Students of history invariably ponder questions of "what if." What if Archduke Francis Ferdinand had not been assassinated? Would World War I still have happened? What if the United States had lacked aircraft carriers at the outset of World War II? Would Japan have won the battle for the Pacific? Historian Jerry H. Bentley, editor of the Journal of World History , ponders these and many other "what if" questions in a series of historical inquiries ranging from ancient Mesopotamia to the end of the Cold War.
Questions and Answers About History
Q: Without the use of aircraft carriers, is it possible that the United States could have defeated the Japanese in the war in the Pacific during World War II? How?
A: In the absence of aircraft carriers, the war in the Pacific would inevitably have been a very different affair. Aircraft carriers were prominent in several of the most important battles of World War II (1939-1945) in the Pacific, including the Battle of Coral Sea (May 1942), which stopped the Japanese advance to the south toward Australia, and the Battle of Midway (June 1942), which seriously damaged the Japanese aircraft carrier fleet and turned the tide of the war in the Pacific.
Remember that Japanese forces also made use of aircraft carriers. These carriers played a crucial role in Japanese conquests of Pacific islands and also in the attack on Pearl Harbor . If there had not been any aircraft carriers at all, the war in the Pacific would have been largely a naval and amphibious conflict. In this case, presumably neither Japanese nor American forces would have had any significant advantage.
On the other hand, if Japanese forces had had aircraft carriers and American forces had not, it would have been exceedingly difficult for American forces to safely steam through Pacific waters or to launch amphibious invasions. In that case, the United States likely would have suffered staggering losses of both ships and men before winning the war in the Pacific.
Q: Was the Allies\' targeting of German civilians in World War I morally and strategically acceptable in warfare?
A: There were relatively few direct and intentional attacks on civilian targets during the Great War (also known as World War I), fought from 1914 to 1918. Aircraft of that era were not sophisticated enough to undertake the massive bombing campaigns that devastated civilian populations during later wars. During the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), for example, aerial forces caused extensive damage to civilian targets as well as military targets. By the time of World War II (1939-1945), aerial bombardment—including attacks on civilian targets—had become a principal tool of warfare.
No amount of historical or military analysis can answer the question of whether attacks on civilian targets are morally acceptable. The answer to that question depends on individual and collective views on what is morally proper and what is not. Some might argue that wars (or at least some wars) are conflicts between entire societies, not just combatants, so that the targeting of civilians is either morally justifiable or militarily necessary or both. Until recent times, civilian populations were generally vulnerable to attack by military forces regardless of moral considerations. During the 20th century, however, international law defined civilian populations as inappropriate military targets. By this standard, attacks on civilians are not morally acceptable, whether they take the form of German bombardments during the Battle of Britain, the Allies\' firebombing of Dresden, or American deployment of atomic weapons in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Q: How has China managed to maintain its civilization for so long?
A: China is in some ways a land of remarkable social and cultural continuity. Distinctive Chinese forms of agriculture appeared as early as 6500 BC. The origins of Chinese writing trace back to the 16th century BC. Elements of Chinese cultural traditions such as Confucianism and Daoism date from the 6th century bc . For most of history since the 3rd century bc , the land that we now call China has been under the rule of a centralized state.
Geographical considerations partly explain this Chinese social and cultural continuity. For the past 3,000 years or more, most of the Chinese population has been concentrated in the highly fertile valleys of the Huang He