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Author Topic: The Second World Wars
Timothy-
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Post The Second World Wars
on: October 27, 2018, 20:39
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I've started this giant book by Victor Davis Hanson, which was my Christmas gift last year back when I thought I would someday leave the nursing home. Much like Niall Ferguson's The Pity of War about the Great War, this is a topical study, not a straight history. (What the heck, I've read lots of straight histories about nearly every aspect of the war.)

World War II came about because of appeasement, and much of this was motivated by a strong streak of postwar pacifism. Some people may remember the debate at Oxford on whether or not they would be willing to fight "for king and country". The answer was no, though (fortunately for Britain) they changed their minds when the test finally came.

But Hanson mentions something else I've never heard of previously. "In France during the 1920s, teachers' unions had all but banned patriotic references to French victories (which were regarded as "bellicose" and "a danger for the organization of the peace") and removed books that considered battles such as Verdun anything other than a a tragedy that affected both sides equally.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Kung Fu Zu
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Post Re: The Second World Wars
on: October 27, 2018, 22:27
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As you know, the International Communists made great strides during the 1920s and 1930s. They were particularly hard on those pre-war International Socialists who had declaimed far and wide that the workers of the world would unite and refuse to fight capitalists' wars. To the great disappointment of Lenin and his comrades, the International Socialists decided to go native and forget the class struggle for the duration.

I guess it is not surprising to hear that teachers' unions in the 1920s decided to spout the party line hoping to avoid the previous embarrassing nationalistic inclinations of their socialist brothers.

It is interesting to contrast that with what an old German Jew told me about an interesting aspect of pre-WWI German education. He told me that, I believe it was everyday, in school they had to recite "Gott straffe England" i.e. God punish England.

Timothy-
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Post Re: The Second World Wars
on: October 28, 2018, 07:32
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The British continued the blockade even after the armistice, so the following winter was probably the worst -- the German access to imported food was much less than it was during the war. So I can see why they would have good cause to resent the British -- although when it came to negotiating the peace, the British weren't quite as bad as the French and probably even the sanctimonious fool from Princeton.

Mussolini was one of those interesting socialists. As long as Italy was neutral he opposed the war like the good socialist he was. But once Italy declared war, he went full nationalist. He also later concluded that socialism was a bad idea for growing an industrial economy and would therefore have to wait until Italy was fully developed. But it can't be said that Italian socialist pacifism disappeared. I've seen it suggested that their propaganda (combined with the military folly of Luigi Cadorna) contributed to the collapse at Caporetto.

There was certainly some pacifism in Germany (e.g., Im Westen Nichts Neues aka All Quiet on the Western Front, a better title in terms of the irony of the ending), but also a very strong thread of revenge for Versailles. A political game called Der Fuehrer about the 1932 Reichstag provided a series of platforms available to the various parties, and every one included "anti-Versailles" as an issue. There were veterans groups on the left (such as the Social Democrat Reichsbanner) as well as the right (such as the nationalist Stahlhelm).

Timothy-
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Post Re: The Second World Wars
on: October 28, 2018, 16:47
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Hanson points out the surprising nature of the alliances, which no one would have anticipated before the war. One interesting example of where this led is a joke Count Ciano (Mussolini's Foreign Minister) recorded in his diary. He noticed that Hungary had declared war on the United States and imagined their representative in DC going to the State Department to inform some ignorant bureaucrat about it. (Like most European aristocrats, he condescended very strongly to the US.)

The Hungarian informed the bureaucrat of their declaration of war, and the bureaucrat wondered what was the nature of the Hungarian government. Informed that it was a kingdom, he assumed this meant the king was the one declaring war on them. The Hungarian proceeded to explain that Hungary was ruled by Admiral Horthy as regent, so the American assumed this meant Hungary was a significant naval power. He was confused when informed that Hungary in fact is landlocked. (A lot of people get similarly confused about the fact that Captain von Trapp was a veteran of the Austrian navy, since they're equally landlocked.)

Finally, the American wondered if Hungary had some sort of grievance against America. The Hungarian explained that their only serious dispute was with Romania. The American was then very confused to find out that Romania and Hungary nevertheless were allies.

International politics can make strange bedfellows as easily as national politics. (Of course, with George and Lurleen Wallace, some pointed out in 1966 that bedfellows made strange politics.)

Timothy-
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Post Re: The Second World Wars
on: October 28, 2018, 18:02
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I just finished Hanson's section on alliances, and he concludes with discussing Hitler's idiotic decision to declare war on the United States 4 days after Pearl Harbor (and, significantly, 5 days after the Soviet counteroffensive at Moscow had begun, which itself came after Soviet forces recaptured the strategic cities of Tikhvin in the north and Rostov in the south). He notes General Warlimont's later estimation as well as Hitler's own claim that US aid to Britain made them virtually an ally of Churchill anyway. This would reflect his view that the American economy was powerful but its military (which he mistakenly thought would be tied down fighting Japan) wasn't.

One should note that in the fall of 1941, Admiral Raeder wanted to go to war with the United States over their active involvement in anti-submarine war in the north Atlantic convoy routes, which led to 3 incidents between American destroyers and German U-boats. Hitler sensibly chose not to. But once Japan joined in, he placed an excessive valuation on their military strength -- partly due to the mystical view that Japan had never lost a war. (Aside from that little matter of the attempted conquest of Korea in the 1590s, of course.)

Hermann Göring was evidently dubious about declaring war on America. In his discussions with Dr. Gilbert at Nuremberg, he wondered why America declared war on Germany. Gilbert reminded him that Germany had declared war first, and Göring was a bit confused, since he couldn't figure why Hitler would have done that. Perhaps if he had answered that question at the time, he might have done something interesting about it.

Timothy-
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Post Re: The Second World Wars
on: October 30, 2018, 19:15
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In discussing aerial warfare, Hanson compares the German V-1 and V-2 campaigns and the Japanese Kamikaze (divine wind, named after typhoons that played a key role in defeating Kublai Khan's attempts to invade Japan) effort. He sees advantages to each, though all 3 were desperation measures that amounted to an admission of defeat.

The V-1 pulsejet cruise missile was slow and vulnerable to Allied air defenses, which took out many of them. They were very inaccurate, and thus useful only for area bombing. Their short range meant that once the Allies overran most of Belgium they could no longer hit London. But they were relatively cheap to produce, and of course cheap in manpower to use -- very desirable at a time when Germany no longer had the fuel to train pilots with anything close to accuracy. The V-2 was fast and invulnerable to air defenses, with greater range. But it was still inaccurate, and far more expensive than the V-1. Even with all the buzz bombs shot down on the way, Germany was better off using them instead of the technically brilliant rockets in terms of dollars per death. Cost-effectiveness is very important in a war of attrition. The V-1 was even more terrifying, partly because the V-2 sruck suddenly and randomly, without warning.

The kamikazes were even cheaper, since they made heavy use of thousands of obsolete warplanes available in Japan. The manpower cost was high, obviously, though overall probably similar to the losses in the conventional attacks during the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot, and it didn't required skilled pilots (just as well since Japan had so few left by then). And they were actually a lot more accurate than the V-weapons because their human guidance system was far more reliable than the German mechanical guidance. A lot of mostly small ships were sunk by kamikazes, and hundreds were damaged. Allied sailors killed by them were about twice as numerous as Japanese losses.

Overall, the Japanese probably accomplished more at less material and fiscal expense. But none of these weapons offered any serious prospect of an Axis victory. Perhaps the V-weapons could have done more if they carried nerve gases (tabun, sarin, and soman), which only German possessed. But even those couldn't have matched the power of an atomic bomb, though the first fire-bombing of Tokyo was probably the deadliest air attack of the war -- worse than Hamburg or Dresden, worse than Hiroshima or Nagasaki. Of course, casualty figures for these attacks are all just estimates. Japanese cities were extremely vulnerable to fire -- indeed, Hanson points out that fires from a 1923 earthquake may have killed more people than the fire-bombing.

Timothy-
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Post Re: The Second World Wars
on: October 31, 2018, 17:45
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I've started on Hanson's section on naval warfare. He starts with the single most lethal ship loss in history -- the sinking of the German ship Wilhelm Gustloff with about 10,000 people aboard. They were fleeing from the Polish port of Gdynia (formerly Gdingen to the Germans, but Gotenhafen during World War II), and a Soviet submarine hit them. (There were in fact 2 other such ship losses, amounting to nearly 30,000 dead.)

I don't know if Hanson will discuss this in more detail later (probably not), but in many ways this was the high point of the war for the Kriegsmarine. In all, they shipped 1,500,000 German civilians and soldiers across the Baltic from Courland, East Prussia, and West Prussia to the rest of Germany over a few months, with a loss of about 2%. It was easily the single greatest such evacuation in World War II, and quite likely the greatest such crossing in all of history.

Add up all the Dunkirk evacuees (nearly 340,000) and the somewhat larger number brought back from France in the later stages of the campaign. Then add in the most important Japanese evacuations, from Guadalcanal and slightly later from Kiska. Include the Soviet evacuations from Tallinn and Odessa, and no doubt a few smaller ones. Even include the British flight from Greece and then from Crete, and the German withdrawals from Sicily, and later from Sardinia and Corsica. That's a lot of people escaping capture by sea -- and the flight from the east tops them all even added together. The achievements of navies come in many forms.

Brad-
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Brad Nelson
Post Re: The Second World Wars
on: November 1, 2018, 11:13
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I had not heard of this book. The Kindle edition of The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won is a whopping $22.00 so I’m guessing it’s a thick one.

"In France during the 1920s, teachers' unions had all but banned patriotic references to French victories (which were regarded as "bellicose" and "a danger for the organization of the peace") and removed books that considered battles such as Verdun anything other than a a tragedy that affected both sides equally.

From some of the dramas regarding Churchill, I did get an inkling of just how anti-Western (anti-self) the French had become. If one had such a useless bloodbath as WWI in one’s rearview mirror, this is understandable to some extent. Churchill was extremely frustrated that the French just would not put up much of a fight. Maybe VDH gets into this, but had both British and French forces counter-attacked strongly and in good coordination with some kind of sane battle plan, Hitler might well have been stopped.

I think the assertion that WWII came about because of appeasement is completely true. It’s human nature to just let things slide. There is no apparent upside to doing something because things might get worse. We see that in our porous southern border. Instead of doing something to maintain the integrity of the country and our laws, we’re appeasing one faction or another. It's the law of the path of least resistance.

That’s certainly why fortune favors the bold. And this is certainly why the Republicans, as a party, can ever only be (at least in its current state) a holding action, at best. They are not bold at doing anything. They apologize for any action at the drop of a hat if it pisses off someone at the New York Times.

Of course, we’re seeing something different in Trump. But this belongs to the man, not the party. The spine will disappear at the end of his second term.

Timothy-
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Post Re: The Second World Wars
on: November 1, 2018, 12:23
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Yes, it's a very thick book, which is one reason I comment on sections as I read them. And yes, he points out that Adolf Hitler could have been stopped early had the will to risk some casualties. As a matter of fact, in the Rhineland crisis, even Maurice Gamelin was willing to act. But not the politicians.

The Maginot Line was named after the French Defense Minister who started it. (Incidentally, it was a lot shorter than people realize, basically covering the frontier between Germany and the Lorraine. Alsace was considered adequately protected by the Rhine and the Vosges, and the rest of the northern border was with Belgium. Maginot had been a sergeant (and wounded, I think) in the Great War. Note that in addition to the troops holding the forts of the Maginot Line, the French left large numbers of reserves there in case Germany broke through anyway. But when the war came, Germany left 5 divisions on the Rhine frontier and 7 facing the Maginot Line. The French could have used those reserves to break through to their forces in Flanders later. There are any number of ways the 1940 campaign could have been won by the Allies. They chose none of those options, with catastrophic consequences. (I haven't gotten to a major discussion by Hanson on this, so these comments are based on my very extensive prior reading on the campaign.)

I just read Hanson's brief discussion of the Soviet Navy during World War II. They had the smallest navy of any of the 6 major powers, and used it even less. But they did supply the merchant vessels to maintain much of the lend-lease through Vladivostok, since they weren't at war with Japan until the very end. (And needed 250 American ships to make small landings on Sakhalin and the Kuriles.)

Failing to protect the border isn't entirely "the path of least resistance". It reflects the fact that the Demagogues now want to maximize illegal aliens so that they can eventually get votes from them, and the GOP Beltway Bandits want to maximize for the sake of their corporate donors, who like their effect on labor.

Brad-
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Brad Nelson
Post Re: The Second World Wars
on: November 1, 2018, 12:41
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They chose none of those options, with catastrophic consequences. (I haven't gotten to a major discussion by Hanson on this, so these comments are based on my very extensive prior reading on the campaign.)

Clearly fortune does favor the bold. Taking the long view, Hitler got lucky on the Western front. His first invasion, the invasion of Poland, could be seen as a sledgehammer swatting a fly. Overwhelming force (but, still, probably quite skillfully and murderously used).

But considers the problems of moving your army through the Ardennes. Today, two aircraft with a full load of missiles could cause the roads to be so clogged that any “lightning” offensive would be impossible.

I don’t mean to suggest that the German generals were not good at strategy. But they had a lot of help from the French and the British.

And when it came time for another master strategy, the Germans proved to be completely incompetent, not even thinking ahead to issue winter equipment to their soldiers (and materiel). Yes, Hitler countermanded some otherwise sane orders from his generals. But the entire thing was a mess.

Failing to protect the border isn't entirely "the path of least resistance". It reflects the fact that the Demagogues now want to maximize illegal aliens so that they can eventually get votes from them

“Path of least resistance” refers to the defenders of the status quo, of course. This produces ample opportunities for scoundrels and cultural Vandals.

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