15 April 2008

Charles Lindbergh and America First

When Ron Paul was an active contender for the presidential nomination, one criticism leveled against his anti-war stance was that it was reminiscent of the position of the "America First Committee" prior to our entry into the Second World War. This was new to me (my education having focused more on science than on history), so I recently searched for more information. As usual, the Wikipedia article on the America First Committee is the easiest place to start. They describe the AFC as the foremost pressure group against American entry into WWII. The most prominent spokesman for the AFC was Charles Lindbergh, whose September 1941 speech to a hostile crowd is embedded above. The basic, oversimplified, position was that America should defend itself within its own hemisphere, and not venture into a European conflict.

Although the AFC position represented that of the majority of Americans, public sentiment changed after the Pearl Harbor attack, and the AFC therefore disbanded. One viewpoint of the AFC's role in history is that expressed by conservative commentator Pat Buchanan: "By keeping America out of World War II until Hitler attacked Stalin in June of 1941, Soviet Russia, not America, bore the brunt of the fighting, bleeding and dying to defeat Nazi Germany." The opposite viewpoint, of course, is that offense is the best defense and that nonintervention in foreign wars is detrimental to American security.

The degree to which Lindbergh's comments in the 1941 video above are applicable to the current state of the world are debatable, but it's too late at night for me to start that debate now.

1 comment:

  1. Hey, Stan -

    (Bandbox warning! Mild rant follows...)

    I am not a Buchanan fan, but he points out a TINY bit of the truth of WWII, that the Soviets (not merely the "Russians") did almost all of the fighting against the Germans.

    How much DID they do?

    One of the few measuring sticks we have is number of deaths in combat.

    Stan, you seem to be someone a bit like me, in that you are always out there looking for something else to know about. Wrap yourself up in the numbers below.

    Now, one of the 'realities' that we Americans have grown up with is that we, the United States of America, won World War II. Considering the numbers I am going to present, that 'reality' doesn't seem to hold up very well.

    Deaths in combat:
    Germany: 5,533,000
    USSR: 10,700,000
    Japan: 2,100,000
    China: 3,800,000
    USA: 416,800
    Hungary: 300,000*
    Yugoslavia: 446,000*

    *(Hungary is in there because they lost 3/4 as many as the U.S., with a population only 6% of ours. Yugoslavia lost actually MORE soldiers than the U.S., but with a population of only 16,000,000 - about 12% of the U.S.'s. Hungary lost about 1 out of every 15 males. Yugoslavia, 1 out of every 18. Germany actually exceeded those ratios, with 1 out of every 7, while the USSR was 1 out of 8.5. The U.S.? 1 out of 160. Buchanan was right about others fighting the "good fight", but it wasn't only the Soviets. Had we gotten into the war sooner, undoubtedly our numbers "wouldn't have looked so good".+++)

    The numbers I'd seen before on the U.S. at other sites were generally in the 290,000 range (on both fronts), and Germany in the 8,000,000 range. It seems no one really KNOWS even within 15-20%.

    As to civilian deaths, Wikipedia has these numbers:
    Germany: 1,600,000
    USSR: 11,400,000
    Japan: 580,000
    China: 16,200,000 (!)
    Hungary: 80,000
    USA: 1,700

    Other countries and their civilian deaths, if you are interested:
    Poland 2,440,000
    Indonesia: 4,000,000
    India: 1,500,000

    I knew Indonesia was in the war, because Japan went after their oil very early on. But INDIA? I had no idea they were more than a staging area...

    See this great bar chart of total deaths in WWII: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:WorldWarII-DeathsByCountry-Barchart.png

    What clearly shows up here is how BIG the War in the East was. All those jokes on "Hogan's Heroes" about getting sent to the Eastern Front were no joke to anyone IN the East at the time.

    Think about those ratios of German and Soviet deaths, vs U.S. deaths. The U.S. was in the war, on the ground, in Europe for LESS than one year - June 6, 1944 to May 9, 1945. 106,000 of the U.S deaths were in the Pacific arena. That leaves 300,000 in Europe who died. Germany had 18 TIMES that; the USSR had about 36 TIMES the U.S. number.

    Strategically? The Soviets entered Berlin at virtually the same time as the U.S. troops did. With only about 3-5% of the European casualties that the Germans and Soviets had, it is a virtual certainty that over 90% of the fighting, right to the end, was on the Eastern Front (though I do not know that as fact yet). The Soviets - BY THEMSELVES - would have made it to Berlin within a week or two of V.E. Day. The Americans came in the back door.

    The big battles the U.S. fought were mere skirmishes compared to the big battles in the East - Stalingrad, Leningrad, Kursk, Operation Barbarossa, etc.

    We were on the winning side of World War II. The numbers strongly imply that we were very minor players.

    The Soviets won the war.

    Had Hitler not attacked Russia in 1941 (Operation Barbarossa - 5.5 million troops), Germany would likely have kept control of Europe for decades, possibly even until the present.

    All told, according to the numbers compiled at Wikipedia from other sources, 66 million people died in WWII, of which 25 million were soldiers and sailors. Of the 25 million fighting and dying, less than 2% were Americans.

    (+++ Europe learned a huge lesson from WWI and WWII, much of it due to those huge losses of their sons. They have been at peace for almost the entire time since then. The U.S. escaped pretty well unscathed by either war. It could maybe be argued that if our deaths then had been much larger that we would not have engaged in so many wars since then. Will we ever learn that same lesson? Will we have to have 1 out of 7 or 8 or 15 of our sons die to learn it? I dearly hope not.)


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