Even in the face of ongoing catastrophes arising out of U.S. interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere in the Middle East, proponents of empire and intervention still trot out America’s entry into World War II to justify their imperialist, militarist, and interventionist philosophy. World War II was the “good” war, they say — a necessary intervention, one that saved the United States and the rest of the world from Nazi Germany.
Let’s examine the consequences of World War II to see how “good” that war really was.
When Germany invaded Poland, Great Britain and France declared war on Germany, with the aim of freeing the Polish people from Nazi tyranny. At the end of the war, it’s true that that goal had been achieved. Nazi Germany had been defeated and the Polish people were no longer under Nazi control. That’s one reason that Great Britain, France, and the United States celebrate World War II as the “good” war.
But the Polish people didn’t feel the same way. That’s because the war left them suffering under the brutal communist tyranny of the Soviet Union, America’s World War II partner and ally.
Moreover, the Soviet communists killed a lot more people than the Nazis. And don’t forget all the critical things that the U.S. national-security establishment said about communists, communism, and the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
But the Soviet Union wasn’t any different before and during World War II from what it was after the war. It was always an evil regime, a point that, ironically, Hitler repeatedly emphasized to the German people.
Thus, since World War II left the Poles and Czechs, as well as Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians, and other Eastern Europeans, under communist rule rather than Nazi rule, they never viewed World War II as the victory U.S. officials did. That’s because the Eastern Europeans didn’t view living under communism any different, in principle, from living under Nazism.
Partnering with the USSR
How did Eastern Europe and East Germany end up under communist rule?
It was President Franklin Roosevelt who delivered those countries into the clutches of the Soviet Union. That’s what the Yalta conference in 1945 was all about. He figured that since the Soviet communists were America’s wartime partner and ally, there would be nothing wrong with giving the Soviet Union, which at that time was headed by communist tyrant Joseph Stalin, control over Eastern Europe.
In fact, one of the horrible legacies of America’s intervention into World War II — one to which few Americans give much thought — is that the United States, in the name of battling evil, partnered with one of the most evil regimes in history — so evil, as a matter of fact, that it later served as a justification for the Cold War, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the CIA, the NSA, a standing army, a military-industrial complex, foreign coups, support of foreign dictatorships, medical experiments on unsuspecting Americans, and the ever-growing U.S. national-security establishment — an establishment that, ironically, secretly hired Nazi officials to participate in America’s Cold War against Hitler’s World War II enemy, the Soviet Union.
When Germany invaded Poland, so did the Soviet Union a few weeks later. The dual invasion of Poland was pursuant to an agreement entered into between Germany and the Soviet Union to divide Poland and give part to Germany and part to the Soviet Union.
Yet, when Great Britain issued its declaration of war, it was only against Germany, not against the Soviet Union too. Why? In a moral sense, shouldn’t the declaration of war have been against both the Nazi regime and the communist regime?
Of course, one might say that a war against both Germany and the Soviet Union wouldn’t have been practical. But since England knew that it lacked the military might to liberate Poland from Nazi Germany, declaring war on Germany wasn’t very practical either.
More important, there was never any reason to partner with evil in the process of battling evil. England and the United States could have fought independently against Germany without partnering with or supporting the Soviet Union.
That raises the concept of “unconditional surrender,” which Roosevelt employed against Nazi Germany. It held that there would be no negotiated surrender by Nazi Germany. The only thing that would be acceptable would be an unconditional surrender to all the Allied powers, including the Soviet Union.
Roosevelt’s unconditional-surrender demand, together with his partnership with the Soviet Union, combined with his actions at Yalta, guaranteed a permanent communist takeover of Eastern Europe, East Germany, and the Baltics, which then brought on the Cold War, Korea, Vietnam, coups, support of foreign dictatorships, the CIA, the NSA, assassination programs, and the transformation of the U.S. government into a national-security state, a type of governmental system that is inherent in totalitarian regimes.
If there had been no partnership with the Soviet Union and if there had been no unconditional-surrender demand, a negotiated surrender with Germany would have been a viable possibility. There came a time on the Eastern front when Adolf Hitler and the Nazis knew they were finished and that it was just a matter of time before Germany would be invaded and conquered from both the east and the west. At that point, it would have been entirely possible to negotiate a surrender that would have sent Hitler and his henchmen to South America and brought independent governments to Germany — all of Germany — as well as to Poland, Czechoslovakia, and the rest of Eastern Europe, and possibly to the Balkans as well.
Yes, that would have meant no punishment for high Nazi officials for their crimes. But it also would have meant that countless lives would have been spared with an early termination of the war. It also would have meant that millions of people would have been liberated from Nazi tyranny without being relegated to communist tyranny. A negotiated settlement could also have entailed a release of those who had not yet died in the concentration camps.
Partnering with evil forever sullied the image of the United States. Indeed, ask yourself this: What if England, France, and the United States had instead partnered with the Nazis to liberate Poland from the communists? What would have been the difference in principle with that partnership compared with partnering with communists to defeat Nazis?
America’s partnership with the communists during the war had other moral ramifications as well. When the Allied powers brought Nazi officials to trial at Nuremberg, they completely ignored the war crimes that had been knowingly and intentionally committed by their partner, the Soviet Union. Those crimes included the mass rapes of German women by Soviet troops as they invaded Germany as well as the murder of 10,000 Polish officers who had been taken prisoner by Soviet troops. Even worse, the United States and England stayed silent and submissive over the Soviet Union’s serving as a judge on the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal.
We also mustn’t forget Operation Keelhaul, by which the U.S. government forcibly repatriated hundreds of thousands of Soviet troops who had been taken captive by the German government, as well as by the Allied powers, into the clutches of Joseph Stalin and the communists, knowing full well that they were going to be tortured and murdered.
Among the most shameful actions of the U.S. government during the war was also the mass round-ups and incarceration in U.S. concentration camps of American citizens of Japanese and German descent as well as Japanese and German immigrants living in the United States. U.S. officials also encouraged the arrest and rendition to the United States of Japanese and German immigrants living in Latin America. Many of those prisoners and their families were later used as trade bait to secure the release of Americans held captive in Nazi Germany. The U.S. prisoners were never accused of any crimes. They were punished because of some personal or ancestral connection to Germany or Japan.
Those weren’t the only examples of how World War II perverted the values and principles of the American people. The war brought targeted bombing of civilians, a grave war crime, but one that wasn’t punished, owing to the fact that those who committed the crimes were the victors. The bombing of Dresden, a defenseless city inhabited mainly by women, children, and seniors, comes to mind. So do the fire bombings of Tokyo and other Japanese cities.
And of course, there were the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which U.S. officials continue to justify on the ground that it spared the lives of U.S. soldiers who would have been killed in an invasion of Japan. Never mind that it’s never considered legal or morally proper under military codes of conduct to kill innocent civilians in order to save the lives of soldiers.
Here again, the notion of “unconditional surrender” raises its ugly head. If the United States had not insisted on “unconditional surrender,” a negotiated surrender entailing the protection of the Japanese emperor would have spared both American troops and the defenseless civilians at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Lies and sacrifices
We also must not forget how it was that the United States got involved in World War II.
Notwithstanding the sympathy that Americans had for England and France in their war against Germany, the overwhelming majority of Americans opposed U.S. entry into World War II. They had seen what U.S. intervention in World War I had accomplished — nothing but the needless loss of more than 100,000 American men in a worthless cause — one that was supposed to bring an end to all future European wars and to make the world, once and for all, safe for democracy. Yet, some twenty years later, England and France were involved in another war against Germany.
Roosevelt even pretended to oppose entry into the war by expressing anti-war sentiment during his 1940 presidential campaign. He assured the American people, “I have said this before, but I shall say it again and again and again. Your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign war.”
But he was lying — deliberately lying. In actuality, he was doing everything he could to get the United States involved in the conflict. He first tried to bait the German war machine into attacking U.S. vessels, so that he could say, “We’ve been attacked! We’re innocent! We now have no choice but to defend ourselves by entering the war.”
But the Germans refused to take Roosevelt’s bait. So, he turned to the Pacific as a “back door” to war by engaging in actions designed to provoke the Japanese into attacking the United States. That’s what the oil embargo on Japan, the seizure of Japanese bank accounts, and the humiliating terms imposed on Japanese officials during pre-war negotiations were all about — to put an ever-tightening noose around Japan so that it would “fire the first shot” against the United States, thereby giving Roosevelt the justification for intervention that he was seeking.
His scheme succeeded on December 7, 1941, when Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbor and then the Philippines, killing or capturing hundreds of U.S. soldiers who had been left there as bait. Soon thereafter, Germany declared war on the United States, thereby giving Roosevelt what he had been striving for. It is no surprise that public sentiment against the war disappeared with the attack on Pearl Harbor, as Roosevelt knew it would.
In the early years after the war, Roosevelt proponents claimed that he had no intention of provoking the Germans or the Japanese into attacking the United States. They said that he would never have done such a dastardly thing, especially since it involved the intentional sacrifice of American soldiers.
But as the great weight and preponderance of the evidence has accumulated over the decades, Roosevelt apologists have changed their tune. They now say that it was a good thing that he got the United States into the war, even if it was through lies, deceit, intentional provocation, and the willingness to sacrifice American troops. The implication is that the U.S. troops at Pearl Harbor and the Philippines simply had to be sacrificed for the greater good.
What was that greater good? They say that if Roosevelt had not gotten the United States into the war, Japan and Germany would have ultimately conquered the United States. In fact, it’s really the only justification they have left because of how badly things turned out for Eastern Europe and East Germany and, for that matter, China, where the communists ended up taking control a few years after Japan’s defeat.
But despite all the wartime and postwar propaganda that Japan and Germany were determined to conquer the United States and the rest of the world, the facts belie that claim.
A different outcome?
During pre-war negotiations with U.S. officials, Japan was doing everything it could to avoid war with the United States, in large part because it was preoccupied with its war against China, which was stilling going on. Moreover, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was never intended to be the first stage in a Japanese invasion of the United States but instead simply a step in breaking free of the noose that Roosevelt was tightening around Japan’s neck, especially with respect to a drastically reduced oil supply that the Japanese army in China desperately needed.
It was no different with Nazi Germany, which was always headed east, toward the Soviet Union (which, ironically, became America’s archenemy after the war against Nazi Germany ended). That was reflected by its absorption of Austria and its invasions of Czechoslovakia and Poland. It is a virtual certainty that Hitler was ultimately going to war against the Soviet communists. The last thing that he wanted was a two-front war, much less a war with the United States, which is precisely why Hitler’s navy refused to respond to Roosevelt’s repeated provocations that would have brought the United States into the war.
Equally important, even if Japan had won its war against China and even if Germany had won its war against the Soviet Union, neither of them would have had the military means or resources to successfully invade, conquer, and occupy the United States for a very long time. Don’t forget, after all, that Japan was having a difficult time defeating China and that Germany could not even cross the English Channel to invade England.
Moreover, the wars against China and the Soviet Union would have left them weaker, not stronger. That’s what war does to nations, especially extended wars.
Moreover, if the United States could survive and prosper in a world that contained the Soviet Union, it could just as well have survived and prospered in a world that contained Nazi Germany. If the communists never came and got us — either from the Soviet Union, China, North Korea, Vietnam, Cuba, Nicaragua, Chile, Guatemala, or elsewhere — there is no reason to believe that the Nazis would have done any differently.
The Holocaust? As everyone knows, World War II failed to save millions of people from Hitler’s death machine. Of course, we would be remiss if we failed to observe that when Hitler offered to let Germany’s Jews leave the country during the 1930s, Roosevelt refused to permit them to come to the United State. We have immigration controls, he said.
Today, amidst chaos, death, and destruction arising from U.S. interventions around the world, proponents of empire, intervention, and the national-security state continue hewing to their position that World War II, the war that killed 60 million people and injured countless more, was a “good” war.
Good? If that was a good war, I shudder to think what they would call a bad one.
This article was originally published in the November 2015 edition of Future of Freedom.