World War II, A War for Resources: Crash Course World History #220

Hi, I’m John Green and this is Crash Course
World History and today we’re going to talk about World War II.
But we’re not going to look at it as a battle between good and evil, but instead as a war
for resources, particularly a war for food. Wait, Mr. Green, Mr. Green, what about like Rosie the
Riveter and Pearl Harbor and Nazis and Hitler? Yeah, Me From the Past, I mean if the question is was Hitler evil? Then, yeah.
But evil people generally can’t, like, cause massive world wars on their own. So instead of talking
about, uh, you know, the personality driven model of history, I want to talk about resources,
specifically my favorite resource: food. So the story of World War 2 is commonly told
as a narrative of good vs. evil, and it is. But we can also look at the second world war
through the lens of resource allocation, and I think if we do it tells a story of both
causes of the war and one of the ways that it impacted both soldiers and civilians.
The presence or absence of food affected everyone involved in World War II. In the most stark
terms, the absence of food led to the deaths, directly or indirectly, of at least 20 million
people during those years, as compared to 19.5 million military deaths. Now, of course, both the Nazis and the Japanese
were militaristic and expansionist in the 1930s.
And they were both definitely motivated by nationalism, but they were also seeking something
called autarky. You can remember this term by conjuring the
feeling one gets near Thanksgiving: “Aw, turkey”.
You can also remember it when thinking about the collapse of the Ottoman Empire: “Aw,
Turkey”. Anyway, autarky is a form of self sufficiency
in a world where, increasingly, people were reliant on world trade, and that made nations
more and more dependent upon each other to meet basic needs.
Both Germany and Japan lacked the resources within their borders that they needed to build
their growing industrial states, and the resource that concerned them most was food.
And this was a big part of what motivated their imperialist expansionism.
Like, Hitler talked all the time about expanding German territory to acquire “lebensraum,”
or living space. But what this meant, of course, was agricultural
land to feed Germans, that’s what living space is really about on Earth.
And most Germans of the time remembered the blockade during World War I, which had led
to acute food shortages. For the Nazis, to quote Collingham, “Lebensraum
would make Germany truly self-sufficient and immune to blockade and this would eventually
enable Germany to challenge British and American hegemony.”
Meanwhile, in Japan the need for food was also spurring imperial ambitions. If anything,
Japan’s limited space created a sense of crisis and made colonies seem necessary.
Like Japanese colonies in Korea and Formosa, taken in the Sino-Japanese war of 1894-1895,
provided 20% of the Japanese domestic rice crop by 1935.
And then the Great Depression and Japan’s growing population made the situation appear
even worse and probably led to the decision to annex Manchuria after 1931.
So the Germans’ plan was to open up Poland, and eventually parts of Russia, to German
farmers. The Japanese plan was to resettle farmers in Manchuria to provide food for the
homeland. So if the desire for more food was one of
the initial causes of World War 2, it also shaped the actual strategy of the war.
This was especially true with one of the stupidest decisions of the war, Hitler’s decision
to invade the Soviet Union. A German agronomist named Hans Backe put forth
something called “the Hunger Plan”, and in doing so convinced Hitler that in order
to become self-sufficient, Germany had to invade the Soviet Union.
And everyone knows that you cannot successfully invade Russia unless you are the Mongols. Anyway, the plan was the Ukraine and western
Russia would be transformed into a huge breadbasket that would feed both the German armies and
German civilians. This was never fully implemented, because, you know, the Nazi’s could never
successfully nail down all of the territory, but Collingham argues that it was a primary
motive for Hitler’s disastrous invasion of the USSR. And then on the Western front, the so called
“Battle of the Atlantic” was largely about shipping arms, material, and food from the
U.S. to Britain. This was incredibly important in the opening
years of World War 2. Like, Winston Churchill once said that “the Battle of the Atlantic
was the dominating factor all through the war. Never for one moment could we forget
that everything happening elsewhere, on land, at sea or in the air, depended ultimately
on its outcome.” In short, it was Britain’s dependence upon
other parts of the world that ultimately made it stronger than Germany’s attempts at self-sufficiency.
Starvation never became an issue for the Brits, but fear of running out of food, especially
of running out of food for the troops, led to policies that made starvation a reality
for many people in British colonies. In British Africa, for instance, colonial
policy forcing production for the war instead of for domestic food consumption meant shortages
that were only made worse by wartime inflation. Crop failure in Rhodesia in 1942 meant widespread
hunger and famine. And, in an echo of what happened at the end
of the 19th century, World War II and British colonial policy spelled disaster for India.
Japan had seized Burma in early 1942, cutting off 15% of Bengal’s rice supply.
And when harvests failed later that year, hunger turned to famine. Now, the British
could have alleviated the suffering but they were afraid to use supply ships that might be needed
for the war effort to bring food to starving people in India.
When you take into account hunger-associated diseases, between 1.5 and 3 million Indian
civilians died, more than the total number of Indian combatants killed in World War 1
AND World War 2 combined. In the United States, meanwhile, there was
no starvation, but there was some rationing. And this was, especially relative to most
recent American wars, some shared sacrifice. Americans gave up coffee and chocolate so
that the troops could be well fed. So Americans and Britons hardly suffered from
hunger. Neither did the Germans, actually, where memories of World War I made feeding
the civilian population a top priority. Of course, millions of civilians weren’t
being fed because they were being murdered or worked to death in concentration camps.
But in Britain, World War II might have actually improved people’s diets. Now, Britons largely
despised the whole-meal National Loaf of bread, but it was more nutritious than white bread
and its flour took up less cargo space. It’s amazing to think that British people
would dislike good food when there’s so much of it in their country.
Stan, this is the part where in the comments all the British people say, “We are not
a country, we’re four separate countries!” The “dig for victory” campaign encouraged
ordinary people to plant gardens, and so they ate more vegetables. Full employment and higher
wages meant that working class people also had more access to nutritious foods.
Also, you know, they had the benefit of Canada growing like, a gajillion acres of wheat.
Although both the British and the Germans saw an overall reduction in caloric intake, it
was nothing compared with what was happening in the USSR, Japan and China. In Russia, daily
caloric intake by the end of the war was half of what it had been in 1940.
And I will remind you that things were not great in 1940 in Russia, because Stalin.
The daily caloric ration for Japanese women workers fell to 1476 calories, which was bad,
but in China, where the corrupt Nationalist army was known to sell rice to the Japanese for
profit, a famine in Guangdong claimed the lives of as many as 1.5 million peasants.
And without doubt, much of the civilian suffering in the war was related to the massive amounts
of food needed to keep soldiers fighting. Let’s go to the Thought Bubble. In World War 2, the US and Britain made a
massive effort to make sure that their soldiers were well fed, and for the most part it paid
off, even though the food that they got was sometimes pretty gross. The British World
War I diet of biscuits and bully beef eventually gave way to the appetizingly named “composite
ration.” American soldiers may have complained a lot about their infamous C and K rations, but
they were the best fed soldiers in the world, receiving a whopping 4,758 calories per day, including
meat at every meal, because, you know… America. As you can probably guess, Soviet soldiers
did not fare so well, especially when the Germans invaded because it was their policy
to live off the land, which meant scrounging as much food from the Russian countryside
as they could. German troops weren’t as well fed as Americans or the Brits, but they
still managed to scarf down a respectable 4000 calories per day. No combat soldiers were as consistently hungry,
however, as the Japanese. Japanese soldiers were expected to feed themselves and were
not provided with field kitchens. Often this meant that Japanese soldiers were fueled by
little more than rice. And as the war turned against them it became more and more difficult
for Japanese troops to feed themselves. On Guadalcanal the Japanese attempted to re-supply
their troops with floating barrels dropped from passing ships, but by December 1942 between
120 and 130 soldiers were dying of starvation every day. The Japanese commander there estimated
that while 5000 of his soldiers died in combat, 15,000 starved to death. Overall, it’s estimated
that more than 1 million of the 1.74 million Japanese military deaths were caused by starvation
or malnutrition. Thanks Thought Bubble. So, a quick look at
the history section in your local bookstore or an IMDB search will tell you that there
are hundreds if not thousands of ways to tell the story of World War II.
And this is just one history of the war, certainly not a definitive one.
But examining the role of resources, especially food, in the second world war tells a story
that has at least one advantage over the narrative of the triumph of Allied good over Axis evil.
Because it helps us to see that the war was not only about the soldiers fighting, and
it gives us a window into the way the war affected everyone who lived at the time. It also allows us to see World War II from
a global perspective in a way that focusing on strategy or tactics or pivotal battles
doesn’t. Like very little fighting went on in Sub-Saharan
Africa or most of India, but these places were deeply affected by the war in ways that
don’t often make it into history books. Also, we live today in a thoroughly globalized
world, but so did the people of the 1930s, and it’s very interesting to see some of
their responses to it. That hyper nationalist idea, that we can take
care of ourselves and don’t need help from outside, as long as we annex a lot of territory
that’s currently outside of us – that idea is a response to globalization.
But I think history shows us that it’s a horrible response.
It’s a dangerous business when humans imagine others as less, when they think their land
needs to become our land so we can feed our people.
And in that sense at least, you can’t separate ideology from resource allocation, and as
long as we live in a world of finite resources, the potential for conflict will always be
there. Knowing that, hopefully, will help us to avoid it. Thanks for watching. I’ll
see you next week. Crash Course is filmed here in the Chad and
Stacey Emigholz studio and it’s made with the help of all of these nice people and also
with the help of our Subbable subscribers. Subbable is a voluntary subscription service
that allows you to contribute directly to Crash Course so we can continue its mission
of keeping it free for everyone forever. So thank you for making Crash Course possible,
thanks for watching, and as we say in my hometown, don’t forget to be awesome.

Comments 100

  • That was a war between thieves who stole and thieves who didn't find what to steal

  • Wee bit of an issue with the video. It wasn’t exactly stupid for Germany to invade Russia. The Nazis and the communists were both trying to gain power in Germany during the 1930s and it made a great hatred between the two. The truce that the Russians and the Germans had was never going to last and it was ether Germany invade first or Russia invade first. At a glance the invasion might seem stupid but it really never going to stay peaceful.

  • The Mongols are the only ones that have the

    Beat Russia trophy

  • You should have talked more about of how the oil shortages affected the Germans and how they was what led to their defeat by the Russians.

  • War does not define who is right, war only defines the one that is left standing.

  • 3:33 mongoltage

  • Not even going to mention oil?

  • Did anyone else watch the whole video and remember literally none of what the man said?

  • who wins a war?
    those with the best logistics management.

  • War is not about who is right but who is left

  • Most people just don't realize that there are always no winners in wars.

  • The race today is between Nature's ability to create too many people and Technologies ability to feed too many people. Since the latter contributes to the former, the outcome is kind of predictable.

  • When do you all think WW3 will start? 2023?

  • 2 countries, a Principality and a province. We're weird like that.

  • "Leebenstram"

  • You forgot about oil.

  • Anyone who thinks WW2 was battle between good and evil is very naive, ignirant and stupid.

  • when i hear words like good, evil or any emotional reaction on history videos i know that it is biased

  • Hi

  • You are wrong the invasion of Russia was the best move they could have done they where running out of oil and fast the only way to continue a war effort was to invade the soviets

  • It is not "Good vs Evil". The Soviet Union fought with us.

  • Where was the open letter

  • "looking at WWII from this perspective allows us to see it globally"
    mentions like 4-5 countries

  • Addendum to the Bengal Famine: Exacerbated by scorched earth policies and exploitative debt practices trapping farmers into debt bondage.

  • maybe you should tell our own country not to invade other countries for resources; otherwise, you just sound like a bigot.

  • Your country is the the new menace of the world

  • 4000 calories? That is less than in a cola can! Man they were starving!

  • Two sides of the same coin.Britain narrative prevailed because they won the war.

  • British started WW2 direct or indirectly.

    They forced German to sign treaty of versailles and German economy falls apart. Nazi rise because crisis and starvation among people.

    100 years earlier before WW2 British started opium war against China, it's weaken China and long Dynasty fallen apart. China broken apart and make them vunerable against invasion of Japan.

  • You are really good

  • 5:50 HA he just said millions of civilians ??? he rhymed- oh jeez nevermind 0_0??

  • Please speak faster, I still could understand 10% of what you said.

  • “You Don’t need more land If you just Don’t give your people food”
    Stalin 1942

  • america is all about dat obesity

  • I wish you'd gone for the edgier joke: "You can think of the Armenian genocide….aaaaah turkey…"

  • Enjoyed the resource aspect presentation of that war.

  • My god John you've gotten Fat!

  • The uk is one country made up of 4 nations

  • “We are going to be talking about my favorite resource…” OIL

  • I love your videos, especially since you don't neglect non-Euroean history.

  • "But you cannot invade Russia successfully unless you're the Mongols!"

  • I wouldn't say it was a disasterous invasion, it went pretty deep into the USSR. Moscow wasn't far away, Lenningrad was under siege, and Stalingrad was being viciously wresled over by each side.

    While I do subscribe to the notion that Germany likely wouldn't have won WW2 due to its lack of resources and a bunch of other problems. But, I believe it was possible slightly, only slightly. But regardless of their blunders prior and after invading the soviets, their invasion was hardly a disaster.

    They encircled many concentraitions of Soviet forces as they plunged deep into the territory and really, they bogged down because of a lack of supplies as I mentioned above, which is my soul belief why they lost the war. They just didn't have they economy or industry to fight all the other major powers at once, and as the war dragged on, they were simply running out of people to actually fight the war even if they could support it.

    Check out Potential History, he has some interesting videos like the possibility of the Germans winning and why he thinks it wasn't possible at all.

  • 7:35 that guy on the far right noticed the random British soldier walking with a crate

  • i love ur videos

  • actually, Germany thought they could because they had crazy german cyborgs.

  • This enraged his father, who punished him severely. Oh, wrong history channel? Whatever.

  • “wE ARe not a COUntrY, wE are 4 SeparaTE CouNtRiES” ?????? ????

  • give fascist italy the spotllight.. please it doesnt even need to be an episode. just give them the spotlight just for a little bit please
    i just feel so bad for them

  • ah turkey  means ,why you stupid turkey didnot support german and diminished totally by all others.. ooohhh turkey you scored again

  • au, tarky

  • You guys do know that Russia was actually invaded successfully by the Finns and by Poland before the Mongols, right?
    Also, Japan kinda opened a can of whoopass on Russia when they bonked 'em out of China and took over their sphere of influence.

  • oil is a future nuclear war waiting to happen! It has been predicted by Fallout!

  • "As long as we live in a world of finite resources the potential for conflict will always be there. Knowing that hopefully will help us avoid it."

    If only everyone could think like this, it will help solve a lot of problems of the world.

  • This happen during the Great Depression
    And when during crazy times people will listen to crazy people with crazy ideas.

  • Hitler was not a gangsta smh

  • mmmmmm Turkey

  • The war in the east had to start when it did becuase of the oil crisis the Nazis were in

  • Dear John, thanks for broadening my perspectives about WW2. We Brits tend to neglect the negative aspects of our colonial history during school history lessons. Famine in East India is not something we mention, and never the fact that we might have been partly responsible.

  • Ooops. WWII was not a war for resources. It was a war of greed.

  • I did nazi that coming

  • Brazilian and mongols there the exception

  • Wow, For A series Ive been fascinated by, this interpretation is way off base. Imperial dreams drove the axis powers, Nationalism gave Tojo, Mussolini and Herr Hitler the justification they had long been looking for. It’s no secret the British Empire had swallowed up much of the worlds resources, to ignore that Hirohito wanted to be Emperor Of East Asia is blinding oneself the true desire of despots to gain power, they could care less about the calorie intake of the people. Mussolini spoke frequently of re-establishing the Mediterranean as an Italian lake. And worst of all, Adolf truly hated the Jews, Romani, Slavic people’s; he wrote a book you might have heard of, Mein Kampf. You have rationalized world wide destruction. Food? Living Space? Try Imperial Dreams and Nationalistic Hate- it’s hard to accept the inherent evil of the human condition. Had these nations spent their treasuries on granaries instead of The Krupt gunworks, they could have increased agricultural output. The Second World War was Imperialism At it’s worst.

  • Good vs evil is childish explanation. Every power was fighting to increase and maintain their power.

  • I never knew this viewpoint. Glad I watched it; thanks Crash Course!

  • People in the US were required to work 7 days a week 12 hours a day.
    If you quit your job you were arrested and drafted into the military

  • War, in simplest terms, is a state when old men want more oil, food, and land due to greed and pride, and then convince the young man to fight and die for it.

  • "You can not invade Russia if you are not Mongols" – delirium and does not count. Because there was no such thing as current Russia then. And it was just – Rus (an old рѹсь, and Old glory, рѹсьскаѧ землѧ, Greek Ῥωσία, Latin: Russia, Rossia, Ruthenia, Ruscia, Ruzzia, other old scandinavian Garðar, later Garðaríki – country cities "this feudal fragmented education – a period of decentralization, due to the strengthening of large feudal lords in the conditions of senior labor and military service. New, smaller territorial entities lead almost independent existence – in fact principality were separate states. And the term originated in the first half XIX century. "Kievan Rus" – a fictional name of the 19th century, in order to divide before the Tatar-Mongol period and after the invasion of the Tatar-Mongol hordes.

  • i like chines food….and turkey

  • The latter half of this video,talking about Nationalist and Globalization, is oddly relevant in 2019 with Populist movements in both the US and EU.

  • I can nazi what u r talking about

  • Please do another analysis along the lines of who lost the war in Europe that is the U.S. and the rest of the allies.

  • As much as it may seem like a stupid idea, at the time the Nazi's had a perfect opportunity to invade the Soviets. Now their failure wasn't because they fought them in the winter, more over it was just a general lack of resources against the other superpowered nations of the world. This was everything from food, oil, and materials to build stuff with, but also people.

    If you watch Potential history's Video "Germany could not win WW2" he talks more on some of the hypotheticals people have suggested on how Germany could have won the war, and why they are wrong.

    Anyway's I digress, Germany invading WW2 wasn't as bad as it seemed at the time. The Soviets had struggled to beat the Finnish and with the recent Success of Germany against it's neighbors played into both the invasion of the Soviets, and the Germans defeat against them.

    I've heard a lot that Germany modeled its campaign of the USSR similar to how France, and Poland were conqured. But what makes them different is their size in territory and the amount of people they have. That coupled with Hitler's belief that tye Soviet leadership would fall not long after the invasion and that's when everything falls appart.

    I always hear it being the winter, lack of oil, arrogance etc that defeated the Germans but it wasn't really just one thing. It was everything compounded on each other. Germany was fighting a much larger force, without the necessary resources and attempting to model said country's invasion after much smaller nations. Then of course add the russian winter onto that.

    In hindsight, yes it was a stupid decision, but it may have been very different at the time.

  • Invading Russia was not stupid it was a necessary gamble that failed. World War 2 was also a war for oil and without the oil a successful invasion of the USSR would provide Germany's war machine would grind to a halt spelling immediate defeat. They had a chance to invade the USSR and were nearly successful but in the end it failed.

  • while the final purpose for the Soviet Union territory was truly to convert it into a big farm for Germany, the determination to invade it was the visceral hate Hitler had for Communism and his decision to exterminate it. He had no time to waste, Stallin was already preparing an army.
    So while the purpose is true the real motivation was purely political and ideological.

  • 4,000 calories a day!!

  • So wait more people died because of food shortages then by the actual fighting. Man that is so real.


  • John always tallking about not petsolizing history or war, and every time explaining sobiet problems like "Stalin". Thats explain nothing, mr Green. Asking for video about Joseph Jugashwilly.

  • Good old Mongols

  • Still relevant

  • Watch :WAR-CASTLES-~0. on Youtube

  • I think we should curb the aggressive nationalistic militarism of the USA by cutting off their food supply :V

  • 20 million people starved? Unbelievable!

    Also, "you cannot successfuly invade Russia unless you are the Mongols."?????????

  • Jon. Grow a set. Do some burpees.

  • AGP was in the ww2?

  • 3:34
    Also das Kaiserreich

  • We are three different countries. Northern island is a part of the UK. Britain is wales, England and Scotland

  • WWII is not a war between good and evil. It is as ignorant as it is dishonest to allow future generations to cage it as such.

  • No one is motivated by Nationalism. They are motivated by a desire for resources. Nationalism is the manipulative tool used to bring the masses to your side and make them willing to die for your cause. Nationalism is not a motivation. It is a catalyst.

  • Hitler invaded Russia was for resources but not for food. His main target was Ukraine where there were oil. He needed it to feed his war machine.

  • I have to start OMAD , you never know

  • I liked this new take on the Second World War. It's one of my favourite topics in History and I always strive to know about different perspectives. Thanks for this video, Mr Green!

  • John: "As long as we live in a world of finite resources, the potential for conflict exists…and hopefully we can avoid it"
    Economics 101: "Economics is the allocation or management of scarce resources…"
    Economist: "We live in a world of scarce resources…"
    Imperialist (Or any other ideology really): "We live in a world of scarce resources…"
    Me: "So we're kinda stuck with potential conflict pretty much the whole time…(looks at a history book or the news) makes sense when you think about it."

  • 3 England Scotland wales

  • انا ارف محكومة دولية我工国籍法院 i work at the un je mme travsi en cpiмежлунарлдный кголоаное судcorte penal unternational

  • Dude you need to shave!!!!!

  • Who else immediately thought of book of the new sun when he said autarchy?

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