Friday, July 12, 2013
Why They Fought
Much of his genuine popularity at that time rested on the fact that Hitler had delivered great victories, in the sense of expanding the German borders, without actually having to fight. He was called the “miracle man”, the man who “conquers with words”. As such, Hitler first tried to gain Danzig by diplomatic means, proposing to Poland that the city be allowed to vote on annexation to the Reich (which would surely be favorable to Germany) but promising the Poles that they would still be allowed to keep their Baltic Sea coastline with Germany being given only a narrow corridor of road and rail lines to link Germany proper with Danzig and East Prussia. By that time, however, the Allies (primarily Britain and France) had decided that they would oppose any further moves Hitler made even if that meant a European war. A “war guarantee” was given to Poland by which Britain and France promised to declare war on Germany if Hitler made any aggressive move toward Poland. Armed with this promise, the Poles could be more strident in their opposition than Austria or Czechoslovakia had been and they refused all German proposals. National pride was also at risk and, after a stunning victory over the Soviets, the Polish military rulers may have thought things were not as bad as they seemed. Hitler, never the sort to handle defiance very well, ordered his troops to invade, perhaps still not really believing that Britain and France would go to war on behalf of a country they could do nothing to help when in the past they had done everything possible to avoid it.
As an island nation with a small population and no sources of oil of their own, Japan depended on imports of oil to maintain their war effort and (it is often forgotten) to simply maintain a modern standard of living such as every other industrialized country enjoyed. The United States cut off all trade with Japan, froze Japanese assets in the United States and encouraged Great Britain and the Dutch government-in-exile to do the same. The U.S. also sent Japan an ultimatum ordering the Japanese to withdraw from China completely, including Manchuria. This might have been simply ignored were it not for the stoppage of oil imports by America, Britain and Holland as the only sources of oil available to Japan in those days were those in the United States, Malaysia (controlled by the British) or Indonesia (controlled by the Dutch). So, with virtually no oil at all coming in, Japan faced either total military and social collapse or the surrender of all they had been fighting for over the last ten years to comply with American orders. The only other option was to fight and occupy the areas of southeast Asia that had the resources they needed. Oddly enough, part of the reason Japan had been so interested in taking control of Manchuria was so that they would not be dependent on foreign sources of oil and subject to the sort of pressure the U.S. was placing on them.
When reduced down to the bare minimum, words like Danzig, coal and oil hardly seem sufficient in justifying war but when it is a global conflict with many millions of dead any words would certainly seem insufficient justification. The Allies certainly had more noble words or at least noble-sounding words which they presented to their people as the reason for going to war. However, words like “freedom”, “democracy” and “self-determination” were certainly not the rewards of a great many people after the war ended in an Allied victory. If you were on the wrong side of the “Iron Curtain” when it was over, it would not be unreasonable to wonder if you might not have been better off if the Axis had won. Certainly it must have been a bitter pill for Poland in particular. Britain and France went to war with Germany, starting a second world war, in defense of the independence of Poland only to have the war end with Poland being subject to a red-shirted dictator rather than a brown-shirted one. Sometimes war is the only way, yet at the same time, losses on such a monumental and global scale cause any reason or attempt at justification to shrink in comparison. In the end, the Allies won but everyone knows that did not mean everything got better for everyone in the world afterwards.