Renowned scholar Victor Davis Hanson offers a profound analysis of World War II’s far-reaching consequences in this 2016 presentation for the esteemed History Department of Hillsdale College.

For more on this topic, Dr. Hanson’s YouTube channel has a playlist entitled “The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won” which gives an excellent account of the most lethal conflict in human history.


Victor Davis Hansen Why World War II Matters

Victor Davis Hanson: Thank you very much. This is my 13th year that I’ve visited Hillsdale to teach. It’s been 14 years since your president, Larry Arnn came to my farm. He called me up and said, “I’d like to talk to you about coming to Hillsdale.” Then I said, “Where is it?” He said, “Michigan.” I knew where it was, but I acted as if I didn’t and I said, “God, I can’t go to Michigan.” He said, “When I’m done with breakfast, you’ll be coming to Hillsdale,” and he was right.

I’d like to talk for about 35 minutes about World War II, that’s what we call it. In Britain, it’s known as a Second World War, and then I’d like to entertain questions. I have a book that’s coming out from Basic Books called The Second World Wars, plural because this idea about a holistic single war was a very late concept, not until about 1941, and we’ll get to that in a minute. I was always confused as a little boy growing up in the late 1950s and early 1960s. We would go to these family dinners on the farm. I had one uncle who fought in the Aleutians. He’d say he fought the Japanese and was called and he tendered plane.

I had a first cousin who fought in Iran and his job was to be at Basrah and convey Dodge trucks to the Russians to fight Army Group South on the Eastern Front in 1942 and 1943. I had a father, who’s the loudest of everybody, who flew 39 missions in a B-29. He would talk about his brother Victor Hanson who I was named after, who was killed on Sugar Loaf Hill on the last day, 6th Marine Division in 1945. I had another first cousin who would come to these things and he said he rolled with pattern and I said, “What does rolled with Patton mean?” He fought in the 3rd Army as well.

When it was all over, I would say to my dad, “These guys, you didn’t fight in the same war.” I remember that conversation, so it was the impetus for this book. He said, “What do you mean?” I said, “Some guys fought the Italians, and some guys fought the Germans, and some guys fought the Japanese?” I was only about 12, I didn’t know what I was talking about, but I had a good instinct in that sense. I said, “They fought from the Aleutian Islands and the Japanese, the Pacific, all the way down to New Guinea, and from the middle of China all the way to Hawaii, and then The European Front from the Volga River all the way out off the coast?

They sank submarines three miles off the coast of Miami and from Norway and the Arctic Circle to the Sahara Desert?” Then as I got older, I kept reverberating it in my mind and I thought, “What did they have in common?” I know that the fascists at least could make the argument that Italian fascism, and Japanese militarism, and national socialism in Germany were alike, but what did we, the Allies, the three major belligerents? The British were parliamentary democracy, but they did want to hold the empire. There no person who wanted to get rid of it more than Franklin Roosevelt. We were very anti-British in that sense.

Of course, we allied with Joseph Stalin who had killed more people than anybody alive at that time. The answer, of course, is they had only thing in common, the Allies. They all had either been surprise-attacked by an Axis Power or in the case of Britain, their ally had been attacked. That was all they had in common at that point. That was the basis of the allies.

They said, “We don’t have to be perfect, we just have to be good because these people have attacked us or our interests.” That was a basis for this idea, the Second World War is a unique whole.

The Global Scope and Unique Nature of World War II

If you think about it, it really matters because there’s a lot of things I’m going to try to get in the next 30 minutes, but one thing is there had never been an event like it before. 60 to 65 million people died. That figure at the end of World War II was 40 million. It keeps going up every year as research comes in, mostly from two fronts, the Chinese Front where the total is now up to 17 million people, and, of course, the Eastern Front, 27 million people. In other words, it was much more lethal than the Great Plague of the 14th century, The Black Death. It was more lethal than any tornado, earthquake in the history of the human experience.

Of all the wars that have happened in the last 300 years together, the death toll did not match World War II. There has been nothing like it. 27,000 people died per day for six years. Why we’d been in Hillsdale today, more people died in the same commensurate in three and a half hours than died in Iraq in the late Iraq War. It was that lethal. A couple of other things that are just mind-boggling, it’s the only war, a major war in which more civilians were killed, 80% of the 65 million were civilians. It’s the only war where the losers killed 75% of the people, the losers did. Japan killed seven times more people than they lost and they lost, so there’s things that are bizarre about it.

Ideological Factors and the Unprecedented Death Toll

How do we explain this? It’s inexplicable. Why was it so lethal? A couple of things jump out at us. It was the first war when we had two billion people on the planet. More people died because there were more people alive. We never had a mechanized war with that many people alive. It was a first truly global war. We call it World War I, but it didn’t go down to Africa. The Graf Spee in World War II was sunken in Buenos Aires. Nothing like that was comparable in World War I. There was not a Pacific theater in World War I. This was a total global war all over the globe. It, unfortunately, occurred at a period of Western technological excellence, the zenith of Western technology.

Technological Advancements and Their Impact on the War’s Lethality

The internal combustion engine had reached the pinnacle of efficiency, 500, 400-mile planes, ships. People could travel very quickly and reach these places. There were instantaneous communications. That added to the death toll. There had never been weapons like this before in any war. This was a Western versus a Western war. It was not the Western versus a non-Western. It wasn’t the British fighting the Zulus where it was very quick and lethal because they had the technology and the others didn’t. It was not a non-Western, non-Western, the Aztecs fighting the Toltecs. It was Western powers turning that tradition on each other at a time when they had reached the pinnacle of their excellence.

There had never been anything in the world like Napalm. There had never been anything like the plutonium and uranium bombs. There had never been anything like a V-2 rocket. There had never been anything like a B-29, so technology, it counts for a lot of it as does the sheer numbers of people alive. The war was long. There had been longer wars, 30 years war, 100 years war, but not recently in the modern industrial age. Civil War was four years roughly, World War I was four years. This war was six years long. That explains some of it.

In every technological cycle, there is peaks and valleys between offensive weapons and defensive weapons.

In the ancient world, Greek armor was protective. It was not able to be penetrated, and casualties were only 10% of battles. Until the age of gunpowder, a city could resist a catapult. At other times, even with the introduction of gunpowder, the arquebus was so slow-firing that it was hard to kill a lot of people. Today, we’re back into a defensive cycle. There are things and Kevlar helmets and ceramic plates that protect. I went to Iraq twice during the surge. I remember going to the operation headquarters and there was a wall with people’s body armor where they were shattered with AK-47 bullets and a little sign “This person got no wounds.”

That was inconceivable in World War II. Machine guns today are not that much different than World War II, but defensive armor exist in a way it did not in World War II. There was also, and I think this is very important, there were ideologies that had never quite existed before. Most of the wars of the past in Europe and Asia were fought over territory or religion or race or ethnicity, but never quite ideology. There were new ideologies of the 20th century that were secular, agnostic, atheistic, mostly national socialism, Italian fascism, and Soviet communism.

They were a mishmash of bastardized views of everybody from Bognor, to Nietzsche to Darwin, to the progressive idea of eugenics and natural selection and sterilization, but they all had one thing in common, they introduced to the equation a relativism about good and bad. They were relative movements. If you wanted to kill six million Jews, you could find a exegesis to support that without having to be condemned by religion. There was the idea of survival of the fittest or there was the idea of a national destiny or an idea in Russia of radical equality is worth it, but in all of these ideologies, the so-called exalted ends justified any means necessary.

If we put all of that together, we may end up with a stew that nobody ever dealt with and explains for a large part this horrific tally. Now, the word World War II in America and the Second World War was a very late word, not really employed until about 1941. If people look back at World War I in September when Germany invaded Poland, they still knew it as the Great War. For about a year and a half, there was no indication that this war would become what it was, a global bloodbath. Germany invaded Poland with the Soviet Union. In 28 days, the war was over. Germany invaded the next spring, Denmark one day, Norway about six weeks.

In April, it was over. Germany invaded the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium, and France. Nobody could believe that would be possible. They had not been able to do it in World War I. They had only gone 70 miles. This time, they took the entire Western democracies, all that area in seven weeks. The Battle of Britain, the first time they had been stopped but not their army, only their Navy and their Air Force, and they took the Balkans, as you remember, in April of 1941 in Greece in Crete. In all of that period, Germany only lost 100,000 soldiers. The war was over. Hitler had achieved what nobody else in history had done.

Not Napoleon, not Caesar, he had basically combined what is now the European Union. Any country that opposed him were pro-Nazi anyway, Switzerland, the Iberians, and Portugal, and Spain. My ancestors in Sweden were, not only selling him iron ore but doing it with free transit and credit. Turkey was pro-Nazi at this time. He’d achieved it. The war was over. There was a problem in Britain only because there was this problem called Winston Churchill. Halifax would have cut a deal. The former King Edward would have cut– There was one man who’d come to be the prime minister the day of the invasion, he would not yield.

Comparative Analysis of World War I and World War II Dynamics

We were isolationist and the Soviet Union were collaborationist. Here’s what I think a very valuable lesson. How did that happen? It had not happened in 1870 or ’71, it had not happened in 1914 and 1918. How, in less than two years, that the whole infrastructure of Europe crumbled? I know some of us think, “They were Nazis, they had panzers, they had Bf-109s.” The answer is no. It was a weird combination of British and French appeasement, Russian collaboration, and American isolationism. I’d like very quickly to run through what I mean by that.

When Hitler turned to the West after conquering Poland and building an alliance with Bulgaria, and Romania, and Hungary and having the help of the Soviet Union on his rear, his generals came to him and okay H and okay W, “You can’t go into France. We did that one time. We only got 70 miles. We lost 1.1 million people.” Churchill had said the hope of the West is the French army. We think today that the panzers were indestructible. The German Army was three million people, France had three million people. The combined arms of the Netherlands and Belgium was almost another 500,000. The British Expeditionary army was going to have 300,000.

The Allies had almost four million soldiers. They had 3,000 tanks, the Sher-B tank, to take one example, had a 75-millimeter gun, superior to anything in the German arsenal, Mark I, Mark II or Mark III. The Mark Is that went into Poland didn’t even have a main gun on them. The Germans were quite surprised at the submarine, Spitfire, and most characteristic, was comparable to the BF-109, and French Dewoitine fighters were superior. What I’m getting at is, materially, it shouldn’t have happened. It should have been a deadlock. Even though they had the marginal line, they knew they could not go through it, they had to go through the ordinance, so what happened?

The Failure of Deterrence and the Role of Appeasement, Isolationism, and Collaboration

It’s a lesson for the time and that is they lost deterrence. It’s comparable to this last six months in the United States and all of a sudden, Putin is buzzing, “That’s not all of our aircraft.” All of a sudden, the Iranians are trying to cause a incident with our ships. All of a sudden, people in South Sudan shoot an American diplomatic car. All of a sudden, North Korea is sending these things and it can’t be true because we have overwhelming military power. The answer is military power is important up to a point, but you have to have deterrence and not deference.

To get back, what I’m getting at is if a man from Mars looked at the comparable military strength in Europe at that time, they would have said Hitler would be insane as he was told by General Haller, “You’re insane to even think of it.” General Beck resigned, “You cannot do this.” He said, “I’ve seen them at Munich and they’re worms.” That’s the term he used. The more you try to be affable to Hitler, Chamberlain did, he said, Hermann Göring said, Chamberlain was very nice to him, he said, “If I see that old man again, I’m going to jump on his umbrella.”

He brought out a trait in human nature that the more you try to defer to someone when you have power that you did not need to defer, the more you earn contempt for your magnanimity, rather than appreciation. In 1928 in France, it was against the law to put in a school book any mention of the triumph that were done. In Holland in 1930, a destroyer was renamed to a flotilla leader because they thought that the word destroyer was too provocative. In 1933, the Oxford debating society in a very famous debate said, “For King and country, I shall not fight.”

At the same time, they were already trying to violate the tenets of the Versailles Treaty in Germany. Mussolini was already planning to go into Ethiopia. The Japanese had been fighting for two years. There was a sense of appeasement, which was a good word at that time that you were ready to listen. Soft power, lead from behind, that’s what it was, but it meant that they sacrificed their material advantages because the people in it were not willing to fight. In other words, they lost deterrence because they were not willing to lose a few thousand soldiers so they wouldn’t lose 60 million people in a war.

That translated on the battlefield as a BF-109 was no better than a French fighter, a Mark III tank was no better or worse than a Sher tank, but five missions for a BF-109 per day, two for a French fighter. French tanks ran out of gas, Germans did not. French got to the Moose River to defend it. They asked where the bridging equipment was, they waited a day and a half, Rommel swam across the river. That was the difference. There was another ingredient that made the inexplicable, not just possible but certain and that was American isolationism. Now, we had a fight over the Versailles Treaty. Today, we often think the Versailles Treaty was too punitive.

The Americans didn’t want any part of the League of Nations. They said, “We brought two million people over there. We saved them at the last moment and we’re not going to get involved.” All they had to do, the United States, is say forget the League of Nations, multi power never works, we just have an alliance with the French and the British, that if they are invaded, we will send the two million people as we did in the war.” We got a million over there in six months. Had we done that after the invasion of Poland and had a million soldiers been there, they probably would have had a deterrent and Hitler would not have gone into Western Europe.

We didn’t do that because we felt that the Versailles Treaty had been unfair. There were people who were saying, “World War I, now that I think about it, was the cause of arms merchants, automatic alliances that caused automatic mobilizations, greedy capitalist, everything but German imperial aggression.” Believe me, the Versailles Treaty compared to what we did to Germany after World War II was a piece of cake. Nothing in the Versailles Treaty said, “We’re going to go into Germany, occupy it, cut it in fours, and have troops there for 50 years.”

Does anybody here in Germany who say “We have to go to war again because you were mean after 1945?” The answer is we did the two stupid things that you do in the history of war is you are punitive and you’re weak. We humiliated Germany and the war clause, and then we were not willing to occupy the country and stand with a gun to their head and say, “You’re going to have a Weimar Republic and we’re going to watch it day by day by day.”

If you compare the Versaille Treaty, if we had just looked at what the September program, that’s the idea of what Germany would have done had they won World War I, and exiled all of Belgium, all the French ports, get rid of Luxembourg, it’s pretty punitive what they did to Russia in 1918 at Brest-Litovsk. They annexed 50 million people. We forget today that in World War I, there were only 80 miles outside St. Petersburg, the German army. They took a million square miles of Czarist Russia. It was the most punitive piece and nobody said that’s too mean. 1871, they took all the Alsace-Lorraine. We were wedded to the wrong exegesis of what had happened, we wanted no part of it and that empowered Hitler.

There was a final and probably the most important catalyst for this unnecessary war that turned border skirmishes into World War II and that was the Soviet Union was not just appeasing in isolation, it was collaborationist. On August 23 of 1939, they signed a nonaggression pact with Adolf Hitler. They ended up providing Hitler with 30% of its oil, 30% of its wheat, almost 20% of precious metals, chromium, I think tungsten and things like that. At one point later on when Stalin, of course, as he always did, berated Churchill for not opening a second front.

Churchill turned to him and said, “Wait a minute, the junkers and the downers, bombers that were killing British people in September of 1940 were fueled by your oil wells in the Caucasus.” We forget something about Stalin. Of the six major belligerence in World War II on the Axis side to Italy, Japan, and Germany, and the United States, Russia, and Britain, Stalin cut a deal with every one of them at one time or another. He honored the ones where the Axis is better than he did us. He never broke the nonaggression pact with Germany and by affiliation with Italy. He signed one with the Japanese in April of 1941 right before the invasion by the Germans.

It was so effective that you could take a liberty ship from Portland or Seattle full of aluminum, take it all the way to Vladivostok, the Pacific port of the Soviet Union, and the Japanese would get away and not touch it because they didn’t want to violate that nonaggression. Even though they were killing us in places like Toro and Iwo Jima. That collaboration which didn’t do many good, did it? That collaboration allowed Hitler to turn westward. He said later in table talk, “I would have never done that had I not had a secure plan.” Think of this, isolationism, appeasement, and collaboration did something that shouldn’t have happened.

It turned a border war in 1941 into a global conflagration because of three event all explicable by these three motives. Number one, nobody thought that Hitler would be so stupid to invade the Soviet Union. Soviet Union in the period from August 23, 1939, to the period when Hitler stabbed Stalin in the back and invaded Russia gave more precious metals and resources to the Third Reich each month than they got in an entire year by looting the Soviet Union. It was the stupidest thing in the world. The Third Reich had 80 million people, the Soviet Union had 180 million, and yet they almost, as you know, pulled it off.

That would not have happened had these other events not occurred first. That meant that all of a sudden, a dormant border war that had been no fighting since Crete in April turned into a new World War. Suddenly the front went from Crete and Athens very quickly to Rostov outside of St. Petersburg. If you can believe, I don’t know if we should believe the soldiers of Army Group Center, but they said on December 5th, they saw the Spires of the Kremlin. The front had turned into a continental war between Asia and Europe.

That was not just a World War yet.

Two other events that nobody had decided occurred on December 7th when the Japanese surprised us, attacked us in the Marianas, the Philippines, Wake Island, and, of course, Pearl Harbor, and then the British in Malaya, Burma, and most tragically, Singapore. Why did that happen? Because as general Yamamoto, we all think he was such a wonderful man that can raise hell for six months. No, he said, “I will resign if you don’t let me do Pearl Harbor.” We all said, “Admirably Yamamoto, Foreign Minister Mazzuca, and general Yamaguchi, they’d all been in the United States in the ’20s. They respected us. They understood how nice we were.”

No, they had contempt for us. They said so in their memoirs. Yamamoto said, “I’ve seen these people, they have nice cars and they wear spats.” He was right and he thought that he would give us a terrible slap on the face and we would say, “Please, we will do it.” Why did he think that? Because he said and the Japanese foreign minister said, “Any country that won’t come to the aid of Britain while it’s burning down surely won’t care about a few battleships and carriers at Pearl Harbor.” We had the second largest Navy in the world. We all think the Japanese Navy had 11 carriers, most carriers in the world, but in tonnage and types of ships and quality, the United States had a superior Navy.

As they were bombing Pearl Harbor, we had 27 carriers on order that were built within two years. We built 151 light escort and fleet care. It was insane to do that. Why did they do it? Same reason that Hitler went into the Soviet Union because they didn’t think that the dangers outweighed the possible glory and material benefit. They had good reason because of appeasement, isolationism, and collaboration. Then finally, the third unfortunate event that turned a border war in Europe into a global Holocaust, I don’t know why it happened, we can argue about this. On December 11th, Germany and Italy declared war on us. Think of that.

Why did they do it? Hitler gave 50 different reasons depending on what day of the week you happened to transcribe his rants at night at 2:00 in the morning. Sometimes he said, “I wanted to help. Our U-boat commanders who were sick and tired of seeing American ships go right out of Miami with a silhouette in the city and they couldn’t touch them.” They did sink 14 million tons of Anglo American shipping at the time of the war. Sometimes he said, “I went to war because I owed it to the Japanese.” As General Warren once says, “You didn’t owe them anything. You double-cross them with a non-aggression pact when they were fighting Zhukov in 1939 when they did it to us. That’s what we do, we’re Axis.”

Sometimes he said that the Americans will have a two-front war. “I’m brilliant, I’ve never had a two-front war,” and they said, “You have a two-front war. You’ve got Britain now and America.” “No, Americans are cowboys, it will take them five years to get there.” Who knows what the reason was and even less so Mussolini, but those three events; the invasion of Soviet Union in June, Pearl Harbor, and the declaration by the Germans followed by our own counter declaration later in the day meant that now the war was, as I said, global and it was pretty inevitable. That it was going to be a lethal war like no other.

Military Strategies and the Axis Powers’ Underestimation of Allied Forces

There was a simple calculus that sums up the war and we’ll get to the ending and that is could the Axis Powers who had been fighting in Spain, in China, in the Anschluss, Berlin, Czechoslovakia and had rearmed much earlier, could they defeat the Allied Powers before they rearmed? If they couldn’t, they were going to lose. They had 200 million people, Soviet Union, United States, and Great Britain had 400 million. They had tanks. Britain produced more tanks in World War II than did Germany. Soviet Union produced 70,000, we produce 55,000, Germany only produced 20,000.

There were 600,000 airframes produced in World War II. 600,000, we produce 400,000 of them. Germans never built a four-engine bomber, they couldn’t do it. The Japanese couldn’t do it, the Italians couldn’t do it. The Americans and the British produce 40,000 of them. That was going to be inevitable. By 1945 in September, the United States gross domestic product was larger than Germany’s, Japan’s, what was left of Italy’s, Britain’s, and the Soviet Union put together. There was no way they were going to win that war if we mobilize. We being the Allies, so they had to win it very quickly. I thought they almost did it.

They almost did it by, I think the high water mark would be sometime in July of 1942. Army Group Center was about a hundred miles from the Caspian Sea in Bosnia. They just about had their grip on all of the oil of the Soviet Union. German soldiers had climbed the Caucasus and put a swastika on Mount Everest. The front was 1,500 miles long. Moscow was still beseeched so was St Petersburg. The Japanese had lost a total of 3,000 soldiers only. They had had a setback at midway, but they had most of the Asia prosperity sphere under their control. They were going into Guadalcanal to cut the supply lines to Australia, and in North Africa, Rommel was 60 miles from Alexandra.

The Turning Points: Guadalcanal, Stalingrad, and El Alamein

Then suddenly, there was something called Guadalcanal, First US Marine Division, Stalingrad, and El Alamein, and the whole thing vanished then the war was essentially over in the sense it was just a question of how many million people are going to be necessary to lose their lives to insist on unconditional surrender rather than an armistice. We get to the question, why did the Allies win so easily? I mentioned that the war was a story of the nations that killed the most people lost to the nations that built the most stuff. They killed 80% of all the 60 million and we built over 80% of the munitions.

In a war, unfortunately, ammunition’s can be more important than lives, but there were a few other reasons. Number one, we had a more appealing message to third powers like India not to revolt or the Indonesian people to not cooperate with.

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In Switzerland to give back pilots and the message was, “We didn’t start this. They attacked us.” We had something called the Atlantic Charter or the Four Freedoms of Casablanca Conference. It was very hard to do because we were working with Stalin who was a mass murder, but the appeal, at least the propaganda was, “We’re not taking anybody’s land.”

United States didn’t take anybody’s land. We don’t want anything other than defeat the Axis. That was much more appealing than the Yamato race, the Raza race in Italy and the Vulcan in Germany deserve this because they are superior uber mentioned to you people. That helped a great deal.

Allied Strategy, Cooperation, and Technological Innovation

The second thing that helped is you don’t have to be democratic to win a war, but it’s good to have some democratic allies because their leaders don’t lie as much. What do I mean by that? Every time that Hitler talked to the Japanese, he lied. If you don’t believe me, Count Ciano, the son in law of Mussolini said, “We saw Hitler today and he lied. He said he wasn’t going into the Soviet Union. We know he is next week, so we’re going to lie back to him and go into the Balkans again.” Count Ciano then says the next day “We can’t get too mad at him that he invaded Russia because we invaded Greece and didn’t tell him.”

When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Hitler said, “Where’s Pearl Harbor?” In 1939, the Japanese are in the middle of a fight on the Mongolian border and Foreign Minister Masuka says that “We’re part of an Axis, the pact of steel that anti-common to impact.” Hitler just signed a deal with the Soviets. Hitler’s ready to go into the Soviet Union. He’s planning in March. Talks to the toady General Keitel and says, “Do you think there’s any chance that the Japanese will invade from the east?” He says, “Not now, they just signed a nonaggression pact with the Soviet Union.” He said, “That’s terrible.” He said, “Yes, they did what we did to them.”

There was no trust when people were not democratic. Stalin was a liar, but he had two democratic leaders, Roosevelt and Churchill that honored their word and he did business with them, and he was more or less until the end of the war pretty dependable that he would do things that he said he would do. In other words, he didn’t sign a separate peace with the Germans, we didn’t sign a separate piece. That was very important. A couple of other things, we had cooperation, they didn’t. What do I mean by that? Mussolini invaded everybody with almost nothing. He invaded the Balkans, he invaded Greece, he invaded Somaliland, he invaded Libya, and he never told Hitler. There was no cooperation.

Hitler said, “Oh my God, he’s gone into Yugoslavia. I’ve got to go under Russia in two months. Why did he do that? I’ve got to go down there and he delayed, supposedly, delayed Operation Barbarossa by 30 days. We sat down with our partners. We being the Allies and said, “The Russians are going to fight on one front and one front only. They’re not going to have strategic bombing, they’re not going to have four-engine bombers, they’re not going to fight in Italy, they’re not going to have a U-bolt war, they’re not going to be in the Pacific. All we want from them is to kill German soldiers.” They killed 75% of all the Wehrmacht soldiers in the war.

Almost five million of them. They broke the back and they did it because they moved their factories to the Urals. They had great munitions, but we gave them 2,000 locomotives, 375 dodge trucks so much so that Göring said, “These are automatic robots.” He used the word robot. Automatons he said because these damn Americans have motorized their divisions and 70% of our divisions are driven by horses. Göring said, “They have an oil war, we have a grass war. We have to find grass, all they have to get is oil, and they have it and we don’t have grass.”

We divided up the labor. We said to the Russians, “We’ll go to Italy, we’ll go to Sicily, and we’ll go to the Pacific.” With the British, we said to them “In the Pacific, we’re not going to get along here as well as we did in Europe. You have colonial interests, we understand that you want to protect India, you want to get back to Burma, you’re worried about Malaya. We’re not a colonial power. We were attacked and we’re closer to the Japanese. We just want to go straight to Japan, so we’ll do our thing and you do our thing and maybe we’ll meet in 1944 or something.” It worked out, there was a division of labor. It was more than just that though.

For the first year of the U-boat war, German torpedoes bounced off like ours did, they were no good. At the same time, they were bouncing off, Japan had the greatest torpedo in the world. Oxygenated Long Tom, the best torpedo, 40-mile range and they didn’t even know what the Germans did. Japanese needed a fuel injected supercharged aircraft engine. Germany had a good one, they didn’t even know it. There was no cross-fertilization between the Axis because they didn’t trust each other as you would imagine. We take the Sherman tank, we find out it doesn’t work very well against these new Panthers.

The British say, “Don’t worry, we have a 17 pounder, we’ll put it in the tour. They gave us 2,000 fireflies that could blow a Tiger out at one mile and they were much cheaper than building a new tank. We had a great plane, the P-51 and we didn’t quite match the Focke-Wulf 190. The British said, “No, don’t worry, we’ll drop a Rolls Merlin engine,” and suddenly, it was the best fighter of the war that was constant. Finally, there was one other thing getting to the end. When you go to war, you have to have some conception of how to destroy the enemy’s ability to fight because most enemies will not have an armistice. Sometimes they do in World War I.

We had an idea. What do I mean by that? The American said as soon as after Pearl Harbor, “We have a way, we have four-engine bombers, we have two on the drawing boards, we’re going to bomb their capitals into smithereens and we’re going to land. We have the Navy to do it.” Britain says, “We have a Navy and we’re going to help you. We have a 400-bomber.” The Russians said, “We don’t need, those, we’re on land, but we will be in Berlin.” In Germany, Hermann Göring of all people said to Hitler, “My Fuhrer, how are we going to get to New York? You declared war on it.”

He says, “We’re going to have an America bomber.” He says, “We don’t even have any bomber. How are we gonna get there?” Admiral Yamamoto was asked, “When are you going to bomb San Diego? When are you going to bomb Portland?” He said, “I’m never going to bomb Portland.” “What’s going to stop Detroit and all these places from making weapon?” They had no idea, so they started a war with powers that had no ability to reach homeland and they lost unsurprisingly. If we look back at the war of who was big winners and losers, the biggest winner and the biggest loser were the Soviet Union.

They lost 27 million men partly because of the stupidity of Joseph Stalin, partly because they took on the Wehrmacht, partly because they had collaborated and they were surprised. That being said, for such a duplicitous power, as I said, cut a deal with everybody, when the war was over, the Soviet Union, even though they had lost 50 million people who had been occupied, 27 million dead, for the first time in their history, they were in the most advantageous strategic position [unintelligible 00:39:13] All of Eastern Europe was now a communist. The Baltic states were back inside the Soviet Union, so it was the Crimea, Ukraine.

As one Soviet diplomat laughed in Britain, “You guys went to war to stop totalitarianism in Eastern Europe by Hitler and you’ve been shorted by us.” It was true, wasn’t it? George Patton said that. Britain waged a brilliant war. It was the only country to fight the first day of the war and the last day of war, September 1st to September 2nd, six years. No other country fought the entire war. No other country went to war. Think of this for the principle of an ally. We only went to war when they attacked us. The Soviet Union only went to war when they attacked us. Germany attacked people, Italy attacked people, Japan, not Britain. They went for a war for a principle. They were brilliantly led, they put 40% of their investment in land, in sea, air and naval power. They avoided the sum that were done, they lost the fewest of all the major, 425, less than half what they had lost in World War I, and they fought a much more ambitious war in two. That being said, they mobilized, we think we mobilized, they mobilized to a degree that was unprecedented. More so in terms of per capita investment than the United States or Soviet Union and they were broke when the war was over.

Unfortunately, because of the deprivation, they began to socialize their rails, their health care system, their transportation, their iron, their steel industries or power. Low and behold, within 10 years, the countries that were flattened like Japan and Germany were industrial powerhouses turning out Mercedes, and Hondas, and Toyotas. Britain’s car industry, to take one example, was over with, so they had a very tragic. They also gave up their empire willingly, but theirs was a tragic experience. It makes me very mad when I hear Obama saying they’re going to get back at the queue, they were the most admirable and idealistic of all the Allies.

They fought way above what the people thought they were capable of and every single category of munitions except one Europe planes, they outproduced the Third Reich that had all occupied the EU of today under its power. Nothing much to say about the Italians, they quit in ’43, and so after the war was over, we said, “They weren’t really involved in the Holocaust. People fought two years in Italy with the Civil War, German fought Italians, we fought them, let them go, they’re Italians.” Vatican accepted.


They didn’t end up suffering. Japan was strange because, as I said, they were the most vicious, they killed 17 million people in China, and yet they lost three million, quite a lot. We burned down 40% of their urban through the B-29 incendiary raids and Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but we never invaded their land as we had done in Italy and Germany, so they had not seen a battle on their own tough. I know they’d been bombed, but when they unilaterally then surrendered, they never quite accepted that the American Marines or Army could get face to face with them. They never came to deal with their past as they do today.

If you don’t believe me, they just put their first big carrier, did you see it? They just launched it, you know what the name of it was? The Kaga. You know what the Kaga was? It was the leading carrier at Pearl Harbor. Finally, we come to the United States. If you look at what our aims and objectives were, we achieved all of them. We wanted to, not just defeat Germany, and Japan, and Italy, we had done that in terms of Austria, Hungary, and Germany in World War I. We said never again are we going to have to come back here, we’re going to have an unconditional surrender even though it’s going to cost us several hundred thousand lives.

We occupied their country, all three of them and we’ve had peace, we don’t have any problem. Then we discovered something, we lost 425,000 people, only 3% of our military. Only Britain lost less and we lost a smaller percentage. We had the second largest military, 12 million people, larger than Germany’s only, the Soviet Union slightly bigger. As I said, you’ve seen Willow Run here, B-24 every hour, we had the largest GDP. Every category, it’s just stunning to think what we did, a major three years. Yet when the war was over, we had this dilemma that the bad guys, the fascist, the Nazis, the people who started the war were ours.

Post-War Analysis and the Rebuilding of Nations

We had to rebuild them. We had to go to the Japanese and say to the Chinese “I know they killed 17 million, but we’re going to make them a democracy and they’re going to be your friend from now on.” Then we had to go to the French and we had to go to the Poles. The Poles lost three and a half million and say, “They’re not that bad now, they’re good Germans, and they’re going to build a democracy.” Then we had to go do the same thing to the Ethiopians, and the Libyans and say, “The Italians didn’t mean it, now they’re good.” That’s a hard thing to do.

Conclusion and Reflections on the Nature of War

Meanwhile, the Soviet Union is telling all of the world, China “The war never ended, we’re still liberating people from fascists. Only the difference is now the Americans and the British, especially the Americans have joined the fascist.” To conclude, what if you make sense of this, how it all started. I think one of the things to remember about World War II, as in every war, but especially World War II is to get a general view of what war is. War is a laboratory, a barometer, a thermometer, it’s a measuring device. That’s all it is, it’s a very bitter one, so two sides have differences and nobody knows who’s stronger and who’s weaker because there’s material consideration, tanks, planes, and there’s will power.

If you have Churchill on your side, he’s worth 10, 20 divisions, but they didn’t have him of course. They had the traditional Stanley Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain, but the point is, war then tells you in a very, very difficult way who was stronger after all, but it doesn’t need to occur if you can convey that message before the war breaks out. We went to World War II to prove a banality that nobody in his right mind ever thought that Italy, Germany, and Japan could ever fight the combined power of the Soviet Union, and the United States, and Great Britain.

It was physically impossible, but it took a war to prove it was 65 million because of American isolationism, British appeasement, and Russian collaboration. Thank you very much.

Watch the full “Why World War II Matters” lecture here.