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Most mistaken decision of WW2

LAURENCE REES: What would you say was the single most mistaken decision of consequence in WW2?

WILLIAM HITCHCOCK: Barbarossa is surely the No.1 stupidest decision of the Second World War. Mind you it doesn’t mean that if Hitler had not invaded the Soviet Union he would have won the Second World War, but he didn’t need to invade the Soviet Union then. He might not have needed to invade the Soviet Union at all to achieve most of his political and military objectives in central and western Europe. So it was a purely ideological decision and as a result there was a military failure.

I just want to introduce a different kind of decision though because I think we forget too much about the home front when talking about the Second World War. I think that the decision on the part of the United States to put American citizens of Japanese descent into prison camps stands out as one of the great shameful decisions in the Second World War. It is not sufficiently integrated into our national understanding of the Second World War in the United States and it should be. It did not have great military consequence but it has had a terrifically negative personal impact on the lives of thousands and thousands of American citizens of Japanese descent and origin and their families. It’s been a period of shame and humiliation for them that has taken almost half a century to finally set right.

LAURENCE REES: And it’s significant of course that they didn’t intern Germans or Italians…

WILLIAM HITCHCOCK: There’s actually an interesting sub plot in which Roosevelt and his advisors thought about interning Italian Americans and it lasted about 6 weeks when they did a little demographic study and discovered that there were so many Italian Americans in the state of New York that there was no way that politically they could possibly consider it. But that also shows you the dimension to which race was such a defining power marker in America in the era of the 1940s, and later of course.