Armed Hostilities

WWII and Iraq War Comparative Analysis


Questions have arisen in the recent past whether Americans favor unilateral or multilateral foreign policy and if they really know what their country’s preference represents. This is particularly after the US invasion of Iraq that defied the United Nations stand. Several questions have emerged on whether the unilateralist policy that is reflected in most of the American successive administrations is in preference with the public opinion. Alexander Todorov conducted a study to find out the multilateral public opinion that is normally perceived to be unilateral. In his findings, he concluded that public opinion is normally linked with the belief that it’s legitimate with the current foreign policy.

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In reality, the implication of such perception on policy implementation is critical in many aspects. First, it is important to note that public opinion does have a critical role in policy decisions. However, as Todorov (4) found out, there is the likelihood of a big gap separating the actual perception and the perceived public opinion. Todorov (5) observes that as per the attitudes concerning foreign policy, “perceived public opinion serves a unilateral agenda”. That is to say if particular groups who represent a minority section of the public are vocal enough to favor and support a unilateralist or liberalist American foreign policy- as represented by beliefs and opinions of major political actors with the support of the media, then it is likely to easily be misperceived by the public opinion. With such misperceptions, the public may find themselves supporting particular unilateral policies.

The prolonged wars that have been witnessed in the recent past, especially World War II, War in Korea, Vietnam War, and Iraq are some of the cases that have raised several questions on the relationship between public opinion and foreign policy, and more important the emergence of several theories that can be used to explain these wars. This paper critically analyzes the use of theories to compare and possibly contrast the two wars, World War II and the War in Iraq.

Background to the Wars

World War II

The Second World War (WW II), a global military confrontation between two opposing sides of world nations from 1939 to 1945 was considered the most intense war of all times (Thompson 12). This is because the war involved almost every nation in the world, i.e. the world’s most powerful nations leading the roles and less powerful nations playing at least a role or two in many aspects. With nations aligning themselves as either belonging to the Allies and the Axis, the war emerged as one of the most inclusive of all wars in global history considering it’s wide it spread in the global arena (Thompson 14). Major participants of the war marshaled huge their economic, political, and scientific resources towards the war, injecting well over 100 million military personnel in order to emerge the winners (Preston 146).

Several events led to the spread of hostilities between the two opposing sides of the Axis and the Allied before the war began. World War I saw Germany defeated, and they subsequently went ahead to sign a treaty known as the Treaty of Versailles. The signing of this treaty meant that Germany was to give away approximately 13% of its home territory as well as the entire overseas colonies (Hakim 118). At the same time, they were to stop any further annexation of other states as well as being forced to resize their army (Kantowicz 149). Then there was the Russian Civil War, which subsequently led to the Soviet Union’s creation and the beginning of other nations aligned to the union. The death of Lenin gave way to Stalin the opportunity to become the leader of the USSR subsequently repudiating the “New Economic Policy” and instead replaced it with the “Five Year Plan” (Kantowicz 149). Across Italy, other games of musical chairs in the political arena were also taking place. The renowned fascist dictator Mussolini took over the reign as the leader of Italy, with a promise to the Italians that he would spearhead the creation of a “New Roman Empire” (Shaw 35).

Outside Europe, China was getting unified by Kuomintang Party, ostensibly to block the Warlords from extending their powers across the nation in the 1920s, but ended up immersed in a civil war (Preston 104). Across the border within the Asian Continent was a Japanese Empire, which was becoming extremely militaristic in nature in an attempt to get control of the continent. In fact, Japan had seen that the first approach to take control and rule Asia was by acquiring China, thus took advantage of the slightest provocation to invade Manchuria. After realizing that they were not able to effectively fight Asia, China opted to seek the help of the League of Nations. To caution itself from further condemnation for the Manchuria invasion, Japan withdrew from the union and set itself to continue fighting in some minor conflicts that involved towns like Shanghai and Hebei (Preston 106). It was until 1833 that the two nations ceased fighting after “the signing of Tangu Truce”, but the Chinese soldiers, who mainly comprised of volunteers, continued with their protection of Manchuria against Japanese aggression (Coogan 43).

Back in Europe, Adolf Hitler managed to take the reign of Germany, shunning democracy and adopting a “radical cleaning of human race” as well as building a stronger army through recruitment of soldiers as well as the construction of more weapons (Brody 4). By this time, France and Italy got reunited after the formers’ intent to form alliances led to them giving Italy a free hand in managing the Ethiopian colony. France, UK and Italy saw the need to form a union, Stresa Front that would contain Germany’s aggression. The Soviet Union on the other hand was more concerned with the intention of Germany to capture entire Eastern Europe, hence the mutual agreement with France to sign a pact. However, the fact that this pact had to be approved by the League of Nations, with which they were members, made it nothing more than a mutual agreement (Preston 107).

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The year 1935 saw UK and Germany making an agreement, known as the “independent naval agreement” that reduced the initial restrictions (Brody 4). Expressing a lot of concerns on the way situations were developing in Europe, United States passed its own act, known as the “Neutrality Act” (Brody 5). As a matter of sharing support, Germany was behind Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia and in return, Germany did not join other European powers from criticizing Germany’s intention of acquiring Austria (Brody 6).

These developments created a lot of concerns across political alliances. Mounting tensions between these nations led to several alliances, which eventually evolved into two big alliances, the Allied Forces vs. The Axis.

Iraq War (Occupation of Iraq)

The War in Iraq began in March 2003, when the United States and the United Kingdom sent their troops to invade Iraq in search of the alleged weapons of mass destruction. The war which was later be popularly called by many names such as the Second Gulf War, Operation Iraq Freedom or simply Iraq War was allegedly meant to dispossess the Saddam Hussein government of its weapons of mass destruction, together with that of their regional allies (Center for American Progress 2).

Before the invasion, the United Nations Security Council, through Resolution 1441, embarked on an inspection to ascertain if Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (Nelson 33). However, there was no evidence found to prove the claim whether Iraq was in possession of the said weapons, even though the overall conclusion was that they were not able to verify the weapon-free declaration by Iraq (Nelson 34).

The United States commission a group of surveyors who came up with the result that “Iraq had ended its nuclear, chemical, and biological programs in 1991” and did not possess any active program when the invasion occurred (Center for American Progress 2). However, they said that Iraq had plans to resume the manufacturing of these weapons immediately after the sanctions put for them were lifted (Baker & White 1). Other reasons for the invasion were claims that Iraq supported the Al-Qaeda, supporting the families of Palestinian suicide bombers, the Iraqi government’s abuse of human rights, and failure to adhere to the democratic principles that the West advocates for.

US-led troops captured Saddam Hussein, and he was handed over to the Iraqi authority where he was later tried in courts and found guilty of numerous charges, including atrocities committed in the 1990s, and finally executed (Baker & White 3). This became the beginning of the Iraqi insurgency, where different groups along with the Islam religion, the Sunni and Shia, emerged and fought against each other. The UNHCR estimates as per 2008 indicated that about 4.7 million people had been turned into refugees, representing about 16% of the total population

Analysis of the Two Wars

The launching of the Iraq war took place on 19 March 2003, with the first strike taking place at a location where Iraq President Saddam Hussein and his top lieutenants were believed to be hiding. Two days before the strike, President Bush had warned Iraq to leave the country or face military action. The UN Security Council had also warned Iraq to corporate with the weapon inspectors or else they will face the consequences of their refusal (Baker & White 4). With the support of the UK’s Premier Tony Blair, President Bush indicated that Iraq had little time to corporate with UN weapons inspectors. However, France, Russia, Germany and China were more reluctant to support the speedy action and urged the US and the UK to give Iraq more time to comply.

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In World War II, it’s Germany that initiated the hostilities in 1939, which provoked many nations. Their initiatives threatened the conformability of many nations, particularly their European counterparts. In the summer of 1940, the war was still concentrated in Europe and never did anybody expect it to go beyond the borders of Europe. It was the entry of Japan into the war after persuasion from Germany that changed the war landscape. It’s widely acknowledged that Germany’s support of Japan in their invasion of China contributed to this entry. There are various theories that can help explain the various aspects of the two wars.

The Theoretical Perspectives of the two Wars

There is a historical aspect of the debate on wars and their causes. World War II was successively followed by Cold War. The events led to the two viewpoints. The first viewpoint mostly referred to as the official viewpoint is surrounded by the reasons that the responsibility for the outbreak and intensification of the Cold War was solely on the Soviet Union and specifically on the then leader Stalin due to the policies he spearheaded during and immediately after World War II (Thompson 1). Proponents of this viewpoint see Stalin as a person whose style of leadership was so rigid for international communism that required more flexibility.

The other school of thought is based on the orthodox view. It states that two nations can be sharply divided in relation to their policies (Thompson 1). Principally, the two opposing views pitted the pro- American supported by Truman Doctrine against the pro-Soviet Union, with their leader Stalin. Several questions have emerged with many claiming that there is a similarity between the Iraq War and World War II. President Bush, while addressing Marines and Sailors at the 60th anniversary of the Victory over Japan, equated the Iraq war to World War II. In fact, he stated that the Iraq War was “the modern-day moral equivalent of the struggle against Nazi fascism and Japanese imperialism in the World War II”, in support of their intention not to retreat as that would come with disastrous consequences for the United States and the World as a whole (Baker & White 1). Other people have seen two completely different wars.

However, to clearly understand the perspectives of these two wars, it is important to first understand some aspects of theories to enable us to explain the differences. As a common practice, leaders would always give answers that are not convincing enough to justify their actions, always trying to defend such actions even though they may be unpopular or against public opinions or justifying their actions with policy constructs. Again the world itself is a complex environment, where a leader may act or support an act without knowing exactly why he or she is doing so (Baylis & Smith, 22). This could be fundamentally to justify intuitively what is “right” or what the world feels is “right” to initiate or support an act such as war. It has become more of a necessity to explain the war phenomenon in the wider context of theory, which in most cases may face opposition from the actors, but will give us wider options in relation to understanding the difference or similarities between the two wars.

Political Realism

Realism as a theory has been in existence for quite a long time and has inherently dominated the theory of politics in the modern world (Dunne 311). Traditional perspectives of realism are based on the idea of antiwar as manifested on the eve of World War II, where most of the realists felt that the perpetrators of the war (notably Germany) had not been guided by the practical thinking of idealism (Dunne 319). However in the recent past, especially during and after the Cold War, the modern realist’s way of thinking has been re-modified, but with the same principle that the lack of central power to control interstate association is the cause of conflicts (Dunne 319). By the time World War II took place, there was no single central power as every nation was a power on its own. In other words, a country’s power was invested in its ability to marshal stronger troops, with the support of other allies. The League of Nations was not any stronger to unite the nations.

Presently, modern realists have come together to share some core aspects of international relations. First, realism is built on the premise of what causes war between the nations and what makes peace prevail, with public opinion and opinions of the political leaders playing central roles in the process. The other central view is that international relations can only work if there is a central authority that ensures that interstate relationships work and that the absence of such a central power is the beginning of interstate anarchy which leads to confusion on interstate security matters (Baylis & Smith 298). For instance, if one nation-state is in search for a security, the potential adversaries are left with the impression that they are being targeted hence become continuously insecure. This has been attributed to the increased conflict between nations in relation to race to acquire deadly weapons, commonly known as arms race (Dunne 320). This subsequently leads to one question: who is has more “relative capability” (Brown 173).

In the Iraq war, the US used its position as a world superpower to control and direct the central authority that unites the world, the United Nations. Since the then government had the impression that it was being targeted, they had to do something to halt the perceived action by Saddam Hussein’s government. Such aspects of perception by the leaders can be directly passed to the public through the use of media, hence widening the belief that something is actually wrong that needs urgent action. Attempts by nations to associate with this perception are the reason behind the formation of international units of corporations or global unions. Such is normally provoked with the unity of common enemies as seen in World War II.


Liberalism is built on the premise of state preference over international interests. This sometimes explains why some states treat international issues with little interest, always basing their arguments that sovereign states should remain “sovereign” in all spheres of political, economic and socials. While Iraq War was seen in the light of realism, World War II is mainly seen as directly linked to liberalism. For instance, a liberalist could argue that the Iraqi problems that were perpetrated by the dictatorial regime of Saddam Hussein should be internal matters of Iraq and thus should never be associated with other states. To the realist, this kind of argument may be a shocker as the spill-over effects of such wars may go past the borders of that nation at war, thus calling for international intervention. This is why the perception of America and its allies was that Iraq was basically dangerous both to the world and its own people. On the other hand, World War II was a matter concerning the entire world, against the interest-specific nations united to achieve national interests of the time. In other words, it happened at a time when nations still believed in the idea of acquisition, unlike the Iraq War.

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While it may be easy for a leader to compare express an opinion on the two wars of World War II and the Iraq War, it is apparent that the leader may not know the actual features of the wars in question. This is because most of the judgments are purely based on their perception and fear of unforeseen problems. The two tow theories of international relations reveal that the reasons are deeper and rooted in the ideologies of the state, headed by a specific leader. It is thus possible to conclude that World War II and Iraq War and any other wars are actually rooted deeper than can be seen at face value and their differences and similarities can be best understood through specific theoretical constructs.

Works Cited

Baker, Peter & White, Josh. Bush Calls Iraq War Moral Equivalent of Allies’ WWII Fight Against the Axis. Washington Post, 2005. Web.

Baylis, J. & Smith, S. The Globalization of World Politics: An Introduction to International Relations. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2002. Print.

Brody, Kenneth. The Avoidable War: Pierre Laval and the Politics of Reality, 1935-1936. Transaction Publishers, 1999. pp.4-7. Print.

Brown, C. Understanding International Relations. London. Palgrave, 2005.

Center for American Progress. In Their Own Words: Iraq’s Imminent Threat. American Progress. 2004. Web.

Coogan, Anthony.1993. The Volunteer Armies of Northeast China. History Today.43. Web.

Dunne, T. International Relations Theories: Discipline and Diversity. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2009. Print.

Hakim, Joy. A History of Us: War, Peace and all that Jazz. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Kantowicz, Edward. The rage of nations. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1999. p.149. Print.

Nelson, Bill. New Information on Iraq’s possession of Weapons of Mass Destruction. Congress Records. 2004.

Preston, Peter Pacific Asia in the global system: an introduction, Wiley-Blackwell. Oxford: Blackwell, 1998. p.104. Print.

Shaw, Anthony. World War II Day by Day. MBI Publishing Company, 2000. p.35. Print.

Thompson, Kenneth. Cold War Theories: World Polarization, 1943-1953. Los Angeles. LSU Press, 1991. Print.

Todorov, Alexander. Public Opinion on Foreign Policy: The Multilateral Public that Perceives Itself as Unilateral. Princeton. Princeton University Press, 2003. Print.

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