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In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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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.