Was World War Two a good war?

By Perry Willis

This is the seventh installment in a series of articles reviewing U.S. wars and interventions. I am trying to demonstrate four things…

  • Most U.S. wars have made the world a worse place, and Americans less free and secure.
  • The claim that U.S. soldiers “defended freedom” is sweet-sounding but false.
  • Our “patriotic holidays” should honor soldiers without mischaracterizing U.S. wars.
  • We must deny politicians the ability to wage aggressive war. I think we can best achieve this by making military funding voluntary.

Voluntary funding would give us a system of defense that’s consistent with the Zero Aggression Principle. Taxes are inherently aggressive. They force people to do things against their will. This is immoral. But there are also practical reasons to replace taxes with voluntary funding…

  • Voluntary funding would give us a consumer-controlled military. This would block political misuse of the military.
  • The politicians would have to mold their foreign policy to fit public desires, rather than impose crusades on us against our will.
  • Citizens could increase funding for wars they support, and decrease it for wars they oppose.
  • The military would also have to become more efficient and effective in order to gain and retain public support.

These arguments are made more compelling if the historical record shows that past U.S. wars have done more harm than good. Here’s what we’ve covered so far…

  • Were early U.S. wars good or bad?
  • Did Teddy Roosevelt co-found the Japanese empire?
  • Did U.S. politicians choose the more evil side in World War 1?
  • How U.S. politicians helped create the Soviet Union
  • How blundering U.S. politicians enabled the rise of Nazi Germany
  • How U.S. intervention in WW1 fostered the rise of radical Islam

Now comes the most important and controversial article in the series…

Was World War Two a “good war?”

World War Two is “Exhibit A” for anyone who wants to make a case for foreign intervention. That’s because people are sure they understand what the payoff was. They assume…

  • We defeated the Japanese and stopped their wave of conquest
  • We defeated Hitler and saved the world from tyranny

This “understanding” is partly true but completely superficial.

  • The U.S. did stop Japanese imperialism. But too many people assume that war was the best path to that goal, and that the Pacific basin was better off because of that war.
  • We did help defeat Hitler. But we actually saved only a small corner of Europe. U.S. politicians sold the rest of Europe into tyranny.

Let’s look at these claims in detail, starting with the Pacific War…

There was a possible peaceful path to avoid Japanese imperialism

  • Imagine that U.S. politicians had freed all the colonies we conquered from Spain in the Spanish-American War
  • Imagine that U.S politicians had not waged a war of conquest in the Philippines between 1899 and 1902
  • Imagine that Teddy Roosevelt had not encouraged the Japanese to start an empire of their own
  • Imagine that Teddy Roosevelt had not given Korea to Japan as their first imperial conquest on November 28, 1905
  • Consider what might have happened instead had U.S. politicians urged the Japanese to follow a peaceful course

In other words, if U.S. politicians had set a good example instead of a bad one, maybe there would have been no conquering Japanese empire to worry about. Instead, U.S. politicians did absolutely everything wrong, and Japan followed our bad example! In addition…

It’s possible that U.S. politicians actually chose the more evil side in the conflict between Japan and China.

I’ve already shown how U.S. politicians made exactly this mistake in World War One. Well, a case can be made that U.S. politicians did it again with Japan and China. But first you have to understand…

How the United States became involved in the Sino-Japanese conflict

The Japanese didn’t attack Pearl Harbor for no reason. There was plenty of prelude…

  • FDR began imposing trade restrictions on Japan in 1939.
  • In 1940, he began organizing fighter pilots to send to China (they became known as the Flying Tigers).
  • FDR also sent numerous ships into Japanese waters hoping to provoke an event that would lead to war.
  • When that failed, FDR imposed an oil embargo on Japan. That provoked the response he wanted — an attack on the United States. Pearl Harbor ended up being the target.

So the question is…

Was FDR right to defend China against Japan?

That question overlooks something crucial. FDR was not mainly defending the Chinese people. He was defending China’s ruler, Chiang Kai-shek. And Chiang may actually have been worse than the Japanese. Consider…

Professor R. J. Rummel is the world’s leading expert on democide (death by The State). He has researched the number of murders committed by 20th Century rulers independent of those they caused through war. Look at his findings for Chiang vs. Japan…

  • Chiang Kai-shek murdered 10 million people
  • Japan murdered 5 million

By that measure…

  • Chiang was more evil than the Japanese
  • FDR was wrong to choose Chiang’s side

This is a mistake that both U.S. politicians and the American people have made repeatedly. Let me emphasize this…

Too many Americans assume that every conflict must have a good side and a bad side.

Not true. More often than not both sides are bad. That was certainly the case both in World War One and with Chiang Kai-shek versus Japan.

Adults realize that some situations are unfixable. You just have to wait them out because any effort to intervene just makes matters worse. Sadly…

The closer you look, the worse the case against the U.S. war with Japan becomes. If you’re going to pick a fight with someone, as FDR did with Japan, and then sacrifice vast wealth and innocent young lives to that purpose, you had better make damn sure you leave things better than you found them. But the exact opposite happened in the case of the Pacific War.

  • China ended up worse.
  • Korea ended up worse.
  • Vietnam ended up worse.

In fact, so far as I can tell from my extensive reading about World War Two, neither FDR nor his generals, nor Harry Truman, gave much thought to how things would be in Asia after they defeated Japan. Instead…

Our so-called leaders were incredibly simple-minded. Once they had their war with Japan, they focused exclusively on winning that war, with hardly any thought for what would come after.

Korea is the “poster child” for that error.

Do you want to know where North Korea came from?

It’s really simple — U.S. politicians created it!

  • First, Teddy Roosevelt encouraged Japan to conquer Korea on November 28, 1905
  • Second, Harry Truman invited Joseph Stalin to occupy the northern half of the Korean peninsula at the end of World War Two

Bam! The result is North Korea and the Korean war that followed. Both were “Made in the USA” by U.S. politicians. But the worst was yet to come…

Instead of losing to the Japanese, Chiang Kai-shek lost to Mao’s communists.

The result? Mao delivered another 50-80 million Chinese corpses.

In short, the U.S. war against Japan was mostly a disaster. Its only accomplishment was the end of Japanese militarism. All its other consequences were calamitous. So…

What about the European Theater?

We tell ourselves, the United States defeated Hitler. This claim largely ignores the Soviet contribution. If there was one book I wish every American would read about the European theater, it’s this one — No Simple Victory by Norman Davies. Mr. Davies compares the Soviet contribution versus that of the U.S. and Britain. After you review his evidence, you’ll likely reach these two conclusions…

  • The U.S. contribution to Hitler’s defeat was relatively small compared to the Soviets.
  • Hitler was probably doomed the moment he invaded the Soviet Union, whether the U.S. entered the war or not.

One way you can know this, short of reading Davies’ book, is by looking at two dates…

The historical consensus is that Germany’s defeat at Stalingrad was the turning point in the war. From that point on the Nazis were in constant retreat. That happened on February 2, 1943.

Significant U.S. and British ground forces didn’t reach Europe until D-Day, June 6, 1944 — nearly a year-and-a-half after the German retreat began. There were U.S. forces fighting German troops in Italy prior to that. However, their numbers were small relative to the Eastern Front, and they were bogged down by the Italian terrain.

So you should ask yourself some questions…

  • Would the Nazi retreat have stopped if either D-Day had failed or never happened?
  • Or would the Soviets have continued rolling forward, all the way into Berlin, even without the Normandy invasion?

I think the Soviets were going to defeat the Nazis whether D-Day happened or not. So, the real U.S. accomplishment in World War Two was not defeating Hitler, it was something else entirely.
The real U.S. accomplishment was preventing Stalin from rolling all the way to the English Channel

U.S. intervention in World War Two saved West Germany, Italy, France, and the Benelux countries from Stalin. That’s an important achievement! Unfortunately, that positive result is almost perfectly counterbalanced by the negative facts that we…

  • Allied ourselves with Stalin
  • Aided Stalin
  • Requested nothing in return for that aid, and thereby…
  • Helped Stalin conquer Eastern Europe, while giving him North Korea as a bonus prize

Bottom line: We saved Western Europe but doomed Eastern Europe. I call that a zero-sum outcome.

Worst of all, NONE of this would have happened had the U.S. not intervened in World War One in the first place. (See how U.S. intervention in World War One helped give rise to both the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany).

Look where we find ourselves after reviewing all the major U.S. wars and interventions up to World War Two…

  • Did U.S. interventions defend freedom? Clearly not.
  • Did U.S. interventions make Americans more secure? No, they made us profoundly less safe.
  • Did U.S. interventions make the world better or worse? The evidence is overwhelming. U.S. interventions made the world profoundly worse. They led to tens of millions of unintended
  • deaths, trillions in lost wealth, and untold suffering.

What should we conclude from this sad record? I suggest two things…

  • We must find ways to severely limit how politicians use the military.
  • We must stop using patriotic holidays, like Memorial Day, to offer false platitudes about how U.S. politicians employed the soldiers under their control. Those soldiers certainly wanted to defend America, defend freedom, and improve the world, but that’s not how the politicians used them. We must find more honest ways to honor our soldiers lest we contribute to more needless suffering.

I think we need voluntary funding for the military, and the rest of the government too. In my next article, I will stress test this idea by answering the question, “What if World War Two had been voluntarily funded?”

If you find these articles valuable…

  • Please share them with others.
  • Use these articles to start a discussion about the Zero Aggression Principle and consumer-controlled governance
  • Discuss the correct way to honor veterans and the war dead given the sad reality of past U.S. wars. We believe it should be possible to honor their courage and mourn their loss, without telling lies about how the political class misused them.

If you’re new to our work and you like what you see, please subscribe. It’s free!

Perry Willis
Co-creator, Zero Aggression Project

PS: Here’s a list of books I’ve consulted in this series.

World War Two

  • No Simple Victory by Norman Davies
  • Day of Deceit by Robert Stinnett
  • End of Empire by Chandler, Cribb, and Narango
  • New Dealer’s War by Thomas Fleming
  • World War II by Richard Maybury
  • Death by Government by R.J. Rummel

The impact of World War One on the Islamic world

  • A Peace to End All Peace by David Fromkin
  • Paris 1919 by Margaret MacMillan

Impact of U.S. policies on the rise of Nazi Germany

  • Paris 1919 by Margaret MacMillan
  • The Forgotten Depression by James Grant

The Russian Revolution

  • Comrades by Brian Moynahan
  • Russia Leaves the War by George F. Kennan

World War One

  • The Illusion of Victory by Thomas Fleming
  • World War I by Richard Maybury
  • The Pity of War by Niall Ferguson
  • The Forgotten Depression by James Grant

The Spanish-American War, the conquest of the Philippines, and Teddy Roosevelt’s betrayal of Korea…

  • Bully Boy by Jim Powell
  • The Politics of War by Walter Karp
  • The War Lovers by Evan Thomas
  • Honor in the Dust by Gregg Jones
  • The Imperial Cruise by James Bradley

The Mexican War

  • A Wicked War by Amy S. Greenberg



Show Comments 10


  1. Very interesting article.
    Many very good points. I agree with most all of it. I hope more people will read it and seriously consider it.

    However, I have issues with the following statements:
    “the U.S. war against Japan was mostly a disaster. Its only accomplishment was the end of Japanese militarism. All its other consequences were calamitous. the U.S. war against Japan was mostly a disaster. Its only accomplishment was the end of Japanese militarism. All its other consequences were calamitous.”
    – Seems pretty off to me.  If the “only accomplishment” was “the end of Japanese militarism” – that “only” is a pretty huge exception:
    – including the peaceful, civil, constitutional and fairly limited government society that has been Japan since WWII.
    – the vast peaceful, productive forces that have been Japan since WWII.
    – the hard working, creative, entrepreneurial spirit that has been unleashed in Japan since WWII.
    – The vast products and services that the Japanese people have created for themselves and the world – think of all the marvelous creations you have willingly bought over your lifetime from Japanese companies: Sony, Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Toshiba, Subaru, Mitsubishi, etc. etc. etc.

    Then your following statements are also dubious, since they are only very partially true and wrong in many respects:
    – Did U.S. interventions defend freedom? Clearly not. – You just admitted that Western European freedom was saved – that counts for nothing???? 

    – Did U.S. interventions make Americans more secure? No, they made us profoundly less safe. – Really?  That is equally debatable and not demonstrated by your previous paragraphs.

    – Did U.S. interventions make the world better or worse? The evidence is overwhelming. U.S. interventions made the world profoundly worse. They led to tens of millions of unintended deaths, trillions in lost wealth, and untold suffering. – This is not clear at all.  You certainly made some good points about this earlier, but you did not prove it totally at all.

    1. Post

      Thanks for your interest and your comments.

      Your first point is your best one. My wording does seem dismissive. I will try to improve it in future revisions, which occur every time we promote these articles.

      I will also see what I can do to improve the wording in the other areas too. But it reduces to this, the NET effect of U.S. intervention, for freedom, U.S. security, and the betterment of the world, was negative, not positive. I think my arguments do demonstrate that, though I will try to find better wording so as to not sound dismissive of saving Western Europe and ending Japanese militarism.

      Thanks again for your interest and comments.

  2. I am afraid I have to largely disagree with the point of the article. You evidence is not fully supporting your thesis, and you take the fact that a good is not absolute or without consequences and side effects as meaning that it is not good of itself. You attribute to the USA full agency, free will and decisive action, While you seem to be discounting the actions and free will of other countries. The USA never ‘gave’ one country to another (Korea to Japan for example), rather the USA took YOUR position of ‘we will choose not to get involved if you should successfully invade’. Any number of other countries could, and likely should, have stood up and said ‘invasion of one country by another should not happen and will be opposed’. The USA is not alone in the world. The USA was not even the primary power in the world at the time that WW2 started. All the Colonial Powers, Russia, and several other nations had much bigger agency in the start of that war, and the previous one, than you are allowing for. Japan, Germany, Russia, et. al. would do what they chose to do with or without US intervention- as proven by the fact that the US did not actively intervene until the midpoint of the war. Instead the USA attempted sanctions and other isolationist responses to the aggression of the Axis Powers. Sometimes the only rational response to violent aggression (such as wars of conquest) is violent too (such as wars of defense and liberation). You fail , largely, to prove your point and seem to have started with a preconceived notion, in my humble and reasoned opinion.

    1. Post

      I’m sorry, but I can’t see what your comment has to do with what I wrote. The whole point of the article is that U.S. intervention in the war achieved no NET gain for freedom, national security, or the betterment of the world.

      I make no attempt to say that there were no good outcomes in the war. Indeed, I name exactly what those good outcomes were. I simply argue that the bad outcomes outweighed the good outcomes on a NET basis.

      The longest portion of your comments has to do with agency. The fact that other politicians in other places had agency and did bad things does not reduce the validity of my argument that U.S. politicians had agency and did bad things. I am American subject to the dictates of American politicians, and so I naturally focus on what they have done. Indeed, whole libraries have been written about the mistakes made by the politicians of other countries during World War Two. I see no point in adding yet another repetitive voice to that vast literature. Instead, what is desperately needed is a more penetrating examination of what U.S. policies actually achieved. There has been too much myth-making on this point to date.

      Thanks for taking the time to read my article and offer a comment.

      1. I did read your article. You say no ‘net gain in freedom’, But preventing a net loss in freedom IS a virtual gain. Yes the US did not in WW2 defeat the statist authoritarian Communists. And the extend us into the ‘cold war’ which did cause a loss of freedom. But the Fascist and Imperialist nations of the Axis powers were causing a net loss in freedom of everyplace they conquered, every target of their discrimination suffered horrible losses.

        In my humble opinion you also miss the deeper picture – both here at home in the USA, and in much of Western Europe and the Pacific Theater people’s attitudes towards ‘the other’ began to change. It is hard to be prejudiced against someone who was nearly starved to death and was tortured because of his ancestor’s religion. It is hard to be prejudiced against someone because of a different skin color when you have to share a foxhole with them. Combined with the demonstration of what racist, imperialist, xenophobic, nations will do to people those anti tolerant ideals began to become socially unacceptable. To the point now that calling someone a racist is nearly on par with calling them a rapist.

        This change began the civil rights movement, and an increasing trend to equality under the law.

        The communist takeovers of various countries may well have happened even without US ‘intervention’ or diplomatic missteps, you demonstrate no evidence they wouldn’t have.

        The precedence of the loss of various freedoms during the war itself is probably the biggest actual loss of freedom. But that initiated in at least the Civil War with its suspension of habeas corpus.

        The fact that the US moved to stop bad actors, people who literally rounded up little children because of their ancestry, in order to torture and kill them, seems to have led to greater not lesser freedom from what I understand of the state of the world before and after the war, from people who lived it. That other bad actors (Soviet Russia, et.al.) continue to exist or even take advantage of the US distraction does not make the good of stopping the evil in anyway not good. That a situation (global freedoms) are still not perfect (everyone 100% free everywhere) after an act that improves the overall level even slightly. A firefighter who saves a family from a burning building but doesn’t save another did not fail to do good or right, just didn’t succeed at saving *everyone*. And if you take things to an extreme the best ‘net gain for freedom’ could be said to be killing 99.9999% of the global population so that the remainder has no one telling them not do anything, and inherit all the physical wealth left in the world – obviously not a great idea.

        Of course we are talking about a largely intangible and immeasurable thing ‘net freedom’ so opinions are going to be just that with no certain answers. I just don’t see how you draw you conclusion with what you have presented.

        I personally know one woman who was ecstatic at US actions in WW2 she choose to become a US citizen because of how much greater freedom our country brought to her life.

        1. Post

          Thanks for continuing to interact with me on this JJ. I actually agree with a lot of what you say in your comment.

          Here’s how I view the net impact of WW2 on freedom. Saving Western Europe from Stalin was good. But helping Stalin to conquer Eastern Europe completely counterbalanced that. Meanwhile, defeating Japanese aggression was good in the Pacific, but replacing it with communism in China and North Korea counterbalanced that. Net result – no gain. A draw. Was that really what people suffered and died to achieve?

          I agree with your comments about the positive side-effects of war, but we wouldn’t want to argue that war is a good thing, because of those few side effects. And just as impactful, in terms of civil rights in the U.S., was seeing firehoses used on peaceful crowds on TV. There are effective ways other than war to bring about social change.

          It’s also possible that we could have achieved a better result in WW2 without U.S. involvement. I show how that could have been done in my follow-up article, which you might find of interest.


  3. Actually the problem begins with the American Civil War. After its defeat, the Confederacy rebuilt itself as the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and circumvented the Fourteenth Amendment by inventing an entirely-novel class of state laws, called “public health laws”. It had become a federal crime under the Anti-Ku Klux Klan Act, also known as the Civil Rights Act of 1871, to discriminate against Black Americans for being Black. After overthrowing democratic processes through terrorism and vote fraud, a KKK minority seized control in the 1876 Election in several former Confederate states and immediately passed “public health” laws, using imaginary diseases said to be spread by Black Americans, as the basis for imposing Racial Segregation by force of law.. Circumventing the law against racial discrimination by using junk science to create fake medical theories as a basis to accomplish the attacks on Black Americans, without admitting that the real purpose of the Segregation laws was to push Black Americans into second-class citizenship, quickly grew into an industry of creating new groups of second-class citizens. Immigration laws were passed, restricting Europeans who were “not White enough”, from entering the country..

    A proposed amendment to the US Constitution at the Convention of 1787 not taken up, would have codified the individual right to medical choice., but was not taken up. It arose from the Vaccination Controversy between Boston pastor Cotton Mather and Philadelphia scientist Benjamin Franklin, with Franklin cautious of the new technology and Mather enthusiastic in his support of it. But nobody else at the Constitutional Convention wanted an Eleventh Amendment tacked on to the Bill of Rights, because they simply could not imagine the public mischief that a “public health law” could cause.

    A. E. Samaan’s excellent article, “Harvard and the Holocaust”, does a detailed debunking of public health law applied to Segregation and other population policies. It turns out that the Nuremberg Laws passed by the Reichstag within 60 days of Nazi Party control, were lifted directly from public health laws of the former Confederate states, that had survived constitutional challenges in the US Supreme Court. Laws from these US states were translated into German, occasionally flipping the word “Kike” for the word “Neger”, and preparations for the Holocaust were based on the same junk science popularized in post-1876 America.

    In short, we dragged ourselves into World War Two by laying the foundations for Hitler’s belief system then trying somehow to moderate the damage we had done.

    As we watch the same story play out today in the disputes over the coronavirus outbreaks, it is more evident than ever that individual rights must play a larger role than current Public Health laws allow. Ignorance should not grant public health authorities a general warrant to deny all individual liberties. We should not be compelled to prove our innocence of spreading disease, before we go about our daily affairs.

    I’ve attached a web link to another urgent matter of public health law and junk science being combined to attack individual liberty in the so-called Drug War. I suggest you folks give it a look. 50 million Americans disabled by pain, sat out the 2020 Election because nobody offered them the only choice that mattered. Healthcare is inherently personal and must be individualized for the needs of the patient, not collectivized for the convenience of politicians and bureaucrats. Public nuisances are incapable of existing in private spaces, yet an attempt was made to call private use of pain drugs a public nuisance, and this attack on our liberties reached into our law courts.

    I wish you folks would take this seriously, because 50 million potential voters are a lot of votes. If one percent of them joined The 300, invasive policies like judicial findings and asset forfeitures would be made history.

  4. Once I read that the Roosevelts invested in scrap metal and were losing their shirt so wanted WWII in order tto sell their metal to the Navy to make battleships. As ex Assistant Navy Sec and of a rich old family dating back to colonial days he certainly had the contacts. Then he made a fortune selling his scrap metal to the Navy. Anyone else read anything like that?

    1. Post

      I have not read that, but it would not surprise me. I do know that they made a substantial amount of their fortune selling opium in China.

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