Quick notes to save myself five hundred tweets and multiple people complaining and nngrm tagging in Fashy Livvi –
The following is a list of events leading up to WWII. Underlying counterfactual: If Germany had had different leadership, would there have been a war? The tl;dr: WWII in the Pacific Theater was already a foregone conclusion before the NSDAP had ever broken 20% in a German election. There is no probable alternate timeline in which any change in German politics after 1931 could have prevented a gradual escalation to war between the U.S. and Japan. Meanwhile in Europe, the most significant feature of the war – years of slaughter along an endless front in Eastern Europe, ending in the Bolshevik rape and occupation of half of Europe – was not something that can be blamed on specific anti-Bolshevik politicians, but was a generic feature of long-term planning in Stalin’s USSR. If anything, the most solid counterfactual claim we can make about the USSR’s invasion of its neighbors is that if some other German leader had taken a more belligerent approach to the USSR in the late ’30s, the first phase of Soviet aggression and annexations would have been delayed, from 1939-1940 as happened historically to some later point when the USSR was ready for an immediate war. Only in the case of the outbreak of war between Germany and France (and subsequently, Germany and England) can there really be any question about whether some sort of war was likely or inevitable in the absence of Hitler’s specific strategy/timing of his demands. The Treaty of Versailles set the stage for festering territorial and economic grievances. Casus belli were everywhere, unambiguous means for resolving them nowhere. My conclusion is it is quite likely that any German party or leader which put an end to the Weimar period would have eventually found itself on the receiving end of declarations of war from some combination of France, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and the United Kingdom. But these counterfactual scenarios deserve more attention than I can give them here, and the outcome is not as certain as in the other two theaters of WWII.
A. The Mukden Incident occurred in 1931. By 1932 Japan had a friendly satellite in Manchuria and a permanent garrison in Shanghai. Given the unstable internal dynamics of the Guomindang, Jiang Jieshi was not going to be able to accept this defeat indefinitely. (The only scenario I can imagine in which the Guomindang would not continue escalating into a full-fledged war is one in which Jiang Jieshi purged the Guomindang with Japanese support. Unlikely!)
B. In the 14 September 1930 elections NSDAP received 18% of the vote. The Socialist/Centre coalition had a net loss of three seats and Chancellor Heinrich Brüning continued to govern without a functioning majority (Brüning’s policies could only be implemented by presidential decree). On 31 July 1932, NSDAP won a plurality for the first time, with 37% of the vote (and a gain of +123 seats), but since no party had a majority or was willing to work with other parties who could give it a majority, government by decree continued. Only after the elections of 6 November 1932, where NSDAP won 33% of the vote, did the negotiations between the Centre Party, National People’s Party, and NSDAP begin.
C. In December 1936, junior Guomindang officers kidnapped Jiang Jieshi in a power play to force him to invade Manchuria. The Guomindang power structure was re-shuffled, plans for a final offensive against the Chinese Communists were shelved, and in mid-July 1937 the Guomindang duly provoked a full-scale war with skirmishes around the Marco Polo Bridge in Manchuria. The U.S. immediately condemned “Japanese aggression” and began simultaneously enforcing an ever-growing list of trade restrictions, and funneling an ever-growing river of material aid to Jiang’s corrupt, incompetent war effort. The more Japan attempted to interdict this aid, the tighter the U.S. embargo on Japan became. By October 1940 Roosevelt was assuring his inner circle that the cycle of escalation had made war with Japan inevitable.
D. Meanwhile on the other side of Eurasia, (((Bolshevik))) designs on Europe were brewing. In 1919 the Red Army simply could not extricate itself from the many disasters of its civil war decisively enough to save Bela Kun in Hungary or defend its own claims in Poland or Lithuania (let alone save the Spartacus League). However, once the Bolsheviks made peace with their neighbors, sent their internal enemies off to perpetual peace, and began to organize the bloody transformation of Russia and Ukraine along Bolshevik lines, they could begin to rebuild. Global revolution was never far from their mind – not least because the failure of “the revolution” to spread to Europe’s industrial core would bankrupt the ideology that supposedly unified them. Stalin’s ultimate timeline for invading Europe is controversial. Some say 1944; a minority opinion is that Germany’s 22 June 1941 invasion was timed to disrupt a very real Soviet plan for a mid-July 1941 invasion. I don’t want to be too quick to dismiss this claim, because I haven’t read any of the work by Rezun, Meltyukhov, or their partisans. Regardless, three things are clear.
- Stalin is to Trotsky as Nixon is to Kennedy; just as only Nixon could go to China, Stalin’s course in the continuum of Bolshevik ideological factions made it natural for him to promise to build robust future expansion on the foundation of his “Socialism in One Country”. Party line was that the international structure of interwar capitalism was absurd (true!) and was bound to collapse into warfare once again (borne out by events!), and that the USSR would re-build its strength and strike (((a decisive blow))) for the working class once the rival factions of imperial capitalism had exhausted themselves. Events after 1939 certainly did not dispel this doctrine and there is absolutely no reason to believe this was not the strategy Stalin intended to follow.
- Soviets never abandoned expansionist goals except as imprudent and immature. They expanded in Central Asian in the 1930s whenever it seemed convenient. In 1934 Commissar (((Litvinov))) was shopping around pacts whereby the USSR would occupy Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania: first to Germany (Hitler’s veto led to the resignation of crypto-Bolshevik Ambassador Nadolny), then to France.
- As soon as they felt they could do so without consequences, the Soviets stabbed Poland in the back; within two weeks, started delivering ultimata to the Baltic states; and then invaded Finland, where they became bogged down only when they realized they had bitten off more than they could chew.
E. The level of committment of England, France, and the United States in a new European war is the most complicated and difficult to unravel. I will only say this much now, with a promissory note for later, if there is any interest:
- The political economy of interwar Europe was completely fubar. Huge quantities of resources had been lent by citizens to governments (their own, and their allies’). Confiscatory levels of either (i) taxation or (ii) inflation were the only realistic options for repayment; but both these, and the equally confiscatory option of (iii) default, could be vetoed by domestic political constituencies.
- And on top of the debt itself, most governments had undertaken to indemnify property owners against the value of property destroyed during the war (a humungous sum) and to guarantee the newly-demobilized infantrymen a higher quality of life than the working class had previously known. Not cheap!
- Part of the fiasco of Versailles was the illusion that Germany would solve its problems and its enemies problems by taxing/confiscating the entire property of the German landed and industrial elite to pay everyone’s obligations. But obviously this solution was as unlikely to actually be tried in Germany as in any other capitalist country.
- On top of all this illogic, Germany’s enemies expected there would be net flows of goods from Germany to them (strengthening their balance sheets) but net flows of exports from them to Germany (strengthening their industry and satisfying their working class). Against folly, the gods themselves contend in vain.
- These absurd mechanics of the interwar economic system created at Versailles made deflationary depressions a near-certainty for any countries who stayed on the gold standard. But the loss of national sovereignty which the joint supervision of the Versailles articles entailed meant that no mainstream political parties were willing to contemplate rejecting core principles of the transnational elite: principles like the gold standard, for example.
- Beyond (but intersecting with) economic squabbles, the ostensible ideology of ethno-nationalism invoked to justify the interwar boundaries drawn at Versailles and Trianon clashed messily with the reality that France wanted Germany ringed in by states able to resist Germany and likely to oppose Germany. This guaranteed a Europe with a maximum number of border disputes, a minimum willingness to cooperate on shared interests, and a total lack of any common principle to disambiguate “legitimate” from “illegitimate” claims and counter-claims.