Lessons from WWII, 70 years later | Rich Elfers

The 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe is upon us. This war was a shock to several nations. It signaled the end of world domination of one group of nations as major world powers – Germany, France and the United Kingdom – and saw the rise of two nations that would spend the next 45 years competing for domination during the Cold War.

  • by
  • Friday, May 22, 2015 6:05pm
  • Opinion

The 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe is upon us. This war was a shock to several nations. It signaled the end of world domination of one group of nations as major world powers – Germany, France and the United Kingdom – and saw the rise of two nations that would spend the next 45 years competing for domination during the Cold War.

The two victorious nations, the United States and the Soviet Union, would draw different conclusions from this war and what preceded it that affects their nations’ thinking to this day, according to Stratfor’s George Friedman’s May 12 article called, “World War II and the Origins of American Unease.”

Both nations experienced shocks that drew them into war. For the Soviet Union it was the fall of France in just a few weeks in 1940. The Soviets had wanted to form a set of alliances with Britain and France against Germany as the Russian czar had done before World War I, but neither France nor Britain was interested in an alliance.

This forced Stalin, the Soviet leader, to make a pact with Hitler, which helped to expand the Soviet Union’s western border without much effort. Poland was divided in half by the Germans and Russians. This non-aggression pact provided an even deeper buffer for the Soviets against an attack from the West.

Stalin’s thinking was that Germany would repeat its World War I plan by attacking France and Britain, wasting its soldiers and resources, thus giving the Russians time to prepare to attack Germany at a time of their choosing.  It didn’t turn out that way.

The collapse of the French army, which, according to Friedman, was superior to the Germans in many ways, came as a shock to Stalin. He never conceived that an army, which fought the Germans to a standstill from 1914 to 1918, would fall so quickly.

Instead of the Soviet Union attacking Germany, it was Germany choosing the time and place to attack them. The Soviet Union, still recovering from one of Stalin’s purges, was unprepared for the German onslaught. They were pushed back along a thousand mile front by the German invasion in 1941.

The lesson the Soviet Union came away with from the war, according to Friedman, was that military might, not coalition building, must be the chief strategy. After World War II, Eastern Europe was occupied and its nations were treated as satellites rather than allies. The countries that joined the Warsaw Pact, while undependable, provided strategic depth from another western invasion. The rapid fall of France had deeply shaken the Soviets.

The United States had suffered two shocks, the Great Depression of the 1930s and then the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. America as a nation has always been optimistic, but these two events rattled us and changed our strategic equation. Not only had we miscalculated the coming of the Great Depression, but we also had greatly underestimated the competence of the Japanese military, and thus paid anenormous price at Pearl Harbor.

According to Friedman:

“The Great Depression and Pearl Harbor created a different sensibility that

suspected that prosperity and security were an illusion, with disaster lurking behind them. There was a fear that everything could suddenly go wrong,

horribly so, and that people who simply accepted peace and prosperity at face value were naïve. The two shocks created a dark sense of foreboding that undergirds American society to this day.”

The British and French Munich doctrine of appeasement in response to German aggression was the cause of the war. From this the United States concluded that we must respond more quickly in the future to aggression. Non-involvement meant a slip into a third world war. That’s why the U.S. intervened over and over again in places like Berlin, Korea, Cuba, and Vietnam. No president, either Republican or Democrat, could bear to be labeled an “appeaser”.  Eternal vigilance became the new American watchword.

That’s also why our response after 9/11 was so swift and aggressive.  The United States has been in a state of permanent mobilization, according to Friedman, since Pearl Harbor. But even that preparedness did not save us from Al-Qaeda. As a result, the government has spent billions of dollars on intelligence gathering.

This hypervigilance only increases with each terrorist attack both inside and outside our country. This fear that disaster is lurking just around the corner has divided this nation and made us edgy. Russia, too, is influenced by the lessons it has drawn from World War II, and is acting accordingly in Ukraine. Both nations are living with this legacy of uncertainty brought about by events that occurred over 70 years ago this year.


More in Opinion

U.S., Russia agree on Middle East situation

Since Russia helped Syria’s Bashar al-Assad stay in power and helped to defeat ISIS, are Russia and the U.S. at odds in the Middle East? Is Russia threatening American dominance in the region? The answer to both is no.

Page-turners: Best books of 2017

Continuing an end-of-year tradition that dates back more than 15 years, the King County Library System has chosen its Best Books of 2017.

Anthem protests about equality, not disrespect

For all who write negative comments about the football players who took a knee and posted that “this is not the America we grew up in,” let me share a few of the personal events from my life growing up in Tacoma Washington as a white woman.

Trump supporters’ attitude still the same

“Support Trump? Sure,” she said. “I like him.” These words by Pam Shilling from Trump Country western Pennsylvania reflect what many Trump supporters are thinking a year after the 2016 election victory, according to an article excerpted from “Politico.com” by “The Week” (Dec. 1, 2017).

Readers note: Change in comments section

The Courier-Herald has switched to a different online reader-comments platform.

Former fan finished with disrespectful NFL players

I lived off the grid for 15 years and the one thing I missed the most was watching pro football.

Carrying firearms about to change at the state Capitol

If you come to the state Capitol and want to see lawmakers in action, there are a few rules to follow while sitting in the galleries overlooking the Senate and the House floors.

America’s monster

I’m not sure when it happened, but I recently realized I’ve stopped asking myself, “What are we going to do about mass shootings and gun violence in this country?” Instead, I now ask, “When is the carnage going to come to Enumclaw?”

Avoiding loss means more than gaining something else

Some studies have shown that losses are twice as psychologically powerful as gains. American history and our current political situation help reveal a great deal about the American/human psyche.

Congratulations, Jan Molinaro

In every election, one person must win and the other will lose. Now more than ever, it is important to show our children how to be gracious in victory and humble in defeat.

Don’t give into the pressure of driving drowsy

Eleven years ago, a drowsy-driving car wreck left me with injuries that still challenge me today.

Opening our minds can be a beautiful thing

As a leader of my church’s Sunday Adult Forum, I had a goal: to put a human face on Islam for the members of the congregation and community.