Tuesday, September 1, 2015

World War II began 76 years ago today


On September 1st, 1939, Nazi Germany invaded Poland, and World War II began.  By the time it was over, fatalities (military and civilian, from combat and non-combat causes) would total at least seventy million, probably up to eighty-five million, and possibly as high as a hundred million.  That total is at least doubled if wounded, injured and missing persons are included.  Total casualties of all kinds were probably not far short of a quarter of a billion people.

Stratfor has an interesting and thought-provoking analysis of Hitler's effect on Europe as a consequence of the Second World War.  Here's an excerpt, reprinted with Stratfor's permission.

The first outcome, obviously, was that he destroyed Europe's hegemony over much of the world and its influence over the rest. Within 15 years of the end of the war, Britain, France, Belgium and the Netherlands lost their empires. A handful of European nations had dominated the world. By the end of the war they had lost the will, the energy and the wealth to maintain their power. After half-hearted and doomed attempts to resist, these countries willingly participated in the dismantling of what they had once thought of as their birthright.

This changed the shape of the world, of course, but the change was less the result of the world's resistance to Europe than a result of Europe's exhaustion. After the war, Europe faced the task of rebuilding buildings. The ambition to rule had been exhausted ... Europe has lost its recklessness, which is on the whole good. Yet it has gained an excessive caution that makes it difficult for Europe to make up its mind over matters small and large.

The world is certainly a better place without Hitler's reckless imprudence. It is probably a better place without British or French imperialism, although when we look at what they left behind, we wonder if the wreckage of empire is worth the wreckage of the post-imperial world, whoever we blame for that wreckage.

. . .

There was another thing Hitler cost Europe: the metaphysical sensibility. It is startling, the extent to which Christian Europe has abandoned Christianity for secularism. Consider this map (click the image for a larger view):


The decline of church attendance is the outer husk of a European sensibility that, at the highest levels of thought, contemplated the deeper meanings of things. It was not Hitler who destroyed the European metaphysical sensibility. In many ways it destroyed itself from the inside, with a radical skepticism derived from the Enlightenment that turned on itself. But Hitler provided a coup de grace to that sensibility by appropriating figures like Friedrich Nietzsche and Richard Wagner to his own political ends, thereby delegitimizing not only them but also the tradition from which they emerged. Hitler, in his own strange wanderings in the depths, made such wanderings no longer respectable, and indeed, suspect. There is a saying I once heard: "German philosophers go down deeper, stay down longer and come up dirtier than any others." I don't know about philosophers, but Hitler, the would-be philosopher, certainly did, and it cost Europe the jewel of its intellectual heritage.

. . .

Of course in all of this, perhaps the most important thing that Hitler did was unleash the United States, a country where earning a living is the definition of life. Hitler believed that his defeat meant the triumph of Bolshevism. It really meant the triumph of the United States and its culture, which it distributed in Western Europe through occupation and in the Soviet bloc through imitation.

The United States redefined European culture. As I have written in Flashpoints: The Emerging Crisis in Europe, it was not Coca-Cola but the computer that was the carrier of American culture. The computer had nothing to do with metaphysics or with the true or beautiful. It had to do with the narrowest form of instrumental reason: It simply got things done, and in doing so, it justified its existence. The computer dominated the world — and Europe — and with it came a mode of thinking, contained in programming, that was so radically different from what European culture consisted of as to almost be from another planet.

. . .

Hitler drew the Americans into the heart of Europe and left the Europeans completely vulnerable to the emerging, and quite strange, modes of thought that a nation that holds shopkeepers in great regard can produce. Hitler destroyed the dams that Europe had built around itself. He crippled all of Europe, including the Soviet Union. He could not imagine the need to cripple the Americans, nor could he have had realized the need. And therefore, in the end, they rebuilt Berchtesgaden and I am sitting here looking at it.

Hitler will be remembered not only for great evil but also — and more important, in many ways — for the manner in which almost all of the consequences of his war were unexpected.

There's more at the link.  Highly recommended reading.

As we remember this dismal anniversary, let's spare a thought (and a prayer) for the millions upon millions of casualties, and those who survived the war but are now leaving us at a rate of thousands every day as they grow old.

May the victims of the Second World War, whenever they died or will die, rest in peace.

Peter

8 comments:

J Van Stry said...

Once, years ago, on a trip to England I met a man (friend of a friend) who went on and on about how the USA screwed England after the war, by giving all that money to Germany (the Marshall plan) and nothing to England, who soon found themselves unable to compete with most European countries, because they were still broke and recovering from the war.

So, they won the war, but lost the peace, and he laid the blame for that at the foot of the US, which he felt should have helped its allies first.

Makes you think.

Michael Brazier said...

Going just from the excerpts - calling Hitler a "would-be philosopher" gives him credit he did not deserve. Metaphysical questions, deep inquiry into the true, the good or the beautiful, were of no concern to him at all, except as political cudgels to be swung against the opponents of the German Race.

And if this author thinks that earning a living is the sum and total of American thought, he knows less than nothing of the country. If anything the American fault is to have too much interest in metaphysics - both in depth of speculation, and in filthiness on emerging, US academics were assiduous students of the Germans, and have long surpassed their teachers. The worst things in US history spring from Americans following a principle wherever it leads, even when that is Hell.

Nor is America truly alien to European culture. Its origin is that same Enlightenment that came from Europe in the first place; if Europeans can't recognize the common ancestry, it's only because they have forgotten their own past. The utilitarian logic that rejects metaphysics is not, as the author supposes, an American import; it ruled Europe already when the Americans arrived, and most Americans, I think, find it as repulsive as he does.

He is right, though, that Hitler's war led straight to American hegemony. Let's give him that much at least.

Will said...

My perception of England was they were too in love with socialism. That's why they tossed Churchill after winning the war. They decided to relax and coast after the war. Europe was bombed flat, so they didn't have the luxury of sitting back and taking it easy like the English.

AFAIK, the English never paid any of the Lend-Lease back. So, claiming that they never got any of our money after the war is a little disingenuous.

They never really recovered from ww1, and then got hit with ww2, and that pretty much finished them as a world power. Their idiot generals got so many men killed fighting the ww1 Bosch, they should have hung all of them for incompetence. That lost generation ruined them.

MadMcAl said...

England became 3.29 billion $ from the Marshall plan, more than twice what Germany got at 1.45 billion.
The percentages of grant and loan where roughly the same.
The difference was that England squandered it and Germany used it wisely.
The money from the marshal plan is still being reinvested in Germany today.
But the author of the article made a blatant (if common) error.
The second world war did not start in 1939 with the german invasion in Poland.
Depending on the definition it either started 1937 with the japanese invasion of china (the earlier of the 2 separate wars that merged into WWII) or with the merger of both wars with the attack on Pearl Harbour.

Timbo said...

An alternative date is July 28 1914 considering that that conflict (WWI) was closed in an unsatisfactory manner, planting the seeds for the Second World War.

Joe in PNG said...

If you really want to get fussy, WWI was just a continuation of the tensions from the 1870 Franco-Prussian war. If only the Prussian King (not the Kaiser then) had just listened to Bismark about Alsace-Lorraine.

genericviews said...

The Brits made substantial repayments of Lend-Lease so you can dismiss that claim.

And it is worth noting that in Germany, the Church-State bindings permits the State to levy a tax on church members to force church members to support the church financially. Thus, most Germans avoid that tax by avoiding church.

Will said...

No, they didn't pay for all the Lend-Lease we sent them. They decided to keep some of the latest things that were sent right at the end, or in transit, and we gave them a 60 year loan @2% to pay for that. (Priced at a 90% discount of production costs.) Everything else was either destroyed or returned to us. The original deal was send it back or destroy it at the end of hostilities.

It took them more than the 60 years, due to them skipping some years due to monetary issues.

They also got about $3.3 billion grant under the Marshall Program.