Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Change One Thing

I am going to invite readers from other blogs to come comment on this one.

Change one thing in WWII to improve the outcome. There are few rules, only that it has to be one thing. Intervene militarily when Japan attacks Manchuria is actually many things. We cannot replay history, of course, and the cascade of events you posit would result from the small action is highly speculative. But make a case for it anyway. What cascade of events could flow from your small change?

Example: Britain declares war on Germany over Czechoslovakia looks at first as if it would imply many actions. But we know in hindsight that a declaration of war was the signal that would have activated the German military revolting against Hitler. The Germans might then have solved the whole thing themselves. What would have resulted might have been no better; hard to see how it would have been worse, however. The most likely outcome is less war. It is also only a small change. Britain came very near to a declaration of war at that point, but drew back.

Two days advance notice for Pearl Harbor would be marginal. We had a few hours warning we should have picked up on. We perhaps should have been prepared for such an event anyway. But there was no just-missed chance for us to have found out two days before. But go ahead and make the case anyway. We would have had a Pacific Fleet left. We would have weakened Japan’s air power, perhaps greatly.

My nomination: The Allied Command believes its own codebreakers that the codes for the North Atlantic shipping have been broken by the Germans in 1942. Enormous amounts of shipping were destroyed by German U-Boats, month after month, because they knew where the ships would be. Not just one, but dozens of codebreakers tried to inform their commanders that the codes being used were trivially easy to break. But most high-ranking naval officers believed that changing codes was too much of a difficulty, and not worth the effort, as it didn’t matter as much as those crazy intelligence people thought, anyway. The Allies considered invading France in 1943 instead of 1944 – the Americans pushed hard for this. But the British considered the supply lines inadequate and prevailed against the idea. We even assembled a mock invasion force, to see what the German response would be. They did not move resources to the coast of France. Had the previous shipping from America gotten through, a 1943 invasion would have been likely.

Invasion in 1943 would have avoided the slaughter at Normandy, where the Germans were dug in by 1944. But in 1943, enormous resources were still committed to the Eastern Front. Likely consequences: the Allies arrive at Berlin long before the Russians, leaving more of Eastern Europe free from communist rule. Half or more of the Jews killed in the Holocaust are saved. Patton’s fleeting wish to invade through Romania instead of Italy would have been more possible, freeing even more of Eastern Europe: Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, the Baltic states, and perhaps even Poland.

Okay, now you try it. Feel free to criticize my suggestions and each other’s. This is for entertainment purposes.


Anonymous said...

There are multiple "alternative histories that could have changed the world. My favorite one in WWII would have been for a French Armored Division to meet the German's at the bridges and byways when Germany re-occupied the Ruhr district in 1936. German Wehrmacht Officers have said that Germany might have folded at that point and the Wehrmacht overthrown the dictator for making bad guesses.

Anonymous said...

here's about Eva Braun catches Hitler in a torrid affair and murders him in a jealous rage?

Cappy said...

I have to agree with gm roper, citing the same German officers. Second choice, France & GB back up Czechs in 1938. It would have deprived Hitler of Czech munitions and they would have got going with one less year of German reamament.

Anonymous said...

Terri's suggestion put me in mind of Stephen Fry's book "Making History," in which a young grad student is able to prevent the birth of Hitler.

The outcome is not exactly what he hoped for...

jaed said...

We also have to take into account that in this alternate universe, we wouldn't have the benefit of knowing what the alternative was.

Example: Britain declares war on Germany over Czechoslovakia. German military officers overthrow Hitler, accompanied by political confusion and resulting violence. Army becomes a single faction, eventually resulting in takeover by dictator.

Historians: "It is widely agreed that Britain's disastrously aggressive declaration of war set the stage for the tragedies that followed: civil war in Germany, the deaths of up to ten thousand Germans in the unrest, and the loss of Germany's vital democratic tradition to dictatorship. If only we could go back in history and show the British the horror that their foolish declaration created!"

You see the problem. If you don't see the carnage that was avoided, you tend to assume the alternative to the carnage you did see would have been perfect peace.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

jaed - absolutely. Which is why the farther back in history you go, the less confidence you have that a positive change would turn out to be positive a hundred years later.

If we really had the power, I'm not sure any of us should dare to go back and change something even a year ago.

I set it up because it's entertaining, and hopefully gives us a proper humility.

Anonymous said...

Darn AVI, I was hoping to get through the day without any humility at all.

GM <---Walking away, head hanging humbly--->

David Foster said...

As gm roper said, the best time to pre-empt WWII would have been during the Rhineland crisis of 1936. The balance of forces against Germany was stronger then than it would be at the time of Munich. One reason for France's failure to act was lack of support from Britain. (The climate of opinion is indicated by one newspaper editorial which said a newspaper editorial: "There is no more reason why German territory should be demilitarized than French, Belgian, or British.")

Another reason is that France had only one mobilization plan, and pulling the trigger on that would greatly disrupt the country and the economy--something the politicians were not willing to do. There was no alternative plan for partial mobilization, which probably would have been sufficient to defeat the fairly small German force involved.

Andre Beaurfe, who was a young Captain on the French staff in 1936, and later became a general, describes the whole sad affair in his important book "1940: The Fall of France."

Assistant Village Idiot said...

For those who favor the 1936 intervention, what do you speculate that Japan would have done after?

Woody said...

We should have had a "League of Nations" and given Hitler twelve years of resolutions to be nice. Then, in the unlikely event of war, flooded the news with U.S. casualties and exaggerated reports of civilian deaths on a daily basis to undermine public support and bring the war to a premature end and hope for the best, all in the name of patriotism. We could throw in some reports, false but accurate, that our troops were raping women and killing babies. Then, we could say that the holocaust never happened. Oh, wait. I'm confusing this with the Iraqi war. My bad.

tomcal said...

What if Hitler had not been Anti-Semitic at all? What if he had somehow engaged the German Jewish population in his war effort. They fought for their country in World War I; I presume as valiantly as the rest of the German Population.

What if instead wasting tremendous energy and resources in trying to wipe out what could have been one of his greatest resources, the German Jewish Community, he had enlisted them in his campaign for world domination?

tomcal said...

To continue my post above - perhaps he could have enlisted their support by promising them that after the conquest of the middle east, that they would receive a homeland, maybe in Palestine.

Jerub-Baal said...

I can think of two possibilities. 1] Undersecretary of War Robert P. Patterson acto on Patton's conviction that the Soviets should be pushed back out of Eastern Europe after VE day. 2] Strike the reparations from the Treaty of Versailles. They were bad enough to be seen as punative, but not bad enough to actually prevent Germany from re-making its industrial base. They were also the reason that the French invaded the Ruhr in the first place (the Germans hadn't sent the required reparations).

In reality, WW II was the last in a long chain of linked-together European wars. The only reason that the chain was broken was that Germany was leveled and then rebuilt into a modern government and state at the allies whim, and that the British and Americans had the foresight to be benevolent in victory.

DRJ said...

There are several things I wish had happened differently during and prior to WWII. Of course, it would be ideal to avoid the whole thing, or at least anything that resulted in horrific suffering and deaths, but I'm not enough of an historian to speculate how altered events would impact history. Anyway, as Jaed and AVI mention, the alternatives might have been worse rather than better.

Nevertheless, I think I would be willing to redo Roosevelt's agreements at Yalta to almost anything else, and I'd bet the post-WWII free world would have been better off as a result.

BTW, my word verification is "suckpd." I hope that's not a statement on the intrinsic worth of my comment.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunate as it is to say, I really believe one of main reasons Hitler was really defeated and Nazi ideals don't hang on to this day (minus the freaks gathered in Iran), is Hitler had to build the extermination camps.

If you intervene too early in a movement where the participants are blind to their folly, it is like trying to drag an alcoholic to therapy while the good times are still happening.

And yes, I am trying to make a comparison in how we deal with the Islamofacists. Timing is critical. (And no we can't solve it without getting hurt or taking real risks)

Anonymous said...

Remember that after WWII the US sent the soldiers to College and they came out ready to work and innovate. Our presant day prosperity dates from that. The no-war alternative would have left the US in deep depression and ripe for the development of a dictator.