It’s somewhat of a truism that -- aside from a vanishingly small number of conflicts where acts of God, outside influences, or the efforts of a unique talent come into play -- most wars are decided before they’re ever fought. As much as our culture plays up the notion that large-scale conflicts hinge on the individual heroism of a small number of elite soldiers, it never shows the unrealistic factors that really matter: which country has a larger population? How rich is the aggressor compared to the defender? Does one side have double the manufacturing capability of the other? War is not a mathematical equation, but all the bravery in the world won’t matter if the enemy can replace his losses faster than you can.
My favorite anecdote regarding this phenomenon comes from just before the Civil War. William Tecumseh Sherman, most famous for burning most of Georgia to the ground, was at a party attended by several Southern dignitaries. Sherman was notoriously lacking in anything resembling sentiment or romanticism, so when the topic of secession was brought up by a proto-Confederate doctor, he told him exactly how the war would go: the South would have early successes due to bravery and luck, but due to the fact that they had a) no Navy, b) no factories, and c) about a third of the North’s population (including slaves, who didn’t fight for the Confederacy no matter what the crazies tell you [writer’s note: YOUR GREAT-GRANDFATHER LOST, HOMESLICE. GET OVER IT!]), they would lose hard after a long conflict. I like to imagine that Sherman was laughed out of the party, and as he left, quietly lamenting the fact that he would die before the advent of nuclear weapons, he resolved to make certain his prophecy came true.
I doubt there was any such event in the prelude to the Nazi invasion of Russia, because Zhukov or whomever might have said something similar. The old saying about never invading Russia in the winter is a bit off; Russia is a very large country and you won’t be able to conquer it before winter sets in even if you start on the first day of the vernal equinox. Never invade Russia period, unless you’re the Mongols and it’s eight hundred years ago, because they’ll burn all the food, you’ll run out of winter clothes, and you’ll get bogged down trying to take some godforsaken city where you’ll lose your whole army.
That said, though, isn’t it nice that the Nazis did us a favor by wasting their time on a bunch of stupid crap that never came to fruition? Zach Parsons of SomethingAwful.com had an excellent series called “My Tank is Fight!”, which analyzed some of the more ridiculous ideas concocted by military scientists. Much of the list is dominated by Nazi ideas -- suicide tanks, orbital bombers, underground cannons, hundred-ton monster machines, etc. You have to figure that every scientist assigned to bringing Hitler’s dream of an underwater tank to fruition was one less researching, say, cruise missiles.
The UFO issue grows out of these projects, supported by the fact that a megalomaniacal group of faux-Norse mystics who were about to lose a war would probably be just crazy enough to try to build a mothership. It’s pretty clear (to me, at least) that the majority of these projects never got beyond the design phase -- the equivalent of a nerd drawing a really cool costume that he’s going to make for the next cosplay convention and never following through on it. The basic problem is that of practicality and execution. Or lack thereof.
Listen, the Germans did end up designing and building a kind of super-weapon -- the Me-262, the first actual jet-powered fighter. We know it exists because they actually ended up using the damn thing. Granted, it was near the end of the war and didn’t make much of a difference (the war was definitely lost by that point), but the Me-262 proved another truism: if you give a government or military a toy, they will totally use that toy, and they won’t be able to keep it a secret for long. Look at one of the helicopters SEAL Team 6 used to take out bin Laden -- it had a cover on one of the rotors that was intended to make the chopper stealthier. Can’t really keep anything a secret for long, you know?
It stands to reason, then, that if the Nazis actually had a flying wing, or a flying disc (or whatever), they would have deployed them beyond a rudimentary testing phase. You’d actually be able to visit one -- a REAL one -- in a museum or something, rather than hearing about the one time this guy saw something in the sky at night, possibly. You can say that the U.S. used some Nazi prototypes as part of their research into flying wings and stealth technology, and maybe that’s the case. You’ve got to take into account the following, though, if you want to claim that the result was a plethora of superweapons, kept secret until this day: the U.S. did develop a superweapon from the research of ex-Nazi scientists. It was used, quite publicly, exactly twice -- on the previously obscure Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And unlike UFOs, that ain't no secret.
Joe DeMartino is a Connecticut-based writer who grew up wanting to be Ted Williams, but you would not BELIEVE how hard it is to hit a baseball, so he gave that up because he writes words OK. He talks about exploding suns, video games, karaoke, and other cool shit at his blog. He can be emailed at email@example.com and tweeted at @thetoycannon. He writes about sports elsewhere. The sports sells better.