Eighty years ago, Britain and France declared war on Germany because of its invasion of Poland. By the time the war was over, six years later, about 50 million people would be dead, most of them civilians. Included in those deaths were more than one-third of all Jews in the world at the time, murdered in the Holocaust. Much of continental Europe would be in ruins. (When FDR’s trusted troubleshooter, Harry Hopkins, flew over Berlin just after the war, he would say, “It’s another Carthage.”) The national debt of the United States would rise more than six-fold in those six years, from $40 billion to $269 billion.

The invasion had begun in a typically cynical way. German soldiers, dressed in Polish uniforms, seized a German radio station, broadcast a message in Polish, and left several concentration camp inmates, who had been executed and dressed in Polish uniforms, lying about so that Germany could claim that Poland had invaded Germany.

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