New Book Examines Hitler's Fatal Miscalculation

Declaring war on US wasn't just madness, authors say
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 19, 2021 5:30 PM CST
New Book Examines Hitler's Fatal Miscalculation
Visitors walk around at the World War II Memorial in Washington on Veterans Day this month.   (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

The fates of nations could have gone in various directions in early December 1941. Japan might have attacked British installations in Asia instead of Pearl Harbor. Italy and the Vichy government of France could have followed through on negotiations to form a close alliance. And Adolf Hitler might have avoided the mistake of declaring war on the US. After Dec. 7, the US was at war with Japan, but it had not declared war against Germany. A new book, "Hitler's American Gamble," takes a look at what Germany's ruler was thinking when he started a war he had no chance of winning, the New York Times reports.

Analysis of that decision generally has broken down two ways: A nihilistic Hitler reveled in the destruction of war, or he made a strategic decision that happened to fail. Brendan Simms and Charlie Laderman write that Hitler knew the odds. But believing that he'd have to fight the US at some point, he decided his best chance was to quickly seize enough oil and food from the Soviet Union to allow him to fight a long war against the US. It's also possible that Hitler wanted to urge Japan on, thinking that fight could keep the US tied up. German forces already were busy fending off a Soviet counteroffensive outside Moscow.

By Dec. 12, the course of the war was set, and "Hitler's American Gamble" shows that many leaders knew it. Britain's Winston Churchill famously almost relaxed, saying US entry into the war meant that "time and patience will give certain victory." But it wasn't just Churchill. "I feel a really miserable defeat coming," said Prince Konoye, Japan's former prime minister. In assembling the ways the outcome could have been changed, the book also shows that even the biggest historical events were not inevitable. Or, as David McCullough says, per NPR: "Nothing ever had to happen the way it happened." (More Adolf Hitler stories.)

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