Fact Check

War Games

Chart shows an 'interesting look at world leaders' during World War II.

Published Feb 11, 2012

Claim:   Chart shows an "interesting look at world leaders" during World War II.




Origins:   Charts like the one displayed above were to World War II-era audiences what the list of Lincoln-Kennedy coincidences would become to the next generation: items that, in the wake of tragedy, provided citizens with a sense of order and discipline amidst the chaos by positing that there was a numerological regularity and significance — and even predictability — to events that threatened to send the world spinning out of control. Charts like these circulated widely in North American newspapers between the war years of 1942 and 1945 (their numbers suitably updated to reflect each passing year), impressing undiscerning readers with the

identical numerological patterns associated with the political leaders of the major powers involved in World War II, and the relevation that their surnames were a seemingly acronymic reference to the title of the true "Supreme Ruler" (Christ).

Like most such items, however, these items were little more than parlor tricks, a combination of forced results and selective presentation of data.

These charts rely on the mundane arithmetic principle that the year in which an event occurred, added to the number of years that have elapsed since that event took place, will always produce a value equaling the current year. Using the first chart as an example, we note that for anyone alive in 1942, the year of his birth added to his current age (at the end of the year) would necessarily produce a total of 1942. Likewise, for any office-holder in 1942, the year he took office added to the number of years he had held that office would necessarily produce a total of 1942. The charts obscure this gimmick (which amounts, in every case, to simply adding 1942 to 1942) by presenting four different numbers in each column which are guaranteed to add up to 3884, then halving that sum to produce a result that cannot be anything other than 1942.

Similarly, the set of first letters of the surnames of each man included in the chart (C,H,M,R,S, and T) can't be made to spell out anything in English without fudging the data, so the head of Italy's government is listed not by his name, Benito Mussolini, but by his title ("Il Duce," Italian for "the leader"), thus providing the sequence with a desperately needed vowel. But of course, that representation by title isn't applied to anyone else — Hitler isn't listed under 'D' for being "der Führer," nor does Roosevelt or Churchill get a 'P' for being president or prime minister.

The supposed predictive power of these charts to identify when the war would end didn't pan out either, with successive versions of the charts positing dates (typically September 7) in 1942, 1943, and 1944 as heralding the war's end. The war in Europe ended with the surrender of Germany in May 1945, and the war in the Pacific (and thus World War II itself) ended with the announcement of Japan's surrender in August 1945 (although the Japanese instrument of surrender wasn't signed until 2 September 1945).

Last updated:   19 January 2012

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

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