The Strategic Dilemma of Bitter-Enders

Berlin 1945

I have been reading The End by Ian Kershaw and it struck me that the story therein of Hitler’s Reich going down to total destruction is really a recurrent phenomena.

It is interesting that Kershaw, who began his earlier 2 volume biography of Adolf Hitler with the hypothesis that the Fuhrer was more the opportunistic vehicle of grand historical forces, in this study of the Nazi Gotterdammerung has accepted that the pull of Hitler’s inexorable authority over  Nazi and traditional German elites was charismatic, personalized and beyond challenge, even when Hitler was encircled by Soviet forces in his subterranean bunker and hours from suicide. Kershaw details how Hitler and his die-hard Gauleiter apparatchiks repeatedly demanded not only the militarily impossible, but the nonsensically insane, from the Wehrmacht, the Waffen-SS and the German people themselves. Virtually everyone struggled to comply.

This story is far from unique.

The Imperial Japanese, it must be said, surpassed even their Nazi allies in stubborn refusal to accept empirical reality and determination to fight to uttermost ruin. After the destruction of their Navy, loss of 100,000 men in Okinawa (their entire army there, minus a handful, fought to the death), the ruin of their cities, approaching famine, exhaustion of aviation fuel and gasoline stocks, the declaration of war on Japan by the Soviet Union and the atomic bombing of Hiroshima – Imperial Japan’s war cabinet deadlocked on a vote to surrender. The Kamikaze enthusiasts among the flag officers proposed a battle plan for their home islands to the war cabinet picturesquely titled “Honorable Death of 100 Million”, with gruesome implications for Japan’s civilian population.

Emperor Hirohito inspects Hiroshima after the atomic bombing

Many years later, Prime Minister Nakasone, who had been conscripted as a mere boy to meet invading American soldiers and Marines on the beach with a sharpened bamboo stake, credited the two atomic bombs with having saved his life. Without them, Japan’s warlords, with the tacit approval of their Emperor, would have coerced the Japanese nation into a gloriously genocidal defeat. A policy that while irrational,  faithfully followed the cultural spirit of Bushido and Japan’s mythic 47 Ronin.

Then there was the ancient example of Masada, the defiance of Titus by the Jewish Sicarii in 73 AD, as described by Josephus:

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