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Thursday November 27 2008

For the last few days, whenever I can, I have been reading a book called Fateful Choices by Ian Kershaw, which is about the various key decisions made by the various warring nations and their leaders in 1940 and 1941.  Britain decides to fight on after the fall of France.  Hitler decides to invade Russia.  Stalin decides Hitler won’t invade Russia.  Roosevelt helps Britain as much as he can.  Japan declares war on the USA and attacks Pearl Harbour.  Hitler declares war on the USA.  Those kinds of things.  It ends with Hitler deciding to kill the Jews of Europe.

The chapter in which Kershaw says how Roosevelt helped Britain is defective, not because of what it says, but because of what it doesn’t say.  Roosevelt is simply presented as the President who wants to get the USA into the Second World War.  But why did he want this?  No answer is provided, not even a few sentences about Roosevelt’s ideological preconceptions and general ambitions for his country and for himself.  The chapter on Hitler declaring war on the USA includes fleeting references to his Second Book (Mein Kampf having been the first), which was never published but which might well have been, in which Hitler apparently explains how he regards the USA as Germany’s final rival in its quest for global hegemony, after Russia has been crushed and Britain consequently forced to cave in.

A big reason why Hitler declared war against the USA was that his submarines could then let rip against all those American ships that were sending stuff to Britain.  But why were the ships doing this in the first place?  Why did the USA not stay truly neutral?  This was what most of its people wanted, after all.

Now, I am sure that Americans will forgive me for being rather glad that Roosevelt did not opt for neutrality, and for being glad that Hitler declared war on the USA.  Until now, I had refrained from reading stuff about Roosevelt by American isolationist libertarians, partly because of that, and partly because I just did.  I interested myself in other things.  But today, I typed “Why did FDR want war?” into Google, and quickly found my way to this, by Ralph Raico, about FDR.  And I’m finding it very interesting and illuminating.  FDR, says Raico, was, to put it bluntly, a warmonger.  When he said, just before WW2, “I hate war”, this was a barefaced lie.  He loved war.  He even took a brief look at WW1 close up, and loved that.  So says Raico.

Some discussion of that kind from Kershaw, however brief, should surely have been included in his book.

I’d be interested to read a defence of Roosevelt, along the following lines.  Hitler had the USA in his cross-hairs all along, and sooner or later, the USA would have had to fight a war against Germany, a defensive war.  Better to do it in faraway parts than when Hitler finally got around to attacking the USA, from a position of far greater strength.  (And yes, that does have a rather modern sound to it, doesn’t it?)

Apparently Hitler gave quite a bit of thought to taking the Azores, so that he could build an airbase there and use it to bomb the USA, with long-range bombers.  If Russia had been defeated quickly and completely, as he still hoped would soon happen at the time he declared war on the USA in December 1941, then that, after the British had been told what was what, would have been the kind of thing that might have come next.

I haven’t yet got to the bits in the Raico stuff about how FDR loved Stalin.  I’m looking forward to that, although I expect few surprises.  For the truth of the matter, I think (and the reason why no merely American national defence of FDR – see above - can be made to stand up), is that what Hitler, Stalin, FDR and yes, Churchill, all had in common was that they all pretended to be serving the national interests of their various separate domains, but that they were really motivated at least as much by more global concerns and visions.  They each had their various ideas of how the world should be, and they all believed in their mere countries fighting for those visions, and especially in fighting against the global visions they didn’t like, fiercely and punitively.  For me, the unexamined assumption too often rife in all writings about the terrible century just ended is the one that says that all national leaders should only have in mind the good of their own particular citizens, and to hell with the rest of mankind.  (This is my beef against Raico.) Why?  There’s nothing wrong with global visions as such, and besides, they are inevitable, in times of instant intercommunication.  The problem is that most such visions tend to be bad ones, yet so splendid in the eyes of their devotees to be worth sacrificing millions of lives for them.

See also this pair of postings at Patrick’s.

This went here rather than to Samizdata because it’s a thinking aloud piece, not anything like my final thoughts on such matters.

Come to think of it, I recall reading Philip K Dick’s The Man in the High Castle (?), an alternative history of WW”, in which the USA is carved up by the Germans and the Japs, and slavery reintroduced into the US.

Oh, and Herbert von Karajan (see yesterday’s posting) becomes the boss of the New York Philharmonic.  This at the time when actually the man doing this was a chap called Bernstein.  Who is nowhere to be seen of course.

That amounts to a nationalist decence of FDR’s war, I think you willl agree.  But, to rephrase the above posting, is such an outcome plausible?

Posted by Brian Micklethwait on 28 November 2008

Plus, I think, and before Karajan moves in, New York gets atom bombed.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait on 28 November 2008

As usual you’re ahead of the rest of us (well, me at least) and we are pedalling furiously to keep up.

Does it matter if Hitler didn’t have any ambition to attack the US?  On an individual and non-governmental level it seems reasonable enough that Americans might want to help Britons when Britons were attacked by Germans even if those Germans had no plans to attack the Americans.

Of course, some did.

Also, I think Pearl Harbour ought to be spelt Pearl Harbor.

Posted by Patrick Crozier on 28 November 2008

I don’t know why FDR was a “warmongerer.” But I do not buy some of the conspiracy claims.

One nice bit of hindsight is the Pearl Harbor attack on December 7, 1941. One can certainly argue that either Cordell Hunt, or FDR himself, deliberately provoked Japan and (but I insist this is a separate issue) took sides with the British Empire against Germany. It’s putting the two together and claiming that allowing the Imperial Japanese Navy to destroy most of the U.S. Navy’s Pacific fleet that is, I think, wrong.

First, it would have made a lot more sense to provoke a GERMAN attack, not a Japanese one. After all, what could FDR do if Hitler had declared war on Japan over the Pearl Harbor attack? Yes I know there was a Tripartite Axis, but there was also a Hitler-Stalin pact in 1939. Without the fortunate declaration of war on the U.S.A. by Germany and Italy, there was surely a case for Americans to say “stop Lend-Lease to the British, we’re fighting Japan.”

Second, it is well known that the Japanese did not hit the U.S. aircraft carriers the U.S.S. Enterprise and U.S.S. Lexington, which were on exercises at the time. The U.S. Navy adopted tactics based on carriers for most of the rest of the Pacific War, because they didn’t have the battleships and cruisers, initially, to do any differently. What conspiracy theorists do not understand, is that in 1941, the concept that battleships were largely pointless was not navy orthodoxy, even in Japan, otherwise, why target them? Perversely, if FDR had wanted ships in Pearl Harbor to be hit by Japan, I reckon the carriers WOULD have been there and at least half the battlewagons would have been deployed elsewhere.

On a related point, if the Japanese had simply targeted the fuel depots, the U.S. navy could have been immobilized for months. Cutting of oil convoys to Hawaii with submarine is a somewhat easier military objective than what the Japanese ended up trying to do.

Of course, FDR probably did expect a Japanese attack around December 7, but in the Philippines, not Hawaii. Much vilification has been done to General Douglas MacArthur over his preparations, another issue, but I think he was simply unlucky.

Posted by Antoine Clarke on 29 November 2008

The reason why Roosevelt and his inner circle provoked Japan into attacking Pearl Harbout, with malice aforethought, was to bring the US into the War on the side of Stalin’s USSR, not on Britain’s.

Their astonishingly-well-documented “Grand Design” envisioned a post-War world entirely divided between the US and Stalin’s USSR.  All the European Powers and their Empires were to be divvied up.  We saw the acceleration of this policy at Yalta, which Dick Bissell, Director of the War Shipping Agency in WWII attended as a Brigadier-General. 

He did not like what he saw, and says so in his posthumous memoirs.  He went on to become Chief Economist to the Marshall Plan for the reconstruction of Europe post-war, and Deputy Director, Plans at CIA.  I have his personally signed photo on my living-room wall…

Pre-WWII, the traditional British British foreign policy aims were to retain the Empire, keep the sea lanes to the world open with the Royal Navy, and to prevent any power arising in Europe which could threaten Britain.  All three objectives failed.

As Roosevelt wanted them to.  Britain was just an offshore usinkable US Aircraft Carrier to him and his clique.

Tony Hollick

Posted by Tony Hollick on 02 December 2008

Much of what Tony Hollick says is untrue or unsubstantiated.

He ignores the facts about Pearl Harbor, in order to justify a conspiracy theory, the details of which I consider to require either ignorance or lunacy.

The claim that FDR wanted to get Japan to attack HAWAII in order to help the Soviet Union has no credible basis in fact. For those who find it hard to understand my point I stress: HAWAII.

For starters it is not clear that such a conspiracy would work. It also conveniently fails to account for the fact that Japan and the U.S.S.R. were not at war (though they had been, why not time the attack when Japan attacked the U.S.S.R.?).

No one in the moonbat fringe seems to be willing to accept that China was central to this issue. This was, after all, the humanitarian disaster that led to Japan’s expulsion from the League of Nations and it was the reason given for the economic sanctions of the U.S.A..

As I previously said: the attack on HAWAII was a surprise, claiming that Pearl Harbor was a deliberate target from FDR’s point of view is simply false. There is not the slightest evidence to support such a bizarre claim.

If Mr Hollick had claimed that the conspiracy was to provoke an attack on the Philippines, I would take him seriously. In fact, any claim that setting up Douglas MacArthur was intended for political reasons might be worth examining: I admit I don’t know.

But I do not take claims of deliberately throwing the Pacific Fleet away with anything other than contempt.

The rest of Mr Hollick’s statements sound confused. Are we to believe that a man who accepted the job of implementing the Marshall Plan REALLY thought in 1945 that the project was evil? Rather begs the question why he collaborated. It would be like General de Gaulle making his June 18 1940 speech and joining the Organization Todt in 1942. Weird.

I don’t care what the British objectives were in 1945, they are completely irrelevant to the Pearl Harbor attack.

In fact if anyone wants a good conspiracy theory: blame Churchill for Pearl Harbor. Surely someone can claim that ULTRA intercepted the battle plans and the British deliberately let the attack happen. I’m surprised no one has come up with a crafty chain of reasoning to propose this seriously.

Posted by Antoine Clarke on 04 December 2008
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