Sunday, December 28, 2014

Five World War II Myths That Are Complete B.S.

A quick round-up of a few mistruths routinely bandied about regarding W.W.II

Now, I know what you're thinking. "Hey, a listicle outlining erroneous assumptions about World War II ... how original!" 

Perhaps this is indeed territory oft trudged by lesser websites, but I figured there were still falsehoods a plenty circling World War II that really haven't been addressed by that many web articles, and for some reason or another, haven't been given the glorious public debunkings they really deserve.

Think you have a firm grasp of why Hitler never invaded Switzerland, or why the Japanese never tried to carpet bomb Nebraska? Well, think again, Holmes ... as it turns out, our mutual misunderstanding of what went on during the Greatest War of 'Em All is enough to fill several history books.

Myth Number One:
Germany never invaded Switzerland because they feared their armed citizenry.

While the Wehrmacht made their best efforts to completely flatten continental Europe into a pancake of Aryan subjugation, a few countries remained unoccupied by Hitler’s forces. Spain and Portugal were spared Nazi wrath, and try as he may, old Adolf never could mount a full out assault on Great Britain. Furthermore, quite a few countries, including Denmark and Finland, actually fared pretty well against German invasions, with Norway having the proud distinction of kicking Stalin AND Hitler’s ass at various points throughout World War II.

Considering the geographic proximity to Germany, some historians and astute observers have wondered as to why Hitler never attempted to annex, invade or attack Switzerland -- especially since A.H. had been spewing some vitriol about the Swiss ever since the French collapsed.

One of the popular narratives is that Hitler never made an advance against the Swiss because they had a heavily armed citizenry. According to some guy on the PBS website, the Swiss public were packing heat like rappers, and ready to pop a cap in sundry Nazi asses as soon as they goose stepped their way into the country.

Indeed, Hitler had plans at one point to mount an invasion against Switzerland -- he even had as many as 500,000 Italian and German troops ready to pounce as soon as he gave the signal. Alas, Hitler never gave the go-ahead, a military maneuver that, to this very day, inspires great debate among armchair generals.

While the NRA crowds love to extol Switzerland as an example of how an armed public prevents fascism, the reality is that Switzerland’s rifle-toting homeowners probably had little-to-nothing to do with Hitler’s about-face on invasion.

To begin, let’s mull a little logic here. The Swiss had a fairly sizable armed militia, to be sure, but you know who had even more guns than they did? THE SOVIET UNION, WHICH HITLER INVADED TWO YEARS AFTER ABANDONING OPERATION TANNENBAUM. To say the Hitler was too much of a pussy to go after Switzerland when he then took on the most massive army in modern history just months later kind of lays waste to the whole hoplophobia argument. If Hitler was afraid his troops would have been shot, methinks he probably wouldn’t have sent his own boys into the meat grinder against Stalin’s considerably more powerful artillery units.

Furthermore, the invasion of Switzerland served no real strategic importance to the Nazis. In case you didn’t know, Switzerland is basically a giant landlocked salad, buffered all the way around by rocky terrain. With no waterway access, its geographic value in the middle of a freaking war was practically nil. Why would Hitler want to squander the time and manpower and put soldiers at risk to take over something that wouldn’t serve as a launching pad to the eastern or western theaters, precisely?

Lastly, an interesting hypothesis is that the Nazis needed a neutral Switzerland as their wartime piggy bank. Say, ever wonder what happened to all of the plundered gold the S.S. stole from occupied territories? Well, odds are, it wound up in a Swiss bank somewhere -- demonstrating the financial importance of Switzerland as a safe deposit box for the Krauts, even the motherfucking royalties from “Mein Kampf” were put inside a Swiss account. With that in mind, perhaps there’s an entirely different reason why the Germans never put boots on the ground in Switzerland; why the hell would they want to rob themselves?

Myth Number Two:
The Japanese never invaded the U.S. homeland because the public was well-armed.

It’s the same argument as with the Switzerland situation, only intensified a million times because we’re talking about ‘MURICA, dad-burn-it.

So, in 1941, the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor. We don’t think that shit’s cool, so we vote to go to war and show Hirohito and his troops what-for. While a huge component of raising war support in the States centered around fears of a second Japanese attack, the Imperialists never made a full-scale attack on the U.S. homefront. According to oh-so-ardent gun advocates, that’s because the U.S., much like the Swiss, had their shotguns a ‘ready in case Tojo came a knocking on any doors in the Heartland.

Unfortunately, there are so many things wrong with that little notion that I’m not quite sure where to begin. Perhaps we can start with the fact that Japan actually did attack the U.S. on its home turf quite a few times after Pearl Harbor, albeit in really poorly-planned subterfuge missions that sound like something out of a Chuck Norris movie.

Secondly, I don’t know how many of you were aware of this, but between the U.S. West Coast and Japan, there’s this thing called “The Pacific Ocean.” It’s really big, and it would take a long time for Japanese attackers to make it to Los Angeles -- if they could even make it to San Francisco before running out of gas altogether. For any kind of major (and non-submarine-launched) aerial or naval attack on U.S. soil to have transpired, the Japanese would have needed some sort of mid-Pacific launching pad, which would have been easily picked up by U.S. radar. If a Japanese armada were coming, U.S. military would have had not just hours, but days of advance notice. As a general rule, that usually doesn't bode well for a sneak attack's success rate.

Additionally, the primary goal for Japan during World War II was to maintain China, not try to dick around in California. With the Japanese Navy playing defense to the east -- and most of Japanese ground forces committing unspeakable war crimes in southeast Asia -- Japan simply didn’t have the manpower to mount any kind of invasion against the U.S., even if they wanted to. It’s a nice idea to think rifle-toting potato farmers were the only thing keeping us from getting gobbled up by the Japs, but unfortunately, that pesky reality speaks to the contrary.

Oh, and that "quote" up top from Yamamoto? Not that this is a shock or anything, but it's completely made up bullshit.

Myth Number Three:
The United States had no choice but drop the atom bombs on Japan.

We’ve all heard the narrative a million times: the U.S., having crippled the Japanese navy, now found themselves facing a long, grueling ground battle against the Imperialists. With resources diminishing, the Japanese were ready to fight a suicidal battle against occupying troops, with some early estimates tabbing as many as 1.7 million casualties -- with as many as 800,000 U.S. fatalities -- in a full-fledged invasion of the Japanese mainland.

Without question, Operation Downfall would have proven costly. In anticipation of heavy U.S. casualties, the military manufactured a surplus of Purple Hearts, which are still being handed out to injured troops today.

The unfathomably high death toll, we have all been told, is the primary reason why Truman went ahead with the decision to bomb Japan. The thing is, by the time the U.S. was mulling dropping the bomb, the Japanese military was pretty much already defeated. The Battle of Midway had more or less eradicated the Japanese Navy, and the nation's infrastructure had already been reduced to rubble and ashes thanks to daily air raids. The fire bombing campaign of 1944, it is perhaps worth noting, resulted in a higher body count than the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima combined.

Even Gen. Douglas MacArthur thought the Japs were ready to hang 'em up -- through blockades and continual bombings, he figured Hirohito would've surrendered within half a years time, anyway. In July 1945, Gen. Robert Eichelberger issued a similar sentiment, revealing that most of the U.S. military brass were anticipating a Japanese surrender much sooner rather than later.

And even if a mainland invasion were to occur, it's not like the U.S. would have gone into battle all by their lonesome -- but more on that in just a bit.

A popular hypothesis that has arisen over the last 50 years has been the possibility that Truman authorized the bombing of Japan not to goad the Imperialists into surrendering ASAP, but rather, to scare the ever-loving dog shit out of the Soviets, who were clearly the other big victor coming out of World War II.

Ultimately, the real reason why the U.S went ahead with the bombings may have had little to do with ending the Pacific war as soon as possible, and a whole hell of a lot more with justifying the costs of the Manhattan Project. After spending more than $2 billion on developing the bombs, which is well over $25 billion in 2014 dollars, who is to say there wasn't an eagerness to reap the fruits of all of that secretive -- and pants-pissingly-horrific -- R&D?

Myth Number Four:
The atom bombing of Japan was the reason why Japan surrendered.

Looking at the chronology of World War II, it seems about the most obvious thing in the world. Nagasaki and Hiroshima both get a nice big dose of radioactive death in August 1945, and what do you know, Hirohito surrenders just a few days later. It’s about the simplest example of cause and effect there is, no?

Well, as it turns out, the bombings really weren't the likeliest reason why the Japanese finally surrendered. After the bombing of Hiroshima, Navy Admiral Soemu Toyoda said the remaining military was ready to fight through subsequent atom bombings, and even after the bombing of Nagasaki, the Emperor wasn't quite yet ready to throw in the towel. U.S. military leadership were actively mulling the possibility of dropping as many as seven more atom bombs on Japanese targets before November.

Clearly, the atom bombings alone weren't the final domino that lead to Japan's unconditional surrender to the Allies. The same date Nagasaki was bombed, something else happened, which probably had a greater influence on the Japanese leadership's decision to finally call it quits.

In 1941, the Russians and Japanese signed a neutrality pact. It did pretty much what it sounded like, insuring that no matter what happened in WWII, the two countries would never attack each other. This is pretty important, because the two nations had been unofficially warring over Asian territory since the early 1930s.

On Aug. 5, 1945, the Ruskies said fuck the pact, insinuating the Japanese had violated the agreement. This, interestingly enough, occurred just 90 days after the Yalta Conference, in which the Russians agreed to enter the Pacific War on behalf of the Allies following Germany's surrender.

And on Aug. 9, the Soviets formally declared war on the Japanese by invading Manchuria and royally fucking things up. Over the course of just a few days, the Soviets slew upwards of 80,000 Japanese troops and captured more than half a million prisoners -- the absolute worst land defeat Japan experienced in its entire, blood-soaked military history.

With a decimated military and air force -- and a large throng of army personnel stationed in occupied territory outside of Japan -- Hirohito, already on the verge of complete bankruptcy, was now starring down dual-invasion from the world's most powerful and technologically advanced nations. Nuclear obliteration wasn't enough to get the Japanese Supreme Council to finally mull capitulation, but the thought of Stalin and his boys plowing their way through China en route to a possible land invasion of Kyushu was.

While Hirohito listed the atom bombings as a reason why Japan surrendered in his famed public address on Aug. 14, he also made reference to the Soviet invasion when addressing the remnant of the Japanese military on Aug. 17:

"Now that the Soviet Union has entered the war against us, to continue … under the present conditions at home and abroad would only recklessly incur even more damage to ourselves and result in endangering the very foundation of the empire’s existence. Therefore, even though enormous fighting spirit still exists in the imperial navy and army, I am going to make peace with the United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union, as well as with Chungking, in order to maintain our glorious kokutai."

Myth Number Five:
The Holocaust was the worst genocide of World War II. 

A whole lot of Jewish people died in World War II -- as many as 6 million, actually. While many historically-na├»ve folks consider that to be the absolute worst ethnic cleansing episode of the 1900s, it’s far from it. In fact, it’s not even the greatest Nazi-perpetrated genocide, in total victims, to happen during WWII.

Depending on who you ask, a grand total of 50 to 80 million people died during World War II. It's pretty hard getting an estimate for how many were killed by each side of the Axis and Allies, but most historians place the range of Nazi-instigated killings around the 20 million corpse mark as a conservative estimate. At least 8.8 million of those killed by Hitler's forces were Soviet troops -- a number that jumps up to almost 12 million when you factor in the three million plus Ukrainians who were also mass murdered by German occupiers. No matter how you look at it, Hitler easily killed twice as many Slavs as he did Jews, but for some reason, no one ever really reflects on that when discussing Nazi atrocities.

Along the same lines, you really have to wonder why nobody knows what Holodomor was, either, since the one-year Ukrainian death toll there was almost certainly as high as the Jewish body count from all of World War II -- if not considerably higher. And for god's sake, whatever you do, don't bring up the fact that 2 million Germans died in "forced expulsions" from 1944 to 1950. Seriously, don't even think about it.

And that actually pales in comparison to the mayhem wrought by Imperial Japan. Really, the ultimate crimes against humanity victims of WWII were the Chinese, as Japanese occupiers slew approximately TWENTY MOTHERFUCKING MILLION of them -- more than three times the number of Jews killed by the Nazis. Oh, and that's not counting the additional 4 million in the Dutch East Indies, 2 million in Vietnam, and 1 million in the Philippines they also exterminated, plus another million or so scattered throughout Korea, Malaysia and Oceania. I still have trouble grasping why, precisely, that Nazi Germany is considered the most evil empire in history, when the Japanese killed far more people, across a wider range of territory, in ways that are almost inconceivably barbaric, for a much longer period of time.

Of course, none of this is to say that the Jewish Holocaust wasn't a horrible moment in history. It was indelibly tragic, but the frank reality? It was far from aberrational, and unquestionably, nowhere close to being the largest genocide of the war.

And compared to post-World War II genocide numbers, the Holocaust is positively dwarfed in terms of total victims. Joey Stalin likely killed more of his own people after World War II then were actually killed during the conflict -- and for a real mind-blower, the policies of Chairman Mao were likely responsible for the deaths of anywhere from 49 to 78 MILLION.

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