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"Declaring War on America" Topic


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1,083 hits since 24 Jul 2018
©1994-2018 Bill Armintrout
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Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian25 Jul 2018 10:17 a.m. PST

Was Hitler wrong to declare war on the USA following Pearl Harbor? Or did his alliance with Japan leave him no choice? Would the Americans have intensified conflict in the Atlantic even without war being declared?

Winston Smith Supporting Member of TMP25 Jul 2018 10:29 a.m. PST

Wrong? No. It was a matter of honor! It was a defensive pact. Nobody was required to go to war with someone the other party attacked. Russia?
But the Japanese were "honorary Aryans".

Mistake? Maybe.

But Roosevelt was clearly pushing the envelope regarding convoys and protection.
A war between the Germans and Americans was almost inevitable.

Sing along!
YouTube link

emckinney25 Jul 2018 10:32 a.m. PST

Last question first: yes. FDR was cranking up the pressure in the Atlantic, letting the navy give broader and broader help to the British, and looking for provocations to force Germany to fire the first shot.

Remember, during Bismarck chase, the US Navy was covering the western Atlantic with orders to attack the Bismarck if spotted! That would have been an act if war. FDR might have gotten in political hot water, but probably could have spun it and used it to get us worked up over a "second Pearl Harbor." No way Hitler couldn't have declared war then.

emckinney25 Jul 2018 10:34 a.m. PST

Second question: Hitler didn't much care about alliances. Germany didn't get much from Japan of significant value.

Hitler had a choice, and no real constraints.

dvyws925 Jul 2018 10:42 a.m. PST

Nah, declaring war on the USA is NEVER wrong…

Frederick Supporting Member of TMP25 Jul 2018 10:55 a.m. PST

Huge mistake – war was probably inevitable but if the US had been concentrated on the Pacific, it would have bought the Germans some much needed time

Ed Mohrmann Supporting Member of TMP25 Jul 2018 11:11 a.m. PST

Re: Germany 'firing the first shot' so what was the
31 October 1941 sinking of the USS Reuben James ?

I hesitate to ask 'Chopped liver ?'

Five or six weeks before Pearl Harbor or was FDR
committed to a 'Japanese first' strategy, which looks,
from the subsequent focus on Germany/Atlantic, not to
be the case.

Of course, he and Churchill didn't want the UK to starve
either.

Further 'of course' we were in no shape to fight a
Pacific war after Pearl Harbor, the PI and actions
involving ABDA naval units.

To answer Bill's original question – yeah, wrong. You
expect something else from a nutcase ? Hitler's insanity
probably felt it was a matter of 'honor,' as much 'honor'
as that personality could muster…

28mm Fanatik25 Jul 2018 11:30 a.m. PST

The answer is "no" because it wouldn't have made a difference in the final analysis. The US would have entered the ETO anyway: link

Both Hitler and Roosevelt believed that war was inevitable, and they were both probably right. Restraining the war machine in December of 1941 might have bought some additional time for Germany in the Med and (possibly) in the skies, but would have forced the Kriegsmarine to forego an offensive that it believed could win the war. And in the end, the Americans likely would have joined the conflict anyway, perhaps with less experience, but with greater overall preparation to make a decisive commitment.

Buck21525 Jul 2018 12:18 p.m. PST

2nd bad career move by Adolph. The first was invading Russia…

Garde de Paris25 Jul 2018 1:34 p.m. PST

I enjoy Victor Davis Hanson, and hope you will as well:

YouTube link

GdeP

RudyNelson25 Jul 2018 2:20 p.m. PST

Not a mistake in general. Propaganda on both sides was helped by the German declaration. It was clear that America was going to declare war on Germany and Italy.
Submarine warfare would have continued until the US had had enough then War. Finding out the status of the heavy water program would have instant reason for war.
A Japan first strategic policy would have been more costly for the US. Invasion of Japan before the A bomb was complete. An invasion through the northern island route by the army. Central route by Marines and southern and CBI by the army.

Legion 425 Jul 2018 2:32 p.m. PST

Nah, declaring war on the USA is NEVER wrong…
Yes, and after the USA destroys the enemy, then we rebuild their countries … huh?

Personal logo Herkybird Supporting Member of TMP25 Jul 2018 2:41 p.m. PST

Churchill and Stalin probably had the first good night's sleep in a year after America joined the war, backed up with the USA's industrial might, (and armed forces in the west) – we couldn't lose!

Personal logo Patrick R Supporting Member of TMP25 Jul 2018 3:31 p.m. PST

We don't have any official declaration from Hitler, but we do have a few facts. Hitler was convinced that the US would eventually declare war and he considered the situation in the Atlantic as an undeclared state of war and considered Roosevelt's security of the world speech as a clear attack on Germany. Because the German navy was under orders to avoid US ships they found their operational reach seriously curtailed.

Despite claims to the contrary he never underestimated the US and did mention this several times and he stated that the only way to beat the US was to mobilize the resources of an entire continent.

Hitler anticipated to first defeat the USSR and then shift his attention to fighting the US in 1942 or later. But as the situation in the Atlantic starts to deteriorate and it becomes increasingly clear that the USSR will not be defeated in 1941 and worst of all the Japanese were in talks with the US and he greatly feared that they would switch sides.

When the Japanese did attack Pearl Harbor, Hitler was in a way relieved because he believed that Japan would draw away the bulk of the US military and he believed that declaring war on the US would incite the Japanese to engage the US even more vigorously knowing that Germany would do everything to support them, freeing the Germany navy to operate as it wished and forcing the US to fight a two front war until Germany had defeated the USSR.

Mark 125 Jul 2018 4:03 p.m. PST

To me this is probably the most significant "what if" question of the war.

> Was Hitler wrong to declare war on the USA following Pearl Harbor?

"Wrong" or "not wrong" is probably not an appropriate question when we are speaking of Hitler. From my view, at least, once you put Hitler into the equation the result is always the same. f(Hitler) = WRONG.

But, none-the-less, the question remains: what if Hitler had NOT declared war on the United States after Pearl Harbor? I think THAT is a question of stunning potential.

> did his alliance with Japan leave him no choice?

Don't think so at all. He had all the choice he wanted. I don't think anyone considered it a foregone conclusion that Hitler would declare war after Pearl Harbor. The German Foreign Ministry, and even the Japanese, were taken by surprise. And he didn't even have a Twitter account to do it with!

> Would the Americans have intensified conflict in the Atlantic even without war being declared?

The Americans were intensifying the conflict in the Atlantic before Pearl Harbor. The question is whether they would continue to do so after, without a state of war between the US and Germany?

I think it would have been easier in some ways, and harder in others, for Roosevelt to intensify the pressure in the Atlantic. Whether he would, or even could, might have depended on how the Germans (ie: Hitler) played their cards in the post Pearl Harbor period.

There was a real potential that Roosevelt would find his hands tied by an American public (and Congress) turning their focus and spite towards the Pacific. There was substantial concern about this in the White House. As it was, Hitler provided Roosevelt with a great gift by declaring war.

I think (admittedly based on relatively little strong evidence) that:

1) If Hitler had expressed some support for the Japanese, but little more…
Roosevelt would probably have continued poking and prodding and provoking. There would have been another incident like the Reuben James. Maybe a USN ship, maybe a German ship or U-Boat gets sunk. Then a third. In this scenario Hitler is probably ambivalent about a declared war, while Roosevelt is trying to get IN to one. It's hard for Roosevelt -- he can't do it on his own. He needs to goad the Germans into action that clarifies the matter to the US public. There is little evidence that Hitler had a lot of patience, so presumably after several "events" things turn hot enough that either the Germans declare war, or reacts strongly enough that Roosevelt can convince the Congress that war is happening anyways and they need to take action by authorizing it.

Net result is two, three, or four months before the US is at war with Germany. In that time a LOT of US forces wind up devoted to the Pacific, and it becomes very difficult to re-train the sites on Europe until the US forces are on the advance against Japan. Might be only token stuff for Europe until 1943, so no Torch, and Overlord is a 1945 question.

2) Hitler openly condemns the Japanese for attacking, and asserts neutrality in the war between the US and Japan…
This is the scenario that really puts Roosevelt in a pickle. The US public (and Congress) will likely see war against a seemingly passive / neutral Germany as unnecessary, as a distraction when there is all this Japan stuff in their collective face, or worse yet as war-mongering by the East Coast industrialists and elites.

Where this one goes is anyone's guess. I could imagine Roosevelt pushing for a declaration of war, and NOT getting it. Oof! Or he gets his declaration from a decidedly divided Congress, and then, in the next mid-terms, looses his Democratic majority and faces a Congress that wants OUT of the war against Germany. Ooftah! Imagine US involvement in Vietnam being labelled "another Germany" by the press.

To me, the potentials are stunning.

-Mark
(aka: Mk 1)

Personal logo Parzival Supporting Member of TMP25 Jul 2018 4:53 p.m. PST

Yes, and after the USA destroys the enemy, then we rebuild their countries …

Which is of course the premise behind the hilarious novel (and film), The Mouse That Roared. grin

Grelber25 Jul 2018 8:12 p.m. PST

I worked with a German lady who refused to believe Hitler declared war on us. It made so little sense to her she was sure it had to be the other way around.

Grelber

Puster26 Jul 2018 1:49 a.m. PST

Was he wrong?
Yes. Each day without the full economical und ultimate military support of the US behind the UK and Soviets was a good day for his war efforts.

Then why did he declare war?
Several aspects.

First and mainly, he believed that the US was already throwing its full weight behind the UK. Weapons and ammunition were streaming in, US ships were protecting convoys and there were existing reports of US ships firing on German subs, and the US already had relieved UK troops in their occupation of Iceland. A kind of low level shooting war already existed in the Atlantic.
Second, in his hybris he certainly believed that if he untied the restrictions put upon the German subs regarding US ships, the benefits would outweight the costs.
Third, a reciprocal declaration of war by Japan upon the Soviet Union was certainly hoped for.

Germany was not obliged to declare war, and NOT declaring war would probably have put considerably internal pressure upon Roosevelts "Europe first" strategy (even when that was not yet named such). Understanding the internal mechanics of democracies were, however, among the many defects of Hitler and the few people who he listened to.

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP26 Jul 2018 3:30 a.m. PST

I think Mark 1's analysis is pretty much spot on. Although Roosevelt's ability to 'prod' Germany towards war would get progressively harder as more and more naval resources would have been diverted to the Pacific. It would have been hard to justify keeping major forces in the Atlantic with MacArthur yelling for reinforcements in the Philippines. If Hitler kept his head, it might have been quite a while before the US entered the European war.

Personal logo etotheipi Sponsoring Member of TMP26 Jul 2018 4:07 a.m. PST

I was pretty much like someone declaring war on me after they assaulted a member of my family. An interesting statement of their philosophical world view, but ultimately immaterial to the actual outcome.

CSherrange26 Jul 2018 4:23 a.m. PST

Well yes, because it guaranteed Germany's defeat. But in hindsight, maybe not because Dresden and Berlin would've been leveled by nuclear blasts

Legion 426 Jul 2018 5:45 a.m. PST

Which is of course the premise behind the hilarious novel (and film), The Mouse That Roared.
LOL ! Yes, I remember that movie ! Looks like some places in the world may think that is a good idea ! evil grin

20-30+ years after the WWII both Germany and Japan were [& are !] economic powerhouses ! evil grin

Italy … not so much … wink

Bill N26 Jul 2018 5:51 a.m. PST

I think Hitler saw going to war with the U.S. as a short term solution to a set of short term problems.

1. The effectiveness of the Uboat campaign against the U.K. is being limited by massive U.S. trade with the U.K. and by U.S. naval participation in the Battle of the Atlantic. Upgrading to a formal war would allow the Uboats to shift westward and attack unprotected U.S. shipping along its eastern seaboard. Protecting the coastal trade would require that the U.S. divert assets away from the protection of transAtlantic convoys.

2. The war with the Soviet Union is increasingly looking like it will go into a second year. Japanese active participation in the war against the Soviet Union, or even the fear of Japanese participation, would tie up Soviet resources in the far east.

3. At the end of 1941 the U.K. is more of an immediate threat to Hitler's plans for 1942 than the potential threat posed by U.S. involvement. A more vigorous attack by Japan against the British Empire in the far east could divert British resources away from the war against Germany. If the U.S. was forced to divide the resources it did have in 1941 between Germany and Japan, the Japanese might be able to launch a more vigorous campaign against the British Empire in the far east. Remember that Hitler declared war before the spectacular successes of the Japanese in early to mid-1942 and he may not have expected the Japanese to have been as successful as they were.

Even if Hitler understood the full military and industrial potential of the U.S. he was probably gambling the U.S. would not be able to use those resources until after 1942. By then Hitler was probably hoping that the war with the Soviets would be winding down.

Mark 126 Jul 2018 12:38 p.m. PST

Roosevelt's ability to 'prod' Germany towards war would get progressively harder as more and more naval resources would have been diverted to the Pacific. It would have been hard to justify keeping major forces in the Atlantic with MacArthur yelling for reinforcements in the Philippines.

This would have been FDR's most difficult issue.

As we all recall, the first 6 months of the war in the Pacific did not go too well for the US.

Part of the reason was that, even in that early time, the US was deploying a significant portion of it's military strength towards the Atlantic. A strong naval presence was maintained, and Army Air Corps planes flew patrols all along the coastline. By summer forces were building up and training for the Torch landings in North Africa, which were approved and set into motion in late July -- before that, the plan in hand was Sledgehammer, which actually anticipated invading France in the fall of 1942!

Imagine how hard it would have been for FDR to maintain those Atlantic-focused efforts if there had been no war on that side of the country … if American boys were fighting and losing in the Pacific while significant forces sat idle or (worse yet?) were devoted to 'protecting British interests rather than American lives'.

But of course that's only part of the reason for the US setbacks in the Pacific. The other part of the reason was that the Japanese were a powerful adversary. In truth, even IF the US had not deployed much in the way of military resources to the Atlantic, it would have been very difficult to arrest the Japanese advances until their naval forces and particularly their naval air arm were significantly attrited (as happened at Midway). I don't see any reason to believe any of that would have happened faster if the US had been engaged in war only against the Japanese.

But that nuance would have been lost on the US public (and Congress), who would have seen EVERY man in uniform on the Atlantic side of the country as an obvious and clear indication that the war against Japan was not being pursued with adequate vigor by the Roosevelt administration.

Each day without the full economical und ultimate military support of the US behind the UK and Soviets was a good day for his war efforts.

Agree.

First and mainly, he believed that the US was already throwing its full weight behind the UK.

This I find hard to believe. I think Hitler had at least some appreciation for American economic might, even if he greatly underestimated the importance of the logistical side of the war in general. If he understood anything about US capability, he must have been able to see that the US was putting only a fraction of it's potential weight behind the UK.

More likely, I find some interesting potential in the statement:

Hitler saw going to war with the U.S. as a short term solution to a set of short term problems.

If we take that perspective it makes a little more sense.

And, I might add, I think that there is ample reason to assume that his decision making had only a minor rational component. Far more likely is that his decision making was driven by emotion and intuition (based on his highly prejudiced belief set).

Few of us can actually use rational consideration to drive our decision-making. More often we decide based on what we WANT, and then rationalize it after the fact. Authoritarian rulers are more often then not even further along this spectrum, to my observation.

I expect he was frustrated by the limitations he had imposed on the German Atlantic campaign to that point. He was tired of trying to keep out of a declared war with the US. He was pushing his naval officers to do more, to achieve more in their fight against the British, and he was tired of their excuses that they could do more if he removed the constraints.

Remember that Hitler declared war before the spectacular successes of the Japanese in early to mid-1942 and he may not have expected the Japanese to have been as successful as they were.

There is some merit in that observation as well. He may have thought, whatever his view of US potential, that Japan had offered him a golden opportunity by distracting the US.

If Japan could force the US into a Japan-first strategy, then Hitler could escalate his activities against UK shipping at relatively little risk. So appearing to the Japanese as an active and enthusiastic supporter of war against the US may have seemed like a good idea.

With that perspective, declaring war makes more sense. Anything that encourages the Japanese to be more bold might increase his own window of opportunity. As it was, the spring of 1942 was the German high-water mark in the battle of the Atlantic. While we may be able to see, with hindsight, how far that may have been from decisive, that was probably not clear at all to the Germans in that timeframe.

Interesting discussion. I feel like I can see now, better than before, why it may have seemed like a clever idea on December 8 in Berlin. Doesn't mean I think it WAS, but I can see how it may have seemed to be.

-Mark
(aka: Mk 1)

Fred Cartwright26 Jul 2018 2:33 p.m. PST

Interesting discussion. Could Hitler allow unrestricted US access to the North Atlantic for very long? In theory the US could have sent a convoy of US ships supported with US naval escort across the Atlantic, through the Med to Suez on the pretext they were supplying their allies the British with weapons to fight the Japanese. Everyone likes to think Hitler's decisions were irrational, but there is some rationality to hitting the US hard in an attempt to strangle the flow of supplies to Britain and force the British to sue for peace while the US is preoccupied with Japan. To do that he needs to turn the undeclared war in the North Atlantic into a shooting war. If he can force the British to the negotiating table then there is no base for the US to launch an attack on Europe and he may be able to persuade the US to negotiate and concentrate on Japan.

Lee49426 Jul 2018 3:37 p.m. PST

I think is was a cool, calculated decision. In December 1941 Hitler was suffering reverses in both Russia and North Afrika. The last thing he needed was American intervention. America was only going to get stronger so declaring war immediately after Pearl Harbor allowed Hitler to unleash his U Boats when we were at our weakest and hopefully prevent our forces from ever reaching Europe .. so invasions like Torch couldn't happen. And it almost worked. Close but no cookie!

Lion in the Stars26 Jul 2018 4:37 p.m. PST

Yes, and after the USA destroys the enemy, then we rebuild their countries …

Cheaper than having to fight yet another war 20 years after the last one!

Objectively, the declaration was a poor choice.

I'm not sure it would have been better to delay the declaration until later, but picking a fight with the largest economy in the world is never going to end well.

donlowry26 Jul 2018 6:28 p.m. PST

Or did his alliance with Japan leave him no choice?

What could Japan do if he reneged? Nothing.

Legion 427 Jul 2018 7:17 a.m. PST

Cheaper than having to fight yet another war 20 years after the last one!
Hindsight was certainly 20/20 in this case.

But today in places like Iraq and A'stan, seems we can keep spending $$$$ trying to rebuild them and they just become money pits ! evil grin

Lion in the Stars27 Jul 2018 5:47 p.m. PST

Takes an awful lot of money to build someone out of the damn stone age.

Old Glory Sponsoring Member of TMP28 Jul 2018 6:44 a.m. PST

The Russians never need anyone else, not even England. They can beat everybody, every time.
Shoot, they could have won with one arm tied behind their backs while still eating their lunch. Anyway, that's the impression I get when these kind of discussions surface?

Regards
Russ Dunaway

Lee49428 Jul 2018 7:14 a.m. PST

Russ et al what is often overlooked is the part US aid played. Not just planes and tanks which arguably had minimal impact. Rather the tens of thousands of sturdy trucks, millions of combat boots and millions of gallons of high grade aviation gas were critical to Soviet success.and this magnitude of aid would likely not have happened were we not fighting Germany. Cheers!

Legion 428 Jul 2018 7:28 a.m. PST

The Russians never need anyone else, not even England. They can beat everybody, every time.
Generally pretty true … The figure of 70+%[or more] of German and their Axis Allies/etc., e.g. Italy, Romania, Hungary, Spain, etc., were lost on the Eastern Front. IIRC, more Italians died in Russia than in North Africa, etc.

And Russian AFV, cannon, etc., production far out paced the German's, Italian's, Hungarian's, etc.

Not just planes and tanks which arguably had minimal impact. Rather the tens of thousands of sturdy truck, millions of combat boots and millions of gallons of high grade aviation gas were critical to Soviet success.
Very much so … the rolling stock of various US truck types were critical in supporting a highly mechanized/motorized, etc., military that the USSR had. E.g. fuel, ammo, spare parts, food/water, etc., etc. Any AFV or aircraft, etc., that can't shoot, move or communicate[albeit many Russian AFVs had no radio(s) !] is just a big paperweight …

Some historians have said, that the Generals that won WWII were General Motors, General Electric and General Foods … There is probably a modicum of truth there.

donlowry28 Jul 2018 7:50 a.m. PST

I think that was General Mills, not General Foods, but yeah.

Old Glory Sponsoring Member of TMP28 Jul 2018 8:29 a.m. PST

It would be nice to change history and see what would have really happened if the greatest industrial power the world has ever witnessed and the one with the 3rd largest population in the world today would just stay out of it all-- even now??
Let the Russians run the peace Corp,Salvation army, etc. also!!

catavar28 Jul 2018 10:19 a.m. PST

I agree that Russia can usually take care of itself, yet look at 1917. I think that was what the Germans were counting on in 1941; the over-throw of the government. I recall reading somewhere that the Russians were still considering negotiations after '41; if so maybe they weren't 100% sure themselves?

Back to the topic at hand. If the US started supplying Russian, like the UK, I'm pretty sure Hitler would have declared war. Especially if the US was already heavily committed in the Pacific by that time.

I doubt that changes the ultimate outcome, but a later entry into the war by the US probably delays Torch and maybe even Overlord. So a mistake? Yes, at that time I believe it was. But FDR's commitment to the UK and, possibly with Churchill's prodding the USSR, I think it was probably inevitable.

Legion 429 Jul 2018 6:05 a.m. PST

You may be correct Don, IIRC Gen Foods was founded in the 20s. Not sure about Gen Mills. But regardless again it comes down to supply & resupply …

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