirk? Because Hitler was hoping that he could still make peace with the British who had declared war on him. He let the French keep their fleet after they surrendered in 1940 because he knew his plans needed no naval force. He built a Luftwaffe based on a short-ranged bomber that couldn’t reach Britain from Germany and built a Kriegesmarine not even half the size of his World War One predecessor the Kaiser. Is it possible that Hitler’s goal was not to take over the world, but instead the much less objectionable goal of destroying the Soviet Union and by extension global Communism? If you look at Hitler’s writings he states that the Germanic people needed to continue their halted migration eastward, which would set Germany on a collision course with Russia. Certainly, Hitler also wanted to rebuild the Germany destroyed at Versailles, which is why he seized Austria and Czechoslovakia, but he made no claims for lost German territories in the west, another sign of which direction Hitler had his sights on.
And what of the event that started the war in Europe, the Nazi invasion of Poland. As writers on this subject like Buchanan and Thomas Woods Jr. pointed out, the British actually thought that the German desire to return the Polish City of Danzig to Germany was a reasonable grievance to be rectified. It is well noted by historians that German resentment against the Versailles Treaty that ended World War One was one of the main causes of World War 2 (after all Hitler gave a speech titled, “The Treaty of Versailles” almost a hundred times). The treaty stated that Germany must surrender a tenth of its land and a tenth of its population to other countries, hand over its navy, and pay the equivalent of one billion dollars in reparations to the Allies (a debt not paid off until 2010). Worst of all, for many Germans, was that the Treaty said that the blame of the war was strictly on Germany, as if the Allies were completely innocent in the affair. Eventually many of the Allied leaders wanted to reverse some of the treaties’ harsher measures, unfortunately, this come too late for the weak Weimar Republic who was replaced in the early thirties by the Third Reich. Danzig was made up of about 95% ethnic Germans, many of whom wanted to rejoin the Reich. Despite this, the ability to start a massive world war was put in the hands of the Poles via the Polish War Guarantee.
Let’s now look at the Allies stated war aims, which I think many, would agree were left unfulfilled by war’s end. It was certainly a noble aim to stop the Holocaust, but nearly two-thirds of Europe’s Jews had been killed by war’s end; if the goal was to save Poland from an evil dictator then why was it basically handed over to evil Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin after the war ended along with almost half of Europe who would live under Soviet oppression for decades to come.
The blunders of the Allies are not confined to deals with the Germans alone, in the early 30’s Italian dictator Benito Mussolini wanted to make an alliance with Britain and France in order to draw a line in Western Europe Hitler could not cross, which presumably would drive Hitler against the empire of evil that was the Soviet Union. Instead, the Allies sanctioned and isolated Mussolini, following his invasion of Ethiopia and as Patrick Buchanan put it, this ended up, “…driving him straight into the arms of Hitler.” The end of the Anglo-Japanese alliance has a similar effect on the Japan who restrained their brutality and imperialism for the sake of a prosperous treaty with the respectable British. Once the alliance was over (mostly on the urgings of the Americans) Japan was alone and resorted to imperial ambitions to protect itself from a vicious Soviet Union to the north. Indeed, President Herbert Hoover did not involve American in the Second Sino-Japanese War both because he saw no reason for America to take part in that war and because he thought the Japanese need for a buffer zone between the home islands and the Soviets was a legitimate one.
If Hitler had not been dragged into war by the Allies he might have stormed into Soviet Union and begun the Great Nazi-Soviet War, in which two of the worst empires in history would have torn each other to shreds leaving the West unscathed and ready to deal with the winner. Yes, Hitler might have won since he was able to hurl all his strength against one front instead of two, but it is just as likely that history would have repeated itself with the Russian winter defeating the invading Nazis. Either way, the West would not have gotten involved in a war that was none of its business, nor compromised its morality by allying with Stalin to defeat the alleged greater of two evils (despite the fact that Stalin’s total murders was about five million more than Hitler’s). I say alleged because Nazism was built on a race, if not a man, and therefore had little appeal in the greater world. The American Nazi Party of the 1930’s did not get off the ground until they extended membership to non-German Europeans. Contrast this to the huge appeal Communism had to all peoples of all nations; following the war several nations fell to Communism sometimes with the direct aid of the Soviet Union. If Hitler had crushed the U.S.S.R. in the 1940’s would Communism had been able to spread so far?
To end things where we started, the moral justification at the time, and indeed today, for outrageous war crimes was that Hitler and his Nazis needed to be stopped at whatever costs—the best “the end justifies the means” argument I’ve ever heard. This rationale also applies to the admittedly sketchy activities of F.D.R. leading up to American entry into the war. Such activities including the forging of a map “revealing” a Nazi plan for an invasion of South America (not that anyone believed the Nazis could cross the Atlantic Ocean at a time when they proved they couldn’t cross the English Channel) and his ignoring of Congress’ neutrality legislation. In the Pacific, when the American minister to Japan begged F.D.R. to enter negotiations initiated by the Japanese who even offered to withdraw their troops from certain areas of conflict the president snubbed them, cut off Japan’s American assets and waited for the attack he knew would “Awaken the sleeping giant,” and galvanize an America unwilling to send it’s men to die in foreign wars that did not concern it. Pearl Harbor, of course, was that attack.
Many questions are frequently repeated to crush such unwanted deviation from popular opinion that I have written here; is not all this talk against World War 2 unpatriotic? Doesn’t this dishonor the memory of the greatest generation?
I say, that we Americans cannot sweep such important moral questions under the carpet because we must face up to the evils of the past so we can build toward a better future. Not to mention, it is very hypocritical to endlessly remind the Germans and Japanese to never forget their war crimes when we have done the exact same thing when it comes to our crimes committed in that very war. On the unquestionable valor of the Allies in the war, I’ll echo the sentiments of Buchanan, “The Americans and British fought nobly, but only after they got themselves into their predicament.”
One last thing, the things I have written are less unique than you would think; Buchanan and Tom Woods I’ve already mentioned have both written at length on this subject. Contemporary British historian Neil Ferguson, who wrote the massive one-volume history, “The War of the World”, had this to say about the Second World War:
“It’s hard to see this as a good war in any real meaningful sense except that it had a good outcome compared with the old available alternative outcome of an Axis victory. I’m certain that that would have produced a worst world than the world that we inherited in 1945. That is as much as I think one can say about World War II.”
I, for one, highly doubt that and maybe someday most Americans will think the same.
Selected Bibliography/Further Learning:
“The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History” – Thomas Woods Jr.
“Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War” – Patrick Buchanan
“The Tom Woods Show: Pat Buchanan on Churchill”
“Harry Truman and the Atomic Bomb” – Ralph Raico
“Did Hitler Want War” – Patrick Buchanan