Several generations must pass before a war can be assessed objectively. My parents thought that the First World War was a noble cause. They had to believe this, because their fathers had fought in Europe. Now we are able to assess this war more objectively. When I studied the causes of World War 1 at high school, it quickly became obvious that the First World War was a costly and pointless war. The whole thing was a great mess. The leaders of Europe blundered into war, with no understanding of what it would cost and what they hoped to achieve. The First World War is now widely viewed as a terrible mistake.

The accepted wisdom is that World War 2 was a good war. Hitler was going to take over the entire world. If we had not won this war, the entire world would be speaking German and greeting each other with "Heil Hitler". This caricature is even sharper in the United States. Americans rescued the foolish Europeans by defeating Hitler and making the world safe for democracy. Walter Lind sums up the common view.

At present, most Americans know only a comic-book version of history, one in which Germany deliberately started both World Wars as part of a drive to conquer the world, a drive stopped when valiant American armies defeated the German army. And, oh yes, some Brit named Churchill beat the Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain. Thanks to the victories of the freedom-loving allies, we now live in the best of all possible worlds, where everyone can be a "democracy".

Not only is this view widely accepted among Christians, it is used as a justification for the just war theory. World War 2 is the good war that proves that Christian militarists are right.

We are now beginning to get a clearer view of the Second World War. Sufficient time has passed for a more objective evaluation of the war to emerge. Two recent books that will upset some people contribute to a better understanding of the causes and conduct of this war. When the dust settles, I believe that we will be less certain that this war was a good and just war.

I recently heard an interview with Nicholson Baker, an American novelist and author of Human Smoke: the Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilisation. He has studied newspaper commentary on the war and has some interesting thoughts about it. He challenges some widely held beliefs about the war.

  1. The Western response made everything worse

  2. The Western leaders decided on a military response to Hitler. The result was the second-worst five years of human history.

  3. The bombing gave power to the most rabid Nazis and justified their attack on the Jews. War distorts everything.

  4. The people who saw most clearly the threat to Jews from Hitler were pacifist voices. They said that a military response would make things worse for the Jews. Declaring war and closing the borders with Germany, trapped Jews who were in the process of escaping. It would have been better to have kept the borders open and allowed more Jews to escape. They were opposed by militarists in Britain and the United States. The sad reality was that it was easier for Roosevelt and Churchill to fight a war than to let more Jews into the United States or the United Kingdom.

  5. The bombing of Germany did not make sense. Churchill believed that a slow war of attrition would cause Germans to overthrow Hitler. It actually propped up the most extreme elements in Germany by uniting the people behind them.

  6. The air raids against Germany strengthened the violence against Jews. The Nazis could slaughter the Jews with nothing to lose.

  7. The attempt to starve Germany into a revolt against Hitler was a crazy idea. The idea of making Germany surrender through bombing raids was completely flawed and had the opposite effect. Both ideas came from Winston Churchill.

  8. The advocates of war always exaggerate the benefits of war and minimise the costs. They often cover up their real objectives. If the war is won, the advocates of war write the history, but these initial histories of war are generally unreliable, because they are written to justify the actions taken. Often, the generation who believed their claims and fought the war have to pass on, before the truth about the war can emerge.

  9. Churchill was a great writer. He wrote the history of both world wars. Unfortunately, he was also a key participant in both events, so he was not an unbiased commentator.

Patrick Buchanan takes a similar view in Churchill, Hitler and The Unnecessary War: How Britain Lost its Empire and the West Lost the World.

  1. The problem started at the end of World War 1, when large regions with a majority of German-speaking people into Poland and Czechoslovakia. This gave Hitler a justification for attacking these nations.

  2. British leaders made a serious blunder when they capitulated to US demands in 1921 and threw over a faithful Japanese ally of 20 years. Tokyo took its revenge, 20 years later, by inflicting the greatest defeat in British history, the surrender of Singapore and an army of 80,0000 to a Japanese army half that size.

  3. The fatal blunder was the decision in March 1939 to hand a war guarantee to a neo-fascist regime of Polish colonels who had joined Hitler in the rape of Czechoslovakia. Britain gave Warsaw a blank check to go to war over a town, Danzig, the British themselves thought should be restored to Germany. The result was the Hitler-Stalin Pact and a six-year war that left scores of millions dead, Europe in ruins, the British Empire bankrupt and breaking, 10 European nations under the barbaric rule of Joseph Stalin and half a century of Cold War. Had there been no war guarantee to Poland, there might have been no war, no Nazi invasion of Western Europe and no Holocaust.

  4. Britain went to war with Germany to save Poland. She did not save Poland, but she did lose the empire. And Josef Stalin, whose victims outnumbered those of Hitler 1,000 to one as of September 1939, and who joined Hitler in the rape of Poland, wound up with all of Poland, and all the Christian nations from the Urals to the Elbe.

  5. On March 31, 1939, Britain gave a blank check to Poland in its dispute with Germany over Danzig, a town of 350,000 Germans. Should war come, Britain would fight on Poland's side. Poland refused to negotiate, Adolf Hitler attacked, and Britain declared war. After six years, the British Empire collapsed. Germany was burnt to ashes. Poland entered the slave quarters of Joseph Stalin's empire.

  6. Hitler did not want to fight the British. He wanted to be accepted by them. He wanted to fight Stalin, partly because he thought he was superior and partly because he saw him as a threat. Hitler understood the threat of the Soviet Union more clearly than either Roosevelt or Churchill.

My Observations

Most people believe that it was necessary to get rid of Hitler. There are several problems with this idea.

  1. Hitler came into power as a result of the settlement imposed at the end of World War 1. Hitler was the product of a foolish war.

  2. The war destroyed Hitler, but left Stalin in control of most of Europe. He killed more people than Hitler, so I am not sure that this was a victory. Ditto with Communists in China.

  3. I wonder why God allowed Hitler to arise to power in Europe. Was this a judgment on a continent that was turning away from God. By destroying Hitler, the western powers may have opposed God's purposes for Europe. The fact that Europe is now the most godless place on earth suggests that this is true.

America did not singlehandedly win World War 2 war. On a per capita basis, New Zealand had twice as many casualties as the United States. However, the real price for the war was paid by the Soviet Union with 20 million deaths. It was the eastern front that broke Hitler, not D Day. The Russians had effectively defeated Hitler before D Day had even begun.

The real winner of the Second World War was Stalin's Russia. He gained control of most of Europe. The winner in the East was Communist China. Claiming a victory, but leaving warlords and dictators in control seems to be the American way.

In the parts of the world where America gained most control, West Germany and Japan, the kingdom of God has gone backwards. The problem is that pushing the American way is not the same as preaching the gospel. When I visited South Korea recently, I saw far more evidence of the American spirit, than I saw of the gospel. In contrast, the numbers of believers have increased in the Soviet Union and China.

America financed the war and supplied most of the military equipment, but itt prospered through doing so. The war created the military industrial complex that is so powerful in America today.

The common claim that we would be speaking German, if the US had not come to our rescue is a canard. Even if we had been conquered, the gospel might be more effective than if it is now.

God does not use nations to establish the Kingdom of God. He does not use military power to build his Kingdom. He will advance his Kingdom through the Holy Spirit working in his church.

I do not assess a war by whether it advanced democracy or freedom. My single criterion for assessing an historical event is whether it creates conditions that advance the kingdom of God. Looking at modern Europe, it is clear that the Second World War did not advance the Kingdom of God.

I have real doubts about whether World War II justified the enormous cost in human life.

Return to Defence and War.