European Diary

Whens, Ifs, and Buts

When did World War II start?  An American is entitled to think it started with Pearl Harbor, as, clearly, the world without the United States is only a world in part.

But ask an Englishman, and he will say the world war began some two years earlier, when Britain declared war on Germany.  A Russian will disagree, for much the same reason as the American—what’s the world without Russia?—and for some other reasons as well, some of which, like the Nazi-Soviet Pact, he may think it opportune to forget.  An Italian, on the other hand, may well choose to forget the whole thing, especially if remembering it involves deciding whose side his country fought on.

A Chinese may well argue that the war started with the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War.  A Finn will, with every justification, point to the Winter War, which brought Soviet Russia in tandem with Nazi Germany into open conflict with the civilized world.  Then an Austrian, a Czech, and a Serb will have their say, and by and by it emerges that no single answer is sufficiently decisive to be awarded the palm of incontrovertible historical fact.

Victor Suvorov, whose writings I have often reviewed and discussed in these pages, believes that the war in Europe became a world war on May 5, 1941, when Stalin made his secret “attack is defense” speech to...

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