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May 05, 2007

Comments

Nato

"...they allied themselves with a fascist dictator."

Tolerated, even treated with, not "allied." That bit of rhetoric is at least as out of bounds as saying that Blair deferred to Washington.

Nathan Smith

Well, I suppose they didn't actually send troops to prop up his regime. But they did more than just tolerate him, they actively worked to keep him in power when the possibility of his being toppled arose.

Were Britain and France allies of Poland in 1939, when they used diplomatic means to prevent its being invaded by Germany, but didn't actually use force?

That analogy is not quite right, either, because Great Britain did declare war on Germany after the invasion of Poland, even if the next few months were a "phony war" in which the British didn't do much to stop German expansion anywhere, least of all in Poland.

Maybe "allied with" is too strong, but "tolerated" is not strong enough.

Thomas

We were allied with Saddam during Iraq's war with Iran. In fact, we did more to "prop up" Saddam than any other country.

Nathan Smith

Yes. And that was wrong. There's a bit of a double standard among Americans on this, especially conservatives. We should blame Reagan more for his past mistakes. Of course, the evil totalitarian nature of the Iraqi regime wasn't quite as apparent in the 1980s as it became later. Still, we should have known better.

Val Larsen

Were we wrong to ally ourselves with Stalin during WWII? To be sure, Churchill understood the Soviet threat much better than FDR did and would have taken possession of the Balkans if FDR hadn't balked and would otherwise have sought to block Soviet expansion, but I don't think many would argue that we were wrong to use the USSR to knock down Nazism though the USSR was just about as evil as Nazi Germany. So the mere brutality of Saddam's regime wasn't necessarily grounds for not using him to sap the then, and even today, more dangerous Iranian regime. Do you all think it was wrong to ally with the Russians in WWII? If not, what exactly was the critcal difference with the situation during the Iran/Iraq war where the "alliance," if it can be called that, was far weaker than what we had with Uncle Joe Stalin. There was a real danger at the time of Iran overrunning and taking possession of Iraq's oil--which was decidedly not in our interest, bad as Saddam was. Strictly in terms of oil politics, our stance in the Iran/Iraq war was similar to that in the first gulf war. In both cases, we were, among other things, maintaining a diverse supply of oil.

Thomas

I think you're missing the point. Nathanael said that France and Germany allied themselves with Saddam, and I was merely pointing out the fact that we did much more to support Saddam's regime than any other nation. So basically I was pointing out a double-standard. I don't really care whether or not it was good to support Stalin or Saddam.

Nathan Smith

We certainly went too far in allying ourselves with Stalin during WWII. It's possible that a lesser degree of alliance with the Soviets might have been justifiable, but even from a "realist" point of view, was that necessary, or helpful? Once we were fully mobilized, we could beat the Nazis ourselves, so the more the Nazis weakened the Soviets, the better. That the US liberated half of Europe in WWII is more or less wholly the credit to our military leadership and our soldiers. Since the rest of Europe ended up in Soviet thraldom, it doesn't seem like there's much credit left to give to our diplomacy and alliance system.

It's interesting: to this day the Russians give us almost no credit for being their allies in WWII. They're still mad that we didn't invade France sooner and take some pressure off the eastern front. I'm never quite sure how to tell them: Yes, but the government you were fighting for was just as evil as Hitler's government, it was killing even more of you than Hitler was!

Nato

I'm not sure if anyone is actually advocating the idea that we didn't really need the Soviets once we ramped up, but if so, I think that's an extremely dubious position. If the Soviets had collapsed at Stalingrad and the Nazis had taken the oil-producing south, I hesitate to imagine how long the war would have gone on. Maybe we would have used nuclear weapons in Europe, or perhaps the Cold War would have been between the west and Hitler instead. I don't know. What I do know is that I cannot think of a scenario in which the aid of the Soviets was not critical. D-Day was possible because the Stalin had most of Hitler's best units tied down in Eastern Europe. Also, of the two sides, only Stalin had the autocratic power to make his army continue the war after defeating Germany. Can we really imagine convincing democratic countries to keep fighting against an additional, hardened enemy?

Nathan Smith

Yes, but the Soviets were already in the war against Hitler, not by their own choice. By fighting Hitler, the Soviets couldn't help aiding us, whether we formally allied with them or not.

Nato

But without the alliance in '42 and '43 the USSR could easily have collapsed, allowing Hitler to shift forces and secure supplies. By '44 the Soviet war machine ran quite well on its own - enough that a continuation of a hot war with our erstwhile allies would have been exceedingly painful.

Though I suppose once we got the bomb together, we'd have been able to dictate terms to some extent. Assuming the populations of the democratic countries comprising the West didn't revolt against prolonging the carnage in the meantime.

Nathan Smith

Even if the Soviet Union had collapsed, would Russian resistance have stopped? It's hard to imagine the Russians just submitting to Hitler's rule. I would need to know more about how much the oil mattered; I've read about that but I can't remember what conclusions were drawn. If Hitler had been able to move more forces to the West in, say, '43, it might have taken longer to beat him, but we still had a large preponderance of forces, and since the economy of Nazi Europe was largely predatory our advantage would only have increased over time. And if we beat Hitler in, say, '46 or '47, with Hitler having toppled the Soviet regime in the meantime, there would have been a chance for a renewal of ALL of Europe along liberal lines, rather than just half of it.

And it's more likely that the Soviet Union would not have collapsed without the US/UK alliance, but would have hung on, while having more difficulty in rebuilding its war machine. In that case, they wouldn't have been able to conquer such a large chunk of Europe after the war.

One cannot know, of course. In a sense, it's even meaningless to speak of the might-have-beens: what would have happened If such-and-such will depend on the outcomes of millions of choices and chances that never had the opportunity to occur because their antecedents conditions never occurred. But it's far from clear that the cause of civilization was served by our alliance with the Soviets.

Of course, at the time no one, except maybe Churchill, thought that the Soviet regime was as bad as the Nazi regime. It was decades before that truth came out. So I suppose you can't blame our then-leaders too much; as far as *they* knew, the Soviet Union really was the lesser evil. Still.

Nato

Well, without aviation fuel, the USSR would have had no air force, without locomotive engines, trucks and transport aircraft, they would have had no logistics, without food, cotton and boots, it would have had no army. Add that to the less important but still significant military equipment and Lend-Lease was absolutely critical to the Russians presenting a meaningful threat, Soviet propaganda notwithstanding.

We were just lucky that Hitler was so hard-headed, or it *still* wouldn't have been enough. In fact, Marshall opposed lending the Soviets materiel not because he thought it was too much to give a future enemy, but because intelligence indicated that the Soviet army could collapse at any time, leaving the lent materiel to be seized by the Germans.

Nathan Smith

If you insist absolutely that the end can never justify the means, you tend to paint yourself into strange ideological corners like Tolstoyan pacifist-anarchism. I don't want to go out on a limb and say that it's never acceptable to aid one totalitarian state against another for balance-of-power purposes. And the Soviet fight against Nazi Germany was a Russian war of national survival (a laudable goal) as well as a defense of Soviet power (a bad one).

Still. It's hard to see how Hitler's Germany could ever have *absorbed* the Russian empire, even if it had conquered it. An attempt at colonization would have wasted Germany's strength, too, even if not as much as the war with the Soviets. There would surely have been guerrilla resistance. Imagine this scenario: Soviet power collapses in 1942. By 1943, there's a raging Russian insurgency deep in the taiga and the Far North and Siberia. And *then* we intervene, not just with Lend-Lease but by occupying the coasts of the Arctic ocean and running airlifts-- by airship, maybe-- to assist the Russian insurgents from their forest hideouts.

Maybe it would have worked, maybe not. But it could hardly have been bloodier than what happened, and the regime that emerged would presumably be more liberal and American-friendly.

Nato

I doubt Germany would have bothered to try to absorb the Russian empire. It would merely have needed to back some sufficiently brutal anti-Bolshevik Vichy-Russia enough to keep the area relatively pacified, while establishing control of critical strategic sites and resources. And if the resistance became too unruly, the Nazis weren't averse to being very bloody indeed.

That said, it was always just a matter of time before the whole works imploded - just like with the Soviets, but probably a good bit sooner, considering the Nazi ideology and leadership.

Val Larsen

And keep in mind that the American leadership at the time couldn't be certain that the Nazi's wouldn't, given extra time, develop an atomic bomb. They certainly had the scientists who were capable of doing it. Even very late in the war, if the Germans had developed the bomb (maybe wedding it to their V2's), they might have forced us to sue for peace or see Britain be totally devastated. In the midst of the battle and its uncertainties, one can't afford to look too far down the road. Churchill's desire to get into Eastern Europe more quickly rather than invading France was probably the most one could hope for at the time in terms of acting to block Soviet expansion. Given Churchill's prescience, much of what Eastern Europe suffered may be charged to FDR's account.

Nato

"Given Churchill's prescience, much of what Eastern Europe suffered may be charged to FDR's account."

This seems to be a non sequitur from the earlier discussion of atomic bomb development and etc. What did you mean, Val?

Val Larsen

Churchill wanted to attack the Nazi's from Southern Europe through Central Europe rather than across the English Channel at Normandy. Stalin pushed ferociously for the Normandy invason. One of Churchill's main reasons was that he knew the Nazi's were about done for but that the Soviets were a simlar regime. By coming up through the Balkans and Eastern Europe, the Western Allies would have dispatched the Nazis while also occupying a forward position relative to Russia. The fate of France, Belgium, etc. was a foregone conclusion once the Nazi's fell. What was at issue was the fate of Eastern Europe. FDR distrusted Churchill about as much as Stalin because he thought of him primarily as a colonialist. But Chuchill was just a much better strategic thinker than FDR was. If the same resources used to attack Normandy had been focused on Southern and Eastern Europe, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Hunagary, Czecheslovakia (and perhaps Romania) might all have avoided their Communist interlude and the Nazis would have been finished off just as surely. Stalin saw things as clearly as Churchill did and wanted to grab Eastern Europe. Given the relative military weight of the U.S. and Britain, FDR was the decision maker and he sided with Stalin, to his shame.

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