By Victor Davis Hanson
Over the years I’ve debated scholars and pundits on issues ranging from illegal immigration (no to open borders), George Bush’s troop levels in Iraq (don’t add and don’t subtract, but change tactics and force the Iraqis to step up), and World War II (the Red Army, for all the savagery and ordeal on the Eastern front, was not mostly responsible for winning the war, and its soldiers were no more courageous than Americans at Bastogne, Normandy Beach, Iwo Jima or Okinawa).
I remember a few years ago when British journalist and historian Sir Max Hastings and I gave differing views at the D-Day Museum in New Orleans on the role of the Soviets in World War II in connection with the efficacy of totalitarian armies versus democratic forces. In passing, I made the point that much of the Red Army’s zeal came not from the superior motivation (provided by the fear of being shot), but by the fact it was for nearly four years fighting on the soil of Mother Russia. And when it was not – Poland 1939, Finland 1939-40, or even Afghanistan in the 1980s – it fought far worse as an expeditionary force than did the Americans in WWI or WWII, whether at Bastogne or Iwo Jima and Okinawa.
Yes, it is true that three out of four Wehrmacht soldiers were killed by the Red Army, but the vast majority of Italian and Japanese soldiers were killed by Anglo-Americans; and strategic bombing, Lend-lease, fighting in three simultaneous theaters on three continents, supplying allies, and running a submarine and surface naval campaign across the globe were all beyond the Soviets. In general, I found Hastings astute, deeply learned, and polite, and our differences in emphasis were discussed cordially and in a context of gentility.
World War II redux
On the topic of WWII: After Sept. 11, suddenly the war was in the news as never before, as since then it became the reference point, rightly or wrongly, for much of our current struggle with the jihadists. The 1930s appeasement was seen again in terms of preemption, whether against Saddam or Iran. With the end of the Cold War, and with the nuclear plans of North Korea and Iran, we recalled Hiroshima as never before – especially with the specter that the once bombed Japan might well be forced itself to go nuclear.
How do wars end? We seem now always to seek to explain a reformed Japan and Germany in contrast to the up-in-the-air end of the Korean War or Gulf War I, seeing again the wisdom of our fathers who were intent not to repeat the indecisive armistice of World War I.
Intelligence failures? After the WMD fiasco, we can now understand the failures to anticipate Pearl Harbor or know the magnitude of exactly what was going on in the death camps. Poorly armored humvees brought us back to thin-skinned Shermans and the disastrous daylight, unescorted B-17 raids of 1942-3.
And the U.N. – that postwar liberal, Western notion of collective security and governance – now seems hopelessly naïve, given the illiberal nature of the non-Western states in the General Assembly and Security Council. Then there was the constant looking back to Pearl Harbor immediately after 9/11 – and wondering what would it take to truly anger the American people when we lost more on Sept. 11, 2001, than on Dec. 7, 1941, and on the home soil of the continental United States, right in the heart of our two greatest cities.
Finally, we all evoked the generational differences. To me it was summed up when Democrats spent much of the past decade alleging that “we took our eye off Afghanistan by going into Iraq.” My Lord! This is a country that fought Italy, Japan and Germany all at once, and was in an inferno on Okinawa while racing eastward past the Rhine, while bombing Berlin, while slogging up through Italy, while igniting the Japanese mainland. Our ancestors apparently had quite a lot more eyeballs than did their lesser sons and daughters.
Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in Residence in Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, a professor of Classics Emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and a nationally syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services. He is also the Wayne & Marcia Buske Distinguished Fellow in History, Hillsdale College, where he teaches each fall semester courses in military history and classical culture. Each week he writes his “Works & Days” column at PJMedia.com.
Hanson is also host of the new six-part series of video lectures on World War II at the PJ Media Freedom Academy, where he explores the causes of the war, its major battles, the end of the Axis and the war’s winners and losers.
Get Professor Hanson’s first video lecture – “The Causes of World War II – for $9.90, that’s 70 percent off. Or, buy the entire series (six 30-minute lectures) for just $99. Click here for more details.