As a result of World War II, the US economy grew exponentially. The manufacturing power of a war-time economy continued well after the global conflict had ceased. This was one reason the US became one of the sole superpowers. The other reason being that most other countries had suffered great damage from invasion and bombing. While the rest of the world expended resources on rebuilding their cities (in many cases, buying these resources from the US), we ascended with the Soviet Union as world superpowers in the Cold War.
The resulting power struggle shaped the second half of the century, and the modern world. Capitalism and democracy found triumph and defeat in foreign lands. At the end of it all, America survived while the USSR collapsed, and American foreign policy almost single-handedly molded the world we know today.
But what if the US had never become the dominant force in the world? What if America had not been as successful in WWII? The reason the US became involved in it in the first place was because of Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on December 7, 1941. After, the US immediately declared war and subsequently had war declared on them by Germany. It stands to reason then, that if the attack on Pearl Harbor had not happened, then the US would not have entered the war so soon. This could have changed history as we know it.
At the outbreak of war in 1939, Hitler’s Nazi Germany had invaded Poland despite warnings from the League of Nations, as did the Japanese Empire with China. In an attempt to dissuade Japan from furthering these imperialistic maneuvers, the United States imposed economic sanctions against Japan, the most notable being an embargo on the sale of oil to the island nation. Suddenly, Japan found itself with an eighty percent reduction in fuel. It became much more difficult to continue invading and annexing China and the Pacific islands.
Emperor Hirohito was faced with two military decisions. Japan could either attack the US and attempt to overwhelm America, or invade the Soviet Union and march right to their oil fields. Had he chosen to attack the Soviet Union, the USSR most likely wouldn’t have been able to hold out with the Nazis pressing in from the West and Japanese from the East. Japan and Germany would have split the conquered lands and resources. This outcome would have meant certain doom for Europe and Asia. Germany could have redirected troops out of the East and to Africa, or even to an invasion of Britain.
From this point, it is just speculation and guesswork. It is possible that the British could have held out against Germany from its island, or the Royal Family could have relocated to Canada. But England’s dominion in Africa, Australia, and the Southeast Asia would have been destroyed. Even after this, there is no guarantee that America would have entered the war. In our reality, the US was not able to mobilize troops until after war was declared. In this alternate history, it is probable that the US would not have been able build a large enough military to take on the Axis by itself. It is more than likely that Germany and Japan would have tried to invade North and South America, or at least isolate the two continents from the rest of the world. Perhaps the United States would have been able to hold out on its own soil, but in the end, it would have been a single nation against a world of militarized, imperialistic enemies. The Axis would have gone on to conquer the rest of the world and impress institutions of misery upon the rest of humanity.
In an strange way, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on the fateful December morning was a good thing. It kickstarted a patriotic movement to revitalize the American military, economy, and manufacturing industry; ultimately, allowing the Allies to win World War II and make the world an infinitely better place than the alternative.
Graphic: Anika Tsapatsaris