Where one man sorts out his thoughts in public


Bruce M. Russett


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No Clear and Present Danger

A Skeptical View of the U.S. Entry into World War II

Harper & Row, 1972 


Bruce M. Russett


Chapter 2

The Impending Stalemate in Europe

The illusive victory

American participation in World War II brought the country few gains; the United States was no more secure at the end than it could have been had it stayed out.  First, let us look at the “might have beens” in Europe.  The standard justification of American entry into the war is that otherwise Germany would have reigned supreme on the continent, victor over Russia and Britain.  With all the resources of Europe at the disposal of his totalitarian government, plus perhaps parts of the British fleet, Hitler would have posed an intolerable threat to the security of the United States.  He could have consolidated his winnings, built his war machine, established bridgeheads in South America, and ultimately could and likely would have moved against North America to achieve world domination.

Several links in this argument might deserve scrutiny, but by far the critical one is the first, that Hitler would have won World War II.  Such a view confuses the ability of Germany’s enemies to win with their ability to achieve a stalemate.  Also, it tends to look more at the military-political situation of June 1940 than at that of December 1941, and to confuse President Roosevelt’s decision to aid Britain (and later Russia) by “all measures short of war” with an actual American declaration of war.  Let me say clearly: I basically accept the proposition that German domination of all Europe, with Britain and Russia prostrate, would have been intolerable to the United States.  By any of the classical conceptions of “power-balancing” and “national interest,” the United States should indeed have intervened if necessary to prevent that outcome.

For a while it appeared American intervention might quickly become essential.  The Hitler-Stalin pact of August 1939 guaranteed Germany against any Soviet interference, and made the attack on Poland militarily safe.  Poland fell before the Wehrmacht in 27 days.  After a lull during the winter, in the spring of 1940 German armies invaded and quickly conquered Denmark, Norway, Belgium, and the Netherlands.  France surrendered in less than two and a half months.  Most of the British expeditionary force to the continent escaped at Dunkirk, but its heavy equipment was left behind.  Mussolini finally felt sure enough of the outcome to enter the war just a few days before the fall of France.  Hitler began preparation for Operation Sea Lion, the invasion of Britain.

But then the machine halted, and prospects changed.  By the end of 1941 Hitler had already lost his gamble to control Europe.  In large part this was due to British skill, courage, and good luck in the summer of 1940.  Given German naval inferiority, Hitler had to destroy the British air force for an invasion to be possible.  But the RAF won the Battle of Britain and Hitler decided against undertaking Operation Sea Lion; it was too risky.1  From that point onward German relative capabilities for a cross-channel attack declined rather than improved.  The ebb of the tide against Hitler was very greatly assisted, as an absolutely essential condition, by American military and economic assistance to the British.

Recall American initiatives during the first two years of war in Europe.  In the fall of 1939 the Neutrality Act was amended to repeal the arms embargo and make any goods available to all belligerents on a cash-and-carry basis.  Thanks to the British fleet, only the Allies could take advantage of this measure.  The destroyers-for-bases exchange with Britain was agreed upon in September 1940. Many of the old American warships were of doubtful military value, but the trade’s symbolism was extremely significant.  The Lend-Lease Act, which was to pour billions of dollars of supplies into Britain and, beginning later, to Russia, was signed in March 1941.  In July 1941 United States forces occupied Iceland and President Roosevelt had agreed that American ships would escort convoys—including British ships—as far as Iceland.  Convoying meant that if German U-boats approached the American escorts were to “shoot on sight” to insure that the goods got through.  These steps played central roles in British survival.   By August Roosevelt and Churchill could meet in a cruiser off Argentia, Newfoundland to discuss military collaboration and, with the Atlantic Charter, to begin planning for the postwar world.

I do not, therefore, argue that American nonbelligerent assistance to Britain was a mistake, quite the contrary. Yet that is just the point—by the end of 1941 Britain’s survival was essentially assured.  She might lose some colonies, her world position would be weakened, perhaps in the long run her independent existence would be threatened by the Germans in a second round of war.  For the immediate future, nevertheless, Britain would live. Indeed, such a conclusion helps to make sense of Hitler’s daring gamble in attacking Russia in the late spring of 1941.  The British had made it through the worst patch, and only by a long and mutually-exhausting war could Germany hope to wear them down.  At the least, German hopes for a quick end to the war had been irretrievably lost.

If British survival into 1941 raised the specter of deadlock or war of attrition to Hitler, the failure of his attack on Russia brought the specter to life.  He had intended to invade the Soviet Union in mid-May 1941, but things had not gone well.  His ally, Mussolini, had invaded Greece and met with repeated defeats. Hitler felt obliged to divert German troops from the Russian front to rescue the Italians and the German flank.  His invasion of Russia, Operation Barbarossa, was thus delayed five weeks until June 22 when, without ultimatum or declaration of war, the troops moved east.

The attack itself was an admission that the war against Britain had gone badly.  By some interpretations the German invasion of Russia was an attempt to secure the resources, especially oil, necessary to bring the British down in a long war of attrition; by others it was an effort to strike the Russians at a time of Hitler’s choosing rather than wait for the Russians to come in on the British side later.  Surely the prospect of being the weight in balance at the key moment would have been greatly tempting to Stalin.  By either interpretation the attack accepted great risks, and was the last try with any hope of success to seize a clear victory.

With the onset of the Russian winter and Hitler’s inability to take Moscow—Napoleon had at least managed that—the prospect of German failure was sharp.  Looking back, we now can see that this was in fact the hinge of fate; the more visible turning a year later was more nearly the outward sign of a predetermined shift.  A man’s health declines from the onset of fatal disease, not from the moment of medical diagnosis.  The battle of Stalingrad in late 1942 marked the final, visible blunting of Hitler’s drive to the east, and from then on the military initiative was in Soviet hands.  Even at the beginning of the invasion the Russians were superior not only in manpower resources, but in tanks and even planes; the principal difference was the initially far-superior German organization.2  During the first year of the war in Russia German military production figures were only about one-fourth of what they had been in 1918; in aircraft, trucks, armored vehicles, artillery, and naval armaments German production was less than Britain’s.3  Despite widespread assumptions that the Nazis would win easily, by early-August 1941 Roosevelt was receiving reports, especially one from Harry Hopkins which he regarded highly, that the Russians would hold out.

The essential point is that the Russian success, like the British, occurred quite independently of American military action.  During the early years of the war the quantity of supplies reaching Russia from the Western Hemisphere was not great; some would surely have gone there during 1942 whether or not the United States was a formal belligerent, just as they were going in substantial measure to Britain during 1941.  By the middle of 1942 approximately half of the supplies had been sent by Britain.  Some of the American shipments had begun while the United States was still formally neutral and most of the rest would doubtless have been sent even in the event of continued military neutrality.4

It seems most unlikely that the marginal increment that can be attributed to American belligerency in 1942 was critical to the Russian war effort.  Certainly no allied military action in the west drew significant German forces away from the eastern campaign.  At conferences with Roosevelt and Churchill, Stalin insisted that he did not regard the North African campaign as the second front he wanted to distract the Nazis.  As evidenced by actual American conduct of the war in 1942, the immediate rescue of Russia was not the main purpose. American active participation surely shortened the conflict considerably, and very probably was the sine qua non for any clear-cut victory over the Nazis such as did occur.  But for the more narrow purpose of maintaining British and Soviet independence as centers of resistance to Germany, it is much harder to make a convincing case for the necessity of American belligerency.


Restraints in the naval war

What then would have been the most likely outcome had the United States remained formally neutral while shipping arms and economic assistance to Germany’s opponents?  First, it seems very unlikely that Hitler would have declared war on the United States.  True, he did feel provoked by American naval action against German forces in the North Atlantic.  In the autumn of 1941 American warships were escorting American and British freighters with orders to destroy any German submarines or raiders encountered.  Yet even then Hitler instructed his submarines to protect themselves, but to instigate no attacks on American shipping.  He would deal with this problem only later, after Russia had been beaten.  Germany had lost one war by bringing America in against it.  The Tripartite Pact with Italy and Japan declared that the members, “undertake to assist one another with all political, economic, and military means, if one of the three Contracting Parties is attacked by a Power at present not involved in the European War or in the Chinese-Japanese conflict.”  Despite naval action that he might have interpreted as attack, Hitler made no attempt to invoke the alliance.  American “aid short of war” to the allies was surely less damaging to the Axis than active participation would be.5

It is of course true that Germany, not the United States, ultimately made the Atlantic war overt.  Four days after Pearl Harbor, Hitler declared war on America.  He was not strictly required to do so by the terms of his alliance since Japan struck first.  The alliance had always been considered as a deterrent to keep America out of the war by confronting her with a two-front conflict if she tried to deal with just one opponent at a time.  Even the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal accepted this explanation.

We probably never will understand this decision fully, rooted as it must have been in Hitler’s psychopathology.  But it does seem that by December 1941 Hitler had become convinced that conflict between himself and the United States, arising out of the Atlantic naval engagements, was imminent in any case.  Under those circumstances he could not afford to lose the goodwill of Japan, and in fact for a long time hoped that the Japanese would reciprocate his gesture by turning also on the Russians.6  Thus he took the step that sealed his downfall.

Had America remained in the status of twilight belligerence Germany probably would not have been defeated, though as I have argued above, neither could it have won.  Probably World War II would have ended in some sort of draw and negotiated settlement, or would have continued on for a decade or two with occasional truces for breathing spells—not unlike the Napoleonic Wars.  Or perhaps most likely is some combination of the two, in which the negotiated peace was uneasy and soon broken. What I imagine, then, is a very long and bloody war, longer and even more bloody than the one that really was fought, with protracted savage fighting in east and central Europe.

Just where the truce line would have been drawn no one can say, of course, but it might well have approximated the present border of the Soviet Union. The Russians might have recovered all their original territory plus the gains of 1939 (from Poland, Rumania, and Finland, and the three Baltic states). Quite likely they could have controlled Bulgaria and Rumania, but the rest of East Central Europe probably would have been German or German satellites as it was in 1941 at the beginning of Operation Barbarossa.  Again, the details are speculative, but matter little.  I doubt that the Soviets would have had to yield more than this, and if anything stood a greater chance of driving the Germans still further back.  But this hypothetical boundary marks to me the greatest plausible German advance, and so provides an outer limit to the argument I shall develop further below.  In any case, my assumption is that this “settlement” could have been reached only after a mutually exhausting war that would have left the Russians even more battered than they were from their victory in 1945, and the Germans hardly better.

In the West, Britain was both impregnable to German invasion and too weak to invade the German-held continent by herself.  The North African campaign was important, especially to British postwar colonial hopes, but by 1942 was not the sort of effort that could bring defeat to either side.  The undersea war in the North Atlantic was more dangerous to the British, but Hitler was nevertheless trapped in it.  If pursued too vigorously, it would bring the Americans into the war.  And if American shipping was in large part left immune from attack, British supply lines could not really be cut.  The British surface blockade of the continent might have been more effective, but a similar kind of war had not been enough against either Napoleon or the Kaiser, and certainly was not in reality enough by itself to bring Hitler down in 1945.  So stalemate there too seems by far the most plausible outcome.  Hitler had persistent notions of forming an Anglo-German “partnership.”7


Perhaps the British, under Churchill, would not have signed a formal compromise peace, as they indeed had refused to do in 1940 despite Hitler’s apparent willingness.  But in 1940 the British still could play for big stakes.  They might lose, but also, if they could hold off the immediate German invasion, they had some very high cards with which to bid for ultimate victory.  There was still the possibility of Russian entry on their side, and the United States remained to kindle memories of 1917.  Later these cards would have lost their value, with a stalemate on the eastern front and, as we hypothesize, a determined American aloofness from actual entry into war.  If Churchill would not have made the peace some other leader might have been given the chance.  And even a deescalated but still belligerent stalemate would have had much the same effect from an American geopolitical viewpoint—the assumption of explicit negotiation and compromise is by no means necessary.

Under these conditions, Britain would have been left independent—economically weakened, and shorn of some colonies, but still a sovereign center of significant power.  Russia would also have remained independent, probably with much the same boundaries as we now see (though no part of East Prussia, and fewer “satellites”), Germany would of course have emerged with enormously enhanced strength on the European continent, initially control-ling essentially everything from Iberia to somewhere in the vicinity of Poland.  (Sweden and Switzerland might either have been occupied or left cowed but independent; there is no way of knowing which.)  The upper limit to the population of this empire would have been somewhere around 330 million—almost exactly the number currently in the Soviet orbit.

That population, nevertheless, would have been much more highly skilled than that of eastern Europe and equipped with greater physical capital; in principle it would have posed an appreciably greater ultimate threat to the rest of the world than would the same number of people under communist rule. Yet the situation in principle need not have been that way in fact.  Some substantial proportion, perhaps as much as a quarter, would have been more directly under the control of Mussolini’s Italy; while Rome and Berlin might have remained allied, it is hard to imagine perfect cooperation.  Nationalism in general would surely have been as great a bane to Hitler as it has been to the Soviet Union.  Ruling highly-educated and urbanized West and Central Europe would hardly have been easier for the Germans than a similar task has proven for the Russians.  Particularly since Germans accounted for only about a quarter of the population of this area, in fact the task would probably have been still harder.  George Kennan has pithily expressed this sentiment, relevant especially where the “master” nation is much in the minority, by quoting Gibbon: “There is nothing more contrary to nature than the attempt to hold in obedience distant provinces.”  Kennan applied this dictum to both German and Russian prospects for continental domination.8

Divisiveness, conflict, and schism have to be made part of any image of a German-dominated continent.  So too must the need for reconstruction, after a devastating war with the Russians in much of the area and a draining blockade imposed by the British.  It would have been quite a while before Hitler could have marshalled the resources of Europe for any serious further drive either east or west.


Contemporary alarms

Some contemporaries of course took a more alarmist view, especially immediately after the fall of France.  A Fortune magazine survey of American in July 1940 found that 63 percent expected that an Axis triumph would bring an immediate German attempt to seize territory in the Western Hemisphere; 43 percent expected an imminent attack on the United States.9  American army generals feared a Nazi invasion of South America, and to forestall it wanted a major base in Trinidad.10 The continued resistance of Britain calmed such alarm for a while, though it was to be revived in somewhat similar form in 1942 with the anticipation of German aerial attacks on American cities and towns.  Seacoast areas were allotted major antiair-craft units.  Blackout regulations were widely enforced.  School children were taught how to crouch against basement walls clenching corks between their teeth in the event of bombardment.  Fiorello LaGuardia, then head of the Office of Civilian Defense, wanted 50 million gas masks.11

All of this of course seems more than a little absurd in light of known—then as well as now—German capabilities.  Not a single German bomb ever did fall in North or South America.  Any kind of troop landing required naval and logistic support utterly beyond Hitler’s reach.  After all, it was not until two and a half years of war, with vast shipping and naval superiority, and a base in Britain, that the Allies felt able to cross even the English Channel in an invasion the other way.  The bogeyman of Nazi troops in America had no more substance than that, several years later, of Russian landings.

This is not to say that ultimately a German victory might not have posed some such dangers, nor to imply any certainty about limitations to Hitler’s intentions.  A. J. P. Taylor paints Hitler as essentially a classical German statesman without real ambition to dominate Europe; Alan Bullock sees ambition, but directed largely toward Eastern Europe and certainly not toward the new world.12  We need not accept either of these views.  Other writers grant that the documents have turned up no German plan before December 1941 for a military attack on the United States, but contend that such plans might well have developed ultimately.  One does show some Hitlerian ravings and notions of ultimate war with America, beginning in October 1940.  This same author emphasizes that the mere absence of plans is no proof that Hitler did not have, or could not have developed, the intent.13  At this point the argument of those who posit the possibility of a later threat becomes impossible to refute.  One must ask realistic questions about German capability, not intention.

Very possibly a stalemate would not have marked the end of Hitler’s ambitions, but that is not really the point.  For some time at least, Germany would not have been supreme as an immediate menace to the United States.  One further step in still another war would first be required—the ultimate victory over Britain and/or Russia, and if that should in fact be threatened, the United States could still have intervened then, and done so while allies existed.  By the end of 1941 the pressure for such intervention had really passed for that war.  Even those who most heavily stress the dangers of Nazi subversion in North and South America grant that “There still would be ominous eddies, but by the summer of 1940 the Nazi cause was in retreat in the new world.”14

Two important “might have been” qualifications need to be acknowledged before one can be at all satisfied that the strategic scenario I have sketched is sufficiently plausible.  The first is the possibility of a separate peace on the eastern front, another Hitler-Stalin pact, more durable and more dangerous than the one of August 1939.  Certainly both leaders were unscrupulous and firmly in control of their governments; the possibility cannot be dismissed. But what kind of an agreement?  Simply to call off the war and accept a compromise settlement?  That in fact is what we have hypothesized in the above scenario, no different except that possibly the agreement could have come “too soon” before both were sufficiently bled to cut into their power to threaten others.

An agreement to become cobelligerents against the British, with Stalin changing sides, does seem implausible.  For strategic reasons if for no others, Germany was a far greater threat to Russia than was Britain.  Britain, with a navy but only a small army, was far distant from the great and nearly self-sufficient Russian land-mass; Germany, with a great army, was Russia’s neighbor.  Once they had drawn each others’ blood to the extent they had in the first six months of war, could they conceivably have trusted each other sufficiently in a negotiated peace for the Germans to turn their forces westward?  So long as the Nazi political and military machines were intact, could the Russians have undertaken serious ventures that would reduce their screening forces against another German attack?  Given the mental states of the two dictators, could they really have maintained a stable alliance relationship for very long?  Stalin was paranoid enough not to trust anyone, certainly not Hitler.  But he would have had to be a raving maniac actively to help Hitler bring down Germany’s last opponent.


The Bomb

The other potential flaw is The Bomb.  Lacking the immense pressures of actual participation in World War II, the United States might not have pressed its nuclear research program so hard.  Without question fewer resources would have been put into the Manhattan project, and explosion of the first bomb delayed.  Might it have been postponed long enough for Germany to get its own bomb first, and in sufficient quantity to tip the military balance from stalemate?  The possibility cannot be dismissed, but it does not appear to be a strong one.  The American nuclear effort received its first military money in 1940, and already had made important progress before Pearl Harbor.  Though delayed, achievement of a bomb in America probably would have occurred by 1946 or 1947.  As was discovered by their somewhat surprised conquerors in 1945, the Germans were not at all close to getting their own bomb; the western allies had feared they were farther along than they proved to be.

There seems never to have been formulated a feasible plan for producing any fission device that could be expected to aid in bringing a German victory . . . Until the very last we could hardly believe that the Germans’ fission studies were achieving nothing of military significance.15

Furthermore, there are very few examples in modern warfare between industrial nations where one state achieves a decisive military advantage over the other with a new weapon.  Even given military secrecy, weapons development is dependent upon a scientific base that is international and largely a matter of public information.  Hence, any large industrial state has access to this base for military applications.  And since the stages of procurement and installation normally take so long even after a weapon is developed, an initially laggard state has a good bit of time to catch up before the other has the weapon in sufficient quantity to change the military balance critically.  Certainly during World War I none of the major innovations, such as tanks or gas, gave a decisive advantage to either side, although if procured secretly in great quantity and then unleashed they did have that potential.  Nor was the actual use of atomic bombs in 1945 such a deviation from the above principle as it may seem.  The United States had only two bombs in August 1945, and used both.16  They were enough to induce surrender (but just barely) by an already beaten opponent, but could not have had that effect against an economically and militarily still viable state.


1) Even without the great pressures of actual participation in World War II, the United States (or Britain) might very well have developed the atomic bomb before Germany did anyway.  This of course assumes that the United States was truly carrying on a major program of rearmament and preparedness, perhaps equivalent to the eight-to-ten percent of gross national product (GNP) spent on defense that has been typical of the last two decades.  But the whole discussion, not just the point about the atom bomb, depends on this assumption.

2) Should the Germans have made the bomb first, they were unlikely to do so with sufficient lead time over the Americans and British to procure bombs in a quantity that could determine the outcome of the war.  Delivery vehicles would have constituted an additional problem to the Germans.  In 1945 they were still possibly as much as a decade away from a capability of bombing the United States effectively.  (The same was proved true of the Russians.)  One must admit that the tight little islands of the British were most vulnerable, and there is a chance, small but real, that German atom bombs, perhaps delivered by V-weapons, could have been critical there.  But perhaps the strongest caution against exaggerating the effect of a possible German bomb comes from recalling how little confidence many American governmental officials later had in the military utility of their own bomb.  For several years after World War II, and despite the American nuclear monopoly, they feared they could not deter Russia from military adventures.

If we do acknowledge some possibility that American aloofness from combat could, despite my arguments, have led to a very bad outcome, a clear-cut German victory, we should also acknowledge the perhaps equal chance that the Nazis might have been soundly defeated by the British and Russians alone.  After long years of economic blockade and slowly-building Soviet strength, ultimate German defeat is not utterly implausible.  Maybe Britain, with Canadian help, would have gotten the bomb first.  Also, it is quite conceivable that Hitler would have been overthrown.  The July 1944 attempt on his life was, after all, a very close thing, a matter of a couple of feet in the placement of the briefcase bomb under his table.  A long, wearing war going beyond spring 1945 would undoubtedly have generated new pressures for his removal.

Two aspects of this argument should nevertheless be made clear.  First, some of it is being made with all the advantages of hindsight; while the general outline might have been clear to Franklin Roosevelt at the end of 1941, it may be unfair to expect, retrospectively, that he should have foreseen the stalemate outcome.  Perhaps the most important component in the stalemate thesis is the German defeat at Stalingrad, and no one could have relied upon that.  A no-win solution should have appeared as a very possible ending to the war, but with the incomplete returns before Pearl Harbor, depending on it would have seemed to pose great risks.  (On the other hand, no political figure at that time really foresaw the chance that Germany might develop atomic weapons, which becomes a hindsight argument in justification of intervention.)  The most important flaw that one can find in Roosevelt’s policy is one for which he has been often and roundly denounced—the failure to comprehend how unavoidably American intervention, if successful, would bring Russia into Central Europe to fill the vacuum left by defeated Germany.  The demand for unconditional surrender was to make this inescapable.

Even less does this argument imply criticism of Winston Churchill’s basic policy.  For the United States, the continued independence of Britain was to provide the margin, the buffer, to make nonintervention an acceptable strategy.  As long as Britain was there, to serve as an ally and absorb the initial impact of any German attack in a later round, conceding a compromise peace to Hitler raised only tolerable risks.  The United States was distant, possessed great resources for a mobilization base, and would not be immediately harmed in any serious way by German domination of much of the continent. But Britain had none of these luxuries.  Even should one accept A. J. P. Taylor’s view of Hitler’s intentions, the consequences of new German strength carried great risk.  Utter destruction of the traditional European balance of power and German presence on the other side of the Straits of Dover would be too much to bear.  Britain would then be in the front lines, and she had to fight for a peace that would leave her a greater margin.  For Britain, equivalent resources in Russian hands almost a thousand miles away would pose a little less threat than in possession of the more proximate Germans.


A moral imperative?

Finally, we ought to confront the argument that sheer morality demanded American intervention against Hitler.  I have deliberately left this issue aside, defining our concern to be only with the structure of the international system, the relative weight of power facing the United States and its potential allies.  My argument has accepted the “realist” one that fears the concentration of great power in other hands regardless of the apparent goals, ideology, or morality of those wielding that power.  Concern with the morality of others’ domestic politics is an expensive luxury, and evaluations all too subject to rapid change.  (Consider, for example, the wobbly course of many Americans’ attitudes toward the government of Chiang Kai-shek.)  By this view one should be indifferent between Stalin and Hitler except as one of them possessed greater power.

Yet some would maintain that Hitler was just too evil to tolerate, that the United States had a moral duty to exterminate him and free those under his rule.  Without question to most of us, Hitler was indeed a very evil man.  His murder of approximately ten million civilians (in addition to the six million Jews there were others: Poles, Gypsies, and other alleged untermenschen) can hardly be ignored, and I do not doubt that he would have been capable of even greater atrocities had he lived longer and ruled a wider area.

Still, in this context Hitler must be compared with Stalin, who was hardly a saint, and who as a result of the complete German collapse in 1945 emerged from the war with an immensely greater empire.  We must remember the terror and paranoid purges of his rule, and such examples of Stalinist humanity as the starvation of millions of kulaks.  The worst Nazi crimes emerged only in 1943 and later at Nuremberg.  German “medical experiments” and extermination camps were unknown to the world in 1941.  Though the Hitler regime had anything but a savory reputation then, the moral argument too is essentially one made in hindsight, not a primary motivation at the time war was declared.  Nor in fact did the war save very many Jews.  Hardly more than 20 percent of European Jewish population alive at the time of Pearl Harbor survived at the end.17 War-time opportunities to bargain with the Nazis for Jewish lives were ignored.

I personally find it hard to develop a very emphatic preference for Stalinist Russia over Hitlerite Germany, but chacun á son gout.  In cold-blooded realist terms, Nazism as an ideology was almost certainly less dangerous to the United States than is Communism.  Marxism-Leninism has a worldwide appeal; Nazism lacks much palatability to non-Aryan tastes.  But if in the end one wants to argue that the horrors of Nazism were too great and so warranted American intervention, that is a perfectly reasonable position so long as one states it clearly.  A powerful argument may be that in Western Europe-France, the Low Countries, Scandinavia, Italy, and Germany itself-stalemate under Nazi occupation would have meant social transformations that might have doomed for many years the culture of parliamentary democracy.  It could be rescued by American intervention (as Eastern Europe could not) providing that the intervention came soon.  While the survival of democracy on the continent was not central to American strategic or material interests, many of us, this author included, would deplore its loss.  At the same time, a purely moral basis for war must not be confused with the objective threat to American national security that Germany did or did not constitute.



1 In fact there is reason to believe that Hitler never had much faith in Sea Lion, recognizing the great hurdles in its way. See F. M. Sallagar, The Road to Total War: Escalation in World War II (Santa Monica, California: Rand Corporation, R-46S-PR, Ig6g), pp. 68-80.

2 William L. Langer and S. Everett Gleason, The Undeclared War, 1940-1941 (New York: Harper & Row, 1953), p. 533.

3 See Albert Speer, Inside the Third Reich (New York: Macmillan, I970), p. 2I3, and Burton Klein, Germany’s Economic Preparations for War (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, I959), esp. p. 99.

4 See Herbert Feis, Roosevelt, Churchill, Stalin (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1957), p. 78. Robert Huhn Jones, The Roads to Russia; United States Lend-Lease to the Soviet Union (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1969) contends that although quantitatively not great, the particular composition of American aid may have been critical.

5 Among the many proponents of the generally-held opinion that Hitler wanted badly to avoid war with the United States at this stage are Paul W. Schroeder, The Axis Alliance and Japanese-American Relations, 1941 (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1958), pp. 47-72; James V. Compton, The Swastika and the Eagle (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1967), pp. 161-73; and Saul Friedlander, Prelude to Downfall: Hitler and the United States, 1939-1941 (New York: Knopf, 1967).

6 Hans L. Trefousse, Germany and American Neutrality, 1939-1941 (New York: Bookman, 1951).

7 Sallagar, Road to Total War, p. 66.

8 George F. Kennan, Memoirs, 1925-1950 (Boston: Little Brown, 1967, pp. 129-30. Kennan also argued, contrary to the widespread belief of the late 1940S, that Russia was not a serious military threat to the United States requiring rearmament or establishment of NATO.  See Chapter 17 of Memoirs, and the section by Hammond in Warner Schilling, Paul Hammond and Glenn Snyder, Strategy, Politics, and Defense Budgets (New York: Columbia University Press, 1962).

9 Cited in Manfred Jonas, Isolationism in America (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1966), p. 213.

10 Mark Skinner Watson, Chief of Staff: Prewar Plans and Preparation (Washington: Department of the Army, 1950).

11 Richard R. Lingeman, Don’t You Know There’s a War On? The American Home Front, 1941-1945 (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1970), p. 36. In the winter of 1944-45 the commander of the Atlantic fleet ordered deactivated air raid wardens back to their posts, saying V-bomb attacks were not only “possible but probable,” p. 267.

12 A. J. P. Taylor, The Origins of the Second World War (New York: Atheneum, 1966); Alan Bullock, Hitler: A Study in Tyranny (New York: Harper and Row, 1962, rev. ed.).

13 Alton Frye, Nazi Germany and the American Hemisphere, 1933-1941 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1967), and Compton, Swastika and the Eagle.

14 Frye, Nazi Germany, p. 130. Hitler’s psychic ability to pursue his grandiose aims successfully is also in doubt. One historian concludes, “Throughout his life, Adolf Hitler flirted with failure and involved himself unnecessarily in situations that were fraught with danger.” R. G. L. Waite, “Adolf Hitler’s Guilt Feelings: A Problem in History and Psychology,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History I, no. 2 (1971): 239.

15 Arthur H. Compton, Atomic Quest: A Personal Narrative (New York: Oxford University Press, 1956), p. 225. See also Speer, Inside, pp.225-29·

16 A third was being completed, but was not ready until after the Japanese capitulation. Richard C. Hewlett and Oscar E. Anderson, The New World, 1939-1946 (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, Ig62), p. 405.

17 According to Raul Hilberg, The Destruction of the European Jews (Chicago: Quadrangle, 1961), p. 767, approximately 970,000 survived in Eastern Europe outside the Soviet Union. Perhaps another 700,000 on the continent of Western Europe were spared.


Forward to Chapter 3: A Hobson’s Choice for Japan

Back to Chapter 1: Isolationism Old and New

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