Saturday, March 30, 2013

Hold Your Horses

When I wrote "How My Dad Won the War" last month, which was a rebuttal to Oliver Stone's asinine contention that the Russians won World War Two, I may have inadvertently given ammunition to one of the hoariest claims of Conservative American politics - that America not only made the difference in the war against Hitler (which is true), but that America was - as in 1918 - the savior of the free world.

I was made aware of this when Richard Feldman, President of the Independent Firearm Owners Association, Inc., made just such a claim on Piers Morgan Tonight last week. After Morgan criticized the NRA's zealous defense of the Second Amendment, his guest reminded him, in ridiculously condescending terms, that Americans saved Britain from certain conquest by their timely intervention in World War Two, and that Morgan should simply say, "thank you" and stop criticizing them.

The entry of the United States into the European war was so timely, in fact, that we almost missed it. Most Americans don't seem to recall, or would rather forget, that World War Two raged for twenty-seven months before the United States finally made up its mind to participate. For most of that time, public opinion was divided over whose side America should take in the war. Much was being made of George Washington's warning against "foreign interventions".

After provocative moves by Hitler that could have started the war, like the re-occupation of the Rhineland, the Anschluss of Austria, and the annexation and occupation of the Czech Sudetenland, which only resulted in the most shameful appeasement of Hitler by Britain and France, it took an invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939 to finally compel the Allies to declare war on Germany. Not a signatory of any European treaty, the United States stood by and watched the progress of the war, while FDR clandestinely supplied armaments to Britain. Powerful political movements in America argued against intervention in another European war. Isolationism was seriously debated, while Hitler's armies conquered Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium, and then France. Rather than launch an amphibious invasion, the Battle of Britain was fought in the air. With France neutralized, the British Royal Navy and Air Force stood alone against Hitler for a year and a half.

In his novel, The Plot Against America, Philip Roth imagined an America in which the isolationist movement won. In the novel, Charles Lindbergh, who was actually a proto-Nazi and friendly with Adolf Hitler (see photo), runs for president in 1940 on the Republican ticket - and defeats FDR. Once in office, Lindbergh pulls American naval forces out of Asia, eliminating what the Japanese perceived to be a threatening presence, and averting their decision on December 7, 1941 to attack Pearl Harbor. All munitions shipments to Britain are halted. Anti-Semitic groups become more assertive and American Jews are interned in camps. With only the British and Russians to oppose him, Hitler is poised to solidify his conquest of Europe.

As far-fetched as Roth's plot may sound today, his novel is a powerful cautionary tale against the belief that America is the sole arbiter of justice in the world. There was very real opposition to American intervention in Europe. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and FDR declared a state of war against the Empire of Japan, Germany didn't wait for Roosevelt, and declared war on America first. More than three years later, on May 8, 1945 (VE Day), America was the recognized leader of the free world - if only because every other European country was in ruins and bankrupt. Contrary to Conservative efforts to keep the United States out of the war for twenty-seven months, America brought the war to a successful conclusion. It might have done so a whole lot sooner, with a great deal less destruction, if it hadn't waited so long to act.

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