John Leo
By late 1942, after Adolf Hitler had invaded most of the nations of Europe, relentlessly bombed England and declared war on the United States, the vexing question naturally arose: What's better, to fight back or to sit down and study the root causes of Germany's behavior?

Some impetuous students simply rushed off campus to defend their homelands. But their professors knew that many semester hours of causal analysis lay ahead, especially since several very promising root-cause seminars in Poland and Belgium had been interrupted by Panzer divisions rolling through on their way to Paris.

The root-causists agreed that Germany had been badly misunderstood and that Britain and America had brought the terror of war upon themselves. Some pointed to misguided policies -- not handing over the Rhineland and Czechoslovakia to Hitler quickly enough, for example. Others thought the deepest roots of the root causes were in the eighth century. That was when the Teutonic knights were treated discourteously by newly Christianized Slavs, thus setting the stage for a perfectly understandable "religious war" between the pagan Nazis and majority Christian nations 13 centuries later.

One problem with the growing sympathy for Hitler was the unsettling news that the Nazis were rounding up and killing Jews, some 6 million of them. But the Episcopal bishops of the United States were able to put this in perspective. In a soothing formal statement titled "Wage Reconciliation, Not War," they said that while killing so many people is surely not a good thing, it is also true that 6 million children die of natural causes every few years without attracting nearly as much attention.

When President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill put together their "broad coalition" to fight Hitler, they ran into unexpected problems. One ally said it would fight only if the war could end within two months. A few wanted a cash payoff before joining up. One was willing to fight without a bribe but would cease fighting if it didn't like the looks of the probable postwar government in Norway. And one said, we are with you all the way, but we can't send troops, and you can't use our airfields or our airspace. And please don't mention that we're on your side.

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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