To wit: I learned a couple things from a discussion today at Crooked Timber.
*We say Axis powers; they said Anti-Comintern International Pact.
*We say "Third Reich" and don't translate "Reich" as Empire.
This is astounding to me:
*That I could be so uninformed as to not know the former.
*That the import of the latter never occured to me.
I am ignorant and stupid. (Now, I may very well have learned the former, maybe even more than once. But if so, it happened years before "Comintern" meant much of anything to me, and so didn't stick.)
In any event, "Axis powers" has a different ring to it than "Anti-Comintern International Pact". "Axis powers" has an "X" in it, has "Ax" in it, sounds brutal, and justifies nothing. "Anti-Comintern International Pact", on the other hand, means "we are protecting ourselves from Communism", something pretty popular in America at the time. Those who would take America to war had to come up with another name for use in their propaganda.
Reich sounds and reads scary in English, I think. Maybe it's mostly after-the-fact associations. Maybe it's partly the sound and spelling, being a foriegn word.
But Empire has other, meatier associations. Empires are what the French and English did and were still doing in 1939. The problem was that the German Empire was dominating our friends. The French and British Empires were dominating people we didn't care about.
This is not very inspiring: "The German Empire has invaded and taken over the very center of the French Empire, and now is bombing the British Empire! The U.S. must mobilize and go to war! We must save with our blood and treasure the French and British Empires from the German Empire!"
Now that's an unfair characterization to be sure. But perhaps no more so than the standard framing.
I've always felt pretty smug in my peacenick attitudes. I'm a "never met a war I liked" kind of guy. I've been sympathetic to Tolstoy's portrayal of war as a wave of murder and plunder moving one way, and often back the other way.
But I couldn't quite condemn the morality of going to war against fascism. WW II was an exception-- the Good War.
I've had my doubts. I've wondered how things would have turned out had we not militarily intervened. Would as many millions have died if we hadn't opposed Hitler militarily but did so with money and covert ops? Surely he would have overextended himelf eventually-- that's what Empires do, and then they collapse. But that's all I had: doubts.
Now I have more of them.