Thomas Sowell
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Those of us old enough to remember World War II face many painful reminders of how things have changed in Americans' behavior during a war. Back then, the president's defeated opponent in the 1940 election -- Wendell Wilkie -- not only supported the war, he became a personal envoy from President Roosevelt to Britain's Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

We were all in it together -- and we knew it. People who had been highly critical of American foreign policy before we were attacked at Pearl Harbor now fell silent and devoted themselves to winning the war.

What if the people, institutions, and attitudes of today were somehow taken back in time to World War II? What would have been the result? Would we have ended up winning or losing that war?

What about the great cry of the hour, a cease fire?

It so happens that World War II had the biggest cease fire in history. It was called "the phony war" because, although France was officially at war with Germany, the French did very little fighting for months, while the bulk of the German army was in Poland and France had overwhelming military superiority on the western front.

Famed correspondent William L. Shirer reported on the "unreal" western front, with soldiers "on both sides looking but not shooting." German soldiers bathed in the Rhine and waved to French soldiers on the other side, who waved back.

During this period Hitler offered to negotiate peace with France and England.

Kofi Anan would have loved it.

On November 19, 1939, Shirer's diary reported: "For almost two months now there has been no military action on land, sea, or in the air." On January 1, 1940, he wrote, "this phony kind of war cannot continue long." But it was now exactly four months since war was declared. How is that for a cease fire?

Did this de facto cease fire lead to peace? No. Like other cease fires, it helped the aggressor.

It gave Hitler time to move his divisions from the eastern front, after they had conquered Poland, to the western front, facing France.

Now that military superiority along the Rhine had shifted in favor of the German armies, the war suddenly went from being phony to being devastatingly real.

Hitler attacked and France collapsed in six weeks.

Eventually, by 1945, allied armies had both Germany and Japan retreating. What would have happened if we had had Kofi Anan and the mushy mindset called "world opinion" at work then?

Kofi Anan would undoubtedly have called for a cease fire.

He could have pointed out that the American response to Germany was wholly "disproportionate" because the Germans had never landed troops in America or bombed American cities, and were certainly no real threat to the United States at that point.

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Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

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