Week Two Reading

Week 2 – 2/4 to 2/11
Stokesbury, A Short History of World War II (69-122)

Ron’s Responses
1. To what extent did the realities of democracy slow or stop the ability of France and Great Britain to halt the German blitzkrieg into Poland in the fall of 1939?
The wheels of democracy move slowly, especially compared to the wheels of dictatorship and totalitarianism. Add in a militaristic viewpoint of the world and a very reserved approach to policing “rogue” actions and you create the very situation that took place at the onset of World War II. I was very interested to read about the reluctance of French and British military leaders and their vastly distorted estimations of allied versus German might. Stokesbury basically is contending that WWII could have been avoided if British and French military leaders had a more accurate sense of reality. “There is virtually no doubt that had [Britain and France] attacked vigorously, they could have broken through the thin screen of Germans to and across the Rhine. They could, and should, have easily defeated Germany, and the second World War would have never gotten off the ground.” (p. 75) The finger points more at the politicians, and rightly so, of those countries who were more than happy to accept the answer their generals gave them. In a democracy the military reports to the representatives of the people and while their answers are not supposed to be political, the politicians make it that way in their questioning and focus.

It was very convenient to not entertain the possibility of taking decisive action in support of an ally against a force that was not prepared to a concerted effort. At least by Stokesbury’s accounts, and I thought he laid the argument out quite convincingly, WWII was avoidable even after September 1, 1939 if the wheels of Democracy worked a bit faster and less cautious. Actually, not even less cautiously, just plain scared of another war of any magnitude. What they ended up with was a war that shifted the power structure of the world for at least the next century. For the record, while I don’t disagree with Stokesbury’s conclusions, I feel he takes too strong of a stance on this. His argument is well supported but overly simplistic with too many “what-ifs” left hanging for my preference. I’m sure he could convince me, but for now I’m a skeptic.

5. How did the people of Great Britain respond to the air raids?  In what ways was it Britain’s “finest hour” (114)?
The Battle of Britain stands out as the lead turning point of the European Theatre of World War II. Like Stokesbury said, “Had Britain succumbed, it is difficult to see how the war against Hitler would ever have been won.” (p. 114). He also makes the case that while the Battle of Britain emboldened the United States to get involved, it was a victory won solely by the British. “Britain saved herself by her own efforts, not by future goodwill,” Stokesbury said (p. 114). Those efforts included bringing Londoners to their knees and compelling them to unite together to not just survive, but make their best attempt to carry-on. It also allowed the British to hit Berlin with bombs putting pressure on civilians and politicians in Hitler’s backyard.

Stokesbury doesn’t come right out and say it, but Britain’s ability to hit Berlin emboldened the British as much as it demoralized the Germans. Not on a large scale, at least not yet, but it did a lot to prove the point that the British were strong and not being defeated. It’s hard to say you are winning when you have the enemy on the ropes and they still manage to land punches on your face. Much like in WWI where both sides wore each other out until new players arrived on the scene, the Battle of Britain bought enough time and allowed the allies to gather enough intelligence, for the United States to show up on the scene and be the game changer.

On a side note…
Something that keeps coming to my mind as I read is the lack of intelligence both sides had about each other. It really brings to light the extreme craving for intelligence that dominated the Cold War. Major mistakes were made in the bulid-up and fighting of WWII due to poor intelligence. Not that they gathered it all correctly during the Cold War, but there was such a more impressive effort to out think and outwit the opponent which brings us to today where intelligence is where the battles will likely begin and only after an enemy’s “intelligence infrastructure” is destroyed will a full-scale militaristic attack ensue. Just a random thought…

Matti’s Responses
2. Why was Finland (and later Norway) a key territory for the Germans to control?
Finland and Norway were major acquisitions for the Germans. By controlling them they were able to increase the flow of Swedish Iron ore, which was absolutely necessary to German industry and the creation of war materials. Also the German’s were able to with the taking of Finland and Norway destroy British and French moral with the crushing of the British Navy. This also allowed them to block the encroaching British naval blockade, thus setting them up for, as one could say, “smooth sailing” further on down the road. In addition to crushing enemy moral the Germans also were able to boost their own moral and allow their empire to appear larger and more impressive.

3. In Norway, how did air power trump sea power?
When it came to the Winter War , the skies were key. The foggy coasts of Norway made Britain’s pride and joy, the Royal Navy, obsolete. The advancements made by Germany in aviation by the time of the Winter War made the large slow moving ships, easy targets because while the large ships were easily visible by German air craft the air crafts themselves were not as easily spotted through the cloud cover and were much harder to shoot back at resulting in the sinking of many ships. The significance of air power had up until this time been largely ignored and Britain had felt overly confident that her navy could win where ever it could float. This meant that aside from the initial significance of sinking several British ships and obtaining Finland, the psychological effects caused by this as well made it so that the German people themselves not only felt as though their air power trumped Britain but that they as a people trumped them as well.

My favorite quote this week…
Is from page 103, ” After their delegation signed the surrender terms, Hitler danced his little victory jig outside the railway carriage and ordered that it be hauled off to Germany. He left the statue of Foch, but the plaque commemorating Germany’s surrender twenty-two years ago was blown up. ” I don’t know why but I don’t exactly see Hitler as the jig dancing type and I had to go back and reread this section to myself a few times before I was able to carry on I thought it was so funny!

 


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