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Public opinion and war(12 posts)

Public opinion and warMcAndrus
Mar 20, 2003 7:20 AM
I can't think of anyone who does not consider World War II a just war. Despite that, it appears that American public opinion just before our entry into the war was against us joining the war. I recently ran into this article in The Weekly Standard. For those who don't read it, it's consistently conservative so consider the source. Here's the link.

I find these parts particularly interesting.

"Consider: In the fall of 1939 Adolf Hitler had already started the Second World War. Austria and Czechoslovakia had been conquered. Poland was falling to German armies. Britain and France had just declared war.

Against this, Gallup measured American public opinion on the European war. Perhaps unsurprisingly, 96 percent of Americans opposed joining the war against Hitler. But when asked if the United States should stay out of the war, even if that meant fascist Germany would conquer the democracies of England and France, 79 percent of Americans still said America should avoid the war."

Later in the article is this statement.

"This was public opinion in the United States after a decade of Hitler's ranting, re-arming, and marching across his neighbors' borders. Even as late as 1941, with France defeated and England alone, a poll showed 79 percent of Americans still opposed involvement in the war."

I knew that American public opinion was anti-war as late as the summer of 1941. After all, the military draft was re-instated that summer by a one (count-em one) vote majority in Congress.

I'm just surprised by how high the number is: 79 percent of Americans opposed involvement in the war until (I guess) Pearl Harbor. And in 1939, 79 percent opposed involvement even if it meant Hitler controlled all of Europe. Wow!
re: Public opinion and warJon Billheimer
Mar 20, 2003 7:24 AM
That is truly amazing! In 60 years the world has changed a great deal, as has the American mindset with respect to its isolation vs. connectedness with the rest of the world.
hopefully, we learnDougSloan
Mar 20, 2003 7:30 AM
I hope we learn from history.

America was much more isolationist back then. As much as we'd like to be now, I don't think we can. The world is far too interconnected now.

I still think much of the opposition now is purely political, anti-Bush. Daschle's comments strongly in favor of military action against Iraq when Clinton was President, compared to now, is very compelling evidence of that.

Also, I believe that much of the world opposition, France, for example, is driven by not only anti-Bush, anti-America, sentiments, but their own self-interest. France may have some sweet oil deals (with the devil) that it does not want screwed up. I think its opposition is much more selfish than our desire to oust Saddam. As someone on the news noted yesterday, "People only support dictators when they have something to gain from it."

Self InterestJon Billheimer
Mar 20, 2003 7:46 AM
I listened to a discussion on the legality and politics of the U.S.' unilateral action against Iraq yesterday by an academic expert in international law and relations. His central point was that ALL nations act out of their perceived self interests. Not idealistically, nor morally, not with utopian vision.

I think it's pretty well accepted that France and Russia have economic interests in Iraq. I also think their opposition is political payback for Bush's unilateralism with respect to Kyoto, ABM, and the World Court.

Equally, the U.S. is hiding behind its own idealistic mythology in the way it's justifying the takedown of the Iraqi regime. Much as some of the board participants dislike this site, for an excellent policy and background review of the Bush raison d'etre go to the PBS website. The Iraq campaign is subsumed by a clear policy direction dating back a number of years from a small circle of very aggressive and hardline advisors. This is not a matter of editorial opinion. It's a matter of public record. Believe me, this war is not being fought out of American altruism. It's being fought as a result of one particular vision of how America's interests are best advanced.
makes sense; good points nmDougSloan
Mar 20, 2003 7:52 AM
Remember the name, Paul WolfowitzMcAndrus
Mar 20, 2003 9:05 AM
Jon, you probably already know the name but I suspect many others don't. Wolfowitz is a Deputy Secretary of Defense and is one of the dominant hawks in the Bush administration.

I wish I had the quote at hand but after 9/11 Wolfowitz made a comment about how America was now embarked on a Hundred Years War to eradicate terrorism. Prior to the UN diplomacy efforts that began last autumn, the administration was separated into Wolfowitz vs Powell camps.

As much as we now look back at figures like Dean Acheson and George Mitchell as post WWII architects of the world order, fifty years from now the name Wolfowitz may be as well known to students of history.
Remember the name, Paul WolfowitzJon Billheimer
Mar 20, 2003 9:13 AM
You're right. Wolfowitz is one of the key architects of current foreign policy. He and his ideological fellow travellers began to articulate the view that America needs to dictate, politically and militarily, the world's agenda about ten to twelve years ago, arguing that the cold war policy of containment is no longer sufficient to promote America's interests and world leadership.
Bush's Support GroupJon Billheimer
Mar 20, 2003 9:21 AM
If you want to see the complete roster and supporting camp for the Bush worldview go to This is the group who has articulated the new American imperialism. Depending on your viewpoint you'll either love or hate the vision of world dominance articulated here. In my own view this is no less than Prussian imperialism raised to an exponential level. As intelligent as some of these people supposedly are they really need to retake a 100 level world history course. Of course, I wouldn't expect such erudition or attentiveness from Dubya!
different mindsetmohair_chair
Mar 20, 2003 8:17 AM
You have to remember that WWI was still fresh in the minds of many when Hitler began ravaging Europe. After all the massive death and destruction it caused, WWI didn't seem to accomplish anything. Movies like "Wings" and books like "All Quiet on the Western Front" showed what a waste the whole deal was. Coupled with the effects of the Great Depression, Americans just didn't care about Europe anymore. Pacifism took hold.

So it's hardly surprising that Americans were opposed to getting involved in another European war. The general feeling was that if the Europeans can't get along, and want to kill each other, that's not our problem. There's a big ocean between Europe and America, and as long as they don't cross it, they can do what they want.

It's easy to look back now and wonder what the hell Americans were thinking. It's just as easy to criticize Chamberlain and wonder what the hell he was thinking. But you can't take it out of context. These were not black and white issues like they appear to be in modern times. There were no knights in shining armor or fools being conned. Chamberlain believed he had done good, and was given a hero's welcome at home. Hitler had promised to stop. We all know the rest of the story.

Did you know that after Pearl Harbor, the United States declared war only on Japan? We still didn't want any part of the European conflict. It was only after Germany declared war on America that America entered the European war. That was three days later.

Do you remember the reaction to American involvement in the Bosnia conflict? As a student of history, I found it kind of amusing that it was so similar to the reaction of America to WWI and WWII: it's a European problem, let the Europeans figure it out. (I felt the same way at the time, because Europe was no longer factionalized like it was in the early 1900s and could act as a coalition.)
German declarationMcAndrus
Mar 20, 2003 8:59 AM
Yes, I did know that Germany declared war on us, not vice-versa. I believe that if Hitler had not declared war on us it would have been weeks or months before Roosevelt could have mustered the political support for war against Germany, although I believe that we eventually would have done so.
WellSpoke Wrench
Mar 20, 2003 9:48 AM
During the Viet Nam era, I had the opportunity to talk with a fellow who actually went to Canada and enlisted in the Canadian Air Force prior to our entry into WWII. My comment was that the issues involving WWII seemed so clear cut compared to current times.

He disagreed strongly. He felt the issues, as people saw them at the time, were every bit as murky. Incidentally, he said that the only reason he went to Canada was because there was a war going on and we weren't in it. He could just as well have joined the Germans. He wasn't sure which was right at the time. Subsequently, he was shot down over France and fought with the French Resistance. Eventually he joined the United States Air Force so he fought with the armed forces of three different nations.

We tend to look at history from only one prospective. I wonder what caused the German people to so willingly follow Hitler in those early days. That's why I think that it's so important for people who question out own government's actions to speak out.
The German PerspectiveJon Billheimer
Mar 20, 2003 10:25 AM
Your remarks are instructive. My 76 year old boss is German and fought on the Russian front at the age of 14. Recalling his youth he has often made the following points. Number one, he was reared in a particular political and cultural environment, so never really questioned the truth of the information that the German public was given nor the Nazi historical perspective. Sound familiar?? Second, the primary political driver that Hitler presented to the German people was the repatriation of what they considered to be German territory and the restoration of Germany's economy. Again, from their perspective at the time not an unreasonable viewpoint. The important thing to remember here is that given the hindsight of history our own current viewpoints are probably equally parochial and skewed. So yes, dissent and opposition is vital in a democracy---if that democracy is to effectively survive.