Today is December 7, the 65th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Coincidentally, starting about two weeks ago the U.S. media started pointing out that the war in Iraq had "lasted longer than World War II".
Now, this is one of the reasons people in other countries get upset with Americans. There's a certain amount of insular arrogance that suggests that the Iraq War, which began in 2003, has now been going on for "longer than World War II". This statement is true only if you think World War II began, oh, on December 7, 1941.
What the media meant is that the U.S.'s participation in the Iraq War has gone on longer than the U.S.'s participation in World War II. One "media outlet" got it right... and that was The Daily Show, whose British correspondant pointed out that Britain had been in World War II since September 3, 1939. (Okay, so not all U.S. media news claimed that the war was "longer than World War II". But CNN and FOX News did.)
This does bring up the question of when, exactly, did World War II begin. The traditionally accepted date is September 3, 1939 when Germany invaded Poland, prompting Britain and France to declare war on Germany (followed soon after by Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and other Commonwealth nations).
The trick with World War II is that it was actually several conflicts that occurred at the same time. The primary conflict was Germany versus France and the British Commonwealth. When Germany invaded Poland, soon after the Soviet Union aided Germany in the partitioning of Poland. Although both Germany and the U.S.S.R. knew that they would be at odds eventually, they were technically allies at the time. Germany wouldn't fight the Soviet Union until June 22, 1941, when Germany invaded the U.S.S.R.
So, Germany seems to be the central figure in World War II, and it was, but the war wasn't considered over until August 15, 1945, V-J Day (Victory Over Japan; sometimes called V-P Day, for Victory in the Pacific, and celebrated in the U.S. on August 14 as that is when the people of the U.S. found out the war was over due to time zone differences). V-E Day (Victory in Europe) commemorates the surrender of the German army on May 8, 1945. If World War II was central to Germany, why is it not considered over until Japan was defeated?
That's a good question. The two theatres of operation were like two separate wars. You could argue, though, that the central power in the war was not Germany, but Britain. Britain declared war on Germany, and Britain was one of the countries attacked in early December, 1945. With the signing of Japan's surrender, Britain was no longer at war.
The United States came into the war rather late, for political reasons. And, in fact, it did not enter voluntarily. Japan attacked the U.S. at Pearl Harbor, and Germany and Italy declared war on the U.S. on December 11, 1941. With the U.S. entry into the war, and all three major Axis powers at war with the U.S., the European and Pacific wars have gelled into World War II.
What's interesting is that the Second Sino-Japanese War is still considered apart from World War II, at least in the west. Japan invaded Chinese-owned Manchuria in 1931 due to an incident created by the Japanese. On July 7, 1937 Japan invaded China. This became the Second Sino-Japanese War. It did not end until September 9, 1945, after the peace declaration was signed between Japan and the U.s. and the British Commonwealth.
If you look up information about the Rape of Nanking, or the Second Sino-Japanese War in a book store, you will find it in the World War II section. For this reason, some have suggested that the true boundary of World War II is July 7, 1937 to September 9, 1945, and it is only Western bias that fails to recognize the start of, and importance, of this conflict. After all, it was the Second Sino-Japanese War that prompted Britain and the U.S. to embargo Japan, which resulted in Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor.
In other words, depending on who you talk to in the world, the Second World War lasted just over eight years, or just shy of six years. In either case, the war was much longer than the three years and eight months the American press is currently using to compare it to Iraq. For it to truly be longer than World War II, we will have to see U.S. troops in Iraq in 2009 or 2011... neither of which are out of the realm of feasibility.
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