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Author Topic: The Second World Wars
Timothy-
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Post Re: The Second World Wars
on: November 14, 2018, 18:42
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Hanson has several chapters on people. The first covers the top leadership -- Churchill, Roosevelt, Stalin, Hitler, Tojo, and Mussolini. One interesting item is that before the war, Tojo was (like Yamamoto) skeptical about going to war with America, and for similar reasons. But (also like Yamamoto) he seems to have chosen war over peace. One suspects that this was another triumph of emotion over reason. As the Japanese faced increasing US hostility, and especially embargoes on key resources, they faced a choice: fight or surrender. Not surprisingly they chose the former. Never mind the odds.

Both sides committed an abundance of errors, but the Allies seemed to learn from their errors. They also worked harder to win. The Nazis spent a lot of time after the fall of France doing not much aside from a futile air attack on Britain. Of course, part of this was poor intelligence (their primary spy in Britain was a double agent from the time they hired him, and the others were all linked with him and thus equally compromised). They thought Britain was much weaker in the air than it actually was. But they kept paying little attention to the need to act quickly, and as art of this failed to mobilize as rapidly or as fully as the British. I've always found it ironic that Nazi Germany lost the war partly because of a failure of the will.

One problem the Axis powers had was that they were undemocratic but still relied on popular support. Churchill and FDR had the support of elected officials as they mobilized, and Stalin didn't care about popular support. So all 3 could do more to win than the Axis powers (which in any case had much weaker economies) could.

Hanson also looks at the military leaderships. One thing to note is that the Germans and in some cases the Japanese were superior at the tactical and operational level. They excelled at individual campaigns. But at higher strategy they failed badly. The Italians, with a completely politicized leadership, were even worse. Loyalty to Mussolini was more important than military ability, and it showed.

There's a chapter on deaths, of which World War II produced an abundance. Partly this was because a much larger part of an increasingly populous world was involved. Partly this was because of the increased destructive power of technology married to total war. And partly it resulted from murderous politics, especially those of Soviet Russia, Nazi Germany, and Imperial Japan.

A lot of the deaths weren't direct deaths in combat or death camps. The chaos war brings brought a lot of disease and starvation. Food confiscation for the sake of Germany and Japan (both food-deficient) made things worse. A lot of this was deliberate -- the Nazis were quite happy to starve the whole Soviet population to open up the land for (eventually) German settlers. Economic considerations (i.e., the need for workers) kept them from implementing the plan in full.

Kung Fu Zu
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Kung Fu Zu
Post Re: The Second World Wars
on: November 14, 2018, 21:02
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I've always found it ironic that Nazi Germany lost the war partly because of a failure of the will.

From what I have read, it seems that Hitler was somewhat sentimental about Great Britain. He admired the empire and hinted at offers to leave the British their empire if they would stay out of continental matters. Of course, the British had meddled in the continent for several hundred years for various reasons, but "balance of power" was Britain's main motivation in their European foreign policy long before Hitler was born.

I have long wondered if Hitler's attitude to Great Britain effected his actions at Dunkirk. I think letting the Brits and some French get across the channel was his biggest blunder.

Timothy-
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Post Re: The Second World Wars
on: November 14, 2018, 22:11
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There has been some suspicion of this. Of course, Göring also promised to take care of them with the Luftwaffe and he didn't want to send his army into the swampier ground there. But his attitude toward Britain (and his racism, since the collapse of Britain might have led to African colonies proclaiming their independence) probably did play a role. Then, too, if anyone conquered the British colonies it certainly wouldn't be Germany. Hitler was a bundle of mixed motives.

Timothy-
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Post Re: The Second World Wars
on: November 15, 2018, 20:38
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As I already mentioned, Hanson devoted a chapter to the vast numbers of dead -- possibly more than during the Black Death. Unusual for a major war, most of the dead were from the Allies, a result of murderous policies and bloody battles in highly populous China and Russia. A high percentage of the dead (especially in Yugoslavia as well as China and Russia) were civilians -- killed by bombing in Germany and Japan, killed mostly by occupiers in Allied countries. A lot of those were Jews, of course. But Slavs and Gypsies were also targets. When Hans Frank, Governor-General of Poland heard that Konstatin Neurath, Protector of Bohemia-Moravia, had put up signs announcing the executions of 7 Czechs, he said that if he did the same there wouldn't be enough paper for all the signs. And Poland also suffered Soviet occupation. (Can you say "Katyn Forest massacre"?)

Hanson notes that one thing helping the Americans late in the war (they and the British suffered far fewer dead than the remaining major states, partly by not facing severe attacks on their civilians) was that their military were better trained (Japanese and German flyers by then could afford fuel for only minimal training) and fitter. The Germans, for example (Hanson doesn't mention this), had Ear and Stomach battalions for people with hearing difficulties or digestive problems. One can imagine the problems both had.

Kung Fu Zu
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Post Re: The Second World Wars
on: November 16, 2018, 09:10
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As I recall, the majority of German soldier deaths came in the last year, or so, of the war. It would seem they fought like hell as they first retreated to, and then defended, the Fatherland.

Timothy-
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Post Re: The Second World Wars
on: November 16, 2018, 10:07
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Yes, Hanson points that out, though there are many reasons for it. The increasing decline of the German Army was also an important reason, as well as the increasing intensity of land combat against the Anglo-American forces. In addition, health no doubt played a significant role -- more deaths from sickness (partly because they had less food due to the loss of France, Romania, Bulgaria, most of Yugoslavia, and increasing areas of Hungary, partly because Allied bombing disrupted transportation of supplies of what they did have available, partly because they had less healthy soldiers to begin with). Another contribution was probably the increasing conversion of Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine personnel into infantry.

Kung Fu Zu
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Post Re: The Second World Wars
on: November 16, 2018, 11:17
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partly because Allied bombing disrupted transportation of supplies of what they did have available

I knew an old Brit who was a fighter pilot during WWII. Although we didn't discuss the war very often, he did once mention the Falaise Gap and what a horrible mess it was. As I recall, he mentioned that he took part in strafing the German troops there and they were just sitting ducks.

He also mentioned that he had shot down 5 or 6 (I don't recall the exact no.) German planes and felt no sorrow at the time, but in his later years he started wondering about those he had killed and felt sorrow for them.

Timothy-
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Post Re: The Second World Wars
on: November 16, 2018, 12:10
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It's a lot easier to see your enemies as human when it's all far enough back in the past. Especially enemies such as Nazi Germany (and Imperial Japan). Incidentally, I've read similar descriptions of the effects of strafing on large military bodies unprepared for such attacks from 1918, after the battle of Megiddo (aka Armageddon) led to the collapse of the Ottoman position in the Levant. (And just think, the SS may not have been worst the Axis had to offer. Look up the Ustashi sometime. One of the therapists here comes from Bosnian Muslim stock, and her father had some negative experience with them. She was interested to find out that I was someone who already knew some of that history.)

Timothy-
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Post Re: The Second World Wars
on: November 16, 2018, 18:30
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Hanson concludes with a chapter on why the Allies won, and what the results really were. He argues that in the end the Allies were superior in almost every respect. They had more manpower (and womanpower -- even if they mostly were non-combatants, they freed up men for combat roles), better trained in the end. They had far more weapons, mostly of equal or better quality. The Axis powers came up with some surprises, but they were never enough to win. German and Japanese soldiers may have started with an advantage in fighting quality, but attrition wore this down (as it did for Prussia in the Seven Years War) and the Allies developed good troops themselves, often just as good as the Axis (and better than the Italians).

Even those German superguns that proved useful at places like Sevastopol (and also were extremely costly for what good they did) and the paratroops who proved so devastating (at high cost) in 1940-1 didn't enable them to win many of their sieges. Leningrad, Moscow, and Stalingrad never fail (only Leningrad was truly besieged, of course), and neither did Malta.

Germany and Japan were totally defeated, occupied, their cities and industries destroyed, and much of their land taken away (though Japan lost very few Japanese-populated areas). But in the end both recovered well, being the 3rd and 4th largest economies in the world until China pulled ahead decades later. Their economic power wasn't matched by military power, a lesson both were forced to learn after all they had done to others. Italy suffered far more due to occupation (by both sides) during the war, but did at least receive better treatment afterward. They never equaled the others economically, though.

The Allies won, but what they won is another matter. Britain sacrificed virtually its entire empire within 20 years and soon (partly because of their postwar Labor government's socialist policies) saw its economy eclipsed by Germany and Japan. The United States gained little, but it did maintain its world position, and became a lot more engaged in the world in order to prevent World War III. Its wartime propaganda also led to a struggle for equality that would largely be achieved by 1970.

The Soviet Union and China both paid heavy prices for the war, and China an even heavier one afterward as Mao Zedong won a bloody civil war and then terrorized China for decades. The Soviet Union was still ruled by Stalin, but at least after 15 years of an outpouring of blood, the worst was over. It also profiteered nicely out of looted industry, the retention of what they had conquered in connivance with Hitler (and a few extra tidbits, such as Petsamo, the Carpatho-Ukraine, and Tannu Tuva), and a buffer area of enslaved puppet states in eastern and southeastern Europe. Eventually they achieved a brief interval with a modicum of freedom before choosing a new Tsar with KGB experience (Hanson doesn't take things that far himself).

World War II was the Good War, but it still did most of the participants more harm than good. Less harm than letting the Axis win by default, but still harm. But it's always well to remember that this was the fault of the Axis leaders, and to some extent Stalin. Not FDR, Truman, Chamberlain, or Churchill.

Kung Fu Zu
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Post Re: The Second World Wars
on: November 16, 2018, 21:33
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But it's always well to remember that this was the fault of the Axis leaders, and to some extent Stalin.

Stalin is much more responsible than is normally thought. His agreement to the Ribbentrop Pact guaranteed the invasion of Poland by Germany and, not so incidentally, by the U.S.S.R. Amazing how he got away with that without Great Britain saying boo. As the Germans rolled to victory in West Poland, the Soviets went about claiming the eastern third and liquidating anyone with an education or intelligence in their newly claimed land.

Many think the British somewhat foolish for signing their pact with Poland which was done in haste, only three weeks or so before Germany's invasion of Poland. And the agreement came about only after the Brits were not able to convince the U.S.S.R. to agree to an alliance against Germany. Historians also think that, upon signing the alliance with the U.K., the Poles got too cocky in their foreign relations with both Germany and Russia. Colonel Beck was certainly no Metternich.

Perhaps the Poles were truly in a lose-lose situation, but as I recall, the few weeks between the alliance and the Nazi invasion, they did not handle things well.

That being said, they gained little or nothing from their alliance with Great Britain. Some Poles made it to the U.K. and set up a government in exile, and there were some Polish pilots and soldiers who trained with the Brits. But the Brits did not push very hard for a free Poland in Potsdam and could do very little for the Poles in any case. In retrospect, the alliance looks like it was a bust for both Poland and Great Britain. Stalin did very well out of it in the long run.

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