Hitler’s American Gamble

From The Wall Street Journal:

Most Americans, if asked, would probably say that Franklin Roosevelt declared war on Nazi Germany, following the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Since we were at war with imperial Japan, the logic would run, we were obliged to be at war with Japan’s Axis ally.

In fact, it was Adolf Hitler who declared war on the United States—four days after Pearl Harbor, on Dec. 11, 1941. By doing so, he managed to bring the full weight of America’s industrial might against him. The war declaration ranks as Hitler’s worst strategic blunder—even worse than his decision to invade the Soviet Union in June 1941, when he pitted the Wehrmacht against an opponent with much greater manpower reserves and strategic depth.

In “Hitler’s American Gamble,” Brendan Simms and Charlie Laderman—historians at the University of Cambridge and King’s College, London, respectively—provide an engaging and insightful account of the forces that shaped Hitler’s fateful decision. The authors note that, far from being an irrational or impulsive gesture, Hitler’s war on America “was a deliberate gamble.” It was driven, in part, by “his geopolitical calculations” and “his assessment of the balance of manpower and matériel.” The decision derived as well, the authors assert, from Hitler’s tortured view of the relations among Britain, the U.S., and, not least, the Jews in both Europe and America.

On the eve of Pearl Harbor, Hitler was heavily engaged in waging war on Britain, and he seemed close to winning. Yet he was hesitant to deliver the knock-out blow. He had already missed an opportunity to do so in the spring of 1941, when Britain evacuated Greece and Crete and Rommel’s Afrika Korps was scoring success after success against British forces in North Africa. Hitler believed that his real enemy was Winston Churchill, not the British people, and that the British people would eventually give up the fight and accept Nazi hegemony in Europe. At the same time, he was well aware that it was the U.S. and its supplies of food and war matériel—sent across the Atlantic under the terms of Lend-Lease—that were keeping Britain in the fight.

In Hitler’s mind, then, America was a grave threat to his plans for German hegemony—indeed, Germany was locked in deadly combat with “the Anglo-Saxon powers,” Britain and the United States. But that is not all. Hitler believed that, as Messrs. Simms and Laderman put it, “ ‘the Jews’ had manipulated the ‘Anglo-Saxons’ into war with the racially kindred Reich.” Race-paranoia was a critical component of Hitler’s “gamble.”

Hitler was convinced that Japan’s surprise attack would divert U.S. resources and attention just long enough to secure Britain’s isolation and surrender. And the German panzer divisions poised only 12 miles from Moscow signaled the imminent collapse of his only other opponent, Russia. In the event, he was wrong on both counts. What was about to collapse in Russia wasn’t the Red Army but the Wehrmacht, as Hitler’s panzers were thrown back from Moscow and nearly half a million German soldiers perished in the winter of 1941-42. Meanwhile, Japan’s victories in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor proved to be too brittle to last.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Should be a free link, but if it stops working, PG apologizes for the paywall.

2 thoughts on “Hitler’s American Gamble”

  1. It seems like another reason Hitler considered Churchill his enemy is that so many in the British aristocracy, right up to the Duke of Windsor, sympathized with the Nazis and Fascism.

    • That was a serious error on Hitler’s part, which came from not understanding the British people. Before the war, you could sympathize with the Nazis or not. Nobody in Britain, except a few cranks, actually wanted war. But once it started, the entire populace swung round, and everybody, except a few pacifists, wanted to ‘see it through’ – the aristocracy included. At that point, sympathizing with the enemy was no longer an option, and all Hitler’s diplomatic efforts were complete and predictable failures.

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