Created: 2000-03-05
Last Modified: 2000-03-05
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J. Bradford DeLong



I wonder what the range of those "proposed policies" was.
Governing a vast territory like the USSR, which even in the 1940s was
hurting from their own nationalities problems (now surfacing with a
vengeance), might have absorbed 100% of Hitler's energies. One can
imagine constant resistance, a kind of Mao-like guerrilla warfare against
the Nazi conquerors.

My Comment:

The word "governing" makes me think that you haven't grasped the essence of Nazism. Not that I blame you: I have a very hard time grasping the essence of Nazism, and find myself often slipping into the error of regarding it as just another mid-century totalitarian regime. Remember: the principal Nazi aim in the war in the east was not to stomp out Bolshevism, or to install a pro-German regime in Moscow, or to open Russia for German trade and investment, or even to install German satraps and levy taxes.

The principal Nazi aim in the war in the east was to set the stage for the demographic replacement of slavic by "aryan" populations in Belorussia and the Ukraine. I do not believe that the Nazis had decided between the "serf" model (in which slavic populations work for German overlords at a population density perhaps half that of the prewar period) and the "Canadian" model (in which German farmers use technology and machines to farm, and in which the slavic population density would have been a very small fraction of that of the prewar period).

Think of what went on in the General Government of Poland during the war, only on a much larger scale, at a much greater intensity, and for a much longer time period.

Stalin and Mao, absolute masters of their domains in the middle of the twentieth century, became charter members of the thirty-million club: that small, elite group of people who have ruled in a way that caused the death of more than thirty million of their fellow human beings. Hitler is the third of this century's members of the thirty-million club, but he had bigger ambitions: had he not been stopped, it seems clear that he was going to try to found the hundred-million club as well...


Brad DeLong

I have a very hard time understanding the Japanese decision to launch the war in the Pacific. Already embroiled in their Asian quagmire, they open a second front (against the Commonwealth) and a third front (against the United States) and thus embroil themselves in a three-front war with the two global superpowers that together have twenty times their heavy industrial production capacity. Akira Iriye's _The Origins of World War II in Asia and the Pacific_ advances the position that it was simply due to the Japanese military's sense of honor: that it would have been dishonorable to simply announce that China had been punished enough for the Marco Polo bridge incident and go home, and that the only other option was to declare war on the world.

Given that an Axis victory in World War II would have strengthened the Japanese military, it seems fair to conclude that sooner or later something else would have led them to think that they had no honorable choice but to go conquer something else, so I do see an Axis victory in World War II as leading to renewed Japanese offensives in the following decades.

I think that in the aftermath of an Axis victory, there would have been no independent Italian foreign policy...

While it is possible to imagine a victorious post-World War II Nazi Germany satiated with blood from the abbatoir in the east, it seems to me that the odds are against it. South American allies, a long-term naval building program, adventures in the Middle East to restore Nazi clients in Iraq and create some in Palestine.

I think that at bottom the isolationist case was that the Atlantic Ocean was wide, the U.S. navy strong, and the U.S. industrial base to build up the navy immense: that as of the late 1930s there was no threat to U.S. national security possible from Eurasia. But what the isolationists didn't think of was new technology: rockets, jets, and a-bombs...

It's enough to make you get down on your knees and thank God that the twentieth century turned out as well as it did.


Brad DeLong


>So, I would be very reluctant to categorize US policy
>"throughout the course of the war in Europe as well as the
>Pacific" as "misguided." The leaders and peoples of the
>Allied nations at the time could see no way of destroying
>dangerous enemies without an unprecedented use of violence.
>In retrospect, I cannot see what alternative existed. Are we
>suggesting that victory in WWII was not worth the cost? Are
>we suggesting that there was a way to gain victory without
>doing grievous injury to our opponents? If so, I think it's
>necessary to define terms carefully. And I also hope there
>are sweating palms.

My Comments:

We all believe that the Nazi regime was the _most_ evil of which we have knowledge that has _ever_ existed on the planet. In the words of the historian Norman Davies, "even its [vision of] utopia was vile": no redeeming value whatsoever--and a bodycount as a result of the Jewish, Polish, Ukrainian, and other holocausts plus the war dead that may reach 50,000,000.

Following behind Hitler come Stalin and Mao: also candidate members of the fifty-million-club--the select club of those political leaders whose policies have led to the violent and cruel deaths of more than fifty million of their fellow human beings. These three regimes are the Himalayan peaks of slaughter in the twentieth century--although there are some others (Pol Pot, and perhaps Kim Il Sung?) that have failed to match them only because of lack or loss of opportunity).

We all know that the Imperial Japanese regime of the 1930s and 1940s--presided over by Konoe and Tojo, in the name of the Showa Empire--was a cruel, brutal, and genocidal regime as well: perhaps five million Chinese civilians died at the hands of the Japanese army between 1931 and 1945. Many more would have died in a military-dictatorship run East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere in the generation after 1945, had the U.S. not conquered Japan, suppressed the regime, and hanged Tojo higher than Haman.

Almost any price was worth paying in order to destroy Hitler's and Tojo's regimes--even close alliance with Stalin, and acquiescence in the post-WWII installation of Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe and in pieces of Asia.

All honor is due to those who fought on the side of the angels in World War II--especially to those who died, and whose ultimate sacrifice has given us the post-WWII world in which we have lived, rather than a world in which Japanese battleships stalk the Pacific at the command of the descendants of those who gave us the Rape of Shanghai, and in which the U.S. watches uneasily across an Atlantic DMZ while Nazi Europe carries on genocide in Africa and in Eastern Europe. All honor is especially due to the soldiers of the Red Army of the Soviet Union, who broke the back of the German army during World War II. All honor is due to the Polish people and to the pre-WWII government, who were the first to decide to die on their feet rather than submit on their knees. All honor is due to Winston Churchill and to Edmond Daladier, who made Britain and France the only countries to declare war on Hitler--everyone else waited for Hitler to declare war on them. All honor is due to Franklin D. Roosevelt, for bringing an isolationist country to the recognition of the stakes at hand.

But there are old doctrines about justice in war: about "innocents" and "non-combatants". And there are old principles to the effect that actions that kill and maim innocents and non-combatants are justified only to the extent that they fulfill the purpose of shortening the war and, ultimately, saving the lives of others.

I had thought that it was pretty well established since the immediate post-WWII strategic bombing survey that the U.S. and British bombing campaigns, especially the British night-time aerial bombing campaign, did more to stiffen German civilian morale and hatred of the allies than they did to erode Germany's war potential--hence were not acts that anyone could say met the tests of ius in bello. (Notice that I exempt tactical bombing, and the air interdiction campaign before D-Day.)

I had thought that the B-29s in the Pacific were the harder case--that both the incendiaries and the A-bombs may well have shortened the war in the Pacific, depending on how you judge the nuances involved in the process leading up to the Japanese decision to surrender. But on balance I had concluded that it was more likely than not that in the Pacific, too, the war-shortening and combatant life-saving benefits of the strategic bombing campaign were _disproportionately_smaller_ than the civilian deaths caused. And I would include in that list of acts that did not meet the tests of ius in bello the firebombing of Tokyo, as well as the nuclear detonations in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

And I do think that the allies--the United States, NATO, whatever--were the good guys, and are the good guys. And that we had better damn well behave better than the bad guys.

I would welcome hearing from anyone who thinks I have made an error in the chain of reasoning above...


Brad De Long


> Well, the usual story that I have heard about the US
>and Japan and oil in WW II is not that the US needed it
>because we had it then. We were the Saudi Arabia of the
>world at that time, the great Saudi fields only having just
>begun to be developed in 1936. It was the 1950s when we
>became a net importer.
> Rather the story was that FDR wanted to get into the
>war but knew that he could only do so if it involved a
>conflict with Japan. Cutting off oil exports to Japan
>would force the Japanese to attack the then-Dutch East
>Indies, now Indonesia, the only source of oil in the
>vicinity of any significance at that time. FDR figured
>that this would involve an initial attack on the then-US
>colony of the Philippines and that that would trigger US
>entry into the war.

My Comment:

Well, the U.S. had been slowly turning up the pressure for a while--telling Japan to stop trying to conquer China or the U.S. would feel that it had to take further steps to put more pressure on Japan. Prohibiting the export of iron and steel scrap was one stage. Prohibiting the export of oil from the U.S. to Japan--and leaning on the Dutch government-in-exile to prohibit the export of oil from Indonesia to Japan--was another step, taken in the summer of 1941.

It is not clear--even today--whether Roosevelt wanted to prohibit or just reduce the export of oil to Japan. It is clear that Roosevelt's directive, as implemented by Assistant Secretary of State Dean Acheson, amounted to an export ban.

U.S. military and diplomatic planners thought that the Japanese might respond to the export prohibition in one of three ways: (Y1) first, sign a face-saving treaty with China, begin pulling back their army, and then appeal for the lifting of sanctions; (Y2) second, hunker down by greatly restricting civilian (and military) consumption of oil while still pressing for a decision in China; (Y3) third, attack south to conquer what is now Indonesia (and probably attack the Philippines along the way) thus providing the U.S. with a casus belli for entering World War II against Japan (and, Roosevelt would have hoped, Germany).

It's false to the history to assume that people knew in advance that move X would call forth response Y. From Roosevelt's perspective (and from the Chinese perspective, and from my perspective) the genocidal course (maybe 5 million Chinese civilians dead? Maybe 10 million? We really don't know) of the Japanese invasion of China was a bad thing, and the mid-1941 oil embargo promised to do some good no matter which of the three likely responses the Japanese military decided upon.

Of course, the Japanese did not respond to X with Y1, Y2, or Y3, but with Z--a full-scale offensive not just south to Indonesia but one east to Pearl Harbor that came very close to crippling the U.S. Pacific fleet.

And we know now--or, at least, Akira Iriye thinks--that the U.S. embargo of oil to Japan did a great deal more good for the world than Roosevelt had intended. For the move that the Japanese military was planning in the summer of 1941 was a strike north from Manchuria to conquer Russia's Maritime province. This strike--that would have kept Siberian reserves out of the Battle of Moscow--was cancelled once the fact of the oil embargo became clear.

So it is very possible that the Battle of Moscow--one of the key turning points of World War II--was one with a stroke of Dean Acheson's pen in the State, War, and Navy Building at 1700 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C.


Brad DeLong

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Professor of Economics J. Bradford DeLong, 601 Evans Hall, #3880
University of California at Berkeley
Berkeley, CA 94720-3880
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