Why Was WWII Bad, Actually?

by | Dec 12, 2017

Why Was WWII Bad, Actually?

by | Dec 12, 2017

World War II: the great necessary war of our civilization.  Because Hitler was evil incarnate, therefore he had to be physically defeated.  The reality of Hitler means that the good guys – America and its allied subordinates – must maintain permanent military vigilance.  No, moreover to prevent war and conflict, potential Hitlers must be dissuaded from even trying to fight.  Thus, America must throw all moral considerations out the window so long as it does what is necessary to maintain a permanent militarily dominated, hegemonic world order.

Why?  According to Ivy League professors, and “Grand Republic” historians: to preserve a liberal world order.

The above belief is the heart and soul of the world order and ideology behind today’s disparate American wars, in dozens and dozens of countries, negatively impacting the lives of millions and millions.  Is it true?  Was Hitler evil incarnate – that is, was physical violence the only (therefore necessary) means of defeating him?  Is that violence, or the threat of it, continual and permanent, necessary to prevent new Hitlers?  Is the world order produced by that violence – the “Pax Americana” – worthy of the sacrifice imposed on the unwitting millions of “collateral damage” victims over the decades?

Let us consider WWII.  Let us consider the “evil” of the enemy in that conflict.  Let’s grapple with its nature.

First, let’s grapple quickly with our own nature.

I’m a military veteran.  I served in the Air Force.  These are professional killers, at least some of them (in some ways, we all were).  I recall conversations with AC-130 gunship operators, men called FCOs, the “trigger pullers”.  They would talk about the thrill of laying down death on the heads of blurry white streaks on an infrared scope.  How “badass” it was to kill the “bad guys”.  Even in informal discussions about unrelated topics, there was a domineering mentality.  Remember the woman who went crazy at the US Capitol in 2013?  She got confused and scared and drove her car all over until the Capitol Police shot her.  I remember reading the common libertarian response at the time: how horrible this was.  I mentioned it to a colleague – you know, a fellow American defender and lover of “freedom” – “Aren’t things just horrible now, with the police?” I asked.  The colleague’s response: of course the woman should have been shot, she was endangering police lives.  See, anyone who acts contrary to the wishes of just authority must only be up to no good, and deserves what’s coming.

When I left the military, for reasons of conscience, I was fortunate to be able to partake in an unheard of, and very brief, set of open discussions about whether the killing we do is morally wrong.  A consistent strain of thought emerged.  Why, the wars we’re fighting in the Middle East might not always make sense.  War itself might not always make sense.  But as for the killing?  “These people are evil, these Muslims who love death and rape kids.”  So, irrespective of the wisdom or goodness of the wars, the people getting killed by American bombs are just “no good”, and removing them from the Earth can’t be any kind of moral issue.

This take, a contemporary fad in the military, that Muslims are ideologically evil, is very widespread.  I would say that because the Air Force is largely a support force, and because the killing they do (when they do it), is from a distance, there’s less of an emphasis on this point.  My impression is that the “evilness of Muslims” is a much stronger ideological point in the US Army and Marine Corps.  It’s so strong, so essential to their professional need to justify their activities, that it has invaded lower class and rural culture.  It has trickled from the military to the flyover folks.  It shows up in electoral politics.

What I realized was that this always happens, and is necessary.  You can’t just go kill people, if you’re a normal human being.  You need to believe that what you’re doing is necessary, and good even.  You have to.

Consider Japan’s Empire.

What is the nature of this Empire?  Killing Chinese people by the millions, torturing them, because of racism and a desire to steal resources and be evil and awful.  Why would they do this?  According to victors’ history, especially circa 1945, it’s because of their primitive ideology.  Ironically, as of 1944, America was still officially racist.  The need for contrast from the Nazi regime – so that they could appear all the more evil – hadn’t as strongly emerged yet.  Japanese were yellow mongrels, then, you see.  They didn’t value life the same as white Christians.  They obeyed authority like helpless dogs.  They killed without remorse.  They were a cancer, or a virus, that needed to be burned away and suppressed by superior and moral white men.  Human gardeners.

But what did the Japanese think?

The Japanese Empire actually began in the 19th century, when American advisers and ships helped troops from the new “Meiji” (modern) government invade Korea.  China had been occupying it.  See, Britain and America had been trying to conquer and ravage China, to take its resources as spoils of Empire.  Make no mistake, Britain killed hundreds of thousands, if not millions, in brutal Imperial massacre wars of domination.  There was one set called the Opium Wars.  Dutch imperialism in Indonesia was likewise brutal, and exploitative.  Of course, intrigue set its sights on Japan too.  America wanted Japan to help weaken China, perhaps believing this “yellow race” power would be a useful pawn in the region.

Japan – by no means a modern, liberal, or gentle society – entered the 20th century under very stark geopolitical conditions.  India was plucked and ravaged by Britain.  Russia, the Netherlands, America, and England (even Germany) were fighting for land and power in East Asia.  By the 1930s, the Soviet Union was a completely valid and terrifying new threat.  Communism itself, in the form of Mao, was devastating China.

Japan made a choice.  They would not be conquered, and colonized.  This would be no easy task, however.  Military strength required resources, which Japan didn’t have.  So, you either just leave yourself open to the conquerors running around exploiting your neighbors, or you dominate those neighbors first, to fund your military, to defend yourself.  A more traditional calculus.  One that would not have been necessary were it not for Commodore Perry’s black ships, which convinced Japan that they couldn’t just ignore the world.

Thanks to America’s encouragement, Japan had fought off Russia and finally were settling their northern islands.  They had driven China from the undeveloped Korea, and occupied it.  They even occupied the undeveloped, frankly primitive, Taiwan (Formosa).

Japan’s occupation was brutal.  Japan’s ideology is less racially oriented than you think.  Their concern – the samurai prerogative – is absolute obedience to a common set of cultural norms.  This includes norms of religious practice.  To them, a medieval culture almost, these norms represented a kind of modernity.  This was how people got along without fighting endless wars against each other (similar to why the Spanish converted people to Christianity by way of the sword).  Social harmony was what “good guys” were committed to.  Japan was happy to teach its “cousins” and “children” how to be “civilized”.

Japan invested heavily in industrializing and developing both Taiwan and Korea, and despite the brutality of the occupation, both countries owe their essential development to Japan’s oversight.  This is not a justification of Japan’s behavior.

Rather, I mean to say that Japan had a particular sense of what it was doing in places like Manchuria and Korea.  Japan believed it was bringing peace through orderly laws and social norms, and prosperity through industrialization and railroads, to East Asia.  Japan believed – perhaps accurately – that it was establishing itself as a great power to protect Oriental civilization from Western imperialism.

When they fought in China, you could compare it to America’s effort in Vietnam.  Japan never tried to fully conquer China.  Rather, they had two objectives: resisting the advance of communism, and establishing a stable geopolitical order in which Japan was the hegemon.  This meant supporting warlords who would act as satraps, in many cases, conquest and colonization in other cases, but finally, in some cases, just finding any old warlord who could keep stability and resist communists (a challenge: stability in China, in general).  Japan, not bound by Westerns “ideals” about war, acted with certain brutality.  Although, it is certainly possible that the precise extent of this brutality might have been exaggerated by Allied propaganda and kangaroo trials post-war.  At least, Allied brutality is certainly downplayed.

Just look at America’s behavior in Vietnam.  Consider that 1 million Japanese civilians died thanks to a deliberate campaign dreamed up in secret by American generals to depopulate Japan through aerial attack (fire and atom bombs).  The longer you fight an unwinnable war, the worse you become in prosecuting it.

Now, let’s consider Nazi goals.

It’s important to distinguish between reality, and hysteria, when it comes to Nazis.  I will accomplish this quickly, through a series of statements.

Nazis did not want to take over the world; Nazis did want to colonize Northeastern Europe.

Nazi ideology did not prefer to harm Jews, if it could be avoided; after the war was underway, Nazis had few reservations changing their policy to that of extermination, and created the Holocaust.

Nazis did not want to make Berlin the capital of the world; Nazis did want Berlin to be the seat of a great power hegemony in Europe, an equal to London.

Nazis did not want to kill all the Poles and Slavs; Nazis had no reservations killing Poles and Slavs, especially those who opposed their rule.

Nazi use of political violence was specifically in response to other factions who had already used, and were continuing to use political violence to seize power; Nazis maintained no pretense of seeking democracy, and proactively criticized it.

Nazis sought to establish a common economic program so that state power would serve the common good; Nazi rule was inefficient, stifling, and oppressive, and the modern historical consensus is that their program was economically unsustainable and guaranteed to collapse sooner or later.

It should be considered that part of the Nazi overall war aims, which has to be considered when evaluating their behavior, was to prevent the spread of Soviet communism in Europe.  Keep in mind that the Soviet Union did have plans to invade and conquer Europe, at least Central and Eastern Europe.  Stalin had killed millions, even before the war began.  In the gulag, there was an example of a more extensive program of slaughter than even the Nazis came close to accomplishing.

With all this said, consider the Nazi mentality.  German society built factories and railroads.  Germans had extensive poetry and philosophy.  Its institutions and school systems were copied the world over.  Eastern Europe was a source of a threat – the Soviet Mongol horde.  Eastern Europe was underdeveloped, and less educated.  Incorrectly, but understandably, Nazis believed that German civilization was a source of peace through order, and prosperity through industry.  They felt it was natural for this civilization – with its values and systems – to lead the world.  Yes, they also felt that there was something genetic, and intrinsic, to the German race.  However, the spread of German-ism was the spread of German values and habits.

German racial theories, in context, were more about promoting German nationalism.  Nationalism’s goal is to create a stable political order.  German people living in Poland are more likely to find solidarity with policies coming out of Berlin than Polish people.  That’s the essential importance of German blood to Nazi politics, not even so much the weird fringe racial esotericism that victors’ history likes to thrust front and center.  To a degree, the German race itself had only been recently “invented”.  There was no “Germany” in 1833.  There was a collection of weak states which had been ravaged by a French Empire, whose power derived from inventing a concept of being “French”.  This racial stuff is about the politics of power and stability, in a region that has historically been beset by numerous brutal wars and conflict.

The goal of Nazism’s essential war aims was to increase the size of German civilization, and shore up its defenses against threats.  Germans were to bring factories and autobahns, and good leadership, to Poland.

War, controlled economies, and racial theory turned out to be their Achilles heel (quite a big heel).  But consider their intentions.  Do you think they sat around intending to kill everyone, because they just hate life and humanity?  All of them?  The German government, and German society?  Perhaps they believed that they were trying to establish a bulwark of peace and prosperity, so that small children can grow up without fear.

Sure, they were wrong.  The importance of considering their point of view is to allow empathy, so that their mistakes can serve as a lesson to us.  If they’re just “evil, period, dot”, then what lessons can we learn from them?  Maybe, we share some of their flaws, and can learn to avoid their mistakes.

Now, consider America’s post-war order.  What is its essential purpose, or intention?  To bring good institutions, founded on the systems of American civilization, to the world.  To establish a “TVA” for the Mekong River.  A Federal Reserve for the developing world.

Consider how this order’s power and influence is exercised.  Firstly, in liberal societies, openness is exploited by the vast funding and military backstop of America’s covert power.  The CIA has overthrown countless governments, from Iran to even Australia’s democratically elected leadership.  What this proves is that America is not devoted to liberalism per se.  Instead, liberalism is a medium which America’s elites have learned to exploit as part of their system of rule.  Ironically, the “enemies” during WWII, such as Hitler, were quick to call this out.  Unfortunately, Hitler combined this criticism with racist conspiracy theories, and also proposed his brand of authoritarianism as an alternative.  And yet, the criticism itself is valid – and left utterly unspoken in the West.  The best we have is Churchill’s “Democracy might not be perfect, but it’s the best we’ve got”.  Quite the defense.

Consider how the Pax Americana has interfaced with illiberal societies.  Hiring dictators, sponsoring warlords, funding death squads.  After the Japanese withdrawal from Indonesia, Britain took over.  In the 1960s they ran a brutal and deadly counter-insurgency campaign there.  Eventually, the CIA came in to sponsor a dictator, and looked the other way as hundreds of thousands were slaughtered for belonging to the wrong social class.

The death count of the post-war American Empire (thus, not including the millions America killed to prosecute WWII) is estimated to be over 20 million people.

And how is that global economy?  How is global freedom?

Yes, technology has led to progress and better life.  Might it not have anyway?  How much credit does the war power – with all its wasted trillions of dollars crowding out other research – deserve?

The question, then, is, was WWII necessary?  People say that 20 million dead due to Pax Americana is bad, sure, but look – Hitler was worse, wasn’t he?

There’s enough historical consensus now (in Europe and Britain, per Thaddeus Russell), to conclude that Hitler’s regime could never have survived long, irrespective of war.  Also, Hitler’s ambitions would almost certainly have been limited to Eastern Europe, and the war in the West can be completely attributed to the desire of Western powers to engage in, and gain from, the brewing conflict.  American policy makers had a desire for conflict with Hitler’s government (to overthrow its economic Autarky), since the early 1930s.  Hitler had even once hoped and assumed that Britain and America could have been pseudo-allies against communism, sharing a common civilization (yeah right, but lack of military tension would have been nice).  It was the West who antagonized him, not the other way around.  Finally, there wasn’t even the slightest or smallest prospect of Hitler ever invading or occupying the United States.  The geostrategic implausibility of such an invasion is impossible to deny.  No one in America would ever have been speaking German.  And it’s unlikely that Britain would ever have been invaded either.  Utter hysteria.  Hitler attacked Britain to intimidate it into backing off permanently, not to control or invade it.  WWII was not a necessary war.

 

Let’s consider what the contemporary “liberal interventionist” world order thinks about WWII.  Why was it so important to defeat Hitler?  Because he was intervening to provide stability and railroads to conflict regions (ha ha)?

The problem with Hitler – per them – wasn’t his desire to plan his economy centrally for the common good, or promote collective politically correct social values (banning jazz was right there with banning alcohol – progressives).  The problem was that Hitler framed his social order in terms of race.  Now, actually, this is what American intellectuals did until about the 1930s (hint – when racist Hitler emerged as a global power competitor).

Conquering Poland to build railroads and develop it?  Great!  Doing it because you think Poles are racially inferior?  Bad!  This is the essence of contemporary establishment intellectualism in America.

The truth of it all is: WWII was bad, its bad actors were bad, because of war.  Prosecuting war is the great calamitous sin of modern world history.  Period.  Everything else falls into place, subordinate, to the detrimental effects of war (of mobilizing for, and engaging in war) on a civilization.

Consider this questions: does law emerge from natural fairness, the reality of resource scarcity, and the traditional institutions and conventions of organic society – or is law produced in a deliberate and singular fashion by the state, imposed through the violence of government?

The flaw of the 20th century was thinking that industrial violence is the key to creating social order.  It’s why Progressives are idiot hypocrites.  Their fundamental doctrine is also Hitler and Tojo’s core doctrine.  It’s why we’re killing hundreds of thousands in Afghanistan “so girls can go to school“.  It’s wrong.  It’s a false conclusion of the enlightenment.  And even in the enlightenment – even 300 years ago – some people were smart enough to propose other ideas for how society might be organized.

How we organize ourselves, how we deal with resource distribution, justice, information, and education are all difficult and complex problems to solve.  Progress – that is, in the conventional sense – technology and innovation and change, will help us.  However, this change doesn’t come from fiat, from the state house, or at the point of a bayonet.

The lesson to learn from WWII is not that “racism is bad”.  That should have been obvious from July 4, 1776: “All men are created equal”.  It’s a lesson not everybody learned (not the least of whom were the 19th and 20th century “progressives”), but which was at least obvious to some people as far back as the 18th century.

The lesson of WWII is that you can’t create progress through military might.  Germany created horrors trying to do it, so did Japan, and ultimately, so has America.

WWII was not necessary, and conceding that it was is to fail to learn the lesson of what made Hitler the worst.

Don’t you see?  Hitler wasn’t just trying to be evil.  He was hoping to create progress and social order.  He used state power to do it.  It seemed legitimate at the time – perfectly legitimate.

Consider also this: if racism is an inherently bad idea, why is it okay generalize “white people” as a category that we’re always talking about these days?  Because, maybe – even though from a classical liberal sense it’s wrong to do this – racism is just a common social phenomenon, not some all-encompassing exploitative power.  Maybe racism has a context.  Maybe in context, historically oppressed minority groups can engage in literal racism against whites in order to redefine racism as something else.  Maybe it’s okay if they do this.  Maybe it’s wrong to propose a crusade against racism itself as such.  We can conclude that pure liberalism and racism are incompatible, but what part of 24/7 drone strikes has anything to do with liberalism?  What does D-Day have to do with liberalism?  Maybe other issues, besides racism’s problematic nature, were at stake in WWII.

So, Hitler’s racism was wrong.  I think, in my opinion, but also objectively inasmuch as we mean the term colloquially.  But, racism itself can’t be wrong, or else why do we single out whites in this day and age?

No, it’s trying to pursue your vision of social progress through state violence and military power – that’s what’s wrong.

In this context, the badness of Hitler, and the lesson of WWII applies to our current “liberal interventionism” and condemns it just as strongly.

Think of it.  What if, in order to defeat Hitler and Tojo, we had to do a Holocaust of Japanese?  What if we had to have an einsatzgruppen going through Germany killing thousands of their leaders and scholars.  What if “Prussians” were the problem, and blond Germans in particular just had to be genocided.  What if that was “the only way” to defeat Hitler and his race theories, and establish the US as a post-war liberal hyperpower?  Would the necessity have justified it?

Of course not.

While WWII was going on, American generals were firebombing Japanese babies because “Asians don’t value human life the same way whites do”.  While Germany was rounding up Jews, considered a disloyal foreign threat, America a few years later was rounding up Japanese for exactly the same reason.  While Germany instituted Nuremberg codes to make life uncomfortable for Jews, so they’d leave Germany, America had long since instituted Jim Crow – not to make blacks leave – but to keep them as a permanently suppressed underclass.  While Germany surgically executed Polish leadership, to consolidate power in Poland, America bombed all of Dresden.

Sure, there are qualitative and quantitative differences between Nazi Germany and New Deal America.  But then, “our ally” Stalin might have been qualitatively and quantitatively worse than Hitler.  The British, noble, liberal England, maintained a brutal Empire that engaged in numerous Nazi like tactics in its far-flung colonies.  Not everywhere, maybe not in most cases, but sometimes.

It’s war, guys, war is the problem.  Not Hitler and Tojo.

If the lesson of WWII is that Hitler and Tojo were the problem, and war was the solution, we’re screwed.  The lesson is that the problem with Hitler and Tojo, and Stalin and Imperialism and American Power, is that war is not a legitimate means of progress and development.

America is obviously not the only guilty power in WWII, but hey, guess what?  We’re guilty.  We bear a lot of the guilt, and we did a lot of wrong.  And it was not necessary.

The Empire, the wars, the economic and social strife, the suffering, none of it will end until the myth of the necessary war is busted once and for all.

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About Zack Sorenson

Zachary Sorenson worked for the United States Air Force for six years as a Navigation Officer. He recently quit because of a principled opposition to war. He considers himself to be a Libertarian, and studied Economics at the University of Maryland, College Park. He would like to see the resurgence of a non-political commitment to peace for its own sake, across the spectrum of ideologies.

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