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The Cold Hard Truth About This Bizarre WW2 Fact



416,800 United States servicemen were killed in WW2. For the Germans, it was 3,626,000, the Japanese 2,120,000, and the Russians lost somewhere between 8 million and 14 million soldiers. These high numbers remind us how costly the second world war was. And one aspect of those numbers that is often overlooked is the first death and the complicated historicity surrounds it, as well as the irony that their allies killed the supposedly first recorded American and German World War II casualties.

THE RUMOR WEED

The vast majority of casualties in World War II were inflicted by enemy forces attacking their enemies. Even so, friendly fire was still a common occurrence on WW2 battlefields and Naval theatres, exacerbated by the increase in long-range weapon usage. And according to a couple of rather sensational headlines perpetuated on the internet by Redditors and bloggers alike. Even the reputable publisher Business Insider added the supposed fact onto a listicle they published titled, "21 rare and weird facts about WW2," where they claimed that the first German serviceman to die in WW2 was killed by a Japanese soldier in China during the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937. Other articles claim that the first American military casualty of WW2 was executed by the Soviet Union's Red Army in Finland, 1940. But are these facts true?



THE FACTS

Historians know that soldiers were killed by friendly fire in these battles. However, were they technically friendly fire from allies? Did the supposed killings take place during the official timeline of World War II? The answers are not nearly as simple as the publishers posting this supposed fact would like them to be.

As is often true in the study of history: nuance should always be favored oversimplification. The second world war was very politically complex. Many scholars debate to this day on what year the war technically began. The traditional date, as you likely already know, is 1939, the year Germany invaded Poland. However, some historians postulate that the war had already begun when Japan launched its invasion of China when America fully involved itself in 1941 after Pearl Harbor. The theories vary. But each one can hold credence against the other. For example, it is entirely plausible that the war did not fully encompass the world until the U.S and Soviet Russia (the largest countries in the world) entered the war. These are the types of issues historians--and history buffs on internet comment sections--debate amongst themselves.

Therefore, the real and aforementioned question you have to ask--if you are thinking like a historian--is whether or not these deaths were casualties of WW2 or fell under specific dates. And during the second world war, the dates, unlike most historical events, are actually pretty important. Especially regarding the issue of determining if these facts are as interesting as they say they are. For example, the Allies did not wake up one morning and become allies merely because the Germans were evil. The Soviet Union and the United States had to work together, negotiate, and build an alliance. In fact, prior to Hitler ordering his famously blunderous invasion of Russia, the Soviets were allied with Nazi Germany. It was only after the betrayal that Stalin decided to join sides with the Americans.



TRUTH IS BEST SERVED COLD

But when exactly did this alliance officially form? Stalin and FDR allied up in December 1941 after Japan provoked the U.S into retaliation. Before being attacked, both titan nations had opted to stay out of the war, leading the war to become worldwide when physically joined into the fighting.

A year before this alliance was forged, the Soviets and Americans met in Finland during the Winter War from 1939-1940. By then, World War II was in full swing, with Nazi Germany launching their European invasion while Japan was conquering the Pacific islands. The Winter War, on the other hand, involved Stalin's Russia and Finland. The war began when Stalin ordered an invasion of Finland. Though the invasion occurred during the second world war, the vast majority do not classify the conflict as part of the greater World War. Instead, scholars categorize the Winter War as its own distinct conflict. That perspective alone excludes the death from being a "World War II casualty." But suppose you did consider the Winter War its own micro-war that falls under the greater umbrella of WW2. Even under that consideration, you would still be incorrect.

As previously mentioned, the Soviets and Americans did not become allies until 1941, an entire year after the Winter War's conclusion. As a matter of fact, during the Winter War, FDR was sending aid to Finland to help them fight the Soviets, making it blatantly clear that in 1940 the United States was not allied with the Red Army. The other fact carries the same fallacy. In 1937 Nazi Germany was not allied with Japan, making it impossible for the German deaths in the Sino-Japanese Wars to be considered fratricidal. The Germans were in China to provide financial investment into the Nationalist Party, which ended when the war began in 1937. However, the Germans did not entirely switch to the Imperial Japanese side until 1940 when they signed the Tripartite Pact with Mussolini's Italy and Japan, three years after the German soldier was allegedly killed. When you consider the Tripartite Pact, the veracity of the fact seems flimsy at best.



FINAL THOUGHTS

If you are ever researching for a book, always be wary of sensational facts like these. They can certainly be interesting. But bizarre facts should always be put under intense scrutiny when researching historical fiction, especially when writing a book on WW2. Due to the war still being relatively recent in history, if you take too many dramatic liberties, then your work will be inevitably criticized for violating minor historical technicalities. The main takeaway here is to think like a historian and ask skeptical questions throughout your researching process. Besides making the quality of your work more vivid and accurate, thinking like a historian will allow you to differentiate between a fact and the truth. And the truth will hopefully keep some of the Karens away.


Landon Girod
HFC Blog Writer




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4 comentários


Malve von Hassell
Malve von Hassell
13 de set. de 2021

Great points. History is complicated and much messier than one often realizes, and often "introduction to history" texts gloss over the complicated and confusing parts.

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landongirod
landongirod
15 de set. de 2021
Respondendo a

Thank you! Yes history is far more nuanced that people presume.

Curtir

Well written. Insightful. Thanks!

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landongirod
landongirod
15 de set. de 2021
Respondendo a

Thank you very much!


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