At the very moment his troops were being decimated on the outskirts of Moscow in early December 1941, Adolf Hitler's attention was riveted elsewhere. On Sunday, December 7, 1941, Japanese warplanes had attacked the U.S. Naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The next day, responding to the devastating air raid which killed over 2,400 American sailors and wounded another thousand, the United States declared war on Japan.
This had enormous implications for Hitler. By this time, Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, along with Fascist Italy, had entered into a strategic agreement known as the Tripartite Pact, pledging to provide mutual military assistance in the event any one of them was attacked by a nation not already involved in the war. The year-old Pact had been crafted mainly to intimidate America and to discourage it from helping Britain.
As an added measure, outside of the formal agreement, Hitler had given a verbal promise to the Japanese Foreign Minister that Germany would join the fight if Japan attacked America. It was a promise that would change history.
Deep down, the war-making potential of the United States worried Hitler, although he never missed an opportunity to mock America and President Roosevelt, publicly and in private, if only to reassure himself. From a racial viewpoint, he gleefully expressed a low opinion of America, describing multiracial United States as a "mongreloid" nation, unlike pure-bred Germany. For that reason alone, Hitler asserted, the fighting ability of the U.S. Army would pale in comparison to superior Germany. He also reasoned it would take years for the U.S. to adequately rearm. By that time, he believed, Nazi Germany would be victorious in Europe, while Japan would triumph in East Asia and the South Pacific by waging its own brand of Blitzkrieg.
Interestingly, the Japanese had not bothered to inform Hitler prior to their attack on Pearl Harbor – just as Hitler had not informed the Japanese prior to his attack on Russia – an indication of the coy and somewhat shady relationship between the two military allies.
Pearl Harbor therefore took the Nazis by surprise. When it occurred, Hitler was at his military headquarters for the Russian Front, a bunker complex called Wolf's Lair, in Rastenburg, East Prussia. On hearing the news, he rushed back to Berlin to mull things over.
Technically, according to the Tripartite Pact, the Germans were not obliged to declare war on the U.S., because Japan, not America, had been the aggressor. But Hitler was inclined to honor his personal promise and declare war anyway, believing it would greatly strengthen the German-Japanese alliance. He also assumed the United States was on the verge of declaring war on Germany and wanted to embarrass President Roosevelt by beating him to the punch.
Additionally, a war declaration would allow his submarines to unleash their full fury against the American warships now protecting British convoys in the North Atlantic. Hitler knew this would be welcome news for his eager U-boat commanders, restrained till now from unprovoked attacks on U.S. warships. By this time, America had become Britain's lifeline, supplying the British with enormous amounts of food, fuel, war materials and manufactured goods, in accordance with President Roosevelt's Lend-Lease Act.
With the United States reeling from the Pearl Harbor attack, Hitler calculated, the bulk of America's naval power would surely be diverted to the South Pacific, away from Europe, thereby leaving the Atlantic shipping lanes vulnerable. And this played to Germany's advantage.
All things considered, therefore, a declaration of war against the U.S. appeared to be best move. Hitler mulled it over a little longer, then made the final decision on Tuesday, December 9th. He spent the next two days fine-tuning the war announcement speech he would make, especially the parts intended to soothe the already jangled nerves of the German people.
On Thursday, December 11, 1941, Hitler strode to the podium inside the packed Reichstag in Berlin for his speech which was also broadcast live around the world on radio. To the delight of the Nazi deputies, he ridiculed President Franklin Roosevelt and America: “I will pass over the insulting attacks made by this so-called President against me. That he calls me a gangster is uninteresting. After all, this expression was not coined in Europe, but in America, no doubt because such gangsters are lacking here."
Hitler receives unanimous support from his Nazi Reichstag deputies during his December 11th speech declaring war on America. Below: President Franklin Roosevelt signs the U.S. Declaration of War against Germany on December 11th..
Next, he mocked Roosevelt's leadership abilities: "National Socialism came to power in Germany in the same year as Roosevelt was elected President…While an unprecedented revival of economic life, culture and art took place in Germany under National Socialist leadership, President Roosevelt did not succeed in bringing about even the slightest improvement in his own country."
Following this, in keeping with his oft-stated theme of an international Jewish conspiracy, Hitler claimed they were unduly influencing Roosevelt: "A threatening [political] opposition was gathering over the head of this man. He guessed that the only salvation for him lay in diverting public attention from home to foreign policy...He was strengthened in this by the Jews around him...The full diabolical meanness of Jewry rallied around this man and he stretched out his hands. Thus began the increasing efforts of the American President to create conflicts...For years this man harbored one desire – that a conflict should break out somewhere in the world."
Finally, he blamed Roosevelt for the Japanese attack: "The fact that the Japanese Government, which has been negotiating for years with this man, has at last become tired of being mocked by him in such an unworthy way fills us all, the German people and, I think, all other decent people in the world, with deep satisfaction.”
In concluding, Hitler started to announce that Germany was henceforth breaking off diplomatic relations with America, but was drowned out mid-sentence by wildly cheering Nazi deputies in the hall.
Shortly after the speech, Foreign Minister Ribbentrop handed the formal war declaration to the ranking American diplomat in Germany, Leland Morris – in the absence of the U.S. ambassador who had been withdrawn by Roosevelt in 1938 following Kristallnacht.
The declaration accused the United States of "overt acts of war against Germany" and therefore "declares that under these circumstances brought about by President Roosevelt, Germany too considers herself to be at war with the United States, as from today."
The American reaction was swift. That day, the United States Congress declared war on Germany at the behest of President Roosevelt who said: “Never before has there been a greater challenge to life, liberty and civilization.”
Roosevelt, as U.S. Commander-in-Chief, therefore directed nearly 90 percent of America's military resources toward the defeat of Hitler, not Japan. As a result, the might of the world's largest industrial nation was turned against Nazi Germany.
For Hitler, declaring war on America would prove to be his biggest political mistake of the war – a truly lethal blunder. With the stroke of a pen he had greatly reduced the odds of Nazi Germany's survival. The Führer now had to contend with three principal opponents – America, Britain and Russia – whose combined reservoir of manpower and total war production capacity dwarfed Nazi Germany – at a time when Germany had already lost a quarter of all troops and many thousands of tanks and planes on the Russian Front.
Even worse, Hitler had foolishly joined Japan's war against America with absolutely no guarantee from the Japanese they would join his war against Russia. And they didn't. This allowed the Russians to transfer 30 well-trained Siberian divisions away from Japanese-threatened areas in southeastern Russia to the opposite side of the country, where they blasted away at the beleaguered Germans outside Moscow.
For Adolf Hitler, however, the consequences of December 11th were not readily apparent. By now, the Führer was seeing only what he wanted to see – recognizing only the facts he desired to support his own version of reality – his own truth.
Unlike his counterparts, Roosevelt, Churchill and even Stalin, who relied on trusted advisors or special committees for advice on foreign affairs, Hitler trusted no one. He made history-changing decisions on his own, relying on gut instinct, hunches, a hodgepodge of knowledge gathered through self-education, or outright guesses, all the while convinced of his own genius. In truth, when it came to formulating global strategy simultaneously involving the British Empire, Soviet Union, Imperial Japan and the United States – the Führer was an amateur who didn't have a clue.
Worse for Hitler, long gone were the days when he enjoyed even a pretense of legitimacy on the world stage. Now the civilized world only saw a villain, no better than the violent Nazi street thugs who had helped put him in power. His own allies, including Italy and Spain, saw a man who was wearing himself out running the armed forces, foreign affairs, and functioning as head of state, stubbornly on his own.
For the moment, however, Hitler could still reassure himself and any naysayers by gloating over a map showing a Nazi Empire stretching from the outskirts of Moscow all the way to Paris and from Scandinavia southward to Greece. And he remained confident victory would still come, regardless of the present circumstances.
His generals began to think otherwise. When they looked at the map they saw German forces badly over-extended throughout Russia, Europe, and now in North Africa, their latest venture. It was there, that Hitler's next setback occurred.
Copyright © 2010 The History Place™ All Rights Reserved