Democracies are far slower to engage in full-scale warfare. When they do, it usually means they’ve been pushed to the limit by genocidal regimes.
In theory, there was no reason for World War Two to have been as bloody as it was.
The combined economic strength of the United Kingdom and France should have been enough to – at the very least – have ground down the German war machine.
Unfortunately, Germany had spent years building up their forces – often in secret using hidden debt (MEFO bills) – and took advantage of the anti-war sentiment in many democratic states.
That sentiment had – somewhat understandably given the horrors of World War I – led to lower military spending in both the United Kingdom and France.
In 1930, Germany spent about 1% of GDP on their military. That rose to about 10% by 1936, and 23% by 1939.
The United States was only spending 1.7% of GDP on their military in 1939. The United Kingdom was spending 6%, while France spent 5%.
So, Germany got a big head start, which they used to conquer much of Europe and butcher millions of people.
Eventually, the Allies caught up.
The heavily militarized Soviet Union – having started World War Two as a de facto ally of Germany as the two countries carved up Poland – was invaded by Germany in 1941.
After Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbour – and Germany’s declaration of war on the United States – the USA entered the war and continued to ramp up their military spending. That ramp up, combined with the massive size of the U.S. economy, enabled the U.S. to absolutely overwhelm the Axis countries with a flood of planes, ships, tanks, guns, trucks, and everything else needed to fight and win.
However, Germany’s early military production advantage wasn’t meaningless. It’s what allowed Germany to gain their initially dominant position in the war. And Germany’s production continued to increase as the war went on.
Until the Allied strategic bombing campaign.
While we take it for granted now that dropping relatively accurate bombs or launching missiles on an enemy nation or terrorist organization is a part of warfare, that wasn’t the case until World War Two – and not until later in the war.
Further, while the Allies made initial attempts at pinpoint bombing, the accuracy – though much improved – still left much to be desired.
Thus, there was a shift to ‘area bombing.’
In effect, if you knew that fascist Germany was building tank guns at a factory in Nuremberg, but your bombs weren’t that accurate, then the best way to halt or lower German tank production in Nuremberg would be to drop a ton of bombs on the industrial section of the city.
In Hamburg for example – a key location due to the shipyards and U-boat pens in the city – an Allied strategic bombing campaign in July of 1943 killed an estimated 37,000 people (some initial reports were higher), wounded about 180,000, and resulted in over half of all the homes in the city being destroyed.
Many German cities were left in near-total ruins by the time the war ended, a direct consequences of Germany choosing to launch a genocidal war and the Allies being forced to respond.
Difficult, but necessary
Germany also launched strategic bombing campaigns against the Allies.
About 60,000 British civilians were killed by Germany strategic bombing campaigns.
Many more Germans were killed by Allied Strategic bombing however, with anywhere from 300,000 to around 600,000 losing their lives.
Yet, very few would argue that the Allies should have made things ‘proportionate.’
After all, Germany started the war, and Germany was a genocidal state with a population that had elected a fascist party into power, and failed to overthrow that fascist party even as it launched war after war. Germany’s war economy was sustained by millions of workers, who went into factories every day to produce weapons that the German military than used to kill Allied soldiers, as part of the larger German effort to dominate Europe and much of Eurasia – dominance they would have used to commit genocide against upwards of 100 million people.
Defeating fascist Germany required destroying their economy, because that economy was being used to fuel a genocidal war machine.
Once Germany went all-in on genocide, and once they built their whole society around waging war, they left the Allied nations with no choice.
Additionally, since Germany’s population had been so thoroughly radicalized, many fought even when defeat was staring them in the face, which thus necessitated further strategic bombing by the Allies to hasten the total collapse of any possibility of German resistance.
After the war, strategic bombing was something that receded into the background. There are few movies that directly focus on it, as a long and sustained bombing campaign that slowly grinds down the economy of your enemy isn’t as easy a story to tell as a dramatic tank battle.
There was also a sense of guilt on the part of some in the victorious Allied nations, given the massive destruction meted out upon Germany.
But that guilt was a luxury made possible by victory. Had Germany not been defeated, the toll of strategic bombing would have been nothing compared to the mass murder that would have followed. Guilt over the strategic bombing campaign also ignores the fact that even as their armies fell apart, Germany devoted scarce resources and manpower to the Holocaust. Easing off on strategic bombing would have prolonged the war, and thus prolonged the Holocaust.
Allied strategic bombing was difficult, but morally justified and necessary.
Understanding the past, to understand the present
Why does understanding this matter?
Why should we seek to educate people about Allied strategic bombing?
Because it is essential to understanding the present.
Already, we are seeing people attempting to demonize Israel for bombing Hamas targets in Gaza.
Some of the images of Gaza resemble footage of Germany following Allied strategic bombing campaigns.
And that is no coincidence.
Gaza elected Hamas – an explicitly genocidal organization.
Hamas has directed a significant portion of Gaza’s money – and foreign aid given to the region – towards building up a massive stockpile of rockets and guns, and building the domestic capacity to produce those rockets.
Gaza – while not a large nation-state – has nonetheless managed to become heavily militarized, at great cost to the prosperity of their own people.
It goes without saying that a region of 2 million people governed by a genocidal regime that focuses on a massive weapons build-up is a significant threat.
And when that regime unleashes a truly barbaric orgy of violence that includes mass rape, mass torture, beheadings, mass murder, burning people alive, and hostage taking – all while explicitly stating their goal is the complete destruction of Israel, then that threat has to be dealt with.
To eliminate the threat from Hamas, Israel must strike at many targets, including Hamas’ rocket sites.
Hamas places those sites in civilian areas, and fires while civilians are around. Since Israel can’t just sit by and let Hamas endlessly fire rockets, Israel must respond. Thus, it is Hamas – not Israel – that is responsible for civilians being in those locations:
The same was true in World War II.
Germany couldn’t have built weapons for their genocidal war without workers in factories producing those weapons.
Since Germany refused to end the war, and since Germany kept the factories running, destroying the factories meant that the Allies would unfortunately kill many civilians.
But – as I noted at the start of this article – it took the Allies a long time to get to that point.
They appeased fascist Germany over and over again, overlooking violations of the Versailles Treaty, allowing Germany to seize territory, betraying Czechoslovakia, ignoring Germany’s illegal military build-up, and bending over backwards to avoid war.
Finally, the Allies realized – largely because Germany kept invading countries – that war was unavoidable.
Germany may have started the war, but the Allies finished it:
Like the Allies of World War Two, Israel has made endless concessions – including leaving Gaza entirely many years ago, and helping keep the power and water on in Gaza – even as Gaza’s regime continued to call for genocide against Israel.
Israel has also repeatedly given up land – land they seized in defensive wars against nations seeking to destroy them – for peace deals and stronger economic ties with their neighbors – the very same ones who had repeatedly invaded them.
In response to overtures of peace, co-operation, and compassion, Israel has been repeatedly attacked and is endlessly under threat.
Remember, Israel is tiny in terms of territory. They can’t give ‘trade space for time’ in war. They can’t lose and try again later.
If Israel loses a major war, Israel will no longer exist.
Hamas explicitly states they want Israel to stop existing.
Hamas launched a major war against Israel.
So what should Israel do now?
Should they sit back and let Hamas build up again for another attack?
Or should they take decisive action to ensure that genocidal Hamas no longer poses a threat?
The answer is obvious.
Just like the Allies had to make some very difficult decisions to beat the genocidal fascist regime of Germany at the time, Israel must make some very difficult decisions to ensure the genocidal Hamas regime is defeated.
This is what happens when democracies fight major wars. After endless concessions and endless efforts at peace, democracies coalesce into an understanding that enough is enough.
And when that happens, democracies fight with tremendous efficiency, unity, and ferocity – precisely because they had to be pushed so far to go to war in the first place.
The quote below sums it up:
“There are three things all wise men fear: the sea in storm, a night with no moon, and the anger of a gentle man.”
― Patrick Rothfuss, The Wise Man’s Fear
And so, understanding our own history in Canada as a proud Allied nation, and understanding that democratic nations have the right to take strong military action to defend themselves from genocidal foes, we must continue to stand with Israel as Israel does what needs to be done.
Photo – bombing of Germany by the Allies in World War II – YouTube