Cease-fire calls ring hollow in light of WWII history

July 27, 2006|By THOMAS SOWELL

WE WERE ALL IN IT TOGETHER — Those of us old enough to remember World War II face many painful reminders of how things have changed in Americans' behavior during a war. Back then, the president's defeated opponent in the 1940 election, Wendell Willkie, not only supported the war, he became a personal envoy from President Franklin D. Roosevelt to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

We were all in it together - and we knew it. People who had been highly critical of American foreign policy before we were attacked at Pearl Harbor now fell silent and devoted themselves to winning the war.

What if the people, institutions, and attitudes of today were somehow taken back in time to World War II? What would have been the result? Would we have ended up winning or losing that war?

What about the great cry of the hour, a cease-fire?

It so happens that World War II had the biggest cease-fire in history. It was called "the phony war" because, although France was officially at war with Germany, the French did very little fighting for months, while the bulk of the German army was in Poland and France had overwhelming military superiority on the western front.

Famed correspondent William L. Shirer reported on the "unreal" western front, with soldiers "on both sides looking but not shooting." German soldiers bathed in the Rhine and waved to French soldiers on the other side, who waved back.

During this period, Hitler offered to negotiate peace with France and England.

Kofi Annan would have loved it.

On Nov. 19, 1939, Mr. Shirer reported in his diary: "For almost two months now there has been no military action on land, sea, or in the air." On Jan. 1, 1940, he wrote, "this phony kind of war cannot continue long." But it was now exactly four months since war was declared. How is that for a cease-fire?

Did this de facto cease-fire lead to peace? No. Like other cease-fires, it helped the aggressor.

It gave Adolf Hitler time to move his divisions from the eastern front, after they had conquered Poland, to the western front, facing France.

Now that military superiority along the Rhine had shifted in favor of the German armies, the war suddenly went from being phony to being devastatingly real.

Hitler attacked, and France collapsed in six weeks.

Eventually, by 1945, allied armies had both Germany and Japan retreating. What would have happened if we had had Mr. Annan and the mushy mindset called "world opinion" at work then?

Mr. Annan would undoubtedly have called for a cease-fire.

He could have pointed out that the American response to Germany was wholly "disproportionate" because the Germans had never landed troops in America or bombed American cities, and were certainly no real threat to the United States at that point.

Much of the Japanese navy was at the bottom of the ocean by this time, and most of their planes had been shot down. Why not a negotiated settlement, in order to spare innocent civilian lives?

And what if we had listened to such talk?

No doubt Germany and Japan would have signed some kind of negotiated agreement in order to get the allied armies off their backs and get some breathing room.

Both Germany and Japan had programs to try to build nuclear bombs. One of the Nazis' last acts before surrendering was to send material by submarine to Japan to help advance their nuclear program.

Any peace we might have negotiated with Japan would have given the Japanese time to develop not only nuclear technology but also warplanes whose plans had been gotten from Germany, which had the most advanced planes in the world at that time.

There is not the slightest doubt that Japan would not have had the slightest hesitation to drop nuclear bombs on American cities. And it would not have come back in later years to wring its hands at what it had done, as too many Americans have done at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

But we didn't cease firing until our enemies were defeated. Mr. Annan and today's "world opinion" would not have liked that.

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. His column appears Thursdays in The Sun. His e-mail is info@creators.com.

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