Friday, December 7, 2012

When did America enter WW2? Part 1

As you might know from reading this blog, I am an amateur historian - very amateur.  I try to use sources available on the web (which includes historical documents, statistics and mainstream historians' books and research) to explore different areas of history and compare what I discover to the mainstream version, the popular narrative and the "schoolbook history".

There are two articles which fit this mold: 

Icebreaker and Barbarossa: Unknown World War 2: my article on Stalin's role in starting WW2, and how German invasion was really a preventive war.  Includes embedded documentary "March of the Liberators", which is REALLY worth watching.

Modern History - Hurricane Katrina, Savagery, Racism and Combat Operations, 2005: This is the covered up story on how American Army conducted combat operations post Katrina in New Orleans.  Again, this was not a rescue operation - this was a combat op, as written up in the Army Times article from 2005: Troops begin combat operations in New Orleans.  The behaviour of black people post Katrina, the mass rapes, mass murders, was covered up, as well.

I want to go back to WW2, perhaps my favorite historical subject, and after exploring Soviet Union's role in it, the time has come to discover the role of the United States of America.  Specifically, when exactly did America join the war?  In Soviet history, and "schoolbook version", which states that despite Soviet soldiers invading and then annexing Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, part of Romania, part of Poland, part of Finland in 1939 and 1940, the Soviet Union only joined the war after the unprovoked invasion by Nazi Germany in 1941.

Similarly to the Soviet history, in American history we are taught that USA only joined the war in 1941, after an unprovoked attack by the Japanese on our Pacific Fleet.

Lets explore this topic a bit...

When did America enter World War Two?

Wordy Preamble

A few weeks before the First Gulf War - the one where we and our allies liberated Kuwait (which was invaded because they were drilling for oil with angled shafts i.e. drilling into Iraqi oilfields) - there was lots of discussion about whether there will be war or there won't be.

Will we invade or will it all fizzle and be resolved politically?

Meanwhile there was a steady buildup of hundreds of thousands of troops on the Iraqi border.

While listening to such a news  report on TV (Will they invade or will there be a political solution?), my father said the prophetic words: "Of course there will be war.  Look at the thousands of soldiers over there.  Mobilization means war - always this has been so in history".

Only later did I learn that this has always been so, and only later did I learn about the great Soviet strategist's work, Marshall Shaposnikov, who wrote "Mozg Armi" (The Brain of the Army), in which he postulated just such a logical argument - that mobilization always means war, that the process, for many reasons, is irreversible.  His book is much better than Western dilettantes of the era, such as one B.H. Liddel Hart, whose main argument was to advocate to "Strike where the enemy least expects" and wrote whole books about it  (No shit, Sherlock.  What an idiot. And he is idolized in the Western military and by Western military historians still.).

A country decides to prosecute a war when it decides to mobilize.  During the 1920's and 1930's (and then the 1950's and 1960's and 1970's and 1980's and...) the term "gunboat diplomacy" was used by historians, the public, the newspapers.  

What it meant was that America, in pursuit of the "Monroe Doctrine" (i.e. all the countries in our hemisphere are OURS to exploit and do what we want - any European power coming here will be fought, whether by military or covert op means or political pressure, unless we approve of them being here, and any little country in the Caribbean or Latin America, Grenada, Dominican Republic, etc etc. which will get too "uppity" will have a few gunboats and marines send in to sort out what's what, and to show them the error of their ways.

Mainly, this was done by killing or arresting the government which wanted to give the peasants too many benefits and/or wanting a country's natural resource to benefit their citizens and not the profit margin of an American corporation.

After said killing, the next step was giving the political power to a country's landowner elites, who were always dutiful in exploiting their country's natural resources and keeping the peasant population's wages and benefits down, to bring maximum profit to American corporations (read up on the "United Fruit Company" - that is another part of American history very much covered up and not taught in our schools).

Sending a gunboat, or a small fleet, with an accompanying horde of marines, amounted to a "mini-mobilization" and always, always resulted in a "mini-war". Sending a gunboat in always resulted in combat, in an American invasion (one exception - Japan - the force sent was much too small to subjugate that large country, but big enough to accomplish America's political and corporate goals).

But such a gunboat diplomacy only worked with weak countries - Latin America, Caribbean, even Japan got a dose when USA decided to send a certain Admiral Perry to "open up" Japan.

What happens when stronger countries needed some "gunboat diplomacy"?

America could not simply send a gunboat or two and a few hundred marines to 1940's Germany and Japan... or at least, the number of gunboats and soldiers needed was on a much, much bigger scale.  Perhaps bigger stuff were needed - things like aircraft carriers, battleships, thousands of tanks...

During the 1930's and 1940's, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the American president.

When did he decide on military action?

When did FDR decide to enter World War 2?

In short, when did the nation mobilize?

Because mobilization means war.


When Did America Mobilize?

The simple answer is: Monday, January 08, 1940 at exactly 06:00:00 GMT.  Congress appropriated $16 billion dollars for defense needs, and enacted the first ever peacetime draft in American history.

16 billion in 1940's dollars is equivalent to about 15 times more in 2011 (source: inflation calculator).

This was a staggering amount of money, in a country which was still suffering economically and financially.  People were poor, people were hungry, the farmers were ruined after the dustbowl ecological catastrophe and the middle class was destroyed in the Great Depression.

The amount of money was big news, but even bigger news was the "peacetime" draft.  A nation which drafts its citizens expects war, and not just any small war (gunboat diplomacy) but a major, important and perhaps life changing war.

When Did Roosevelt Declare War?
 From, FDR's Undeclared War:

In the White House at 2130 on 29 December 1940, an audience of twenty sits expectantly on wobbly, gilt wooden chairs before a desk drilled with holes for the wires of seven microphones.  On the desk are two sharpened pencils, a blank notepad, two glasses of water and an opened pack of Camels.  Among the invited guests are matinee idol Clark Gable with his wife, blonde Carole Lombard.  She wears a “simple black afternoon dress” and a funnel-shaped black hat and veil.  Sixty-nine year-old Secretary of State Cordell Hull, fingers his pince-nez ribbon.  Print and broadcast reporters casually smoke.  And in the first row, dressed in a gray-blue evening gown, Sara Roosevelt awaits her son, Franklin D. Roosevelt, the 32nd President of the United States.
All over the country, unnecessary activity comes to a halt as millions of families gather in their living rooms next to bulky, polished-wood Philco, RCA, and Emerson radio consoles.  Five minutes before the broadcast, attired in a dark blue serge suit and black bow tie, the President glides into the oval Diplomatic Reception Room on the rubber tires of a small wheelchair, amiably greets guests and clears his throat.  Ready to deliver one of the most important speeches in his political career and in the lives of 132 million fellow citizens, FDR begins his 16th fireside chat, entitled “On National Security.”  Never before…has our American civilization been in such danger as now,” he says in the familiar rolling resonance.  “By an agreement signed in Berlin, three powerful nations, two in Europe and one in Asia, joined themselves together…that if the United States of America interfered with or blocked the expansion program of these three nations – a program aimed at world control – they would unite in ultimate action against the United States.”     
And why, he asks like a schoolteacher, does the European war concern the United States?
“If Great Britain goes down, all of us in the Americas would be living at the point of a gun.”  There are those who say that the Axis powers have no desire to attack the Western Hemisphere.  That is the same sort of wishful thinking which has destroyed the powers of resistance of so many conquered peoples…the vast resources and wealth of this American Hemisphere constitute the most tempting loot in all of the round world.”  Wiping his broad forehead with a handkerchief, the fire crackling in the white marble fireplace in front to his right, Roosevelt finishes the thirty-seven minute talk with a ringing plea to arm faster, to build more planes and ships. We must be the great arsenal of democracy.”  FDR’s call to arms has unwaveringly committed America to save Britain from defeat, no matter the cost and regardless of the risk.

Re-read this part again:
“By an agreement signed in Berlin, three powerful nations, two in Europe and one in Asia, joined themselves together…that if the United States of America interfered with or blocked the expansion program of these three nations – a program aimed at world control – they would unite in ultimate action against the United States.”    

Simply put, President Roosevelt named the enemies of America in this part of the speech.  Effectively, this was an open declaration of war against Germany, Japan and Italy.

This was a declaration, perhaps not of official war, but an open declaration that Germany, Japan and Italy were now "officially/unofficially" enemies of the United States and that America would act to help their enemies, namely, the United Kingdom.

It meant that all kinds of aid would be given to the UK, all sorts of financial, military materiel and intelligence information would be given to allow that country to help it with its fight with Germany.

But America went much, much further than just aid.

When did America Plan the War?

FDR was as good as his word.  We all know about the famous "Lend Lease" deal (if you don't, perhaps this is not a blog for you).  All kinds of aid was given to the UK and the Commonwealth, some official, some unofficial.

Meanwhile, FDR was in negotiations with the British on the future war with, on the one hand, UK and USA, and on the other side, Germany, Japan and Italy.

Called ABC-1, or the U.S.–British Staff Conference, it was similar to the Molotov Ribbentrop pact in its secrecy and in not informing the public of its secret procotols. 

And these were eye popping.

The conferences (yes, plural, there were many) were between political representatives of America and Britain, and took place from January 29, 1941 to March 27, 1941 i.e. long before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour.

From Wikipedia:
The US-British Staff Conference Report of 1941 established the general military principles, resources, and deployment strategies for a joint Allied military strategy. The plan assumed that if the U.S. went to war with Germany, it would likely go to war with both Italy and Japan as well. The general principles of agreement stated that:
  • America's territorial interest was in the Western Hemisphere
  • The security of the British Commonwealth must be maintained in all circumstance including the retention of a Far East position
  • Security of sea communications between Allied Powers was essential

Offensive policies included:

  • The "early elimination" of Italy as an Axis partner
  • Support of neutrals and underground groups in resisting the Axis
  • Sustained air offensive to destroy Axis military power
  • Build-up of forces for the eventual offensive against Germany and the capture of positions from which to launch that offensive
  • The Atlantic and European areas were the "decisive theater" and as such would be the primary focus of US military efforts, although the "great importance" of the Middle East and Africa were noted.
Finally, if Japan entered the war, military strategy in the Far East would be defensive.
Again, please, please, please remember - these conferences took place from January to March, 1941, before the USA was attacked, before "The Day of Infamy".

The main things to understand is that, first, Germany was to be "taken out" first, and that, if Japan attacked America, America would still hold to the policy of "Germany first".

Even such specifics as taking out Italy, an obvious weak link in the Axis Powers, to weaken Germany, while staying on the defensive in the Pacific, were pre-planned.

The second thing was that "Security of sea communications between Allied Powers was essential", meaning that the Uboat threat had to be neutralized.

Wikipedia then being wikipedia, the article continues "Although the ABC-1 agreement was not a military alliance, it nevertheless signified that the United States was preparing to enter the war on the side of the Allied powers (...)."

Full stop!

The ABC-1 undoubtedly, 100%, without a question WAS a military alliance between America and the United Kingdom.

And this alliance was agreed upon, with specifics, ranging as far as "taking out Germany first, before Japan" and "taking out Italy to weaken Germany" and "sustained air offensive to destroy Axis military power" as well as combatting the Uboats in the Atlantic.

Not only has America declared war, now it had specific war plans for it.

Provoking Japan

In the previous chapters, we have learned when America declared war (when it mobilized the country for total war and implemented draft - January 08, 1940) and what plans it had for the conflict (the ABC-1 conference; VERY specific strategic plans, agreed upon in January-March 1941).

Having gotten the nation on a war footing, and having agreed on "taking out Germany first", FDR then tried to embroil the country into the ongoing global war (Japan vs. China and Japan vs. Soviet Union, and Germany and Italy vs. UK and the European forces from conquered countries which escaped into England).

While "Germany first" policy was in full effect, this did not mean that Japanese aggression in China could not be used to embroil America into this global war - to this end, certain steps were taken.

Most importantly, and this was a strategic step, America declared an oil embargo on Japan in July 1941.

Japan was almost totally dependent on American oil.

From The Way to Pearl Harbor: US vs Japan, by Yuichi Arima:
Japan was very poor in most of natural resources, and it had to rely on import of these resources to function as a modern state. Among many natural resources, oil was one of the most crucial strategic materials that Japan desperately needed. Japan could not produce oil, within its borders, even for 10% of its domestic consumption. At the time, Japan had relied very much on the US, which supplied Japan about 80% of oil that was consumed in the island-nation.
In other words, the power of life or death was in the hand of the American president.

The ultimatum that America presented Japan was simple as well as brutal: either withdraw from China, or suffer the lack of oil.

Now, The Sino-Japanese War was ongoing from July 7, 1937 (and would not end until the defeat of Japan in WW2).  It cost Japan (in total, up to 1945) 1,055,000 dead and 1,172,200 injured.  That is over 2 million casualties.

The Japanese were desperate for oil (as most modern countries are - America and UK support the odious, anti-human and terrorist Saudi regime precisely because in return they call the shots on Saudi oil usage and exports).

Continuing with the article:
Japan had also tied an economic treaty with Netherlands, which promised Japan the supply of oil (approximately 13% of the oil need) from the Dutch East India (Indonesia). However, the Dutch broke the treaty and followed the America’s oil embargo in August of 1941 as well.
That meant that no oil was going to Japan.

Remember, Japan "Japan could not produce oil, within its borders, even for 10% of its domestic consumption" and "Japan had relied very much on the US, which supplied Japan about 80% of oil that was consumed in the island-nation".

The oil embargo was the act of refusing water to a man.  A man without water will die, after a certain time passes, and becomes more and more desperate.  Similarly, a modern nation without oil will die, after a certain time passes, and becomes more and more desperate as time goes on...

This was not the only embargo against Japan.

To combat Japanese expansionism, FDR implemented MULTIPLE embargoes against that country, effectively reversing Admiral Perry's opening of Japan... call it "the closing of Japan."

From the article:
In 1939, the US notified Japan that it would renounce the Treaty of Commerce and Navigation that was signed by both countries in 1911. President Roosevelt, then, went on to the imposition of partial embargo of gasoline for aircraft and scrap-metal on Japan in July 1940. Japan countered the partial embargo by advancing its troops to the northern Indo-China, and the US matched the Japan’s expansion with the addition of more subjects to the list of partial embargo. This vicious circle of retaliations escalated and reached its peak when Japan moved even into the southern Indo-China in July, 1941 and the US replied to it by freezing the Japanese assets in the US and, furthermore, by the complete oil embargo on Japan
As a result, the Japanese leaders found themselves in an extremely difficult situation in which they had to make their decision out of two options: to bow before the US, or to fight a desperate war against the US.
This resulted in Japanese attacking and annexing more and more territories, because the more stuff they lost by being prohibited by trading for it, the more they needed to take it - by force.

And finally, the complete oil embargo meant death of that country - in about...
The oil stock Japan had was only for a year and half.
What were the options open to Japan at this desperate time?

They could withdraw from China, which would result in the end of the oil and other embargoes, which would result in Japan gaining life-saving oil in normal trade with the USA.


They could attack and seize the Netherlands East Indies, now Indonesia, which was a colony of the Netherlands. And the Netherlands, since 1940, were themselves taken over by Germany.

Easy pickings (the Japanese already had annexed parts of  French Indochina, now Vietnam, after Germany conquered France proper).

Forseeing this event, America acted (Chronology 1940 from

April 17, 1940, "Secretary of State Cordell Hull warned the Japanese government that the United States would oppose any change in the status quo of the Netherlands East Indies by other than peaceful means".

Now, the two options for Japan were slightly modified.
They could withdraw from China, which would result in the end of the oil and other embargoes, which would result in Japan gaining life-saving oil in normal trade with the USA.


They could attack and seize the Netherlands East Indies, now Indonesia, which was a colony of the Netherlands, for its oil.  And immediately be at war with the United States.

It was then very simple for American leadership to see if war was coming.  Simply put, from the time of the embargo, Japan had a limited period of time to take one of two diametrically opposing actions: whether to withdraw from China, or to make war with the Allies (including America) to acquire oil.

Now, American economists probably did not know the exact time left before modern Japan died, but what they did know was, first, that the time was limited (the embargo was working and the island nation did not produce even 10% of oil for domestic consumption, much less to prosecute a war with China, much less with America and UK), and, second, if the decision for war would be taken, it would be as soon as possible - while they still had oil...

So, if there was no war, that meant that Japan would talk to China and make peace, with full knowledge of America.  And that this would happen SOON.  Which would mean the samurai bushido nation would forfeit it's over million casualties and meekly surrender, without fighting, all its gains in China which took several years to win.

Meanwhile, Japanese soldiers were fighting a brutal war with the Chinese Army, and there was no withdrawal at all...

And that meant...

But this was not enough.  To bolster China's resistance to the Japanese, an so called American Volunteer Group was formed by November 1941.  This "volunteer" group was made up of American military pilots, led by an American general, using American military airplanes, albeit painted in Chinese air force colors.

The only reason American military was not in combat before the outbreak of "official" hostilities was because the "volunteer group" was not ready before the "surprise" attack on Pearl Harbor.

Now, whether the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was such a complete surprise and shock to FDR and the American elites will be explored in another article - but keep in mind, that American intelligence had already broken Japanese codes (including naval and political) by 1940, and were reading what messages were passing between admirals, fleets, ambassadors and Japanese politicians.

End of Part 1.


Peter said...

Very, very astute of you to have picked up on the two things that all other histories of WWII gloss over, that of allocating money for war almost two years prior to the supposed 'surprise' of Pearl Harbor and the instituting of a draft. Apparently there was longer term planning involved in all this. Allowing thousands of our own servicemen to die at Pearl Harbor just shows the utter cynicism and amorality of the ruling classes here. Other people's lives mean absolutely nothing to them whether it's those of our military or those of the residents of whatever country we've targeted.
America boosters claim Lend Lease saved the USSR, that without it they would have lost. The Russians acknowledge that it helped but state it only amounted to 5% of their war equipment and could have been done without were that to have been the situation. Wonder what the real story is with that. Any good sources on it?

AmericanGoy said...


Thanks for the comment.

It boggles my mind that I am one of the few who realized how peacetime draft, record military budget, and, especially, the ABC conferences (1 and 2) with the British basically spelled out how the war will happen, complete with predicting the Japanese attack on America.

Lend Lease was (IMHO) VERY helpful to USSR, first, for the trucks (GM trucks) which allowed the Soviets to be extremely mechanized (used to transport supplies, ammo and fuel, to rapidly advancing tank units) and, secondly food - spam (am not kidding).

Also useful was the technology input which the NKVD did not steal yet - the Soviets didn't like, say, Western Allied tanks (Who did? Our own guys hated them), but they did like the modern visors, targetting systems in tanks/planes, radios provided etc.

In the view of mainstream historians, Lend Lease allowed Soviets to speed up their advances in 1944/45, and to keep up the rapid pace of advance.

Incidentally, I figure that Operation Bagration was much more important than D-Day to the outcome of WW2.

Anonymous said...

Brilliant post, American Goy and I really do agree with you. But I have one question, why did the British go to war with Germany? Adolf Hitler wanted the British Empire to survive (initially at least) as a bulwark against communism. On the other hand the Soviet Union wanted the British Empire dead as well as the way of life of ordinary Britons in the home islands was threatened by Soviet communism. And unlike the Emperor Wilhelm I of WW1 Germany the Third Reich had no desire to build an overseas empire. Both the U.S.S.R and the Third Reich attacked Poland whom the British had sworn to protect so why did they selectively declare war on the Third Reich and not on the U.S.S.R? Why would the British want to see Germany destroyed??

AmericanGoy said...

Anonymous said...

"Brilliant post, American Goy and I really do agree with you. But I have one question, why did the British go to war with Germany?"

UK politics has always been to divide and conquer in Europe so that they would be free of European competition in their colonies and would be left alone on their little island.

Look back on your history, even back to 1700's.

France got too strong and is too aggressive? Go with the Dutch.

The Dutch get too uppity? Support France and Spain.

Spain is too big? Go foment Dutch rebellion and send expeditionary corps.

Napoleon is too big for his britches? Do brilliant political actions in Russia and Spain to bring these enemies (both Spain and Russia were in Napoleon's camp at the start) to your side.

In late 1930's, the politics of the UK was to send Germany into combat with the Soviets, but unfortunately the damn Poland screwed up the calculations by being in the way and anyway hitler was getting too dangerous by actually gobbling up France and then Scandinavia and the Balkans, so they went with their enemy number 2 the Soviet Union.

War is cold calculation and Machiavellian politics, but once the shooting starts, hot hearts take over and short of a successful UK invasion by Germany no peace was possible.

Germany in 1940's had to be destroyed because they got too uppity; once that was done, all support was thrown to West Germany and communist Yugoslavia (and even Romania which was somewhat apart from the Soviets).

hitler in the 1940's could not be trusted, as he broke EVERY agreement he ever signed with anybody, every single one - so surrendering would just make it easier to invade the SU much earlier, and lead to Germany winning the war.