War from the sidelines

[Working backward from the year 2000 toward America’s beginnings.]

For two years, America watched the war in Europe expand. When Germany attacked Poland in September, 1939, England and France declared war. Poland was defeated in a month, and when there was no further land warfare that winter, some people took to calling it a “phony war.” That phase ended in the spring of 1940, when Hitler’s armies, navy and air force overran Denmark and Norway, then the Netherlands, Belgium and, in a terrific shock to the west, France. All this shook America’s determination to remain uninvolved. In the fall, the Luftwaffe carried the war to the British homeland, and in the final weeks of the 1940 presidential campaign, America were hearing nightly broadcasts from London describing the Battle of Britain.

These broadcasts perhaps did as much as any other single event to heighten American sympathies for England and the resistance to Hitler. All through the year 1941, America remained technically neutral, but in fact aligned itself ever more closely to the British empire. Lend-Lease “lent” the British some overage, practically obsolete, four-stacker destroyers left over from the first world war. (Though over-age, they were useful, and desperately needed, in convoying ships through U-Boat-infested waters.) In return, the British gave the U.S. 99-year leases on various strategic properties in the western hemisphere, on which U.S. forces built bases which it used in order to perform air and sea patrols. President Roosevelt announced that the North Atlantic west of Iceland was an American strategic zone which the U.S. navy would patrol against U-Boats. Thus, for months while America was technically neutral, the U.S. navy was stalking and sometimes depth-bombing U-Boats in what had been redefined as American waters.

In June, 1941, Hitler attacked the Soviet Union, and the English and Russians immediately made common cause despite Churchill’s absolute anti-communism, which extended to the very first days of the communist revolution during World War I. (“If Hitler invaded hell,” Churchill said, “I would feel obliged at least to make a favorable reference to the devil in the House of Commons.”) In the next six months, German forces repeatedly overwhelmed Russian armies, and penetrated hundreds of miles into the interior of Russia. But the Russian armies, in classic fashion, traded space for time – that is, they retreated when necessary to avoid destruction. Russia, unlike every other country Germany had attacked, had plenty of space to trade. The very expanse of Russian landmass absorbed hundreds of thousands of German troops, diluting their superiority in numbers as they proceeded eastward – and the Soviet government was prepared to retreat behind the Ural mountains if need be. Still, by December, 1941, the Germans stood at the gates of Moscow and Leningrad.

Then, as Roosevelt had wished, the United States entered the war against Germany, but the way it happened was odd. It wasn’t as a result of American attacks on German U-Boats or American arms sales to Great Britain or halfway steps to war such as Lend-Lease, at least, not directly. And it wasn’t because America declared war on Germany. Instead, it was because in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, the Empire of Japan had struck at the American fleet at Pearl Harbor. On December 8, President Roosevelt asked Congress for a declaration of war against Japan, and two days later Germany (and Italy) declared war on the United States! The immediate American response was, of course, a reciprocal declaration.

2 thoughts on “War from the sidelines

  1. Hi Frank.
    Interesting to read you(r) view upon these historical occurences my friend.

    What seems to be(to me that is)the repetition of historic political “war-games” of us never to learn of it?
    When it comes to the attacks of Russia throughout the history is it rather peculiar:
    The Swedish King Karl VVII ( Karl= Charles in english ) in the 17th century invaded Russia. Back then Sweden were a big and powerful nation. And likewise Denmark, the two countries were enemies back then. Sweden failed in the invasion of Russia and came as far as Moscow and loosing mostly all his troops. The Swedish King Karl VVII managed also coming as far as down to the Krim-peninsula, and Turkey as well; with almost none soldiers left of his Army but a few….mostly soldiers from Finland. Finland belonging to Sweden back then.
    And of course, later on Napoleon did the very same (even of him to know about how Sweden to have failed the same in the history).
    And not to mention Hitler to know the old history as well, but still crazy enough (despite many of Hitlers close army-officers varnings about it). They KNEW the map and the landscape of Russia on forehand.

    BTW: When it comes to Iceland as American “territory” in WWII…well. ask any old native Icelandic citizen about how THEY were looking at the americans “over-ruled” their territory….The old Icelandic peoples to have told of feeling occupied by the U.S during WWII….And “over-ruled” by the americans.

    Witty though, I am to recal the discussions (many years later on), in which “side to follow” when the the world-war broke loose in 1940 (here with us). Churchill, a few days before the Germans invaded Norway, exclaimed to have put a mine-field along the Norwegian coast-line despite of Norway had exclaimed the country as “a neutral Zone”, the same as Sweden and the U.S.
    But Churchill had plans “to do an invasion of Norwy up North because the importance of the export/transportation from the iron-ore minings between Kiruna in Sweden, and Narvik in Norway, by the railways between the two countries.
    Back then considered as the worlds largest iron-ore supplies ( at least in Europe ). And Hitler knowing it very well of course.
    But the point is: IF Churchill to have “invaded” (or “occupied” Norway at FIRST….. AHEAD of Nazi-Germany…..supposingly Norway to have “supported” Germany, as Sweden did.
    Sweden let the German troops using the Swedish Railways to occupy Norway. It is forgiven long time ago of course (The old late Swedish King Gustav Adolph was German-friendly).
    No Internet or Satelites back then …. Not all citizens to have a radio-network at all …and many without the electricity at the countryside.
    Well, there were another time(is it a parallelel world/dimension?) In other words ….Another thinking…Another dimension.
    “Back then”, in Norway peoples behaved VERY individually (extreme individuals), as they were used to do everything all alone, living in the remote valleys and little of the overall public communications. They had to rely upon themselves at large.
    And then Germany came along as the biggest and most modern war-machine ever built. My Hat off for the German inborn dicipline.
    And I worship Angela Merkel, she IS fabulous. Far above ordinary and common man. She is the PILAR of Europe and “up to date”. The right lady at the right time and place indeed (in my opinion) ! She is good.

    Anyway…..Frank, I do believe what you are telling here will be of importance to know and to learn, especially for the younger generations. I can see “the signs” here in Norway too, how little the younger generations to know about their former history.
    As long as they do not know about history…the more likely it is to repeat itself.
    LOL, Inger Lise.
    P.S. Is it all A Dream ?

    1. Unfortunately, I no longer believe that knowing what happened leads people to make better decisions. Always it’s, “Things are different this time.” As with Charles XII, Napoleon, Hitler, etc. Every time, “this time it’s different, and we’re smarter, stronger, better, etc.”

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