The Mo­ment Hitler Lost The War When the Nazi leader sealed his fate


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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.


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.


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.


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


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


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.

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