Historical speculations may be idle, and men daydreaming over old battlefields may be as pathetic as young boys playing with lead soldiers on model boards. But historical developments may turn on delicate fulcrums.
Historians have wondered for decades how the outcome of the Second World War might have been different, had the Germans succeeded in formulating a viable atomic bomb, with the means to deliver it, prior to their capitulation in May 1945.
Record show that Germany had begun development and research on detonating an atomic fission device as early as 1939, at the time of the invasion of Poland. But the progress of its pursuit of such a device was hampered by several factors.
During the 1930's, the Nazi authorities had systematically dismantled much of the technical-academic sphere in Germany. Many of the best scientists had fled or been incarcerated in Hitler's campaign against Jews and liberal elements of the intelligentsia. Their ranks had been decimated. Nevertheless, there was sufficient expertise available in Germany to successfully complete a prototype, had there not been additional problems.
Perhaps the single most important obstacle to the success of Germany's military expansion in Europe was Hitler's impatience and irrational over-confidence. By mid-1942, Germany either occupied or controlled four-fifths of the continental land-mass of Europe, and Great Britain seemed well within its grasp. The so-called neutral nations--Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, Sweden, Turkey--were nothing but pawns in this gambit, whose fate would eventually be sealed.
What would have happened had Germany, upon securing France, proceeded directly to the invasion of Great Britain, instead of opening up a Second Front in the Soviet Union? A consolidation of power at this point could well have enabled Germany to devote more of its resources to a further build-up of materiel and manpower, in anticipation of the military involvement of America. If Hitler had been just a little more patient, it's quite likely that all of Western Europe could have fallen under his domination. At that point, an invasion of Russia would have been a much less taxing effort.
Hitler even believed that the "real enemy" was Communism, and that by uniting Western Europe under German direction, he could overcome the Soviet menace. As preposterous as this now seems in retrospect, it should be understood that the inherent disaffection that existed between the Soviet Union and the West in the late 1930's was such that there were many who shared a fear and hatred of the aims of messianic world socialism. The rise of Fascism may be seen in the context of a growing labor sentiment. What would happen if socialist movements in France, Germany, Italy and England were to gain a foothold? The Spanish Civil War [1936-1939] had created an unholy alliance between Spanish Republicans and Communist partisans. Some even viewed Fascism as a kind of political necessity; and it had many pragmatic sympathizers in the West.
The other side of the equation was Japan's war in Asia and the Pacific. Opinion now is that Japan probably didn't need to challenge America's Pacific Fleet. Would America have entered the War, if it had not been directly attacked? It may well be that Roosevelt deliberately provoked the Japanese into an attack, as a way of drawing America into the conflict. Unable to persuade the Congress and the American people of the wisdom of defending Britain directly, he had begun Lend-Lease to shore up her feeble defenses.
Imagine a scenario in which Japan doesn't attack Pearl Harbor; instead of invading Russia, Hitler successfully invades and secures Great Britain. His only major obstacle then is the Soviet Republics in the East. Without having to face an American invasion, what would have prevented his by then far superior forces from conquering Russia, with a campaign beginning in the early Spring of 1942?
Historians now believe that had Germany not slowed its research into atomic detonation and delivery in 1942 and 1945, it had the resources and know-how to do so. That's also true of its development of the V2 rocket technology. Even given the problems associated with its military-scientific research, many believe that Germany was probably less than two years away from making an atomic bomb. Imagine what would have happened if Germany had bought time, delayed the invasion of Russia, and developed the atom bomb before America did.
A single bomb dropped on Moscow, for instance, would probably have had the same effect on Russia as it had on Japan in 1945. It's unlikely that Germany would have been able to attack America with an atomic bomb, since its bombers weren't able to fly far enough to reach our shores then.
Imagine, then, that Germany rules all of Europe and the Soviet Union. The neutral countries capitulate. Since Japan hasn't engaged America, its own expansions into China and Korea have been more successful, given the elimination of Soviet influence in the East. Japan consolidates its power, perhaps seizing Australia and New Zealand to add to its growing empire on Mainland China. Only America stands between the Axis powers, and world domination.
Is this scenario a bad dream, or one possible outcome of WWII? As we know, Hitler's prosecution of the war was fraught with blunders. The reluctance to invade Britain, the Eastern Front; the destruction of the intelligentsia during the 1930's; the persecution and genocide against the Jews, Slavs, Gypsies and "Undesirables." The qualities which had facilitated his rise to power within Germany, were not sufficiently moderated to permit him to conduct a shrewd advance militarily, once he began to realize success on the field of battle. Too much audacity in the end.
As we also know, following the war, Russia's acquisition of the bomb technology initiated the Cold War, which kept the world on the edge of its collective seat for four decades, and drove the biggest military expenditure in history. Mutually assured destruction kept the two superpowers at a stalemate, until economic forces eventually dissolved the Soviet Union into its constituent fragments .
Embalances of power are inherently unstable. The current situation in Asia, where China has already become an economic force to be reckoned with, may eventually develop into a military confrontation. Money buys technology, and China will soon enough be outstripping the West in its ability to acquire or develop superior force. In this context, America's rising debt, and decline in GDP, may eventually lead to a serious embalance throughout Southeast Asia and the Middle East, as our ability to maintain a superior military technology fades. What if China were to evolve into an expansionist empire, like the Germany, Italy or Japan of the late 1930's? Like those countries, in the historical scheme of things, China is coming late to capitalist enterprise. China, the sleeping dragon.