Why the “Battle of France” was Arguably the Most Influential Battle of the 20th Century

Today the fall of France in 1940 is usually seen as an inevitability. However, at the time it was shocking to most people and none more so for the French and Germans themselves. Most experts of the day believed the French Army was the best in Europe, Churchill, Stalin and other leaders had confidence in it and even many of Hitler’s top generals thought invading France would be disastrous. At the time Britain and France were the foremost countries in the world; having the largest empires, most resources, and primary influence in world affairs. The “Battle of France” destroyed this geopolitical reality and set into motion many events that revolutionized world affairs.

The outcome of the “Battle of France” is what ultimately turned a localized war between Britain and France versus Germany into a global struggle which sucked in every major power and most countries of the world. Consider what happened after France fell in 1940. The era of relatively French and British domination of global affairs quickly collapsed as some major powers took advantage of the former two nations’ decline while the remaining ones became entangled in the subsequent struggles which followed France’s collapse.

Germany went from being a relatively constricted, and resource starved, nation into the most powerful country in Europe and a near super power within a few years. In fact after the 1941 Russian campaign Germany had more industry, population, and in general resources, than both Russia and Britain. Only American industrial might and the combined bomber offensive allowed the allies to outproduce and overwhelm the German war machine.

With France out of the way and Britain reduced to a mere nuisance Germany turned on the Soviet Union a year later and nearly destroyed it. However, the Soviet Union survived due to its tenacity, allied lend lease, and some luck, and by the end of the war she had gone from a pariah nation to one of the world’s two superpowers. Before the war the Soviet Union had little influence beyond her borders, after it she would compete for global influence against America in the “Cold War.”

Italy took advantage of France’s fall to enter the war and hoped to become the dominant power in the Mediterranean. Certainly the Italian armed forces generally did not make a good account of themselves but opening new fronts in the Mediterranean stretched British resources thin and the British themselves suffered many defeats when the Germans intervened to help their Italian allies. It also severely limited what forces the British could deploy to their colonies in the Far East. Ultimately though it would led to Italy’s defeat, Mussolini’s death, and the fall of Italian Fascism.

Japan also took advantage of the collapse of France to expand in Asia and the Pacific. With French power prostrate, Britain too busy fighting for its life in Europe and the Mediterranean, and America still clinging to neutrality, the Japanese at first stationed forces in French Indochina and later annexed it outright. Such Japanese actions, as well as its excessively brutal war in China, finally made America confront the Japanese by placing an oil embargo on Japan which effectively pushed the two to war. Initially Japan made major gains and conquests and thoroughly humiliated the European empires which helped lead to their downfalls after the war. In the end American industrial might, naval and air power and finally nuclear weapons dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki reduced Japan’s Imperial dreams to ash and rubble.

The “Battle of France” inevitably influenced America as well. Despite wanting to stay neutral America found herself more and more involved keeping Britain afloat with lend lease and aid and this increased tensions between her and Germany. Meanwhile the case regarding the Japanese occupation of French Indochina and the path to Pearl Harbor has already been stated. After Pearl Harbor Hitler took advantage of the Japanese attack by declaring war on the United States, hoping that his U-Boats would be able to decisively sever Britain’s maritime communications across the Atlantic. However, America’s intervention in the war would prove decisive in giving the allies the indisputable advantage. In a matter of 3 years America would not only become the foremost military power in the world (having the largest airforce and navy, as well as nuclear weapons) but also replace Britain and France as the most influential force in global affairs. She was also the strongest financial and industrial power having produced an astonishing 50% of all weapons during war, including 66% of all allied arms.

Due to France’s collapse, as well as the affects it subsequently had on these major powers and the world, there were also major shifts in the war’s aftermath. Certainly de-colonization and the spread of communism was accelerated thanks to the fall of France, the decline of British and French power, and the power vacuums that were left across the world after “World War 2.” It is hard to see the French and British Empires, as well as Belgium and Hollands’, falling so quickly in the subsequent decades had France beat Germany in 1940. As it was her collapse and the ensuing debilitating war left the European empires bankrupt, weak and her populaces generally reluctant to shed blood to maintain their overseas territories.

As for the spread of communism France’s fall meant that Germany was free to attack the Soviet Union. While the Soviet Union lost countless people dead and suffered terribly it still emerged as one of the two superpowers after the war in place of Britain and France. Before the war she had been a pariah and her influence remained mostly within her borders. However, her victory over Nazi Germany, as well as her late intervention against Japan in the summer of 1945, gave her considerable influence and expanded communist influence across the world. The Soviet advance into Eastern Europe resulted in the establishment of communist states there. Other advances into Manchuria and Northern Korea helped Mao win the Chinese Civil War in the first case and established a communist regime in North Korea in the second. The communist victory in China also allowed Mao to send significant help to Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam and this allowed him to beat the French at Dien Bien Phu and this eventually escalated into the “Vietnam War.” Communist insurgencies also sprung up in former colonial possessions or countries like Malaya, the Philippines, Cuba, Angola, Greece, Laos, Cambodia, Bolivia, etc. Even notable powers like France and Italy nearly succumbed to communist subjugation.

It is difficult to see these events and trends occurring, or at least as quickly as they did, had France not fell in 1940. Britain and France would have remained the world’s foremost powers for the time being. Germany would never have overran most of Europe and would probably have lost a war of attrition against France and Britain. The Soviet Union would still have remained a pariah state for some time and have little influence beyond her borders. Italy would not have dared to attack Britain and France if the latter had beaten or contained Germany and Mussolini’s laughable regime would have lasted arguably as long as Franco’s Fascist regime did in Spain. Japan would not have attacked a still strong Britain, France and other western empires in Asia and would have instead remained concentrated on the costly and protracted war in China. With Germany contained or beaten, and Japan unwilling to move against the western powers, America would not have been dragged into the war and would probably have continued her policy of isolationism. Decolonization would have been delayed, or in some areas stopped, and the spread of communism would have been limited.

The “Battle of France” was the catalyst that led to all of this. There are few battles in history that have produced such revolutionary and global changes in a relatively small amount of time, especially if we consider the blood-soaked 20th Century.

Of course it would be unfair to suggest the “Battle of France” was the most influential battle of the century if others were not considered. However, it is hard to find another battle that re-wrote the global balance of power so quickly, and decisively, and allowed other major powers to change the world so throughly within a matter of years. Certainly there were important battles in major conflicts like “World War 1,” “World War 2,” “The Arab Israeli Wars,” Vietnam, and Korea, etc, that arguably won or lost these conflicts and had significant impact on the world.

The “First Battle of the Marne,” “The Hundred Days Offensive,” and the “First Battle of the Atlantic” all have potential to be considered as the most decisive battle of “World War 1.” The “Battle of Britain,” “Moscow,” Stalingrad,” “Kursk,” “Midway” and the “Battle of the Atlantic” also contend for such a place in “World War 2.” There are too many battles to consider regarding the Arab-Israeli wars yet Israel’s fights against Egypt and Syria arguably shaped the Middle East from the 1940s to the 1980s. However, even if any of these could be identified unequivocally as the most important battle of their respective wars none of them surely upset world geopolitics as much as the “Battle of France.”

Then there is the point whether or not France was doomed to fall because if this was the case then all of the above events and trends would seem inevitable. On one hand it is easy to contrast the skill, efficiency and boldness of the Germans during the “Battle of France” versus the ineptitude, lethargy and indecision of the allies. Certainly the Germans had advantages in communications, coordination, doctrine, and leadership. However, according to a balance sheet the allies had most of the strategic and material advantages. Regarding manpower, economics, resources, industry, geography, artillery, tanks, and sea power Britain and France were stronger. Only with air power did the Germans have a clear advantage but this arguably could have been bridged had the British sent more planes to France or the French committed more of their own from North Africa and Southern France. In every computer simulation of the battle the allies win.

If the French had made a few different deployments, had the Germans stuck to their original invasion plan, and with a bit better luck the French arguably could have won, or at least held out significantly longer. If the French had held back a strong armour reserve it could have cut off, or potentially stopped, the German armoured thrust to the English Channel. This armoured thrust was vulnerable to such a counterattack and it worried the German high command constantly throughout the first part of the battle. The French could have also covered the Ardennes sector with stronger forces and potentially delayed the German armour forces advancing through the area long enough for the French to move enough reinforcements to prevent a breakthrough. Meanwhile if the Germans had used their original plan to invade France they would have ran up against the strongest allied forces advancing into central Belgium instead of catching them at their weakest point opposite the Ardennes. In fact German forces that met the allied forces in central Belgium often took heavy casualties, especially in tank battles with the stronger French armoured forces. Had the Germans adopted their earlier plan they would have played to the allies strengths and gotten worn down in a battle of attrition against a numerically superior enemy. There was also the accidental death of General Billotte which came at a moment where the battle was in the balance, German bluffs during the Meuse crossings, and an unlucky moment when Rommel’s tanks caught many French tanks refuelling.

None of this is to suggest that the Germans were not favoured to win the battle, but it does suggest that the French were not doomed to lose it. Yet had the French won the “Battle of France,” or at least survived it, there is little doubt the world would look drastically different than it does today. No other battle influenced the 20th Century as much as it did.


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An Opinion Piece on Why America was Justified Dropping Nuclear Weapons on Japan

This last week was the 70th anniversary of America dropping nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Naturally there was the typical criticism, and moral outrage, by countless people which usually drowns out those who offer a more informed and sober analysis as to why dropping nukes on Japan was necessary. It is often said that “history is written by the victors” yet for some reason a sizeable segment of at least Western opinion, perhaps the majority, sees the Japanese as victims and the Americans as the aggressors. Such a perception is exceedingly false.

Japan was the aggressor in the “Pacific War,” overrunning much of China, South East Asia and the Pacific while America had been initially an isolationist country which became reluctantly involved in the war after the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbour. Japan brutally enslaved and slaughtered millions of people in Asia from China to Burma, the Philippines to Indochina, and from Korea to Hong Kong. They were so cruel, exploitive and feared that the inhabitants of these countries were actually grateful when the British and Americans returned to their countries and the inhabitants generally aided them rather than collaborate with the Japanese. Think about this; most asians preferred British imperialists and paternalistic Americans to their fellow asians, the Japanese! To this day countries such as China, both Koreas, Vietnam and Taiwan hold considerable grudges against Japan both for her conduct during the war as well as her misguided and shameful efforts to negate responsibility for, let alone admit, Japanese war crimes.

While well meaning people can rightly be shocked by nuclear attacks that killed between 125,000 and 250,000 Japanese civilians it is rare that world opinion, especially Western and Japanese, expresses outrage by the infinitely worse crimes committed by the Japanese during the war. I remember in high school being taught about Hiroshima and Nagasaki but hearing nothing about the at least 10 million Chinese killed by Japan during her occupation of China, not to mention the literally 100 million Chinese war refugees created by the conflict. The almost 20 million Asians killed during the war, the “Rape of Nanking,” the “Bataan Death March,” the “Death Railway,” the indiscriminate slaughter of remote islander inhabitants during Japanese training exercises, and the atrocious death rates of POWs under Japanese care are also barely addressed and seldom remembered by the naive, biased people who hate America but almost eagerly let Japan off the hook.

Certainly next to no one knows about the sick medical experiments Japan conducted in Manchuria on human beings, that her army coerced thousands of Korean females into being comfort women who were repeatedly raped by Japanese soldiers, her plans to use biological weapons against American civilians, or the fact that Japan was the only county to use chemical weapons in “World War 2” (not even Nazi Germany did that!).

This is the context in which Harry Truman made the decision to use nuclear weapons against Japan:

The worst war in human history which had been going on for nearly 6 years was not yet over. More than 50 million people had died, and countless more were wounded, became war refugees or were psychologically devastated due to their wartime experiences or seeing loved ones maimed or die. Some military experts believed the war with Japan could have continued for another 2 years if nukes had not been used. Thousands of allied soldiers were dying each week fighting Japan while countless other civilians across Asia were dying as well. Indeed, the editor of the journal Foreign Affairs, Gideon Rose, concluded that for every month of 1945 while the war continued the Japanese were causing the deaths of somewhere in between 100,000 and 250,000 civilians. Finally, people across the globe were war wearied and just wanted the conflict to be over.

America was faced with perhaps 3 options to defeat Japan. The first involved starving the Japanese into submission over an indefinite period of months in which case countless more allied soldiers, asian civilians, and especially Japanese people would have died vs. the 125,000 to 250,000 which resulted from the atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Considering how callously the Japanese leaders sent their soldiers to die and how little they seem to have cared about their own civilians during the fighting in Saipan and Okinawa it is very probable that they were willing to lose millions of Japanese in a vain effort to hold out.

The next option involved invading Japan, which would have required an operation so massive it would have made the “Normandy Invasion” in 1944 appear as child’s play. The American estimates as to how many of their soldiers would die, or be wounded, was between a few hundred thousand and a few million, with considerably more casualties inflicted upon the Japanese. Once again this would have been a larger number of casualties than those suffered due to the atomic attacks, and does not even include the countless asian civilians who would still be dying under the Japanese yoke.

It should also be noted that when the Americans landed in Japan after the war and saw the defences the Japanese had constructed to defend against invasion they were considerably more impressive than the former had imagined. Additionally, American intelligence had been mistaken about how many planes the Japanese had left, especially Kamikaze fighters. Keeping these two factors in mind it is possible that even higher casualties could have resulted from an invasion than a few million for the Americans and Japanese!

The third option was of course using nuclear weapons on Japanese cities in an attempt to shock the Japanese leadership into surrender. After being implemented this caused considerable suffering for the peoples’ of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killed scores of innocent people and could definitely be labelled a war crime. However, it had certain advantages. It ruled out a costly naval blockade that would have killed perhaps hundreds of thousands of Japanese and prolonged the war considerably. It also ruled out a costly invasion that would probably have resulted in millions of American and Japanese casualties. Finally, it had the chance to immediately end the war.

And it did! It instantly ended the most destructive and brutal war in history. It ended it for America without a single American soldier setting foot on the Japanese mainland. People love throwing “World War 2” statistics around such as the 6 million Jews killed in the holocaust, the more than 20 million Soviets killed during the war, or even the 90,000 Japanese killed during the firebombing of Tokyo. Yet perhaps another statistic proves how effective the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was: 0 American or allied soldiers, sailors or airmen were killed or wounded in an attempt to invade Japan.

This should not be dismissed out of hand. Harry Truman would have known that 400,000 Americans had already died in the war (including over 100,000 in the pacific) and that an invasion of Japan would have potentially exceeded this already significant number. From modern standards it is even more incredibly as Americans could not stomach 60,000 dead in Vietnam, and barely tolerated 5000 dead in Iraq. Meanwhile Canada with a significantly smaller population tolerated 45,000 deaths in “World War 2” but could not take much more than 150 in Afghanistan in the 21st Century. America even pulled out of Somalia after suffering 18 deaths in a single day. How can modern society blame Harry Truman for trying to save countless American lives when it is willing to tolerate so few military deaths itself?

There is of course the argument that the Americans could have nuked an uninhabited island to show the Japanese the effects of the bomb. Maybe it would have worked, but most likely it would have not. It is all but certain that the admittedly cruel, but shocking effect of destroying 2 cities with a single bomb each was the only way to motivate the intensely militaristic and die hard zealots that comprised the Japanese leadership to surrender.

Finally, there is another argument that Japan would have surrendered anyways within a few months. Yet how does anyone know this would have happened without blockade, invasion or nukes, or even if they did surrender how long it would have taken? Weeks, months, half a year? And how many more allied soldiers, asian civilians and Japanese would have died during that period? By far a lot more than the combined death toll of Hiroshima and Nagaski.

False paragons can argue a warcrime is a wartime and preach morality when they have never had to make decisions that affect the lives of millions or lived in a time where people sacrificed themselves so that future generations could have a better way of life. Most people today cannot even sacrifice putting down their cell phones for more than 2 minutes at a time to engage in a real life conversation. Yet in the real world, and especially warfare, not everybody wins, or can be saved, and thus decisions should be based on practical considerations regarding how to minimize how many people will be lost. In the case of the nuclear attacks on Japan it resulted in the deaths of perhaps 125,000-250,000 vs. the considerably more deaths that would have resulted from any other option including blockading, or invading, Japan or simply waiting for them to surrender.

Additionally, people can criticize, or even hate America for dropping the nukes on Japan if they want to because it is a democracy that allows freedom of speech and rarely hides its crimes, mistakes or controversial acts throughout history. Countless American authors, citizens and even school curriculums are allowed to debate and criticize the decision to drop the bombs without any interference of the U.S. Government. Meanwhile Japan seldom admits its considerably worse atrocities committed during the war while its society in general, and her school system in particular, has attempted to portray the Japanese as the victims in the conflict.

This is historically, morally, and factually incorrect. Japan started the war, did so to conquer and subjugate Asia, and killed countless more people than America or her allies in the Pacific.

Japan was unequivocally the aggressor in the Pacific during “World War 2” and not the victim. However tragic and sad the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki saved more lives than they destroyed and were thus justified.


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