World War Two Stories
Ah, World War Two. The Greatest Generation. Americans know all about it. The evil Nazis and dastardly Japanese (helpfully illustrated above by the US Army) tried to take over the world, but they were no match for American moxie, know how, and heroism. Pulling together like never before, Americans were able to defeat this terrible threat and free Europe and East Asia from tyranny. Proving the rightness of the American way, and that if we work together no obstacle can stop us, no enemy can defeat us. Yes, brings a tear to many an eye just to think of it.
True enough, as far as it goes. Americans did pull together and fight hard in World war Two. The veterans of that war have much to be proud of, and we have much to be thankful to them for. However, there is one little problem. The Allies didn’t win World War Two because we outfought or outwitted our enemies. The Allies won World War Two because we outnumbered and outproduced the Axis powers by an overwhelming margin. Here are the war production figures for five major categories of weapons:
In fact the only category of major weapons where the Axis outproduced the Allies is submarines, 1,337 vs 422. In every other category the Allies outproduced the Axis by margins of at least 2 to 1, sometimes 6 to 1 or higher. Even being outnumbered 2 to 1 is an almost hopeless situation when it comes to war, in most of the major battles of World War Two, the Axis were so badly outnumbered and outgunned that the outcome of the battle was not in doubt.
The Allied landing in France on D-Day is a great example. It was the most well planned and prepared for battle in history. The Allied air forces flew more than 14,000 attack sorties during the battle, the German Luftwafe was able to to fly…100. How does one say “no contest” in German? While D-Day was an important battle, and the Allies who participated fought with bravery and skill, the German defenders stood little to no chance. I could cite dozens of major battles where any sort of sober analysis shows the Germans or Japanese stood little chance of victory.
Now, what does this matter? I’m not trying to cast aspersions here or belittle America’s contribution to World War Two. What I’m saying is that this belief that we won the World War Two through our pulling together and fighting the good fight created a belief that we can win any war if we just give it the old college try, or old World War Two try as the case may be. And if one continues this line of thought, people who believe the USA won World War Two through moxie and pulling together are going to easily be persuaded that if we lost a war…it was because we didn’t pull together like in World War Two.
Maybe other people have made this connection before or said it better than me, but I think this is important. So many Americans have bought into this “greatest generation” myth, myself included, that it blinds us in crucial ways. We forget that we fought together in World War One not because we decided to fight as a nation to destroy the evil Nazi and Japanese regimes…no, we fought…because Germany and Japan declared war on the United States. It’s easy to get people to fight the good fight when two other powerful nations attack your nation. It just so happened at this place in time and history those two other nations didn’t really stand a chance, and they really were two regimes that committed systematic war crimes, in Germany’s case one of the more monstrous crimes in history.
And now many of us are confused. We think that if we are at war, why, we have to fight the good fight. And fail to see that if a war is vastly unpopular…maybe it isn’t the good fight after all. We’ve confused cause with effect on a very deep level. Our pulling together during World War Two was an effect created by the war we found ourselves, it wasn’t some driving near mystical blending of wills that propelled us to victory, as much as we would like to think so. Um, did anyone follow that?
The point I am leading to here, is that this myth has morphed into the belief that we lost Vietnam because we didn’t pull together as a nation…and that we are obligated to support any and all wars with the WW2 fervour. I will look at this in greater detail in a subsequent column. For now I must go to work and help the economy. I’m being paid to catch rats today. My cats sit at home sleeping, while I go out to catch rats to pay for their food. What’s wrong with this picture?
(The above image is a World War Two poster produced by the US Army, and is public domain under US copyright law. Amazingly and blatantly racist and offencive, nu? How American’s attitudes toward Japan have been shaped by political necessity and propaganda is a topic for a whole other column. PS: The links in the production chart above all go to odd little trivia thingys.)