Weird History
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Real Historians Answer The World War II Questions We've Always Wanted To Ask

Updated December 23, 2020 2.4k votes 431 voters 22.7k views14 items

List RulesVote up the answers that make you feel like you just took class on WWII history.

World War II reshaped the countries of the world, global politics, and a generation. It wasn't so much one life-altering event for the participants, but a series of life-changing and defining moments, one right after the other, and each one caused or influenced by the one before, happening in a constant stream. Which is why, all these years later, we still look back with wonder, fear, awe, and disgust, and ask, "What happened?"

When those queries strike, the subreddit AskHistorians proves to be an invaluable resource where curious Redditors can take a break from their regular redditing and stop by one of the more calm, collected, and informed places in the Redditsphere to pose their WWII questions. You'll find the ones you wish you had asked below.

  • 1

    Why Did Japan Attack Pearl Harbor?

    Asked by Redditor u/RectumExplorer:

    Was the attack on Pearl Harbour a gamble by the Japanese Empire, or did they truly believed such a attack would cripple the US to the point of not winning the war?

    Answered by a former Redditor:

    The Japanese high command was not stupid nor were they blind, they could see the massive disparity in terms of military resources and industrial capacity that existed between the USA and Japan. Pearl Harbor was not necessarily intended to cripple the USA in the long term but rather it was intended to buy time. The Japanese had long identified the United States as Japan's future foe (along with China and the USSR), they had begun making plans for how to fight a war with the Americans as early as the 1920's. It was recognized by the Japanese high command that any drive southwards towards the East Indies and Malaya would be under threat from the US pacific fleet and units stationed in the Philippines. Admiral Yamamoto, also recognized this, and began to make plans to cripple the US fleet so as to give Japan time. Now the destruction of the American fleet also gave the Japanese the ability to implement their "ring" defensive strategy. This strategy called for protecting mainland Japan by building a ring of outposts in the Pacific by capturing various strategic islands, once these islands were secured, they would be fortified and any enemy fleet would be vulnerable to planes or guns on the island.

    The Japanese knew a straight fight with the Americans would be suicide because of their vast resources, but they assumed that if they could build this defensive ring, that the Americans attempt to penetrate it would result in high casualties, which would make the American populace unwilling to fight the war. The Japanese strategy essentially rested on the idea that the "decadent" Western nations didn't have the morale to fight a long protracted war with high casualties, on the other hand the Japanese high command assumed that the Japanese people would be unaffected by high causality numbers. They also assumed that Germany and Italy would soon force to Britain to surrender which would lead to the collapse of China and cause a severe amount of damage to America's will to fight.

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  • 2

    Did the Japanese Have Any Idea What Language The Navajo Code Talkers Were Speaking?

    A former Redditor asked:

    Did the Japanese have any idea as to what language the Navajo code talkers were speaking in?

    Answered by Redditor u/Dtnoip30:

    Yes, in 1944 the Japanese military tortured Joe Kieyoomia, a Navajo POW who was captured in the Philippines in 1942, to have him translate the messages. The Navajo code talkers replaced military terms with unrelated, everyday Navajo words, so Kieyoomia was unable to make sense of the messages. The incident suggests that the Japanese knew it was Navajo and were attempting to decode it.

    Exactly how they figured out the language was Navajo is still a mystery, but there are a few possibilities. A linguistics expert in Japan might have been familiar enough with the language to identify it, but not enough to translate it. There were also a few security leaks, such as an article in the Arizona Highways that talked about the Navajo code talkers. The code talkers also started their messages with the indicator "Arizona" or "New Mexico," which might have clued in the Japanese.

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  • 3

    How Close Did The Nazis Get To Making An Atomic Bomb?

    Asked by Redditor u/Diggity84:

    How close was Heisenberg to successfully developing the Atomic bomb for the Nazis? Also, had it been completed prior to the Allies, was there an already developed plan for it's use?

    Answered by Redditor u/restricteddata:

    They started their exploratory phase in 1939, the same as the USA. Like the US, they concluded that this was interesting but pretty difficult. Nobody thought this was going to be an issue in the present war — which, of course, Germany was doing very well in, early on. By 1942, they started to realize that things weren't going so well. They started to get more interested in the uranium issue. But even then, it was still just a transition towards the pilot stage. They were looking into building an experimental reactor. They were hampered in this by many factors. They never got to the end of this phase before the war ended. What if they had? They still would have to start a production phase, which was the most difficult and most costly of the phases. So by 1945 they were almost to the phase that the United States moved out of in 1942. 

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  • 4

    When The Nuclear Bombs Were Dropped On Japan, How Universal Was The Reaction In The U.S.?

    Asked by Redditor u/PlatoHadA200IQ:

    When the nuclear bombs were dropped on Japan, how universal was a neutral/celebratory reaction in the United States?

    Answered by Redditor u/jbdyer:

    There were multiple opinion polls taken in 1945 after the atomic bombings of August 6th and 9th. Gallup, during August 24th-29th, asked "Do you think it was a good thing or a bad thing that the atomic bomb was developed?" With 69% choosing "good thing," 17% "bad thing," and 14% "no opinion."

    A month later, a National Opinion Research Center poll asked "If you had been the one to decide whether or not to use the atomic bomb against Japan, which one of these things do you think you would have done?" The responses were 44% at "bombed one city at a time," 23% at "wiped out cities," 26% at "bombed where there were no people," 4% at "refused to use," and 2% at "don't know."

    The magazine Fortune had a November 30 poll also specifically about the bombings, leading to 53.5% endorsing the bombings "without qualifications," 22.7% who thought the US should have dropped more bombs, 13.8% who thought the bomb should have been demonstrated on an "unpopulated region," and 4.5% who opposed using the bomb under any circumstances.

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