Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Another snow day prompts me to teach

A friend sent me a link to an online article regarding eight mistakes the Axis powers made in World War II. He offered that it might be stuff I already knew. Not necessarily true. I'm wondering, had a student posed me this list instead of a colleague, and had a student posed it to me during classtime rather than via e-mail while I watched the 6ABC
hype machine, how would I have responded?

1) Italy's Invasion of Greece: This I never considered. It's an aspect of the war I didn't know about. If the article is right, then I have to think that those five lost weeks are pretty crucial.

2) Germany's Invasion of Russia: I don't think there was anyway Hitler and the Nazis could have not invaded Russia. There was too much ideologically and racially for them to ignore Russia. Nor do I think the Nazis would've even considered some sort of gentle absorption or incremental approach toward imperializing Russia or the lands on its periphery. It's hard for me to imagine any scenario where Germany doesn't invade Russia.

3) Japan's Invasion of Pearl Harbor: Two things come to mind. First, Japan vastly underestimated our willingness to retaliate. The Pacific Ocean is vast in a way that boggles the mind. How does America, distracted mightily by a more crucial war in Europe, assemble the military infrastructure to reach across the Pacific in sufficient time with sufficient numbers to dislodge and entrenched Japan defending an expanded empire. From a tactical point of view, it wasn't far-fetched. Second, we had been giving ambivalent and ambiguous signals regarding our involvement in Europe. We were in an undeclared naval war with Japan by December 1941. We were supplying vast quantities of material to the British and Russians. Yet we weren't willing to declare war against Hitler. And we were slowly and clumsily assembling an army for war.

4) Hitler's Declaration of War on the U.S.: I think our entry into the European war was inevitable. Hitler perhaps beat us by a few months. President Roosevelt was too committed to a Europe-first mentality to avoid war for much longer once we had been attacked in the Pacific. We had already committed to a shared vision of what the post-war world would look like with the Atlantic Charter. I've always considered Hitler's decision to declare war against the U.S. as a non-factor in shaping developments for World War II.

5) Hitler's Fixation on Wonder Weapons: I see their point, but hadn't less wondrous wonder weapons (i.e. the Stuka, advanced tanks) conquered Western and Central Europe so decisively. Also, Germany had some military shortcomings as a result of Treaty of Versailles provisions they couldn't overcome in the 1930s. They never had heavy bombers. They never had a navy sufficient for invading England. At a certain point, they had to pursue technologies which would allow them to cut corners.

6) Hitler's Underestimation of Sea Power: Was this an underestimation or was this an admission of economic reality, that Germany couldn't close the gap that had widened since World War I between them and the great naval powers?

7) Germany's Repression of the Occupied Territories: I think the authors are spot on right here. There's no way Germany could have endeared itself to the occupied peoples of Western Europe (though it could appeal to the Anti-Semitic elements in those nations) but it could have done more to build affinity amongst the ethnically muddled populations of Central and Eastern Europe.

8) The Inability of the Axis to get Spain and Turkey into the Fight: I don't know much about this. Seems like I have time to read, though, today.

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