The Myth of World War II

July 30, 2018 § 2 Comments

In this month’s issue of Foreign Affairs, there is a provocative essay from Graham Allison, Douglas Dillon Professor of Government at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. Entitled, ‘The Myth of the Liberal Order: From Historical Accident to Conventional Wisdom,’ Allison provides a much needed corrective to the history of American foreign policy since the Second World War.

Allison argues, correctly, that American foreign policy was never about maintaining a liberal world order.  Rather, she argues, the world as we know it globally arose out of the Cold War, a bipolar world where the United States and its allies confronted the Soviet Union and its allies in a battle of the hearts and minds of the global populace.  In essence, the two core belligerent nations cancelled each other out in terms of nuclear arms, so they were left to forge and uneasy co-existence.  And then, the USSR collapsed in 1991 and, the US was victorious in the Cold War.  And, of course, Francis Fukuyama made his now infamous, laughable, and ridiculous claim:

What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of postwar history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.

How Fukuyama has any credibility after this colossal statement of Western hubris is beyond me.

Anyway, Allison notes that aftermath of this particular moment in time was that the neoconservatives and liberal interventionists made common cause and managed to convince both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush that the best way to spread the gospel of capitalism and liberal democracy was by dropping bombs.  Only during the Bush II era did the idea of liberal democracy get tied up with American foreign policy, and here Allison quotes former National Security Advisor (and later Secretary of State), Condoleeza Rice, speaking of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq: ‘Iraq and Afghanistan are vanguards of this effort to spread democracy and tolerance and freedom throughout the Greater Middle East.’

Thus, we had a unipolar world, and now, with the resurgence of a belligerent Russia and a growing China, we are in a multi-polar world.  And then she goes onto note larger American problems centring around democracy at home.

But what struck me about her argument was where she lays out her argument about the bipolar Cold War world, she notes that ‘the United States and its allies had just fought against Nazi Germany.’ but that the burgeoning Cold War with the USSR required new tactics.

The United States and its allies.  There are several ways that this is problematic.  The first is that the main Allied powers of the Second World War were the United Kingdom, the United States, and the Soviet Union.  I don’t count France here in that it fell in 1940 and whilst Free French troops and the French Résistance were central to the Allied cause, they were not represented by a government in Paris.  But those Big 3 of the US, UK, and the USSR were worth the equal billing.  The UK held on and maintained a free Europe from the 1940 until the Americans got going on the Western front in 1942.  And British troops (to say nothing of the Empire and Commonwealth) were central to the ultimate victory.


And then there’s the USSR.  The Soviets were absolutely and essentially central to the Allied cause in World War II.  It was the Soviets that took the brunt of Hitler’s fury on the Eastern front and absorbed the invading Nazi forces before expelling them, absorbing essential German attention as the US and UK dithered about opening a Western front, something that didn’t happen until 1944.  And then the USSR, all by itself, defeated the Nazis on the Eastern front and ‘liberated’ the Eastern European nations before closing in on Germany and Berlin itself.

In the US, Americans like to pronounce themselves as ‘Back To Back World War Champs,’ as the t-shirt says.  This is bunk.  The USSR did more to win World War II in Europe than any other nation, including the United States.

Allison’s argument is made even more peculiar given that she is talking about the outbreak of the Cold War here.  She makes no mention of the fact that the United States’ allies in the Second World War included the Soviet Union.  Hell, Time magazine even called Josef Stalin its 1943 Man of the Year.  That part of the story is essential to understanding the outbreak of the Cold War, the hostility that was festering between the USSR on one side and the US and UK on the other was an important and central story to the last years of World War II.

Thus, better argued, Allison could’ve, and should’ve, argued that in the immediate post-World War II era, c. 1947-48, that the United States was fatigued from World War II, where the Allies, of which it was one, along with the Soviet Union, defeated German Nazism.  To write it differently is to elide an important part of history and the Second World War.  And frankly, Allison should know better.



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§ 2 Responses to The Myth of World War II

  • I think Mother Nature has more to do with the failure of the German invasion than Soviet successes. That the German in charge was a maniacal idiot trying be something he wasn’t, a military oracle.

    “The USSR had more to do with winning than any other nation”
    This is utter balderdash covered in bovine feces. The US manufacturing might is what won the the Second World War pure and simple. The US produced more airplanes the first year we entered the war than all the other combatant nations COMBINED. This
    was true for each successive year till it was over. Same could be said trucks, tanks, ships etc. Stalin himself even acknowledged this fact when he said the Lend Lease was a major factor in the Russians ability to continue the war effort. I forget but it was like 20 or 30 billion dollars yes that was a B that the US taxpayer gave the Russians for free.

    Not to mention the other major factor in the Allied victory and that was British espionage/control/ownership of German Enigma machine before the first bomb was dropped in Poland. The ability of the Brits to read the German high command signals was what kept England “afloat “ during the Battle of Britain and the rest of the war but it wasn’t until the manufacturing might of the US fully came to bear that Allies were able to use that intelligence to its full effectiveness in prosecuting the war. But in short, the USSR had a very small footprint on the path of winning WWII.

    • Sorry, long time in responding. Certainly, don’t invade Russia in winter. It seems a pretty simple precept, but it got both Napoléon and the Nazis. In the former case, I would argue that Russian winter destroyed Napoléon’s apparent invincibility.

      As for the USSR winning the war, I think you’re being a bit too American here. Sure, the US made a lot of stuff (some of which went to the USSR), but the Soviets absorbed casualties on a level that was astronomical during the winter of 1942, and not all of that was Stalin killing his own people.

      And the not only did the Soviets absorb those losses and begin to push back, they did this whilst the US, UK, et al. prioritized other fronts, to the endless chagrin of Stalin (though I can certainly see why, i.e.: The Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact). This allowed the US/UK nexus to prioritize the fight in Italy, and other fronts, and delay re-opening the Western front until the summer of 1944.

      And, moreover, the Soviets also began to push the Germans back and reconquer (I won’t say ‘liberate’ for obvious reasons) before 1944.

      So, yes, the USSR did do more than any other nation in winning that war.

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