The Moment Hitler Lost The War When the Nazi leader sealed his fate
…AND MADE THE USA A SUPERPOWER
e promised the German people a 1,000-year Reich. And by the time he finished speaking, Adolf Hitler had indeed created an empire. But it wasn’t a German one like he had planned, it was American. It had taken him just an hour and a half – that’s how long Hitler addressed the Reichstag on 11th December 1941. Eighty-seven minutes that would change the world forever.
The Führer stands at the lectern, his voice calm and measured. A deathly hush settles over the packed room as people listen on, hanging on his every word. First, Hitler gives the members of the house an update on the war against Great Britain. Next, he paints himself as the protector of Europe against the Soviet Union. But then talk turns to America. The intensity and pace pick up. His voice becomes louder, more aggressive. He calls the US president insane as he explains how “it is the intention of the Jews and their Franklin Roosevelt to destroy one country after another.” Shouts of approval echo through the Reichstag.
HITLER’S BIGGEST MISTAKE
And then – to thunderous applause – the self-proclaimed ‘greatest field commander in history’ seals his fate with a single sentence: “Germany, Italy and Japan will see out this war to its victorious conclusion…”
With this sentence Hitler establishes a war on two fronts that he can’t win. Seventy-five years later, historians are still debating why Hitler declared war on the USA in the first place. The dictator’s reckless decision is considered his biggest, most stupid mistake. And it’s an error that would take anyone familiar with Hitler’s earlier plans by surprise,
Did Hitler really want to wage war on the USA? It’s a question he answered himself in a manuscript designed to be his follow-up to Mein Kampf. In this second book, which has never been published, Hitler describes the USA as Germany’s main enemy. But he also says that the final battle will only be waged at the right time. Only once the whole
of Europe and Russia has been fully conquered would the Nazi war machine turn to America.
TWO SHOCKS FOR THE FÜHRER
The reality at the end of 1941 is entirely different. Thanks to the RAF, Britain has so far stood firm against wave after wave of Luftwaffe attacks. And only six days before Germany declares war on the USA, Operation Barbarossa grinds to a halt. Beaten back by temperatures of minus 50ºc, the German attack on Moscow freezes in its tracks on 5th December. Now the Soviets are forcing the German troops back. In his headquarters at the Wolf’s Lair, the Führer paces back and forth. He can hardly believe what is happening: his “unstoppable” army has actually failed in Russia. Hitler insists there’ll be no retreat; his army will fight until the last man is standing! He doesn’t care about the men’s lives, he’s worried about the loss of his reputation built around being immune to failure. Just two days later, then, the man who thought he had everything under control receives a second piece of surprising news. Without informing the German leadership, on 7th December 1941 the Japanese attack the US base at Pearl Harbor. Hitler is not obliged to help his ally in the fight against the USA.
“GERMANY WILL BE A SU3ER3 WER R T W N T E ST AT ALL” AD T ER
But instead of weighing up the new strategic situation, he declares war on the USA just a few days later. Did Hitler feel under pressure to support the Japanese against the might of America? Not according to historians. They argue that by declaring war on the USA, Hitler hoped that Japan would, in turn, declare war on the USSR.
It’s a vain hope. While Hitler’s plan stalls, Roosevelt’s begins to work: the US president has long wanted to join the war against Germany. But 95% of Americans are set against sending troops into Europe and their stance is reflected in the Senate, too. Roosevelt has not got the majority needed for a declaration of war against Nazi Germany. The US will remain neutral. And of course, in 1941, the United States is still starkly isolated from the rest of the world. At the beginning of the Second World War the US had no real intelligence service and its army consisted of just 200,000 soldiers. In contrast the German Reich had more than seven million soldiers in 1941. Although the USA rose to become a global economic power after the First World War, its military was drastically reduced in size after 1918. Even the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor doesn’t result in more money being funnelled the military’s way. The war with Japan will only take place in the Pacific – and will not be waged against Germany directly. But then President Roosevelt receives an unexpected gift from Hitler that changes everything: the Führer declares war on the USA. Roosevelt is persuaded to join the Allies in adopting a ‘Germany first’ war strategy, whereby priority would be given to defeating Germany before focusing on Japan. It’s the day that the USA’S
“VIOLENCE IS T E N Y ANGUAGE T ER UNDERSTANDS” RAN. N D R SE9E T
reputation as the unofficial world police force is born. The German Reich can’t counter the combined forces of Britain, the USA and the Soviet Union – Hitler endures defeat after defeat until his suicide in 1945. The US, on the other hand, goes on growing and growing.
How do you build a world power whose influence stretches around the globe? Sociologist Michael Mann identifies the four principal sources of a country’s power as being control over economic, military, political and ideological resources. Back in 1941, the US is some way off being in control of all four. Its economy is ticking over nicely, but as a military power it is nowhere near the level of Germany. Then Hitler utters his fateful words in the Reichstag, the US war machine fires up and the rest is history.
The military source of power is not just about tanks and soldiers. Fearing the Nazis could build an atomic bomb, the Americans fight fire with fire. They pool their financial muscle and scientific expertise into the Manhattan Project, a military project to create the first US atomic bomb. Aware that German scientists are leaders in the nascent nuclear field, by 1945 the USA is deliberately targeting researchers from Germany. This brain drain turns the USA into a technological and scientific leader – a role previously held by Germany.
The third source of power is politics, which governs the relationship between states. Roosevelt has a clear vision of Germany’s role in a post-war Europe: he wants to prevent a peace treaty like the one signed in Versailles after the First World War, which created social and economic problems and led to the rise of the Nazis. Roosevelt wants a strong Germany in the centre of Europe – a democratic partner. This also helps form the fourth source of power: ideology. Ever since 1945 the US has been seen as the global police force, the defender of democracy and freedom, first in Europe and then in Korea.
The end of the Second World War sees the four sources of power as strong pillars on which the United States builds its global empire. The architect of this superpower might have been Franklin D. Roosevelt – but its construction was first made possible by Adolf Hitler.
BIRTH OF A SUPERPOWER The Reichstag, 11th December 1941: in the course of a 90-minute speech, Adolf Hitler declares war on the USA. In doing so he sets in motion the USA’S transformation into a global superpower.
OPERATION BARBAROSSA With the invasion of the Soviet Union on 22nd June 1941, the tide starts to turn: appalling weather conditions and fierce Soviet counter-attacks force Hitler to abandon the Moscow offensive for the winter. In spite of the disastrous s
SACRIFICE FOR FREEDOM
With the Normandy landings, the USA begins its quest to liberate Europe from the evil grip of Hitler’s Reich. During the Second World War more than 400,000 US soldiers will lose their lives.