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I think WWII qualifies as a defensive war.  Warmongering Europeans started it and if the Red Army hadn't been so intractable we would have had a hell of a fight on our hands at some point.

"I said, 'Wait a minute, Chester, You know I'm a peaceful man...'" Robbie Robertson
by NearlyNormal on Fri Sep 5th, 2008 at 08:06:05 PM EST
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 I'll question the whole "defending the Homeland thing," though.

Pearl Harbor? Yeah, they bombed it. We lost a lot of people. California was threatened, I guess. Maybe. I don't think the US was threatened, though, as a nation.

Maybe. Mostly, though, it was the idea that the entire WORLD was threatened -- the US was threatened -- for the last time, really -- as a member of the community of the world.

I miss that -- being a part of the community of the world.

If I can't rant, I don't want to be part of your revolution

by Maryscott OConnor (myleftwing@gmail.com) on Fri Sep 5th, 2008 at 08:12:05 PM EST
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I think it was a question of time-If Europe/Asia/Africa go into the hands of the Axis we are pretty screwed in many ways that would threaten us as a nation.  Nevermind the likelihood that the Germans would have figured out the Atom bomb and that would about have done it.

My biggest problem with WWII is that it is such a unique example that too many wrong-headed lessons are taken from it.  A Hitler comes along rarely, and almost never in conjunction with the opportunity to lead a state like Germany in the throes of dire poverty and its own cultural war.  What was Germany-50 years old as a unified state then?  My biggest problem with WWII and our stance in it is that we could have done more to prevent it, but it really was out of our hands mostly.

I too miss the community of the world.  I felt like we were just getting it back after Vietnam and the evil buffoon knowingly kicked it away to the cheers of an astoundingly high proportion of Americans.  To me that is really shameful.

"I said, 'Wait a minute, Chester, You know I'm a peaceful man...'" Robbie Robertson

by NearlyNormal on Fri Sep 5th, 2008 at 08:23:18 PM EST
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WWII was a combination of a European war and a Far Eastern war, neither of which had anything to do with the U.S. We were perfectly willing to let France and China be invaded, and to let Britain be bankrupted, and to let Russia be massacred because it reduced the international competition.
by asdf on Fri Sep 5th, 2008 at 09:45:29 PM EST
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FDR was desperately trying to find a way into the European and Pacific wars well before Pearl Harbour. By then, for example, he'd taken over the protection of Atlantic convoys for half of their journey to Britain. He'd also introduced peacetime conscription for the first time in US history, and started a huge military build up - again a first in peacetime, since until then the US had generally maintained rather anemic land forces except during war. The Republicans were hardline isolationists, and with a minority of the Dems made a declaration of war politically impossible.

I'm also not sure how the chaotic mess that was China in the thirties posed any sort of competition. Russia for its part was an ally of Germany's until it got attacked.

by MarekNYC on Fri Sep 5th, 2008 at 11:41:18 PM EST
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And, bluntly, what could we have done about it anyway?  Particularly in Europe the heads of the governments really didn't pay a lot of attention to what we had to say, and we didn't have many more divisions than the pope.  France was still reeling from the loss of a generation, Germany surging with national pride wanted a place in the sun (colonies), Italy with its meglomaniac and the English still looking down their noses at the wogs.  None of them in power were likely to listen to us, they had doom to meet.

I've always thought that the absolute horror and folly of that war is what strengthened the European populations to get control of their governments to make sure that this didn't happen again and knocked the virulent forms of nationalism out of their political structures for 2 generations as a respectable public expression.

"I said, 'Wait a minute, Chester, You know I'm a peaceful man...'" Robbie Robertson

by NearlyNormal on Sat Sep 6th, 2008 at 01:29:13 AM EST
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Maybe joining the Society Of Nations would have been a start...

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Sat Sep 6th, 2008 at 07:01:51 AM EST
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It would have been helpful if we were in the League, but we were nowhere near as important a power then, and there is little reason to think that the league would have actually done anything had we been there.  But yes, we should have been in the League and trying.

"I said, 'Wait a minute, Chester, You know I'm a peaceful man...'" Robbie Robertson
by NearlyNormal on Sat Sep 6th, 2008 at 09:09:05 AM EST
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I'd also call the War of Southern Aggression a war of self defense.
by MarekNYC on Fri Sep 5th, 2008 at 11:47:19 PM EST
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If by that, you mean the Civil War, I suppose you are correct...except for that not inconsiderable portion of your countrymen who still sport the losing flag. On balance (and I know how heavy are both sides) I think the world would have been a better place if you had let them go.

Meanwhile, I don't see how a Pacific War, which led to the nuclear destruction of two cities of an all-but-abjectly-defeated enemy, and occupation of Japan and the Philippines that lasted for decades, and the seizure of the Pacific Islands that persists to this day (and I fine show of freedom they demonstrate)....well can this be called a war of of defense?

The situation and outcome in the European Theatre was more complicated and I want my morning coffee. So for now, I will stipulate that it had a significant defensive component. I just don't think that events and outcome reflects so much to the glory of the American soldier as the myth would have it.  

And it is the relentless myth of glory, of Spotless Christian Hero-dum; the requirement that all the world---absolutely including your own politicians---genuflect to the awesomeness that is any American in uniform, that gives the wiggins about the USA. Yes, I am (in many ways) anti-American, and I think there are some pretty good reasons for it.

by PIGL (stevec@boreal.gmail@com) on Sat Sep 6th, 2008 at 08:56:39 AM EST
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The American people and government have supported one of my research programs under the auspices of a treaty signed by Mexico, Canada and the USA having to do with biodiversity conservation. That generous support of research activities in foreign countries is perhaps one of those "only in America" kind of things (well, I think the EU does it, too, but I have not been on receiving end of their largess...they just eat up all our fish!)

Cartoonish Anti-Yanqui though I am, I recognise that the USA polity, internal and external, is multifaceted in the extreme. The fact is, the US gummint gave me and some colleagues a significant amount of money, and they may do so again (sure hope so!). And I am very grateful for it.

by PIGL (stevec@boreal.gmail@com) on Sat Sep 6th, 2008 at 10:15:35 AM EST
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Japan was not all but defeated at the time. It still had the capability to mount a serious, if doomed, defense of its home islands. Whether that justifies Hiroshima and Nagasaki is a different question. Nor do I see how the subsequent occupation changes whether it was a war of self defense, nor whether it was justified.

In Europe, if you're referring to the fact that the primary burden of defeating the Nazis rested on the Soviets - I'm perfectly aware of that. And believe it or not, in spite of being Polish, I think that they were fighting a war of self-defense. Neither the long term occupations of foe and ally alike, nor what happened to the German civilian population  change that.

On the Civil War - well I'll assume you don't care about the fate of Americans, so just think of that of Mexico, the islands, etc.

by MarekNYC on Sat Sep 6th, 2008 at 10:37:13 AM EST
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The ability of Japan to defend itself against an invasion of the home islands is only an issue if we accept that the legitimate war aim of the Americans and allies in the Pacific was unconditional surrender. Such an objective, it seems to me, turns a war of defense into a war of vengeance. It's understandable, and certainly not without precedent, but the two are not the same.

The subsequent occupation and establishment of imperial domains does not prove that a given war was not, at least initially, defensive. It does cast some doubt on what were the true political aims of the war, however.

And I think you may have the advantage of me. I am nore sure to what you refer as "the southern war." I thought you referred to the Civil War, but perhaps I was wrong.

by PIGL (stevec@boreal.gmail@com) on Sat Sep 6th, 2008 at 12:27:53 PM EST
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Such an objective, it seems to me, turns a war of defense into a war of vengeance

No, it simply means you're aiming at a full victory rather than risking fighting the damn thing again in a decade or two.

It does cast some doubt on what were the true political aims of the war, however.

The 'true' political aims were defeating what was seen as a grave threat to the US. That America sought to maximize its gains from victory is normal. Again, do you really think that the primary objective of the USSR wasn't simply to defeat Germany?

I am nore sure to what you refer as "the southern war." I thought you referred to the Civil War, but perhaps I was wrong.

Not sure about your confusion, I was referring to the Civil War. My term of 'War of Southern Aggression' was just a play on the traditional southern name for the war.

by MarekNYC on Sat Sep 6th, 2008 at 12:36:38 PM EST
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Japan would have in no position to remount the war in 20yr had a conditional surrender been accepted. By then, it was clear they had been in position to start it in the first place. With the southeast aisian old fields in allied hands, they could never have started again. So I don't think your attribution of a need for finality realy holds water.

I think the problem is with your notion of "total victory". If I may quote The Master: "Anciently, those skilled in war sought to take all under heaven intact."

by PIGL (stevec@boreal.gmail@com) on Sat Sep 6th, 2008 at 12:49:51 PM EST
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Such an objective, it seems to me, turns a war of defense into a war of vengeance

No, it simply means you're aiming at a full victory rather than risking fighting the damn thing again in a decade or two.

That may have been the reasoning, but it didn't work out that way for France in 1919. Or for Germany in 1871.

Of course, it's entirely possible that each country has to learn that lesson on its own...

As an aside, by 1945 there was nothing that could possibly have prevented the US from stripping Japan of her colonies and preventing her from posing a serious threat again in the foreseeable future. And if unconditional surrender were desired anyway, blockading Japan until they complied would have been relatively straightforward, given that Japan didn't have a navy or air force at this point in the war and was dependent on imports for much of its civilian industry. Whether it would have been more humane is, however, something I'm not competent to judge.

It is striking, though, that the most obvious geostrategic difference under a continued war scenario is that it would have involved a Russian occupation of Manchuria and Korea. Given that already in 1944 the American strategic establishment had a pretty clear read on the likely fracture lines of the post-war world order, it is not unlikely that a Soviet presence in Manchuria and Korea was judged to be undesirable.

But fundamentally, I think the discussion of The Bombs is a red herring as long as one does not consider the underlying doctrine of strategic bombing. Now there is a thorny subject... that I think we should leave, however, for another diary.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Sep 10th, 2008 at 03:33:10 PM EST
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And if unconditional surrender were desired anyway, blockading Japan until they complied would have been relatively straightforward, given that Japan didn't have a navy or air force at this point in the war and was dependent on imports for much of its civilian industry.

True of Germany as well, circa the end of 1944. The last five months of the war killed a hell of a lot more Germans than Japanese died from the bombs. And Germany ended up getting treated much worse than Japan in the postwar settlement.

by MarekNYC on Wed Sep 10th, 2008 at 03:59:45 PM EST
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Yep. But I don't view Operation Overlord as (solely) an operation aimed against Germany either.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Thu Sep 11th, 2008 at 03:16:39 PM EST
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