THE HIGH PRICE OF RACISM
You can talk about what battlefield mistakes Germany and Japan made that lost those nations World War II. Taking an overall strategic view, both nations were basically overwhelmed. The Japanese lost because they simply could not compete with the industrial strength of the United States. No matter how valiantly Japan fought, going it alone against a nation that was launching one fleet carrier and at least another jeep carrier each month, they were going to lose. The Germans not only shared being overwhelmed by the sheer mass of manufacturing that poured out of the United States, Britain, and Russia but also were swamped by the manpower of their opponents. If it weren’t for a fundamental mistake—a tragic flaw, more accurately—by both of the Axis powers, this would not have been the case.
The problem was the irrational and self-destructive racism that was so heartily embraced by both nations. Racism first cost Germany much at home. Hitler and the Nazis did not need to bash the Jews to get elected in 1933. The fear of the communists and economic collapse gave them that victory. But Hitler and his henchmen were so sold on their Aryan superiority that they overlooked what they denied Germany by banishing or killing off that nation’s Jews. The group that contributed a higher percentage of volunteer soldiers than any other in World War I was the German Jews. Their patriotism was widely recognized during that war. In science and manufacturing, they had always contributed far beyond their numbers. Many of the world’s top scientists were German Jews. Almost all eventually fled the country. Among those who fled to the United States was Albert Einstein. Out of the 6 million Jews who died in the Holocaust, if the same percentage had instead been left alone and served in the Wehrmacht in World War II, this would have added at least ten more divisions of highly educated soldiers. Ten more divisions might have taken Moscow.
Nothing portrays the cost of Aryan racism more than footage of Nazi units “liberating” towns in Ukraine. The Soviet Union had conquered Ukraine. It was never part of Russia culturally or politically, and it is adamantly not today. Ukraine had actually been part of Germany itself for much of 1918, having been sold out by the Bolsheviks as part of their peace agreement with the kaiser. When Germany collapsed, Ukraine became an independent nation with a population equal to that of Poland. Eventually, through betrayal, Ukraine was absorbed by the Soviet Union. Always too independent and resistant to communism, Ukraine was punished by Stalin in every way he could manage. In the years before the second war, 9 million Ukrainians were killed by Stalin either directly or by consciously created famines. So when the Germans arrived, they were treated like lost brothers and liberators. Wehrmacht officers helped open churches and were feasted and flirted by the local population. These millions of people were ready to work for and fight for Germany. Within weeks, the SS began implementing secret orders for occupied Slavic territories. The order included the elimination of all Jews, leaders, priests, teachers, and military officers. The stated eventual goal of the SS plan was to depopulate large parts of Ukraine and enslave the survivors. The then-empty Ukraine was to be settled by German overlords.
A supportive Ukrainian population could have provided up to a million additional soldiers to fight against Russia. This would have replaced all the losses taken at Stalingrad in the winter of 1942 to 1943. But because of the Aryan myth and the sheer sadism of the SS, three months after the Germans were welcomed in Ukraine, its forests were full of guerrillas. Instead of tying up tens of thousands of soldiers with occupation duties, Ukraine should have provided hundreds of thousands of soldiers fighting alongside the Germans. The story was the same for the Balts, the White Russians, the Tartar, the Mongolian, and even the German Balts. They were a ready source of support and recruits for the manpower-poor German army, but the Nazi leadership could not get past their extreme racism and wasted this great potential asset. The final result was that as the formerly hated Soviets recaptured Ukraine and its neighbors, the surviving men often volunteered to join the ranks of the Red Army. German racism turned a literal army of peoples that hated the communists into their willing recruits.
Germany did not have the monopoly on racism in the 1940s. The Americans put tens of thousands of Japanese Americans into camps for no more reason than they looked Japanese. The heroic combat record of the Nisei division in Italy shows the fallacy of that action. There was also the treatment by the army of black soldiers. Many were allocated to noncombat roles and denied promotion on no other basis than their skin color. It wasn’t until twenty years after the end of World War II that the last Jim Crow laws disappeared. But anything any of the Allies did paled compared to the sheer barbarism of the Japanese toward other Asian peoples and everyone else during the war.
In places such as Indochina and the Philippines, it had not been that long since British, French, and American troops had been battling with local independence movements. One of the reasons the Thompson machine gun was developed was to knock down machete-swinging Philippine rebels who were impervious to pain because of the druglike effects of the plants they chewed. Certainly as soon as the Japanese left, all of Vietnam went right back to trying to throw out the French. Each of these countries had millions who would and did embrace a pan-Asian philosophy. But the Japanese soldiers were indoctrinated to treat everyone not Japanese as inferior and not really human. This attitude was so pervasive that all over Asia it was rare to see any non-Japanese assisting them in combat. This contrasts with the tens of thousands of Indian and Malaysian troops that joined with the British to repel the Japanese. In almost every country where Japanese had been welcomed for throwing out the European colonial master, within days, powerful resistance movements had sprung up.
The Japanese had a habit of shooting or beheading anyone who annoyed them, even their own soldiers, without as much as a hearing. This behavior reflected the barbarism that permeated all of their behavior. Officers treated their men with disdain, and the common soldiers passed on that hate and brutality with enthusiasm. The Japanese made it clear to all other Asians that they were held in contempt and were unworthy of respect. Americans rarely remember that 80 percent of those who died on the Bataan Death March were Philippine. The Philippine people never forgot, though. By actually acting like they promised to with their co-prosperity sphere, Japan might have been able to recruit literally millions of new soldiers. They could have much more effectively tapped the resources of Indochina and might even have had enough soldiers to complete the conquest of China. The entire war in China and the Pacific would have been far different and an Allied victory far from assured.
The mistake and cost of racism were obvious even at the time. But like the Confederacy being asked to recruit former slaves as soldiers, the Imperial Japanese and Nazi Germans found that acting against their prejudices was inconceivable. They had every reason, and hard necessity, to treat potential allied peoples well and always failed to do so. Simple racism, more than any strategic blunder, doomed the fascists.