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

The fall of France in 1940 is often seen as inevitable. But at the time it shocked most people, even the French and Germans themselves. Most experts thought the French Army was the best in Europe. Churchill, Stalin and most leaders had confidence in it, and many of Hitler’s generals thought invading France was suicide. In 1940 Britain and France were the dominant global powers; having the largest empires, most resources, and most diplomatic influence. The Battle of France destroyed this balance, and started events and trends that drastically changed the world.

France’s defeat turned a local European war over Poland into a global struggle, which eventually sucked in all major powers, and most countries of the world. Who would have predicted a war begun by the invasion of Poland would end with nukes dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki? The era of French and British domination of global affairs collapsed in 6 week once France surrendered to Germany.

How the Fall of France Effected the Major Powers:

Nazi Germany went from being an encircled, resource starved nation into the dominant power in Europe within a few years. After Germany overran most of Russia’s heartland in 1941 it had more industry, population, and resources (except oil) than Russia and Britain combined. Only American industrial might allowed the allies to outproduce and overwhelm the German war machine later in the war.

With France out of the way, and Britain fighting to survive, Germany turned on the Soviet Union and nearly destroyed it. But the Soviet Union survived due to its efficient war economy, allied Lend-Lease, and bad German strategy. By 1945 it had gone from a pariah nation to a superpower. Before the war the Soviet Union had little influence beyond its borders, afterwards it competed against America for global dominance in the Cold War.

Italy entered the war as France collapsed, expecting cheap gains, and becoming the dominant power in the Mediterranean, as Britain was expected to surrender as well. While Italy’s forces generally didn’t perform well its entry into the conflict opened new theatres of war. This stretched Britain’s resources thin, and it suffered many defeats when Germany intervened to prevent Italy from humiliating defeats. Italian intervention also limited what forces Britain could send to their colonies in the Far East. While this would doom British imperialism in Asia, it also led to Italy’s defeat, Mussolini’s death, and the fall of Italian Fascism.

Japan also took advantage of France’s defeat to expand in Asia and the Pacific. With France defenceless, Britain fighting to survive, and America clinging to neutrality, Japan had a freehand in the Far East. At first Japan took control of north French Indochina, then conquered the rest in 1941. Japan’s brutal war in China, and it’s aggressive means to pressure the allies to stop supporting the Chinese, also expanded the war. 

These actions led to America’s oil embargo on Japan in 1941 that precipitated Pearl Harbor and American entry into World War 2. Japan quickly overran western colonies in Asia, and humiliated Western forces, which forever discredited racist justifications for Empire. Within a generation all colonial empires had died, and countless new nations, and tragic conflicts, emerged in their place. But Japanese imperialism died first thanks to American industry, naval and air power, and nuclear weapons.

The Battle of France also changed America. Despite wanting neutrality America became increasingly tied to supporting Britain against Nazi Germany. Eventually this led Hitler to declare war against America 4 days after Pearl Harbor. Japanese aggression in the Far East after France fell, and how it dragged America into war, has already been noted. 

But America’s entry into the war gave the allies an overwhelming advantage. Within 3 years America became the strongest military power in the world, having the largest airforce and navy, and nuclear weapons. It also replaced Britain and France as the most influential force in global affairs. Finally, America was the dominant industrial power of the war, having produced 50% of all weapons, including 66% of all allied arms.

Decolonization and the Spread of Communism:

Due to France’s collapse, and its effects on the major powers, there were major geopolitical shifts after the war. Decolonization and the spread of communism were accelerated as France and Britain quickly declined. It’s hard to see the French and British Empires, and other western ones, falling so swiftly had France held out in 1940. France’s defeat and the costs of Wold War 2 left these empires bankrupt, weak, and their peoples increasingly reluctant to fight to keep their colonial possessions.

 As for the spread of communism Germany was free to attack the Soviet Union once France fell. The Soviet Union lost countless people and suffered terribly, but it emerged as a superpower after the war. Before the conflict it was a pariah state, its influence limited mostly within its borders. However, the Soviets victory over Nazi Germany, and intervention against Japan in 1945, decisively expanded communist influence across the world. The Soviet advance into Eastern Europe also created communist states, and guaranteed the Cold War between America and Russia for the next 45 years. 

The Soviet Union’s advances into Manchuria and Korea helped Mao Zedong win the Chinese Civil War, and created a communist regime in North Korea. The communist victory in China allowed Mao to support Ho Chi Minh, which let him kick France out of Vietnam. The split of Vietnam into 2 states, and the communist north’s determination to overrun the South, also dragged in America and led to the Vietnam War. Communist insurgencies sprung up in former colonial possessions like Malaya, the Philippines, Angola, Greece, Laos, Cambodia, Bolivia, etc. Even developed powers in Europe like France and Italy came close to going communist like during the Italian election of 1948.

It’s hard to see such historical events and trends happening, as least as quickly, had France not fell in 1940. Britain and France would have remained the world’s foremost powers for probably another generation. Germany wouldn’t have overran most of Europe and likely lost a war of attrition against France and Britain. The Soviet Union would have stayed a pariah state and not expanded its influence as widespread. Italy wouldn’t have attacked Britain and France and Mussolini’s laughable regime might have lasted as long as Franco’s in Spain.  

Japan wouldn’t have attacked western colonies, being bogged down in China and not having a vacuum of power to exploit. With Germany contained, and Japan not expanding into South East Asia, America wouldn’t have been dragged into war and may have continued its policy of isolationism for many years. Decolonization would have been delayed, maybe for decades, and the spread of communism limited, perhaps permanently.

What Ifs and some Final Thoughts:

The Battle of France was the catalyst for these events and historical trends. There are few battles in history that produced so many global changes in such short time.

But it would be unfair to say the Battle of France was the most influential battle of the 20th Century without considering others. There were many battles in World War 1, World War 2, the Arab-Israeli Wars, and others that determined their outcomes, and changed the world.

The First Battle of the Marne, the Hundred Days Offensive, and the First Battle of the Atlantic contend for the most decisive battle of World War 1. The Battles of Britain, Moscow, Stalingrad, Kursk, Midway and Second Battle of the Atlantic do the same for World War 2. There are too many battles regarding the Arab-Israeli wars yet Israel’s wars against Egypt and Syria, especially 1967 and 1973, arguably shaped the Middle East decisively. However, none of these instances upset world geopolitics so thoroughly, or changed the dynamics of their conflicts as much as the Battle of France. 

There’s also the question if France was doomed to fall. It’s easy to contrast the skill, efficiency and boldness of the Germans during the battle versus the incompetence, lethargy and general timidity of the French. It’s undeniable Germany had the advantage in communications, combined arms, doctrine, and leadership. But on paper at least the allies had most strategic and material advantages.  

Regarding manpower, economics, industry, resources, geography, artillery, tanks, and ships Britain and France were stronger. Only in air power the Germans had a clear advantage but this could have been neutralized if Britain committed more planes, or France deployed more aircraft doing nothing in Southern France and North Africa. In most simulations of the battle France and Britain beat Germany.

If Germany stuck to the original invasion plan, a predictable repeat of the Schlieffen Plan of WW1 that France expected, the Germans would likely have lost against France’s larger tank and artillery forces. Had France held back a strong reserve it could have cut off, even destroyed, the German risky armored rush to the English Channel. This advance was vulnerable to attack, and worried the German high command and Hitler constantly. France could have covered the Ardennes forests with enough forces to delay the main German attacking force until French reinforcements arrived to stop a breakthrough.  

The accidental death of General Billotte when the battle was in the balance, German bluffs during the Meuse crossings, and Rommel’s forces ambushing French tanks while refuelling, relied on luck and French mistakes. This doesn’t mean Germany wasn’t favoured to win the battle, but it suggests France wasn’t doomed to lose it. 

Had the French won the Battle of France, or survived it, there’s little doubt the world would look drastically different today. For good or bad no other battle influenced the 20th Century 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.