- - Sunday, December 6, 2015


One of the neglected aspects of the aftermath of the infamous Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor 74 years ago today is the manner in which Adolf Hitler manipulated that event to enter Germany into war against the United States. To be sure, Hitler’s alliance with Japan committed both signatories to pursue military action against nations that had attacked them. But Japan wasn’t attacked, so the question remains: why would Hitler declare war on a nation where public opinion was decidedly against going to war against Germany? And where that nation’s military strength could tilt the balance of power against him?

The answer is found in Hitler’s 88-minute call-for-war speech to the Reichstag in Berlin on the afternoon of Dec. 11, 1941 — an address broadcast to the nation that Hitler wrote in its entirety. It reveals that the German dictator, first of all, was well-informed. He cited stories in the American press as late as December 4, using the info to discredit White House leadership. Most of all, the Pearl Harbor attack, he believed, illustrated that Japan had not only power but enough to assist in defeating all the Allies — Britain, the Soviet Union and now the United States. “We cannot lose this war,” Hitler said, “for we have an ally [Japan] that has not been defeated in 350 years.” In short, Japan’s great navy and Germany’s superior submarine fleet would ensure victory.

And, in reality, the war’s history bore out the difficulty of defeating the Japanese, not only in terms of their hard-to-reach territories and homeland but their total commitment to military leadership rather than to civilian authority.

The second aspect of Hitler’s address was his polished demagoguery. Germany wasn’t involved in warmaking. Rather, “just as Rome once made her immortal contribution to the building and defense of the continent, so now have the Germanic peoples taken up the defense of a family of nations which … together constitute a racially and culturally unified and complementary whole.”

The real villain was President Franklin D. Roosevelt, “who likes to chat nicely at the fireside while nations and their soldiers fight in snow and ice.” FDR came from “an extremely wealthy family” in contrast to Hitler’s “small and poor family.” And the president, unable to deal with his country’s national debt, devalued dollar and high unemployment, concentrated instead on foreign affairs, using his influence “to create conflicts, intensify existing conflicts, and, above all, to keep conflicts from being resolved peacefully.”

No better example of this duplicity, in Hitler’s view, was Roosevelt’s roughshod treatment of Japan. “After years of negotiating with this deceiver, the Japanese government finally had its fill of being treated in such a humiliating way. All of us, the German people and, I believe, all the decent people around the world will regard this [Pearl Harbor attack] with deep appreciation.” As for Germany’s treatment of America, the historic record was unblemished: Germany permitted millions of its citizens to come to the New World, it established no colonies there, and if it opposed the United States in World War I, it did so because American participation was induced by Wall Street capitalists.

Why was the United States so evil? Because it intervened against Germany by weakening its neutrality legislation to permit aid to Britain in the hope of creating a “new social order” in the world. “That’s about the same,” quipped Hitler, “as a bald-headed barber recommending a tonic guaranteed to make hair grow.” Rather than focusing on its own domestic problems — most notably, unemployment — America chose to incite war to achieve the new social order.

But the real kicker was Hitler’s end-of-speech remarks that not only acknowledged the generosity of the Almighty for his nation’s greatness but that Germany and its allies were the true, impoverished victims in a classic struggle between the haves and have-nots. “The American President and his plutocratic clique have called us the ‘have not’ nations. That is correct! But the ‘have nots’ also want to live, and they will certainly make sure that what little they have to live on is not stolen from them by the ‘haves.’”

Members of the Reichstag catapulted to their feet in thunderous applause.

Thomas V. DiBacco is professor emeritus at American University.

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