We have detected that you are using an older version of Internet Explorer and to have access to all the features on this site, you will need to update your browser to Internet Explorer 8. Alternatively, download Mozilla Firefox or Chrome.

The most mistaken decision of WW2

LAURENCE REES: And the single most mistaken decision?

GEOFFREY WAWRO: I think it’s those two decisions, the Japanese roll of the dice, if you will. The Japanese recognised that they were never going to win a long war with the United States. Even the United States distracted by a war in Europe would eventually come and defeat the Japanese Empire. Its vulnerabilities were too great, it was this island nation with insufficient resources and insufficient human material to stand a long war of attrition. So there was this spurious thinking going on inside Japan that the US was a weak, materialistic and consumerist society which lacked the sterner Japanese traits and attitudes, and that one demoralising blow would suffice to remove the United States from this conflict. They’d look at the cost of recovering from Pearl Harbour and resuming their hegemony in the Pacific and say, no, we’ll just cut a deal with Japan. I mean, that is folly on a grand scale, and that how that was able to percolate up to the top in Japanese circles is mystifying.

And then the German decision to invade the Soviet Union, I mean, there was a lot of debate, even inside a totalitarian system like Nazi Germany, about the pros and cons of invading the Soviet Union. And Hitler heard all the cons, and they were very good cons, about the cost, the distraction and how it would be far cheaper and more efficient to sort of keep the Soviets at arms length and use them as sort of a windpipe to bring in materials. But Hitler nevertheless took the fateful decision to invade. For him he had to also think about Soviet incursions toward Germany, I mean, they’d moved into Bessarabia in 1940 and they’d moved into the Baltic States in 1940 and they’d fought this war with Finland to try to pull Finland into this Soviet sphere of influence. In fact, their abysmal performance in that winter war was another reason for Hitler to think 'I could beat these guys'. But still it was an awful lot to take on when you were still sitting on a situation in the West that was far from decided.