The War with Japan
It should be remembered that while the popular view is that Japan‘s government prior to 1941 was a formidable totalitarian monolith, in fact, it was anything but. Japan’s civil government ended in 1931 and what remained was a clamorous, quarrelsome amalgamation of cliques and factions, the latter ridden with additional subgroups, the most radical of which was the Japanese Army. Supposedly abjectly subservient to the Emperor, in fact these groups disobeyed the Emperor when they didn’t ignore him.
The different cliques were so bloodthirsty, indocile and unruly, that the result was basically government by assassination. Army groups who disliked policies murdered prime ministers as casually as tearing up a ticket, with no compunction at all.
It should also be remembered that the two most important strategic groups in Japan differed widely on what course of action Japan should take in the event of a World War. One group, “Strike North,” wanted to attack the Soviet Union in revenge for the 1939 clash along the Manchurian border in which Japanese casualties reached 50,000 (18,000 dead). The other group “Strike South” wanted to gain oil resources by attacking the Dutch East Indies.
Had Japan attacked Russia in concert with Germany, today’s world would look a great deal different. In any case, the “Strike-South” group prevailed, thus freeing up incredible numbers of Soviet divisions that were switched west to confront Hitler. Those same divisions would come back to attack Tokyo in 1945 and hastened its defeat.
In any case, Japan’s moves on Indochina and then the attack at Pearl Harbor meant that Toyko’s advances threatened US policy, which was to deal with Hitler first, to aid Britain in the Battle of the North Atlantic (intelligent for a number of reasons B for one, British survival was crucial because it was an unsinkable base), and also because historically the U.S. had always been drawn into any war where fighting became severe in the North Atlantic. In 1940, Roosevelt wanted to be strictly on the defensive in the Pacific. As he said to Ickes, he didn’t have enough Navy to go around.
Japan’s decision to attack us at Pearl Harbor was based on its realization that it lacked sufficient industrial resources for a long war. It was that simple and that desperate.
Administrative Reasons Why We Won
In our system, military, political, and civilian leaders play indispensable roles, and it should be noted that Stimson, Marshall, King, as well as Roosevelt proved absolutely essential. But it is important to remember that Roosevelt picked no war (military) leader from the ranks of his political supporters.
One of the chief reasons for Germany’s defeat was its inability to manage its industrial economy effectively. Studying the Nazi economy with any care, leads one to see that all the arguments about the effectiveness of collectivism and the infallibility of centrally directed economics are like a bad gas in the wind.
Germany was also greatly hampered by the lack of motorized forces. Yes, the Panzer forces were quick, but they were small and self contained. The bulk of the German army, the grunts, used horses to move supplies and troops to the front and back. That was disastrous. Combined with the inability of the Luftwaffe to supply German forces by air, these defects sealed the doom of the very finest German combat units on the ground in the battles of Stalingrad and Kursk, for example.
According to US Army records, and scholors such as Hastings,Keegan, et al, the German army was the finest in the world, in perhaps all of history. It was never defeated on its own terms. The genius of Marshall and others was to make it fight on our terms, not theirs and it lost.
Another factor in the Nazi defeat would be the availability of oil. The US was then producing almost 75 percent of the world’s oil, a commodity absolutely indispensable to a mechanized, fast-moving war of ships, tanks and planes.
The war in the Pacific was won because of superior resources, amounts of ships, planes, etc, but strategically, the US Navy was able to free itself of bases of supply, carrying its own mobile bases as part of US Task Forces, something which the Japanese never foresaw. Since Tokyo’s forces were spread thin among island chains, it could not see or fortify all possible points of attack.
Just as the blockade of Germany was the chief agent acting to bring Germany to its knees in World War I, so it was the US submarine blockade of Japan that was the most potent weapon in its defeat, at least before the use of the atomic bomb (we sank 60 percent of ships bringing oil, rubber and the like.) What is shocking is to view how inconsistently, fitfully and erratically this strategic weapon was employed by our Navy leaders. (The greatest number of sub attacks on shipping didn’t occur until 1944.)
Another key US accomplishment was America’s ability to militarize its mass production economy, including using companies like the Ford Motor company which built tanks by prefabricated parts and which used subcontractors to mass produce heavy bombers in just the way he had done cars. This included Henry Kaiser’s genius in discovering a new way to make ships in prefabricated sections, abandoning the old method of building from the keep up. (Americans have a genius for this -- think of the balloon construction houses of the 1830s in Chicago. The British observed that the structures would have blown away except that every section was fastened with a screw so that any strain would go against the grain of the wood.)
That we were rich meant everything in World War II.
The sheer wealth of the US economy was able to pour money like water from a sluice into Russia which kept its armies afloat. This meant that America had the ability to motorize, not only its own army, but the army of Russia, which was bearing the main burden of the fighting and slaughter. The progress made by the Russians in warfare demands notice – (I am thinking especially of their brilliant defense in depth at Kursk) which forced the Germans to expend their best energy and equipment on attacks that left them vulnerable to counterattack. This was due to the stubborn genius of Zhukov, who made his views prevail over Stalin’s.
The same thing happened in America Roosevelt and the political leadership more and more took a back seat to Marshall and Stimson and the like.
Technological innovation provided other absolutely essential reasons for Allied victory. For example, it is astounding to consider that the US and Britain were losing the air war to the Germans until someone came up with the idea of using disposable fuel tanks on fighter escorts. This simple device enabled us to destroy the German Air Force and rendered both the bombing offensive victorious and secured the victory of the D-Day. Germany was doomed.
(We also have to remember the horrendous mass casualties, economic and social damage we inflicted on Germany’s people by our bombing campaign.)
The winning of the Battle of the Atlantic was key,along with Hitler’s blunder in not being able to win the war in the Mediterranean.
Another important point: the failure of the Germans to develop any strategic bombing capability proved catastrophic. Theirs was an air force designed primarily for ground support. The designer of German four-engine heavy bombers died in 1934. and no one took his place. There were no B-17s or B-24s or B- 29s in Germany.
I noticed comments talking about the speed of war and Roosevelt’s “Germany first” strategy. It pays to go back to the writings of the great British geographer Mackinder, who believed that a country’s power flowed from its place on a map. (Think of Napoleon’s “A country’s geography is its fate.”)
In the past some powers had exercised power out of all proportion to others because their sea power enabled them to ship forces – arms, men and wealth -- to crisis areas in the “world island” – Europe, Asia, Africa. In the 20th century, railroads, motor cars and aircraft had made sea power obsolete in terms of effective speed. Thus a continental power could use such means to outflank a sea power. It was Alfred Wedemeyer, a graduate of the German Staff College, who convinced FDR and Marshall, that the way to counter Hitler was to create a vast American armored force. It was this conviction that lay at the basis of Roosevelt’s “Germany First” war plan.
Please be patient with my mistakes.