They say history is written by the winners, but the truth is even stranger than that. In reality history is often written by popular opinion, or wishful thinking, or crass politics.
That's why so much of what we hear about an event like World War II--whether from textbooks, movies or something you overheard a smart-sounding guy say--is just plain bullshit.
Sixty years of World War II movies, and a decade of WWII video games, have made one thing clear: If it wasn't for America, you'd all be speaking German right now, baby! U-S-A! U-S-A!
How America fights a two-front war.
Why it's Bullshit:
Because it's like thinking that while many X-Men contributed in their own special way, defeating Magneto really came down to Iceman.
There are two radically different histories of WW II, the one that was actually fought, and the one where the US kicked everyone's assess. Guess which one Cold War-era classrooms were allowed to teach? Here's a hint: It's the same one Hollywood chose to film.
World War II wasn't just a clever name. It was a global conflict that included epic acts of heroism by non-Americans like the storming of Madagascar, the Battle of Westerplatte, the Battle of Moscow, the Battle of Kursk, the epically badass Kokoda Track, the pilots of the Polish Underground State, the details of El Alamein or the HMS Bulldog. Of course, Americans never hear about any of those unless, as in the case of the classic submarine film U 571, the characters are just straight up switched to Americans. To quote George S. Patton: "Americans love a winner," which you know because you saw Patton, the film that portrayed Field Marshal Bernard "Rommel-killer" Montgomery like a buffoon simply because he was British.
However, there is one Zangief-sized elephant in the room that America loved to leave out of conversation until the end of the Cold War: the Soviet Union. The "Great Patriotic War" as they called it was the single largest military operation in history, and home to perhaps the biggest turning-point of the war: the Battle of Stalingrad.
Understand, the Russia versus Germany part of the war wasn't just a little more important than the part the USA was involved in. It was "four times the scale" of the whole Western front, larger than all other phases of the war put together. The Soviet military suffered eight million soldiers dead, more than 20 freaking times the number of U.S. casualties.
Suck it up, Damon.
Sounds pretty brutal for a John Wayne movie? Try figuring in another 13.7 million dead civilians.
It's tragic how many kids in the West never heard these stories growing up. One platoon leader in the Red Army named Yakov Pavlov personally rigged a Stalingrad apartment building with enough landmines, rifles and mortars to hold off half the Nazi army. The building was under fire day and night and even had some civilians in the basement, but the fortress never fell. Pavlov himself picked off one dozen tanks from the beast.
Our history books should not have been denied such awesomeness.
Biographers, [English] historians, skewed opinion polls and people who have never heard of British Raj
Why it's Bullshit:
Churchill was great at giving wartimes speeches, and no doubt was an effective cheerleader for England while the Nazis were bombing the shit out of London. But his popularity didn't extend very far beyond a psychological concept called the "rally round the flag" effect, which significantly reduces criticisms of a character/government post-crisis. Remember when George W. Bush's approval ratings shot past 80 percent after 9/11?
It didn't last, and Churchill immediately was booted from office just months after Germany surrendered. Why?
Churchill suffered from an insatiable urge similar to "bloodlust" in Warcaft to keep fighting WWII for as long as he felt like it. Since this meant millions of men would be dying for his ego, it made him quite unpopular within the British military. Churchill's craziest scheme: A preemptive invasion of Russia on July 1, 1945 with the help of re-armed German forces. Yes, he wanted to start World War III before we had even started shoveling the rubble of WWII. It was his aptly-named Operation Unthinkable, and even his closest supporters thought it was batshit insane.
As for Churchill the Prime Minister, Brits began experiencing a bit of an "oh shit" feeling when it hit them that they might be stuck with the nutcase in peacetime. Winnie didn't make this anxiety any easier for himself, calling his Labour opponents "Gestapo" even though they served key posts in his war cabinet. Thus Britons promptly responded in 1945 by kicking his enormous ass out of office in one of the most spectacular electoral defeats in history.
Nevertheless, Churchill did enjoy high approval ratings from his people... that is, if you ignore the 400 million inhabitants of British Raj, present-day Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar and, the big one, India. By Churchill's own standards, these people were part of the British Empire (including all those poor villagers in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom), yet he was a fierce opponent to any kind of Indian autonomy.
The country was forced into World War II, and its leaders arrested if they protested. Churchill even took a hard-line against Mohandas Gandhi, going so far as to advocate" letting Gandhi starve to death" during his hunger strikes.
Fuck you, Gandhi!
Just about everybody.
The idea is that Nazi Germany was a military juggernaut for a brief period in the 40s, and that the entire planet would have collapsed if it wasn't for one or two minor blunders.
If only he remembered to put oxygen in that helmet...
Why it's Bullshit:
To say that Hitler sleeping late decided the war ignores the fact that he needed supernatural good luck to do as well as he did in the first place. For instance, it was blind luck that he avoided assassination in 1938, before he could even get his war plans off the ground. And it's a pretty safe bet he never would have gotten very far if his father hadn't changed his name from the far less catchy Schickelgruber.
But the major reason Hitler was never this close to making your grandparents goose step through Time Square: The Soviet Union. Today, it's widely believed that Hitler, or really anyone's, chances of winning a war against the Soviet Union were on par with a snowball in a cage match with a chainsaw wielding Mike Tyson in hell.
What 11 time-zones of Joseph Stalin looks like.
Yes, Hitler plowed through Europe and had the UK on the ropes, and could have done more. It didn't matter. Stalin was waiting on the other side, and Hitler was never going to win that war. It was just a matter of how much of Europe he would control at the moment Stalin eventually crushed him.
But had it been through a nuclear bombardment of Berlin or through a continued war of attrition, Joseph Stalin was going to be in the winner's corner of WWII, no matter what.
Behind all those trucks is a battalion of motorcycles to ramp them.
If all of this makes it sound like we think Hitler was kind of an idiot, well, that brings us to our next myth...