Why did Hitler declare war on the USA?

Why did Hitler declare war on the USA?

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Since there had not been any offensives launched by either side against the other, why declare war just because Japan had attacked the USA?

There was an 88-minute long speech made by Hitler to the Reichstag on December 11th, 1941, which was four days after the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor, where he officially declared that Germany would join Japan in the war against the USA. In this speech, he mentioned a few of his personal reasons for this decision. That decision to declare war had been delivered to the Americans two hours before the speech by his foreign minister.

About two hours before Hitler began his address to the Reichstag, Germany formally declared war against the United States when Reich Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop delivered a diplomatic note to the American Charge d'Affaires in Berlin, Leland B. Morris.

I think this would be an interesting read regarding this question, and there's a translation by a Mr. Mark Weber on the Website of the Institute of Historical Review


Institute of Historical Review is considered by many to be a revisionist, Holocaust-denying institution with links to neo-Nazi organizations. Their translation of Hitler's speech might have been manipulated for propaganda purposes.

The US was already in a naval war with Germany (and not doing real well), was supplying all sorts of arms, supplies, and even warships to Britain, and was flagrantly violating the laws of war applicable to neutrals. Hitler was expecting war at some time in the near future, and chose to declare war first.

Hitler was also counting on the Japanese Navy to at least neutralize the US Navy, and considered the US to be a racially mixed and hence weak nation.

During World War II, American aid to the Allies fell under three categories:

  1. Lend-lease aid to Britain and Russia, of an amount roughly equal to the whole of the German war production,
  2. Fighting Japan, Germany's major ally, and
  3. the introduction of ground troops into western Europe.

American "Lend Lease" efforts had troubled Hitler and his admirals all through 1941. This was particularly true after American forces occupied Iceland, and the U.S. extended its zone of protection that far east, meaning that Britain would have to "cover" a relatively short part of the North Atlantic route on its own. Hitler could barely restrain his admirals from attacking U.S. ships.

Basically, Hitler could not win the war without the aid of Japan, because Germany was not strong enough to fight Britain and the Soviet Union alone (at least not after the latter received Lend Lease aid). Hitler could win if Japan could break the back of Britain (in India) or the Soviet Union (in Siberia). And it appeared to Hitler that Japan had, in fact, done this to the United States with its stunning (if incomplete) victory at Pearl Harbor. Journalist William L.Shirer reported in "the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" that Hitler exulted, "we cannot lose this war, for we have an ally that has not been defeated in 350 years."

Hitler believed that the Japanese had started the process of destroying the U.S. navy, and that his submarines could finish the job. With the U.S. supposedly helpless, Germany and Japan could divide up the eastern hemisphere before finishing their dealings with the Americas.

On the other hand, if the United States fought Japan, that country would not be able to help Hitler finish off Britain and the Soviet Union. If the United States defeated Japan, and allied with China and/or India, Hitler could not win the war even if he conquered Britain and the Soviet Union. Hitler's "best chance" was to help Japan contain the United States in exchange for Japan's help in the eastern hemisphere.

Because Germany, Italy and Japan were allies, and fighting common enemies together is exactly what a military alliance is about.

By the way, the USA actually wanted to get involved in WWII, because they really didn't like how Germany was conquering most/all of Europe. Pearl Harbour and the Germany/Japan alliance acted as the classic casus belli.

In addition to the lend-lease reasons given by others, Japan had declared war on Britain at the same time as it declared war on the United States. Japan including the British Empire on the war declaration against the United States had to be reciprocated on the German side of the alliance with a declaration of war against the United States (since Britain and Germany had already been at war since 1939 at that point). With Japanese attacks on Malaya and Singapore, threatening Australia further south and India to the west, British ships and imperial troops (mostly from Australia) had to be withdrawn from the Mediterranean and North Africa and redeployed to the Pacific. It continued the pressure on Britain's links to its imperial possessions and dominions in the Indian and Pacific Ocean, which had been a major objective of the North Africa campaign (i.e. cut off the Suez Canal). With the Empire in the Pacific largely unprotected, Germany may have hoped Japan would be able to quickly neutralize the British Empire in the Asia Pacific region.

At the same time, in the Atlantic, Germany could now target American shipping to Britain far more openly. If the Japanese could win quick victories in the Pacific, and the US was slower to react in the Atlantic, the "tit for tat" war declarations (Japan on Britain, Germany on the USA) could have forced Britain out of the war through cutting it off from the Empire and the USA alike. With Britain out of the war, it would have been much harder for the USA to actually become involved in the European theater, and as for the Pacific - well that was always going to be Japan's problem anyway.

I think you have to consider Hitler's decision in conjunction with his antisemitism and the issues with which he was struggling in early December 1941.

  1. Hitler did not believe that it was in Britain's interest to fight Germany, and that leading government figures, such as Churchill, were backed by "the Jews" of London and manipulating the country. Likewise he believed the USA to be in thrall to "the Jews" of New York.

  2. Hitler also believed that "the Jews" were behind "Bolshevism" in the Soviet Union. Communism was the primal victory of "Jewry's" drive for state decomposition. Consider the purpose of the original Einsatzgruppen was to follow the Wehrmacht and kill "political commissars" which also meant "male Jews" and soon also women and children.

  3. In this ideological space there was a direct push and pull between bombs dropping over Bremen, for example, and the Eastern Front. Or Lend-Lease aid to the Soviets, and so forth. The nexus of that "push and pull" was, for Hitler and all too many Germans, "the Jews."

  4. In the time between October and December, Hitler and co. were debating whether to unleash the "Final Solution" ASAP or "in the spring, after the war." Meanwhile they were "researching" the ways and means of mass death in Auschwitz. A conference was scheduled in Wannsee on December 8 to discuss the coordination of the effort.

  5. First came the Soviet counteroffensive in Moscow on December 5 and then Pearl Harbor on December 7, both of which came as a surprise to Hitler, and threw Hitler into a bit of a stun. It is not known whether it was a euphoric stun or depressive stun - different reputable historians have it going either way with equally convincing arguments. The historian I trust most on this matter, Christopher Browning, is on the euprhoricist side. It rings true with my own impressions that Nazis were optimistic about the war through 1942, got kicked in the stomach at the start of February 1943, and were glum by August 1943.

  6. Hitler emerged from this stun talking for the first time of Weltkrieg (world war). He accepted that the war would last into 1942 and beyond. He declared war on the USA so that his U-boats could get to work, and gave his go-ahead to begin the Final Solution of the Jewish Question while the military aspect of the war was still underway. The Wannsee Conference was rescheduled for January 20, 1942, and work commenced on building the death camps.

  7. In case you were wondering how it makes "military sense" for Germany to devote so many resources to the murder of millions of Jews, remember for the Nazis that was the entire point of the war: to "liberate" Germany from the "Jewish world conspiracy" and win the Lebensraum needed to ensure national survival. It was not a side issue - it all hangs together.

Hitler, not being over-informed in US history or culture, probably felt such warfare was inevitable, and, indeed felt that the multicultural USA would indeed be a weak opponent, and that the prime German war aim would be done by the time they actually came to blows.

Hitler thought that by declaring war on the USA, he would persuade Japan to declare war on the USSR in turn. This did not happen, and it is one more strategic mistakes of Hitler.

Hitler, while he had a vision and a goal, didn't plan things far out; rather, he wanted to take advantage of opportunities. He saw the attack on Pearl Harbor as one. Expecting that America would focus on the more direct aggressor, Japan, he declared war on America.

In the war to that point, Pres. Roosevelt wanted to help Britain, and did not want to see her defeated. There were various types of aid, but not much direct involvement. He could not go to war against Germany without good reason, which Hitler handed him. The rest, as they say, is history.

Hitler truly believed that if he went ahead and took on the United States now that that his ally (Japan) was at war with them that they would do the same with his enemy the Soviet Union. At that point he very badly needed to relieve the pressure on his soviet front lines. However the leaders of Japan were nowhere as rash & impulsive (and may I say stupid) as Hitler. They were not about to do something like declare war on two super powers in the same week. As it would have it the tactic might have worked.

To take out Poland, Hitler linked with the country on the other side of it and thus sandwich attacked his target. He declared war on USA because he thought Japan would then attack Russia, enabling him to repeat his previous successful tactic.

So I think what is most critical in understanding December 7th, 1941 is that Japan itself did NOT declare War on the United States but instead did knowingly launch a "sneak attack" on the US Navy and Army Air Forces on that day. There are those even at the time that the whole thing was a "contrivance" created by the Roosevelt Administration but the fact remains as FDR pointed out in his dramatic address that a "State of War now EXISTS" (emphasis mine) "between the United States and Japan."

This did give pause to the 3rd Reich as indeed they were under no obligation to support a "sneak attack" and indeed had many reasons to oppose an outright Declaration of War on the USA given such a circumstance.

That makes this a very valid question from an Historical point of view relating to any War but especially World War 2. I'm not sure there is any answer actually other than there were mutual declarations of War by the 3rd Reich and the USA against each other… which was great news for Russia and Great Britain… both of whom looked on the verge of defeat in the Winter of 1941.

There was nothing that came out during the Nuremberg Trials that I am aware of either on this question… even though the Nazi "Secretary of State" Von Ribbentrop was one of the captured and accused and was directly questioned by the English Jurist on this matter.

Interesting discussion.

Hitler did anything to avoid war with America, up to a limit. Effectively, the USA was already at war with Germany. They extended their coastal zone of control to half way the Atlantic ocean. US warships interfered with U boat actions. Position of U boats were transmitted in clear text, so convoys could act on it. Sometimes that lead to open warfare.

When Japan struck at Pearl Harbor Hitler probably thought open war was preferable to armed US neutrality. Given the effectiveness of operation Drum beat, not really a bad decision.



Why did Herr Adolf Hitler Declare War on the United States of America?

Lack of Documentation Leads to Speculation

Adolf Hitler shown in Landsberg Prison after being
convicted as a result of the Munich Putsch.
I am not sure if this photo, like many other many
NAZI pre-war and wartime era photos, patents, inventions
and other similar items, are void as a results of being considered
"war booty" and are no longer protected for patent
or copyright purposes.

One of the problems in researching NAZI WWII politics and the resulting policies that occurred in Germany during the 1930s thru to the end of the 2nd World War is that many of reasons behind the decisions were never documented. Some high ranking people in the Third Reich kept diaries, Joseph Goebbels for example, but the writers often recorded what happened, the decisions that were made, but seldom the reasons behind the decisions that were made.

The style that Hitler used to govern the National Socialist Germans Workers Party (NSDAP, aka NAZI the D stands for Deutschland), and thus Germany, was one of vaguely stating what he wanted done to various people or departments then those people would implement the policies and enforce it. He also often set up duplicate sets of government groups to carry out the same policies, building programs, enforcement, and had them competing against one another. This kept people fractured and thus he was kept him informed since most everything had to go through him to be approved. It also meant he often heard both sides of a position since two different groups were often given the same task. The charisma of that leader and their access to the Chancellor's office would dictate the power that the group had. Thus, if you were in favor with Hitler then you got prestige to speak on his behalf in your department as what rules to write and so your version of a policy implemented the way you wanted it, or a government contract. Meeting notes would be written down, but the reasoning behind Hitler's decision on that - policy papers, background materials, never were. Just decisions as to who was allowed to do what.

A good gaining facts without a context reference of background material can be found by looking at the diaries that German combat units kept (Allied units kept them also). For information on that unit's military history it is great since it recorded engagements, losses, and other facts. However, just like personal diaries, they seldom recorded the reasons why actions of the unit commanders were taken.

Why Adolf Hitler Declared War on the USA

Adolf Hitler did not wait long to commit his first strategic blunder (very probably the worst military error of the entire war). On 11 December 1941, four days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the United States declaration of war against the Japanese Empire, he declared war against the United States.

On December 8, Japanese Ambassador Oshima went to German Foreign Minister von Ribbentrop to request a formal declaration of war against America. Von Ribbentrop stalled for time he knew that Germany was under no obligation to do this under the terms of the Tripartite Pact (a defensive military alliance between Germany, Italy and Japan signed on September 27 th , 1940).

For a very simple reason – the abovementioned Pact (see Appendix) required Germany to provide Japan with military assistance only if Japan was attacked, but not if Japan was the aggressor (which now was the case). And even then did not explicitly require Germany to declare war on the attacking power, but only to provide “military assistance” – a deliberately highly vague term.

Von Ribbentrop (correctly) feared that the addition of another antagonist, the United States, would overwhelm the German war effort. But Hitler thought otherwise.

So On December 11, 1941, American Chargé d’Affaires Leland B. Morris, the highest ranking American diplomat in Germany, was summoned to Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop’s office where Ribbentrop read Morris the formal declaration of war (see Appendix).

Now why on Earth would Adolf Hitler commit such an enormous blunder – the blunder that very probably made a decisive contribution to his defeat in World War II and ultimately led to the demise of his party, his state and to his suicide in the Führerbunker?

The most important reason was Hitler’s sincere (and incorrect) belief that in a very short time (possibly in a matter of days) the USA would declare war on Germany anyway – and wanted to start the seemingly inevitable war on his own terms.

Indeed, the USA was already fighting the de-facto naval war with the USA – US destroyers escorting American supply vessels bound for the UK were already attacking German U-Boats.

On September 11, 1941, Roosevelt publicly declared that he had ordered the American Navy and Air Force to shoot on sight at any German war vessel. In his speech of October 27, 1941, he once more expressly affirmed that this order was in force – and was diligently carried out.

The Destroyers for Bases Agreement, Lend-Lease agreement (which in the fall of 1941 was extended to the Soviet Union), the Atlantic Charter, the hand-over of military control of Iceland from the United Kingdom to the United States, the extension of the Pan-American Security Zone, and many other results of the special relationship between the USA and Great Britain – all of that made the formed a “shadow belligerent” involved in the World War II on the British side (and thus a de-facto adversary of Nazi Germany).

Hitler believed that all that his U-boat captains needed to all but completely cut off British supply lines (and thus force His Majesty’s Government to sue for peace) was to give them the maximum operational freedom possible. And the official declaration of war on the United States, obviously, gave them that freedom.

His ignorance about military and industrial capability of the United States – as well as its determination and willpower to successfully fight the war on two fronts also played a part.

Apparently, he was never aware of the prophetic evaluation of the attack on Pearl Harbor by no other than Isoroku Yamamoto – Marshal Admiral of the Imperial Japanese Navy and the commander-in-chief of the Combined Fleet (who planned and commanded this attack):

All we did was to wake up a sleeping giant and filled him with a terrible resolve

Unbelievably, neither Adolf Hitler nor other top Nazis ever considered American entry into the Great War the key reason for the defeat of Central Powers (and Germany). They were too much invested into the “stab-in-the-back” theory which severely clouded their judgement and led to completely wrong expectations and forecasts.

Finally, Hitler’s deeply-held racial prejudices made him see the US as a decadent bourgeois democracy filled with people of mixed race, a population heavily under the influence of Jews and “Negroes”, with no history of authoritarian discipline to control and direct them, interested only in luxury and living the “good life” while dancing, drinking and enjoying decadent and immoral music.

Such a country, in Hitler’s mind, would never be willing to make the economic and human sacrifices necessary to make a significant (let alone decisive) contribution to the Allied efforts on the battlefield.

He consistently underestimated the American power and overestimated the Japanese one. He perceived Japan as much stronger than it actually was and the United States as much weaker than they actually were.

And, finally, there was a powerful (probably, very powerful) emotional reason. Totally unexpected Soviet counteroffensive effectively put an end to German blitzkrieg and delivered the first and quite painful defeat (from both military and psychological perspectives) to German Wehrmacht and personally to Adolf Hitler.

Who still was manic depressive (bipolar disorder is a lifelong condition even if treated properly – and Hitler’s was not). Consequently, it immediately threw The Führer to the very bottom of a very deep, very dark and very painful depression pit. To get out of this pit, he desperately needed a very powerful emotional jolt.

Like declaring war on the United States.

Adolf Hitler was wrong in all his perceptions and predictions. During the Great War (the lessons of which Nazis apparently never learned), Americans proved to be courageous, dedicated and well-trained soldiers led by highly competent and able commanders.

Thus proving beyond the reasonable doubt that it was nature, not nurture culture, not race and “software”, not “hardware” that counted. Americans of all races and nationalities demonstrated identical skills, courage, fighting spirit and competence thus powerfully repudiating scientifically wrong and genuinely insane “racial theory” of the Nazis.

This common (and superior) culture united the whole nation and focused all of its energy, intellect, enormous human and material resources, industrial and agricultural capacity, creativity – everything squarely on but one objective – winning the war. And thus defeating (and destroying) all their enemies – the Germans, the Japanese, the Italians, everyone.

Americans proved themselves to be not only brave, skillful and efficient soldiers, officers and generals but no less efficient, creative and dedicated entrepreneurs, workers and managers – both in business and in government.

In record time they designed, tested and deployed weapons and military equipment that was either superior to their German counterparts (bomber and fighter aircraft, automobiles, rifles, submachine guns, etc.) or good enough to do the job (Sherman tank, armored personnel carriers, etc.). In other words, to achieve victories on the battlefield – and ultimately in the whole war.

In a record time they transformed their economy into an extremely powerful military-industrial complex thus making it a genuine “arsenal of democracy” (i.e. of the Allies in the “anti-Hitler coalition”).

The United States produced weapons, ammunition, foodstuffs, clothing and military equipment (and merchant ships to transport them) in such quantities that even completely unopposed, German U-boats could sink only an insignificant portion of them.

But they were opposed. Ruthlessly and skillfully opposed. Escort ships (especially escort carriers) and long-range anti-submarine aircraft ultimately won the Battle of the Atlantic (highly overrated in its impact on World War II, but still a long and vicious sea war).

Destruction of German infrastructure by American strategic bombers (escorted by long-range fighters) was a major – and probably decisive – contribution to the Allied victory in World War II.

As were, obviously, American troops and weapons that played the dominant role in Operation Overlord and subsequent genuine liberation of Western Europe.

And all of the above would not have happened had Hitler not declared war on the United States. Contrary to his deep and sincere belief, the majority of the American were so firmly set against entering the war in Europe that even such a hawk as Roosevelt would not have been able to convince them otherwise.

For a very simple reason – in terms of loss of lives of American servicemen (which was always and still is a decisive factor for American public) was a far, far bloodier endeavor than the war in the Pacific.

John Kenneth Galbraith (then an economist in the federal government service and one of Roosevelt’s economic advisors) recalled:

When Pearl Harbor happened, we were desperate. … We were all in agony. The mood of the American people was obvious – they were determined that the Japanese had to be punished. We could have been forced to concentrate all our efforts on the Pacific, unable from then on to give more than purely peripheral help to Britain. It was truly astounding when Hitler declared war on us three days later [and thus solved all our problems for us]. I cannot tell you our feelings of triumph. It was a totally irrational thing for him to do, and I think it saved Europe.”

And, finally, fighting German U-boats and sending lend-lease supplies (even in huge quantities) is very different in scope and impact than a full-scale involvement in the European war.

Hitler’s declaration of war came as a great relief to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who feared the possibility of two parallel but disconnected wars – the UK and Soviet Union versus Germany in Europe, and the US and the British Empire versus Japan in the Far East and the Pacific.

With Nazi Germany’s declaration against the United States in effect, American assistance for Britain in both theaters of war as a full ally was assured. It also radically simplified matters for the American government (as fighting the war de-jure is far more convenient than doing it only de-facto).

So yes, declaring war on the United States (made by Adolf Hitler, apparently offhand, almost without consultation with anyone) was a colossal strategic blunder. Not the first one and definitely not the last. More were to come. Much more.

Roosevelt&rsquos Orders to Shoot-on Sight German Ships and Submarines

Roosevelt&rsquos next move toward war was the issuing of secret orders on August 25, 1941, to the Atlantic Fleet to attack and destroy German and Italian &ldquohostile forces.&rdquo These secret orders resulted in an incident on September 4, 1941, between an American destroyer, the Greer, and a German submarine.[10] Roosevelt falsely claimed in a fireside chat to the American public on September 11, 1941, that the German submarine had fired first.

The reality is that the Greer had tracked the German submarine for three hours, and broadcast the submarine&rsquos location for the benefit of any British airplanes and destroyers which might be in the vicinity. The German submarine fired at the Greer only after a British airplane had dropped four depth charges which missed their mark. During this fireside chat Roosevelt finally admitted that, without consulting Congress or obtaining congressional sanction, he had ordered a shoot-on-sight campaign against Axis submarines.[11]

On September 13, 1941, Roosevelt ordered the Atlantic Fleet to escort convoys in which there were no American vessels.[12] This policy would make it more likely to provoke future incidents between American and German vessels. Roosevelt also agreed about this time to furnish Britain with &ldquoour best transport ships.&rdquo These included 12 liners and 20 cargo vessels manned by American crews to transport two British divisions to the Middle East.[13]

More serious incidents followed in the Atlantic. On October 17, 1941, an American destroyer, the Kearny, dropped depth charges on a German submarine. The German submarine retaliated and hit the Kearny with a torpedo, resulting in the loss of 11 lives. An older American destroyer, the Reuben James, was sunk with a casualty list of 115 of her crew members.[14] Some of her seamen were convinced the Reuben James had already sunk at least one U-boat before she was torpedoed by the German submarine.[15]

On October 27, 1941, Roosevelt broadcast over nationwide radio his Navy Day address. Roosevelt began his Navy Day address by stating that German submarines had torpedoed the U.S. destroyers Greer and Kearny. Roosevelt characterized these incidents as unprovoked acts of aggression directed against all Americans, and that &ldquohistory will record who fired the first shot.&rdquo

What Roosevelt failed to mention in his broadcast is that in each case the U.S. destroyers had been involved in attack operations against the German submarines, which fired in self-defense only as a last resort. Hitler wanted to avoid war with the United States at all costs, and had expressly ordered German submarines to avoid conflicts with U.S. warships, except to avoid imminent destruction. It was Roosevelt&rsquos shoot-on-sight orders to U.S. Navy vessels that were designed to make incidents like the ones Roosevelt condemned inevitable.[16]

Despite Roosevelt&rsquos provocations, the American public was still against entering the war. By the end of October 1941, Roosevelt had no more ideas how to get into a formal and declared war:[17]

&ldquo&hellipHe had said everything &lsquoshort of war&rsquo that could be said. He had no more tricks left. The hat from which he had pulled so many rabbits was empty.&rdquo

Even full-page advertisements entitled &ldquoStop Hitler Now&rdquo inserted in major American newspapers by Roosevelt&rsquos supporters had failed to sway the American public. The advertisements warned the American people that a Europe dominated by Hitler was a threat to American democracy and the Western Hemisphere. The advertisements asked: &ldquoWill the Nazis considerately wait until we are ready to fight them? Anyone who argues that they will wait is either an imbecile or a traitor.&rdquo Roosevelt endorsed the advertisements, saying that they were &ldquoa great piece of work.&rdquo[18]

Yet the American people were still strongly against war.

Why did Hitler declare war on the United States?

"But Hitler thought otherwise. He was convinced that the United States would soon beat him to the punch and declare war on Germany. The U.S. Navy was already attacking German U-boats, and Hitler despised Roosevelt for his repeated verbal attacks against his Nazi ideology. He also believed that Japan was much stronger than it was, that once it had defeated the United States, it would turn and help Germany defeat Russia. So at 3:30 p.m. (Berlin time) on December 11, the German charge d&#8217affaires in Washington handed American Secretary of State Cordell Hull a copy of the declaration of war."




I did a paper on why Germany declared war on the US in both World Wars. The bottom line was they thought they could win before the US had any serious effect on their chances of winning.

Put a tick in the "strategy" box.

Hitler said "Great states declare war, they are not declared on." He knew it was inevitable that the US would enter the war on the British side, so he just stole a march on FDR by his thinking.

Put a tick in the "political" box and one in the "ego" box.

Declaring war on the US allowed the U-boats to operate freely against shipping in US waters. The ensuing slaughter must have been gratifying to Hitler.

Put a tick in the "tactical" box, and one in the "strategy" box.

Hitler really didn't understand the US any better than the Japanese. On some level he must have known that the US be able to launch a ship ten days after it was laid down, but he just refused to allow that fearsome knowledge to affect his planning.

Put a tick in the "failure to understand opponent" box and one in "I heard that, but I didn't hear that" box.

Closing Thoughts on Hitler’s Declaration of War Against the United States

No nation has ever been led into war with as many soothing promises of peace as the American public received from President Roosevelt. Most of the American public felt that the United States had entered the First World War under false pretenses. Polls consistently showed that the American public did not favor entry into a second war in Europe. Roosevelt assuaged these fears with statements such as “…I have passed unnumbered hours, I shall pass unnumbered hours, thinking and planning how war may be kept from this nation.”[37]

The truth is that Roosevelt did everything in his power to plunge the United States into war against Germany. Roosevelt eventually went so far as to order American vessels to shoot-on- sight German and Italian vessels—a flagrant act of war. However, Hitler wanted to avoid war with the United States at all costs. Hitler expressly ordered German submarines to avoid conflicts with U.S. warships, except to prevent imminent destruction. It appeared that Hitler’s efforts would be successful in keeping the United States out of the war against Germany.

Hitler declared war on the United States only after the leaked Rainbow Five plan convinced him that war with the United States was inevitable. The extraordinary cunning of leaking Rainbow Five at the very time he knew a Japanese attack was pending enabled Roosevelt to overcome the American public’s resistance to entering the war. It allowed the entry of the United States into World War Two in such a way as to make it appear that Germany and Japan were the aggressor nations.[38]

Why Did Hitler Declare War on the United States?

On December 11, 1941, Nazi Germany declared war on the United States.

The interesting thing about this decision is that they didn’t have to do it. In fact, it would have been far better had they not done it.

This decision has been one of the biggest mysteries of World War II.

Learn more about why Hitler declared war on the United States on this episode of Everything Everywhere Daily.

The United States did everything in its power to stay out of the Second World War.

The war is usually dated as beginning on September 1, 1939, when Germany invaded Poland.

For over two years, the United States kept its distance.

Hitler conquered all of western Europe and was on the outskirts of Moscow in late 1941.

Roosevelt desperately wanted to enter the war. His administration provided support in the form of money and equipment to the British and other allies, but that was the limit of American involvement. They didn’t partake in any combat.

Here I have to zoom out to give an overview of what the relative strengths of the United States and Germany were at the time.

Germany had a population of 86 million people in 1939. The United States had a population of 146 million people. That is a substantial difference of 60 million people.

In 1941, the United States had the largest economy in the world with a GDP of 1.1 trillion dollars. The GDP of Germany was only 412 billion dollars.

The economy of the United States was almost three times larger. Moreover, even before the Americans ramped up production to a wartime economy, they were one of the world’s largest manufacturers of aircraft and automobiles.

To be fair, the US military wasn’t anything to brag about. The number of full-time standing soldiers in the army at the outbreak of war was only around 17,000, with another 220,000 in the various National Guards.

In 1941 the German army had over 3,000,000 men, most of whom had seen combat, and a correspondingly large amount of military equipment.

The only real bright spot in the US military was its navy, which had built up its fleet before the start of the war.

After Pearl Harbor, the hawks in the Roosevelt administration thought they had their casus beli, aka their excuse to go to war.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t the war they were looking for. They were much more focused on what was happening in Europe, especially to their allies in Britain and France.

Here you might be thinking that Hitler had to declare war with the United States due to the Tripartite Pact that Germany signed with Japan and Italy.

This is not true, and the Tripartite Pact was not invoked when Germany declared war. The Tripartite Pact was a defensive treaty that only obligated the other parties to declare war if one of them was attacked.

As Japan was the aggressor against the United States, Germany was under no obligation to declare war.

Moreover, it wasn’t like the Axis Powers were a real alliance in the same way that the Allies were. They never planed anything jointly and they never really worked together.

The Japanese never gave advance notification to the Germans that they were going to launch a surprise attack on the Americans. The Germans suspected that something was going to happen, but they were not privy to information regarding when or where.

So it came as a great surprise to everyone when on December 11, Hitler declared war on the United States. The Americans returned the favor within hours.

The Roosevelt administration, which spent two years wanting to get into the fight, but lacking the excuse to do so, suddenly had it dropped into their lap.

Germany picked an unnecessary fight with a country 50% larger in population, three times larger economically, and moreover, located on the other side of the world where their industrial and manufacturing couldn’t be touched.

Moreover, because Germany never managed to invade Britain, the Americans had a way to attack German economic targets.

Hitler could have just done nothing.

Even if war with the Americans was inevitable, not declaring war immediately might have held it off for a year or two.

That would have given the Germans valuable time to focus their attention and devote all of their resources to their invasion of the Soviet Union.

The North African and Italian theaters would have been postponed or perhaps never have happened, as well as the invasion of Normandy, without the addition of American troops and resources.

There were several strategically dumb things that were done during World War II. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the German invasion of the Soviet Union were two big ones.

However, at least for those two, each country had some sort of reason for doing what they did, even if the reason turned out to be wrong. The Japanese thought they could take out the Americans in a preemptive attack, and the Germans thought they could overwhelm the Soviets quickly and conquer an enormous swath of land.

With the declaration of war on the Americans, there wasn’t even a pretense for any possible gain. It wasn’t as if he was in any position to try to invade North America.

For starters, it isn’t clear that anyone else in the German high command wanted to do this.

When the Japanese ambassador came to see the German foreign minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop, the day after Peral Harbor, von Ribbentrop stalled. He knew that the Japanese wanted Germany to declare war on the Americans, and he knew that this was something that they didn’t need on their plate at that time.

After the war, interviews were conducted with Nazi officials who were present when the decision was made.

It turned out that Hitler made the decision without consulting anyone. It was a totally unilateral decision that surprised many in the upper echelon of the German government.

There were a host of reasons why Hitler took this unnecessary move.

First, he assumed that an American declaration of war was imminent. If there was to be war, then he would rather be the one to initiate it.

Second, he never really thought strategically about the United States. In the early German war planning conducted in 1937, the United States never even came up. He was far too focused on the map of Europe didn’t see the US as a strategic threat.

Third, he viewed the US as weak and decadent. He saw a multiracial democracy, which was the antithesis of everything Hitler stood for. He didn’t see how a country that produced jazz music and motion pictures could possibly be a threat.

Fourth, he overestimated the power of the Japanese. He thought that the Japanese would easily defeat the Americans for the above reasons and that the Americans would probably never even get to Europe.

Fifth, Hitler had some enormous blind spots and some profound ignorance. He never traveled much and was woefully ignorant about the United States. His decisions were made through his prejudices and racial theories, not through any actual data and intelligence.

Finally, Hitler just hated Roosevelt. He was the leader of a bourgeois, decedent country, and he had jews in his cabinet and as friends. He called out Roosevelt in his address to the Reichstag in his declaration of war when he noted:

I will pass over the insulting attacks made by this so-called President against me. That he calls me a gangster is uninteresting. After all, this expression was not coined in Europe but in America, no doubt because such gangsters are lacking here. Apart from this, I cannot be insulted by Roosevelt for I consider him mad just as Wilson was. I don’t need to mention what this man has done for years in the same way against Japan. First, he incites war then falsifies the causes, then odiously wraps himself in a cloak of Christian hypocrisy and slowly but surely leads mankind to war, not without calling God to witness the honesty of his attack-in the approved manner of an old Freemason.

Hitler had some respect for Stalin and Churchill, but he had none for Roosevelt.

So long story short, there really wasn’t a good reason for Hitler to declare war against the United States.

Was war inevitable? Probably. Would delaying the war have changed the outcome? Maybe.

Ultimately, it was ideology trumping strategy, and theory superseding reality, and whenever that happens, reality always wins.

Everything Everywhere is also a podcast!

Why did Hitler declare war on the US after Pearl Harbor?

Contrary to popular belief, Hitler had no obligation to declare war on the US following Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor.

The Axis powers were only obliged to help each other when one of their members was attacked by a foreign power, not if they initiate. This is why Japan didn't join the German war against the Soviet Union.

Moreover, Japan never even informed the Germans that they were planning to attack Pearl Harbor. Hitler found out the same time the rest of the world did.

Lastly, the Germans didn't ask Japan to join the war against the Soviets as a pre-condition to their declaration of war against the US.

The most common explanation I hear is that Hitler believed FDR was going to declare war anyway, so he figured he might as well do the honors himself.

I personally don't buy this theory. Hitler was not a stupid man, especially not in 1941. There was nothing to be gained from Germany declaring war before the US did.

Germany's DOW against the US wasn't followed by any substantial escalation in the war in Atlantic either. It doesn't seem like the Germans weren't planning to gain anything from taking the gloves off against the US.

Of all the major decisions of WWII, this is the one I simply don't understand the rationale behind.

Hitler greatly underestimated / was ignorant of the industrial strength of the United States, and he expected the Japanese to easily defeat the Americans in the Pacific. He hoped that by helping Japan, he could count on Japanese support against the Soviet Union once the Americans had been beaten. He estimated that half of Americas fleet had been destroyed at Pearl Harbor and with the fifty destroyers America had just sold to the British, Hitler thought America didn't have much of a navy left. And of course America didn't have much of an air force or army in 1940-41 either.

As it turned out once America got going it was able to build the equivalent of the entire Japanese navy every year, with enough to spare for the Atlantic navy, three armies, two air forces, and still be able to substantially supply the British and the Soviets.

American lend-lease and financial aid to the British had been going on for some time at that point, and Hitler thought that by declaring war and starting unlimited submarine warfare in the Atlantic in conjunction with Japans Pacific campaign Germany would be able to sink a significant amount of Allied shipping and so stop supplies from reaching Britain.

There was a substantial escalation of the war in the Atlantic, but Germany had only five U-boats operational that could reach America at that time.

In the very short Hitler didn't think going to war with America would be that big of a deal compared to going to war with the Soviet Union, Great Britain, or France for that matter.

More info: Hitler, Vol 2: 1936-1945 Nemesis by Ian Kershaw.

Smart people can do stupid things, stupid people can do smart things, the one does not exclude the other.

More Comments:

Amelia Kristina Hilborn - 3/27/2010

Quite obvious that its an extreemly vauge source and a lot of speculations. That America would have been ever considered a threat to Germany is more childish and after constructed than what any man living of that age would have ever even speculated about. Germany was by the strongest military power and Hitler developed long range V2 missles to blast America, that was as far he was concerned what level America was, some kind of pathetic enemy that could be sueing for peace when being bombarded by these long distance missles while the americans themselves were unable to return the fire. However Hitler made a smililar scheme on England and failed there so, maybe he was misstakening, but at any rate he never speculated in pre war time about US navy being too big since then why the heck would he challange the British navy which was quite more deadly even if perhaps not more up to date. Last of all speaking of large populations. USA had rougly twice the German population at that time. The Soviet, UK & France had altogether almost 5 times the German population, once again a lame excuse to believe Hitler would have considered America a threat. As also proved in battle the Americans were highly uneffective agienst the germans and most people can agree on that the german mp40 was superior to the American Thompson all from day 1. Since then however Germany had invented many newer and better guns such as STG44 / Mp44 along with highly advanced tanks the Americans were totally unable to break (as of the Tiger) However the Americans won by cheer numbers and by that only. However it's not strange because even if most Americans seems to believe that the WW2 was between US & Nazi Germany and US & Japan the WW2 was actually mainly a war between Japan and England & Soviet and Nazi Germany. I could go on forever, but I doubt anyone will read it so ill just quit.

Randll Reese Besch - 9/4/2009

Hitler wanted war with the USA so soon? I was under the impression that the attack on Pearl Harbor caught him off guard and he was furious that it was done so soon. That he didn't want the USA involved for a long time. The Japanese saw their chance and did it. Too bad their code had been broken and the four most important ships set sail days before their scouts arrived. In the end it cost them the war.


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