Isegoria recently said, “The more I learn about World War II the less sense it makes.”
I’m not sure there’s anybody who can better help us understand what happened than General Albert C. Wedemeyer. He was involved in the planning of the European strategy at the highest levels. Before the conclusion of the war in Europe, however, he was sent to China to lead the US efforts. As he puts it, “many American officers were to experience the close-up phases of warfare more intensively than I, but few were to have my opportunities to see the whole war.” And to talk strategy with Churchill, FDR, Chiang Kai-shek, the Chicom leaders, and many others.
Several other factors make Wedemeyer a particularly good source. He was an Old Rightist to some extent and he spent several years in Germany at the War College prior to WWII. Therefore, he knew a bunch of German officers and he was also less naive about Communism than the average American official (to put it . . . generously). If you don’t want to take it from me, take it from Moldbug, “if you want an accurate military history of the Second German War and its aftermath, which is also a primary source, I recommend Albert Wedemeyer’s memoir on the American side.”
The question that I’m most interested in – with respect to the Second German War – is, as Wedemeyer puts it:
how and why the United States became involved in a war which was to result in the extension of totalitarian tyranny over vaster regions of the world than Hitler ever dreamed of conquering.
Not to mention killing more people than Hitler ever dreamed of. Anyway, Wedemeyer’s is a good question, no?
Perhaps it’s best to start in Europe and then in Asia. After we’ve gone through the background we can explore the problems with US peace “strategy,” since the problems are nearly identical in both theaters.
Wedemeyer views the European war as analogous to the Peloponnesian War. In both wars, a sea power (Athens/Britain) fought a land power (Sparta/Germany) with the ultimate result being the victory of an outsider (Macedon/Russia). The outsider ended up as “the sole beneficiary of the suicidal internecine quarrel of the West.” This, of course, doesn’t explain why the US jumped into the war that only Russia won.
When I recently reviewed Senator Joseph McCarthy’s book on the aftermath of WWII, I noted that there are two possible explanations for America’s grand strategy for “peace” after the war. The first, more charitable, explanation is McCarthy’s, namely that America’s strategy was run by Communist agents. The second explanation, which is Wedemeyer’s, is that America’s leaders were really bad strategists or just, frankly, dumb. In his own words, “we were just that naive.”
I would tend to agree with Wedemeyer’s conclusion, but it’s easy to see why McCarthy relied so heavily on Wedemeyer’s book.
(Wedemeyer staunchly defends Marshall from McCarthy’s attacks. In the end, the best defense Wedemeyer can muster for Marshall is that he was very very old and very very tired by the end of the war and on into the peace. Frankly, if I was Marshall, I might have preferred McCarthy’s attack to Wedemeyer’s defense.)
In Europe, Wedemeyer’s preferred approach was a all out assault on Northern France as soon as possible. He believed this would strike a decisive blow against the Germans and allow the Allies to gain as much territory as possible in Europe (even in ’41 his plans involved minimizing Russian gains in Europe). This plan was premised on the (widely held) belief in 1942 that Russia would not be able to hold out against the Germans much long. According to Wedemeyer, it was also Marshall’s plan.
Wedemeyer was very frustrated by Churchill’s desire to attack the Germans around the periphery. Ultimately he viewed the invasion of North Africa, Sicily and Italy as unnecessary. It was not (logistically) possible to invade Germany from those point. The effect of the Churchill strategy was to delay victory for several years.
Wedemeyer blames the British for some American strategy screw-ups. On this point, I think Wedemeyer is wrong. He devotes many words to condemning Churchill’s strategy in Germany – specifically he thought Churchill should have let the German’s and the Russian’s fight each other until they were exhausted. At that point, the British should have intervened to essentially restore the pre-war status quo.
Unless I’m missing something, Churchill’s plan to attack Germany on the periphery would have the result Wedemeyer outlined. He seems to simultaneously want to condemn the Allied strategy for being overly aggressive and not aggressive enough.
Churchill’s plan was not too tentative – as Wedemeyer says, a tentative plan would have been fine (let the Germans and the Russians fight until one is about to collapse). The strategic error was seeking a middle ground between the Wedemeyer/Marshall-invade-France-now plan the the Churchill plan. The worse error would come later though.
Nevertheless – from a overall strategic standpoint – I have lots of sympathy for Wedemeyer’s position. Oddly, and perhaps coincidentally, no one seems to have planned what to do after North Africa, Sicily and Italy were taken. The result was that the Allies pursued the worst possible strategy. These Mediterranean invasions delayed decisive action in France and they didn’t lead to any decisive actions themselves. In the meantime, the Russians did not fold under German advances.
Again, I think Wedemeyer probably should have changed positions in 1943 and 1944 – at that point a Southern invasion (however logistically complicated) made more sense that his original plan from 1941/42.
Wedemeyer arrived in China to find that the country had basically nothing, despite their loyalty and the fact that they were the only ones fighting the Japanese for so long. Wedemeyer wryly notes that, “perhaps if China had followed France’s example and let herself be occupied with little resistance, waiting to be rescued eventually by the United States, her postwar fate would not have been so tragic.”
He arrived to find China in the midst of a Civil War while it was being invaded by the Japanese. Wedemeyer found the US General in charge in China, General Stilwell, was completely sympathetic to the Chicoms while totally opposed to Chiang. He also had some State Department advisers (Davies, Service, Ludden and Emerson – see here) who were also, shall we say, sympathetic to the Chicoms.
To make a very long story short, Wedemeyer believes we totally screwed the Nationalists. We promised them supplies that we never delivered. We asked them to single-handedly hold off the Japanese for years without any support from the Chicoms. We demanded that they work with the Chicoms, who in turn refused to work with the Nationalists unless the Nationalists basically gave in to the Chicoms. We then refused to sell arms to the Nationalists, guaranteeing their defaeat.
Before we end this section, we must point out that MacArthur and Nimitz believed no land invasion of Japan was necessary. In the worst case, we could starve the mainland. In other words, there was no reason for Russia to enter the war in Asia.
If you’re really into this stuff, Wedemeyer’s report to Truman on China and Korea that was suppressed by Marshall (for making his plan look like it played right into Communist hands) makes very interesting reading.
Winning the Peace
Wedemeyer believes that the US war objective:
should have been the maintenance of the Monroe Doctrine and the restoration of a balance of power in Europe and the Far East. The same holds true for England, whose national interest, far from requiring the annihilation of her temporary enemies, was irretrievably injured by a “victory” which immensely enhanced Soviet Russian territory, power and influence.
The balance of power concept is key to understanding his preferred peace strategy.
In Wedemeyer’s ideal post war world, a non-devastated Germany would have been able to ally with other European countries to hold off Russia. Similarly, a non-Communist China and a non-devastated Japan would have been able to balance (or make negligible) Russia’s power in the East.
In Wedemeyer’s telling, it was US insistence on unconditional surrender that guaranteed Russian victory in both theaters. Obviously, Russia wanted all three countries totally destroyed. The resulting power vacuums in both Europe and Asia could only be filled by . . . Russia.
Wedemeyer’s plans were discussed among all the major Allied decisionmakers. Nevertheless, the US and the British chose to demand unconditional surrender. Wedemeyer hints, a couple times, that such demands may be the consequences of democracies going to war (he avoids saying so explicitly, so I’m left wondering his thoughts might have been on this subject).
Toward the end of the war in both theaters, Allied officials knew that both countries were willing to give up long before the fighting actually ended, as long as the Allies didn’t demand unconditional surrender.
The Allies would stop at nothing other than unconditional surrender, even though doing so got more troops killed, made the enemies fight harder (“instead of encouraging the anti-Hitler Germans, we forced all Germans to fight to the last under a regime most of them hated”) and only could benefit the Russians. As Wedemeyer says:
To will or decide upon death and suffering for millions of human beings for the sole purpose of annihilating an enemy is immoral and uncivilized, and can only result in evil consequences. . . . Because we fought to win a military victory regardless of the consequences, we failed to bring about the better conditions which mights have justified our resort to war. . . . The irony of it all is that the Soviet empire is largely the result of our own creation.
And this is the good war?