Lovers Quarrel.

Historians have often examined the tempestuous relationship between Germany and the Soviet Union.[1]  The broad outlines of the story are well known.  They alternate between amity and enmity.  Long before Germany had become a “nation,” the region exerted a powerful cultural influence on Russia.  Russia, Prussia, and the Austrian Empire battled over the “bloodlands” between them in the 18th Century.  Otto von Bismarck, the Chancellor of a united Germany, built his foreign policy on managing the conflict between Russia and the Austrian Empire to avoid war.  After his fall from power in 1890, German leaders succumbed to the “spell of power.”  Their plan for war, the Schlieffen Plan, aimed to destroy Russia and France as major European powers.  German war aims against Russia in the First World War culminated in the 1918 Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, which largely accomplished the pre-war ambitions.  These gains were lost when the Western powers defeated Germany on the battlefield later in the year.  The Allies imposed a harsh, if just, peace on Germany.  It became an outcast, whose chief visible aim lay in restoring respectability.  Meanwhile, the Bolshevik seizure of power, their abandonment of their allies in the separate peace at Brest-Litovsk, their repudiation of pre-war debts, and their attempts to export revolution to other countries made the Soviet Union a pariah country. 

            The two outcasts found a community of interest in evading international restrictions in order to revive their power.  From 1922 to 1932, the German military and the Soviets cooperated on weapons development and military training.  The democratic Weimar Republic chose not to know about this relationship.  Initially, the German aims were short-term.  Many military leaders fantasized that it would be possible to renew the lost war within a few years.[2]  To this end, they encouraged right-wing paramilitary groups like the Nazis. 

            The renewed war in the West did not come, but—in the crisis of the Depression—the Nazis arrived in power.  Adolf Hitler, the anti-Soviet German dictator, ruptured relations with the Soviet Union.  Increasingly, the two countries became at daggers drawn.  In 1935, the Soviet Union formed an alliance with France; in 1936 Germany formed the Anti-Comintern Pact with Italy and Japan; from 1936 through 1938, Germany and the Soviet Union waged a proxy war in Spain.  Some Westerners hoped for a deeper engagement with the Soviet Union against Nazi Germany.  Others hoped that Hitler’s ferocious hostility to the Soviet Union would lead him into a bloody war of exhaustion in the East that would remove the need for the West to fight. 

            Suddenly, in August 1939, Germany and the Soviet Union signed a treaty that left them free to carve up Eastern Europe.  Hitler later chose to attack Western Europe and then, in June 1941, the Soviet Union.  Even in 1941, many Germans regretted this rejection of Russia.   


[1] John W. Wheeler-Bennett, Brest-Litovsk: The Forgotten Peace, March 1918 (1938), and “Twenty Years of Russo-German Relations: 1919-1939” Foreign Affairs Vol. 25, #1, pp. 23-43; Hans W. Gatzke, “Russo-German military collaboration during the Weimar Republic,” American Historical Review, Vol. 63, #3 (1958), pp. 565-597; Walter Laqueur, Russia and Germany (1965); Gerhard Weinberg, Germany and the Soviet Union 1939-1941 (1972); Barbara Jelavich, St. Petersburg and Moscow: tsarist and Soviet foreign policy, 1814-1974 (1974); Harvey L. Dyck, Weimar Germany and Soviet Russia, 1926-1944 (1984); Geoffrey Roberts, The Soviet Union and the Origins of the Second World War: Russo-German Relations and the Road to War, 1933-41 (1995); Aleksandr M. Nekrich, Pariahs, partners, predators: German-Soviet relations, 1922-1941 (1997); Ian Johnson, Faustian Bargain: The Soviet-German Partnership and the Origins of the Second World War (2015).

[2] From 1890 to 1945 Germany’s leaders repeatedly failed to adjust aspirations to resources.  Disasters followed. 

My Weekly Reader 14 June 2021.

            “We had won” Winston Churchill later wrote of American entry into full belligerency after Pearl Harbor in December 1941.  A “long and hard road” still had to be travelled to victory.  By August 1942, the Japanese had conquered the Philippines, the Dutch East Indies, British Malaya and Burma, and were on the frontiers of India.  By the same point, German armies were advancing on Stalingrad in Russia and on Alexandria in Egypt. 

            The war in the Mediterranean linked the two greater Theaters of Operations.  Gibraltar controlled the western entrance to the sea, while also serving as a key naval base protecting Atlantic Ocean convoys.  Suez controlled the eastern entrance, while also anchoring the British position in the Middle East.  In 1942, the Germans and Italians mounted a deadly threat to Suez from the Italian colony of Libya.  The Afrika Korps joined with the Italian army to advance deep into Egypt.  In one sense, holding onto the British position in the Middle East came down to a question of merchant shipping.  The Italian army in North Africa and the Afrika Korps had to be supplied by the short sea route from Sicily to the Libyan port of Benghazi.  The British in the Middle East had to be supplied by the long sea route around the Cape of Good Hope.  Under these unequal circumstances, the British fought hard to disrupt the Axis supply line. 

            In this effort, the little island of Malta played an over-sized role.  Located at the choke point between the western and eastern parts of the Mediterranean, it also stood astride the Sicily-Libya supply route.  Initially judging Malta to be indefensible in modern war, the Royal Navy had largely withdrawn to the Egyptian port of Alexandria at the outbreak of war.  However, the war in North Africa made it essential to hold Malta as a base for submarine attacks on the Italian supply line.  Holding Malta meant running convoys through Italian and German air and naval attacks without much British air cover. 

            In 1940 and 1941, the Royal Navy generally got the better of the Italian “Regia Marina.”[1]  The situation changed dramatically in 1942.  In December 1941, Italian frogmen disabled two British battleships in Alexandria Harbor.  The Japanese assault required the dispatch of other ships to the Indian Ocean.  The German “Luftwaffe” also began to play a larger role.  Britain lost naval supremacy in the eastern Mediterranean.  Three convoys in March and June 1942 suffered heavy losses or were turned back entirely.[2]  Yet Malta had to be held.  Courage and skill would have to make good the deficiency in ships. 

            In August 1942, the British sent off a do-or-die convoy code-named “Pedestal.”[3]  Running eastward past Gibraltar under heavy escort, the convoy came under sustained naval and air attack.  Three days of pure Hell followed. The British lost a carrier, two light cruisers, a destroyer, and nine merchant ships to bombs and torpedoes.  Yet the essential supplies—including a tanker full of fuel oil for submarines and aviation gasoline—got through.  Malta not only hung-on, attacks on the Axis supply line revived. 

            By the end of 1942, the tide of battle had turned against the Axis.  Tobruk, Guadalcanal, and Stalingrad are well-remembered milestones.  So, too, should be “Pedestal.” 


[1] Look up the Battle of Cape Matapan and the attack on the Italian fleet anchorage at Taranto. 

[2] A fictionalized and propagandistic account of the experience of one British cruiser, HMS “Artemis,” on one of these convoys is given by C.S. Forester, The Ship (1943).  Fine stuff. 

[3] Max Hastings, Operation Pedestal (2021), reviewed by Jonathan W. Jordan, WSJ, 12-13 June 2021. 

Hidden History.

            Robert Harris is the author of a series of historical-fiction thrillers. 

            Munich (2017).  The 1938 conference between German dictator Adolf Hitler, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, French prime minister Edouard Daladier, and British prime minister Neville Chamberlain marked the high point of Appeasement.  While both Hitler and Chamberlain believed in what they were doing, other people on both sides had their doubts.  Some of these people, British anti-appeasers and German anti-Nazis, tried to undermine their own leaders.  Could knowledge of German plots to topple Hitler be communicated to the British?  Could British anti-appeasers use this knowledge to shift Chamberlain toward a harder line?  Would a harder line by the British provide an excuse to overthrow Hitler before he could set fire to the whole world? 

            Enigma (1995).  One secret of the Second World War was British victory in breaking the code system, called “Enigma,” used by the German military for all radio communications.  This allowed the British to read all enemy radio traffic, but with occasional, nerve-racking interruptions.  A second, less well-preserved, secret of the Second World War was the Russian massacre in 1940 of thousands of captured Polish army officers.  The mass graves were discovered by the German invaders in 1943.[1]  Harris supposes that an Anglo-Polish cryptographer discovers the truth.  Revealing it could wreck the Russo-British alliance. 

            V2 (2020).  As the Second World War turned decisively against Germany, Hitler unleashed “vengeance weapons” created by advanced science.  First, the V-1 “flying bombs,” then the V-2 ballistic missiles began to rain down on allied cities.  Is there any way—technological or human—to halt the attacks?  The question racks both an Allied intelligence officer and a German scientist tormented by his own deal with the Devil. 

            Fatherland (1992).  Long after Nazi victory in the “last European war,” a German homicide detective discovers the Holocaust.  Here Harris is thinking-through the implications of a German victory: a “united” Europe is dominated by Germany; the Soviet Union has been thrust back away from Europe; American “appeasers” (Joseph P. Kennedy, Charles Lindbergh) now head the government of the United States; and the Holocaust has been kept so completely secret that thought about the Jews never enter anyone’s noggin.  Now, on the eve of a Hitler-Kennedy summit meeting, the truth starts to leak.   

            Harris is fascinated by the hidden parts of historical events.  Knowledge of the German resistance to Hitler only came out after the war and then in dribbles; the Nazis meant for the Holocaust to remain hidden from history and all but one copy of the minutes from the Wannsee Conference were destroyed; at Nuremberg, the Katyn Wood massacre was blamed on the Germans; and the Enigma story remained secret until 1974.[2]  In dramatizing these events, Harris restates a basic lesson of history. It didn’t have to be this way.  People create History by the decisions they make and the actions they take. 

            He also leaves the reader wondering “What else is still hidden?” 


[1] For another fictional take on the Katyn Wood discovery, see Philip Kerr, A Man without Breath (2013). 

[2] See Peter Hoffmann, The German Resistance to Hitler, 1933-1945 (1977); F.W. Winterbotham, The Ultra Secret (1974); Allen Paul, Katyn: The Untold Story of Stalin’s Polish Massacre  (1991)..   

The Asian Century 9.

            Until the middle of the Nineteenth Century, both China and Japan fended off Western imperialism in their different ways.  Then Japan abruptly shifted course to imitate some aspects of Western states in order to preserve both its political independence and cultural identity.  China lagged behind on making this necessary shift.  Ultimately, a modernizing political movement, the Kuomintang (KMT, called the Nationalists by Americans) gained a rough control over China. 

The results of historical events so briefly described proved harrowing for many millions of people.  A semi-Westernized Japan pursued empire in China and Southeast Asia, then was smashed to bits in the Second World War.  The Chinese Communists triumphed in the civil war with the Nationalists that followed the Second World War in Asia. 

Communism’s victory in China wrong-footed wartime American plans for the postwar order in East Asia.  Americans leaders (or at least Franklin D. Roosevelt) had envisioned Nationalist China as a new great power that would co-operate with Americans efforts to build a peaceful and prosperous Asia.  Instead, the Peoples’ Republic of China aligned with the Soviet Union in the Cold War.  The Korea War and the wars in Indochina followed.  Only in the 1970s did the hostility begin to decline.  Since the late 1970s, China has vigorously remodeled its economy into the second largest in the world and, more recently, sought a leading role in international affairs. 

In these efforts, many things have been bent to serve the nation’s interests.  One of those things has been History.  One aspect of China’s historical revisionism has been China’s role in the struggle against Japan.  Once upon a time, if they knew what was good for them, Chinese historians played down the role of the corrupt and incompetent Nationalist government while playing up the role of the Communists.  Now, if they know what is good for them, Chinese historians have begun to argue for the importance of China’s resistance to Japan not only for China, but for the whole world.  By resisting Japanese aggression from 1931’s Manchurian Incident to full-scale war from 1937 onward, China bought time for the Western countries to gather their wits and then their military resources.  From 1941 onward, China figured as the chief battlefield and military opponent of Japan.[1]  From this point of view, the American combined arms offensive across the Pacific and the British counter-attack in Burma were side-shows. 

In its struggle against Japan, China received little help from Western countries.  After the war, China received little for the eventual victory over Japan.  Now, suggest the Chinese historians, it is time for that bill to be paid by according China the leading role in Asia.[2] 

Probably they are taking their cue from Western historians who examined the roots of European appeasement policies in the 1930s.  Those historians have argued that not moral rot, but strategic and economic realities hampered Britain and France from making an early stand against Hitler.  They needed time to rearm or they would be defeated.  Germany’s re-militarization of the Rhineland, Austria, and the Sudetenland were all necessary sacrifices in this delaying action.[3]  The difference is that Western historians have no policy agenda. 


[1] For background, see: https://waroftheworldblog.com/2019/07/17/the-asian-century-5-17-july-2019/ 

[2] Rana Mitter, China’s Good War: How World War II Is Shaping a New Nationalism (2020), reviewed by Howard French, WSJ, 14 October 2020. 

[3] For a counter-attack on this view, see Tim Bouverie, Appeasement (2019). 

The Asian Century 5 17 July 2019.

In Asian history, China had always ranked vastly higher than did the little surrounding states like Korea, Japan, and Vietnam.  Then, in the middle 19th Century, Japan began a partial Westernization much sooner than did China.  By the end of the 19th Century Japan was waging imperialist war against first China, and then Russia, while gobbling up the Korean peninsula and Taiwan.  Eventually, in 1911, the old Imperial regime governing Chin collapsed, giving birth only to chaos and warlords.  Japan sought to exploit the Western preoccupation with Europe during the First World War, but Western diplomacy during and after the war dashed many hopes.  Thereafter, the Japanese government saw the Western powers—Britain, the United States, France, and Holland—as the chief stumbling-blocks to the expansion of Japan’s role in Asia.

At the same time, Japan had built its prosperity upon exports of simple, low-cost manufactured goods.  (This strategy is no different from the strategy initially pursued by post-Mao China.)  Then came the Great Depression (1928-1939), which led to a collapse of international trade.  Japan lost export markets, so it also lost the means to import vital resources.

Faced with national starvation, in 1931, Japan seized the natural resource-rich Chinese province of Manchuria.  This act of aggression earned Japan international scorn.  However, “scorn” doesn’t solve many problems.  In 1937, Japan returned to its ambitions of the First World War: to dominate China.  Japan invaded China.[1]  Seeming to recognize their unfavorable population ratios, the Japanese commanders indulged in barbaric conduct in hopes of cowing their enemies: the 1937 Nanjing Massacre prefigured the later conduct of Japanese troops.

Japanese leaders seem to have expected a relatively easy victory.  For one thing, European affairs had reached a crisis, with Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy on the rampage in Central Europe and the Mediterranean.  Britain and France had the means to fight one major war at a time (against Germany or Italy, or Japan), but not two (against Germany and Japan), let alone three (Germany, Italy, Japan).  For another thing, the United States had been pursuing an “isolationist” policy in the mid-Thirties.  Who would defend the existing order in the Far East if the United States would not?  Good question.  One with no clear answer until the end of 1941.

The anticipated easy victory in China for Japan remained just out of reach for the next eight years.  The better trained, better equipped, and better led Japanese troops inflicted defeat after defeat on the Chinese.  Yet, the Chinese government managed to avoid defeat, even as the government’s armies lost battle after battle.  In large part, avoiding defeat meant falling back from the coast to a geographically hard-to-approach position in the interior.  While this kept Chiang’s KMT government in nominal control, in reality the Japanese controlled virtually the entire coastline, the great cities, and the coastal plains on which most Chinese lived.  Thus, one question not much explored by Western historians is why and how the ordinary Chinese kept going in the midst of a brutal war.

In December 1941, Japan attacked the United States, and the British and Dutch empires.  A “War Without Mercy, on a Merciless Foe” followed.[2]  Thereafter, the Chinese theater played a small role in the global struggle we call the Second World War.  Rightly committed to a “Europe first” strategy, the United States and Britain waged war in the Far East on a shoe-string.  First, Marines and Army troops hung on, then won, on Guadalcanal after the US Navy ran away.[3]

Faced with war on trackless oceans and trackless jungles, the United States sought to maximize the Chinese war effort in order to divert Japanese troops from the real center of decision in the Pacific—the barrier of islands that barred the advance of American power from Hawaii to the Home Islands.  American military advisors, American supplies, and American airpower all sought to bolster the Chinese war effort.[4]  Unable to accept defeat or even stalemate, the Japanese government committed troops to China.  In the end, the Chinese front soaked up 800,000 Japanese troops.[5]  To no avail.

Chiang Kai-shek—called “Peanut” by the sour, acute American military advisor Joseph Stillwell–understood little to nothing of the global struggle.  To him, all that mattered was the struggle for mastery in China.  He saw a three-sided struggle raging between his own Nationalist government, the Japanese invaders, and the Chinese Communists.  Forced to choose his domestic allies, Chiang Kai-shek opted for the landlords and bankers, instead of for the peasantry.

All sides waged the Second World War in China with great brutality toward the civilian population.  All sides relied upon political repression.  The Japanese and the KMT tied in a race to the bottom.  The Americans decided the fate of the Japanese Empire, but Chiang’s “party”—the Kuomintang, KMT, Gearwheels—lost traction with the peasant majority and many others.

Recognizing the problems of the KMT in 1945-1947, the United States Government sent off emissaries to the Red Emperor, Mao Zedong, in Yenan Province.  These men—honestly—over-estimated the democratic intentions of the Communist, although they seem to have rightly evaluated the real strength of the Communists.  The KMT lacked support where it counted in a civil war and were going to lose.  The Communists were going to win and the United States should adapt to that reality.  The United States did not adjust to that reality.  In 1949, the Communists won the prolonged Chinese Civil War.  Many KMT survivors fled to Taiwan/Formosa.

Even the disturbing Communist victory didn’t have to start a downward spiral in Chinese-American relations.  Many informed Americans regarded Chiang Kai-shek as the man “who lost China.”  Many of the same people expected that the two countries would “let the dust settle,” then pick up relations.  But, in June 1950, the Korean War began.  The United States fought China in Korea, and reinforced both Taiwan and French Indo-China.  The Cold War became a part of East Asian affairs.  Later, the United States fought North Vietnam and the Cambodian Khmer Rouge.  Not until the 1970s were China and the United States able to begin a normalization of their relationship.

The lesson?  The Second World War in China, rather than the Korean War or the wars in Vietnam, offered the first basis for the injunction “never fight a land war in Asia.”[6]  But to whom does that lesson apply?

[1] Rana Mitter, The Forgotten Ally: China’s World War II, 1937-1945 (2018).

[2] John Dower, War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War (1987).  Astonishing.

[3] In 1941-1942, Australians referred to the war in the Pacific as “the War of the Two Yellow Races”—the Americans and the Japanese.

[4] See: Charles F. Romanus and Riley Sunderland, Stillwell’s Mission to China (1953); Stillwell’s Command Problems (1956); and Time Runs Out in CBI (1959).  Or see Barbara Tuchman, Stillwell and the Experience in China (1971), for a highly-readable “popular version” of same.

[5] Japan lost 36,000 men in the Guadalcanal Campaign.

[6] See the classic expression of this truth: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=esM457OXvuw

My Weekly Reader 25 October 2018.

When the Second World War broke out, Americans—isolationists or not—expected a re-run of the First World War: a long pounding match.  Then the German army smashed into France in Spring and Summer 1940.  France surrendered and replaced the decrepit Third Republic with the collaborationist Vichy regime.  The French Empire in West Africa–nominally under the control of France, but vulnerable to German seizure–stretched westward into the Atlantic.  Brazil lay within flying distance of Dakar. Suddenly, Latin American affairs seemed of more than the usual importance in Washington.[1]

North Americans viewed South America as more than just a potential beach head for German invaders.  The continent held vast natural resources that might feed the Nazi war-machine.[2]  On its Caribbean shore, the continent abutted the shipping routes to the Panama Canal.  Moreover, the colonial heritage from Spain and Portugal–rather than American imperialism–made South America a politically tumultuous place.  Elites continually struggled with populists for control of the governments, and the armies of the continent did not always favor the “forces of order.”  To make matters worse, in the view of Washington, the region had received hordes of German and Italian emigres in the previous hundred years.  In the age of the “Fifth Column” suspicions ran hot.

As a result, South America became a battleground between the Axis and the Anglo-American Allies.  For their part, Germany and Italy hoped to restrict the flow of natural resources toward the United States and to enhance the influence of their emigrant brothers.  For their part, the Americans sought to build a Trans-Atlantic air ferry route to fly bombers and transports from Miami through Brazil to West Africa; they sought to monopolize purchases of raw materials, whose price spiked during the war and continued into the post-war reconstruction period; and they sought to squelch pro-Axis sentiment.[3]  Propaganda played a large role for both sides, although—like most propaganda—the effort availed them but little.

The Latin American countries were eager to profit from all this interest, yet they were not eager to be drawn into the war itself.[4]  Nevertheless, the turning of the tide led some Latin American countries to join the fight.  Brazil sent 25,000 soldiers to fight in Italy and Mexico allowed a small number of its air force pilots to serve against Japan.  In contrast, Juan Peron’s Argentina refused to engage in the war against the Axis until the very last moment.  Peron’s regime illustrates a number of the key themes.  He had served as military attache in Mussolini’s Italy; Argentina had received many German and Italian immigrants; and Argentina profited enormously from the spike in raw materials prices during and after the war.  Perhaps as a result, Argentina became the favored rat-hole for Nazi war criminals on the run, including Eichmann.

[1] Mary Jo McConahay, The Tango War: The Struggle for Hearts, Minds, and Riches In Latin America During World War II (2018).

[2] Henry Ford had established a rubber plantation in Brazil to insure the raw material for car tires.  He wanted to be free of dependence on the British Empire’s Malayan rubber during an era of bitter Anglo-American economic competition that was strategically forgotten during the Second World War.  On this fascinating episode, see Greg Grandin, Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City (2009).

[3] This could go to what now look like shameful lengths.  Amends have scarcely been made to the Americans of Japanese ancestry who were evacuated from the West Coast, but who now remembers the Peruvian-Japanese?

[4] Rather like Sweden, Switzerland, Spain, and Turkey.

Man of Steel II.

As with Adolf Hitler (and everyone else), the question is whether Joseph Stalin’s mature self already existed in his younger self, waiting to emerge when the time was right, or did some conjuncture of experiences turn him down a particular path?[1]  His most recent biographer, Stephen Kotkin of Princeton University, seems to find for the former.[2]

Between the death of Lenin in 1924 and 1929, Stalin had mastered the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.  More than Lenin or any other Bolshevik, Stalin revolutionized Russia.  The fundamental problem facing Bolshevism lay in the vast peasant population.  In a country theoretically committed to the “dictatorship of the proletariat, there existed virtually no proletariat.  For their part, the peasants were deeply committed to their own private property and traditional, inefficient methods.  They were uninterested in industrial labor or city life.  Yet they controlled the food supply (and thus the survival of city people).  Moreover, agriculture had long provided Russia’s main export and source of foreign exchange.  The solution to Bolshevism’s problem lay in “collectivizing” millions of small farms into gigantic state farms (kolkhoz), tractoring the land to free up millions of peasants to become industrial workers, cream-off a surplus of agricultural goods for sale abroad, purchase Western machinery, and build a huge industrial base.  All this had to be done at high speed in a series of bureaucratic Five Year Plans.

The human costs of this transformation stagger the mind.  Peasants resisted both collectivization and the huge food “surplus” defined by Moscow planners by burning their crops and slaughtering their animals.  Stalin’s minions—often young idealists—both fomented strife within villages and slaughtered opponents.  Millions died in famines[3] that many believe to have been deliberately engineered and others believe to have been unintended in origin, but then responded to with cruel indifference.

While this agonizing social and economic revolution drove ahead, Stalin launched a purge of the people on the “commanding heights” of the Soviet Union.  He first slaughtered his fellow “Old Bolsheviks,” who now filled government and party offices, and the men with guns (the armed forces and the security services) who might actually evict him from power.  Then this limited purge spread outward into every aspect of Soviet society.  Ethnic minorities were hammered, but so were all sorts of ethnic Russians. Perhaps 800,000 died and millions were imprisoned in the Gulag.

Deeply suspicious of opponents within the Soviet Union, Stalin also distrusted the capitalist states.  He saw the Anglo-French policy of appeasement as turning German aggression eastward against the Soviet Union.  In August 1939, the Soviets and the Nazis struck a deal to partition Poland and the Baltic countries.  This alliance might well be regarded as adroit “realpolitik.”  Remarkably though, Stalin came to believe that he could trust Hitler.  Birds of a feather?  As a result, he ignored both the effects of German victories in Western Europe in 1940 and abundant evidence that the Germans intended to attack his country in Summer 1941.  He was, apparently, psychologically shattered by the revelation of his own self-deception.

[1] “And therefore think him as a serpent’s egg, Which, hatch’d, would as his kind grow mischievous, And kill him in the shell.”—Julius Caesar, Act II, Scene 1.

[2] Stephen Kotkin, Stalin: Waiting for Hitler, 1929-1941 (New York: Penguin, 2018).

[3] Most famously, 3.5 million in Ukraine, but also another 1.5 million in the North Caucasus and Kazakhstan.

Soldiers Become Governors.

Modern war is about destroying the enemy’s army and seizing control of his territory.  Even when it can be achieved, victory still brings problems.  If Army officers wanted to be civilian bureaucrats they wouldn’t have gone into the military.  Yet civilian bureaucrats lack the means to effectively govern conquered territory.  Both civilians and soldiers agree to ignore this reality in what one scholar labels the “denial syndrome.”  Unfortunately, scholars have a lot of evidence with which to work in sorting out good practice from bad.[1]  People can’t help but compare the successful occupations of Germany and Japan after the Second World War with the disastrous aftermath of the 2003 invasion of Iraq.  What went right with the earlier occupations?  What went wrong with the later occupation?

After victory in the Second World War, the American military occupied huge territories of the defeated enemies.  Those countries acknowledged that they were beaten and that the war was ended.  The military had created immense global logistical systems that enabled it to move supplies to the conquered areas.  It had very large military forces available to support and enforce American military government.  The desire to avoid any renewed military danger from Germany or Japan inclined Generals Lucius Clay (Germany) and Douglas MacArthur (Japan) to sort out the conquered people, not just to punish them.  The suddenly developing Cold War with the Soviet Union motivated Americans (and the Germans especially) to not want a break-down of civil affairs.

Very different conditions prevailed in Iraq.  The war plan assigned far too few soldiers to occupation duty, then American forces were further drawn down.  Very quickly, the George W. Bush administration transferred authority in Iraq to what proved to be an inadequate Civilian Provisional Authority.  Iraqis did not acknowledge that they were beaten and that war had ended.  Instead, Sunni-Shi’ite-Kurdish conflicts broke out into the open.  Shi’ites looked to neighboring Iran for support, while Iran sought to undermine the American and Sunni positions.  While Germans had feared the Soviet Union, many Sunni embraced the insurgency that quickly became associated with the radical Islamists of Al Qaeda.

One—depressing—“lesson of History” might be that people fail to learn from History.  The George W. Bush administration failed to study the “good occupations” of Germany and Japan.  The Obama administration continued the same chaotic occupation policies launched by the Bush administration.  One reason for this failure may lie in the clash between any “lessons” History teaches and what people want to believe.  Lost in the adulation of the occupations of Germany and Japan is the reality that Americans raised in an environment of inter-war isolationism were only constrained to embark on internationalism by harsh necessity.

Also lost in recent accounts is the reality that Rome wasn’t built in a day.  By focusing tightly on the brief periods of military administration, then jumping ahead to the long-term outcomes, it is easy to attribute change to military government.  This analysis falls short of a real explanation.  On the one hand, civilian governments by the defeated peoples took decades to create democratic political cultures.  They wanted to avoid repeating the errors of the past.  On the other hand, Germany became a democracy because the victors in the Second World War partitioned the country, then parked 20,000 tanks on top of the place for almost half a century.

[1] Susan L. Carruthers, The Good Occupation: American Soldiers and the Hazards of Peace (2016); Nadia Schadlow, War and the Art of Governance: Consolidating Combat Success into Political Victory (2017).  In a typically American solipsism, the authors ignore the contemporaneous British experience with the government of conquered territories.

My Weekly Reader 21 March 2017.

During the Twenties, the Soviet-controlled Communist International (Comintern) adopted a policy called “class against class.”  The Communist Parties of Europe and America excoriated democratic Socialists and bourgeois liberal parties as “social fascists” with which there could be no co-operation.  Then Hitler came to power in Germany.  The Comintern soon espoused creation of “Popular Front” alliances to save democracy.   This change of course often aroused deep suspicion among more-than-once-burned Socialists and anti-Marxist bourgeois liberals.  “Progressive” western intellectuals were a different matter.   They rallied in droves to the idea of a “Popular Front.”

The Soviet intelligence services trolled these waters, recruiting agents and agents-of-influence.  Ernest Hemingway counted among those wiggling in the net.[1]  Like many other people, Hemingway became convinced that only the Soviet Union and the foreign communist parties in its service really opposed a Nazi take-over of Europe.  Hemingway joined a Communist front organization, the League of American Writers.  In 1936 he made the first of several trips to Spain to report on the Republican resistance to the right-wing military coup that had won the support of Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany.

On these reporting and material-gathering trips, Hemingway came to know Alexander Orlov, the Soviet secret intelligence service (NKVD) chief in Spain.   Orlov marked Hemingway for possible recruitment by the NKVD.  After the publication of “A Farewell to Arms” (1940), set in the Spanish Civil War, Hemingway began preparing for a trip to China to report on another preface to the Second World War.  Jacob Golos (1889-1943), a Soviet intelligence officer operating in the United States, recruited Hemingway.[2]  On that trip and afterward, Hemingway somehow always managed to miss connections with his assigned NKVD contacts.

American intelligence suffered a similarly un-productive relationship with the writer.  During the Second World War he filed reports with the F.B.I. on suspicious doings in Cuba, while rigging out his fishing boat as a sub-chaser.   During the Liberation of France, he crossed the line from war correspondent to combatant.   Less than a year later, the struggle against “fascism” ended with the complete victory of the “Grand Alliance.”  Most of the heavy lifting in that struggle had been done by the Red Army; the rest had been done by Western social fascists and bourgeois liberals.  This unpopular front died soon after victory.

Then the onset of the Cold War led to a hunt for Soviet agents in America.  Hemingway feared that his own sterile contacts would lead to his public disgrace, if not something worse.  He became paranoid about the F.B.I.  All the same, although a “premature anti-fascist,” Hemingway proved a laggard at dropping Communism even as its crimes became ever more obvious.   This reluctance is all the more remarkable because so many post-war events laid bare the realities Hemingway had chosen to ignore.  In 1948, Elizabeth Bentley, the lover of Jacob Golos and herself a Soviet agent, made spectacular revelations about Soviet espionage against the United States during the Second World War.  In 1953, Alexander Orlov, the senior NKVD officer he had met in Spain, published The Secret History of Stalin’s Crimes.  In 1956 the Soviet crushing of the Hungarian uprising caused many of the remaining Western Communist intellectuals to flee the party.   Nevertheless, Hemingway celebrated the initial victory of Fidel Castro’s revolution in Cuba.  A great writer, Hemingway was sometimes a fool.

[1] Nicholas Reynolds, Writer, Sailor, Soldier, Spy: Ernest Hemingway’s Secret Adventures, 1935-1961 (2017).  Reviewed by Harvey Klehr, WSJ, 14 March 2017, p. A15.

[2] Golos had been handling the cell centered on Julius Rosenberg.

Pearl Harbor.

In the mid-19th Century, Japan responded to Western pressure by adopting some Western methods in order to preserve the rest of its society. China responded to Western pressure by going into a defensive crouch. Japan grew strong, while China grew weak. Eventually, Japan began to aspire to push out the “Gaijin” from Asia and to dominate China. The United States (and the other Western countries—Britain, France, Holland) did not want to be pushed out. So, that was a problem. In 1937 Japan invaded China. In 1939 the Second World War broke out in Europe (Germany and Italy versus France and Britain). Germany conquered Poland, France, Belgium, and Holland. Britain was left alone fighting Germany and Italy. Seeing Britain as vulnerable, Japan began to press on the British, French, and Dutch in the Far East. Fearing that a German defeat of Britain would put America next on Hitler’s To-Do list, the Americans aided Britain in both Europe and in the Far East. Economic sanctions were clamped on Japan. The American Pacific Fleet moved to its forward base in Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. American troops and planes were rushed to the Philippines, then an American possession. Then, on 21 June 1941, Germany attacked the Soviet Union. Everyone assumed that the Russians would soon be defeated. Britain would surrender. The war would end. The Japanese decided that they had to attack NOW if they weren’t to be left out of the winners. On 7 December 1941 Japan attacked the Americans in Pearl Harbor and the Philippines and the British in Malaya.

Why were the Americans surprised at Pearl Harbor?

Was war with Japan likely? American-Japanese relations had been deteriorating since 1937 as the US supported China, and then Britain and Holland against Japan. In December 1937 Japanese planes had bombed a US gunboat on a Chinese river. In late 1940 the US had halted export of aircraft parts to Japan. In July 1941 the US halted exports of oil to Japan. In August 1941 the US warned Japan that it would “take steps” if Japan attacked a neighboring territory. In November 1941 a poll showed that 52 percent of Americans expected war with Japan soon.

If war came, how would it begin? In 1904 Japan began its war with Russia by a surprise naval attack on the Russian Far East fleet in its harbor. In 1940 British torpedo bombers flying from an air-craft carrier had launched a surprise attack on the Italian fleet in its harbor at Taranto.

If war came, where would it begin? The Americans believed that Japan lacked the resources to attack to two widely separated areas at the same time. They believed that the build-up of American forces in the Philippines posed an immediate danger to a Japanese attack on Malaya and Indonesia. Therefore, the Americans expected any attack to hit the Philippines.

In Spring 1941 the Japanese Navy began preparing a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. This mean planning, but it also meant training. In November 1941 all six aircraft carriers of the Japanese fleet left their ports in the Home Islands and moved north to the remote Kurile Islands.

It was very difficult for an American to spy in Japan. Japan was at war with China, so security was tight. The physical differences between the Japanese and Gaijin made it impossible to just blend in with any crowd. Not many Japanese were willing to betray their country by spying for a foreign country. Unless American diplomats went and looked at Japanese naval bases, they wouldn’t see that the air craft carriers were missing. Even if they did, then they couldn’t know where they had gone. North, South, East, West?

The Japanese attack force sailed on 26 November 1941. Most of their course ran through the North Pacific above the normal most-direct-route shipping lanes between the West Coast of America and the Far East.

Radar has just been invented. Only one set operated in Hawaii and then for only part of the day. When an operator reported planes approaching from the north, it was assumed that these were American planes due to arrive from the US en route to the Philippines at that time.

The attack began at 7:00 AM on Sunday, 7 December 1941. Many officers and sailors had been ashore drinking the night before.