The Myths of World War II

CSPI Podcast with Sean McMeekin

When I get a large number of new subscribers, I always like to encourage them to subscribe to the CSPI mailing list to stay updated on what we’re doing, and also to subscribe to our podcast (here’s the Apple link, but you can get it wherever).

I usually don’t announce new podcast episodes on my personal Substack because I’m sure many or most of you also get the CSPI Substack, but I’ll make an exception this time for the new followers and because I highly recommend it.

This week, I talk to Sean McMeekin, a professor of history at Bard College and author of Stalin’s War: A New History of World War II. If you’re going to read one book on World War II (and you should read more than one!), this should be it. Professor McMeekin and I discuss three main myths.

1) The idea that there was a clear moral case for helping the Soviet Union over Germany. In fact, Stalin had killed and arrested orders of magnitude more people by 1941. Although Germany would later shrink the gap during the Second World War, it remains true that we have every reason to question the moral calculations made by American and British leaders at the time.

2) American and British decision making was based exclusively on national interests or morality rather than being in many cases largely manipulated by communist ideologues and Soviet agents of influence.

3) There was nothing Churchill or Roosevelt could have done to save countries that went communist during or after the war like Yugoslavia, Poland, and China.

World War II remains central to how Americans understand themselves and our role in the world. Moreover, it’s endlessly fascinating, involving interactions between fundamentally different systems and having spanned across most of the planet from North Africa and England to the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The conflict resulted in American global hegemony, ended the British Empire, expanded the frontiers of communism, and led to the creation of the nations of Germany and Japan, and ultimately, China, as we now understand them.

Our conversation closes with a discussions of scholarly reactions to his book and how the myths of World War II should affect how we think about American foreign policy today.