Was World War Two a good war?

September 8, 2021
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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




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