Tuesday, February 21, 2012

We Waited in World War II - Good For Us!

Much has been made over these statements by Rick Santorum:

But remember, the Greatest Generation, for a year and a half, sat on the sidelines while Europe was under darkness, where our closest ally, Britain, was being bombed and leveled, while Japan was spreading its cancer all throughout Southeast Asia. America sat from 1940, when France fell, to December of ’41, and did almost nothing.

Why? Because we’re a hopeful people... after a while, you found out things about this guy over in Europe, and he’s not so good of a guy after all. But you know what? Why do we need to be involved? We’ll just take care of our own problems. Just get our families off to work and our kids off to school, and we’ll be okay.

I'm not interested in discussing the portion I elided, because to be frank, I don't think anyone thought that Hitler was a nice guy, or that such an assertion needs a point-by-point refutation.

What I do wish to comment on, however, is the implicit point he is making that we were wrong to wait as long as we did to get into World War II, and that our waiting made things worse.

Actually, it was a great thing that we waited as long as we did. First, let's be clear. Any claim that we (that is, the U.S.) could have and should have stopped Hitler early on (say 1937 or 1938, before he invaded Poland) is ludicrous. The fact of the matter is that Britain and France were unwilling to do anything overt to stop him, and there is no way for us to get involved before Britain and France.

So what we are really discussing is whether we should have gone to war after the invasion of Poland, when Britain and France had already declared war.

It should be noted here that by the time Britain and France declared War on Nazi Germany, the Germans were already fairly powerful, powerful enough to conquer the latter and to neutralize any threat posed by the former. Germany was a formidable opponent.

However, Germany made one mistake. In 1941, after neutralizing the threat from the west, Germany turned its sights east and invaded the Soviet Union. A tremendous portion of its army was bogged down there.

This means that when we finally did declare war, Germany was overextended and we were able to let our "frenemy" the U.S.S.R., do all of the heavy lifting. I would imagine that if we had joined in the war effort in, say, late 1940 to early 1941, Hitler might have decided to put off the Russian invasion and the U.S. would have suffered three to four times the number of casualties that it did (remember, the vast majority of Germans killed in World War II were killed in the Eastern Front).

To argue that we should have declared war sooner is based either on the premise that Germany's strength had increased enough from August 1939-December 1941 so as to offset the drain the Soviets placed on them, or that Germany would have invaded the U.S.S.R. regardless of when we declared war on them.

While it may seem gauche to say so, the U.S. did well to wait as long as it did to declare war, because we got in late to face a severely weakened enemy.

That is all.

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