The 'Greatest' Generation’s Refusal to Fight the 'Good War'

by | Jun 25, 2020


The most sacred shibboleth of US foreign interventionists is World War II. Whenever the issue of foreign interventionism arises, you can count on interventionists to raise what they call the “good war” and the “greatest” generation who fought it. If the “greatest” generation had not intervened in the “good war,” they exclaim, Nazi Germany and imperial Japan would have ended up conquering the United States and the rest of the world.

Yet, there is an important oddity about World War II that is never raised in any discussions about the war. According to the website of the National WWII Museum, 38.8% (6,332,000) men were volunteers in World War II while 61.2% (11,535,000) were draftees.

What’s up with that?

Let’s keep in mind something important about the “draft” — or as it is also known, “conscription”: It’s not voluntary. Conscription or drafting people to fight a war means forcing them to do something that they are not willing to do voluntarily. If a man refused to comply with a draft order in World War II, the government sent armed agents to seize him forcibly, after which he would be criminally prosecuted and incarcerated.

When a free nation is being attacked and invaded, why would people have to be forced to fight? Wouldn’t you think that under that circumstance, you could count on at least 95 percent of men and women to come to the defense of their country, themselves, their families, and their liberty?

Yet, there is that glaring statistic: The US government had to force 61.2% of the “greatest generation” to fight in World War II.


Why didn’t those 11,535,000 men of the “greatest” generation immediately volunteer to fight after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941? Why did they need to be forced to fight?

Reasons for refusing to volunteer

One possible explanation, of course, is that the many members of the “greatest” generation were scared to fight and just wanted other American men to do the fighting for them. Fear undoubtedly was a factor for a few American men to not volunteer to fight, but my hunch is that it was not why most of those 11 million American men had to be forced to fight.

My hunch is that most of the 11 million men who had to be forced to fight in World War II instinctively knew that (1) the war was a crock, just like World War I that preceded it; (2) that President Franklin Roosevelt had knowingly and deliberately provoked the Japanese into attacking Pearl Harbor with the aim of getting the United States embroiled in the war; and (3) that there was no possibility of a Japanese or German invasion and conquest of the United States.

In other words, by not volunteering to fight in the “good war,” those 11 million American men were essentially saying that they had no desire to give up their lives for what they considered was a nonsensical cause.

The ‘Great War’

Remember: Most Americans knew that World War I itself had been a crock. The United States had no business intervening in that war. But like so many other leaders in history, President Woodrow Wilson as well as other US interventionists felt that war was the way to national greatness. Wilson also maintained that US intervention into the “Great War” would make the world “safe for democracy” and, by bringing about the total defeat of Germany, make it the last war in history.

Within a relatively short period of time, however, brutal unelected dictators ruled in Germany, the Soviet Union, and Italy. So much for making the world safe for democracy. That was followed by the outbreak of war between the European powers in 1939. So much for the war to end all wars.

After World War I, Americans could easily see that that war had entailed a total waste of American life and treasure. 160,000 men had died for nothing. $32 billion had been wasted. Civil liberty had been quashed in the United States during the war.

Lesson learned

The American people were resolved to never let another US president do that to them again. When war broke out again in 1939 between England and France and Germany, the overwhelming sentiment of the American people was: Stay out. Don’t get us involved in this one.

But President Roosevelt, like Wilson, would have nothing of that mindset. While falsely paying lip service to non-interventionism during his 1940 campaign for an unprecedented third term as president (“I have said this before, but I shall say it again and again and again: Your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars.”), the truth was that Roosevelt was doing everything he could to provoke first the Germans and then later the Japanese into attacking the United States.

Americans could see what Roosevelt was doing. Sending US warships to serve as escorts for British ships in the Atlantic. Giving money and armaments to Great Britain and the Soviet Union under so-called “Lend-Lease.” An oil embargo against Japan to paralyze its army in China. Freezing Japanese bank accounts in the United States. Imposing humiliating terms in pre-war negotiations with Japan. Leaving US troops and battleships vulnerable to attack in the Philippines and Hawaii.

Moreover, those 11 million American men could see that after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, there was no attempt by the Japanese military to invade and occupy Hawaii, much less the United States. They could see that the Japanese aim was simply to knock out the US Pacific fleet so that it would be unable to interfere with Japanese efforts to secure oil in the Dutch East Indies.

They could also see that Germany lacked the military means and even the interest in crossing the Atlantic Ocean and invading and occupying the United States. Given that Germany was unable to even cross the English Channel to successfully conquer England, the chances of having a different result crossing the Atlantic and conquering the United States were nil.

Moreover, don’t forget that it wasn’t Nazi Germany that declared war on Great Britain. It was Great Britain that declared war on Nazi Germany. It was always clear that Nazi Germany was moving east, toward Hitler’s enemy the communist Soviet Union, which ironically would become America’s wartime partner and ally as well as its official postwar enemy.

Perverse consequences

Moreover, those 11 million men undoubtedly instinctively knew that the results of intervening in World War II were going to be just as perverse as the results after World War I: a complete 45-year-long communist takeover of Eastern Europe and half of Germany; a 45-year Cold War against America’s wartime partner and ally the Soviet Union; the Korean War; the Vietnam War; and the conversion of the US government from a limited-government republic to a national-security state, a type of totalitarian governmental structure to oppose communist totalitarian governmental regimes.

Those 11 million men who refused to volunteer for “service” in World War II and who had to be forced to fight a crock war knew what they were doing. That’s what made them great.

Reprinted with permission from Future of Freedom Foundation.


  • Jacob G. Hornberger

    Jacob George Hornberger is an American attorney, author, and politician who was a Libertarian candidate for president in 2000 and 2020. He is the founder and president of the Future of Freedom Foundation.

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