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The United States and World War II

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Composite portrait: Raising the American flag over Iwo Jima and aerial photo of the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki

III.  Onset of war in Europe and Asia, 1933-1941

IV.  U.S. foreign policy during the interwar years

  •  Diplomatic appeasement of fascist states
  •  Corporate America and the Nazis
  •  Responses to Jewish repression in Germany
  •  Internationalism and isolationism
  •  Road to war

V.  Theaters of war, 1941-1943

  •  Battle of the Atlantic
  •  War in Asia and the Pacific
  •  Soviet resurgence
  •  The idea of a Second Front
  •  British-American campaigns in North Africa and Italy
  •  Allied bombing of Germany (phase one)

VI.  Toward Allied victory in Europe, 1944-1945

  •  The Western Front
  •  Allied bombing (phase two)
  •  The Eastern Front
  •  The Elbe River linkup: A lost opportunity for peace
  •  Occupational atrocities

VII.  The defeat of Japan, 1944-1945

  •  Island warfare
  •  A brutal race war
  •  Fire bombing Japanese cities
  •  Truman’s decision to use atomic bombs
  •  Hibakusha Stories

VIII.  Home front USA

  •  Explaining the war:  A higher moral purpose
  •  Japanese American internment
  •  The war economy and society
  •  The peace movement
  •  The global future debate

Did you know?

  1. U.S. officials supported Italian Fascist leader Benito Mussolini and were conciliatory toward German dictator Adolf Hitler until 1939, operating under the assumption that fascism was a force for stability and a bulwark against communism.
  2. Prior to the war, major U.S. corporations such as Ford, General Motors, DuPont, and Standard Oil invested heavily in Nazi Germany, helping to build the Nazi war machine.
  3. The U.S. government did little to help European Jews seeking to emigrate.  By June 1939, the waiting list of Germans and Austrians seeking entry into the U.S. had grown to 309,782.[1]
  4. As of November 1941, the Roosevelt administration expected a Japanese attack but was uncertain as to when and where.  The attack came on December 7, 1941, at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, ending a heated domestic debate on U.S. involvement in the war.
  5. The U.S. war in the Pacific took on aspects of a racial war, with the Japanese described as “rats” and pictured with sinister features.  Racial prejudice was also directed at American citizens and residents of Japanese ancestry.  A presidential order forced 120,000 living in West Coast States to abandon their homes and businesses and live in barren internment camps for the duration of the war.
  6. In the European theater, the Soviet Red Army accounted for three-quarters of German casualties and turned the tide of the war in January 1943.
  7. Soviet leader Joseph Stalin urged the U.S. and Great Britain to open a Second Front in Western Europe, but British Prime Minister Winston Churchill repeatedly pushed for delays.  The British-American-Canadian “D-day” invasion took place on June 6, 1944.
  8. The war saw the creation of a dizzying array of new and horrifying military technologies including flamethrowers, bazookas, recoilless rifles, radar, guided missiles, PT “devil boats” armed with automatic weapons and torpedoes, napalm (jellied gasoline that burns the flesh), and pilotless airplanes or drones.  It also witnessed the first use of computers for military purposes.
  9. Mass bombing of civilians became standard fare in the war.  The U.S. Army Air Force initially attempted “precision bombing” of enemy assets but by 1944 had moved to general “area bombing,” obliterating cities and killing civilians en masse.  The U.S. firebombed Tokyo on March 10, 1945, killing 90,000 Japanese civilians in single night.
  10. The U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 killed approximately 200,000 people on impact, and tens of thousands more from radiation poisoning and cancer.[2]  Seven out of eight top U.S. military commanders, including General Douglas MacArthur, believed the use of atomic bombs was unnecessary from a strategic-military vantage point.
  11. There were more than 43,000 conscientious objectors to war in World War II, three times as many as in World War I.  Of these, 6,600 men were imprisoned for either refusing to register for the draft or rejecting alternative service work.
  12. An estimated 80 million people died from war-related causes in World War II, amounting to three percent of the 1940 world population of 2.3 billion.[3]  U.S. military and civilian war deaths totaled 419,000, less than one percent of worldwide deaths attributed to the war.[4]  The Soviet Union, by contrast, suffered 20-27 million fatalities, and China, 10-15 million.

I.  Introduction:  “The good war”

The Second World War is popularly remembered as “the good war” in American history, a heroic struggle against fascist totalitarian states.  America’s adversaries indeed fit this characterization, with Nazi Germany committing some of the most heinous atrocities the world has ever seen.  Nonetheless, if we scrutinize the origins and conduct of the war, we see that it was not entirely a righteous one for the victorious Allies.
The main belligerents in the Second World War were the Allied powers of Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States, and the Axis powers of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Imperial Japan.  The war entailed two largely separate theaters of war, one in Europe and North Africa, the other in Asia and the Pacific.  Both were products of competing empires and great power rivalries.
Before Japanese troops went on a rampage in China in July 1937, Great Britain, France, the Netherlands, and the United States all established colonies in Asia and the Pacific, subduing resistance, denying democracy, exploiting natural resources, and institutionalizing white racism.  Japan entered the imperial game in the late 19th century, successfully battling China (1894-1895) and Russia (1904-1905) before annexing Korea in 1910.  Japan’s goals were to establish a powerful pan-Asian bloc under its dominion capable of resisting Western imperialism, exploiting the region’s resources and establishing a yen-bloc to undercut the American dollar as a mode of currency exchange.
Western powers accepted Japan’s dominion over Korea but not its attempt to take over the eastern half of China.[5]  The U.S. nevertheless did little to help China until early 1940 when it began to provide military aid to the Chinese government under Chiang Kai-shek (Jiang Jieshi) and to gradually restrict the flow of U.S. oil, steel, iron, and other commodities to resource-deficient Japan.  Japanese leaders responded by developing plans to take over Southeast Asia, particularly the oil-rich Dutch East Indies (Indonesia today).  Seeking allies, Japan’s foreign minister called on Asians to reject Western rule and align with Japan in its newly formed Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.  In September 1940, Japan signed a mutual defense pact with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.  The last shipment of U.S. oil for Japan departed on August 5, 1941.[6]

Japanese Ambassador Adm. Kichisaburo Nomura (left) and Special Envoy Saburo Kurusu (right) meet with Sec. of State Cordell Hull (center) in Washington on Nov. 17, 1941, two weeks before the attack on Pearl Harbor (

As late as November 1941, U.S. ambassador to Japan Joseph Grew believed that compromise with Japan was still possible and war could be avoided.  He urged his superiors in Washington to adopt a more conciliatory posture.  Had not the U.S. accepted the British, French, and Dutch empires in Asia?  Why not also a restrained Japanese empire?  Most Washington officials, however, particularly Secretary of War Henry Stimson, opposed further appeasement of the Japanese militarists.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt, for his part, was most concerned with the war in Europe, which had begun in September 1939, particularly with the survival of Great Britain.  Indeed, his generals had drawn up a contingency war plan aimed at “the complete military defeat of Germany.”[7]  The problem for Roosevelt was that the great majority of Americans had no interest in fighting any war, be it in Europe or Asia.  At a cabinet meeting on November 7, 1941, the president asked his advisers “whether the people would back us up in case we struck at Japan down there and what the tactics should be.”[8]  Four days before that meeting, Ambassador Grew had sent a telegram to the State Department warning that if conciliation failed, “Japan may resort, with dangerous and dramatic suddenness to measures which might make inevitable war with the United States.”[9]

Franklin D. Roosevelt

The possibility of war was discussed again at a special “War Cabinet” meeting at the White House on Monday, November 25.  Stimson recorded in his diary that the president “brought up the event that we were likely to be attacked perhaps (as soon as) next Monday, for the Japanese are notorious for making an attack without warning, and the question was how we should maneuver them into the position of firing the first shot without allowing too much danger to ourselves.  It was a difficult proposition.”[10]

The Hilo Tribune Herald (Hawaii), Sunday, Nov. 30, 1941, forewarned of a Japanese attack

Roosevelt, in other words, clearly expected war but did not want to initiate it, lest the American people fail to unify behind it.[11]  Some critics have argued that the president was intent on provoking an incident with Japan in order to justify U.S. entry into the war.[12]  The oil embargo in particular was devastating to Japan and made an attack on the U.S. more likely.

The “first shot,” in any case, proved more devastating than expected.  On December 7 and 8, Japanese forces launched an attack, not only on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, located almost 4,000 miles east of Japan, but also against the Philippines, Guam, Midway Island, Wake Island, Malaya, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Thailand.  On December 8, Roosevelt asked Congress for a declaration of war against Japan.  Three days later, Nazi Germany declared war against the United States.

European geopolitics
The outbreak of war in Europe was driven by a different set of geopolitical rivalries dating back to the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71) and the First World War (1914-18).  The outcome of the latter war sowed deep resentment in Germany.  Under the terms of the Versailles Treaty, Germany was forced to accept sole responsibility for the war, to permit French and Belgian military occupation of the Ruhr industrial region (until 1925), to give up 13.5 percent of its territory, 10 percent of its population, 75 percent of its iron ore deposits, and 100 percent of its colonies, and to pay 132 billion gold marks to the victorious nations, thus ensuring Germany’s impoverishment in the postwar period.[13]  German Chancellor Philip Scheidemann called the treaty “the vilest crime in history.”  British Prime Minister David Lloyd George predicted that the treaty would lead to disaster, stating, “I cannot conceive any greater cause for future war.”[14]
In both Germany and Japan, political leaders took advantage of national vulnerabilities to impose authoritarianism, create cults of leadership worship (Adolf Hitler and Emperor Hirohito), excite military passions and territorial ambitions, and indoctrinate their respective publics with beliefs in their racial superiority.  Germany’s infamous racist ideology is more well known, having led to the murder of millions of European Jews during the war, but Japanese leaders also propagated a racist national ideology, touting the “spiritual and physical purity” of the Japanese people, which presumably entitled them to rule over Asia.[15]
From the end of World War I to 1939, the U.S. and British governments were less concerned with the growth of fascist governments in Europe than with the spread of communism.  Indeed, when Benito Mussolini came to power in Italy in 1922, U.S. officials welcomed his National Fascist Party as a force for stability and a bulwark against Bolshevism (communism).  “In developing American policy,” writes the historian David F. Schmitz, “officials in Washington were mainly influenced by Mussolini’s establishment of a stable, noncommunist government that welcomed American trade and investments.”  This view, in turn, “allowed American officials to ignore Mussolini’s brutal repression of all opposition groups, destruction of Italy’s constitutional government, and rule by violence.”[16]  Conservative British leader Winston Churchill was of a similar mind.  Following a meeting with Mussolini in Rome in January 1927, Churchill praised the dictator at a press conference, saying, “If I had been an Italian, I am sure that I should have been whole-heartedly with you from start to finish in your triumphant struggle against the bestial appetites and passions of Leninism.”[17]
In June 1933, eleven years into Mussolini’s iron-fisted rule, President Roosevelt wrote to his ambassador to Italy, Samuel Breckinridge Long, that he was “deeply impressed by what [Mussolini] had accomplished and by his evidenced honest purpose of restoring Italy and seeking to prevent general European trouble.”  The following month, Roosevelt wrote to a friend, “I don’t mind telling you in confidence that I am keeping in fairly close touch with that admirable Italian gentleman.”[18]

Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler forge the Rome-Berlin Axis, Oct. 25, 1936 (Wiki Commons)

Mussolini provided the role model for Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in Germany.  Upon Hitler’s appointment as chancellor in January 1933, American ambassador to Germany Frederic Sackett wrote, “From the standpoint of stable political conditions, it is perhaps well that Hitler is now in a position to wield unprecedented power.”  The U.S. State Department drew favorable comparisons between Italian fascism and German Nazism, identifying both Mussolini and Hitler as leaders of the “moderate sections” of their parties as distinct from the violent extremes.  The U.S. embassy in Berlin added that “in the field of economics and finance . . . American businesses in Germany had nothing to fear.”  Indeed, they did not, as U.S.-based corporations, including General Motors, Ford, Standard Oil Company, IBM, and Chase Manhattan Bank, invested and profited from their operations in Nazi Germany.[19]  According to Schmitz:

Although never praising Hitler in the same manner as it did Mussolini, the State Department did find reasons to be optimistic about Hitler and the American ability to influence Berlin.  The same criteria for judging fascist Italy would be used with Nazi Germany.  The key factors would be Nazi economic and foreign policies, not the nature of the Nazi regime. . . . His [Hitler’s] Nazi Party promised a strong anticommunist force in Central Europe, stability, and order.[20]

In 1937, after more than four years of Nazi dictatorial rule and anti-Jewish policies and propaganda, the U.S. State Department continued to maintain that fascist-type governments were compatible with U.S. interests, free trade, and the international order.  A February 1937 report written by the department’s European Division defined fascism as a respectable movement of the propertied classes aimed at defending the existing order and private property against Bolshevism.  Where fascism was in power, the authors judged that “it must succeed or the masses, this time reinforced by the disillusioned middle classes, will again turn to the Left.”  The goal of the United States, as such, was to ensure that Germany would recover economically.  Should the economy falter, they warned, “war is possible, if not probable.”[21]

In hindsight, it is clear that economic recovery in Nazi Germany produced, not peace, but militarization and dreams of empire.  The policy of appeasement was not abandoned by Great Britain and the U.S. until very late in the game, after Germany invaded Czechoslovakia in March 1939.  Six months later, Germany invaded Poland, and Britain and France declared war on Germany, inaugurating the Second World War in Europe.  A different set of foreign policy guidelines in London and Washington during the 1930s might have produced a different outcome (see Section IV).
Was it necessary for the United States to enter World War II?  Yes.  The United States was attacked by Japanese forces, making this a defensive war, and Germany declared war on the U.S. soon after.  U.S. military power helped defeat Nazi Germany, a genocidal regime bent on world conquest, along with its Axis allies.  Still, there are many caveats to consider, as this essay will detail.
Conduct of the war
The memory of the Second World War as “the good war” is largely an American phenomenon.  Apart from the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States remained free from the devastation that enveloped much of Europe and Asia.  The U.S. economy, furthermore, rose out of the doldrums of the Great Depression to produce massive quantities of weapons and munitions for both U.S. and Allied forces as well as ample goods for domestic consumption, albeit with some rationing.  Hiring in the defense industries was expanded to more women and African Americans.
It was nevertheless the Soviet Union that did the heaviest fighting to defeat the Nazi war machine, and the Soviet people that suffered the most in the process.  “What is beyond doubt,” said Rodric Braithwaite, former British Ambassador to the Soviet Union/Russian Federation, “is that four-fifths of the fighting in Europe took place on the Eastern Front, and that is where the Germans suffered ninety percent of their casualties.  Even after D-Day [June 6, 1944], two-thirds of the German forces were in the East.  If they had not been there, they would have been in France, and there would have been no D-Day.  And that is why the Russians tend to think it was they who won the war, and why I tend to think that they are right.”[22]  The Soviet Union lost an estimated 24 to 27 million of its people in the war, of which at least 14 million were civilians, as compared to total fatalities of 451,000 British and 419,000 American.  For every American who died from war causes, the Soviets lost 57 people.[23]
The “good war” moniker also derives from the fact that there was year by year progress toward an Allied victory.  By early 1943, the Soviet army had begun to push the German army out of the Soviet Union and the U.S. was on the offensive in the Pacific.  The label, however, elides the effects of the Allied aerial assaults on cities and civilians.  U.S. and British bombers laid waste to dozens of German cities, and the U.S. alone firebombed sixty-six Japanese cities, killing as many as 900,000 Japanese people and leaving eight million homeless.[24]  On the night of March 9, 1945, to take one example, U.S. bombers unleashed incendiary bombs that set Tokyo ablaze, killing over 90,000 people.  Robert S. McNamara, who served as a deputy to Curtis Lemay, the architect of the Tokyo firebombing, told interviewer Errol Morris years later that if “the allies had not won the war, we’d have been hung as war criminals.”[25]

Aerial photo of Tokyo after the U.S. bombing of March 9-10, 1945 (US National Archives)

The Second World War was a “total war” in which previous international protocols concerning the protection of civilians were abandoned.  The historian Antony Beevor has labeled the war “the greatest man-made disaster in history.”[26]  The atomic bombs dropped on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9, respectively, killed over 200,000 people, with cancer and radiation sickness killing countless more over time.  The Truman administration insisted that the bombings were necessary to end the war quickly and save American lives, but much historical evidence challenges this justification (see Section VII).[27]

All wars involve the dehumanization of the enemy, but the virulent racism that permeated the U.S. war in the Pacific fostered an excess of demonizing stereotypes and atrocities.  The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, writes the historian John W. Dower, “provoked a rage bordering on the genocidal among Americans.  Following the attack, Admiral William Halsey, soon to become the commander of the South Pacific Force, rallied his men under the slogan, ‘kill Japs, kill Japs, kill more Japs.’”
Japanese soldiers, for their part, were indoctrinated with the Bushido military code, derived from the samurai, which disparaged surrender as the ultimate dishonor.  As U.S. and Japanese forces clashed in battle after battle on Pacific islands, Japanese soldiers resisted to the end, often engaging in suicidal “banzai” attacks rather than surrender.  On some islands, Japanese commanders ordered civilians not to surrender, and hundreds killed themselves or were bayonetted by Japanese soldiers.  It was nevertheless American firepower that produced the most civilian fatalities, which numbered 95,000 on Okinawa alone.[28]
Racism also underlay President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, issued on February 19, 1942, which mandated the removal of “enemy aliens” from West Coast cities.  Some 120,000 men, women, and children of Japanese ancestry were rounded up and placed in internment camps for the duration of the war.  About two-thirds of those detained were American citizens, born in the U.S.  The Supreme Court upheld the legality of the executive order in two cases.[29]  About 11,000 German nationals were also placed in detention camps, although each case was individually examined.

Studs Terkel noted in “The Good War”: An Oral History of World War II (1984) two additional reasons for the benefic label:  “Wartime prosperity had extended into an exhilarating period of postwar prosperity.  The United States had become the most powerful industrial as well as military power in the world.”[30]  Again, these were uniquely American experiences, and the latter attribute, predominant military power, was not necessarily welcomed by other countries.  Reverend A. J. Muste, a revolutionary pacifist, was prescient in foreseeing that the Allied victory would yield “a new American empire” incorporating a subservient Britain.  He wrote in 1941, “The problem after a war is the victor.  He thinks he has just proved that war and violence pay.  Who will now teach him a lesson?”[31]  Muste’s concern was echoed by U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Gene La Rocque, who told Terkel in an interview:

You could argue World War Two had to be fought.  Hitler had to be stopped.  Unfortunately, we translate it unchanged to the situation today. . . . World War Two has warped our view of how we look at things today.  We see things in terms of that war, which in a sense was a good war.  But the memory of it encourages the men of my generation to be willing, almost eager, to use military force anywhere in the world.[32]

In the aftermath of the war, a “victory culture” emerged in the U.S., cultivated in part by Hollywood films that glorified war and presented a distorted, Manichaean view of global affairs.[33]  U.S. leaders projected this view onto the emerging Cold War between the U.S. and Soviet Union, turning a geopolitical rivalry into a mythic struggle between freedom and totalitarianism.  In reality, the U.S. supported many dictatorial governments before, during, and after the Second World War, while Great Britain lorded over a vast empire in Asia and Africa.[34]  The Second World War proved to be a pivotal turning point in America’s transition from a regional power to a global power.  In the coming years, its influence would be sustained, like that of other empires in the past, by considerable violence.[35]

This book-length essay seeks to provide a critical overview of the history of World War II.  It discusses the rise of Hitler and the Nazi party in Germany; reviews the Western policy of appeasement and the complicity of U.S. corporations; addresses the question of whether more could have been done to save Jewish victims of genocide; examines the failure of the U.S. to support international organizations and collective security efforts during the interwar years; restores the importance of Russia’s role in defeating Nazi Germany; surveys major battles and casualties; examines the U.S. debates over bombing civilians and the decision to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki; and describes the U.S. home front during the war, including the incarceration of Japanese-American citizens and treatment of conscientious objectors to war.  The last section explores legacies and lessons of the Second World War.

*          *          *          *          *

II. The rise of Adolf Hitler and Nazi rule in Germany

The First World War, as historian Ian Kershaw wrote, made Adolf Hitler possible.  Without the experience of war, the humiliation of defeat, and the upheaval of revolution, the failed artist and social drop-out would not have found his métier as a propagandist and beerhall demagogue.  Without the collective trauma of war and subsequent political radicalization of German society, the right-wing agitator would have been without an audience for his raucous, hate-filled message.  Without the war, a Hitler sitting in the chancellor’s seat once occupied by Otto von Bismarck would have been unthinkable.[36]
Hitler was born in the small Austrian town of Braunau am Inn on April 30, 1889.  His father, Alois Hitler, reportedly subjected Adolf to frequent humiliation and pressured him to follow his example in becoming a customs officer, which Adolf did not want to do.  His mother, Klara Pölzl, was 23 years younger than Alois and a devoted mother, especially as her first three children had all died of diseases while very young.  Adolf grew up with an older half-brother and half-sister, and a younger brother and sister.  His father died in 1903 and Adolf left school three years later, at the age of sixteen, and moved to Vienna.  He dreamed of becoming a professional artist but failed two entrance exams of the Academy of Fine Arts.  Informed in 1907 that his mother had a terminal case of cancer, Adolf moved back home to care for her in her last months.  She died in December of that year.[37]  Adolf later wrote in his autobiography, Mein Kampf, “I had honored my father, but my mother I had loved.”[38]

Adolf Hitler attends a rally in the Munich Odeonsplatz to celebrate the declaration of war in August 1914 (US Holocaust Memorial Museum, or USHMM)

Hitler as a youth developed a glorified view of war, hearing romanticized stories about the Franco-Prussian War and the Boer War and adventure stories of the American West written by Karl Friedrich May, which became his passion.[39]  At the age of 25, Hitler found new meaning and purpose in life with the outbreak of the Great War (World War I), which he called “the greatest and most unforgettable time of my earthly existence.”  On August 2, 1914, one day after Germany declared war on Russia, Hitler could be seen in a photograph enwrapped in war hysteria at a huge patriotic demonstration on Munich’s Odeonsplatz.  Three days later, though he was a citizen of Austria-Hungary, Hitler volunteered for service in the German Bavarian Infantry regiment.

Hitler’s regiment had its baptism of fire in October 1914, on the Menin Road near Ypres where its fighting force was reduced from 3,600 to 611 men.  Hitler said he came to the realization afterwards that “life is a constant, horrible struggle.”  According to Kershaw, Hitler was utterly fanatical about the war and believed that “no humanitarian feelings” should “interfere with the ruthless prosecution of German interests.”  He vehemently disapproved of the spontaneous gestures of friendship on Christmas day 1914, when German and British troops met in “no man’s land,” shaking hands and singing carols together.[40]  Other men in Hitler’s unit found him intolerable:  “There was this white crow among us,” one stated, “that didn’t go along with us when we damned the war to hell.”[41]
Toward the end of the war, Hitler received the Iron Cross, First Class for delivering an important message through heavy fire to the front, following a breakdown in telephone communication.  Hitler was also partially blinded by mustard gas.  While he was recovering in a hospital, he learned the shattering news of Germany’s defeat.  In his memoirs, Mein Kampf, written in 1924, Hitler recalled:  “And so it had all been in vain.  In vain all the sacrifices and privations; in vain the hunger and thirst of months that were often endless; in vain the hours in which mutual fear clutching at our hearts, we nevertheless did our duty; and in vain the deaths of two million who died.”  Hitler called on his generation to “open and send the silent mud and blood covered heroes back as spirits of vengeance to the homeland which had cheated them with such mockery.”[42]
In Hitler’s assessment, the German army had not been defeated by its enemies on the battlefield but rather by treasonous foes of the war at home – notably, Jews and Marxists.  This thesis became known as the stab-in-the-back legend (Dolchstoßlegenden), promoted by Field Marshall Paul Von Hindenburg, among others, and served as a vehicle for Hitler’s rise to power.  In the aftermath of the war, Germany went through a period of revolutionary turmoil.  In Munich, communist leader Eugen Leviné declared the establishment of a Bavarian Soviet Republic (Raterepublik) between November 1918 and May 1919.  Leviné and a number of other leftist agitators were Jews, including Ernst Toller, Gustav Landauer, and Erich Mühsam.  To put down the rebellion, the Weimar national government under Social Democrat Friedrich Ebert allied with far-right paramilitary units who brutally crushed the Bavarian Soviet Republic, which they labeled the “Jewish Republic.”  At least 1,200 supporters of the short-lived Soviet-allied government were murdered, with corpses left to rot in the streets for days before being hauled off to mass graves.[43]  Hitler himself served as an informant who carried out investigations into left wing actions.  Afterwards, Bavaria became a bastion of the conservative right and fertile ground for Hitler’s political rise.  He was invited by Captain Karl Mayr, head of the army’s Information Department, to give lectures promoting anti-Bolshevik and German nationalist themes.  Here, Hitler discovered his talent for public speaking and oratory.[44]
The Nazi party
Hitler soon became the leader of the German National Socialist Workers Party (Nazi), formed in February 1920.  This right-wing party’s appropriation of the word “socialism,” traditionally associated with the left, was designed to draw workers from trade unions.  The Nazi party attracted a small but vigorous following in the early 1920s.  Hitler packed the beer halls with his fiery speeches, typically contrasting Germany’s strength in a glorious past with its current weakness and national humiliation.  The decline of Germany was blamed on Jews, communists, and other alleged traitors such as the leading Centre Party politician and Reich finance minister, Matthias Erzberger, who signed the Armistice in 1918.  The Nazi party and its supporters also held Jews responsible for revolutionary agitation, epitomized by the prominence of two Jews, Rosa Luxembourg and Paul Levi, in the communist Spartacus movement of Germany.

“Never Again War” demonstration in Berlin, July 10, 1922 (

The Weimar Republic (1918-1933) gained its name because the national assembly met in the classic city of German literature, Weimar.  Many within and outside of Germany hoped that the government would inaugurate a new democratic era, the authoritarian role of the Kaiser having been replaced by a chancellor selected by the majority party in the Reichstag (national legislature).  The nation did, in fact, witness a cultural renaissance and the growth of a multiparty democracy, albeit amid economic hardship, hyperinflation, and an undercurrent of anger over the Great War.[45]  A budding peace movement also arose in the early 1920s.  Mass marches were held in Berlin and other cities under the banner of “Never Again War.”  Supported by the German Peace Society, the church-based German World Alliance, and notable figures such as Albert Einstein, winner of the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics, peace advocates eschewed rightist appeals for revenge and promoted a different lesson from the Great War.[46]

In November 1923, Hitler led a beer hall putsch in a failed attempt to overthrow the Weimar Republic.  In the course of the putsch, Hitler’s supporters went on an antisemitic rampage, rounding up and beating Jews – a prelude of what was to come.  Hitler’s treasonous attack earned him a five-year prison sentence, but he ultimately served only nine months.  During this time, he penned his racist manifesto, Mein Kampf.  In a passage embracing the stab-in-the-back legend, he wrote:  “In 1918, we paid in blood for the fact that in 1914/15 we did not proceed to trample the head of the Marxist serpent once and for all.  If at the beginning of the war and during the war, twelve or fifteen thousand of those Hebrew corrupters of the people had been held under poison gas, as happened to hundreds of thousands of our very best German workers in the field, the sacrifice of millions at the front would not have been in vain.”  Here we see a clear foreshadowing of the Holocaust.  Hitler’s writings refer to Jews as maggots, bloodsucking spiders, plague-inducing rats, vampires, and parasites.[47]
In terms of German public support for the Nazi party, the Versailles Treaty and the economy stood out as the most important factors.  Virulent anti-Jewish attitudes took time for the Nazis to cultivate, evident in their gradual approach to curbing Jewish rights and freedoms between 1933 and 1938.  One of the most powerful men supporting Hitler was media mogul Alfred Hugenberg, former director of Krupp Armaments, who financed weekly newsreels shown in movie theatres.  The popular newsreels led many Germans to view Hitler as a respectable politician and statesman and potential future chancellor.  The American media mogul William Randolph Hearst, whose career inspired Orson Welles’s famous movie “Citizen Kane,” was similarly enamored with Hitler, even inviting Hitler to write two articles that were published in his periodicals in 1930.[48]
The onset of the Great Depression destabilized the economically weak Weimar Republic, allowing the Nazi party to rapidly rise in democratic elections.  The party won 107 seats in the 577-seat Reichstag in the 1930 elections, as compared to 143 for the Social Democrats, and 77 for the Communist party.  In the July 1932 elections, the Nazi Party became the single largest party in the national legislature.  Though the Nazi party enjoyed only 32 percent of the popular vote, the other parties failed to unite against it.  The Communist party, which held 89 of the 607 seats that year, made the fatal error of accepting Nazi leadership in a futile attempt to undermine the Social Democrats, socialist trade unions, and middle-class democrats, on the theory that the Nazi regime would only be temporary and would bring the collapse of capitalism.[49]
Hitler in power
The first order of business after taking power was the elimination of all political and intellectual challenges and alternatives to the Nazi order.
On January 30, 1933, Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany.  He and his Nazi allies moved quickly to dismantle democracy and establish an authoritarian state.  On February 27, the Reichstag was mysteriously burned down, allegedly by a young Dutch communist, Marinus Van Der Lubbe.[50]  The following day, the government declared a state of emergency accompanied by a suspension of political rights.  An election was nonetheless held on March 5 in which the Nazi party secured 43.9% of the vote, or 288 of 647 seats.
Still lacking a majority, Hitler proposed the Enabling Law to the Reichstag, allowing him to rule by decree – in effect, abolishing democracy.  The bill needed two-thirds approval of the Reichstag to pass.  By banning the German Communist party and terrorizing other parties – including raiding the offices of the Social Democratic Party, attacking their supporters, and closing down or destroying opposition newspapers – the Nazis gained the requisite approval of the measure in the Reichstag by a vote of 444 to 94 on March 24.[51]  The dictatorship was legally established.

Dachau political prisoners, circa 1935 (USHMM)

Two days earlier, the Nazis opened a concentration camp for political prisoners at Dachau, located on the outskirts of Munich in what had once been a pleasant artist colony.  The initial targets were not Jews per se, but rather communists, socialists, trade unionists, and intellectuals – any journalist, editor, judge, lawyer, professor, writer, minister or priest who dared criticize Nazi policies or ideas.  Those imprisoned had no legal recourse and were exploited as forced laborers.  A saying began to circulate around the country, in whispers:  “Lieber Herr Gott, mach mich stumm, Das ich nicht nach Dachau komm'” (“Dear God, make me dumb [mute], That I may not to Dachau come.”)  Dachau became the model for other concentration camps.[52]  The first order of business after taking power, in other words, was the elimination of all political and intellectual challenges and alternatives to the Nazi order.

To this end, Nazi-led student groups initiated the first mass book burning event on May 10, 1933.  Bonfires were lit in thirty-four university towns and cities, fed by works of prominent Jewish, liberal, and leftist writers.  By the end of the summer, the Nazi regime had banned freedom of the press, outlawed other political parties and demonstrations against the government, imprisoned an estimated 100,000 Germans, and murdered some five to six hundred.  The regime had also outlawed independent trade unions and replaced them with Nazi-led labor unions, banned strikes, arrested thousands of union leaders, and confiscated union assets, estimated in value at over 184 million Reichsmarks.[53]  Key agents of Nazi repression were the German State Secret Police (Geheime Staatspolizei), also known as the SA or Gestapo, established by Hermann Göring, and the elite Special Forces (Schutzstaffel), or SS, commanded by Heinrich Himmler.  The latter were recruited from German high society and screened to assure they were of pure Aryan stock and married to fellow Aryans.[54]
Many German business elites supported Hitler because of his attacks on organized labor and the political left.  Hitler’s financial backers included the Beckstein family, the Wagner circle, steel magnate Fritz Thyssen, wealthy Russian emigres, and other assorted aristocrats whose support, often in hard currency, subsidized Nazi party members’ subscriptions and entrance fees to party meetings.[55]  This support paid dividends in the first five years of Nazi rule, as profits earned by German industry climbed from 6.6 to 15 billion Reichsmarks, or by 127 percent, according to historian Charles Bettleheim.  Anti-fascist resistance fighter Otto Jensen wrote that Germany’s industrialists and bankers were very happy that “the fear of the concentration camp had made German workers as docile as lapdogs.”  Another factor was Hitler’s large scale rearmament program, which bolstered the profits of Krupp and IG Farben by 300 and 600 percent, respectively, between 1933 and 1938.[56]

Nazi German Student League poster: “The German student in the struggle for the leader and the people” (Bridgeman Art Library, Peter Newark collection)

However odious the Hitler regime, its national economic program was effective in pulling Germany out of the Great Depression, ending the unemployment crisis in five years, though average workers’ wages remained relatively low.  Providing job security for the masses, in turn, generated public support for the party.  The Nazis furthermore enticed the German people by promoting “the people’s community” (Volksgemeinschaft), which included folk festivals and parades organized in cities, towns, and villages across Germany.  Along with folk culture, Nazi officials appropriated high German culture, paying respect to artistic expressions – art, dance, theater, music – shorn of all Jewish contributions.  Long-term indoctrination was accomplished in part by Hitler Youth groups which boys and girls ten years and older were required to join.  The program mixed ideological instruction, nationalistic rituals, vigorous outdoor exercise, and social camaraderie.  For boys, regular military drills prepared them for service in the Wehrmacht (army) at age eighteen.

Nazi leaders employed a combination of brute force and sophisticated propaganda techniques to generate unquestioned loyalty to the state, party, and leader.  Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer (one people, one realm, one leader) became the motto of Nazi Germany after Hitler was anointed the Führer.  This was precipitated by the death of President Paul von Hindenburg in August 1934 and the merging of the presidency and chancellorship under Hitler.

Joseph Goebbels, August 1934 (German Federal Archives)

Hitler appointed Joseph Goebbels to lead the Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda.  With a doctorate in Philology from the University of Heidelberg in 1921, Goebbels studied Woodrow Wilson’s propaganda techniques in the First World War that had effectively demonized Germans as barbaric “Huns.”  He was impressed with Edward Bernay’s book, Propaganda (1928), which set forth the subtle means by which corporate and governmental elites could sway public opinion without the public catching on.  Bernay’s career stretched from serving the Wilson administration’s wartime propaganda agency, the Committee on Public Information, to assisting the Eisenhower administration’s covert overthrow of the Guatemalan government in 1954.[57]

Nazi propaganda poster: “All Germany hears the Fuhrer with the People’s Radio” (USHMM)

Goebbels made ample use of film and radio, employing these relatively new communication vehicles to glorify Hitler and create a cult of personality.  Goebbels’s Propaganda Ministry subsidized Leni Riefenstahl’s 1935 film, The Triumph of the Will, which famously depicted the Führer as a god-like figure commanding millions of devout and obedient followers in glorious displays of pageantry and power.  The radio was used effectively to transmit Nazi messages.  Radios were attached to street lamps at bus stops where listeners would congregate and hear music interspersed with Nazi “news.”  The government also subsidized an affordable radio for average households to purchase – the Volksempfänger – which became extremely popular.[58]

Toward the Holocaust (1933-1942)
The Nazis put forth the idea of the “master race” as justification for both territorial aggrandizement – gaining more “living space” to the east – and subjecting Jews and other races to Nazi rule, if not death.  The origins of the “master race” idea can be found in the imperial mindsets adopted by all of the major European powers and accompanying Social Darwinist theories that rationalized imperialism as natural and inevitable.  A number of Nazi leaders or their fathers had played an important role in expanding Germany’s overseas empire in Africa, where the German colonizers developed and refined various population control measures that were later applied against the Jews and other subjugated peoples in the Nazi empire.  These methods included the forced relocation of peoples into concentration camps, the ruthless exploitation of native labor, torture in interrogation, and medical experimentation.
Anthropologist Eugen Fischer epitomized a continuity in personnel between Imperial Germany and the Third Reich.  He had studied racially intermixed groups in Southwest Africa during the Herero War in modern day Namibia and provided the “scientific” underpinnings for Hitler’s 1935 Nuremburg laws discriminating against Jews and other undesirable groups.  Believing that “racial inferiors” should legitimately be eliminated, Fischer used his experience in Africa to guide his training of Nazi luminaries such as Josef Mengele, the infamous death doctor who performed sadistic experiments on Jews at Auschwitz and other concentration camps.[59]
The focus on German Jews as the enemy of the German people required a significant reconstruction of reality.  In 1933, there were 525,000 Jews living in Germany, less than one percent of the total population of 67 million.[60]  Most were proud German citizens and more than 100,000 had served in the German army during World War I, with many decorated for bravery.  German Jews held important positions in government, taught in German universities, and contributed to German culture as poets, writers, musicians, and artists.  Of the thirty-eight Nobel Prizes won by German writers and scientists between 1905 and 1936, fourteen went to Jews.  Although Jews encountered discrimination in their social and professional lives, most looked forward to a better life in Germany.  Moreover, marriage between Jews and non-Jews was becoming more common.[61]
Beyond Hitler’s ravings at the Jews, the anti-Jewish propaganda of the Nazi party was part of a political strategy designed to rally the great majority of Germans against a scapegoat, a perceived outsider, an enemy “other.”  This strategy entailed reviving earlier eras of dehumanization and repression of Jews, an endemic feature of Christian civilization since the late Roman Empire stretching from England to Russia.[62]  The Nazi regime, aided by a radical religious right movement, prodded and coerced German churches into adopting an anti-Jewish orientation.  Before 1933, some Catholic bishops had prohibited their dioceses from supporting the Nazi party.  This ban was dropped after Hitler declared in March 1933 that Christianity was the “foundation” for German values.  Eight months later, a rally was held in Berlin in which some 20,000 supporters of the Nazi-dominated German Evangelical Church demanded the removal of the (Jewish) Old Testament from the Bible.[63]

Catholic clergy and Nazi officials, including Joseph Goebbels (far right), give the Nazi salute, date uncertain (USHMM)

The leadership of mainline Protestant and Catholic churches generally conformed to Nazi rule, but there were notable exceptions, including Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  Bonhoeffer’s later efforts to help Jews escape from Germany and his connections to a plot to overthrow Hitler resulted in his execution in April 1945.  Many Catholic priests aided Jews through underground organizations despite a warning in 1941 from Pope Pius XII to refrain from illegal actions and protests.  Over 2,500 priests were imprisoned at Dachau, although not slated for execution.[64]  Among them was Pastor Martin Niemoller, a former German U-boat commander who was imprisoned for opposing the Nazification of Protestant churches.  He later expressed regret for his earlier antisemitic views in a famous passage:

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a communist.  Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a socialist.  Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a trade unionist.  Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Jew.  Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak out for me.[65]

Nazi repression of German Jews proceeded in stages.  On April 1, 1933, in towns and cities across Germany, Nazi Storm Troopers stood menacingly in front of Jewish-owned shops while thuggish supporters painted the Star of David on shop windows and walls.  Such identification was part of a campaign urging all Aryan Germans to boycott Jewish-owned businesses and professional services.  That same month, Nazi state ministries relieved from duty all Jewish judges, public prosecutors, and district attorneys.

In September 1935, the government enacted the Nuremberg race laws, decreeing the segregation of Jews from German society.  German lawyers who codified the Nazi government’s race-based philosophy found inspiration and examples in the well-established system of racial segregation in the American South.[66]  Jews were forced to set up their own schools.  Jewish school teachers and university professors were fired from their jobs.  Jewish students were banished from universities.  Jewish doctors were not allowed to treat non-Jews.  Marriage between German gentiles and Jews was prohibited.  Who exactly was a Jew?  Jewish identity was legally defined not by religious beliefs or practices, but by presumed racial inheritance; thus, even people with Jewish grandparents who had converted to Christianity were considered Jews.
In 1937, the Nazi regime added a new category of “asocials” to its growing roster of political prisoners in concentration camps (which contained 4,761 prisoners at the end of 1936).  This category included ex-convicts, alcoholics, drug addicts, people with mental disabilities, beggars, prostitutes, homosexuals, Roma and Sinti people (Gypsies), and pacifists – mainly Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Jews constituted a small minority in the camps until 1942 when the camps were transformed into killing factories.[67]

SS guards force Jews arrested during Kristallnacht to march through the town of Baden-Baden (USHMM)

In 1937 and 1938, the Nazi government set out to impoverish Jews by expropriating Jewish-owned businesses and selling them for a profit, a process known as Aryanization.  In July 1938, Jews were ordered to carry identity cards with a special mark, thus making them easy targets for Nazi thugs.  On November 9, the latter went on a rampage in Jewish sectors of cities across the nation, smashing store windows, burning synagogues, and assaulting Jews.  Known as “The Night of Broken Glass,” or Kristallnacht, ninety-one Jews were murdered and 26,000 were arrested.  Most were released over the next three months on the condition that they begin the process of emigration from Germany.[68]

In August 1939, the Nazi leadership decreed that all physicians, nurses, and midwives report any infants and children under the age of three who showed signs of severe mental or physical disabilities.  Specially recruited medical staff murdered the infants and children by lethal overdoses of drugs or by starvation.  This “euthanasia” program was later expanded to youths up to seventeen years of age.[69]
Germany’s invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939 – the opening salvo of the Second World War in Europe – exponentially expanded Nazi atrocities against Jews.  Elite SS troops conducted mass executions of Jews across Eastern Europe, killing at least 7,000 by the end of the 1939.  The mass murders accelerated over the next two years.  In one of the largest, the SS summarily executed 33,000 Jews at the Babi Yar ravine near the city of Kiev, Ukraine, in September 1941.  This was surpassed a month later by the massacre of 50,000 Jews at Odessa by German and Romanian units.  Because some soldiers in these marauding death squads experienced nightmares and other forms of psychological distress, Nazi commanders began to look for a more efficient way to kill large numbers of Jews.[70]

Jewish boy in Prague wearing compulsory Star of David (USHMM)

During the war, Jews in Germany and Poland and other Nazi-occupied countries were relocated to urban ghettos, confined and impoverished sections of cities where they had to wear a yellow star on their clothes.  The ghettos were typically governed by Jewish Councils with the aid of Jewish police, under the command of the Nazis.  Uncooperative Jewish leaders were executed and acts of rebellion were met with collective punishment; for example, shooting the family and friends of those who resisted or escaped.[71]  The historian Dan Kurzman describes the misery of the ghetto in Warsaw, Poland:

. . . skeletal figures with yellow swollen faces sat propped against the wall of buildings, their puffy, slit-like eyes vacant, their gnarled hands reaching out to indifferent pedestrians for bread.  Others already dead, lay covered with old newspapers along their curbs, awaiting the gravediggers who would haul them off in handcarts to mass graves.  Children crawled on all fours resembling blinking monkeys. . . . One woman even cannibalized her dead baby.  And with starvation came typhus which filled the understaffed hospitals, people fated to die in filthy lice ridden hospital beds, often three or four to a mattress without medical care.[72]

Government-subsidized films played an important role in disseminating antisemitism, the superiority of German military power, and the intrinsic evil of Germany’s enemies.  Films such as The Eternal Jew (1940), directed by Fritz Hippler, portrayed Jews as subhuman creatures infiltrating Aryan society.  After the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, Goebbels’s propaganda ministry stressed themes linking Soviet Communism to European Jewry, presenting Germany as the defender of “Western culture” against the Judeo-Bolshevik threat, and painting an apocalyptic picture of what would happen if the Soviets won the war.[73]

On January 20, 1942, fifteen high-ranking Nazi leaders held a conference at an elegant villa outside Berlin called Wannsee.  The conference was coordinated by former Gestapo chief and head of the Czech protectorate, Reinhard Heydrich, along with Adolf Eichmann who did much of the planning.  Hitler himself did not attend.  It is here that the Nazi leadership agreed on a plan for the “final solution,” a euphemism for the mass extermination of Jews across Europe.  The plan entailed the liquidation of Jewish ghettos and the transport of residents in guarded trains to concentration camps in Germany, Poland and elsewhere in Eastern Europe.  The public would be told that the Jews were being taken to special reservations of their own, much like Native American reservations in the United States.  In reality they would be taken to death camps.
Upon arrival, after their belongings were taken, they would be separated into two groups.  Most Jews, including children, would be directed to gas chambers disguised as showers, where they would be killed by Zyklon B gas.  The more fit young men and women would be sent to the work branch of the camp.  Corpses from the gas chambers would be burned in crematorium furnaces.  This gas chamber system had already proved successful at the Auschwitz concentration camp in southern Poland, where 600 Soviet prisoners-of-war and 250 others who were weak or ill were annihilated in a stroke in September 1941.[74]
Eichmann later recalled that the Wannsee conference was conducted “quietly and with much courtesy, with much friendliness – politely and nicely.  There was not much speaking and it did not last a long time.  The waiters served cognac, and in this way it ended.”[75]  This description makes it sound like it was a pleasant business or academic conference when in fact the world’s worst genocide was being planned.  The demeaner of the participants connotes a feigned attempt at respectability and psychological denial.

*         *          *          *          *

III.  Onset of war in Europe and Asia, 1933-1941

The Nazis identified their reign as the “Third Reich,” heir to the Holy Roman Empire (800-1806) and the German state empire (1871-1918) which collapsed at the end of the First World War.  The primary Nazi foreign policy goal was lebensraum (more living space) to the east.  The Slavic peoples of Eastern Europe and Russia were deemed inferior to Aryan Germans and thus “naturally” subject to German rule, according to Nazi racist ideology.  Nazi leaders admired how Anglo Americans had conquered, removed, and deprived Native Americans of their lands, and how the British and French had imposed white rule across Africa and Asia.
International diplomacy
Hitler’s diplomatic strategy was designed to keep Germany’s potential foes divided and off-balance while Germany built up its military power.  The Nazis deftly encouraged Western isolation of the Soviet Union, applauded American neutrality, negotiated a separate naval arms control agreement with Great Britain apart from France, and pulled Italy into Germany’s orbit (Italy had fought with the Allies against Germany in the First World War).

Hitler shown here in his more typical animated form, in Leni Riefenstahl’s 1935 staged documentary, “Triumph of the Will” (

Though Hitler is often remembered for his fanatical speeches, he could adjust his tone and content to suit the occasion.  To take one example, after Hitler announced in March 1935 that Germany was in the process of building an air force and would soon introduce conscription in order to create an army of some one-half million men, violating both the Versailles Treaty and the Locarno treaties of 1926, Britain, France, Italy, and the League of Nations all condemned these actions in no uncertain terms.[76]  Recognizing that he had overplayed his hand in public, Hitler shifted gears and delivered an eloquent speech on behalf of peace on May 21.  Eliciting memories of the Great War, he spoke of the stupidity of warfare and of the “dynastic egoism, political passion, and patriotic blindness” that caused wars.  “If these states had applied merely a fraction of their sacrifices to wiser purposes,” he said, “the success would certainly have been greater and more permanent.”  He falsely claimed that Germany had no intention of remilitarizing the Rhineland (an area between the Rhine River and France that had been declared a demilitarized zone in the Versailles Treaty) or of annexing Austria (also banned), and that he was willing to sign non-aggression pacts with all Germany’s neighbors.[77]

Hitler’s rhetoric of appeasement succeeded in eliciting actual policy appeasement on the part of Great Britain.  On June 18, 1935, British and German diplomats in London signed the Anglo-German Naval Agreement, allowing Germany to build up its navy at a 35:100 ratio in relation to the size of the Royal Navy, only slightly smaller than the French navy.  British officials reasoned that, as Hitler was going to build a navy irrespective of treaty obligations, it was better to establish some limits via a new international agreement – even though there was no guarantee that this agreement would be respected.  The British signed the Anglo-German Naval Agreement without consulting French, Italian, or Soviet leaders, which particularly offended the French.  The British did consult U.S. leaders, who gave their tepid approval.  Three days prior to the signing, Secretary of State Cordell Hull directed U.S. ambassador Robert Bingham in London to inform the British that the U.S. government appreciated with “particular satisfaction” Germany’s acceptance of a permanent, category by category naval tonnage ratio.
The treaty was a tremendous success for Hitler.  It caused a rift between France and Britain, effectively annulled arms limitations imposed by earlier treaties, and allowed Germany to maximize its shipbuilding operations for a number of years until the ratio was reached.  It enabled Germany to legally contract with U.S. corporations to supply the requisite materials for rearmament (see Section 4.2).[78]

Mussolini visits Hitler in Munich, June 1940 (USHMM)

Hitler’s most significant diplomatic triumph was to make an ally of Benito Mussolini.  Though Italy and Germany had similar types of fascist governments, Western powers had relied on Mussolini to resist German expansionism and guarantee Austrian independence.  Hitler successfully courted Mussolini, leading to the Rome-Berlin treaty of friendship in November 1936.  A formal alliance, the so-called “pact of steel,” was signed in May 1939.  The two fascist leaders found common cause in aiding Francisco Franco’s National Forces in the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), resulting in the establishment of another fascist government in Europe.  Despite signing pledges of non-intervention, Germany and Italy sent their warplanes to mercilessly bomb Spanish cities under Republican control, enabling Franco to defeat his democratic rivals.

The bombing of Guernica, the historic citadel of Basque culture, caught the attention of the world.  The terror was symbolically captured by artist Pablo Picasso in a huge oil-on-canvas titled Guernica.[79]  New York Times correspondent G. L. Steer reported, “The object of the bombardment seemingly was demoralization of the civilian population. . . . The whole of it was a horrible sight, flaming from end to end.”  So many buildings collapsed that “the streets were long heaps of red, impenetrable ruins,” while farmhouses in the outskirts were “burned like little candles in the hills.”  In the House of Lords, Lord Cecil of Chelwood declared, “There is no precedent in the history of civilized nations for anything like the bombing of Guernica.”  In the House of Commons, Liberal leader Archibald Sinclair decried the bombing as “a deliberate effort to use air power as an instrument of terrorism.”[80]  So it was.  Yet only three years later, Britain adopted a similar policy of “area bombing” German cities.

A cheering crowd in Vienna, held back by police, greets Hitler as he enters the city, March 1938 (USHMM)

In March 1938, German troops marched into Austria, breaking the Versailles Treaty once again.  Shockingly to many Western observers, crowds in Vienna cheered the invading army as it marched through the streets, even as some soldiers forced Jews to scrub the pavement in front of them with toothbrushes.  In order to create a façade of democratic legitimacy, the Nazi leadership arranged for a referendum on annexation to Germany (Anschluss) to be held on April 10.  The proposed annexation was endorsed by Social Democratic Party leader Karl Renner and Cardinal Theodor Innitzer, the highest Catholic official in Austria.  It passed by an incredulous 99.7 percent.  Many communists took up resistance in the underground.[81]

The Anschluss was followed in September 1938 by Germany’s threat to invade and annex the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia, areas inhabited primarily by German speakers.  Hitler justified this territorial quest in the name of self-determination and the protection of ethnic Germans from discrimination.  British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, hoping to avoid a general war, met with Hitler to work out a compromise, believing that the greater threat to Europe lay to the east in the communist Soviet Union.  On September 13, he wrote to King George VI informing him that Nazi Germany and Great Britain were “the two pillars of European peace and buttresses against communism.”[82]  Soviet premier Joseph Stalin was excluded from the meeting.

After two weeks of negotiations in Munich, Hitler got what he wanted without war.  On September 30, Hitler, Chamberlain, Mussolini, and French Prime Minister Eduard Daladier signed an agreement in which Germany was allowed to incorporate the Czech Sudetenland in exchange for a promise to pursue no further territorial claims.  Czechoslovakian President Edvard Benes was forced to accept the dictum.  Chamberlain, upon his return to London, proclaimed that he “helped achieve peace in our time.”[83]

Prime Minister Chamberlain returns to London with the signed treaty, proclaiming “peace in our time,” Sept. 30, 1938 (Wiki Commons)

In Washington, President Roosevelt was relieved that Europe would remain at peace.  He sent a cable on October 11 to Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King, rejoicing that “the world war had been averted.”  Six days later, he sent a message to Ambassador William Phillips in Italy, “I want you to know that I am not one bit upset over the final result.”[84]  The Munich conference was nevertheless a turning point for Roosevelt, as he realized that war in Europe was probable.  Indeed, while negotiations were underway, Roosevelt discussed with his treasury secretary, Henry Morgenthau, how Britain and France might defeat Nazi Germany.  He did not foresee at that time any direct U.S. involvement in another European war, but he recognized that Britain and France would need U.S. aid.[85]

The disingenuousness of Hitler’s words at Munich – that he had “no more territorial demands to make in Europe” – became apparent less than six months later when German troops invaded and occupied the remainder of Czechoslovakia, flagrantly violating the Munich pact.  German leaders valued Czechoslovakia for its substantial industrial base, significant foreign exchange reserves, and strategic position as a launching pad for further expansion into Eastern Europe and Russia.[86]

Prior to launching the next military campaign for lebensraum, Germany and the Soviet Union signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Treaty of Nonaggression on August 23, 1939.  Russia had interpreted the Munich agreement as a signal from the Western powers that the Nazis could drive to the east without being confronted.  Four months earlier, Joseph E. Davies, former U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union, had sent a telegram to Roosevelt warning that if the Russians did not “get a practical reciprocal alliance with the West, it is clear as a pike staff they will do the next best thing and get a nonaggression pact with Hitler.”  Roosevelt nonetheless waited until mid-July to tell Soviet Ambassador Constantin Oumansky that he favored an alliance between Moscow and London, notwithstanding the fact that London had not agreed to this.  Roosevelt also instructed his ambassador to the Soviet Union, Laurence Steinhardt, to tell Premier Joseph Stalin “that if his Government joined up with Hitler, it was as certain that night followed day that as soon as Hitler had conquered France, he would turn on Russia, and that it would be the Soviets turn next.”  This was prescient, but Roosevelt’s belated endorsement of an anti-German alliance came too late and offered too little.[87]  In any case, Stalin was convinced, with considerable reason, that Britain and France would not back the Soviet Union in the event of a German invasion; hence his “appeasement” pact with Germany. [88]  According to the British historian Jonathan Haslam:

When from 1937 to 1939 the threat of yet another war appeared on the horizon, the lingering menace of revolution from Bolshevism explained in large part why Britain rejected co-operation with the Soviet Union to deter German aggression.  The reasoning was simple . . . far [better to] buy off Hitler with timely territorial concessions, even at the cost of dismembering dependent states in Central and Eastern Europe, than risk ushering Communist power into the heart of the continent.  Insufficiently understood is the undoubted fact that throughout the 1930s leading conservative politicians within the democracies not only welcomed fascism into power but thereafter also feared that, were fascism overthrown in Italy or Germany – and fascism was seen as only an interim solution – Communism would be almost certain to take its place.[89]

For the moment, the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact mitigated the possibility of a German invasion of the Soviet Union.  It furthermore allowed the Soviets to assert control over territories lost in the First World War (ceded in the Brest-Litovsk Treaty of 1918) and the Polish-Soviet War of 1918-1920.  Stalin approved Germany’s designs on western Poland and Lithuania, while Hitler agreed to a Soviet sphere of influence in eastern Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Finland, and Bessarabia (northeastern Romania).

Twelve days before signing the treaty, Hitler told Carl Burckhardt, the League of Nations High Commissioner in the city of Danzig, Poland, “Everything I undertake is aimed at Russia.  If the West is too stupid and too blind to grasp this, then I shall be forced to reach an understanding with the Russians to defeat the West and then, after its downfall, turn with all my concerted forces against the Soviet Union.”  This statement was in keeping with Hitler’s overarching goal of acquiring “living space” in the east, especially as the Soviet Union was ruled by communists and harbored a large population of Jews.[90]  An invasion of the Soviet Union would not be long in coming.
Outbreak of war in Europe

The German Army bombarded Warsaw for four weeks before the Poles surrendered on Sept. 28, 1939. Photo of a Warsaw street, March 6, 1940 (AP)

The Molotov-Ribbentrop pact sealed the fate of the Poles.  In the pre-dawn hours on September 1, 1939, Nazi troops began a massive invasion of Poland backed by a new war weapon, the Stuka dive bomber.  The bombers screamed down in vertical dives with a wail that sent the Polish army’s horses into a frenzy.  The German army overcame Polish resistance in five weeks.  The fast and furious campaign provided a frightening omen of the carnage that awaited the rest of Europe.  German losses totaled 16,000 killed, while the Poles suffered 70,000 killed and 130,000 were wounded.  Special SS units followed behind the army, summarily executing political leaders and Jews, a practice they repeated across Eastern Europe.  Poland in 1939 was home to more than 3.5 million Jews, seven times the number in Germany.  The Nazis set up a network of concentration camps, the first at Chelmo in late 1941.[91]

Britain and France refused to appease Hitler any longer.  On September 3, 1939, two days after Germany invaded Poland, Neville Chamberlain announced that Britain was at war with Germany.  French Prime Minister Edouard Daladier followed suit a few hours later.  The Second World War in Europe had begun.

The Soviet invasion of Finland: Soviet equipment and bodies of Red Army soldiers after the Battle of Raate Road in January 1940 (Wiki Commons)

Seventeen days after German troops invaded Poland from the west, Soviet troops invaded from the east.  By the end of September, the Soviets and Germans had divided up Poland between themselves.  The Soviet invasion included the infamous Katyn forest massacre, a series of mass executions of nearly 22,000 Polish military officers and intelligentsia allegedly carried out by the Soviet secret police.[92]  The Soviets also took over the parts of Romania and the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, then invaded Finland on November 30, 1939.  Finnish forces fought back under the leadership of aging Baron Karl Gustav von Mannerheim, a former tsarist officer and hero of the war of independence (against the Bolsheviks in 1917), who was in close and constant communication with the German high command.

In Washington, President Roosevelt denounced the Soviet invasion of Finland as “a wanton disregard for law.”  Nonetheless, he could do little to help the Finns militarily, as he was bound by strict neutrality laws that prevented the transfer of U.S. arms and other war materials to belligerent nations, including those nations defending themselves from aggression.  The administration managed to extend $10 million in agricultural credit to the Finns.  The governments of Great Britain and France were bolder.  Notwithstanding the looming threat of a German invasion of Western Europe, British and French leaders devised a plan to send 100,000 British and 35,000 French troops to aid the Finns.  However, on the day that the plan was to go into effect, March 12, 1940, Soviet and Finnish representatives signed a peace treaty.  The Finns were allowed to retain their sovereignty but lost slices of territory to the Soviets.  Soviet forces suffered more than 300,000 casualties in the Soviet-Finnish Winter War and furthermore earned the enmity of their future allies.[93]
Germany attacks the West

In the spring of 1940, German armies went on the march in Western Europe.  On April 9 and 10, they invaded and occupied Denmark and Norway.  In Norway, they installed as head of the Nazi-allied government Vidkun Quisling, the founder of Norway’s fascist party.  His surname henceforth became synonymous with “collaborator” and “traitor.”  Great Britain and France sent a combined force of 38,000 troops to aid the Norwegian resistance, but to no avail.  On May 10, the Nazi juggernaut pushed into Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands, then on to France.  German bombers destroyed the historic city center of Rotterdam (Netherlands), killing nearly 900 people and leaving some 80,000 people homeless.  In retaliation, the British Royal Air Force bombed German industrial areas in the Ruhr region.

During the preceding eight months, Great Britain and France had built up their forces along the Belgian-French border.  The latter were quickly overwhelmed by the German blitzkrieg (lightning war).  On May 26, more than 338,000 soldiers, including 140,000 French, were rescued at the port of Dunkirk and brought across the English Channel.  On June 13, with the German army approaching Paris, French Premier Paul Reynaud pleaded in vain for the United States to send “clouds of war planes” across the Atlantic “to crush the evil force that dominates Europe.”[94]  Five days later, France surrendered.

German soldiers parade on the Champs Élysées on June 14, 1940 , achieving the lost cause of WWI (Bundesarchiv)

An armistice was subsequently signed that divided France into a German-occupied zone in the north and west, and a French zone under German command in the south and east, known as Vichy France.  The government of Vichy France was given charge of French forces and colonies, effectively making them serve Germany.  Vichy leader Marshall Philippe Pétain, hero of World War I and a reactionary politician, avidly implemented all Nazi policies, including censorship and antisemitic laws.  Following the war, he was tried and convicted of treason.  Officials of both German-occupied France and Vichy France participated in the systematic deportation of Jews to concentration camps in Eastern Europe.

In Great Britain, Winston Churchill replaced Chamberlain as British prime minister on May 10, 1940.  In a speech before the House of Commons three days later, Churchill promised that the British people would “never surrender.”  He described German aggression as a “monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime.”[95]  Britain was nevertheless poorly prepared for a major war.  Following the harrowing escape of British and French troops at Dunkirk, Churchill adopted a conservative war strategy aimed at limiting the exposure of British troops, blocking German supply lines on the high seas, and protecting the flanks of the British Empire.  Italy declared war on Britain on June 10 and soon after, Mussolini’s armies attacked British-allied Egypt and Greece.

London bombed, Sept. 7, 1940 (US National Archives)

At home, Britons suffered eight months of German bomber attacks – the London Blitz – beginning in September 1940.  The most devastating attack occurred on the night of November 14, when the German Luftwaffe bombed the English city of Coventry, destroying over 4,000 homes and two-thirds of the city’s buildings, including its major cathedral, and killing 580 residents.  In other attacks on London, the Luftwaffe damaged Westminster Abbey, the House of Commons, the British museum, the Tower of London, and numerous hospitals, and ignited 2,200 fires.  According to the historian Antony Beevor, German night bombing attacks killed some 23,000 civilians and seriously injured 32,000 by the end of the year.[96]  The British Royal Air Force, in turn, bombed Berlin on August 25, 1940.  Excessive loss of aircraft on both sides cut short the bombing campaigns in 1941.

Hitler, intoxicated with his military conquests in Western Europe, next sent his armies into southeastern Europe.  In March 1941, German troops entered Yugoslavia en route to Greece where they defeated resistance groups that had previously held out against an Italian invasion.  In Croatia (part of Yugoslavia), local Nazi supporters organized the fascist Ustaše movement which aided the German invasion and brutally attacked communists, Serbs, and Jews.  A reign of terror was carried out by Croatian Interior Minister Andrija Artukovic who was known for his slogan:  “If you can’t kill Serbs or Jews you are an enemy of the state.”[97]
Racial genocide, as such, was not the sole province of Nazi Germany.  The delusional logic of Nazi collaborators was reflected in statements by Romanian president Ion Antonescu, who, after sanctioning the machine-gunning of Jews, said:  “It makes no difference to me that we will go down in history as barbarians. The Roman empire performed a series of acts of barbarism according to our present standards and nevertheless it was the most magnificent of political establishments.  There has not existed a more favorable moment in our history.”[98]
Operation Barbarossa:  Germany’s war against Russia

German forces launch a massive three-pronged attack across the vast Russian terrain in June 1941

The next victim of Nazi aggression was the Soviet Union.  Abandoning the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, Hitler initiated Operation Barbarossa on June 22, 1941.  He justified the invasion to the world by claiming that the Russians had massed 160 divisions on the German frontier.  In fact, Stalin had refrained from mobilizing defense forces, recognizing that Russian mobilization in 1914 had led Germany to declare war on Russia.

As in Western Europa and the Balkans, the German war machine enjoyed initial success.  The Wehrmacht overran the Soviet Ukraine and the Soviet satellites of Belarus, Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia in a mere three weeks.  Pro-Nazi puppet governments were set up in each region that systematically brutalized the civilian populations.  In Estonia, roughly 3,000 Jews escaped to the Soviet Union before the SS and local collaborators murdered the remaining 1,000 by the end of 1941.[99]  To aid its military and genocidal operations, the Nazis recruited anti-Soviet partisans, including anti-Russian ethnic minorities, Islamists, anticommunists, and some Finish veterans of the 1940-Soviet War.  Many of these recruits were particularly brutal toward Russian civilians, especially girls and women – worse than the Germans.[100]
Popular support in Germany for Hitler’s aggression was fueled by an intense Russophobia owing to the First World War combined with anti-bolshevist and antisemitic propaganda promoted by the Nazis.[101]  Depicting the war as one of European civilization versus Asian-Jewish Bolshevism, Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels stated that “by means of their diabolical system of Bolshevism, the Jews have cast the people of the Soviet Union into this unspeakable condition of deepest misery.”[102]  The Nazi dehumanization of Russian Slavic peoples as Untermenschen (subhuman) and reference to Russia as a “Jewish-led slave state” fueled the atrocity producing environment.  In August 1941, Hitler declared that the Russian is “no more than an animal.”  He later described them to departing German troops as “beasts.”  The SS journal, Das Schwarze Korps, referred to Germany’s eastern adversary as “Bolshevik herd people of animal gruesomeness” and “race-bastard types” who were not only subhuman but “sub-bestial.”[103]
The Nazis intended a genocidal war in which famine would deplete the Soviet population and survivors would be put to work as slave laborers.[104]  Hitler told one of his army commanders that the war against Russia “could not be conducted in a knightly fashion” because the struggle was “one of ideologies and racial differences” and would “have to be conducted with unprecedented, unmerciful and unrelenting harshness.”[105]  Prior to launching Barbarossa, Hitler issued a series of orders that included the infamous “Commissar Order” directing summary executions of Communist political functionaries captured, based on the claim that “these elements” constituted a threat to German security and were, in any event, “mostly Jewish.”  It was made clear, too, that ordinary Soviet soldiers and civilians were to be treated with the utmost severity.  “Guidelines for the Conduct of the Troops in Russia,” issued by the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (Army Command), urged “ruthless and energetic measures” and “the radical elimination of all active or passive resistance.”  Since the Russian was presumably “prepared to commit any vile act, be it murder or treachery,” the annihilation of such an enemy was presented as a moral and historical imperative.[106]
Many of the German soldiers who partook in these atrocities had gotten caught up in the war fervor and were taken in by Nazi propaganda, having been brainwashed by Nazi ideology from the time of their youth.  Wilhelm Alexander Fürst zu Dohna-Schlobitten, an officer in the Wehrmacht’s 60th Mechanized Infantry division, wrote years later, after rereading his wartime diary, that he was “shocked by my own callousness.”  It seemed “impossible to understand that I could have allowed myself to have been caught up in this megalomania,” but, he reminded himself, “we were dominated by the feeling of being part of a tremendous war machine, which was rolling irresistibly to the East against Bolshevism.”[107]

German army (638th Infantry Regiment) on its way to Moscow from Smolensk, Nov. 1941

Hitler’s supreme confidence that Germany would be victorious over the Soviets – what one German army officers characterized as a “pathological overestimation of his own strength” – was predicated on the aggregation of the largest invasion force ever seen, with 3,350 tanks, 7,000 field guns, and over 2,000 aircraft along with 650,000 horses.  Hitler’s advisers also suggested that the German invasion would produce a political upheaval in Russia and result in the overthrow of Stalin by his own people.  Confident that victory would be obtained before the winter set in, Hitler failed to provide his troops with proper winter gear.[108]

On July 3, 1941, eleven days after the Germany launched Operation Barbarossa, Marshall Stalin gave a national address in which he called for total popular mobilization such as that which had saved the French revolution in 1792.  He reminded his audience that this was not an ordinary war, but a total war, a war of the “entire Soviet people, a choice between Soviet freedom or German slavery.”[109]  Thousands of Russians answered the call to join volunteer militias and partisan guerrilla units, some of which were equipped with little more than pikes and swords.  The working day was extended by three hours and national holidays were canceled.[110]  The poet Alexey Surkov captured popular Russian feeling in “A Soldier’s Oath” which read:  “The tears of women and children are boiling in my heart / Hitler the murderer and his hordes shall pay for these tears with their wolfish blood / for the avenger’s hatred knows no mercy.”[111]

Moscow women and elderly men dig a huge earthen tank trap to halt German Panzers advancing on the Russian capital (Wiki Commons)

After fierce fighting in the First Battle of Smolensk (located east of Moscow), July 8-31, 1941, the German army chief-of-staff recognized that “everywhere the Russians fight to the last man.  They capitulate only occasionally.”[112]  Adept at concealment, Soviet troops hid in trees, marshes and undergrowth in grassland or swamps from which they could plot ambush attacks on patrolling German troops.  Old men and women took up shovels and dug huge traps into the earth for German tanks to fall in, while young boys scattered glass on roads, mixed chemicals in recharging tank batteries and pushed potatoes up their exhaust pipes.[113]  New York Times’ correspondent Ralph Parker remarked that “it would need a Tolstoy to describe the heroic endurance of the men and women [fighting the Nazis].”[114]  According to the historian Richard Overy:

The actions around Smolensk showed both the strengths and the weaknesses of Soviet forces.  Soldiers fought with an extraordinary ferocity and bravery.  They inflicted casualties at a high rate and in the early battles often refused to take prisoners.  Captured Germans were murdered and mutilated, sometimes ritually – Soviet troops had been told to expect no better from the enemy. . . . The savage fighting held up but could not halt the German armies.  Soviet forces lacked basic military equipment [including rifles, radio communications, radar, tanks, aircraft, and fuel].[115]

Casualties of the first bombardment of Leningrad, Sept. 10, 1941 (Wiki Commons)

On September 8, 1941, German divisions began a brutal, 880-day siege of Leningrad, located further to the north, blockading food and fuel supplies to this city of over three million people.  Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) was the Soviet Union’s second-largest city, an important industrial and cultural center, being the former capital of the Russian Empire.  The German command viewed Leningrad’s capture as a strategic objective, as it would allow the Wehrmacht to control of the entire Baltic coast.  Hitler had called for the city “to be wiped from the earth.”

The siege, which lasted until January 27, 1944, resulted in the deaths of about 1.1 million civilians, mostly by starvation.  Daily shelling and aerial bombing caused significant damage to the city, including its electrical and water supply systems, making survival tenuous.  Overy describes daily life during the siege as “a story of horrors almost beyond imagining.”  On Christmas day 1941, 3,700 people died.  The death rate peaked at four to five thousand per day, with 632,253 civilians dying overall.[116]  One survivor told a journalist that residents would “step over corpses in the street and on stairs!  You simply stopped taking any notice.”[117]
During the siege, more than 1,300,000 people were evacuated inland, to the Urals, Siberia, and Central Asia.  Those remaining improvised by creating over 600 part-time farms and more than 100,000 individual gardens.  The city’s central plazas and parks were turned into vegetable gardens.[118]  Some food and fuel supplies also reached the city from the outside – by barge in the summer and by truck and ice-borne sled in the winter.
The first major defeat of the German army came in the Battle of Moscow, which took place between October 1941 and January 1942.  Muscovites rallied under the command of General Georgy Zhukov to save their city from destruction.  Incredibly, Leningrad’s starving workforce produced over 1,000 guns and mortars for Moscow’s defense, flown out of the city over German lines.  Thousands of women and children helped in the digging of fortifications.  In one instance, a small detachment of Red Army soldiers armed only with anti-tank rifles, grenades, and Molotov cocktails held at bay two dozen attacking German tanks.  By late November, the power of the German assault on Moscow was visibly wilting, and the Red Army was subsequently able to take the offensive.  Mother nature was an added factor, as during the winter fighting over 113,000 cases of frostbite in the German army weakened its fighting capability.  On the day the Soviet counteroffensive began, December 5, 1941, the temperature was 13 degrees Fahrenheit below zero.[119]
Japan’s war against China

The Japanese parliament in session, 1915 (Wiki Commons)

As with Nazi Germany, Japanese aggression abroad was accompanied by an unseemly combination of authoritarianism, extreme nationalism, militarism, propaganda, and ideological indoctrination at home.  One difference was that leadership worship in Japan centered on a mystical emperor who was rarely seen or heard in public, in contrast to Hitler’ ubiquitous presence in Germany.  Although emperor worship was a long-enduring tradition in Japan, the emperor had not always wielded predominant power.  For hundreds of years prior to the Meiji Restoration of 1868, the power of the emperor was secondary to that of shogun rulers.  Even when a new constitution in 1889 increased the power of the emperor, anointing him “head of the Empire” and giving him “supreme command of the Army and Navy,” it also established a bicameral national legislature, the Diet, providing an institutional check on the emperor’s powers and prerogatives.  The Taisho Democracy period from 1918 to 1931 marked a time of democratic reform, with suffrage extended to all males over 25.

Democratic advances notwithstanding, Japanese nationalism, militarism, and imperialism rose to the fore during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Ironically, it was the U.S. Navy that broke the spell of Japanese isolationism in 1853, when Commodore Matthew Perry took a squadron of warships into Tokyo Bay and forced Japan to open two of its ports to U.S. commerce.  Unwilling to follow the rest of Asia into colonial submission, Japan began to build its military might and establish its own sphere of influence, fighting successful wars against China (1894-95) and Russia (1904-05), and taking control of the Korean Peninsula in the first decade of the 20th century.
In the early 1930s, a time of global economic depression, ultranationalist paramilitary groups such as the Black Dragon Society pushed to create an authoritarian system under the emperor’s nominal leadership.  On May 15, 1932, a group of naval officers and army cadets assassinated Prime Minister Inukai Tsuyoshi in broad daylight.  In short order, a cabal of militarists gained control of the government, replacing democracy with national worship of the emperor.[120]  Men undergoing military training were indoctrinated to believe that Japan was the natural leader of East Asia, that it wars were righteous, and that to die for nation was the highest honor.  Such beliefs, wrote Azumo Shiro, a Japanese soldier who witnessed atrocities at Nanking, “led us to look down on the enemy and eventually to support the mass murder and ill treatment of the captives.”[121]

The geopolitical landscape: Japan was a rising power among European empires dominating South and SE Asia (click to enlarge)

Japan’s foreign policy goals were embedded in its mission to create a so-called Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere that would expand its sphere of influence, secure access to vital natural resources and economic markets, and facilitate the growth and spread of the Japanese population – the Japanese equivalent to Nazi lebensraum.  Japan was surrounded by British, French, Dutch, and American colonies; it lacked natural resources such as oil and was vulnerable to food shortages; and its 73 million people, about five percent of the world’s population, was densely packed into an area smaller than California.  In 1931, Japan invaded and took control of Manchuria (north of the Korea peninsula), followed by the introduction of troops into central China.

The Second Sino-Japanese war began in July 1937, catalyzed by a skirmish between Chinese and Japanese troops at the Marco Polo bridge in Beijing.  Japanese forces quickly captured key Chinese ports and industrial cities.  The tragic effects of the Japanese shelling of the city of Shanghai were captured by Hearst Corporation photographer H. S. “Newsreel” Wong in a black-and-white photograph of a Chinese child sitting, crying amid the rubble of the Shanghai railway station, his dead mother nearby.  Taken on August 28, 1937, the photo appeared in newspapers around the world.[122]  The Japanese fought two armies, the Nationalist Chinese army (Kuomintang, or KMT) under Chiang Kai-shek (Jiang Jieshi) and the Communist Chinese army under Mao Zedong.  Neither made much progress against the Japanese, in part because both were biding their time to fight it out with each other.

A burned and abandoned baby amid the ruins of Shanghai’s railway station after a brutal Japanese bombing, Aug. 28, 1937 (photo by H. S. Wong, Wiki Commons)

Of all the theaters of war, the Japanese war in China was perhaps the most atrocity-filled.  According to the historian Mark Selden:

Japan’s China war produced notable cases of atrocities that, then and later, captured world attention.  They included the Nanking Massacre, the bombings of Shanghai, Nanking, Hankou, Chongqing and other cities, the enslavement of the comfort women, and the vivisection experiments and biowarfare bombs of Unit 731.  Less noted then and since were the systematic barbarities perpetrated against resistant villagers, though this produced the largest number of the estimated ten to thirty million Chinese who lost their lives in the war, a number that far surpasses the half million or more Japanese noncombatants who died at the hands of US bombing, and may have exceeded Soviet losses to Nazi invasion conventionally estimated at 20 million lives.[123]

“Scorched earth” tactics, massacres, and atrocities were all too common in the war in Asia.  The most infamous prolonged atrocity, the “Rape of Nanking,” began after the Japanese took over the city on December 13, 1937.  For the next six weeks, Japanese soldiers carried out house-to-house searches for Chinese soldiers.  According to one eyewitness account presented at the postwar International Military Tribunal for the Far East (war crimes trial), Japanese soldiers went about murdering, raping, looting, and burning.  Many of the soldiers were drunk.  They killed men, women, and children “without apparent provocation or excuse until in places the streets and alleys were littered with the bodies of their victims. . . . Groups of Chinese civilians were formed, bound with their hands behind their backs, and marched outside the walls of the city where they were killed in groups by machine gun fire and with bayonets.  More than 20,000 Chinese men of military age are known to have died in this fashion.”  The tribunal estimated that Japanese soldiers raped 20,000 women, including young girls, in the first four weeks, and murdered more than 200,000 civilians, including 30,000 prisoners of war (POWs), in the first six weeks.[124]  Some Japanese soldiers even set up killing competitions, including one in which two Japanese sub-Lieutenants, Mukai Toshiaki and Noda Takeshi, raced to see who could kill one hundred Chinese men first with their swords.[125]

Twenty-seven Western correspondents, including five American and British journalists, remained in the city of Nanking to witness the carnage.[126]  Unharmed by the Japanese, they sent out news reports that reached a global audience.  Japanese military correspondents were also on hand.  One observed that he had “seen piled up bodies in the Great earthquake in Tokyo, but nothing can be compared to this.”[127]
Such slaughters were typically framed in the Japanese press as unfortunate side effects of a noble war effort and far less heinous than those of their enemies.  “The Chinese,” notes John Dower, “were reported to roast their captives and cut out their hearts.  Young American men, it was said, qualified for the Marine Corps by murdering their parents, and routinely raped and killed women in Asia (this was one of the rumors behind the mass suicides by Japanese civilians on Saipan and Okinawa).”  Dower adds, “To the majority of Japanese, as to the Anglo-Americans, atrocities committed by one’s own side were episodic, while the enemy’s brutal acts were systematic and revealed a fundamentally perverse national character.”[128]
*          *          *          *          *

IV. U.S. foreign policy in the interwar years

4.1  Diplomatic appeasement of fascist states
4.2  Corporate America and the Nazis
4.3  Responses to Jewish repression in Germany
4.4  Internationalism and isolationism
4.5  The road to war
Western appeasement of Hitler is typically associated with the single event of the Munich conference in September 1938.  This was certainly the most dramatic example, but the policy of appeasement toward fascist states actually extended from the early 1920s until March 1939.  The first three parts of Section IV examine three dimensions of the U.S. appeasement policy:  diplomatic conciliation, U.S. corporate operations in Nazi Germany, and American responses to Nazi repression of Jews.  The interwar period also witnessed global efforts to reform the international system, on the one hand restraining imperialism, and on the other hand building international institutions, law, and collective security operations.  American citizens and their government were ambivalent about these developments.
It is argued here that the U.S. took a wrong turn in appeasing Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, in allowing U.S. corporations to help build the Nazi war machine, and in failing to assist emigrating Jews; furthermore, that the U.S. should have participated in the League of Nations and its collective security efforts to rein in aggression.  Whether such changes in policy would have prevented another world war (which arose from multiple causes in both Europe and Asia) is, of course, conjecture.  But suffice it to say, there were alternative courses of action available.

4.1  Diplomatic appeasement of fascist states

Appeasement, meaning conciliation and compromise, is one side of the coin in international diplomacy.  The other side is confrontation and isolation (shunning).  From 1922, when Benito Mussolini came to power in Italy, until March 1939, when Germany invaded Czechoslovakia, U.S. policymakers operated under the assumption that appeasement of fascist states was the best strategy to maintain peace and stability in Europe.  This policy was motivated in large part by geopolitical calculations in which fascist governments were regarded as potential allies against Soviet-style communism.  Although fascism subverted democracy, it was compatible with capitalism, whereas communism was deemed a threat to Western economies.  As Jonathan Haslam writes, “Thus, instead of worrying about fascism, the British elite worried more about what would likely replace it – Communism – were fascism to be destabilized and overthrown.  Silent complicity, as witnessed during the Spanish Civil War, can thus be observed among those who would not have advocated openly an alignment with fascist states.”[129]

The Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in November 1917 so rattled Western leaders that the British, French, and U.S. governments all sent expeditionary forces to overthrow it in its infancy – unsuccessfully, as it turned out.  In 1933, the U.S. extended diplomatic recognition to the Soviet Union, but many U.S. diplomats in the State Department remained hostile.  According to David Schmitz:

(B)y the 1930s most of the members of the State Department in charge of European diplomacy were career Foreign Service officers who shared an outlook on the world centered around the dangers of communism.  All studies of the U.S. Foreign Service at this time draw a similar composite portrait of these men.  White, Protestant, and middle-class or wealthy men primarily educated in elite schools, they held a patrician’s disdain for labor, minorities, and immigrants and a deep-seated fear of radical change.  Most came to the Foreign Service around the same time of World War I and adopted the prevalent hostility toward the Soviet Union and belief that any political upheavals were communist-inspired. . . . The rising challenge of Nazi Germany was, for most of the decade, seen by these men as a secondary threat to that of communism.”[130]

Breckenridge Long, April 1939 (USHMM)

The U.S. ambassador to Italy, Breckinridge Long, was clearly of this view.  In a letter to President Roosevelt in April 1935 concerning Germany’s growing military power, Long wrote, “There are only two governments in Europe capable of being a real victor. . . . [One is] Germany, and the other is Russia. . . . I shudder to think of a Russian domination of Europe.  While a German domination would be hard and cruel – at least in the beginning – it would be an intensification of a culture which is more akin to ours than would that of Russia.  Further than that, if Germany should be dominant throughout the greater part of Europe, she would act as a bulwark against the western progress of Russia.”[131]

Notwithstanding America’s identification with principles of freedom and democracy, U.S. foreign policy has long functioned according to a different set of operational guidelines, reflecting geopolitical interests.  The U.S. not only supported but also imposed dictatorial regimes on various “banana republics” in the Central America-Caribbean region.  In Europe, the U.S. and Great Britain fully embraced the Greek government of General Ioannis Metaxas after he suspended the constitution and instituted a dictatorship in August 1936, citing the threat of communism.  In 1938, U.S. ambassador to Greece Lincoln MacVeagh wrote to Roosevelt, “Mr. Metaxas is quite the best man in Greek political life today.”[132]
In addition to antipathy toward communism and leftist movements in general, two other factors influenced the U.S. appeasement policy.  One was the U.S. tendency to follow the British lead in European matters, which led the way in appeasing fascism.  The other was a belief that trade liberalization, rightly calibrated, could secure peace and stability in Europe.
Within the Roosevelt administration, Secretary of State Cordell Hull was the foremost advocate of economic appeasement.  “It is because I know that without expansion of international trade, based upon fair dealing and equal treatment for all, there can be no stability and security either within or among nations,” he said in a speech delivered November 1, 1938.  “It is because I know that the withdrawal by a nation from orderly trade relations with the rest of the world inevitably leads to regimentation of all phases of national life, to the suppression of human rights, and all too frequently to preparations for war and a provocative attitude toward other nations.”[133]  Hull, as such, posited as the answer to both repression within and aggression without a well-balanced international trade system, glossing over the deleterious and inhumane effects of fascist governments and the instability and inequities of the global capitalist profit-making system.[134]  “The American pursuit of appeasement,” writes David Schmitz, “was a well-developed policy that appeared to preserve U.S. interests while offering the prospect of a genuine peace.”[135]
George Messersmith, 1938 (Wikipedia)

George S. Messersmith, 1938 (Wiki Commons)

Some members of the U.S. diplomatic corps pushed in the opposite direction.  Most prescient was George Messersmith.  He had been in the Foreign Service since 1914 and served as the consul general in Berlin from 1930 to April 1934 before becoming minister to Austria.  In March 1934, he strongly advised that the U.S. not renew the major U.S. trade agreement with Germany, the Treaty of Friendship, Commerce, and Consular Rights, ratified in 1925, which was due to expire in 1935.  Messersmith argued that the treaty would only spur German rearmament.  He judged that “the Germans have nothing to offer and we have nothing to gain but much to lose.”  He pointed out that the long-range “mail planes” recently purchased by Germany were “easily convertible to bombers.”  Contrary to Secretary Hull’s benefic view of international trade, he wrote in May 1934 that “a government with really peaceable intentions does not produce armaments, train its people in military exercises, and create such an extraordinary spirit in the schools, even among the very young.”  Rather than build up the Germany economy, Messersmith hoped that economic instability would bring down the Hitler regime.[136]

Disregarding Messersmith’s pleas, a special State Department committee recommended approval of the trade treaty, noting that trade warfare would mean the loss of nearly one billion dollars in American investments.  The U.S. and Germany renewed the treaty in June 1935, which in turn enabled U.S. corporations to trade and invest in Germany without restriction.  Messersmith lamented in 1936 that American firms were allowing their capital to be “used for the maintenance of the German industrial program and in some important directions for German rearmament, which is obviously not intended for defensive but for aggressive measures.”  American business leaders, he added, “are not blind to all of this.”[137]
Trade appeasement was complemented by diplomatic appeasement.  Washington officials made no protest when Hitler announced his rearmament plans in March 1935 (which defied the Versailles Treaty).  They also raised no objections to the Anglo-German Naval Agreement of June 1935, although the State Department did express “astonishment” that Britain would allow Germany to build submarines after the havoc U-boats had caused in the last war.  The Roosevelt administration watched passively as German troops marched into the Rhineland in March 1936.  U.S. ambassador to France Jesse Strauss asked President Roosevelt if he or his secretary of state intended to issue an official protest.  Neither did.[138]  The U.S. hands-off policy suited Hitler well.  American entry into the last war, after all, had tipped the balance in favor of the Allies.

Italian tanks roll across Ethiopia, Nov. 6, 1935 (Martin Plaut collection). The U.S. did not comply with the League of Nations embargo against Italy.

There were other missed opportunities for checking Hitler and Mussolini short of war.  One involved the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in October 1935, a savage imperial endeavor that culminated in the ousting of Emperor Haile Selassie in May 1936 and the establishment of Italian rule.  Washington policymakers were aware of Mussolini’s invasion plans early on but offered no protest, although Roosevelt did send Mussolini a note on August 18, 1935, asking him to seek a peaceful solution.  Immediately following the invasion, the League of Nations denounced it as contrary to international law and called for a global boycott of strategic materials to Italy – an action deemed likely to succeed due to Italy’s extreme dependence on imported oil, coal, iron, and steel for its mechanized army.  The U.S. did not join the embargo.  Instead, President Roosevelt called for a “moral embargo,” which was no embargo at all.  While some corporations responded to Roosevelt’s appeal, others took advantage of rising prices to increase sales and make sizable profits.  U.S. corporate oil exports to Italy doubled in the month after the invasion.

On November 15, 1935, Secretary Hull issued a statement saying that the shipment of oil, copper, trucks, tractors, scrap iron, and scrap steel to Italy was “contrary to the policy of this Government,” but there was no substantive policy, no restrictions, backing this statement and nothing came of it.[139]  Worse still, some diplomats in the Roosevelt administration applauded Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia, fully accepting imperialism as a proper way to conduct international affairs outside of Europe.  U.S. ambassador to Germany Hugh R. Wilson had nothing but praise for Italy’s “achievements” in Ethiopia, writing in 1938 that “the Italian effort was magnificent, the road construction was superlative, the health of the Army something that had never been seen when Westerners were fighting in tropic conditions.”[140]
Adding insult to injury, in March 1938, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain negotiated a deal with Mussolini in which the British agreed to recognize Italy’s control of Ethiopia in exchange for the removal of Italian forces from Spain.  The British, with their own colonial empire in Africa and Asia, had no qualms about accepting Italian imperialism.  Although the U.S. did not formally recognize the Italian regime in Ethiopia, the Roosevelt administration issued a statement on April 19, declaring that the U.S. viewed the Anglo-Italian agreement with “sympathetic interest because it is proof of the value of peaceful negotiations.”  The statement also “urged the promotion of peace through the finding of means for economic appeasement.”[141]

US Ambassador to Germany William Dodd (International News Service photo, June 10, 1933)

Roosevelt’s appointment of Wilson to the ambassadorship of Germany was itself a mark of appeasement.  His predecessor, William S. Dodd, an historian by training, had been a thorn in the side of the Nazi regime, avoiding Nazi celebratory events and beseeching the Roosevelt administration to protest against Germany’s remilitarization of the Rhineland in March 1936, to no avail.  “The Berlin government grudgingly tolerated his official protest against persecutions aimed at Jews, Christian ministers, and university professors,” notes the historian Fred Arthur Bailey, “but it was angered by his open distaste for Adolf Hitler and his public disdain for Nazi symbols.”[142]  Ambassador Wilson, in contrast, during his first meeting with Hitler on March 3, 1938, complimented the dictator as “a man who had pulled his people from moral and economic despair into the state of pride and evident prosperity which they now enjoyed,” according to his own official account.[143]  Eight days after the meeting, German troops marched into Austria.

U.S. ambassador to Britain Joseph P. Kennedy (father of future president John F. Kennedy) arrived in London in early 1938 and quickly became another prominent advocate of appeasement.  He discussed with his German colleague in London, Herbert von Dirksen, the idea of enabling Germany to regain its former colonies in Africa and to gain more influence in eastern and southern Europe as a means of satisfying German imperial desires and averting war with the West.  According to Kennedy’s biographer David Conrad, after Hitler seized Czechoslovakia in March 1939 and the British government abandoned appeasement, “Kennedy took the failed policy to new depths.  He proposed to the British and Americans that Hitler be offered cash incentives not to attack his next target, Poland.”[144]
President Roosevelt had a lot on his plate during his first two terms (1933-1941), being preoccupied with reviving the depressed U.S. economy through a menagerie of projects, programs, and regulatory laws.  He was apt to take the advice of his close advisers on foreign policy matters.   At one point in April 1934, he talked with Hull and former undersecretary of state Norman Davis about encouraging Britain and France to confront Hitler over German rearmament.  The proposal circulated through the State Department for a number of months.  Veteran diplomat Jay Pierrepont Moffat argued against it, writing that any trade sanctions could lead to war and “would in any event be inconsistent with the duties of neutrality.”  Roosevelt agreed “to let this matter rest.”[145]

FDR confers with William Phillips (left), US ambassador to Italy, and Hugh Wilson (right), US ambassador to Germany, in Warm Springs, GA, Nov. 29, 1938 (USHMM)

In early 1937, Roosevelt began to have second thoughts about the policy of appeasement.  In February, he questioned a State Department report which concluded that “economic appeasement should prove to be the surest route to world peace.”  In May 1937, he wrote in a letter to William Phillips, ambassador to Italy, the “more I study the situation, the more I am convinced that an economic approach to peace is a pretty weak reed for Europe to lean on.  It may postpone war but how can it avert war in the long run if the armament process [in Germany] continues at its present pace – or even at a slower pace?” [146]

Once war broke out in Europe in September 1939, Roosevelt abandoned appeasement completely and pleaded with Congress to provide U.S. aid to Britain and France.  On April 9, 1940, as German troops marched into Norway and Denmark, he told the American people that the experience of the past two years had “proven beyond doubt that no nation can appease the Nazis.”  Thereafter the administration depicted the Axis powers as an “unholy alliance” that was seeking to “dominate and enslave the human race.”[147]  With the German invasion of Russia in June 1941, the Roosevelt administration completed its U-turn in diplomacy, reconciling with the Soviet Union and confronting Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.

4.2  Corporate America and the Nazis

U.S.-German business ties were forged during the benign era of the Weimar Republic (1919-33).  Following implementation of the Dawes Plan of 1924, which restructured Germany’s reparation payments and placed the German central bank under foreign supervision, American loans and investments poured into Germany.  By 1931, notes the historian Frank Costigliola, “United States banks had poured so much capital into Germany that her financial collapse threatened the American banking structure.”[148]

Coca Cola did not miss an opportunity to advertise its soft drink in the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin

By the time Hitler took over in January 1933, U.S. economic interests in Germany were substantial – and they continued to grow.  By December 1941, American corporations had at least $475 million invested in Germany – a huge increase over 1933 investments.[149]  According to the historian Arnold Offner:

The Germans bought the critical American products they most wanted – petroleum, fertilizer, copper, iron, and scrap steel.  Indeed, during 1934-1938, sales of American motor fuel and lubricating oil nearly tripled in quantity – and in value, from $12 to $34 million – and constituted between 22 and 32 percent in value of the total of German imports of these items. . . . American export in 1937 and 1938 of iron and scrap steel rose from negligible quantities to 35 and then to 50 percent of Germany’s import of these metals; American export of wheat and corn in 1938 leaped from virtually nothing to 13 and 55 percent, respectively, of Germany’s import of these commodities.[150]

As Nazi repression and militarization proceeded from 1933 to 1939, U.S. corporate leaders faced the choice of whether to continue their operations in Germany or pull up stakes and take a financial loss.  Virtually all remained.  The reigning philosophy in Corporate America was expressed by Alfred Sloan, Jr., chairman of the General Motors board of directors, in a letter to a stockholder in April 1939, “According to my belief . . . an international business operating throughout the world [General Motors] should conduct its operations in strictly business terms, without regard to the political beliefs of its management, or the political beliefs of the country in which it is operating.”[151]

The historian Gabriel Kolko notes that the “business press was well aware, from 1935 on, that German prosperity was based on war preparations.  More important, it was conscious of the fact that German industry was under the control of the Nazis and was being directed to serve Germany’s rearmament.”[152]
Within Germany, rearmament was driven by two major cartels – IG Farben, the largest chemical manufacturer in the world and producer of the poisonous Zyklon B gas, and Vereinigte Stahlwerke (United Steelworks), a huge industrial conglomerate producing coal, iron, and steel.  When IG Farben executives were put on trial in the Nuremburg Military Tribunals following the war, Judge Paul M. Hebert declared that “Farben was integrated in the governmental planning and preparation for war and became one of Hitler’s greatest assets.”  Moreover, when the Nazis were just beginning to consolidate their power in February 1933, IG Farben donated 400,000 marks to the party, a down payment on the 4.5 million marks it contributed that year.[153]
Fifty-three American companies were connected with IG Farben in some capacity.  DuPont in 1926 had signed a gentleman’s agreement which gave IG Farben subsidiaries access to gunpowder and explosives that it manufactured.[154]  Standard Oil of New Jersey, founded and controlled by the Rockefeller family which had some $120 million worth of investments in Hitler’s Germany, helped IG Farben develop synthetic fuels, thus reducing Germany’s dependence on imported oil.[155]  Albert Speer, Hitler’s architect and wartime armament minister, stated years after the war that without certain kinds of synthetic fuels made available by American firms, Hitler “would never have considered invading Poland.”[156]  International Telephone and Telegraph (ITT), meanwhile, acquired a one-quarter interest in the airplane manufacturer Focke-Wulf, and so helped to construct fighter planes later used to bomb Allied ships.[157]

The Ford-Werke plant at Cologne produced trucks, armored cars, and tanks for the Nazi regime (1939 photo, Jewish Virtual Library)

The two largest tank producers in Hitler’s Germany were Opel, a wholly owned subsidiary of General Motors (GM), and the Ford-Werke subsidiary of the Ford Motor Company.  The Nazis granted tax-exempt status to Opel in 1936, enabling GM to expand its production facilities.  GM obligingly reinvested its profits into German industry and was committed to the full-scale production of trucks, armored cars, and tanks.[158]  When the war broke out in 1939, GM and Ford subsidiaries retooled their factories in Germany to produce vehicles for war.  During the Battle of Normandy in June 1944, American troops were surprised to find that captured German trucks were powered by engines produced by Ford and General Motors.  A U.S. Army report by investigator Henry Schneider, dated Sept. 5, 1945, accused the German branch of Ford of serving as “an arsenal of Nazism, at least for military vehicles,” with the “consent” of the parent company in Dearborn, Michigan.[159]

“Perhaps the Germans could have assembled vehicles and airplanes without American assistance,” writes the historian Jacques Pauwels.  “But Germany desperately lacked strategic raw materials, such as rubber and oil, which were needed to fight a war predicated on mobility and speed.  American corporations came to the rescue.”  Pauwels continues:

American corporations made a lot of money in Hitler’s Germany; this, and not the Fuhrer’s alleged charisma, is the reason why the owners and managers of these corporations adored him.  Conversely, Hitler and his cronies were most pleased with the performance of American capital in the Nazi state.  Indeed, the American subsidiaries’ production of war equipment met and even surpassed the expectations of the Nazi leadership.  Berlin promptly paid the bills and Hitler personally showed his appreciation by awarding prestigious decorations to the likes of Henry Ford, IBM’s Thomas Watson, and GM’s export director, James D. Mooney.[160]

German diplomats award Henry Ford (center) the Grand Cross of the German Eagle, Nazi Germany’s highest decoration for foreigners, for his service to the Third Reich, Detroit, July, 30, 1938 (AP photo)

The Roosevelt administration was well aware of American business support for Nazi Germany but did nothing to inhibit it, in deference to Hull’s belief that “orderly trade relations” would maintain the peace.  Ambassador Dodd in Berlin wrote to President Roosevelt on October 19, 1936:

At the present moment more than a hundred American corporations have subsidiaries here or cooperative understandings.  The DuPonts have three allies in Germany that are aiding in the armaments business.  Their chief ally is the I. G. Farben Company, a part of the Government which gives 200,000 marks a year to one propaganda operation on American opinion.  Standard Oil Company (New York sub-company) sent $2,000,000 here in December 1933 and has made $500,000 a year helping Germans make Ersatz gas for war purposes; but Standard Oil cannot take any of its earnings out of the country except in goods. . . . The International Harvester Company president told me their business here rose 33% a year (arms manufacture, I believe), but they could take nothing out.  Even our airplanes people have secret arrangements with Krupps.  General Motor Company and Ford do enormous businesses [sic] here through their subsidiaries and take no profits out.  I mention these facts because they complicate things and add to war dangers.[161]

Dodd was also critical of some of his staff at the U.S. embassy in Berlin, calling them “millionaire loafers . . . who came to their office between 10 and 11 and went to afternoon parties and golf.”  He noted that several of his affluent diplomatic officers owned stock in corporations such as DuPont and Standard Oil and thus marched with “the ranks of privileged capitalists.”[162]

Beyond profitmaking, George Moffet, president of Corn Profits Refining Company, found the Hitler regime praiseworthy in 1938 because his corporate managers encountered fewer labor problems and bureaucratic red tape than in the U.S. under Roosevelt’s New Deal.  Conversely, Hitler greatly admired Henry Ford, particularly Ford’s antisemitic pamphlet, The International Jew (1920), which prompted Hitler to install a portrait of Ford in his office at the Nazi party’s headquarters in Munich.  On Ford’s 75th birthday, July 30, 1938, the Nazi government awarded him the Grand Cross of the German Iron Eagle, the highest honor bestowed upon a non-German.  A personal note from Hitler accompanied the award, praising Ford’s “humanitarian ideals and his devotion to the cause of peace, like their Fuhrer and Chancellor had done.”  Despite a public outcry in the U.S. over the award, Ford refused to return it.[163]
The Nazis also awarded IBM chief executive officer Thomas J. Watson the Order of the German Eagle at an International Chamber of Commerce conference in Berlin in 1937.  International Business Machines (IBM) indirectly contributed to the Holocaust through its German subsidiary, Dehomag, by providing punch card machines for tabulating census data, which in turn enabled the Nazi government to classify, segregate, and ultimately annihilate European Jews.  As president of the chamber, Watson told his fellow conferees, including 95 U.S. business executives, that world peace would be achieved through world trade.  In the spring of 1940, however, as the Wehrmacht rampaged across Western Europe, Watson had second thoughts and returned the award.  Once the U.S. entered the war, IBM played a key role in helping crack the German intelligence code.[164]
Chase Manhattan and J. P. Morgan banks continued to operate in Nazi-controlled Europe during the war.  The two U.S.-based financial institutions were sued in 1998 for seizing bank accounts and safe-deposit assets of Jewish customers in German-occupied France.  Chase Manhattan lawyers argued that the lawsuit was “unnecessary” as the company was negotiating with the World Jewish Congress to compensate former customers and their heirs.  In August 1998, two European banks, Credit Suisse and UBS, agreed to pay $1.25 billion in restitution for similar financial wrongdoing.[165]
Some of Hitler’s top financiers had been clients of Wall Street Banks.  Fritz Thyssen, founder of United Steelworks, who controlled more than 75 percent of Germany’s iron ore reserves, and helped fund the Nazi Party, had close affiliation with Brown Brothers Harriman banking firm in New York, whose owners included Averill Harriman, a future administrator of the Marshall Plan in Europe.  The Union Banking Corporation of New York City was a joint Thyssen-Harriman operation which was described by two investigators as a Nazi money laundering machine.  One of its major clients, the German Steel Trust, produced half the steel and more than a third of the explosives as well as other strategic materials used by the German military machine during the war years.[166]
The Bank for International Settlements in Basel, Switzerland was another Nazi bank that held looted silver and gold from the Nazi conquest of Austria.  Its owners included the Morgan affiliated First National Bank of New York, and its directors included a Morgan associate and later director of the Chase Manhattan Bank, Thomas H. McKittrick and another American, Leon Fraser, with connections in high financial circles, who helped finance the Nazis through the early 1940s.[167]
It should be noted that U.S. corporations, after helping to build the “arsenal of Nazism,” were eager to build the “arsenal of democracy” in the United States.  In February 1938, Business Week wrote, “Activity in the armaments business is going to soar to new heights, with everyone feeling a little more confident now than a few weeks ago that there is another opportunity for profitable business before the conflagration breaks out.”  A year later, the same publication noted, “Business, after all, thrives on profits, or the prospects of profits; and war orders, like any other orders, produce a favorable state of confidence.”  Ironically, only a few years earlier, U.S. arms manufacturers had been castigated as “the merchants of death” for their alleged role in pushing the Wilson administration into the First World War.  In December 1940, President Roosevelt rebranded the arms makers “the arsenal of democracy.”[168]

4.3  Responses to Jewish repression in Germany

On March 3, 1933, the last day of the Hoover administration, Secretary of State Henry Stimson sent a telegram to U.S. ambassador in Germany Frederic M. Sackett, stating that the Philadelphia Public Ledger had published a dispatch from London which read, “London Daily Herald said today plans were complete for an Anti-Jewish program in Germany on a scale as terrible as any instance of Jewish persecution in two thousand years.”  Stimson commented, “While this Government is disinclined to lend credence to this report, it is causing widespread distress among a large section of the American people.  You may, in your discretion, talk the matter over with the German Government and acquaint them with the apprehension and distress that is being felt here.”[169]
As the Roosevelt administration took charge of the government beginning on March 4, more definitive news of Nazi depredations reached American shores.  The New York Times reported on March 18 that the Nazi government had fired all Jewish professionals, including lawyers, doctors, and teachers.  Two days later, a front-page story featured the extended headline, “German Fugitives Tell of Atrocities at Hands of Nazis . . .  All News Is Censored, People Dare Not Talk to Foreign Correspondents – Phones Tapped – Spies Overrun Berlin.”  The article told of Nazi thugs dragging Jews out of a Berlin restaurant and forcing them to run a gauntlet of kicks and blows such that the face of the last man “resembled a beefsteak.”[170]

On March 25, the Baltimore Sun editorialized:  “There is no escape from the conclusion that the Hitler dictatorship is an evil, sadistic and brutal affair, with most of whose declared aspirations it is impossible to sympathize.”[171]  Other newspapers, however, expressed skepticism.  The New York Herald Tribune opined on that same day that, while the situation of German Jewry was “an unhappy one,” many atrocity stories were “exaggerated and often unfounded.”[172]  This skepticism was based in large part on the well-known fact that the American people had been inundated with British propaganda during the First World War, including false atrocity stories, and this could well be a repeat.  The historian Deborah E. Lipstadt summarizes American press responses in 1933, highlighting the Christian Science Monitor (CSM):

Analysis of the American press from this period reveals that sectors of it were genuinely outraged by the violence, boycotts, and antisemitic decrees.  They unflinchingly attacked the Nazi regime.  Other papers and journals, however – CSM prominently among them – took a far more benevolent view of events in Germany. . . . Although CSM never approved of Nazi hostility toward Jews, throughout 1933 it printed news stories, editorials and special features which depicted relatively normal conditions in Germany.  Those American readers whose knowledge of events in Nazi Germany was based on the CSM were left with the impression that conditions there were not as severe as others claimed them to be, and that those considered enemies of the regime faced certain liabilities, but were not in any great danger.[173]

U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull

German Ambassador Hans Luther

Most Washington officials at this time were less concerned with Nazi abuses than with maintaining a harmonious relationship with Germany.  They withheld public criticism of the Nazi government while placating U.S. Jewish leaders with dubious assurances of their concern.  On March 25, 1933, Secretary of State Hull sent telegrams to prominent Jewish leaders Rabbi Stephen Wise and Dr. Cyrus Alder informing them that, as far as the mistreatment of Jews in Germany was concerned, “the situation is improving.”  This is exactly what the German ambassador to the U.S., Hans Luther, had told him.  Hull wrote that he felt “hopeful in view of the reported attitude of high German officials and the evidences of amelioration already indicated, that the situation, which has caused such widespread concern throughout this country, will soon revert to normal.”  Hull’s telegrams were shared with the New York Times, which reported the secretary as saying that prejudicial action against Jews in Germany “has virtually ceased.”[174]

Hull’s telegram was designed in part to discourage protests by the Jewish community, particularly a planned anti-Nazi rally at Madison Square Garden on March 27, 1933.  Rabbi Wise, as honorary president of the American Jewish Congress, was a key organizer of the rally and one of the featured speakers.  The rally was attended by 55,000 people.  The speakers, including American Federation of Labor (AFL) president William Green, Senator Robert F. Wagner, former New York governor Al Smith, and several Christian clergy, called attention to Nazi abuses and called for a boycott of German goods.  Smaller anti-Nazi rallies were also held in Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Cleveland, and 70 other locations.[175]

Jewish leader Rabbi Stephen Wise addresses a mass meeting in Battery Park in lower Manhattan, N.Y., May 10, 1933. (AP Photo, NYPR Archives)

By the end of the year, Jewish leaders had created two organizations to carry out the boycott, the Boycott Committee of the American Jewish Congress and the Non-Sectarian Anti-Nazi League to Champion Human Rights.  Not all U.S. Jewish groups supported the protests and boycotts.  The American Jewish Committee and B’nai’B’rith clashed with the American Jewish Congress on strategy, arguing that arousing international antagonism to the Nazi regime could make matters worse for Jews in Germany as well as incite anti-Jewish hostility in the U.S.  The boycotts, in any case, were largely ineffective and the U.S. government offered no encouragement.  The value of German imports to the U.S. increased from $69 million in 1934 to over $91 million in 1937.[176]

Nazi leaders did not look kindly on these anti-Nazi activities in America and elsewhere.  They were hoping to gain international acceptance of their regime and establish Hitler as a responsible statesman and world leader.  Ambassador Luther registered his objection to the American protests on a number of occasions.  On May 3, 1933, Hull arranged for a meeting with Luther in order “to discuss with him in the most unofficial, personal and friendly manner the Jewish situation in Germany,” according the secretary’s own account.  After making clear that the purpose of the meeting was to preserve “our friendly relations with the German Government,” Hull acknowledged that there had been “vast heaps of memorials, letters and other solemn and earnest protests by groups of American citizens of all religious denominations and racial persuasions earnestly protesting against the reported mistreatment of Jews in Germany and urging our Government to take all possible steps to terminate such treatment.”
Luther responded that his government was not a party to any “Jewish antagonisms or persecutions” and that the Jews, which “comprise one per cent of the population of Germany,” were disproportionately represented in “key positions in all important walks and avocations,” and therefore the German government was attempting to “equalize the condition of the various groups.”  Luther furthermore declared (after denying Jewish persecution) “that the worst has been over for some time, so far as it relates to the Jewish troubles in Germany; that the situation is constantly improving; that there is no purpose to expel the Jews as a race from Germany; that many laws and court agencies are from week to week becoming more and more available for the protection of Jews and Jewish rights and property.”[177]

Boycott Nazi Germany protest at Madison Square Garden, NYC, 1937 (Wiki Commons)

President Roosevelt was hardly fooled by these Nazi denials but neither was he inclined to take any action, even a public statement condemning the repression.  His overriding priority was to help Germany recover economically, which presumably would keep the peace in Europe.  Rhetoric aside, human rights weighed little in policymaking.  According to Holocaust historian Rafael Medoff, “In the 82 press conferences FDR held in 1933, the subject of the Nazi persecution of the Jews arose just once, and not at Roosevelt’s initiative.  It would be five years, and an additional 348 presidential press conferences, before anything about Europe’s Jews would be mentioned again by the president.”[178]

On June 16, 1933, Roosevelt effectively established his administration’s policy with respect to Jewish repression in Germany in a missive to newly appointed U.S. ambassador William Dodd in Berlin:  “The German authorities are treating Jews shamefully and the Jews in this country are greatly excited.  But this is also not a government affair.  We can do nothing except for American citizens who happen to be made victims.  We must protect them, and whatever we can do to moderate the general persecution by unofficial and personal influence ought to be done.”[179]
In Congress, a handful of members spoke out against the Nazi repression of Jews.  On May 24, 1933, Representative Hamilton Fish, Jr. of New York introduced the first of a series of resolutions urging the U.S. government to lodge a formal protest against the Nazi persecution of Jews.  The majority of members, however, deferred to the president – who wanted no interference in his conduct of foreign affairs.  In January 1934, Senator Millard Tydings of Maryland introduced a resolution instructing the president “to communicate to the Government of the German Reich an unequivocal statement of the profound feelings of surprise and pain experienced by the people of the United States upon learning of discriminations and oppressions imposed by the Reich upon its Jewish citizens.”  The resolution failed to reach the Senate floor, due in large part to the influence exerted by Secretary Hull on members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  State legislatures in New York, New Jersey, Tennessee, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts nonetheless passed resolutions urging the president to formally protest Nazi treatment of German Jews.[180]
The anti-Nazi movement in the U.S. was not particularly large or influential, but it was visible and persistent.[181]  On March 7, 1934, some 20,000 people gathered at Madison Square Garden to conduct a mock trial of Adolf Hitler.  Titled “The Case of Civilization against Hitler,” the event featured prominent political, religious, and civic leaders, including New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, Rabbi Wise, AFL Vice-President Matthew Woll, former New York Court of Appeals Judge Samuel Seabury, Unitarian Minister John Haynes Holmes, and White House presidential adviser Raymond Moley.  After hours of speeches, those assembled “rendered solemn judgment that the Nazi government stood convicted before the world of a crime against civilization,” according to the New York Times. [182]

New Yorkers protest Nazi persecution after Kristallnacht, Nov. 1938 (AP photo, USHMM)

Before and after the mock trial, Ambassador Luther registered his protest.  On February 1, 1934, he met with Secretary Hull to insist that the U.S. government should prevent the event.  Hull responded in diplomatic-speak that he could deal with this issue more effectively if he were assured by the ambassador “that Jews had not been unfairly treated or seriously mistreated in Germany.”  He added that he “regretted that these occurrences had arisen, and nothing would please me quite so much as to see the whole racial controversy quieted.”[183]  In later meetings, Hull explained to Luther that the federal government had no legal authority to prevent citizens from expressing their views.

On July 26, 1935, anti-Nazi demonstrators were on hand at the New York City harbor for the arrival of the German luxury ocean liner, SS Bremen.  At one point, some protesters slipped through police lines and tore down the Nazi swastika flag on the ship’s bow and hurled it into the water.  Six protesters were arrested.  At their court hearing on September 6, New York City Magistrate Louis Brodsky dismissed the charges, ruling that that the S.S. Bremen had engaged in “gratuitously brazen flaunting of an emblem which symbolizes all that is antithetical to American ideals.”  The defendants, as such, had every right to remove “the black flag of piracy.”[184]  Before the anti-Nazi movement could celebrate, however, the Roosevelt administration scrambled to disavow the judge’s action.  The administration pressured New York Governor Herbert Lehman to declare that Brodsky had exceeded his authority.  Secretary of State Hull also quietly issued a formal letter of “regret” to the German government.[185]
Cordell Hull was something of an enigma.  The senator from Tennessee had no training in international affairs before taking over the State Department.  His wife, Frances Witz, had attended an Episcopal church while growing up in Staunton, Virginia, but her father was a Jewish immigrant from Austria who arrived in the U.S. at the age of nine, and her brother attended synagogue as an adult.  According to Hull’s biographer Irwin Gellman, the secretary “never commented on his wife’s religious heritage.”  Gellman surmises that Hull “hid his wife’s Jewish heritage for fear that it would cause controversy and keep him from the presidential nomination he so passionately desired.”  Hull “refused to become involved in the persecution of German Jews and their emigration to the United States.”[186]
According to David Schmitz, there were a number of State Department officials who “held strong antisemitic beliefs . . . including J. Pierrepont Moffat, head of the Division of Western European Affairs, William Phillips, under secretary of state and later ambassador to Italy (1936-1941), and Breckinridge Long, ambassador to Italy and under secretary of state during World War II.”[187]  Another was Hugh R. Wilson, ambassador to Germany as of January 1938.  In his diary, Wilson wrote that Jews in the U.S. “had done more than any other to keep alive the continuous and bitter attacks in our press on Germany.”  Ambassador Kennedy in London similarly berated the “Jewish-controlled press” in the United States.[188]

FDR and Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau, Jr. (FDR Library & Museum)

President Roosevelt nonetheless had many close Jewish associates, including Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, and numerous advisers and administrators such as Samuel Rosenman, Felix Frankfurter, Barnard Baruch, David Lilienthal, Benjamin Cohen, and Herbert Lehman, and others.  “Four or five thousand Jews operated at various echelons of government during the 1930s,” notes the historian Howard Sachar, “a complete change from the past.”[189]  Roosevelt recruited Jewish talent, and Jewish voters overwhelmingly supported him at the polls.

Within the broader U.S. society, there were numerous individuals and groups who demonized Jews and promoted discrimination.  The Knights of the White Camelia, for one, a Ku Klux Klan related group, denounced the New Deal as the “Jew Deal” and condemned Roosevelt, Hull, and Jewish bankers for allegedly allowing Jewish communists and socialists to control the federal government (notwithstanding the fact that bankers and communists had little in common).[190]

Catholic priest Charles Coughlin, 1935

Perhaps the most well-known antisemitic voice in America was the popular radio personality Charles Coughlin, a Catholic priest in Detroit.  The Canadian-born Coughlin began his religious radio broadcasts in 1926 and became progressively more political and reactionary.  In 1930, he launched a crusade against communism which he connected to alleged Jewish conspiracies.  He mixed his anti-Jewish narrative with an otherwise progressive message of Christian social justice, attracting a large, mixed crowd of listeners.  In the weeks after Kristallnacht, Coughlin described Nazi violence against the Jews as just retaliation for Jewish persecution of Christians.  On November 20, 1938, he told his listeners that the “communistic government of Russia” along with “atheistic Jews and Gentiles” had murdered more than 20 million Christians and had stolen “40 billion [dollars]…of Christian property.”  Following that broadcast, several radio stations refused to broadcast his program without pre-approved scripts.  A few stations in New York cancelled his programs.[191]  Coughlin was not deterred.  In September 1941, his magazine Social Justice declared:  “The Jew should retire from the field of politics and government.  He has no more business in that sphere than has a pig in a china shop.”[192]

The German-American Bund, founded in 1936, claimed to be a German-American heritage organization but under the leadership of Fritz Kuhn, a naturalized U.S. citizen, it was a vehicle for Nazi propaganda.  The group used the swastika as its symbol, ran summer camps to indoctrinate children, and engaged in public tirades against “Jewish domination of Christian America,” the “Jewish-controlled press,” and “job-taking Jewish refugees.”  On the evening of February 20, 1939, the group held a “Pro-American Rally” in New York’s Madison Square Garden, attended by more than 20,000 people.  The organizers chose the date of George Washington’s birthday in order to paint their cause with the colors of American patriotism.  They procured a 30-foot-tall banner of America’s first president and placed it on the stage, accompanied by American flags and the swastika symbol.[193]

German American Bund rally at Madison Square Garden, Feb. 20, 1939 (National Public Radio)

The pro-Nazi Silver Legion, with about 15,000 members at its height, was the most violent antisemitic group.  Mimicking the fascist thuggery of the Nazis, its paramilitary branch of Silver Rangers – a so-called “Christian militia” – brutally beat up and injured Jews in New York and Boston.  They also damaged Jewish-owned stores and desecrated Jewish cemeteries.  Like the Nazis in Germany, their terrorism was fed by a massive outpouring of vicious propaganda.[194]

A 1939 Roper survey sheds some light on American views toward American Jews.  About forty percent agreed that Jews were just like other Americans and should be treated as such.  The next largest group (31%) agreed that “some measures should be taken to prevent Jews from getting too much power in the business world,” while ten percent said that they should be “respected” but should not “mingle socially where they are not wanted.”  Another ten percent thought Jews should be deported, albeit “humanely.”  A final ten percent had no opinion.  A majority, then, evidenced some level of antisemitic attitudes, though only a small minority favored the extreme position of deportation.[195]
The advent of Nazi rule in Germany in January 1933 prompted an estimated 37,000 Jews to emigrate in that year alone, mostly to nearby European countries (France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Czechoslovakia, and Switzerland).  One of the most famous to leave was physicist Albert Einstein, who renounced his German citizenship while in Belgium and later became a U.S. citizen (with Swiss citizenship as well).  The nearly half-million Jews who remained in Germany hoped that the fever of Nazism would pass and their country would return to civility, even to appreciate Jews for their contributions to German society, including patriotic service in the last war.  Such hopes fell precipitously with the passage of Nazi race laws in September 1935, and were extinguished altogether with Kristallnacht in November 1938.

Albert Einstein receives his U.S. citizenship papers, Oct. 1, 1940 (Wiki Commons)

Each year, the Nazi regime placed more onerous requirements on those who wished to emigrate while also depriving them of their property.  Hjalmar Schacht, president of the Reichsbank, estimated the value of Jewish wealth in Germany at six billion marks.[196]  The effect of this disenfranchisement was to make it very difficult for Jews to gain entry into other countries.  With national economies immersed in depression and unemployment, the idea of taking in penniless immigrants who needed jobs and assistance did not sit well with many national leaders and citizens who believed that the first priority of government should be to relieve the suffering of their own citizenry.

Despite pressure from Jewish organizations, the Roosevelt administration never budged from its strict quotas for German immigrants.  Between 1933 and 1941, approximately 26,000 Germans were allowed into the U.S. each year, assuming all requirements were met.  Prospective applicants had to register with an American consulate in Germany, gather numerous documents (identity papers, police certificates, exit permissions, and a financial affidavit), apply for a U.S. visa (which had an expiration date), and then wait.  If one had a relative in the U.S., this was often helpful for obtaining a visa.  In June 1938, 139,163 Germans (mostly Jews) remained on the waiting list.  A year later, in June 1939, the waiting list had grown to 309,782, including Germans and Austrians.[197]

Anne Frank (Universal History Archive)

Among those on the waiting list was Anne Frank and her family.  Anne chronicled her life in hiding for two years during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, from June 1942 to August 1944, before being discovered and sent to the gas chambers at the Bergen-Beisen concentration camp.  Her diary was published in English in 1952, providing a glimpse of the life of a 13-to-15-year-old Jewish girl.  Her father had applied to the U.S. Consulate to emigrate to the United States as early as 1938, but to no avail.

In February 1939, Senator Robert F. Wagner of New York and Representative Edith N. Rogers of Massachusetts introduced legislation to authorize the admission of 20,000 German refugee children under fourteen years-of-age over a two-year period.  Each child’s admission would be contingent on a written guarantee of financial support from a relief agency or foster parents.  President Roosevelt refused to take a public position on the proposal, although the First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, endorsed it.  Among the opponents of the bill was the American Legion, which argued that the measure would serve as a wedge for the later entry of 40,000 adults.  The bill failed to pass.  Great Britain, meanwhile, admitted 9,354 German refugee children, 6,690 of them Jewish, under a similar measure, and accepted an additional 10,000 refugee children under a legal loophole.[198]

St. Louis passengers pose with Morris Troper (center left, wearing a tie), European director of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (USHMM)

On May 13, 1939, the German transatlantic liner St. Louis sailed from Hamburg, Germany, for Havana, Cuba, carrying 937 passengers, almost all Jews.  Upon arriving in Havana, the passengers discovered that the Cuban government would not accept transit visas, which most carried, and thus admitted only 28 passengers.  On June 2, Cuban authorities ordered the ship to leave the Havana harbor.  The St. Louis sailed up the Florida Straits, but the U.S. would not permit the ship to land, even though 743 of the passengers had applied and were waiting for U.S. visas.  The ship was forced to return to Europe.  As the crisis unfolded, Jewish organizations, including the New York-based Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, successfully negotiated with four European governments to take the refugees.  Great Britain took 228; the Netherlands, 181; Belgium, 214; and France, 224.  When the Nazis took over Western Europe, however, 254 of the former passengers were transported to Nazi concentration camps and killed.[199]

By September 1939, approximately 95,000 Jews from Germany and Austria had emigrated to the United States, 60,000 to Palestine, 40,000 to Great Britain, 18,000 to Shanghai, China, and 75,000 to Central and South America.  At the end of 1939, about 202,000 Jews remained in Germany and 57,000 in annexed Austria, many of them elderly.  With the German takeover of Western Europe in the spring of 1940, many more Jews were trapped in Nazi-occupied territory.[200]

European Jews seeking entry into the U.S. found no ally in Breckinridge Long, the former ambassador to Italy who was appointed assistant secretary of state in January 1940.  As supervisor of the U.S. State Department’s Visa Division, Long fought all efforts to make immigration easier and resented any criticism of his State Department, particularly from Jewish organizations.  He enforced stringent quotas and furthermore wrote a memo to Secretary Hull proposing that all immigration be halted in the case of a national emergency.[201]  Hailing from Missouri, Long saw the nation as being besieged by “communists, extreme radicals, Jewish professional agitators and Jewish radical circles.” [202]  Jewish refugees, to Long, represented a potential “fifth column” of Nazi spies and collaborators.  Following the Warsaw ghetto uprising in Poland in the spring of 1943, Long wrote in his diary, “one danger in it all is that their activities [of U.S. Jewish leaders] may lend color to the charges of Hitler that we are fighting this war on account of and at the instigation and direction of our Jewish citizens.”[203]  By this logic, trying to save the Jews was playing into Hitler’s hands, while letting the Jews die off was the right thing to do.

Seeking to alter U.S. policy, Albert Einstein wrote to the First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, on July 31, 1941:

I have noted with great satisfaction that you always stand for the right and humaneness even when it is hard.  Therefore in my deep concern I know of no one else to whom to turn for help.  A policy is now being pursued in the State Department which makes it all but impossible to give refuge in America to many worthy persons who are the victims of Fascist cruelty in Europe.  Of course, this is not openly avowed by those responsible for it.  The method which is being used, however, is to make immigration impossible by erecting a wall of bureaucratic measures allegedly necessary to protect America against subversive, dangerous elements. . . . I know that you will find it possible to bring the matter to the attention of your heavily burdened husband in order that it may be remedied.[204]

Having been expelled from Germany to Nazi-occupied France, Jewish refugees wait outside the U.S. Consulate in Marseilles to apply for visas, circa 1941 (USHMM)

On that very day, July 31, 1941, Hermann Göring sent a directive to Reinhard Heyrich, head of the National Central Security Office under Himmler:  “I herewith commission you to carry out all preparations with regard to  . . . a total solution to the Jewish question in those territories of Europe which are under German influence. . . .  I furthermore charge you to submit to me as soon as possible a draft showing the  . . . measures already taken for the execution of the intended final solution of the Jewish question.”[205]

It is ironic that in the decades after the Second World War, the most potent reason offered for U.S. participation in the war is that the Holocaust had to be stopped, lest the entire Jewish “race” be exterminated.  This is undoubtedly correct.  Yet, during the lead-up to the war as well as during the war, the U.S. did very little to help Jews living under Nazi rule.  Roosevelt nonetheless sought to maintain an image of American benevolence and justice, declaring in his 1936 State of the Union address, “We have sought by every legitimate means to exert our moral influence against repression, against intolerance, against autocracy and in favor of freedom of expression, equality before the law, religious tolerance and popular rule.”[206]  The president claimed that his administration had done all that was possible when in fact it had done very little.
The U.S. government could have spoken out against Germany’s repression of Jews and other human rights abuses.  It could have prevented U.S. corporations from aiding the Nazi state, particularly in rearmament.  It could have opened the doors of immigration to some 300,000 German and Austrian Jews waiting to enter the U.S. in 1939, fulfilling the promise set in bronze at the base of the Statue of Liberty:  “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free . . . .”  That poem was written in 1883 by Emma Lazarus, a Jewish immigration activist.[207]  Given the concern of U.S. Jewish organizations for the fate of European Jews, the new immigrants would likely have found families to host them.

4.4  Internationalism and isolationism

The U.S. appeasement policy was designed in large part to keep the peace in Europe.  A better means to this end was to build and participate in international institutions and conventions aimed at prohibiting aggression, limiting arms races, and reining in imperialism.  The U.S. Senate famously rejected U.S. participation in the League of Nations in 1919, but this was not solely due to “isolationist” sentiments.  The naysayers included nationalists, represented by Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, who sought to maintain full autonomy over U.S. policies (e.g., interventionism in Latin America); isolationists, represented by Senator William Borah, who rejected collective security requirements compelling U.S. participation in foreign military operations (a non-interventionist position); and progressives, represented by Senator Robert La Follette, who viewed the League as a vehicle for the great powers to maintain their global dominance while keeping peace amongst themselves.

Those promoting the League also held different views.  Internationalists such as Woodrow Wilson envisioned a great power combination that would utilize mediation and arbitration to prevent wars among the great powers, but if war did break out, then collective security measures would be implemented against the aggressor, including economic sanctions and military force.  Peace groups such as the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom fully supported international mediation and arbitration but could not endorse the use of military force.[208]

German Foreign Minister Gustav Stresemann signs the Kellogg-Briand Pact on Aug. 27, 1928 (Wiki Commons)

Although the U.S. did not participate in the League of Nations, it did exert leadership in two international peacebuilding efforts:  the Washington Naval Conference of 1921-22, designed to head off a naval arms race, and the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928, which outlawed offensive war.  The former set limits on naval ship building (tonnage) among five great powers – Britain, the U.S., Japan, France, and Italy – although it also solidified an inferior naval status for Japan, fueling resentment among Japanese military leaders.  The Kellogg-Briand Pact, officially named the General Treaty for Renunciation of War as an Instrument of National Policy, was forged by U.S. Secretary of State Frank Kellogg and French foreign minister Aristide Briand.  It was ultimately signed by 62 nations.[209]  Peace organizations in the U.S. gathered more than two million petition signatures in support of this pact.[210]

Peace groups and internationally-minded citizens also urged U.S. participation in the Permanent Court of International Justice (or World Court), an adjunct of the League of Nations.  In January 1926, the Senate approved a measure that was fatally compromised by nationalists and isolationists who tacked on crippling reservations that would disempower the court in cases affecting U.S. interests.  The World Court members rejected the U.S. application.  Another attempt was made in January 1935, with President Roosevelt’s endorsement.  This, too, failed after newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst and zealous isolationist and antisemitic Catholic priest Charles E. Coughlin organized a propaganda blitz and letter-writing campaign aimed at wavering senators.[211]
Another international initiative was a proposed ban on chemical and biological warfare, officially titled the Geneva Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or other Gases. The treaty was signed in June 1925 by the U.S. and other nations, and went into force in February 1928 with 29 nations ratifying the protocol.  The U.S., however, did not ratify the treaty after the U.S. Army’s Chemical Warfare department enlisted the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and the American Chemical Society to lobby effectively against it.  Senator James Wadsworth, chairman of the Military Affairs Committee, argued that the prohibition would not be observed in war and, in any event, poison gas was more humane than bombs and bullets. Senator William Borah, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, finally withdrew the treaty from Senate consideration, being unable to muster the necessary two-thirds vote for ratification. The U.S. did not sign the treaty until 1975.[212]
Less controversial was the Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, signed by thirty-seven countries on July 27, 1929.  The treaty was ratified by the U.S. Senate in April 1932.  The convention built on the Hague Regulations of 1899 and 1907 to more precisely define prisoners of war and establish prohibitions against abusive treatment as well as procedures for exchange of information.

William Allen Roger’s depiction of Theodore Roosevelt’s Big Stick policy in the Caribbean, 1904 (Wiki Commons)

Striking at imperialism – in this case, “Yankee imperialism,” – U.S. peace progressives and their Latin American allies protested and lobbied against U.S. military interventions in Nicaragua, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and elsewhere in Latin America.  Following the departure of U.S. troops from Nicaragua in 1933, President Franklin Roosevelt announced the Good Neighbor Policy, foreswearing future military interventionism in Latin America.  This policy shift had wider implications.  At the time, Japanese leaders were justifying their imperial expansion in Asia in the very terms used by U.S. leaders to justify the U.S. sphere of influence in Latin America, proclaiming a “Monroe Doctrine of the Orient” in which the Japanese were responsible for maintaining civilized order.  The hypocrisy of U.S. leaders condemning Japanese aggression in Asia while justifying U.S. domination in Latin America became obvious.

One foreign policy issue that grabbed headlines in the mid-1930s focused on the role of arms manufacturers in allegedly pushing the Wilson administration into the First World War, a theme popularized by exposés such as Death and Profits (1932) and Merchants of Death (1934).  In April 1934, Senator Gerald P. Nye of North Dakota set up a Special Committee on Investigation of the Munitions Industry.[213]  Over the next two years, his committee conducted 93 hearings and received testimony from over 200 individuals.  The committee found no outright conspiracy, but the hearings nonetheless made the connection between arms profits and war, which in turn set the stage for passage of the Neutrality Act of 1935, the most important foreign policy legislation of the decade.  This act prohibited all U.S. and private arms transfers to belligerent nations, based on the assumption that such transfers could lead to direct U.S. involvement in war.

Rep. Louis Ludlow (Library of Congress)

Another policy initiative that gained widespread public support  – but was not enacted – was a proposed Constitutional amendment that would have required a national referendum and an affirmative popular vote before the U.S. could go to war, except in cases of direct attack.  Introduced by Representative Louis Ludlow of Indiana in 1935, President Roosevelt and Secretary of State Cordell Hull spoke out against it.  The White House furthermore orchestrated a public relations campaign, dubbed the Committee for Concerted Peace Efforts, to sway public opinion.  A Gallup poll in October 1937 indicated overwhelming public support for the amendment, at 73 percent, but the House of Representatives nevertheless voted it down, 209-188, on January 10, 1938.[214]

The maintenance of international peace became more difficult during the 1930s.  Japan invaded Manchuria in 1931, Italy invaded Ethiopia in 1935, the Spanish Civil War began in 1936, and the Nazi government rearmed and made expansive territorial claims, including demands for the return of Germany’s former colonies in Africa.  The U.S. missed a critical opportunity to reinforce international law and collective security operations when it failed to abide by the League’s economic embargo against Italy.  The embargo could well have halted Mussolini’s army in Ethiopia had it been strictly observed.  “Moreover,” writes economics professor Christiano Andrea Ristuccia, “had the sanctions succeeded against Italy, the League might have managed to send a signal to Hitler that aggression on his part would lead to severe penalties.  The implications for world history could have been profound.”[215]

In May 1937, Congress passed a revised neutrality act that added a new prohibition on arms transfers to belligerent factions in civil wars.  The measure was designed to keep the U.S. out of the Spanish Civil War.  This it did, but the result was not peace.  Germany and Italy sent their warplanes to aid the fascist forces of Francisco Franco, while the Spanish Republican government received no aid and was defeated.  Arnold Offner writes in American Appeasement: United States Foreign Policy and Germany, 1933-1938 (1969):

Had aid been forthcoming from the United States and from England and France, considering Hitler’s position on aid to Franco was not firm at least until November 1936, the Spanish Republicans could well have triumphed.  Instead, Germany gained every advantage from the Spanish civil war:  fascism triumphed over democracy, France was ringed with a third hostile neighbor, and the ground was more securely laid for the Rome-Berlin-Tokyo alliance.  The United States succeeded only in making itself increasingly vulnerable to war in Europe and Asia.[216]

As peace in Europe became more fragile, the U.S. public became more “isolationist,” losing confidence in international peacekeeping machinery and diplomacy.  U.S. peace groups added to this momentum by mobilizing two successive outreach campaigns, the Emergency Peace Campaign of 1936-1937 and the Keep America Out of War campaign initiated in February 1938.  The latter was led by Norman Thomas, a pacifist and six-time Socialist Party presidential candidate (1928 through 1948).  After traveling through Europe in 1937, Thomas returned convinced that war between Germany and Western Europe was inevitable.  His answer, along with that of many other Americans, was to keep the U.S. out of it.

4.5  Road to war

President Roosevelt was moving in the opposite direction.  American neutrality would not resolve international tensions nor prevent war.  In October 1937, he gave a speech warning that the world was entering “a state of international anarchy and instability from which there is no escape through mere isolation or neutrality.”[217]  With the outbreak of war in Europe in September 1939, Roosevelt sought to undo the restrictive neutrality laws.[218]  He argued, contrary to prevailing assumptions, that the best way to keep the U.S. out of war was to supply Great Britain and France with the weapons, food, and supplies needed to fight and defeat Nazi Germany.  On December 4, 1939, Congress approved a compromise measure that enabled belligerent nations such as Britain to purchase arms from the U.S. on a “cash and carry” basis, meaning they would have to pay immediately and transport the arms themselves.

First issue of Captain America comics, March 1941 (click to enlarge)

More subtly, Roosevelt sought to prepare the United States to fight a war.  In an address to Congress on May 16, 1940, he called for gearing up the nation’s industries to produce “at least 50,000 planes a year.”  Two weeks later, he asked Congress for significant increases in the military budget.  In August, Roosevelt made a deal with Britain, without Congressional approval, to provide U.S. warships in exchange for lease rights on British bases (in Newfoundland, Bermuda, Jamaica, and elsewhere).  Britain was in desperate need of ships because German U-boats were sinking British vessels faster than could be replaced.  Roosevelt promised Churchill at least fifty older destroyers, twenty torpedo boats, and several planes.[219]  The American culture began to shift as well, with Time-Life publisher Henry Luce and other prominent Americans calling for U.S. participation in the war.  On the lighter side, the first issue of Captain America Comics in March 1941 featured a muscular Captain America punching out Adolf Hitler, impervious to bullets flying around him.

The U.S. also adopted a more confrontational policy toward Japan in 1940.  The Export Control Act, enacted on July 2, authorized the president to prohibit or curtail the export of essential war materials to nations deemed a national security threat.  Under this authority, exports of aviation fuels and lubricants and iron and steel scrap were restricted.  The Japanese Foreign Minister, Shigenori Togo, vigorously protested the embargo, telling American ambassador Joseph Grew that “economic pressure of this character is capable of menacing national existence to a greater degree than the direct use of force.”[220]

FDR signs the first peacetime draft law at the White House, Sept. 16, 1940 (AP)

On September 16, the president signed into law the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940, requiring all men between the ages of 21 and 45 to register for the draft.  This was the first peacetime draft in the nation’s history.

That same month, a formidable new isolationist campaign was organized, the America First Committee.  This campaign gained wider support than the peace movement’s Keep America Out of War campaign (which folded into it).  By circulating popular speakers such as Charles Lindbergh, the first aviator to complete a solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean, organizers recruited 800,000 dues paying members and established over 400 local chapters.[221]  Robert E. Wood, retired Army brigadier general, corporate executive with Sears, Roebuck and Company, and a conservative Republican, served as chairman.  His brother, Captain Stanley Wood, had been killed in action in the Great War while serving as a volunteer in the Canadian Army.  The America First Committee launched a petition drive demanding that the Roosevelt administration abide by the 1939 Neutrality Act, as the U.S. Navy was assisting the British Navy in escorting merchant ships and tracking German U-boats off the coasts of Newfoundland and Greenland.  Wood also called for maintaining normal trade relations with Japan, arguing that U.S. trade with Japan ran five to six times that of China.[222]

America First meeting in Fort Wayne, IN, with featured speaker Col. Charles Lindbergh, Oct. 3, 1941 (AP)

President Roosevelt countered the America First Committee by stressing national defense – and cleverly invoking the Monroe Doctrine of 1823 to expand the meaning of “defense” to protecting the whole Western Hemisphere.  Unlike his distant cousin, Theodore Roosevelt, who led a parade-filled “preparedness” movement in anticipation of U.S. entry into the Great War, Franklin Roosevelt moved cautiously and surreptitiously.  The Democratic Party platform of July 1940 offered no hint of a shift from neutrality, stating, “We will not participate in foreign wars, and we will not send our army, naval or air forces to fight in foreign lands outside of the Americas, except in case of attack.”  Roosevelt reiterated this message during the fall election season, telling an audience in Boston on October 30, 1940:  “I have said this before, but I shall say it again, and again and again.  Your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars.  They are going into training to form a force so strong that, by its very existence, it will keep the threat of war far away from our shores.  The purpose of our defense is defense.”[223]

The Roosevelt administration, meanwhile, pressed Congress for more U.S. aid to Britain.  Gallup polls in November 1940 indicated that 85 percent of Americans favored such aid, but if supplying the aid meant risking war, then public approval dropped to 50 percent.  In March 1941, Congress passed the Lend-Lease Act, giving the president authority to direct material aid, including tanks and airplanes, to the British war effort in Europe.  From January to December 1941, munitions production in the U.S. increased by 225 percent.[224]
Following the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, Roosevelt sent his close adviser and Lend-Lease administrator, Harry Hopkins, to Moscow to evaluate the Soviet military situation.  Hopkins recommended extending Lend-Lease to the Soviet Union, shipping supplies through Britain, which soon began.  Preventing a Soviet collapse, it was understood, required immediate and generous U.S. aid as well as U.S. and British naval protection of aid-ferrying cargo ships and oil tankers.
The name given to this undeclared war at sea was “belligerent neutrality.”   The U.S. Navy provided regular Atlantic patrols and escorted convoys halfway across the Atlantic, to be turned over to the Royal Navy at the mid-ocean meeting point. The U.S. Coast Guard established the Greenland Patrol in mid-1941.  On July 7, Roosevelt ordered a war zone around Iceland and notified Admiral Harold Stark and Army Chief of Staff General George Marshall that “the approach of any Axis force within 50 miles of Iceland was to be deemed conclusive evidence of hostile intention and therefore would justify an attack by the armed forces of the United States.”  The Americans turned Iceland into a military fortress of U.S. troops and ships.  Stark wrote to Admiral Ernest King, commander of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet, “I realize that this is practically an act of war.”[225]

FDR and Winston Churchill on the HMS Prince of Wales during the Atlantic Conference, Aug. 10, 1941 (Wiki Commons)

On August 14, 1941, Roosevelt met with Winston Churchill in Newfoundland to issue the Atlantic Charter, a broad statement of common war aims.  Among the principles enunciated was “the right of every people to choose their own form of government.”  The underlying idea of the conference was to jointly establish a moral framework for promoting the war effort, solidifying an informal alliance.  They identified the global struggle as one between democracy and autocracy, notwithstanding obvious contradictions among the allies-to-be:  Britain operated an autocratic empire, the U.S. routinely backed autocratic regimes abroad, and the Soviet Union was an outright dictatorship.[226]

On August 25, Roosevelt gave secret orders to the Atlantic fleet to attack and destroy German and Italian hostile forces.  Ten days later, on September 4, 1941, there was an incident in which an American destroyer, the Greer, led an attack on a German submarine, though for public consumption it was stated that the Greer was attacked.  The Navy Department refused to furnish the logs of the Greer to the U.S. Senate, hence it could not be confirmed whether the official claim was the truth.  The president mentioned this attack in his fireside chat on September 11, 1941, calling the Nazis international outlaws.
Another incident occurred on October 17, 1941, when an American destroyer, the Kearney, dropped depth charges on a German submarine which replied to the attack by torpedoing the Kearney.  Ten days later, Roosevelt again proclaimed that this was an unprovoked German attack, claiming to the public that “the shooting has started, and history has recorded who fired the first shot.”  Roosevelt charged that Hitler was bent on abolishing all religions throughout the world and establishing in their place “an international Nazi church.”  He claimed to have a map proving German intentions to conquer Latin America and redistrict it into five vassal states, though he never revealed the map.[227]
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, ended the domestic debate.  Roosevelt’s personal reaction to the news was reportedly both shock and relief.  His close adviser, Harry Hopkins, later recalled that Roosevelt had expected the Japanese to attack elsewhere and that this “would have left the President with the very difficult problem of protecting our interests. . . . Hence his great relief at the method that Japan used.  In spite of the disaster at Pearl Harbor and the blitz warfare with the Japanese during the first few weeks, it completely solidified the American people and made the war upon Japan inevitable.”[228]
On December 8, the House and Senate approved a declaration of war, with only one negative vote by Representative Jeannette Rankin, a pacifist from Montana who had also voted against going to war in 1917.  She was subsequently attacked in letters to her office for her “dastardly and unpatriotic conduct,” called nasty names such as “feeble-minded,” a “Judas,” and “national traitor,” and told to “move to Japan” or “consult a psychiatrist.”[229]
American public opinion shifted dramatically after Pearl Harbor.  A poll taken on December 10 found that 96 percent of the nation approved Congress’s declaration of war, while only 2 percent disapproved.  America First Committee chairman Robert Wood urged all those who had “followed its lead to give their full support to the war effort of the nation.”  Former isolationist Senator Burton Wheeler said, “The only thing now to do is to lick the hell out of them.”[230]
*          *          *          *          *

V. Theaters of war, 1941-1943

5.1  Battle of the Atlantic
5.2  War in Asia and the Pacific
5.3  Soviet resurgence
5.4  The idea of a Second Front
5.5  British-American campaigns in North Africa and Italy
5.6  Allied bombing of Germany (phase one)

Pearl Harbor attack, Oahu, Hawaii, Dec. 7, 1941 (US National Archives)

On Sunday December 7, 1941, at 7:48 a.m. Hawaii time, the Imperial Japanese Navy struck the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor on the island of Oahu.  The attack left 2,403 Americans dead and 1,143 wounded, disabled eighteen U.S. warships, and destroyed or damaged 70 American airplanes.  Of the American fatalities, nearly half were due to the explosion of the USS Arizona’s forward magazine.  One thousand sailors from the ship were burned to death or drowned.  The following day, President Roosevelt declared December 7th “a date which will live in infamy.”[231]

In the aftermath of the Pearl Harbor attack, Adolf Hitler expressed doubts that the United States could overcome perceived handicaps to fight an effective war.  “I don’t see much of a future for the Americans,” he told his staff.  “It’s a decayed country.  And they have their racial problem, and the problem of social inequalities. . . . American society is half Judaized, and the other half Negrified.  How can one expect a State like that to hold together – a country where everything is built on the dollar.”  Hitler’s foreign minister, Joachim Von Ribbentrop, however, was more realistic in his views, recognizing the industrial potential of the United States.  “We have just one year to cut off Russia from her American supplies,” he said.  “If we don’t succeed and the munitions potential of the United States joins up with the manpower potential of the Russians, the war will enter a phase in which we shall only be able to win it with difficulty.”[232]

Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto

Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, commander-in-chief of Japan’s naval fleet, was similarly pessimistic about winning a long war against the United States.  In September 1940, as Japanese leaders were drawing up attack plans, he warned Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoye, “I shall run wild for the first six months or a year, but I have utterly no confidence for the second or third year. . . . I hope you will endeavor to avoid a Japanese-American war.”  Japan did not avoid war, of course, and Admiral Yamamoto’s assessment proved to be correct.  “Like a judo fighter,” writes David Kennedy, “Yamamoto had now knocked his larger American opponent off balance [with the Pearl Harbor attack].  Could he next bring down his foe before the United States shrugged off its post-Pearl Harbor daze and brought all of its prodigious industrial strength to bear? . . . No one knew better than Yamamoto that time was Japan’s worst enemy.”[233]

Pearl Harbor was a remarkable military success for the Japanese, and yet, as the historian Samuel Elliot Morrison writes, one could “search military history in vain for an operation more fatal to the aggressor.”[234]

5.1  Battle of the Atlantic

Admiral Karl Doenitz

No sooner had Germany declared war on the U.S. on December 11, 1941, then Admiral Karl Doenitz began planning U-boat attacks on U.S. ships in the north Atlantic Ocean.  Operation Paukenschlag, or Drumbeat, was designed to cut off Allied supply lines at their source.  On January 14, 1942, the German U-boat 123 sank a huge oil tanker on its way from New Jersey to Liverpool.  By the end of the month, nine German U-boats had destroyed 35 Allied merchant ships and a British destroyer.  The assaults continued unimpeded in February, with sixteen U-boats destroying 49 more Allied cargo ships and oil tankers in locations ranging from off Nova Scotia to the Caribbean Sea.  On February 28, the American destroyer Jacob Jones was sunk within sight of the New Jersey coast.  Only eleven of its 136 sailors survived.  By June, the Nazi U-boat fleet had sent 4.7 million tons of Allied shipping to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.  Army Chief of Staff George Marshall warned that month that Allied losses at sea threatened the entire war effort because of the disruption of the supply chain.  Winston Churchill stated that “­the U-boat attack was our worst evil, the only thing that really frightened me during the war.”[235]

Coast Guardsmen watch the explosion of a depth charge off the coast of Ireland, April 1943 (US National Archives)

To counter this U-boat offensive, the Royal Navy transferred ten escort vessels and two dozen antisubmarine trawlers to the Americans for coastal defense.  U.S. Admiral Ernest King organized a convoy system which considerably reduced American shipping losses.  The first sinking of a German U-boat took place on the night of April 13-14, 1942.  The Allies were able to take the offensive with the help of advances in radar technology, the development of more precise depth charges, and by cracking German communication codes.  Radar-equipped long-range planes, based in Newfoundland, Iceland, Northern Ireland, and elsewhere, along with planes launched from the Navy’s new escort carriers, provided nearly continuous air cover for Allied convoys.  In the month of May 1943 alone, the Allies destroyed 41 German U-boats, including one in which Admiral Doenitz’s son died.[236]

The German U-boat campaign continued through the war, but suffered increasing losses – 93 U-boats in 1942, 241 in 1943, and 250 in 1944.  The same was true for lesser numbers of Italian and Japanese submarines.[237]  Dominance in the Atlantic allowed the Allies to transport large quantities of materials, munitions, and personnel from the U.S. to Great Britain.  The costs of the Battle of the Atlantic were considerable on both sides:   Between 1939 and 1945, 3,500 Allied merchant ships (weighing 14.5 million gross tons) and 175 Allied warships were sunk; and 72,200 Allied naval and merchant seamen lost their lives.  The German navy lost 784 U-boats and approximately 30,000 sailors, three quarters of its 40,000-man submarine force.[238]

5.2  War in Asia and the Pacific

Extent of Japanese empire in red and shaded areas. Allied offensives in dark lines (Wiki Commons)

As Admiral Yamamoto predicted, Japanese forces ran wild for the first six months of 1942.  They overwhelmed British-held Singapore whose capitulation Winston Churchill considered the “worst disaster and largest capitulation of British history.”[239]  By the spring, the Japanese had taken Hong Kong, Siam (Thailand), Burma, Sumatra, Borneo, the Celebs, Timor, Guam, Wake Island, and most of the Solomon Islands.[240]  They also sank the largest U.S. warship in the Far-East, the Houston, and established an air base in northern Malaya.  In overtaking Hong Kong, Great Britain’s seaport on the China coast, the British sustained 2,100 killed or missing, 2,300 wounded, and 10,000 captured.  Atrocities were rife.  When Japanese troops entered St. Stephens College on Christmas day 1941, they bayoneted to death wounded prisoners on their beds and raped British and Chinese nurses, killing many afterward.  Major General Tomoyuki Yamashita wrote in his diary that he “wanted [his] troops to behave with dignity but most of them do not seem to have the ability to do so.”[241]

The Japanese air attack on the U.S. colony of the Philippines began just eight hours after the Pearl Harbor attack.  The assault destroyed two squadrons of B-17s and another two squadrons of P-40s, amounting to almost half of America’s best aircraft.  U.S. forces retreated to the Bataan Peninsula.  They held off the Japanese for four months.  General Jonathan Wainwright described the fighting as “endless days and nights of killing Japs, getting killed, and withdrawing.  Not that we didn’t try, with everything we had, to hold whatever we had.”[242]  On March 11, 1942, General Douglas MacArthur departed for Australia.  With no outside support or supplies, General Edward King surrendered on April 9, his men suffering from hunger and disease.  It was considered one of the worst defeats in U.S. military history.  About 10,000 U.S. and Filipino troops were killed in the Battle of Bataan, and 76,000 were captured.[243]
For those captured, the defeat marked the beginning of three and a half years of harsh treatment – for those who survived.  American and Filipino POWs were forced to make a 65-mile “march of death” from Bataan to the prison camp at San Fernando with practically no food or water.  Anyone too sick or exhausted to keep up with the march was shot or bayoneted.  In the worst single incident, on April 12, four hundred Filipino officers with the 91st Division were hacked to death by Japanese guards.  Sargent Ralph Levering recalled years later that the thing that “burned itself into his mind for days and days was the imprint of a body in the road that had been run over, I don’t know how many times.  It was paper thin, but the shape was very clear.  It was as if the guy was still pleading for somebody to reach and pick him up.”[244]
Some POWs were taken to Japan to work as laborers in mines and factories, transported on so-called “hellships” where they were crowded like cattle and subjected to all kinds of indignities.  One destination for POWs was Palawan island where they built an airfield for the Japanese.  When a U.S. plane appeared overhead one day, Japanese guards machine gunned 151 American GIs.  POWs also died from malnutrition and disease in Japanese prisons.[245]

Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle (left) and Capt. Marc A. Mitscher with aircrews aboard the USS Hornet in April 1942 (Wiki Commons)

On April 18, 1942, with American morale at its nadir, Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle led a squadron of sixteen B-25 bombers in an attack on Tokyo and a handful of other Japanese cities.  Though inflicting far less damage than later air operations, the Doolittle raid boosted American confidence and forced the Japanese high command to divert some forces to protect the homeland.  Doolittle’s raiders, after dropping their bombs, crash-landed in China for lack of fuel.  The survivors were captured by the Japanese and later put on trial.  They were charged with killing 50 civilians, bombing a hospital full of patients and gunning down children in a schoolyard.  Eight Americans were sentenced to death; three were actually executed. [246]

Following the Doolittle raid, Admiral Yamamoto made his move to annihilate the U.S. Pacific Fleet and secure the perimeter of Japan’s so-called Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere.  He assembled nearly 200 warships for an assault near the Midway atoll, located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.  The attack began on June 4, 1942, and lasted three days.  It ended in a decisive defeat for the Japanese Navy.  U.S. naval forces under the command of Admiral Chester Nimitz fatally damaged three Japanese aircraft carriers (Akagi, Kaga, and Sorya), while losing the Yorktown.  The U.S. victory was enabled in part by the cryptanalysis decoding of Japanese radio transmissions.[247]  The Battle of Midway marked a turning point in the Pacific war, after which the U.S. Navy took the offensive.
In Southeast Asia, meanwhile, the Japanese invasion of Burma, a British colony, had cut off U.S. supply lines to General Chiang Kai-shek and the KMT in China.  In early 1942, Roosevelt designated General Joseph W. Stilwell as the “Commanding General of the United States Forces in the Chinese Theater of Operations, Burma, and India,” which in turn became part of the Australian-British-Dutch-American Command, tasked with pushing the Japanese out of Southeast Asia.  The Allied counterattack drew on Brigadier General Claire Chennault’s American Volunteer Group, better known as the “Flying Tigers,” a motley group of hard-drinking pilots who by January 1942 had destroyed 73 Japanese aircraft in China while losing only five themselves.[248]

Japanese conquest of Burma

Gen. Frank Merrill, commander of the famed “Merrill’s Marauders,” with two Japanese-American soldiers in northern Burma, May 1, 1944 (Asia TImes)

U.S. jungle warfare operations in Burma were led by General Frank Merrill, a Japanese language scholar and West Point graduate who was one of Stilwell’s most trusted aides.  Wearing camouflaged jungle clothing, his force became known as Merrill’s Marauders.  Most of their intelligence came from the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) which used Kachin and Naga tribesmen as guides.  The Allies launched two military operations in Burma during the 1942-1943 dry season, neither of which succeeded in dislodging the Japanese.[249]

The Japanese counted on the support of millions of Southeast Asians chafing under European imperial rule.  The new Burmese government formed under nationalist leader Aung San aided the Japanese war effort, having embraced the slogan “Asia for the Asians.”  Resistance to the Japanese-backed Burmese government was led by the Kachin ethnic group, allied with the British.  Paid in raw opium, the Kachin set booby traps and placed punji sticks hardened by flames in the ground with vegetative camouflage.  The Japanese carried out vengeful reprisals and torched Kachin villages.[250]  In Thailand, after the Japanese army marched into Bangkok on December 8, 1941, the new Thai government formed under Plaek Phibunsongkhram (known simply as Phibun) cooperated with the Japanese and furthermore declared war on the United Kingdom and the United States.  Wang I-hung, chairman of the North China political council, similarly pledged Chinese support for the “emancipation of the Asiatic peoples by driving out the Anglo-Saxons.”[251]

Japanese propaganda booklet idealizing the unity of Asian peoples (

In the summer of 1943, the Japanese government published a prosecutor’s brief against the U.S. and Great Britain.  The Greater East Asia War Inquiry Commission, as it was called, declared that Japan was leading a “counteroffensive of the Oriental races against Occidental aggression.”  The commission decried the hypocrisy of the U.S. for demanding an “open door” in China (preventing Japanese control) while using the Monroe Doctrine to prohibit outsiders from interfering in the Americas.  “The arrogant Anglo-Saxons,” declared the commission, are “ever covetous of securing world hegemony according to the principle of the white man’s burden.”[252]  In November, Japanese Prime Minister Hideki Tojo invited Burmese leader Ba Maw, Philippine leader José Laurel, and other Asian leaders to a Greater East Asia conference held in Tokyo.  The delegates drank toasts to Asian solidarity and pledged to “push aside the artificial barriers which Western intruders have set up between us.”[253]

Such attempts at solidarity, however, were undermined by growing Japanese economic demands and harsh treatment of subject peoples who resisted Japanese control.  The Japanese high command established a system of prostitution in which 82,000 Asian “comfort women” were lured, purchased, or kidnapped to service Japanese soldiers.  Most of the women were Korean, but thousands were taken from China, Taiwan, Indonesia, and the Philippines.  Eighty percent were under eighteen years old.  Conditions in the brothels were sordid and some of the women took their own lives.  Because they came from cultures that generally valued chastity, few spoke openly about their experiences in fear of being shamed and ostracized.  Half a century passed before many found the courage to break their silence and seek financial compensation from the Japanese government for their suffering.[254]
Of most concern to the U.S. was the Japanese employment of POWs as slave laborers.  In constructing the Siam-Burma railway in 1942 and 1943, which ran through the jungles of Burma and Thailand, about 12,000 Allied prisoners and perhaps 90,000 Burmese, Thais, Malayans, Chinese, Tamils, and Javanese died as a result of backbreaking labor and unsanitary living conditions.  Prisoners were forced to work between twelve and twenty hours a day removing three million cubic yards of earth and 230,000 cubic yards of rock.  Their diet consisted of a ball of rice and a few pieces of fish per day.  The worst treatment was reserved for Asian “coolie” laborers who were subjected to routine beatings and forced to sleep on the bare ground in huts overrun with vermin.  A Japanese physician explained lightly that the “coolies were subhuman and not worthy of consideration.”[255]
Pacific battles:  Guadalcanal and Tarawa
News that the Japanese were constructing an airstrip on the island of Guadalcanal, part of the Solomon Islands in the southwestern Pacific, prompted a U.S. invasion of the island on August 7, 1942.  The Battle of Guadalcanal lasted until February 9, 1943, when the last starving Japanese troops were withdrawn.  It involved harrowing land battles, night raids, aerial dogfights, and naval engagements.  Twenty-four thousand Japanese are estimated to have been killed, compared to 1,600 Americans, though more Americans died from tropical diseases.  Japanese officers estimated in mid-December that only 250 out of its 6,000 remaining soldiers were fit for combat.[256]
Japanese Vice-Admiral Raizo Tanaka explained Japan’s defeat at Guadalcanal as the result of poor operational planning and communication, overconfidence, and inferiority in air power.  American code-breakers were able to provide detailed radio intelligence to Admiral William Halsey, which enabled him to anticipate Japanese movements.  Americans also made effective use of native scouts who hated the Japanese because the latter had plundered their villages, raped the women, and stripped their food gardens.[257]

Deceased Japanese soldiers at the mouth of Alligator Creek on Guadalcanal, Aug. 21, 1942 (Wiki Commons)

Journalist Richard Tregaskis, who was embedded with the Marines on Guadalcanal, described the series of battles as a “macabre nightmare” in which groups of Japanese were “torn apart by our artillery fire, their remains fried by the blast of the shells,” and “machine gun crews [were] shredded by canister fire from our tanks. . . . Everywhere one turned there were piles of bodies, here one with a backbone visible from the front, and the rest of the flesh and bone peeled up over the man’s head; [there] a man with a bullet hole through his eye [and elsewhere] a dead Jap Private lying on his back wearing dark tortoise shell glasses, his buck teeth bared in a humorless grin.”[258]

Tregaskis’s 1943 book, Guadalcanal Diary, and E. B. Sledge’s memoir, With the Old Breed (1981), are classic journalistic accounts that capture the raw emotions of soldiers and the breakdown of human decency in war.  According to Sledge, who hailed from Alabama, “a passionate hatred for the Japanese burned through all the Marines I knew.”  Sledge wrote that American acts of bodily mutilation of dead Japanese were “uncivilized, as is all war, carried out with particular savagery that characterized the struggle between the Marines and the Japanese.  It wasn’t simply souvenir hunting or locating the enemy dead; it was more like Indian warriors taking scalps.  Such was the incredible cruelty that decent men could commit when reduced to a brutish existence.”[259]
Sledge went on to discuss the enmity of many working-class Marines toward their senior commanding officers when they were sent on futile missions.  A fellow “grunt” told him, “you know Sledgehammer, a guy from the 1st Marines told me they got them poor boys makin’ frontal attacks with fixed bayonets on that damn ridge, and they can’t even see the Nips [Japanese] that are shootin’ at ‘em.  That poor kid was really depressed; don’t see no way he can come out alive.  Ain’t no sense in that.  They can’t get nowhere like that.”  The Marine continued:  “Yeah, some goddam glory-happy officer wants another medal, I guess, and the guys get shot up for it.  The officer gets the medal and goes back to the States, and he’s a big hero.  Hero my ass; gettin’ troops slaughtered ain’t being no hero.”[260]

General Evans F. Carlson

Historian John C. McManus reported that such feelings were felt in many units.  Tensions simmered between officers and enlisted men over “excessive discipline, rotten conditions, poor food or noticeably different living arrangements.”  McManus quotes a letter from staff Sergeant Frank Pawlokoski who complained that the officers in his unit “ride us men like a bunch of slaves.”[261]  Other officers, such as Brigadier General Evans F. Carlson, however, won genuine respect from their men.  Carlson drew inspiration from Mao Zedong’s Eighth Route Army which had leveled military hierarchy and rank.  Officers in Carlson’s unit – nicknamed “Carlson’s Raiders” – lived, ate, and worked with their men and allowed them the freedom to express their mind.  Political education was promoted in order to enhance esprit de corps.  At Guadalcanal, the Raiders traversed 150 miles of jungle behind enemy lines and killed 700 Japanese at a cost of 17 of their own and only one case of neuropsychiatric collapse.  Marine Bill Maudlin observed that “of the brass, only Eisenhower and Carlson had the respect of the GI.”[262]

On the significance of the Battle of Guadalcanal, David Kennedy writes, “The remorseless tipping of the military balance in favor of the Americans at Guadalcanal illustrated in microcosm the central logic of the Pacific war.  Given time and a fair opportunity, the weight of growing American manpower and munitions inevitably crushed the steadily wasting Japanese reserves of men and material.”[263]  As if to symbolize this shifting momentum, on April 18, 1943, Admiral Yamamoto was killed by American warplanes after American code breakers identified his flight plans, enabling U.S. fighter aircraft to shoot down his plane.  His death was a major blow to Japanese military morale.

Tarawa at the end of the vicious 72-hour battle (US Naval Institute)

The next major battle at Tarawa, an atoll in the Gilbert Islands, was brief and brutal, lasting from November 20 to 23, 1943.  The U.S. amassed a force of 12 battleships, 66 destroyers, 36 troop transports, squadrons of warplanes, and over 30,000 men, giving the U.S. a 10-1 advantage over Japanese forces defending the island.  The amphibious landing, however, went awry.  Landing craft got hung up on coral reefs at low tide while well-dug-in Japanese troops raked the Americans with machine guns and mortar fire.  Ninety of the 125 amphibious vehicles (called Amtracs) were sunk or wrecked and 323 of the 500 naval officers who manned them were killed, wounded or missing.

Warrant officer John Leopold characterized the beach where the Marines landed as “annihilation beach” because it was “red with blood.”  The ocean water, in the words of Sergeant William Manchester, was a “grotesque mask of severed heads, limbs and torsos.”[264]  To win the battle, U.S. forces nearly destroyed the island, expending 3,000 tons of shells and bombs on a mere 291 acres of land.[265]  Army journalist Clive Howard wrote that the “once beautiful Tarawa [became] a scene of devastation, its palm trees shattered and its coral churned by the thousands of bombs and shells.”[266]

The loss of over 1,000 U.S. soldiers led General Holland Smith to the conclusion that the assault was not worth the price paid.  “From the very beginning,” he wrote in his memoir, “the decision of the Joint Chiefs to seize Tarawa was a mistake and from their initial mistake grew the terrible drama of errors, errors of omission rather than commission, resulting in these needless casualties. . . . Tarawa’s capture was a terrible waste of life and effort.”[267]  General Douglas MacArthur concurred, writing that “these frontal attacks by the Navy, as at Tarawa, are tragic and unnecessary massacres of American lives.”[268]

African American soldiers of the 93rd Infantry Division on patrol in Bougainville Island, Papua New Guinea, May 1, 1944 (US National Archives)

American GIs learned quickly that war was not all adventure but rather, “grim, bloody, callous, dangerous [and] hard,” as one historian put it.[269]  They withstood “incredible suffering in the common cause of killing as many of the enemy as possible and getting the damn war over with,” wrote E. J. Kahn, who fought in the South Pacific and went on to become a writer for The New Yorker.[270]  Kahn gave the example of a “private first class soldier who was painfully wounded in the groin one night, and lay in a watery foxhole for thirteen hours with maggots crawling over him, stubbornly refusing to cry out for help because he knew the slightest sound might give away his company’s location.  There was [also] the private who, because of a shortage of medical orderlies walked to a hospital himself several miles away.  And a brave Lieutenant who for days lay desperately wounded but conscious, within conversational range of his platoon, who kept a diary until he died.  Three men had tried to get him, but after one was killed and the other two were wounded in the attempt, he asked a captain to forbid anyone else to come out and the captain reluctantly agreed because he couldn’t spare the men.”[271]

Some of the fighting took place in malarial infested, “putrescent jungles” where GIs waded in ankle deep mud following tropical rains, struggled through stunted coconut trees and scraggy bushes, and contended with crocodiles, snakes, rats, and spiders.  The soldiers slept in muddy foxholes which could be overrun at any time.  Every night brought fireworks displays and the terror of a surprise attack by a highly motivated enemy which hid underground and in trees, planted traps in the ground, and showed no mercy.  William Manchester, who was wounded twice in Okinawa, wrote:  “We were animals really, torn between fear – I was mostly frightened – and a murderous rage.”[272]  Some went insane, reduced to a state where they would wander aimlessly mute or in a trance, as Douglas Valentine described some of his comrades, or where they were “so badly shell-shocked that their hands had to be pried from their rifles.”[273]

5.3  Soviet resurgence

The Soviet comeback against the German invasion was described by U.S. General Douglas MacArthur as the greatest in all history.  On February 23, 1942, in the midst of a Japanese siege, MacArthur wrote from his headquarters on the island of Corregidor in the Philippines:

The world situation at the present time indicates that the hopes of civilization rest on the worthy banners of the courageous Russian Army.  During my lifetime I have participated in a number of wars and have witnessed others, as well as studying in great detail the campaigns of outstanding leaders of the past.  In none have I observed such effective resistance to the heaviest blows of a hitherto undefeated enemy, followed by a smashing counterattack which is driving the enemy back to his own land.  The scale and grandeur of this effort marks it as the greatest military achievement in all history.” [274]

The invading German army wreaked havoc in the Soviet Union, laying waste to 1,710 cities and 70,000 towns and villages, and destroying 31,850 factories, 84,000 schools, 65,000 kilometers of railway, and 1,974 collective farms.  An estimated 26 million Russians, including 11,500,000 soldiers, were killed or died from war-related causes during the four-year war.  Despite the losses, the Soviet Red Army defeated 507 German divisions and 100 Axis-allied divisions (Romanian, Hungarian, and Italian), and destroyed 77,000 enemy aircraft and 48,000 enemy tanks and armored vehicles.  All in all, more combatants were killed on the European Eastern Front than in all other theaters of the Second World War combined.[275]

Of the 5.7 million Red Army troops captured by the German army, 3.3 million or roughly 58 percent died from neglect in prison camps or execution squads.  Over 500,000 Soviet citizens died from German bombing attacks – ten times the number who died in the London blitz of 1940.  The Nazis pillaged treasured cultural monuments and museums, including Tsarist palaces, and burned Tolstoy’s original manuscripts.  The burning of villages and collective punishment were the norm.  For every German soldier shot by Russian guerrillas, German commanders ordered that 100 Russians be executed.[276]

U.S. Lend-Lease shipments to the Soviet Union

Despite the German occupation of a huge western portion of the Soviet Union, the Soviets managed to build some 2,000 new factories for war production, outproducing Germany itself by 1943.  The Nazis were taken aback by the strength of Soviet weaponry such as the Katyusha rocket launcher and the T-34 tank.  The Russians also benefited from Allied lend-lease aid – $11 billion from the U.S. and $31 billion from Great Britain.  Allied shipments included over 400,000 jeeps and trucks, and 14,000 airplanes along with 2.7 million tons of petrol products and 4.5 million tons of food.[277]

In Washington, a faction in Congress opposed U.S. lend-lease aid under the belief that it was wrong to “make an alliance with the most ruthless dictator in the world,” as Senator Robert Taft (R-OH) declared.[278]  Ex-President Herbert Hoover stated that we should have “let those two bastards annihilate themselves,” referring to Hitler and Stalin, while future president Senator Harry Truman said on June 23, 1941, “If we see that Germany is winning we ought to help Russia, and if Russia is winning, we ought to help Germany and that way let them kill as many as possible, although I don’t want to see Hitler victorious under any circumstances.”[279]
Despite such views, Roosevelt assigned a high priority to providing aid to Russia and took a close personal interest in the implementation of the Russia lend-lease program.[280]  The aid was not as forthcoming as initially promised, due to conflicting priorities, but it picked up speed as U.S. production increased.  In a fireside chat on April 28, 1942, the president told the American people, “On the European front the most important development of the past year has been without question the crushing counteroffensive on the part of the great armies of Russia against the powerful German Army.  These Russian forces have destroyed and are destroying more armed power of our enemies – troops, planes, tanks, and guns – than all the other united nations put together.”  Prime Minister Winston Churchill later wrote to Stalin (September 27, 1944), affirming “it is the Russian army that tore the guts out of the German military machine.”[281]

Citizens of Leningrad leaving their houses destroyed by German bombing (The Moscow Times)

German forces were compelled to retreat from Moscow in January 1942, but the siege of Leningrad to the north continued, with casualties mounting.  On April 5, Hitler initiated another offensive in the Southern Caucus.  Its twin goals were to secure economic resources, particularly oil production facilities, and to eliminate Soviet forces in the region.  Hitler reportedly told Field Marshall Erich von Manstein, “It is a question of the possession of Baku.  Unless we get the Baku oil, the war is lost.”[282]  The offensive began on June 28, 1942.  The German army achieved initial victories, but on July 9, Hitler altered the original plan and added the capture of Stalingrad as an additional objective.  This further thinned out German forces over vast stretches of land, straining German supply lines.  Stalin and the Soviet high command vowed that the defenders of Stalingrad would take one step back.[283]

Battle of Stalingrad
Stalingrad, previously known as Tsaritsyn, was the site of a key battle during the Russian Civil War (1917-1922).  Under the Soviets, the city was transformed into a major industrial center that produced tractors for the regime’s agricultural revolution and, more recently, tanks.  On August 23 and 24, 1942, the German Luftwaffe under the direction of Wolfram Frei Herr von Ricthtofen – a younger cousin of the First World War One air ace, the “Red Baron” and the former commander of the air legion responsible for the destruction of Guernica in the Spanish Civil War – opened the Battle of Stalingrad with a carpet-bombing aerial attack that leveled much of the city.  Petroleum storage tanks on the Volga riverbank were hit, creating fireballs and huge columns of black smoke visible from more than 150 kilometers away.  Stalingrad was transformed into an inferno and at least 40,000 residents were killed.[284]
By mid-September, some 330,000 German troops were on the northern edge of the city, while Soviet defenders held a mere nine-mile strip along the Volga River.  Panic gripped the local population amid fierce house-to-house fighting.  Russian women and children assisted the men by digging ditches, gathering and cooking food, and caring for the wounded.  Some also threw grenades at the German invaders whom they called “Fritzes.”  A German lieutenant wrote:  “We have fought fifteen days for a single house.  Already by the third day, fifty-four German corpses were strewn in the cellars, on the landings, the staircases. . . . Ask any soldier what half an hour of hand-to-hand struggle means.  Then imagine Stalingrad:  eighty days and eighty nights of hand-to-hand struggles.  Animals flee this hell; the hardest stones cannot bear it for long; only men endure.”[285]

Soviet troops entering a ruined building, Stalingrad, 1942 (

On November 19, 1942, Soviet forces initiated a counteroffensive under the command of Vasili Ivanovich Chuikov, a veteran of the Russian Civil War who only a few weeks before had been in China as a military advisor to Chiang Kai-shek.  Chuikov’s army surrounded the German army which soon became desperate for food and supplies and suffered from the freezing cold.  Hitler exhorted the trapped German forces to fight to the death, but on January 31, 1943, General Friedrich Paulus and his fellow generals disobeyed Hitler and surrendered so as to save their remaining 91,000 troops.[286]  German soldiers by this point had been reduced to surviving on tiny food rations and catching cats and rats.  Hitler was enraged at this apparent “betrayal.”  British war correspondent Alexander Werth wrote that “no one doubted that this was the turning point in World War II.”  In the U.S., the New Republic declared that “Hitler has lost the war, and for this the Russians deserve the major share of the credit.”[287]

The Battle of Stalingrad was followed by another raging clash over the city of Kursk, 450 miles southwest of Moscow, in July and August 1943.  The Red Army succeeded in halting this last Wehrmacht offensive, which cost the lives of 70,000 German soldiers.  Considered by historians as “the greatest armored battle in the history of warfare,” the Battle of Kursk involved a head-on clash of tanks and overhead aerial dogfights.  Tipped off by British intelligence, the Russians dug heavy fortifications and prepared for months in advance to meet the German offensive.  When the Soviet tanks ran out of shells, Red Army soldiers darted about the battlefield, hurling grenades and petrol bombs.  For weeks after, the whole region, thirty miles long and thirty miles wide, resembled a “hideous desert,” according to one war correspondent, “the air reeking from the smell of “hundreds of unburied bodies, bloated in the summer heat.”[288]  For Germany, it was a crushing blow, as any realistic prospect for victory in the East ended.

5.4  The idea of a Second Front

The Soviets were in desperate need of outside help from the moment Operation Barbarossa began in June 1941.  Beyond Lend-lease supplies, Stalin beseeched the U.S. and British to open a Second Front in Western Europe, one that could draw thirty to forty German divisions from the Eastern Front.  He raised the issue in July 1941, and again in November 1941 and February 1942.  Without such support, Stalin hinted that the Soviet Union might collapse, an assessment shared by General Dwight Eisenhower and Secretary of War Henry Stimson.[289]
In January 1942, the U.S. General Staff began to draw up plans for a Second Front.  The initial plan, approved by the White House on April 1, called for a massive British-American invasion of northern France between the fall of 1942 and spring of 1943.  In May 1942, at the invitation of President Roosevelt, Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov visited Washington.  He reported back to Moscow on June 11:  “In the course of the conversations full understanding was reached with regard to the urgent tasks of creating a Second Front in Europe in 1942.”  The announcement was publicly broadcast in the Soviet Union, greatly heartening the populace.[290]

Winston Churchill and his Chiefs of Staff confer aboard the SS QUEEN MARY en route to the USA,
May 1943 (Wiki Commons)

On June 3, 1942, however, British Admiral Louis Mountbatten arrived at the White House.  He stayed for two weeks, presenting a series of arguments in opposition to opening a Second Front.  In one five-hour session with Roosevelt, he advocated an alternative Anglo-American military campaign in which a combined U.S.-British force would invade and secure North Africa then sweep up through the Balkans and on to Poland.  President Roosevelt, Secretary of War Stimson, U.S. Army chief of staff George C. Marshall, and adviser Harry Hopkins all opposed the North Africa campaign, viewing it as diversionary.  Not only would it fail to draw many German divisions from the Eastern Front, but it would also divert Allied troops and supplies and delay the invasion of Western Europe to perhaps 1944.    With the Americans resistant, the British brought in their heavy hitters.  On June 20, Prime Minister Winston Churchill and the British Chiefs of Staff arrived in Washington to nail down the alternative plan.  Churchill and company ultimately prevailed, as the Americans would not undertake a Second Front without British participation.[291] The Americans’ predictions proved to be correct; the invasion of France did not take place until June 1944.

There were at least three major motivations behind Churchill’s insistence on a North Africa campaign.  One was that, unlike the U.S., the British had significant imperial interests in North Africa, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean.[292]  Italian forces backed by German tank divisions under the command of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel had taken control of much of North Africa in 1941.  German forces had also conquered British-allied Greece in April 1941, and Crete a month later.  In January 1942, Rommel began his second offensive in North Africa, threatening British control of the Suez Canal and the British Mediterranean Fleet based in Alexandria, Egypt.  Churchill declared his intention to maintain the British Empire in a speech in London on November 10, 1942:  “Let me, however, make this clear, in case there should be any mistake about it in any quarter:  We mean to hold our own.  I have not become the King’s First Minister in order to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire.”[293]
Second, Churchill was wary of getting bogged down in a major land war on the European continent, as happened during the First World War (at a cost of 1.1 million British soldiers’ lives), and he wanted no repeat of Dunkirk.  There was a real possibility that a Western invasion could fail or degenerate into an ugly stalemate.  From this vantage point, it would be better to wait until the German army had exhausted itself on the Eastern Front before attempting a cross-channel invasion.
Third, beyond British self-interest, Churchill was an ardent foe of the Soviet communist system.  He had previously supported the British-French-American “Midnight War” against the Bolshevik government in 1918, though it had failed to dislodge the Bolsheviks.  Churchill did not want to see a strong, confident Soviet Union emerge from the war, notwithstanding his desire to see the Soviets defeat the immediate threat to Britain, Nazi Germany.  This British antipathy toward the Soviet Union was noted in a 1943 report by the U.S. Army’s Joint Strategic Survey Committee, which stated, “It would be in strict accord with that [British] policy, however, to delay Germany’s defeat until military attrition and civilian famine had materially reduced Russia’s potential toward dominance in Europe.”  Significantly, U.S. army planners recommended that the U.S. not follow this British policy orientation but instead “strike hard and straight at Germany.”[294]   Indeed, General Marshall was livid over British attempts to put off a Second Front.  His chief consultant, General Albert Wedemeyer, told him that the British war plans had “been designed to maintain the integrity of the British Empire.”[295]
Churchill traveled to Moscow on August 12, 1942, and tried to convince Stalin of the viability of his North Africa plan.  He argued that the British and Americans would work their way through the “soft underbelly” of southern Europe to ultimately strike at Germany.  Stalin was not impressed.  He noted that the British-American invasion force would engage few German divisions in North Africa and Italy, leaving the great bulk of German forces facing Russia.[296]
Over the course of the next year, Churchill continued to hedge on the idea of a Second Front.  On May 11, 1943, he led a party of British officials to Washington for a conference in which it was agreed, at the insistence of U.S. officials, that a Second Front would be opened on May 1, 1944, codenamed Project Overlord.  Churchill nonetheless maintained that Sicily must be conquered first, thus prioritizing men and resources for this campaign.  When Churchill and Roosevelt and their military chiefs met again in Quebec on August 17, 1943, Churchill was still unreconciled to a major operation in Western Europe.  He talked at length about expected casualties and gave little credence to Allied air assaults for preparing the way.

Soviet advances on the Eastern Front, November 1942 to March 1943 (Wiki Commons)

Another factor, however, began to weigh into Churchill’s calculations – the possibility that, without a British-American invasion in Western Europe, the Soviets would continue their advance from the east and conquer Germany by themselves.  Such was the message of General Jan Smuts of South Africa who wrote to Churchill on August 31 and September 3, 1943, suggesting that if Russia is the sole victor in defeating Nazi Germany in Europe, “this will leave Russia the diplomatic master of the world.”[297]

Planning for Project Overlord proceeded.  In the meantime, according to the historian D. F. Fleming, “Russia was left to bear the full brunt of Germany’s fury at Stalingrad.  Instead of the Allies taking some of the weight off Russia, it was the other way around. The immense German debacle at Stalingrad prevented the Germans from reacting to the African invasion as they would have. . . . To the Germans, the Allied attack on North Africa was good news, as their armies were already stretched to the limit, from Berlin to Stalingrad, and would be hard pressed to meet a great Allied attack in France, one that would require 50 to 100 divisions.  The Germans could devote fewer forces to meet the Allied threat to the south.”[298]

5.5  British-American campaigns in North Africa and Italy

Allied invasion sites in North Africa, Nov. 1942

In late October 1942, an invasion force of 220 British and U.S. ships carrying 107,000 men sailed down and across the Atlantic to the North African coastline, dodging German U-boats along the way.  On November 8, U.S. forces landed on Morocco’s Atlantic coast while a combined Anglo-American force went ashore at two points along Algeria’s Mediterranean coast.  A battalion-sized airborne force also landed near Oran with a mission to seize two airfields.  The Allies encountered, not German or Italian forces, but rather French forces assigned to protect French protectorates under the Vichy government of Marshall Philippe Pétain.  The Nazis had permitted the Vichy government to maintain French forces in Africa, effectively placing them at the service of Germany.

American troops land on an Algerian beach during Operation Torch, Nov. 8, 1942, hoping that French forces will not fire on them (US National Archives)

The French soldiers were undoubtedly aware of the tragic irony of fighting the very nations that they had once hoped would save them from Nazi domination.  Yet virtually all did their sworn duty and defended their African terrain against the Anglo-American invaders.  French resistance in the North Africa campaign cost the American army and navy 337 men killed, 637 wounded, 122 missing, and 71 captured.[299]  The French were nevertheless quick to surrender.  On November 10, Admiral Francois Darlan, commander of the Vichy French forces, ordered all French forces to cooperate with the Allies.  This included not only French soldiers in North Africa but also those in French West Africa.

The Anglo-American invasion force, under Operation Torch, aimed to take control of Morocco and Algeria, then move east to capture Tunisia which was heavily defended by German and Italian forces.  With control of Tunisia, the Allies would be able to launch invasions of Sicily and Italy.  On this vast battleground, German Field Marshall Rommel’s forces initially gained advantage by outgunning U.S. Sherman tanks – which GIs dubbed “Purple Heart boxes” after the medal awarded to the wounded.  The tide turned when the Allies gained air superiority and the Germans ran out of fuel.  German divisions were defeated in the Second Battle of Al Alamein in November 1942, retreating to Tunisia.[300]
Though Operation Torch was successful, it was hardly a model of efficiency.  In the words of Brigadier General Paul Robinett, “We had reached the front too late, with too little, without a balanced force, without proper command arrangements to insure coordination, and failed to employ available forces so that they were mutually supporting.”[301]  The commanding general, Dwight Eisenhower, expressed his misgivings in a letter to his friend and colleague, Thomas T. Handy, on December 7, 1942:  “I think the best way to describe our operations to date is that they have violated every recognized principle of war, are in conflict with all operational and logistic methods laid down in textbooks, and will be condemned in their entirety by all Leavenworth and War College classes for the next twenty-five years.”[302]
The battle for Tunisia began on January 5, 1943.  The Allies expended massive firepower while the Germans planted land mines to inhibit the Allied advance.  American war correspondent Ernie Pyle observed that there was not a whole minute in fourteen hours of daylight when the air above was silent.  The constant shelling, fright, and butchery took its toll on America’s fighting men, whose grime and whiskers and exhaustion, according to Pyle, “made them look middle aged.”[303]
Local populations did not fare well during these battles, as either side might expel or imprison them if deemed untrustworthy.  Pyle referred to the locals prejudicially as a “dirty and disheartening lot.”  Many, he said, appeared to sympathize with the Axis, having been “well sold by German propaganda,” though some gave the victory sign when American soldiers approached.  Pyle noted that many GIs were struck by the poverty of the local population and how dirty some of the cities were, reinforcing prejudice against Arabs, or at least those they called “Arabs.”  Many of the local people were in fact members of Berber tribes who had tended their sheep and camels in the area for two millennia (analogous to Native Americans of North America or Aborigines of Australia).[304]

War correspondent Helen Kirkpatrick accompanied the US Army to Algeria and the Mediterranean theater (Wiki Commons)

Of the American soldiers, Pyle wrote, “When they first came over here, you’d frequently hear the pilots say they didn’t hate the Germans, but you don’t hear that anymore.  They have lost too many friends, too many roommates.  Now it is killing that animates them.”[305]  That was about as far as the Office of Censorship in Washington would go in allowing journalists to describe the debilitating effects of war.  According to the historian Susan Brewer, war correspondents were “expected to contribute to the war effort” and war photographers were obliged to work with government censors who “did not want the public to see photographs of U.S. soldiers maimed in combat, crying or losing control, killed in accidents or by ‘friendly fire,’ or suffering from self-inflicted wounds or psychological trauma.”  As General Eisenhower put it, “Correspondents have a job in war as essential as the military personnel.  Fundamentally, public opinion wins wars.”[306]

The Tunisia campaign lasted until May 13, 1943.  When the Axis forces of North Africa surrendered, they placed 267,000 German and Italian POWs in the hands of the Allies.  The Allied victory removed the Axis threat to the Suez Canal and Mideast oilfields and opened the way for Allied invasions of Sicily and the Italian mainland in the summer of 1943.[307]  Along with Soviet advances in the eastern European theater, the Allied success in North Africa placed the Axis powers on the defensive.
Allied invasions of Sicily and Italy
On July 10, 1943, an Allied force of four British, three American, and one Canadian division launched Operation Husky, a massive amphibious assault on the southern shores of Sicily.  This was a well-used route to mainland Italy going back to the Punic Wars between Carthage and Rome.  The landing involved more than 3,000 ships and 150,000 ground troops, and was covered by more than 4,000 aircraft.  The Germans and Italians were expecting an invasion at Sardinia and Corsica, having been deceived by an Allied intelligence operation, nicknamed Mincemeat, which helped divert German defenses.  The Allied invasion encountered stiff resistance near Gela, but other landings were virtually unopposed.  Some Sicilians even helped unload the invaders’ landing craft.[308]

American forces greeted as liberators in Palermo, Sicily, July 22, 1943 (Italy On This Day)

On the second day of the invasion, the worst “friendly fire” incident in U.S. history occurred up to that time.  General George S. Patton, commander of the Seventh Army, scheduled a parachute drop of 2,200 men from Col. James Gavin’s 505th Parachute Infantry into Gela.  This information, however, did not reach the Allied troops and anti-aircraft batteries on the ground.  The result was a blistering attack on the slow-moving columns of C-47 aircraft passing over.  Twenty-three were shot down and another 37 damaged, and 400 paratroopers and pilots were killed or wounded.  Some of the troops jumped into the sea and drowned.  Some were killed by bullets as they descended in their chutes.  Eight pilots turned back to Tunisia still carrying their paratroopers.  Eisenhower was furious and blamed Patton.[309]

The Allied invasion pushed on, slicing through weak Italian opposition across western Sicily.  German General Albert Kesselring came to the realization that the Italian army was so weak that the Germans were virtually on their own in the fight.  On July 22, when Patton entered the city of Palermo, on the northern coast of Sicily, crowds cheered “Down with Mussolini!” and “Long Live America!”  Two days later, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini was deposed and arrested in Rome by a newly formed Italian government headed by General Pietro Badoglio, who had formerly led the Italian military campaign in Ethiopia.  The Allies succeeded in taking Sicily, but 62,000 Italian and 40,000 German troops escaped across the Strait of Messina to fight another day.[310]
On September 3, Allied forces invaded the Italian mainland at Salerno, accompanied by a rain of death from Army land artillery, naval guns, and B-17 Flying Fortress bombers.  Five days later, the Badoglio government in Rome signed an armistice with the Allies.  In addition to surrendering military forces, the government was obliged to disband all branches of the Fascist Militia, Secret Police, and Fascist youth organizations.[311]
Within days of the armistice, German troops arrived from the north to occupy central Italy.  Hitler deployed sixteen German divisions to hold Italy against the Allied advance.  They rescued Mussolini on September 12 and placed him in charge of a puppet government in German-occupied northern Italy.  General Badoglio and King Victor Emmanuel, meanwhile, fled to Brindisi in southeastern Italy and set up their own government.  The Badoglio government declared war on Germany on October 13.  Italy was thus divided for a time between a southern portion under Allied control and a northern portion, nominally headed by Mussolini, under German control.  Italian military units were divided as well.
The Italian war had its share of atrocities.  In one incident, U.S. soldiers under the command of General Patton massacred 73 unarmed Italian and three German POWs near Biscari, Sicily.  Patton tried to cover up the massacre, telling a subordinate, “it would make a stink in the press and also would make civilians mad.”  Yet the facts came out and a sergeant and captain were charged with murder.  The sergeant was found guilty of personally murdering 37 Axis prisoners with a Thompson submachine gun.  He was sentenced to life imprisonment but was released after a year and and returned to duty.  The captain was acquitted, having successfully argued that he had acted in obedience to General Patton’s orders as set forth in an inflammatory, pre-invasion speech in which Patton admonished his men to beware of enemy troops feigning surrender and, in cases of doubt, “Kill the S.O.B.’s.”  The War Department’s Bureau of Public Relations nonetheless agreed with Patton in urging that no publicity be given to the Biscari murders, on the grounds that do to so “would arouse a segment of our own citizens that are so distant from combat that they do not understand the savagery that is war.”[312]

Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower and Lt. Gen. George S. Patton (Wiki Commons)

Patton had a reputation as a hard-driving commander, so hard in fact that one in eight soldiers under his command became a casualty in the Italian campaign.  Patton once physically struck and verbally abused two soldiers recovering from battle fatigue in field hospitals.  He told one of the soldiers that he would not “have these brave men here who have been shot seeing a yellow bastard sitting here crying. . . . You ought to be lined up against a wall and shot.  In fact, I ought to shoot you myself right now.  God damn you!”  Patton then slapped the soldier repeatedly.  Upon hearing of the incident, General Eisenhower ordered Patton to apologize to his troops and temporarily removed him from his command.[313]

Another atrocity, this one on the German side, occurred when Italian forces under General Antonio Gandin surrendered to the German XXII Mountain Division on Cephalonia Island, located west of Greece.  Regarding the surrendering Italian soldiers as war deserters rather than prisoners of war, German commander Hubert Lanz ordered the execution of 4,750 men.  Another group of 4,000 who surrendered their arms without fighting were imprisoned.  In 1948, the Military Tribunal at Nuremberg sentenced Lanz to twelve years in prison.  He was released in 1954.[314]
In November 1943, U.S. and British forces, accompanied by Royal Italy Army troops, began an assault on the town of San Pietro.  The German army had taken over the town in September and drafted all able-bodied men to set up defenses.  After four successive Allied attacks and German counterattacks, the Germans pulled back.  The battle was made memorable by John Huston and his five-man combat camera crew who captured on film both the brutal combat conditions and the fear and psychological trauma of the soldiers.  The stark realism with which it recorded the devastation and suffering of an American regiment prompted the U.S. Army to ban the film, titled “The Battle of San Pietro,” but parts of it were later approved for use as a training film for soldiers who had yet to experience combat.  Looking back on the film some forty years later, Huston told an interviewer that he believed the film had been kept from the public in order “to maintain the warrior myth, which said that our American soldiers went to war and came back all the stronger for the experience.”[315]
The Allied advance grounded to a halt in the winter of 1943-44.  Poor weather, mountainous terrain, and a strong defense by German army units and the Luftwaffe thwarted any movement up the spine of the Italian peninsula.  By the end of the year, the Allies faced a stalemate at the Germans’ Gustav Line, approximately halfway between Salerno and Rome.  Allied bombers, meanwhile, let loose an avalanche of bombs on Rome and other cities under German control, though military targets were few.  The first bombardment of Rome on July 19, 1943, carried out by 500 American bombers, dropped 1,168 tons of bombs on the city, destroying much of the working-class district of San Lorenzo and killing 1,674 residents.[316]

5.6  Allied bombing of Germany (phase one)

The breakdown of ethical standards was most appalling in the systematic bombing of civilians during the war.  Following the brutal destruction of Guernica and other Spanish cities by German and Italian air forces, the League of Nations Assembly passed a resolution on September 30, 1938, declaring that the “intentional bombing of civilian populations is illegal.”  Less than one year later, on September 1, 1939, the very day German troops invaded Poland, President Franklin Roosevelt issued a heatfelt appeal to the nations of Europe to refrain from aerial bombardments:

The ruthless bombing from the air of civilians in unfortified centers of population during the course of the hostilities which have raged in various quarters of the earth during the past few years, which has resulted in the maiming and in the death of thousands of defenseless men, women, and children, has sickened the hearts of every civilized man and woman, and has profoundly shocked the conscience of humanity. . . . I am therefore addressing this urgent appeal to every government which may be engaged in hostilities publicly to affirm its determination that its armed forces shall in no event, and under no circumstances, undertake the bombardment from the air of civilian populations or of unfortified cities, upon the understanding that these same rules of warfare will be scrupulously observed by all of their opponents.[317]

This humanitarian concern for civilians was difficult to reconcile with the desire to use all weapons available to achieve victory at the least cost to one’s own forces.  In the aftermath of World War I, Brigadier General Billy Mitchell, the reputed father of the U.S. Air Force, envisioned a new order of air power technologies that would enable victory by destroying the enemy’s infrastructure and industries behind battle lines.  Italian air power theorist Major Giulio Douhet identified five targets to be attacked – industrial centers, transportation infrastructure, communications, key buildings, and, most ominously, population centers.  He recommended three kinds of bombs – explosive, incendiary, and poison gas.  By attacking the home front, Douhet postulated, the enemy would be forced to divert resources to caring for civilians and rebuilding infrastructure.  Repeated bombings of urban centers, he believed, would sap the enemy population’s will to fight, or “civilian morale,” and lead to the utter collapse of the enemy’s society.[318]

Officials of the U.S. Army Air Forces (AAF), including Mitchell, were reluctant to endorse the idea of bombing population centers.[319]  Their preferred strategy, initially at least, was daytime “precision bombing” of industrial targets.  Although substantial civilian casualties might result from these attacks, the “collateral damage” would not be intentional at least.  In 1940, Air Corps chief Henry Arnold declared, “The Air Corps is committed to a strategy of high-altitude precision bombing of military objectives.”[320]

RAF bomber, 76 squadron halifax, 1941 (aircrewremembered,com)

Daytime bombing, however, proved problematic for the British Royal Air Force (RAF) in the early years of the war.  The loss of bombers in air raids over Germany outweighed the damage inflicted.  At the time, RAF fighter escorts did not have the fuel capacity to accompany the bombers to distant targets.  In early 1942, Air Marshall Arthur Harris switched to a strategy of “area bombing” at night, also known as “city busting.”  He ordered that bomb loads include one-half to two-thirds incendiary bombs in order to ignite large-scale fires in urban areas.  The raids were euphemistically described as targeting “the morale” of the enemy population.[321]  RAF area bombing raids of this kind were undertaken against Essen (March 1942), Lübeck (March), Augsburg (April), Cologne (May), Bremen (June), and other German cities.

Official information conveyed to the British public described only military and industrial targets hit.  A post-action British report on the 1,046-bomber raid against Cologne on May 30, 1942, for example, claimed that 250 factories were destroyed, marking the mission a great success.  The report failed to mention that the air assault demolished the downtown area and thousands of civilian residences as well as causing an untold number of casualties.  Such half-truths continued throughout the war.  Over the course of the war, the RAF dropped nearly 45,000 tons of bombs on Cologne, as compared to the 530 tons delivered by the Luftwaffe on Coventry, England, in the fall of 1940.[322]

Essen bombed by the RAF in 1943 (London Imperial War Museum)

Following U.S. entry into the war in December 1941, U.S. officials declared their intention to engage in daylight “precision bombing” of industrial and military targets.  However, the AAF Eighth Bomber Command that was established in Britain in early 1942 coordinated its daytime bombing runs with the RAF’s nighttime “area bombing” raids.  As Major General Ira Eaker, commander of Eighth Air Force, explained at the Casablanca conference between Roosevelt and Churchill in January 1943, the key point was to keep the Germans under attack both day and night.  The joint chiefs of both countries attending the conference issued an official memorandum stating that their main objectives were “the progressive destruction and dislocation of the German military, industrial and economic system, and the undermining of the morale of the German people to a point where their capacity for armed resistance is fatally weakened.”[323] The Roosevelt administration, as such, appeared to approve an indiscriminate bombing campaign under the euphemism of undermining German morale.

According to the historian Ronald Schaffer, the “official policy against indiscriminate bombing was so broadly interpreted and so frequently breached as to become almost meaningless.”[324]  AFF commander “Hap” Arnold made the point in early 1943, in response to questions by theater commanders regarding “the bombing and machine gunning of civilians in connection with bombing raids.”  Arnold reminded them that it was a brutal war and that no reduction in effort could be tolerated.  “This does not mean that we are making civilians or civilian institutions a war objective,” he stated, “but we cannot ‘pull our punches’ because some of them may get killed.”[325]  The Douhet philosophy became the operative formula.  General Frederick Anderson, the deputy commander at the U.S. Strategic Air Forces in Europe, wrote in July 1943 that his Eighth Bomber Command would so devastate the German economy and civilian morale that an Allied invasion of the continent would be unnecessary.  This assumption, however, was countered by a study by the U.S. Strategic Air Forces in Europe in November 1943, which concluded that aerial bombing might actually strengthen civilian determination to fight.[326]

Hamburg ruins after Allied firebombing in July 1943 (

As the number of U.S. bombers, bombing raids, and bomb loads increased over time, the distinction between military and civilian targets grew progressively murkier.  A turning point was the bombing of Hamburg in late July 1943.  U.S. and RAF squadrons bombed the city for eight days and seven nights.  Codenamed Operation Gomorrah, the incendiary bombs created huge firestorms, with temperatures reaching 800 degrees centigrade and causing wind storms of 150 miles per hour.  Many people died of asphyxiation while huddled in bomb shelters or basements.  Lieutenant Hermann Bock, commander of a German flak battery, wrote that “Hamburg’s night sky became in minutes, even seconds, a sky so absolutely hellish that it is impossible to describe it . . . . It was like the end of the world.”  A survivor described the howling firestorm caused by the bombs as “the devil laughing.”[327]  The prolonged assault on Hamburg killed at least 55,000 civilians, wounded many more, and destroyed nearly half the city’s dwelling units.

Six charred bodies, including that of a child, in the street after the Hamburg firebombing in July 1943 (

According to the geographer Kenneth Hewitt, “About half of all deaths occurred in Grossbezirk Mitte, which included the [Hamburg] city center and nearby mostly low-income residential areas.  Some 19 percent of the dead, or about 7,000, were children.  About 10,000 resident children were orphaned in the raids. . . . Also destroyed were 24 hospitals, 58 churches, 277 schools, 76 civic buildings, 83 banks, 2,632 stores, and a zoo with many of its captive animals.  This was in addition to the more legitimate targets of 183 large and 4,113 small factories, 580 other industrial plants, 180,000 tons of shipping in the port, and 12 bridges.”[328]

Gen. Ira C. Eaker in England

Such mass destruction of German cities posed a public relations problem for U.S. war planners.  General Ira Eaker, commander of the Eighth Air Force, was concerned enough to require that all press releases be first submitted to the “war chiefs” where any mention of civilian casualties could be excised or spun as unavoidable collateral damage.  He also warned commanders not to describe such events in their memos and personal journals.  As Eaker told General Clayton Bissell, the assistant chief of air staff for intelligence, “We have got a mass of historians at both ends watching all this correspondence and these things cannot but creep into the official documents unless we are all on guard.”  The cover-up kept Americans at home in the dark as the generals proceeded to obliterate German cities and civilians.  On October 10, 1943, 236 U.S. bombers assaulted the city of Munster in clear weather, using the center of the town as their aiming point.  Such urban area bombing became common practice in the fall of 1943.[329]

Though initially condemning the bombing of civilians, President Roosevelt was also a military man who recognized the value of aerial warfare.  In mid-1941, before the U.S. was involved in the war, Roosevelt told Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau, “I know South Germany, because I bicycled over every foot of it when I was a child and there is a town every ten miles. I have suggested to the English again and again if they sent a hundred planes over Germany for military objectives, that ten of them should bomb some of the smaller towns that have never been bombed before.  There must be some kind of factory in every town.  That is the only way to break German morale.”[330]  Once the U.S. entered the war, Roosevelt was eager to intensify the air war against Germany.  According to the historian Richard Overy, “It is still not entirely clear why Roosevelt . . . who had long campaigned to get aerial bombing outlawed by international agreement, should have become so enthusiastically committed not just to air power but to its unlimited use against civilians.  But there seems little doubt that it happened.”[331]
*          *          *          *          *

VI. Toward Allied victory in Europe, 1944-1945

6.1 The Western Front
6.2  Allied bombing (phase two)
6.3 The Eastern Front
6.4  The Elbe River linkup: A lost opportunity for peace
6.5  Occupational atrocities
By the beginning of 1944, the momentum of the war clearly favored the Allies.  In January, the 880-day siege of Leningrad ended and the Soviets began to push the German Wehrmacht out of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.  Soviet troops liberated the first Nazi concentration camp in Poland in July, and by September, the Red Army had reached the German border.  On the Western front, British, American, and Canadian forces launched a new offensive in Italy in January 1944 and captured Rome in June.  The Second Front invasion of Normandy, France, began on June 6, 1944 – D-Day.  Paris was liberated in August followed by a major German counteroffensive, the Battle of the Bulge, during the winter of 1944-45.  Meanwhile, Britain and the U.S. conducted massive bombing raids on German cities, reducing them to rubble and killing hundreds of thousands of civilians.  On May 7, 1945, Germany surrendered.  The war in Europe officially ended the next day.

6.1  The Western Front

Popular war correspondent Ernie Pyle (middle, wearing goggles) with a crew from the US Army’s 191st Tank Battalion at the Anzio beachhead in 1944 (Wiki Commons)

On January 22, 1944, the Allies launched Operation Shingle, an amphibious landing on the Anzio beaches southwest of Rome, behind the Gustav-Cassino Line, a German defensive position constructed in late 1943 across Italy.  The Battle of Anzio, which continued until the Allies captured Rome on June 4, was marked by trench warfare and artillery barrages reminiscent of World War I.  The agony of the fighting was captured by a soldiers’ poem that read:

Praise be to God for this captured sod that rich with blood does seep;

Praise yours and mine, like butchered swine’s; and hell is six feet deep.

That death awaits there’s no debate; no triumph will we reap.

That crosses grow on Anzio, where hell is six feet deep.[332]

A hidden toolkit in the Allied pursuit of victory was the recruitment of mafia figures such as Charles “Lucky” Luciano.  Freed from prison by U.S. Navy officers, Luciano assisted preparations for the Allied invasion of Sicily in July 1943.  Thereafter, Allied commanders continued to draw on the assistance of local mafia bosses who had been the target of a brutal crackdown under Mussolini.  Mafioso were appointed as mayors, including one, Calgore Vizzini, who had been accused of thirty-nine murders.  Nevertheless, as they had declared themselves anti-fascists, the Allies treated them as trusted partners who were able to police society effectively.[333]
The Allies also relied on communist resistance to the Mussolini regime.  Some of the best intelligence in Italy was produced by communists recruited by the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (OSS).  When a congressional committee later charged that one of the OSS men was “on the honor roll” of the young Communist League, OSS founder “Wild” Bill Donovan replied:  “I don’t know if he’s on the Communist honor roll, but for the job he did in Italy, he’s on the honor roll of the OSS.”[334]  By 1944, there were some 80,000 resistance fighters in Italy aiding the Allies, divided among the Garibaldi Brigades (Communist Party), the Giustizia e Libertá Brigades (Action Party), and the Matteotti Brigades (Socialist Party).
One guerrilla mission was to help free some 70,000 Allied POWs in Italy.  Once freed, the partisans would hide them in the countryside and arrange with peasants and shepherds to provide them with food and clothing.  In return, the escaped prisoners often helped with farming chores, relieving some of the shortage of manpower suffered by the Italians.  The Germans and Fascist government in northern Italy threatened anyone sheltering POWs with the death penalty and placed a 1,800 lire price on the head of each escaped POW.[335]
D-Day and the Normandy invasion

General Dwight D. Eisenhower addresses American paratroopers of the 101st Airborne just before the D-Day invasion, Greenham Common Airfield, England, June 5, 1944 (Library of Congress)

In 1943, the Allies began working with the French resistance by sending three-man “Jedburgh” teams to assist in anti-Nazi sabotage activities.  These operations helped lay the groundwork for the famous D-Day landing on June 6, 1944, when 156,000 American, British and Canadian soldiers landed on five beaches along a 50-mile stretch of the heavily fortified French coast of Normandy.  The night before, the soldiers listened to Dwight Eisenhower’s speech in which he referred to the next day’s events as part of a “great crusade” that would “bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.”[336]

The Normandy invasion was the largest amphibious military assault in history.  It began with difficulty for the Allies. On the long curving beach known as Omaha, shadowed by large bluffs, Allied warplanes missed the German beach defenses and dropped their payloads on villages and fields inland.  The first wave of American soldiers suffered heavy casualties as machine guns and light artillery raked their landing craft and entry on the beaches.  Still, wave after wave of troops kept landing.  Correspondent Ernie Pyle described Omaha beach as a “shoreline museum of carnage” filled with “submerged tanks and overturned boats and burned trucks and shell-shattered jeeps and soldiers’ belongings,” the men who died “gone forever now.”[337]  Despite early setbacks, by midday, enough American troops had crossed the 300 yards of sandy killing ground and scaled the bluffs to overpower the German defenses and secured the beaches, with the heaviest fighting now moving at least a mile inland.[338]  British and Canadian troops landed on other beaches with varying difficulties, then joined up with American units inland.

Second Lieutenant Walter Sidlowski kneels over the blanket covered body of an American soldier he had just helped rescue from the surf off Omaha Beach, June 7. 1944 (Library of Congress)

After their retreat from the beaches, the Germans hid in hedges surrounding the riverbanks in Normandy, known as bocage.  Mortars and rockets were their weapons of choice, along with antitank guns which could destroy American Sherman tanks almost at will.  The Americans were forced to fight from field to field, from hedgerow to hedgerow, measuring the progress of their advance only in yards.  Their ingenuity was exemplified by Sergeant Curtis Culin, a twenty-nine-year-old taxi driver from Chicago, who collected steel blades from the beaches and attached them to the front of tanks, which enabled the tanks to cut through the thick bocage.  With the aid of massive shelling and carpet-bombing from the air, the Allies succeeded in destroying two large, well equipped German armies in just 76 days, a task they achieved, according to Brigadier General Denis Whitaker, despite “faulty leadership, inferior equipment, and bad command decisions.”[339]

General Dwight Eisenhower, supreme commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces, said that the battlefield at Falaise, the site of Normandy’s ghoulish final battle, could be described “only by Dante.  It was literally possible to walk for hundreds of yards at a time, stepping on nothing but dead and decaying flesh.”[340]  Nearly every field in the once-beautiful countryside held carcasses of cattle and horses blasted by the war.  A young British private who participated in the campaign quipped that “if by some fluke I survived and went back to England, there would be no young men walking about at all because they were all being killed and wounded in Normandy.”[341]

Of the more than two million Allied soldiers participating in the Normandy invasion between June 6 and August 21, 1944, more than 73,000 were either killed or missing, and another 153,000 wounded.  For Germany, the costs were higher.  The historian John Keegan describes the Battle of Normandy as “the biggest disaster to hit the German army in the course of World War II, surpassing Stalingrad, Tunisia or the destruction of Army Group Center.  Twenty-seven Infantry divisions were destroyed, and the twelve armored divisions reduced from 1800 tanks to only 120.  Over half a million casualties were incurred and Germany’s most lucrative vassal, France, was lost for the Reich.”[342]

Saint-Lô, France, was 95% destroyed by Allied bombardments on June 6-7, 1944 (US National Archives)

Among the fatalities of the Normandy invasion were some 20,000 French civilians.  Many were killed by Allied bombardments of the towns of Saint Lo, Aunay-sur-Odon, Tilly-sur-Seulles, Listieux, and Caen, where there had never been more than 300 Germans.  A Caen resident wrote that the bombs “eviscerated the city without pity, with a bestial frenzy.”  In Tilly-sur-Seulles, a local doctor tending civilians said that “even at Verdun [key battle in the First World War] he had not seen such terrible wounds.”[343]  British journalist Alexander McKee recorded in his journal that he was “not surprised that our [Allied] troops advancing between Caen and Lisieux were fired on by French civilians.  No doubt many Frenchmen found it hard to be liberated by a people who seem, by their actions, to specialize in the mass murder of friends.”[344]

From the other side, retreating German soldiers brutalized French civilians and pillaged their towns.  The worst atrocity occurred on June 10, when German troops shot all the male inhabitants of the town of Oradour then herded the women and children into a church and burned it, killing 642 people in all.  Heinz Lammerding, the Nazi commander overseeing the Oradour massacre, later said that he was told by an SS commander, with a laugh no less, that the wrong village had been targeted, and it was “just too bad for them.  There weren’t any partisans in that village.”[345]

Many German soldiers by this time had become disenchanted with the war and Nazi leadership.  Wehrmacht artillery officer Gunter Materne stated that “we were trained in the 1930s to believe that the final victory would be ours.  But during the fighting, many of us came to have a certain skepticism.  The American weapon superiority was so great, I told my second in command we’d be knocked back to the Siegfried Line.  But of course, we had to be careful about saying this; one could be court-martialed for being a defeatist.”  Another soldier, Wenzel Borgert, added that many German soldiers had come to feel they had been “duped by propaganda.  We believed it all, we knew nothing else.”[346]

General Charles de Gaulle and his entourage parade down the Champs Elysees to celebrate liberation, August 26, 1944 (London Imperial War Museum)

Following the Battle of Normandy, U.S. and British forces pushed rapidly across northern France, taking Paris on August 25.  A great celebration was held in the city the following day, with throngs coming out to greet Charles de Gaulle, leader of the Free French Army, as he marched down Champs-Élysées Avenue.  Notwithstanding the celebrations, French resistance forces exacted revenge on citizens they deemed German collaborators, killing perhaps 20,000.  Women accused of selling their bodies to German soldiers were paraded about town squares and publicly humiliated and shamed, with their heads shaved.  Winston Churchill’s private secretary, upon observing one such scene, said that he was initially appalled, but then reflected that “we British had known no invasion or occupation for some nine hundred years. So, we were not the best judges.”[347]

Battle of the Bulge
On August 26, 1944, following the smashing German defeat at Normandy, U.S. chief of staff General George Marshall predicted that the end of the war in Europe would occur between September 1 and November 1, 1944, and thus the U.S. should prepare to redeploy its forces to the Pacific.  That prediction was far too optimistic for General Eisenhower.  He wrote back to Marshall on September 4, “We have advanced so rapidly that further movement in large parts of the front even against very weak opposition is almost impossible.”[348]
Eisenhower was correct.  On December 16, Hitler launched a major counteroffensive in the Ardennes Forest region (eastern Belgium and northern France), an all-out, last gasp effort known as the Battle of the Bulge.[349]  At 5:30 a.m., American GIs awoke to an artillery bombardment while the German infantry advanced through effective use of snow camouflage.  An elite SS battalion of soldiers led by Otto Skorzeny disguised itself in American uniforms and infiltrated behind Allied lines.  There were rumors of a planned assassination attempt on General Eisenhower, but no such attempt was made.  The Battle of the Bulge raged for six weeks in frigid conditions, ultimately involving 450,000 German troops and 610,000 American and 55,000 British troops.[350]  The initial German advance pushed back Allied lines at the center, giving the appearance of a large bulge; hence the name.

U.S. soldiers march to the front in the Battle of the Bulge (National WWII Museum)

The Allies regained the offensive when skies cleared.  Utilizing their superior air power, they repelled German advances and pushed back German lines.  A German after-action report from a Belgian province reported that attacking waves of German soldiers were “literally wading knee deep through their own dead in their desperate assaults.”  On Christmas morning, more than a thousand German corpses were piled up on roads, and the woods were strewn with German dead.[351]

One of the notable atrocities of the war took place on December 17, when German soldiers under the command of SS Lt. Col. Jochen Peiper, a ruthless officer who had overseen the torching of villages and killing of their inhabitants on the Eastern Front, were ordered to shoot over 120 American POWs who had just surrendered.  As they stood unarmed in an open field near Malmedy, Belgium, German troops suddenly opened fire with machine guns, killing 81, while another 43 managed to escape.  Peiper’s unit also killed 177 civilians, including women and children, in the small towns of Parfrondruy and Ster and Renardmont along the Amblève River.  Following the war, Peiper was sentenced to death by a U.S. Military Tribunal for War Crimes but instead served eleven years in prison.[352]

Scene of the Malmedy massacre where 81 Americans were executed by German SS troops on Dec. 17, 1944 (Wiki Commons)

Upon hearing of the Malmedy massacre, some U.S. units took revenge and began killing German POWs, notably at Chenogne on January 1, 1945, in which 60 German POWs were massacred by their American captors.  Sgt. John W. Fague, who was part of the Combat Command B unit of the 11th Armored Division, U.S. Third Army, commanded by George Patton, witnessed the killing by his fellow soldiers.  He later wrote:

As we were going up the hill out of town, I know some of our boys were lining up German prisoners in the fields on both sides of the road.  There must have been 25 or 30 German boys in each group.  Machine guns were being set up.  These boys were to be machine gunned and murdered.  We were committing the same crimes we were now accusing the Japs and Germans of doing.  The terrible significance of what was going on did not occur to me at the time.  After the killing and confusion of that morning the idea of killing some more Krauts didn’t particularly bother me.  I didn’t want any share in the killing.  My chief worry was that Germans hiding in the woods would see this massacre and we would receive similar treatment if we were captured.  I turned my back on the scene and walked on up the hill. . . . Going back down the road into town I looked into the fields where the German boys had been shot.  Dark lifeless forms lay in the snow.[353]

Kurt Vonnegut, US Army

Kurt Vonnegut, a future novelist who was taken prisoner at the Battle of the Bulge, described the American fighting forces as a mixture of college kids and those who had enlisted to avoid jail.  Many were “poor physical specimens” who “should never have been in the army.”  However, some displayed great heroics like Isidore Jachman, a Jewish émigré to the U.S. awarded a posthumous Congressional Medal of Honor, who seized a bazooka from another soldier who was killed and saved his company by fighting off two tanks.  Nine of the field artillery battalions in VIII Corps that helped liberate Bastogne were all-black units whose heroic performance defied the racial prejudice that dominated at that time.[354]

Local people once again suffered the vicissitudes of war.  Allied air assaults resulted in the death of an estimated 800 civilians in Belgium during the Battle of the Bulge.  Thousands more were rendered homeless or displaced.[355]  The aim of the bombing, which the Allied command marked as successful, was to “put the city on the street,” meaning to fill the roads with rubble so that German supply convoys could not get through these key crossroads.  Incendiary bombs set fire to anything remotely combustible.  Some civilians died in collapsing underground shelters or were asphyxiated by smoke and burning phosphorus that seeped into cellars.  A German officer observed that he had never seen anything like it in all his life.  “The countryside was covered by one big cloud of smoke and fire.”  In one village, American artillery hit a stable in which twenty civilians were sheltering, killing eleven and much of the livestock.  When people would run out into the snow, they were often mistaken for combatants and shot.[356]
The Battle of the Bulge broke the back of the Wehrmacht on the Western Front.  The Germans suffered between 80,000 and 100,000 casualties – including those killed, wounded, missing, or captured – while Americans had about 75,000 casualties, and the British, 1,400.[357]  Hitler, according to one of his top generals, was mentally unstable and unable to “appreciate the real situation in Germany.”  Mistrusting his military commanders, he placed Heinrich Himmler in charge of all new military formations and forces inside of Germany, notwithstanding the fact that Himmler’s military experience was limited to serving in a reserve battalion.  Hitler also remained convinced that 137 new secret weapons being developed by German scientists would yet turn the tide in the war.  On January 8, however, he reluctantly agreed to order a retreat after Patton’s Third Army liberated the town of Bastogne.[358]
American deserters
Nearly 50,000 American and 100,000 British soldiers deserted from their respective armed forces during the Second World War, primarily in Europe because in the Pacific there was nowhere to go.  Special and summary courts-martial convicted more than 60,000 troops of being AWOL (absent without leave).  Of these, 5,834 cases were serious enough to be tried by the more formal general courts-martial, which handed out sentences averaging fifteen years at hard labor.

The motives for desertion varied:  some people cracked under the stresses of constant battle; some were fearful for their lives; some did not want to kill.  The commander of the 143rd regiment, Colonel Paul D. Adams, reported that his men had experienced physical and mental breakdowns which in turn dramatically increased desertions, self-inflicted wounds, and combat exhaustion.  “The mystery to me,” wrote Ernie Pyle, the battlefront correspondent known for his sympathetic reports about ordinary GIs, “is that anybody at all, no matter how strong, can keep his spirit from breaking down in battle.”[359]  British army deserter John Vernon Bain wrote a poem to his son explaining his decision.  It read:

“But my son, my spirit underneath,

Survived it all intact;

They thought they’d crushed me like a bug,

But I had won in fact.”[360]

For Bain and many others, the decision to desert reflected a need to sustain their humanity amid the barbarism of war and the dehumanizing institution of the army which encouraged actions that in any other context but war would be regarded as criminal.  In some units, a breakdown in morale was caused by the replacement of officers with new “noncoms” who lacked field experience and exhibited poor command leadership.  In one regiment of the 45th Infantry division fighting in France, forty-five troops suffered combat fatigue in one week, prompted in part by rainy and muddy conditions which caused skin infections and trench foot that could not be cleaned or eradicated.[361]

Eddie Slovik, 1944

The unluckiest of the deserters was Private Eddie Slovik, a twenty-five-year-old ex-convict from Detroit, Michigan, who was the only American soldier executed for desertion.  No other American had been executed since William Smitz of the Union Army was shot by a firing squad shot in 1865.  Slovik’s desertion in northern France on October 9, 1944, was atypical in that, while 80 percent of deserters were frontline infantrymen escaping after long periods of continuous combat, he never fought a battle.  Nor did he go on the run as most other deserters did.  His mistake was to make clear that he preferred prison to battle.  Of the forty-nine Americans sentenced to death for desertion, Slovik was the only one whose appeal for commutation was rejected.  The timing of his appeal in November militated against clemency, as his comrades were engaged in a ferocious fight in the Hurtgen forest that caused 6,184 casualties among the 15,000 troops in his 28th Infantry division unit, and supreme Allied commander Dwight Eisenhower could not be seen as condoning desertion during the Battle of the Bulge.[362]

Slovik was secretly executed by a firing squad in the remote French village of Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines on the morning of January 31, 1945.  Journalist and novelist William Bradford Huie uncovered the cause of Slovik’s death in 1948, but the issue remained so sensitive that he concealed the identity of Slovik in Liberty Magazine.[363]  Slovik’s identity only became known in 1954 when Huie published his well-researched book, The Execution of Private Slovik.  Twenty years later actor Martin Sheen played Slovik in a television film of the same title.  Sheen, in the film, recited the actual words that Slovik uttered before his execution:  “They’re not shooting me for deserting the United States Army, thousands of guys have done that.  They just need to make an example of somebody, and I’m it because I’m an ex-con.  I used to steal things when I was a kid, and that’s what they’re shooting me for.  They’re shooting me for the bread and chewing gum I stole when I was twelve years old.”[364]

6.2  Allied bombing (phase two)

Allied bombing was effective in destroying a number of military targets, including U-boat ports which helped the Allies win the Battle of the Atlantic.  It also had a devastating impact on Germany’s industries, oil and coal production, and transportation networks – roadways, rail lines, river ports, and canals.  Most remembered and controversial, however, were the massive aerial bombardments of German cities and civilians.
In the summer of 1944, the U.S. Strategic Air Forces in Europe (USSTAF) initiated Operation Clarion, which sent American fighters and bombers all over Germany to attack targets in small towns and villages.  These targets, declared Col. Charles Williamson, a USSTAF planning officer, should be in “relatively virgin areas” and should include local transportation facilities, machine shops, and other targets, no matter how small.  It was understood that the attacks would produce considerable civilian casualties but this was not officially acknowledged.  The same strategy of hitting transportation facilities in French and Belgian towns prior to the D-Day invasion was rejected because too many French and Belgian civilians would be killed or wounded.[365]  Such concern was not extended to German civilians, although General James Doolittle, commander of the Eighth Air Force as of January 1944, warned that widespread strafing of German civilians might so enrage the enemy populace that they would retaliate against Allied prisoners of war.[366]

Leipzig reconstruction in 1948 (Wiki Commons)

In May 1944, Life Magazine published a powerful eyewitness account of the bombing of Leipzig, Germany.  The authors – three young American women, Barbara, Christina and Sybilla Knuth – lived in the city with their mother during the Allied bombings on the nights of December 3, 1943, and February 19, 1944.  In the latter raid, the women were awakened at 3:45 a.m. by the sound of air sirens.  They ran down to their cellar for cover, where they could hear the bombs shrieking and whistling in the night and feel their house shaking.  When they went up on the roof afterward, they could see fires burning on every street.

The city remained dark the next day because the sunlight could not get through all the smoke and soot and ashes produced by the bombing.  The normally beautiful Johanna Park was full of people desperately escaping the continuing fires.  Everything was burning and people were walking around with shocked faces.  The Augustplatz, the big square in the heart of the city, had become a dump for rubbish from collapsed buildings.  When leaving the city the next day, Barbara turned back from the station for one last look at the once magnificent city now filled with blasted trees, heaps of stone and rubbish, and “chimneys sticking out like fingers up into the twilight sky.”[367]  The Knuths’ recollections provided a human story to accompany the dry bombing reports in the news.  The Knuths also remarked that civilian morale did not diminish in Leipzig after the attacks, as people commiserated together and assisted one another in getting their lives back in order, nurturing a sense of group solidarity.
Supreme Allied commander General Dwight Eisenhower, who held authority over USSTAF operations, had previously declared his wish to avoid open war against civilians, but with Allied armies battling on the Western Front in the summer of 1944, he changed his mind.  “While I have always insisted,” he told USSTAF Commander Carl Spaatz on August 28, “that U.S. Strategic Air Forces be directed against precision targets, I am always prepared to take part in anything that gives real promise to ending the war quickly.”  Less than two weeks later, he notified Spaatz to have the Eighth Air Force ready to bomb Berlin at a moment’s notice.  Spaatz then instructed his air commanders “that we would no longer plan to hit definite military objectives but be ready to drop bombs indiscriminately” on the Nazi capital when Eisenhower gave the order.[368]
Though the German Army was in retreat on both the Western and Eastern fronts in early 1945, Eisenhower approved a series of massive aerial attacks on German cities.  A major target was Berlin, Germany’s capital, which the RAF had been methodically bombing for years.  On February 3, 1945, 1,500 bombers and 1,000 fighter planes crossed the English Channel to strike at the city’s center.  Some 25,000 civilians were killed that night after fires spread through the city.  Much residential housing and many cultural monuments were destroyed.  Although 36 Allied aircraft were shot down, this number was acceptable to the USSTAF command and more raids on Berlin were ordered for late February and March.

The destroyed city center of Dresden, 1945 (German Federal Archives)

The next major bombing target was Dresden, an historic cultural center full of magnificent buildings and artworks.  From February 13 to 15, the city was mercilessly bombed by an Allied force of 1,300 bombers and 800 fighters.  Firestorms were ignited that killed tens of thousands – estimates range from 25,000 to well over 100,000.  People were burned to death in firestorms or died by suffocation in a few hours – a horror described by Kurt Vonnegut Jr., an American POW in Dresden, in his postwar novel, Slaughterhouse Five.[369]  Historian Philip Knightly wrote that the “flames ate everything organic, everything that would burn.  People died by the thousands, cooked, incinerated or suffocated.  Then the American planes came the next day to machine gun survivors as they struggled to the bank of the Elbe.”[370]

Dresden had several military-related targets, including a Zeiss Ikon optical factory and scattered workshops along its streets that manufactured items for the German military machine.  It also had railroad stations used by citizens to escape the advance of the Soviet army.  Yet the incineration of the city was primarily designed to terrorize the population.  The policy of obliteration bombing, writes Ronald Schaffer, was carried out in the belief that the German people needed to “have the deepest horrors of war brought home to them.”[371]  According to an official history of the Royal Air Force, “The destruction in Germany was by then on a scale which might have appalled Attila or Genghis Khan.  Dresden itself, the ‘German Florence’ and the loveliest rococo city in Europe, had ceased to exist.”[372]

Military justifications for Allied urban bombing raids grew progressively weaker as the Wehrmacht retreated and victory approached.  The historian Charles Maier notes that the American bombing raids continued “until almost the last weeks of the war, when it was clear that they could play little strategic role.  In theory, disruption of rail communication could justify almost any attack, but in fact the prevailing emotion seems to have been that no target should remain unspared.”[373]  Having built a huge arsenal of bombers and fighters and shipped them to Britain, USSTAF commanders appeared eager to use them.

Aerial view after the bombardment of Vire, Normandy, 1944 (US National Archives)

The absurdity of end-of-the-war bombing missions was epitomized by an aerial attack on the French Atlantic seaside town of Royan three weeks before the final surrender of Germany.  Between April 14 and 16, more than 1,200 heavy bombers went out each day to drop incendiaries, napalm bombs, and 2000-pound demolition bombs on German garrisons near the town.[374]  Although there was no official casualty count, a New York Times dispatch reported:  “Royan, a town of 20,000, once was a vacation spot.  About 350 civilians, dazed or bruised by two terrific air bombings in forty-eight hours, crawled from the ruins and said the air attacks had been ‘such hell as we never believed possible.’  Other civilians have been evacuated.”[375]

An article written by a local townsperson in the summer of 1946 commented on the assault:  “These last acts left a great bitterness in the hearts of the Royannais, because the Armistice followed soon after, an Armistice foreseen by all.  For the Royannais, this liberation by force was useless since Royan would have been, like La Rochelle, liberated normally some days later, without new damage, without new deaths, without new ruins.”[376]  The April assault came on top of an earlier attack on January 5, 1945, that killed over one thousand people and demolished most of the city.  French citizens had no warning and no bomb shelters.

In the aftermath of the war, the U.S. Air Force Strategic Bombing Survey issued a report dated September 30, 1945, summarizing Allied operations.  Having examined 208 separate Allied bombing missions against Germany, the report noted that “almost 2,700,000 tons of bombs were dropped, [and] more than 1,440,000 bomber sorties and 2,680,000 fighter sorties were flown.”  The effects on the ground were briefly described:

In the wake of these attacks there are great paths of destruction.  In Germany, 3,600,000 dwelling units, approximately 20% of the total, were destroyed or heavily damaged.  Survey estimates show some 300,000 civilians killed and 780,000 wounded.  The number made homeless aggregates 7,500,000.  The principal German cities have been largely reduced to hollow walls and piles of rubble.  German industry is bruised and temporarily paralyzed.  These are the scars across the face of the enemy, the preface to the victory that followed.[377]

The report concluded that the bombings contributed to the Allied victory but were not decisive.  Psychologists found that while bombing had depressed morale in Germany, it had markedly less effect on behavior.  Personal habits, police state discipline and propaganda all kept workers on their jobs and protected the Nazi regime from overthrow even under the cruelest bombardment.[378]

6.3  The Eastern Front

The siege of Leningrad, which began on September 8, 1941, finally ended on January 27, 1944.  The Soviets mobilized some 1.25 million men and 1,600 tanks in an offensive that forced the German army to retreat.  General Leonid Govorov proclaimed, “A task of historical importance has been completed.  The city of Leningrad has been completely freed of the enemy blockade and of the barbaric artillery shelling.”  A salute of 24 salvos from 324 guns was fired to mark the occasion.[379]
The Red Army advanced rapidly to the south and west, taking back towns and destroying remnants of German forces.  In July 1944, the Red Army recaptured the Crimean city of Sevastapol on the Black Sea, dealing another blow to the Nazis, although Sevastapol itself was reduced to rubble.[380]

Soviet soldiers inspect the crematorium ovens at Majdanek, July 1944 (National WWII Museum)

On July 22, 1944, advancing Soviet troops liberated the first Nazi concentration camp, Majdanek, located in central Poland.  The camp was the site of one of the largest single-day mass killings of the Holocaust (November 3, 1943), when 18,000 Jews were shot against the backdrop of dance music designed to drown out the victims’ screams.[381]  The liberation of Majdanek was followed by the liberation of Belsec, Chelmo, Sobibor, Treblinka, and the most notorious Nazi death factory at Auschwitz-Birkenau.  David Dushman, a 21-year-old Red Army soldier, drove his T-34 tank through an electric fence surrounding Auschwitz on Jan. 27, 1945.  He lived until age 98, the last surviving liberator of the camp.

One week after reaching Majdanek, the Red Army reached the outskirts of Warsaw.  The arrival of Soviet troops catalyzed a major uprising in the city by the Polish Home Army.  The Germans sent reinforcements and bombarded Warsaw for 63 days, razing the city and suppressing the uprising.  The Soviet army stood by, offering no aid to the rebels, as Stalin viewed this independent Polish force as a rival to the pro-Soviet government he envisioned for Poland.  In December, a provisional government was organized with Moscow’s support.  It was tacitly recognized by the Big Three Allied leaders at the Yalta conference, February 4-11, 1945, albeit with the stipulation that Poland hold “free and unfettered elections as soon as possible on the basis of universal suffrage and secret ballot.”[382]
The Soviet offensive in the East served to prevent the transfer of German divisions to the West, thereby aiding the Allied struggle in the Battle of the Bulge.  Soviet forces under General Georgy Zhukov took Budapest on February 13 and Vienna on April 6.  As they pushed toward Germany from the east, U.S. and British forces pushed from the west.  On March 19, General Patton’s Third Army crossed the Rhine River into Germany.
That same day, Hitler issued a frantic order declaring that “the battle should be conducted without consideration for our own population.”  Officially titled the “Decree Concerning Demolitions in the Reich Territory” – later branded the “Nero Decree” – regional commissioners were instructed to destroy “all industrial plants, all the main electricity works, waterworks, gas works,” and “all food and clothing stores” in order to create “a desert” for the advancing Allied armies.  Hitler’s minister of war production, Albert Speer, at first protested the order, then disobeyed it (which saved him from execution at the Nuremberg trials after the war).  With little difficulty, he persuaded army generals and industrial leaders to evade the order.  As the Americans and British drove eastward from the Rhine, they met little opposition.  On April 11, they reached the Elbe River, 60 miles from Berlin, where they halted.[383]

Battle of Berlin – Red Army soldier Mikhail Alekseevich Yegorov flies the Soviet flag over the Reichstag, May 2, 1945 (

The Red Army, meanwhile, began its final thrust toward Berlin on April 16.  The first battle at Seelow Heights on the Oder River, thirty-six miles east of the German capital, pitted about 112,000 German troops, 600 tanks, and 2,700 artillery guns against one million Soviet and Polish troops, 3000 tanks, and 17,000 guns.  Over 1.2 million artillery shells were hurled at the German lines in the span of a single day.[384]  By April 20, Hitler’s birthday, General Zhukov’s First Belorussian army along with General Ivan Konev’s First Ukrainian Front were on the outskirts of Berlin.  The final battle for Berlin was waged from April 23 to May 2, involving continuous Soviet shelling and house to house fighting.  The battle left some 100,000 German and 75,000 Soviet dead.  On May 2, German commander Helmuth Weidling agreed to an unconditional surrender of the city, turning 180,000 German soldiers over to the Soviets as prisoners of war.

On May 7, German commander Alfred Jodl signed a document unconditionally surrendering all German military forces, to take effect the following day.  The signing ceremony took place at the headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Force at Reims, in northwestern France.  The Second World War in Europe officially ended at midnight on May 8, 1945.
The Nazi regime and its racist ideology bred catastrophe for all of Europe and humanity and was suicidal for Germany itself.  No less than 13.5 million Germans were killed, wounded or taken prisoner between 1939 and 1945, the great majority from the lower and middle classes.[385]

6.4  The Elbe River linkup:  A lost opportunity for peace

Every year on April 25, prior to his death from cancer in 1983, Chicago taxi driver Joseph Polowsky would stand on the Michigan Avenue bridge and pass out leaflets calling for a halt to the spread of nuclear weapons.  When approached by passersby, he would tell them about a historic meeting between American and Russian soldiers at the Elbe River in Germany at the end of World War II.  He knew the details of that meeting well, as he had taken part in it.  It is a remarkable story, told by Polowsky in an interview with Studs Terkel, published in The Good War: An Oral History of World War II (1984), and in Yanks Meet Reds: Recollections of U.S. and Soviet Vets from the Linkup in World War II (1988), edited by Mark Scott and Semyon Krasilshchik.[386]  Its importance reflects the fact that the United States and the Soviet Union parted ways after the war, their relationship devolving into a frightening Cold War that lasted from the late 1940s to the late 1980s.

American and Soviet soldiers near the city of Torgau. April 25, 1945 (Sputnik Arkadiy/Shayhet)

Polowsky, whose parents emigrated from the Kiev area of Russia, served as a rifleman in the 273rd Infantry, Third Platoon, 69th Division of the First U.S. Army, which fought in Germany.  On April 24, 1945, Polowsky was called into company headquarters and asked to form a patrol – seven Jeeps, twenty-eight men – to travel five miles in front of enemy lines to see if they could get some signs of the Russians.  Lieutenant Albert “Buck” Kotzebue, age twenty-six, was put in charge of the mission since he was also of Russian heritage and considered the best platoon leader in the company.  When their scouting party reached the Elbe River at 11:30 a.m. the next day, Kotzebue sent up two green flares.  Russian soldiers in the town of Torgau across the river responded by waving and joyously shouting, “Amerikanski!

Seeing that all the town’s bridges had been destroyed, the Americans piled into a small sailboat to cross the river, and were greeted by Sgt. Alexander Olshansky, a veteran of the epic battle of Stalingrad, along with company commander, Major Grigory Goloborodko.  Spotting the bodies of German civilians killed by stray artillery fire near the river, the soldiers of both armies pledged to do everything in their power to prevent future wars.  Thus began the Oath of the Elbe.[387]
Later, as more men joined them, the celebration continued over a banquet in the East German town of Torgau.  As recounted in When Yanks Meet Reds, a toast was made to “the late President Roosevelt, President Truman, Prime Minister Churchill, Marshall Stalin, and everlasting friendship between us all.”  Polowsky recalled that at the banquet “we drank and there were accordions and balalaikas and music and dancing.  They played American songs [and] Russian girls were dancing.  It was a strange sight.  I was so captivated by the event that it took possession of me for the rest of my life.”  Joseph Slopek of Munro Falls, Ohio, recalled that he and his American buddies drank vodka, danced, and took their “oaths on the Elbe” never to fight again. “We spoke different languages, but our feelings were the same.”[388]
The American public got wind of the Elbe linkup through a newspaper photograph taken by Alan Jackson in which American and Russian soldiers were shown stretching their hands towards each other on a broken bridge.  Lieutenant Bill Shank of the 104th (Timberwolf) Infantry Division, told an interviewer, “Of all the experiences in my life, finding and meeting the Russians was the most memorable . . . . the war made people love each other so much when it was finally over.  If everyone intermingled – like we did when we linked up with the Russians – there could be no war.”

William Robertson and Alexander Silvashko meet again in Moscow in 1975 (Davis Center, Harvard Univ.)

U.S. 2nd Lt. William Robertson (left) and Soviet Lt. Alexander Silvashko (right) commemorate the meeting of U.S. and Soviet troops near Berlin, April 25, 1945 (US National Archives)

The U.S. Army’s conservative Stars and Stripes magazine devoted an entire issue to the linkup under the headline “Yanks Meet Reds.”  Correspondent Andy Rooney, later of 60 Minutes fame, wrote that “you get the feeling of exuberance, a great new world opening up.”  Conveying a similar sentiment, Russia’s famed anti-Stalinist poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko wrote in his poem, “In a Steelworker’s Home”:  “True, the great ocean, the Pacific, is between us.  But we will swim it; no ocean so great it cannot become an Elbe! . . . Our common Elbe, we must not betray, Russia and America swim closer.”

The optimism of the time was enhanced by the preliminary formation of the United Nations in San Francisco on the very day of the Elbe linkup.  George T. Peck of the U.S. Office of Strategic Services said he had been “flooded with a warm surge of hope [on the Elbe] . . . the peace of the world was to be founded upon the friendship of our two great nations—the United States and Soviet Union.”[389]  Upon hearing of the meeting between Soviet and U.S. forces, President Harry Truman issued a statement on April 27, 1945, declaring:  “The Union of our arms in the heart of Germany has a meaning for the world which the world will not miss. . . . Nations which can plan and fight together shoulder to shoulder in the face of such obstacles of distance and of language and of communications as we have overcome, can live together and can work together in the common labor of the organization of the world for peace.”[390]

Spirit of the Elbe plaque, Arlington National Cemetery

Unfortunately, Truman’s deeds did not match his words.  By 1946, he was pushing a hardline policy against the Soviets.  He fired Henry Wallace as Commerce Secretary after Wallace gave a speech calling for peaceful cooperation with Russia and the dismantling of American air bases.  When Wallace ran for president in 1948, Truman’s campaign ushered in the McCarthy era by smearing him as a communist sympathizer.  The memory of the Elbe River linkup was largely buried during the Cold War, which is why Polowsky kept up his annual vigil in Chicago every April 25.  Following his death, at his request, he was buried in Torgau, the city along the Elbe where a peace monument commemorates the U.S.-Soviet linkup.  “Polowsky’s gravesite,” his friend LeRoy Wolins noted, “became a world peace shrine.”[391]

6.5  Occupational atrocities

The Soviet occupation of Berlin in the spring of 1945 was accompanied by an epidemic of rapes.  “The Russian soldiers were raping every German female from eight to eighty,” wrote Natalya Gesse, a Soviet war correspondent at the time.  “It was an army of rapists.”  According to Antony Beevor:

Estimates of rape victims from the city’s two main hospitals ranged from 95,000 to 130,000.  One doctor deduced that out of approximately 100,000 women raped in the city, some 10,000 died as a result, mostly from suicide.  The death rate was thought to have been much higher among the 1.4 million estimated victims in East Prussia, Pomerania and Silesia.  Altogether at least two million German women are thought to have been raped, and a substantial minority, if not a majority, appear to have suffered multiple rape.”[392]

The occupying Soviet troops also looted and destroyed property.  Famed writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote despairingly that “soldiers have turned into avid beasts.  In the fields, lie hundreds of shot cattle; on the roads, pigs and chickens with their heads chopped off.  Houses have been looted and are on fire.  What cannot be taken away is being broken and destroyed.  The Germans are right to be running away from us like a plague.”[393]

American troops also looted profligately in France and Germany, and there were considerable numbers of rapes as well.  In France, 116 U.S. soldiers were convicted of rape between June 14, 1944, and June 19, 1945.  The French Journal de Cherbourg ran an editorial in November 1944 decrying the American liberators:  “Scenes of savagery and of bestiality actually desolate our countryside. . . Plunder, rape, murder:  All security has disappeared. . . . The law of the jungle will be a necessity since the authorities prove to be powerless.  Sympathies that were growing firmer are disappearing.  It’s too bad.”[394]
In Germany, the U.S. Army convicted 284 soldiers of rape in the nine-month period between January 7, 1945, and September 23, 1945.  There were undoubtedly many more not reported.  U.S. criminology professor Robert Lilly, who examined rape cases prosecuted by American military courts, arrived at a number of 11,000 serious sexual assaults committed by U.S. soldiers as of November 1945.  German historian Miriam Gebhardt, in Crimes Unspoken: The Rape of German Women at the End of the Second World War (2017), wrote, “According to my calculations, at least 860,000 women (and a good number of men) were raped after the war [1945-1955].  At least 190,000 of them, perhaps even more, were assaulted by US soldiers, others by British, Belgian or French.”  Gebhardt’s study is based in large part on reports by Bavarian priests.  Father Andreas Weingand, for example, located in Haag an der Amper, a tiny village north of Munich, wrote on July 25, 1945, of “three rapes, one on a married woman, one on a single woman and one on a spotless girl of 16-and-a-half.  They were committed by heavily drunken Americans.”[395]
With the end of the war, the occupying GIs routinely confiscated cameras, watches, and jewelry.  In an interview many years later, Alexander Gordeuk, a veteran of the Thirteenth Armored Division, affirmed, “Don’t let anybody ever tell you that we didn’t loot.  The American Army [soldiers] were great looters.  We looted what you could turn into cash and carry easy.  We really did – there was no stopping it.”[396]
Less personal but more lethal were Allied bombing campaigns.  In 1944 and 1945, two-thirds of American bombing was “blind bombing” through cloud cover, essentially no different from British “area bombing.”  Approximately 410,000 German civilians were killed by these Allied air raids.  Many more were injured and left homeless.  Some nine million German citizens were evacuated from the cities, placing great strain on local communities to provide food, shelter, and other essential goods for those displaced.  In the war’s aftermath, the German Red Cross received over 300,000 requests to trace missing children or parents.[397]  British, American, and Canadian air raids also resulted in 57,000 French civilian deaths, a figure comparable to British losses from the German Luftwaffe’s bombing on Britain.[398]
The horrors of war were mixed with genocidal intent on the part of Germans toward the Poles and the Russians.  The German invasion and occupation of Poland recognized no rules of war.  The Wehrmacht and Eisengruppen (special forces) shot and lynched civilians, burned and pillaged villages, and targeted Poland’s 3.5 million Jews for mass murder.  Before the Nazis created permanent death camps in 1942, mass murder of civilians was an integral part of the war on the Eastern Front.[399]
On July 1, 1942, the Polish government-in-exile released a report, gathered from underground sources, detailing massacres of 700,000 Jews in Poland, one-fifth of the entire population, since the German invasion began in September 1939.  Gruesome highlights of the report were published in the New York Times the following day:  “Males between 14 and 60 were herded into public squares and cemeteries, forced to dig their own graves and then were machine-gunned and hand-grenaded.  Children in orphanages, old persons in alms houses, the sick in hospitals and women were slain in the streets.  In many places, Jews were rounded up and deported to unrevealed destinations or massacred in near-by woods.”  The Germans brought in mobile gas chambers and methodically proceeded with their campaign to exterminate all Jews.[400]  The Nazis and their collaborators also killed tens of thousands of ethnic Sinti and Roma (Gypsy) men, women, and children across German-occupied Europe, people categorized as “asocials.”

At left, a column of Soviet prisoners of war under German guard being marched away from the front, July 1, 1941 (USHMM)

Another Nazi target was the Communists.  Prior to invading the Soviet Union, Hitler issued the Barbarossa decree, calling for “military justice vis-à-vis the civilian population.”  This meant, in practice, executing Soviet political and civic leaders in local communities without trial.  German commanders ordered hundreds of thousands of political functionaries killed.  One commander, General Ludwig Beck, ruefully wrote in his diary in early 1941 that the murder of innocents “is sacrificing the honor of the German army.”[401]  The German treatment of Soviet POWs constituted another systemic atrocity.  As the Wehrmacht blitzed through the western region of the Soviet Union, hundreds of thousands of Soviet soldiers were taken prisoner.  Largely due to shortages of food and forced marches, approximately 3.3 million out of 5.7 Soviet POWs died during the war, a horrendous toll.[402]

Soviet troops also abused the Poles, although not necessarily Jews, during the Red Army’s 20-month occupation of Poland from October 1939 to June 1941.  The Soviets deported over one million Poles to Russia where they were forced to work in frigid labor camps in Siberia and Soviet Central Asia.  Almost half died.  As for the three million German POWs captured by the Soviets, mainly in the last two years of the war, between 350,000 and 400,000 perished in Soviet prison camps, according to Soviet records.  The German government, however, placed the number at 1.1 million POW fatalities.[403]  The killing and inhumane treatment of POWs was a clear violation of international law:  Article 4 of the 1907 Hague Convention requires that POWs be humanely treated; and Article 2 of the 1929 Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War mandates that their captors protect them against violence.  It was nevertheless up to each national government to enforce it.

Pvt. Kurt Pechmann

The treatment of German POWs in the United States, by comparison, was so benign that 375,000 of them later migrated back to become U.S. citizens.  Among them was Kurt Pechmann who spent two years in Wisconsin as a prisoner of war, one of 22,000 German POWs housed in state detention camps from 1942 to 1946.  The men worked on farms and in factories.  One farmer in Lodi was so impressed with the POWs’ efficient work that he served them all a large feast.  After spending two years as a POW, Pechmann was returned to Germany in 1945, at the age of 23.  In 1952, he and his wife immigrated to the U.S., sponsored by a friendly Wisconsin farmer for whom Pechmann had worked as a POW.  He settled in Madison and started his own granite-cutting business.  In 1986, Pechmann repaired (for free) a World War II memorial in Forest Hill Cemetery that had been vandalized.  He was later commissioned to fix or design several Wisconsin Veterans monuments.[404]

At the Auschwitz II-Birkenau concentration camp in German-occupied Poland, around May 1944, Hungarian Jews were sent either to work or to death in gas chambers disguised as showers (Wiki Commons)

The ultimate atrocity, the Nazi “Final Solution” or Holocaust, entailed a massive, covert operation to transport Jews across Nazi-occupied Europe to concentration camps iin the east fitted with gas chambers.  At the Auschwitz camp alone, 960,000 Jews died along with 74,000 non-Jewish Poles, 21,000 Roma (Gypsies), and 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war.  Another 925,000 Jews died at Treblinka.  When Allied troops entered the concentration camps, they discovered piles of corpses, bones, and human ashes – testimony to Nazi mass murder.  In the words of one Red Army solider, “Total horror.  Impossible to describe.”  The Allies rescued thousands of Jewish and non-Jewish survivors suffering from starvation and disease.[405]

In the aftermath of the war, the victorious Allies set up international military tribunals to prosecute senior German and Japanese officials for war crimes, crimes against peace, and crimes against humanity.  The “crimes against humanity” encompassed “murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, and other inhumane acts committed against any civilian population before or during the war,” as well as “persecutions on political, racial, or religious grounds.”[406]  The first set of trials began in Nuremberg on November 20, 1945.  Twenty-four Nazi leaders were indicted, not including Adolf Hitler, Joseph Goebbels, and Heinrich Himmler, all of whom had committed suicide.  Given that the victors were judging the vanquished, the trial served mainly to reveal the horrors of the Nazi regime and to establish international norms of conduct irrespective of a superior’s orders.  Footage of Nazi concentration camps taken by Allied military photographers was shown to the court as were the films, Nazi Concentration and Prison Camps and The Nazi Plan, which detailed the planning and execution of the Jewish Holocaust, atrocities in the extermination camps, murders of prisoners of war, and other cruelties.
On October 1, 1946, the judges of the Tribunal (Soviet, U.S., British, and French) rendered their verdicts:  three were acquitted, no decision on two, four sentenced to prison terms ranging from 10 to 20 years, three sentenced to life imprisonment, and twelve sentenced to death.  Hermann Göring committed suicide the night before his scheduled execution.  Speer was sentenced to 20 years at Spandau Prison in Berlin.  Subsequent trials between December 1946 and April 1949 reached deeper into the Nazi hierarchy and prosecuted 177 additional individuals.[407]

*          *          *          *          *

VII.  The defeat of Japan, 1944-1945

7.1  Island warfare
7.2  A brutal race war
7.3  The bombing of Japan
7.4  Truman’s decision to use atomic bombs
7.5  Hibakusha Stories
As U.S. forces gained naval and air supremacy in the Pacific in 1944 and 1945, they battled their way across a series of Pacific islands toward the Japanese mainland.  Following the Battle of Tarawa (November 1943), major battles were fought in the Marshall Islands (January–February 1944), the Mariana and Palau Islands (June–November 1944), Iwo Jima (February–March 1945), Okinawa (April–June 1945), and the Philippines (October 1944–March 1945).  Once U.S. forces established bases close enough to bomb the Japanese homeland, devastating air assaults were launched against 66 Japanese cities, including Tokyo.  On August 6, 1945, the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima, followed by another on Nagasaki three days later.  On August 8, the Soviet Union officially declared war against Japan, and on August 14, Japanese leaders agreed to surrender.  A formal surrender ceremony was held aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945, ending the Second World War.

7.1  Island warfare

The American way of war in the Pacific was predicated on overwhelming the enemy through massive amounts of firepower in order to conserve American soldiers’ lives.
When U.S. forces invaded the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands in late January 1944, they expended 15,000 tons of naval and land artillery shells and bombs, and 5,270 tons of ammunition over two days.  One cynic aboard the USS Rocky Mount quoted Winston Churchill to the effect that “never in the history of human conflict has so much been thrown by so many at so few.”[408]  The small island chain had been given to Japan in the Treaty of Versailles.  Over 7,800 Japanese soldiers (almost the whole deployment on the islands) along with many local people were killed, compared to 372 Americans.  Historian Samuel Eliot Morison, who sailed with the U.S. Navy in order to chronicle the war, characterized the main island of Kwajalein after the battle as a “stinking mess of debris and dead Japanese.  Hardly a tree was left alive in what had been a pretty wooded island, and of the hundred or more buildings, not one was usable.”[409]
The American way of war in the Pacific was predicated on overwhelming the enemy through massive amounts of firepower in order to conserve American soldiers’ lives.  American GIs who survived these battles were happy for their lives but often sorrowful for the devastation wrought.  After the U.S. military had annihilated a 2,600-man Japanese garrison at Eniwetok atoll in the Marshall Islands, at a cost of 339 Americans killed and 94 wounded, Lieutenant Cord Meyer wrote: “Finally, we killed them all [though] there was not much jubilation.  We just sat and stared at the sand and most of us thought of those who were gone – those whom I shall remember as always young, smiling and graceful, and I shall try to forget how they looked at the end, beyond all recognition.”  Morison wrote after the battle, “It was one of those many, many times in the war when you had time to stop and think about it, and wonder why mankind is not wise enough to end this senseless suffering and slaughter.”[410]

Women washing clothes in a creek near Agana, Guam, on Aug. 12, 1944, two days after the island was declared secured by U.S. forces (US National Archives)

The suffering and slaughter continued in campaigns to retake the Mariana Islands – Saipan, Tinian, and Guam – between June 14 and August 10, 1944.[411]  The battle for Saipan, the largest island of the Northern Mariana Islands, was characterized by American pilots as the “Great Marianas Turkey Shoot” since it was a one-sided slaughter.  At least 23,000 Japanese troops were killed and more than 1,780 captured, as compared to 3,000 American fatalities.  Japanese banzai charges reminded Major Ed McCarthy of the cattle stampedes at the movies:  “The Japs kept coming and coming, I didn’t think they would ever stop.”  Bulldozers had to be brought to bury more than 4,000 enemy corpses in a mass grave.  The death toll of over 50,000 on the island included 22,000 civilians, of whom 800 to 1,000 committed suicide.  Conditioned by Japanese propaganda to believe that the Americans were sadistic monsters, many hurled themselves from 800-foot cliffs at the Morubi Bluffs.  Americans burned villages which harbored Japanese snipers and imprisoned some 15,000 civilians deemed sympathetic to the Japanese military.[412]

In the subsequent battle for Tinian, the U.S. made generous use of napalm bombs (filled with jellied gasoline that burns the flesh to a crisp), while in Guam, naval gunboats launched over 28,000 shells and U.S fighter jets leveled the capital of Agana for reasons the locals could never comprehend.  Upon capture of Tinian in July 1944, large groups of indigenous people were imprisoned as the Americans feared sabotage and uprising.[413]
On the sparsely populated Peleliu in the Palau chain, U.S. military forces expended more than 150,000 mortar rounds, 118,262 hand grenades, and 13 million bullets.  U.S. commanders thought they could secure the island in four days, but it took ten weeks.  The death ratio of Japanese to Americans was 10-1.  One Marine described the beach as “desolate . . . It reminded me of some last war picture of a flat waste in France, after a prolonged shelling.”[414]

Gen. Douglas MacArthur (center) wades ashore during initial landings at Leyte, Philippine Islands, Oct. 20, 1944 (US National Archives)

On October 20, 1944, General Douglas MacArthur returned to the Philippines accompanied by four army divisions.  Landing on the beaches of Leyte island, he gave his famous “I have returned” radio message to the Philippine people, having departed one and a half years earlier.  The Japanese command was determined to hold the island and thus reinforced its land, sea, and air forces.  The skies overhead raged and a major naval battle was fought in the Gulf of Leyte, resulting in significant losses for the Japanese.  The U.S. Eighth Army engaged in what army historians described as “bitter, rugged, fighting – physically, the most terrible we were ever to know.”[415]  By the third week of November, the relentless U.S. artillery had begun to break down Japanese defenses.  In ordering a retreat, Japanese Admiral Sanji Iwabuchi issued orders to lay waste to Manila, resulting in what one eyewitness described as an “orgy of burning, shooting, raping and torture.”  In the aftermath of the war, Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal prosecutor Pedro Lopez estimated that 131,028 murders were committed by Japanese forces in the “Rape of Manila” in February 1945, targeting especially civilians who collaborated with Americans and American-backed Filipino guerrillas.[416]   MacArthur pressed on with an invasion of Luzon, the main Philippine island, ultimately gaining control of all strategic areas in the Philippines by March 1945.

“A Nightmare in Hell”:  Battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa
On February 23, 1945, American soldiers raised a large U.S. flag atop a hill overlooking the island of Iwo Jima.  The Battle of Iwo Jima, which ran from February 19 to March 26, cost the lives of 6,821 Americans and 21,000 Japanese.  Iwo Jima is a volcanic island 660 miles south of Tokyo, 4.5 miles long and 2.5 miles wide.  Prior to landing American troops, U.S. warships fired a staggering 38,550 5-to-16-inch shells into the island’s eight square miles, and cranked out 500,000 pounds of TNT and steel.  Notwithstanding the barrage, many American GIs in the amphibious landing were cut down by Japanese artillery fire or on mine-laced beaches.[417]  Robert Sherrod of Time and Life Magazine reported that “the first night on Iwo Jima can only be described as a nightmare in hell.  About the beach in the morning lay the dead.  They had died with the greatest possible violence.  Nowhere in the Pacific have I seen such mangled bodies. Many were cut squarely in half.  Legs and arms lay fifty feet from anybody.”[418]

A Marine flame throwing tank scorches a Japanese strongpoint on Iwo Jima, March 1945 (Dept. of Defense)

The Japanese dug underground tunnels and caves in order to withstand the American assault.  Sherrod wrote that “the Japanese [at Iwo-Jima] built so well underground that they all but nullified our superior firepower.  We could bomb and shell until our guns sizzled and our pilots dropped.”[419]  On the walls of the caves, commanding General Kuribayashi Tadamichi – who had previously fought with distinction in China – posted copies of the “Courageous Battle Vow” which pledged the defenders to “kill ten of the enemy before dying.”[420]  Some Americans had the slogan “rodent exterminator” written on their helmets.[421]  Seeing that the Japanese were intent on fighting to the death, they were given orders to “take no prisoners.”  Demolition squads were equipped with napalm-firing flamethrowers, rocket firing bazookas, and explosives which were used to flush the Japanese out of the caves.[422]

Suichi Yamaguchi, one of the few Japanese survivors, described the battle of Iwo Jima as “living hell for us.”  He told ABC News decades later that it was “a one-sided battle. Japan had nothing, no ammunition, no supplies – we couldn’t strike back effectively.”  Norman Baker, a surviving U.S. Marine, stated that the battle only got nastier and “more brutal” after the hoisting of the American flag.  “After a while, I wasn’t shocked anymore and that’s the worst thing for me.  You just became like animals or a machine.”[423]

Baker’s assessment was equally true for the famed Battle of Okinawa that began on April 1, 1945.  An epic of human endurance, the battle lasted 82 days and resulted in the deaths of 77,000 Japanese soldiers and 140,000 civilians, one third of the island’s population, and 12,500 American soldiers and sailors.  New York Times correspondent Hanson W. Baldwin wrote: “Never before had there been, probably never again will there be, such a vicious, sprawling struggle of planes against planes, of ships against planes.  Never before in so short a space had the Navy lost so many ships; never before in land fighting had so much American blood been shed in so short a time; probably never before in any three months of war had the enemy suffered so hugely.”[424]
The 182,000 man U.S. force commanded by Lt. Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner – the highest ranking officer killed in the war – used flamethrowers, phosphorus grenades, and dropped around 7,000 tons of bombs, many of which killed and wounded civilians living in small communities or gathering in public places.[425]  The capital city of Naha was virtually destroyed.  American soldiers also suffered from the shelling.  Not knowing when the next shell was going to hit, over 3,000 soldiers entered field hospitals as psychiatric casualties.[426]

Japanese generals Mitsuru Ushijima, Isamu Chō and other staff officers of the Thirty-Second Army in Okinawa, April 1945 (Wiki Commons)

Fear of ambushes and snipers led U.S. units to torch Okinawan huts, just as they would a generation later in the Vietnam War.  Flame-tanks were called in to set fire to villages.  The Marines burned down Shuri Castle, a precious cultural treasure built in the 15th century Ryukyus kingdom.  Early in June 1945, 81 mm mortars brought a blistering barrage of white phosphorus shells down on the village of Tera where Marines uncovered few enemy soldiers and many dazed and mutilated civilian victims among the ruins.  For phosphorous burns, recalled a medic, “you can’t use water on it, just Vaseline, but the Okinawans didn’t have any – or anything else.  So lots of them just burned and burned.[427]  Japanese soldiers and civilians were also buried alive in caves after the Americans collapsed them with explosives and dynamite.  In the infamous “Cave of the Virgins” in Ihara, 51 school girls along with 28 doctors and nurses who ran a makeshift underground hospital, were killed.  Other civilians were killed by what the locals called a “typhoon of steel,” the hysterical American aerial bombing and artillery shelling which destroyed much of the island.[428]

Interviews published in the New York Times in 2000 recounted how after their victory in the Battle of Okinawa, U.S. Marines gathered many local women and carried them away into the hills to be raped.  The Times referred to the rape of Okinawan women as “one of the most widely ignored crimes of the war.”  Based on the women’s testimony, Japanese historian Yuki Tanaka wrote that “U.S. troops landed on Zamami Island, a small island west of the main island, and began raping women there in March 1945, shortly after they had landed.  They abducted the women, carried them one by one to deserted coastal areas and gang-raped them. . . . One of the victims, a young girl patient, was raped by a GI in front of her father who was in the tent attending to her.  These victims had nowhere to report the crime even if they had wished to do so, the Japanese policy system of Okinawa having completely collapsed during the battle.”[429]
Japanese soldiers, for their part, raped and killed many Okinawans whom they considered second-class citizens (Okinawa had been annexed by Japan in 1879), targeting those suspected of collaborating with the “American devils.”  One Master Sergeant, Tadashi Kayama, said that he “conducted executions in order to keep the civilian residents under our control.”[430]
According to information gathered by Okinawa’s fire prevention unit, of the 200,000 tons of shells and bombs used during the Battle of Okinawa, five percent (10,000 tons) did not explode upon impact.  In March 1974, work on sewer pipes triggered an explosion near a kindergarten that killed four people and injured thirty-four.  In January 2009, a workman operating a jackhammer struck a buried 250 kg American bomb and suffered serious injuries to his face after its explosion.[431]  These incidents underscore the long-term human cost of the Battle of Okinawa, which continues to be felt in the 21st century.
When Sgt. William Manchester revisited Okinawa decades after the war, he found the locals protesting outside a large U.S. military base, which housed 10,000 members of the 3rd Marine Division.  Manchester served in the Marine Corps and was shot in both the kneecap and near his heart in the Battle of Okinawa, earning him a Purple Heart.  He wrote in his memoirs, published in 1980, that “the slander [of the protesters] became hard when he recalled the sacrifices of American men who gave Okinawans their freedom.”  But Manchester also remembered the “corpse of a girl [killed] on a beach; our patronizing manner towards a little Okinawan boy we picked up as a mascot and treated like a household pet; the homes our 105 mm and 155 mm guns leveled, the callousness with which we destroyed a people who had never harmed us.  Seventy-seven thousand civilians had died and no one comes out of a fight like that with clean hands.”[432]

7.2  A brutal race war

In his classic study, War Without Mercy (1986), historian John W. Dower argues that the Pacific War evolved into a brutal race war whose ugly atrocities can be understood in this context.  “Race hate fed atrocities, and atrocities in turn fanned the fires of race hate,” he writes.  “The dehumanization of the Other contributed immeasurably to the psychological distancing that facilitates killing, not only on the battlefield but also in the plans adopted by strategists far removed from the actual scene of combat.”[433]
The United States, according to Dower, was heir to the European colonial tradition which viewed the Asian people as inferior.  Hearst newspapers characteristically editorialized that the war in Asia was “totally different” from that in Europe because Japan was a “racial menace.”[434]  Frank Capra’s Why We Fight film series depicted Japan as a fanatical enemy straitjacketed by its Shinto religion and worship of a divine emperor.[435]  Interestingly, the seven-film “documentary” series produced by the War Department between 1942 and 1945 did not touch on the Nazi extermination of the Jews as a reason for going to war.  An Office of War Information study of Hollywood wartime films found that German soldiers were depicted in war movies as efficient, disciplined and patriotic, if misguided, while Japanese soldiers were characterized as universally cruel and ruthless.[436]
In Europe, fifty-four percent of combat infantrymen said that seeing Axis POWs had given them the feeling “they are men just like us; it’s too bad we have to be fighting them.”  In contrast, only 20 percent had such a reaction in the Pacific after seeing Japanese prisoners; 42 percent felt like killing them, compared to 18 percent who wanted to kill German POWs.  Lemuel Shepherd, the future Marine Corps commandant, told his officers to instill in his men the belief that “killing a Jap was like killing a rattlesnake.”[437]  A soldier stated that when he “looked at dead Germans, he thought about their wives and children, [but with] these Japanese bastards that doesn’t even occur.”[438]  Correspondent Ernie Pyle wrote that U.S. soldiers looked on the Japanese as “something inhuman and squirmy – like some people feel about cockroaches or mice.”[439]

This photo was featured in Life magazine as the Picture of the Week (May 22, 1944 issue). The original caption: “When he said goodbye two years ago to Natalie Nickerson, 20, a war worker of Phoenix, Ariz., a big, handsome Navy lieutenant promised her a Jap. Last week Natalie received a human skull, autographed by her lieutenant and 13 friends, and inscribed: ‘This is a good Jap – a dead one picked up on the New Guinea beach.’ Natalie, surprised at the gift, named it Tojo. The armed forces disapprove strongly of this sort of thing.”

Correspondent Edgar L. Jones wrote in the February 1946 Atlantic Monthly: “We shot prisoners in cold blood, wiped out hospitals, strafed lifeboats, killed or mistreated enemy civilians, finished off the enemy wounded, tossed the dying into a hole with the dead and in the Pacific boiled flesh off enemy skulls to make table ornaments for sweethearts or covered their bones into letter openers.”[440]  Life Magazine tellingly featured on one of its covers, U.S. soldiers smiling next to a Japanese skull, and soldiers wearing necklaces filled with Japanese soldiers’ teeth and other body parts.[441]  More than one in ten Americans, according to a poll, supported the extermination of the Japanese.[442]

Robert Lekachman, a professor of economics at City University of New York who was drafted just after the attack on Pearl Harbor, told interviewer Studs Terkel that “we had been fed tales of these yellow thugs, subhumans, with teeth that resembled fangs.  If a hundred thousand Japs were killed, so much the better.  Two hundred thousand, even better. I wasn’t innocent, either.”[443]  Marnie Seymour who lived through the war years added:  “You must realize that we are not a worldly people.  We are an isolated big country.  We didn’t know much about the Japanese and Japanese culture.  They were yellow, had squinty eyes and they all looked evil.  They were always evil in the movies, characters slinking around knifing people.  You begin to think of them not as human beings but as little yellow things to be eradicated.”[444]
Australian General Thomas Blamey compared the “Jap” to a “gorilla” and “rabbit” who had to be “chased out of his burrow and then shot.”[445]  Many American GIs took perverse delight in firing bursts of machine gun fire into dead corpses.  “As the bodies jerked and quivered,” one testified, “we would laugh gleefully and hysterically.”[446]  A lieutenant in the 11th airborne wrote to his mother that nothing could “describe the hate we feel for the Nips – the destruction, the torture, burning & death of countless civilians, the savage fight without a purpose – to us, they are dogs and rats – we love to kill them – to me and all of us killing Nips is the greatest sport known – it causes no sensation of killing a human being but we really get a kick out of hearing the bastards scream.”[447]

Eugene B. Sledge on Okinawa, 1945 (Encyclopedia of Alabama)

E. B. Sledge, an American biologist, wrote in his memoir of fighting on Peleliu and Okinawa that the men in his unit became “hardened” and consumed with “brutish and primitive hatred.”  One GI severed the hand of a dead Japanese as a battlefield trophy; another harvested gold teeth, while another shot a terrified old Okinawan woman, dismissing her as “just an old gook woman who wanted me to put her out of her misery.”[448]  The term “gook” – which was widely adopted in the Vietnam War – originated in the U.S. military occupation of Haiti (1915-34) and implies human slime or filth.[449]  The Japanese were also described as “little yellow monkeys,” “yellow animals,” “little brown bastards,” “baboons,” “dirty little rats,” “pestilence,” “Nips,” and “primitive barbarians,” among other refrains.[450]  One advertisement in the U.S. proclaimed:  “There‘s only one way to exterminate the slant-eyes – with gunpowder.”[451]

The Japanese were hardly more compassionate toward their fellow Asians.  During the Tokyo War Crimes trials, thousands of horrific details about Japanese behavior across Southeast Asia emerged, ranging from murderous military operations, to sadistic medical experiments, to savage conditions behind the construction of the Siam-Burma death railway where 27 percent of laborers perished, to the use of the “water treatment” interrogation methods.  Among those sentenced to death was General Iwane Matsui who was blamed for the Rape of Nanking.  At his trial, he made excuses for the many atrocities while protecting the imperial family from any culpability.  He told the prosecutors that he was “happy to end this way.  I am eager to die at any time.”  Seven other Japanese Class A war criminals were also judged guilty and later hanged.  They included Prime Minister Hideki Tojo and Foreign Minister Hirota Koki.  Tojo appeared very scholarly at the trial, taking notes through the prosecution’s testimony.  He was hanged on December 23, 1948.[452]
In 1982, the Japanese government formally acknowledged that more than 3,000 allied prisoners of war as well as Chinese civilians had been used in biological and medical experiments, many by the infamous Unit 731, a bacteriological warfare research unit located in the suburbs of Harbin, Manchuria, headed by General Shiro Ishii, a medical doctor.  Sanctioned by the highest government authorities, Japanese experiments performed by his unit included infecting prisoners with diseases, freezing portions of their body, and exposing prisoners to fragmentation bombs.[453]

7.3  Firebombing Japanese cities

In October 1944, the 20th Air Force Bomber Command established itself in the Mariana islands of Saipan, Tinian, and Guam.  The first attack on Japan took place on November 24, a 1,500-mile trek from Saipan to the outskirts of Tokyo.  One hundred and eleven B-29 bombers were dispatched to strike the Musashino aircraft plant and other industrial, port, and urban sites.  Another mission on December 13 targeted the Mitsubishi military factory in Nagoya.  Beginning in early 1945, the U.S. threw its full weight into urban bombing campaigns designed to burn Japanese cities and terrorize, incapacitate, and kill the largely defenseless residents in an effort to force surrender.[454]  According to official Army Air Forces statistics, in five months of incendiary attacks on Japan, the B–29s killed 310,000 Japanese, injured 412,000 others, and left 9.2 million people homeless.  The U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey’s estimate of homeless Japanese was even higher:  15 million.[455]

Gen. Curtis LeMay

The key architect of the American bombing campaign, General Curtis LeMay, did not believe in the protection of civilians in warfare.  After World War II, he stated: “There are no innocent civilians.  It is their government and you are fighting a people, you are not trying to fight an armed force anymore.  So it doesn’t bother me to be killing the so-called innocent bystander.”  LeMay further stated that he thought it was “more immoral to use less force than necessary, than to use it more.  If you use less force, you kill off more of humanity in the long run because you are merely protracting the struggle.”  According to LeMay, for a “soldier, to worry about the morality of what were doing – Nuts.  A soldier has to fight.  We fought.  If we accomplished the job in any given battle without exterminating too many of our own folks, we considered that we’d had a pretty good day.”[456]  Though considered by many to be a “caveman in a bomber,” LeMay was a popular figure among his own men as he never asked them to do something that he would not do himself – he had previous piloted planes on dangerous missions over Germany.

Brig. Gen. Haywood Hansell briefs U.S. pilots, Nov. 1944 (Wiki Commons)

LeMay took over the 21st bomber command from General Haywood Hansell on January 6, 1945, after it became clear to Hansell’s superiors in Washington that he wanted to continue precision bombing by day.  As this was generally more dangerous for American pilots, a number of Hansell’s subordinates lobbied for his removal.  According to Charles Griffith’s biography of Hansell:

The kind of bombing advocated in Washington in the fall of 1944 was closer to the Douhetian vision than anything the Army Air Forces had considered before.  This was, in effect, a complete reversal of policy.  In a lecture in the late 1930s entitled “The Aim in War,” Hansell expressed the prevailing American attitude: “Let us make it emphatically clear that [strategic bombing] does not mean the indiscriminate bombing of women and children.”  The American public, after three years of brutal war in the Pacific, had come to see the Japanese as inhuman monsters worthy of extermination.  At the highest level of decision making, the perception was much the same.[457]

The full fury of firebombing and napalm was unleashed on the night of March 9-10, 1945, when LeMay sent 334 B-29s from the Marianas to firebomb Tokyo.  The bomber squadron arrived virtually unchallenged because of a shortage of Japanese fighter planes and antiaircraft guns.  The American mission was to reduce the city to rubble, kill as many citizens as possible, burn their houses to the ground, and terrorize the population into demanding that their government surrender.  Stripped of their guns to make more room for bombs, the bombers flew at high altitudes, averaging 7,000 feet to evade detection.  They carried two kinds of incendiaries: M47s, 100-pound oil gel bombs, 182 per aircraft, each capable of starting a major fire, and M69s, 6-pound gelled-gasoline bombs, 1,520 per aircraft in addition to a few high explosives to deter firefighters.[458]

According to Mark Selden, “The attack on an area that the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey estimated to be 84.7 percent residential succeeded beyond the wildest dreams of air force planners.  Whipped by fierce winds, flames detonated by the bombs leaped across a fifteen square mile area of Tokyo, generating immense firestorms that engulfed and killed tens of thousands of residents.”[459]  The estimated death toll was upwards of 84,000.  Approximately one million were left homeless.  The majority of those killed were women, children, and the elderly because most fighting-age males were away at the front.

Charred remains of Japanese civilians after the firebombing of Tokyo, March 1945 (Ishikawa Kouyou / Wiki Commons)

Survivor Fusako Sasaki recalled “stacked corpses being hauled away on lorries.  Everywhere there was a stench of the dead and of smoke. I saw the places on the pavement where people had been roasted to death.”[460]  Photographer Ishikawa Koyo described the streets of Tokyo as “rivers of fire . . . flaming pieces of furniture exploding in the heat, while the people themselves blazed like ‘matchsticks’ as their wood and paper homes exploded in flames. Under the wind and the gigantic breath of the fire, immense incandescent vortices rose in a number of places, swirling, flattening, sucking whole blocks of houses into their maelstrom of fire.”[461]  The swirling gasses often propelled the B-29s thousands of feet up into the sky.  American pilots, navigators, and gunners tried to avoid choking or vomiting after smelling the burning flesh.[462]  Down below, it took 25 days to remove all the dead from the gutted rubble.

Other destructive raids were carried out against the city of Toyama, which was nearly wiped off the map, and the city of Kobe, Japan’s largest port, where 8,841 people died on the night of March 17, 1945, and 650,000 people were left homeless.  The city of Nagoya was bombed three times in one week, beginning on March 18.  The following night, nearly 300 B-29s descended on the city to drop their deadly firebombs.  On March 24, 130 B-29s hit the city with 1,540 tons of firebombs, killing 1,716 people, injuring 770, and burning 7,600 houses, according to Japanese reports.  The greatest tragedy in Nagoya was the burning of an elementary school that had been converted into a shelter, resulting in the broiling to death of several hundred women and children.[463]

Boeing B-29A Superfortress over Osaka, June 1, 1945 (Wiki Commons)

The B-29s also bombed the historic city of Osaka, the site of Japan’s oldest imperial palace, destroying 8.1 square miles of the city along with 119 factories and 200,000 houses.  Takako Oshima, 14, survived the firebombing of Osaka after her dress had caught fire.  Her brother burned to death in the inferno and her mother died from smoke inhalation.  Several smaller cities were bombed, like Tsu where 1,498 people were killed and the city was left in flames.[464]

Following the firebombing of Okayama on June 29, the Japanese government reported the burning of twenty-three shrines, forty-four Buddhist temples, 93 hospitals, and 31 schools as well as the famous Okayama historic castle.  In Kagoshima, where more than 2,300 people were killed and 11,600 houses burned, civilians who were running to escape the attack were pursued by low flying fighter planes and shot down by machine guns.[465]
In May 1945, Tokyo was struck again, its sky lit up like a “fireworks display,” according to an eyewitness from above.  Tailgunner Kevin Herbert described “a netherworld scene worthy of the imagination of a Virgil, Dante, or a Milton,” as “rolling columns of smoke thrust up from lurid red and yellow low lakes of fire.”  Fusako Sasaki said that people were “aflame, rolling and writhing in agony, screaming piteously for help, but beyond all mortal assistance.”[466]
Years later, B-29 gunner John Ciardi reflected about the desensitizing effects of the new aviation technology and how the war for him was “remote control.  All we did was push buttons.  I didn’t see anybody we killed.  I saw the fires we set.”  He nonetheless understood the effects of the fires.  “We were in the terrible business of burning out Japanese towns.  That meant women and old people, children. . . . I had to condition myself to be a killer.”[467]
In a 75th anniversary retrospective on World War II, New York Times reporter John Ismay interviewed four pilots who each felt that the bombing had been wrong.  Richard Gross, aged 95, stated that, although at the time he felt he had a job to do and didn’t think much about the people affected, he later reflected on how awful the war was and decided to “go to medical school and do something positive for a change.”  Clint Osborne, 96, a technical sergeant with the 873rd bomb squadron, 498th bomber group, told Ismay that the army had “justified [the Tokyo firebombing] by stating that people were manufacturing things for the war effort in their homes, [but] I often questioned how much they could really be doing. . . . One thing people agree on is that the fire raids were probably worse than the atomic bomb.”[468]
U.S. bombers dropped 104,000 tons of bombs on 66 Japanese cities, destroying 40 percent of these urban areas overall.
General LeMay judged the Tokyo firebombing a tremendous success because the enormous devastation came at a cost of less than one percent of American pilots.[469]  The same logic was applied to extended firebombing across Japan.  The strikes destroyed 40 percent of the 66 Japanese cities targeted.  “In a period of 10 days starting 9 March [1945],” noted a postwar U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, “a total of 1,595 sorties delivered 9,373 tons of bombs against Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, and Kobe destroying 31 square miles of those cities at a cost of 22 airplanes.  The generally destructive effect of incendiary attacks against Japanese cities had been demonstrated.”[470]
LeMay theorized that if vast suffering were inflicted on the Japanese people, they would beg their government to surrender.  However, for many, the horrors of the bombing only stiffened their will to resist and reinforced the Japanese government’s propaganda about the barbarity and hypocrisy of the Americans.  Following the Tokyo fire-bombing, Radio Tokyo declared that “the actions of the Americans” amounted to “an attempt at mass murder of workers and children who had no connection with war production or any activity directly connected with war.”  This was “all the more despicable,” the message continued, “because of the noisy pretensions they make because of their humanity and idealism. . . . There can be no other result than to strengthen the conviction of every Japanese that there can be no slackening of the war effort.”[471]
In the United States, newspaper and magazine articles helped engender support for the bombing of Japan by producing puff pieces which rarely probed the human costs.  Correspondent Ernie Pyle, who interviewed American pilots on the island of Saipan, described with awe the features of the B-29 bomber and the thrill of a bombing mission, writing, “Science, she is wonderful.”[472]  The famous writer John Steinbeck wrote a book glorifying air power called Bombs Away: The Story of a Bomber Team.  He later reflected: “We were all part of the war effort. . . . correspondents were not liars, but it is in the things not mentioned that the untruth lies.”[473]

Advertising poster for Walt Disney’s animated film, based on the 1942 book Victory Through Air Power by Alexander P. de Seversky

Hollywood also helped bolster public support for the air war through films like Walt Disney’s animated feature Victory Through Air Power (1943), which culminated triumphantly with giant American bombers destroying Tokyo as “America the Beautiful” played in the background.  According to historian Michael Sherry, the film “cultivated popular expectations for a virtuous campaign of annihilation [against Japan]” as the air war was “at once glorified, trivialized and dehumanized, becoming a carnival of destruction, relieved of such imponderables as human beings.”[474]

Another pro-war film, Air Force (1943), made with AAF commander “Hap” Arnold’s assistance, presented the story of a B-17 crew which aided American ground forces by bombing the Philippines.  The crewmen, according to Sherry, were “not bloodthirsty patriots but efficient technicians moved by personal loss and indignation over Japanese treachery, including Japanese fifth columnists in Hawaii.”  The Purple Heart (1944), a story about the Doolittle raiders, also gave support to popular demands for vengeance against Japan.  Tortured in captivity, one of the Doolittle raiders warns his captors that “American bombers will blacken your skies and burn your cities to the ground and make you get down on your knees and beg for mercy.  This is your war and it won’t be finished until your dirty little empire is wiped off the face of the earth!”[475]  The American public was thus primed for the atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

7.4  Truman’s decision to use atomic bombs

General Dwight Eisenhower, in his memoirs, recalled a visit from Secretary of War Henry Stimson in late July 1945, just before President Truman made his decision to drop atomic bombs on Japan:

I voiced to him my grave misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary, and secondly because I thought that our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives.  It was my belief that Japan was, at that very moment, seeking some way to surrender with a minimum loss of “face.”[476]

Adm. William D. Leahy

Eisenhower reiterated the point years later in a Newsweek interview in 1963, saying that “the Japanese were ready to surrender and it wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing [the atomic bomb].”[477]  In fact, seven out of eight top U.S. military commanders believed that it was unnecessary to use atomic bombs against Japan from a military-strategic vantage point, including Admirals Chester Nimitz, Ernest King, William Halsey, and William Leahy, and Generals Henry Arnold and Douglas MacArthur.  According to Air Force historian Daniel Haulman, even Curtis LeMay believed “the new weapons were unnecessary, because his bombers were already destroying the Japanese cities.”[478]

Admiral Leahy, Truman’s chief military advisor, wrote in his memoirs:

It is my opinion that the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan.  The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender because of the effective sea blockade and the successful bombing with conventional weapons. . . . The lethal possibilities of atomic warfare in the future are frightening.  My own feeling was that in being the first to use it, we had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages.  I was not taught to make war in that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children.[479]

That the Japanese were on the verge of defeat was made clear to the president in a top-secret memorandum from Secretary of War Henry Stimson on July 2, 1945.  Stimson noted that Japan “has no allies,” its “navy is nearly destroyed,” she is vulnerable to an economic blockade depriving her “of sufficient food and supplies for her population,” she is “terribly vulnerable to our concentrated air attack upon her crowded cities, industrial, and food resources,” she “has against her not only the Anglo-American forces but the rising forces of China and the ominous threat of Russia,” and the United States has “inexhaustible and untouched industrial resources to bring to bear against her diminishing potential.”  Stimson concluded that the U.S. should issue a warning of the “inevitability and completeness of the destruction” of Japan if it fails to surrender, adding, “I personally think that if in saying this we should add that we do not exclude a constitutional monarchy under her present dynasty, it would substantially add to the chances of acceptance.”[480]

Emperor Hirohito

Indeed, acceptance of Japan’s constitutional emperor was the main sticking point for Japan’s War Council, the six-person decision-making body over which Emperor Hirohito nominally presided.  The council members were cognizant of Japan’s dire predicament but not necessarily ready to surrender unconditionally.  They were split, three to three, between hawkish members seeking to get the most out of a peace agreement, to the point of maintaining Japanese control over parts of China, and dovish members inclined to give way on every condition save one, the preservation of the emperor.  The emperor’s role in fostering Japanese identity, culture, and national unity was not well understood in anti-authoritarian America which had tossed out its British constitutional monarchy in 1776.  As reported in the New York Times on July 26, 1945, “The Tokyo Radio, in an English-language broadcast to North America, has urged that the United States adopt a more lenient attitude toward Japan with regard to peace.”  The broadcast quoted an ancient Aesop Fable in which a powerful wind could not force a man to give up his coat, but a gentle warming sun succeeded in doing so.[481]

General MacArthur believed that Japan would have surrendered as early as May 1945 if the U.S. had not insisted upon “unconditional surrender.”  MacArthur was appalled at the Potsdam Declaration, issued by the U.S., Britain, and China on July 26, 1945, which threatened “utter destruction” if Japan did not surrender unconditionally.  As his biographer, William Manchester, wrote, “He knew that the Japanese would never renounce their emperor, and that without him an orderly transition to peace would be impossible anyhow, because his people would never submit to Allied occupation unless he ordered it.  Ironically, when the surrender did come, it was conditional, and the condition was a continuation of the imperial reign.  Had the General’s advice been followed, the resort to atomic weapons at Hiroshima and Nagasaki might have been unnecessary.”[482]

Albert Einstein (left) and Leo Szilard (right) wrote a letter to FDR in August 1939 encouraging the U.S. to develop a nuclear bomb, fearing that the Nazis would develop one first, but they were hesitant to see it used against Japan in 1945 (1946 photo, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists)

There were others who appealed to the president to back off from his hard-nosed demand.  Former president Herbert Hoover visited Truman on May 28, 1945, to argue that the best way to end the war quickly was to alter the terms of surrender.  According to Hoover’s biographer, he told Truman, “I am convinced that if you, as President, will make a shortwave broadcast to the people of Japan – tell them they can have their Emperor if they surrender, that it will not mean unconditional surrender except for the militarists – you’ll get a peace in Japan, you’ll have both wars over.”  Some members of Congress also questioned the administration’s tough stand.  Senator Homer Capehart (R-IN) asked rhetorically why “we must destroy Japan’s form of government and then spend years in occupation and teaching a different form of government.”[483]

President Truman rejected Hoover’s advice and never consulted with MacArthur.  He apparently did not consider MacArthur’s practical argument that keeping the emperor in place would not only entice Japan to surrender but also facilitate Japanese reconstruction under U.S. authority – which indeed proved to be the case under MacArthur’s postwar command in Japan.

Oak Ridge scientists’ petition to Truman to forewarn Japan (click to enlarge)

Nor did Truman administration officials pay attention to the Manhattan Project scientists who urged caution and moral responsibility in contemplating the use of this powerful new weapon.  On July 17, 1945, one day after the successful Trinity test in the Nevada desert – in which a bomb filled with thirteen pounds of plutonium exploded with a power equivalent to 21,000 tons of TNT – physicist Leo Szilard and 155 other scientists presented a petition to the president stating that “this weapon should be made known by demonstration to the peoples of the world,” and that “the Japanese nation should be given the opportunity to consider the consequences of further refusal to surrender.”  Furthermore, given the immense power for destruction of the new weapon, U.S. leaders were morally obliged to exercise restraint, “and if we were to violate this obligation our moral position would be weakened in the eyes of the world and in our own eyes.”  Project director Leslie Groves and Secretary of War Stimson did not let President Truman see the petition, classifying it as secret and filing it away.[484]

Speculation abounds as to whether the diplomatic carrot of changing the terms of surrender would have been enough to convince Japan’s War Council to surrender.  There were, in fact, early drafts of the Potsdam Declaration that offered assurances of the emperor’s status, but these were nixed by Secretary of State James Byrnes with whom Truman agreed.  Members of General George Marshall’s staff argued in June 1945 that any clarification of the term “unconditional surrender” must be written in the form of “an ultimatum” and not in a way to “invite negotiation.”  It was assumed that the American public was in favor of this inflexible position.  Admiral Leahy, on the other hand, “said he could not agree with those who said to him that unless we obtain the unconditional surrender of the Japanese that we will have lost the war,” according to the June 18 meeting minutes.  “He [Leahy] feared no menace from Japan in the foreseeable future, even if we were unsuccessful in forcing unconditional surrender.  What he did fear was that our insistence on unconditional surrender would result only in making the Japanese desperate and thereby increasing our casualty lists.  He did not think this was at all necessary.”[485]
As it was, the Potsdam Declaration, issued on July 26, 1945, demanded that there “must be eliminated for all time the authority and influence of those who have deceived and misled the people of Japan into embarking on world conquest,” and that a government must be “established in accordance with the freely expressed will of the Japanese people.”[486]  Japan’s War Council saw no ameliorating language in this declaration and thus rejected surrender.
Having eschewed the diplomatic carrot, President Truman contemplated his military options.  Once the atomic bomb proved viable in the Trinity Test, this became the stick of choice, notwithstanding a U.S.-British Combined Intelligence Estimate report on July 6 indicating that the Soviet Union’s impending entry into the war made Japan’s surrender all the more likely.  Commenting on this report in a letter to Churchill, British General Hastings Ismay concluded that “when Russia came into the war against Japan, the Japanese would probably wish to get out on almost any terms short of the dethronement of the Emperor.”[487]

Winston Churchill, Harry Truman, and Joseph Stalin meet in Potsdam, Germany, July 25, 1945 (US National Archives)

President Truman was well aware that Soviet entry into the war made Japan’s surrender more likely.  After being reassured by Stalin at the Big Three meeting in Potsdam, Germany that the Soviets would enter the war on August 8, as agreed at the Yalta conference, Truman recorded in his journal on July 17, “Believe Japs will fold up before Russia comes in.”  He also wrote to his wife that evening, “We’ll end the war a year sooner now, and think of the kids who won’t be killed.”[488]

Yet Truman chose not to wait for Soviet intervention.  Instead, he gave the go-ahead for an atomic bomb to be dropped on Hiroshima.  In the early morning hours of August 6, the B-29 Superfortress “Enola Gay” took off from the Northern Mariana Islands for Hiroshima, a six-hour flight.  The bomber was named for the mother of the pilot, Col. Paul Tibbets.  At about 8:15 a.m., bombardier Major Thomas Ferebee dropped “Little Boy” — a 10,000 pound, uranium-enriched bomb — which detonated 1,800 feet above the city’s center.  In one blinding flash, the city was leveled with the equivalent of 15,000 tons of TNT.[489]
Upon hearing the news of the atomic bombing, Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King wrote in his journal, “We can now see what might have come to the British race had German scientists won the race [for developing the atom bomb].  It is fortunate that the use of the bomb should have been upon the Japanese rather than upon the white races of Europe.”  Senator Richard B. Russell of Georgia fired off a telegram to Truman encouraging him to use as many atomic bombs as possible on Japan “until they are brought groveling to their knees.”  Truman responded, “I know that Japan is a terribly cruel and uncivilized nation in warfare but I can’t bring myself to believe that because they are beasts, we should ourselves act in that same manner.  For myself I certainly regret the necessity of wiping out whole populations because of the ‘pigheadedness’ of the leaders of a nation, and, for your information, I am not going to do it unless absolutely necessary.”[490]

Hiroshima after the atomic bomb (US National Archives)

Truman apparently deemed it “absolutely necessary” to drop a second atomic bomb on August 9, notwithstanding a United Press report the previous day stating that “as many as 200,000 of Hiroshima’s 340,000 residents perished or were injured” in the bombing.[491]  This more powerful plutonium bomb, dubbed “Fat Man,” was dropped on Nagasaki by a B-29 named “Bockscar,” with the “Enola Gay” accompanying the mission.  Many historians view the Nagasaki bombing as particularly grievous because the Japanese were not given time to absorb the significance of the Hiroshima bombing and respond.[492]

President Truman, in his radio address to the American people on August 9, justified the atomic bombings as appropriate vengeance against “those who have attacked us without warning at Pearl Harbor, against those who have starved and beaten and executed American prisoners of war, against those who abandoned all pretense of obeying international laws of warfare.”[493]

Atomic Bomb survivors at Miyuki Bridge, Hiroshima, two kilometers from Ground Zero, Aug. 6, 1945. Photo by Matsushige Yoshito.  Under US censorship, Matsushige’s photos could not be published until 1952, following the end of the occupation (Asia-Pacific Journal).

Though international law at the time did not outlaw aerial slaughter of civilians, the American firebombing and atomic bombing of Japanese cities could hardly be said to be trending in the right direction.  The second atomic bomb was originally intended for Kokura, but clouds obscured that city and the B-29s were redirected to Nagasaki.  The bomb missed its intended downtown target near the Mitsubishi headquarters by two miles and exploded instead above the Urakami Cathedral, the largest Christian church in East Asia, situated in an area containing Japan’s biggest Catholic community.[494]  The writer Susan Southard, in her book, Nagasaki: Life After Nuclear War, describes the smoldering scene encountered by U.S. occupation troops on September 23, 1945:  “The Urakami Valley had vanished from existence, corpses were burning on cremation pyres, skulls and bones were piled on the ground, and people were walking through the ruins with beleaguered and empty expressions.”[495]

Japan’s War Council met on the evening of August 9 and, after much discussion, agreed to surrender with only one condition:  the emperor must be retained.  Upon receiving Japan’s response in Washington, Secretary Byrnes modified the original language to read:  “the authority of the Emperor . . . shall be subject to the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers.”[496]  This was enough to make the proposal acceptable to both sides.  The emperor would retain symbolic authority under U.S. rule.  On August 15, Emperor Hirohito gave a radio address to the Japanese people announcing that Japan would “effect a settlement of the present situation,” accepting defeat, though he did not use the word “surrender.”[497]  In hindsight, Japan’s surrender could have been achieved without the atomic bombings, given that the emperor was allowed to remain in the end.
Truman would later claim that “half a million American lives” were saved by bombing instead of invading.[498]  There were three problems with this statement.  The first was that the estimate of American fatalities in planned U.S. invasions for the fall was grossly overstated.  In June 1945, top military planners estimated that the number of American deaths in an invasion of Japan would not likely exceed 46,000 and would probably be much lower.[499]  The second was that the massive Soviet invasion of Japanese-occupied Manchuria on August 8th was of greater concern to Japanese leaders and would likely have induced surrender had it been allowed to continue to the Japanese heartland.  The third was that Truman’s disingenuous framing of the issue completely ignored the real possibility of ending the war diplomatically by altering the “unconditional surrender” formula, which, ironically, Truman did after two atomic bombs were dropped.  The diplomatic option was certainly the most humane and deserved priority.  It was also the most realistic.  The U.S. would need the emperor’s blessings along with the cooperation of Japanese officials and agencies to exercise its authority over Japan following the war.  Indeed, Washington lacked a cadre of administrators with the requisite language and technical skills to govern Japan directly.

General MacArthur and Emperor Hirohito in Tokyo, Sept. 27, 1945 (US Army).  The emperor remained and aided Japan’s reconstruction under U.S. direction.

The American public rejoiced at the end of the war.  Many accepted at face value Truman’s statements that the atomic bombings were necessary in order to prevent a costly U.S. invasion of Japan.  Few were privy to administration debates over unconditional surrender.  Even fewer were aware of the strong opposition to atomic warfare by prominent military leaders such as Eisenhower, MacArthur, and Leahy.  The assertion that the atomic bombs dropped on Japan forced it to surrender was not supported by the administration’s own U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, published in July 1946, which noted that the decision of Japanese leaders “to abandon the war is tied up with other factors. . . . It cannot be said, however, that the atomic bomb convinced the leaders who effected the peace of the necessity of surrender.”[500]

Most U.S. soldiers viewed the dropping of the bomb as a godsend.  The jacket for veteran-historian Paul Fussell’s book, Thank God for the Atomic Bomb, tellingly featured a falling bomb with a smiling face on it.  Fussell stated that he and his military comrades cried tears of joy upon hearing of the bomb, for they had expected that in another six months they would have been invading Japan.  Instead of “being machine-gunned, mortared and shelled . . . We were going to live.  We were going to grow to adulthood after all.”[501]
A Gallup poll in mid-August 1945 found that 85 percent of the American public endorsed the use of the atomic bomb.[502]  In another poll, 24 percent told interviewers that they would “have tried to wipe out as many cities as possible before the Japanese had a chance to surrender.”[503]
Public diplomacy

In the aftermath of the atomic bombings, the Truman administration hid the true nature and effects of the bombings, just as it had obfuscated the effects of American firebombing of Japanese cities.  In his radio address to the nation on August 9, Truman claimed that the bombs were intended for military and industrial targets.  It was a specious claim, as virtually every city, town, and village in Japan could be said to have some level of military production, if only sewing buttons on uniforms.  This was not why Hiroshima was chosen.  Rather, the city was selected because it was “the largest untouched target not on the 21st Bomber Command priority list,” according to the administration’s Target Committee.[504]  Hiroshima, in other words, did not have enough military production to justify an earlier conventional attack (as compared to other cities on the priority list), and the effects of the bomb had to be uncontaminated from previous bombings in order to properly assess their damage.  Truman erroneously declared that at Hiroshima the U.S. intention was to avoid civilian casualties:

The world will note that the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, a military base.  That was because we wished in this first attack to avoid, insofar as possible, the killing of civilians.  But that attack is only a warning of things to come.  If Japan does not surrender, bombs will have to be dropped on her war industries and, unfortunately, thousands of civilian lives will be lost.  I urge Japanese civilians to leave industrial cities immediately, and save themselves from destruction.[505]

Gen. Thomas F. Farrell

Truman and company furthermore offered no hint of the deadly, long-lasting effects of bomb’s nuclear radiation.  Indeed, administration officials denied such effects, which were well known to scientists.  On September 13, more than one month after the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, the New York Times published a front-page article titled, “No Radioactivity in Hiroshima Ruins.”  The article noted that Brigadier General T. F. Farrell, chief of the War Department’s atomic bomb mission, “denied categorically that it [the Hiroshima bomb] produced a dangerous, lingering radioactivity in the ruins of the town.”  After visiting the site, Farrell, a former New York State engineer, “said his group of scientists found no evidence of continuing radioactivity in the blasted area on September 9 when they began their investigations.”  He added that “there was no danger to be encountered by living in the area at present.”[506]

Australian journalist William Burchett sought to expose “the atomic plague”

Australian Wilfred Burchett was the first Western journalist to provide an independent and critical eyewitness report after entering Hiroshima with U.S. Marines on the USS Millett on August 14, 1945.  Starting his career in the mold of the “heroic explorer type who had secured the empire’s greatness,” as his biographer Tom Heenan put it, Burchett had covered the Sino-Japanese and Pacific War where he marveled at the scale of the U.S. air raids, still “too blinkered by the pyrotechnics to notice the victims.”[507]  His worldview immediately changed, however, upon witnessing Hiroshima.  His article in the London Daily Express appeared on September 5 under the title, “The Atomic Plague.”  The exposé was a “warning to the world,” he said, having encountered hundreds of dead so badly burned that “it was not even possible to tell whether they were men, women, old or young.  Of thousands of others, nearer the center of the explosion, there was no trace, they just vanished.”

Burchett observed that “30 days after the first atomic bomb destroyed the city and shook the world people are still dying, mysteriously and horribly – people who were uninjured by the cataclysm – from an unknown something which I can only describe as atomic plague.  Hiroshima does not look like a bombed city.  It looks as if a monster steamroller had passed over it and squashed it out of existence. . . . The damage is far greater than photographs can show.”  At hospitals, Burchett found people whose health began to fail for no apparent reason.  “They lost appetite.  Their hair fell out.  Bluish spots appeared on their bodies.  And the bleeding began from the ears, nose and mouth.  At first the doctors told me they thought these were the symptoms of general debility.  They gave their patients Vitamin A injections.  The results were horrible.  The flesh started rotting away from the hole caused by the injection of the needle.  And in every case the victim died.”[508]
The U.S. military command under General MacArthur allowed reporters to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki on supervised tours.  The stories filed focused mainly on the physical destruction of the cities.  Reports in the Japanese press of continuing casualties from bomb-related radiation were decried by New York Times science correspondent William Laurence as “foe’s propaganda at work.”  One year after the atomic bombings – now “old news” – John Hersey’s lengthy article, “Hiroshima,” appeared in the New Yorker (August 23, 1946).  Motivated by an uneasy sense that the public and politicians were becoming complacent about the use of nuclear weapons, Hersey traveled to Hiroshima and interviewed six people who survived the atomic attack.  He related their personal stories, inviting readers to empathize with the victims.  The article was immensely popular.  It was serialized in newspapers around the world, read over the radio, and published as a book in more than a dozen languages, although MacArthur prevented its publication and distribution in Japan for over two years.[509]
A marked shift could be seen in U.S. public’s attitude toward nuclear weapons.  More people could envision the disastrous personal effects of an atomic bomb dropped not only on foreign cities, but also, potentially, on American cities.  The Cold War with the Soviet Union was heating up and it was only a matter of time before the Soviets would obtain nuclear weapons.  The publication of Hersey’s “Hiroshima” coincided with the launching of the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists, let by Leo Szilard and Albert Einstein.  The esteemed group sought to warn the public of the dangers of nuclear weapons and to press political leaders to find alternatives to war.  Einstein, as chair of the committee, declared that scientists “must let the people know that a new type of thinking is essential if mankind is to survive.”[510]

White House officials presented a popular defense of the bomb in the February 1947 issue of Harper’s magazine

Such antipathy toward nuclear weapons and their use compelled a response from the Truman administration.  At the suggestion of James B. Conant, a Harvard professor closely involved in the bomb’s development, administration officials commissioned a counterpoint article, ostensibly authored by former Secretary of War Henry Stimson, then in his eighties, but actually written by a committee headed by General Leslie Groves, the head of the Manhattan Project, and several senior officials.  “The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb” first appeared in the February 1947 issue of Harper’s magazine and was reprinted in major newspapers and aired on radio stations.  Truman’s defenders claimed that the atomic bombings were “our least abhorrent choice,” as compared to an invasion, and prevented hundreds of thousands of American casualties.  “The destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki put an end to the Japanese war,” wrote the ghost authors.  “It stopped the fire raids, and the strangling blockade; it ended the ghastly specter of the clash of great land armies.”  According to the historian Paul Ham, author of Hiroshima Nagasaki (2014):

This line of thinking [presented by Truman’s defenders] has since insinuated itself into the public consciousness as the official version of the history of the nuclear destruction of two cities, in which 100,000 people, mostly civilians, were killed instantly and hundreds of thousands have since succumbed to cancers linked to radiation poisoning.  Yet, the Harper’s defense of the bomb was a gross political deception.  It recast the story of the use of the weapon in soothing phrases the American public wanted to hear, and which have, for 70 years, been accepted as the atomic gospel, or, as historians like to say, the orthodox version of history.”[511]

The “orthodox” version of history was in fact a distortion of the reality which “revisionist” historians sought to correct.  There was nevertheless a large gray area concerning motives that could not be pinned down as “fact,” and there were counterfactual “what ifs” that could be advanced but not ascertained – as in what if the Truman administration had altered the surrender formula.  A number of “revisionist” historians, including Japanese historian Tsuyoshi Hasegawa, have argued that the Truman administration hastened to unload the atomic bombs on Japan in order to force Japan’s surrender before the Soviet Army reached Japan, thus securing total control over postwar Japan and preventing the Soviet Union from gaining a larger role in Asia.  According to historians Gar Alperovitz and Robert Messer, “the bomb also meant that the United States would not have to share the victory over Japan with the Russians,” as had happened in Germany (which was divided into four occupying zones).  “Byrnes in particular (but Truman and Stimson as well) saw the bomb as a way to strengthen American’s diplomatic hand not only in the Far East but in negotiations over the fate of Europe in general, and Eastern Europe in particular.”[512]  Similarly, Peter Kuznick, director of the Nuclear Studies Institute at American University in Washington D.C., and Mark Selden, a historian at Cornell University, have maintained that Truman’s decision constituted an early volley in the coming Cold War.  “Impressing Russia was more important than ending the war in Japan,” said Selden.[513]

The “orthodox” version of history was in fact a distortion of the reality which “revisionist” historians sought to correct.
Evidence for this thesis relies mainly on commentary by cabinet officials.  Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal, for example, recorded in his diary that Secretary Byrnes was “most anxious to get the Japanese affair over with before the Russians got in.”  Leo Szilard, in reporting on his meeting with Byrnes on May 28, 1945 (five weeks before Byrnes became secretary of state), noted that Byrnes “did not argue that it was necessary to use the bomb against the cities of Japan in order to win the war.”  Rather, he held “that our possessing and demonstrating the bomb would make Russia more manageable in Europe.”[514]  This was also the view of Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov who believed that President Truman wanted to shock the Soviets in order “to show who was boss.”  The atomic bombings, he contended in his memoirs, “were not aimed at Japan but rather at the Soviet Union.  They said, bear in mind you don’t have an atomic bomb and we do, and this is what the consequences will be if you make the wrong move.”[515]
The historian J. Samuel Walker wrote in 2005, “Questions about whether the use of the bomb was necessary are perpetually inconclusive, in no small part because the answers scholars have offered are so dependent on counterfactual analysis” that requires “speculation and extrapolation from incomplete evidence.”  Walker nonetheless concluded, “Recent studies of conditions in Japan in the closing months of the war point to the likelihood but cannot show conclusively that the war would have ended without the use of the bomb or an invasion.”[516]

The 1995 “Enola Gay” exhibit at the Smithsonian National AIr and Space Museum was mired in controversy (Newsweek)

Controversy over historical interpretations burst into the public arena in 1994 with the opening of the Smithsonian exhibit in Washington, DC, titled “The Crossroads: The End of World War II, the Atomic Bomb, and the Origins of the Cold War.”  The director and curators of Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum intended a balanced reflection on the atomic bombings.  Their featured display, the Enola Gay, the B-29 Superfortress that dropped the atomic bombs, symbolized both American triumph over Japan and the tragedy of war.  Next to the hulking fuselage of the plane were life-size photographs of victims and the testimony of survivors recalling the horror of the bombs.  Parental discretion was advised.

Two influential private organizations, the Air Force Association and the American Legion, demanded elimination of the photos, particularly those of women and children, and insisted on the removal of a charred lunch box container of carbonized rice and peas that belonged to a seventh-grade school girl who disappeared in the bombing.  Under pressure, the Smithsonian managers rewrote the script three times between August and October 1994, but each draft was severely criticized by the conservative groups.  Finally, in June 1995, the Smithsonian opened an exhibit, titled “Enola Gay,” that contained no interpretation, no graphic images, no melted objects, and no heroes or executioners; only basic facts about the plane’s restoration.[517]

In May 2016, Barack Obama became the first U.S. President to visit Hiroshima.  In a moving address, he conveyed sympathy for the bomb’s living victims (hibakusha) before telling the rapt audience that “death fell from the sky” and the world changed on a “bright, cloudless morning.”[518]  In reality, death did not just fall from the sky, but was delivered by the most diabolical weapon in human history that was intentionally dropped on a civilian population.  Obama also promoted the myth that the dropping of the bombs had ended the Pacific war, implying that this was necessary.  The U.S. military at the time of Obama’s speech was rebuilding the airfields at Tinian, in the Northern Marianas islands 1,500 kilometers from Tokyo, where the Enola Gay had taken off on its mission to destroy Hiroshima.[519]  Obama was also in the process of advancing a $1 trillion nuclear modernization program later expanded by President Donald J. Trump.  By refusing to accept responsibility for the atom bomb and by embarking on a continued course of militarization and nuclear weapons expansion, the prospect of another Hiroshima was not outside the realm of possibility – especially with the ratcheting up of tensions with Russia and China.

7.5  Hibakusha Stories

Yasuaki Yamashita

Yasuaki Yamashita was a six-year-old school boy living in Nagasaki when his world was shattered on August 9, 1945.  Yasuaki was playing in the mountains catching insects when a friend told him to be careful because of the overhead plane.  After running home, he escaped to the family shelter and heard a thunderous noise that seemed like thousands of lightning bolts striking at the same time.  Feeling his mother’s body covering his body, Yasuaki heard another huge explosion and then total silence.  The windows and doors had all been shattered and the roof had disappeared.  His sister’s head was covered in glass and she was bleeding.  She said she felt she was covered in oil; a sign of possible chemical weapons.  Though she had a prosthetic leg, she was able to run with Yasuaki to take refuge in the mountains, where they watched the city of Nagasaki burn.

Yasuaki movingly spoke of his experience in November 2017 at the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma as part of the Hibakusha Stories, a Nobel peace prize winning organization which hopes to educate the next generation about the horrors of atomic warfare and empower students with tools to build a world free of nuclear weapons.[520]  Among its supporters is Harry Truman’s grandson, Clifton, who has encouraged the publication of the survivors’ stories in light of preventing a future nuclear war.

Atomic bombing of Nagasaki (Truman Library)

On the day the bomb was dropped, Yasuaki remembered a “tremendous and indescribable scene of desolation in which everything in the city burned up.”  This was followed by a “terrible time when there were acute food shortages.”  One of Yasuaki’s young friends was so badly burned on his back that his wounds became infected with maggots, causing him to die two days later.  Yasuaki’s father was recruited to help the victims and clean up the destruction in the center of Nagasaki.  He later died from radiation poisoning.  Though Yasuaki along with his mother and sister survived, he faced health problems and discrimination that prompted him to move to Mexico where he worked as an artist.  Yasuaki stressed that people at the time did not know much about radioactivity and its effects and that many who were in the bomb’s vicinity died later from leukemia and other cancers and others committed suicide because they could not bear the survivors’ guilt or discrimination.

Yasuaki’s talk was followed by the testimony of Shigeko Sasamori who spent the morning of August 6, 1945 creating fire breaks in the city of Hiroshima with her junior high school class. When the U.S. B-29 bomber Enola Gay appeared overhead, Shigeko told her classmate to look up at the plane in the sky.  Just at that moment, she saw a white parachute dropping from the plane. Then all of a sudden, she was blown back by the force of the explosion and lost consciousness.  When she awoke, everything was pitch black, though Shigeko was able to make out some people walking slowly, with their skin hanging from their bones, bleeding profusely.  Trying to get back to her school, Shigeko sat down near a big tree and again lost consciousness.  With her face burned beyond recognition and swollen “like a football,” she spent the next five days in a big auditorium where an unknown person brought her to be rescued or to die.  Her parents combed the city looking for her, eventually finding her through her persistence to repeat her address and say her name over and over.  Along with many of her classmates, Shigeko’s grandmother died in the atomic attacks and an older sister got cancer and died.

Shigeko Sasamori

In 1955, Shigeko was brought to New York as part of a group of young women known as the Hiroshima Maidens, sponsored by author and peace activist Norman Cousins, and underwent numerous plastic surgeries.  She has since survived three cancer operations.  When her son was born, she told him “you will never go to war to kill other people and kill yourself.”  She herself has worked tirelessly for nuclear disarmament and peace and passionately urged others to do the same.[521]

In Death in Life: Survivors of Hiroshima, published in 1967, psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton spoke of a ghastly stillness reported by Hibakusha in the aftermath of the attacks, low moans from those incapacitated, and aimless wandering by others whose spirit had been broken.  Many people suffering from grotesque burns walked like ghosts, as if they were among the living dead; others jumped into the rivers to escape heat and fire and then drowned.  Lifton’s work further detailed the mental anguish of the Hibakusha who were wracked with guilt from their own survival and also stigmatized by others as victim.  Many underwent a process of “psychic numbing” where they suppressed memories of the atrocity only to be overwhelmed by feelings of depression and despair.[522]

Claude R. Eatherley

Paul W. Tibbits, who piloted the Enola Gay, defended the decision to drop the bomb until his death at 92.[523]  The only pilot to publicly express feelings of guilt was Claude Eatherly, a Texan who flew a companion plane that gave the all-clear signal to the Enola Gay.  His remorse came later, after participating in the atomic testing on the Bikini atoll in the Marshall Islands where he was exposed to a harmful dose of radiation.  “For the first time, then and there,” he later wrote, “I realized what I had done [at Hiroshima].”  After attempting suicide and being confined to a mental asylum for a time, he published a book, Burning Conscience, in which he wrote movingly about his pain and his compassion for Hiroshima survivors.[524]  The esteemed British philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote that if Eatherly was “considered mad, then I should not be surprised if my last years are spent in a lunatic asylum – where I shall enjoy the company of all who are capable of feeling humanity.”[525]

*          *          *          *          *

VIII.  Home front USA

8.1  Explaining the war:  A higher moral purpose
8.2  Japanese American internment
8.3  The war economy and society
8.4  The peace movement
8.5  The global future debate

Marine Private Theodore J. Miller aboard a Coast Guard ship after battles on Enewetak Atoll, Feb. 19, 1944 (US National Archives)

Few Americans thought of World War II as “the good war” while it was taking place.  Though the U.S. economy was booming, the war was a frightening series of battles and air assaults that produced mountains of casualties, albeit almost all in foreign lands.  Of more than 16 million Americans who served in the U.S. armed forces during the war, 291,500 were killed in combat, another 113,600 died from other causes, and 72,000 were missing-in-action.  Another 670,000 were seriously wounded.[526]

According to the National World War II Museum, some one million U.S. soldiers experienced sustained combat and “(m)ore than half a million service members suffered some sort of psychiatric collapse due to combat. . . . For many veterans, the symptoms of combat fatigue or combat stress faded once they returned home.  For others, the symptoms were long lasting and function impairing.  Combat stress can morph into Post Traumatic Stress, which begins to appear in the affected individual after the traumatic experiences have passed.”[527]
The war was nonetheless a just war for Americans, a matter of vital national defense.  “Unlike World War I,” writes the historian Richard Polenberg, “nearly all Americans accepted the necessity of taking part in World War II after Pearl Harbor.  While many criticized the conduct of the war, few ever thought the war itself unjust.”[528]  The great hope was for a quick Allied victory and beyond that, a permanent peace.

8.1  Explaining the war

As in past wars, U.S. leaders sought to imbue the Second World War with a higher moral purpose.  If American men were to be conscripted and sent off to fight in foreign lands, possibly to die, their sacrifices had to have meaning.
In August 1941, prior to U.S. entry into the war, President Roosevelt and Winston Churchill issued a joint statement known as the Atlantic Charter that outlined their war goals in broad terms.  Democracy and freedom were central themes, expressed as “the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live,” and “assurance that all the men in all lands may live out their lives in freedom from fear and want.”[529]
Once the U.S. entered the war, Roosevelt reiterated these themes.  In his State of the Union Address on January 6, 1942, he declared that victory over the Axis powers “means victory for freedom” and “victory for the institution of democracy.”[530]  Five months later, Vice-President Henry A. Wallace, in his “Century of the Common Man” speech, announced, “This is a fight between a slave world and a free world.  Just as in the United States in 1862, we could not remain ‘half slave’ and ‘half free,’ so in 1942 the world must make its decision for a complete victory, one way or the other.”[531]  Wallace made no reference to saving the Jews of Europe as cause for the war.  The latter became the most popular justification only after the war ended.
The salient ideals of freedom and democracy were accurate enough in describing certain wartime goals of the Allies – liberating countries from Axis domination and re-establishing democratic traditions in Germany and Japan after victory – but they elided certain facts about the Allies; namely, that neither the British Empire nor the Soviet state operated according to democratic principles, and that the U.S. supported numerous strong-man governments in Latin America and elsewhere, including Mussolini’s Fascist government in Italy prior to the war, and would continue to support authoritarian governments after the war.[532]
In May 1942, President Roosevelt set up an Office of War Information (OWI) with the multiple goals of framing the war as a moral cause, building public enthusiasm for the war effort, apprising the public of developments abroad, and explaining government policies at home.  The agency’s official motto was “Truth is our strength.”  The OWI played up the theme of “democracy versus autocracy” in its posters, booklets, radio programs, newsreels, and films such as This is Our Enemy.  “The OWI wanted movies to extol the virtues of the American way of life and to portray the Allies as models of righteousness and the Axis as embodiments of evil,” writes Polenberg.[533]  As OWI director Elmer Davis explained, “The easiest way to inject a propaganda idea into the people’s minds is to let it go through the medium of an entertainment picture when they do not realize that they are being propagandized.”[534]
Propaganda notwithstanding, the OWI learned a valuable lesson from its World War I predecessor, the Committee on Public Information, which had spewed out venomous anti-German propaganda that resulted in vigilante attacks on German Americans.  To avoid a reoccurrence, the popular OWI radio series, You Can’t Do Business with Hitler, fostered “enlightened hatred” of the Nazi regime rather than of the German people as a whole.  This strategy was effective.  Following a huge patriotic parade in New York City in June 1942, the New York Times reported favorably on the participation of “loyal German and Italian-Americans as well as those of almost every other national and racial strain.”[535]
Japanese Americans were the exception to the idea of America as a multicultural melting pot.  President Roosevelt commonly referred to the Axis enemies as “Nazis” and “Japs.”  The former referred to a political party that had usurped power whereas the latter referred to the whole population of the nation.  Many Americans extended the latter antipathy to American citizens of Japanese ancestry.

8.2  Japanese American internment

Japanese Americans constituted a small minority in the U.S.  In 1940, about 127,000 lived on the U.S. mainland, mainly in western states, and another 158,000 lived in the Hawaiian Islands where they constituted the largest ethnic group (37 percent of that territory’s population).[536]  Of the mainland population, 80,000 were Nisei, born in the U.S. and thus U.S. citizens, while 47,000 were Issei, born in Japan and barred by U.S. racist laws from becoming naturalized citizens.
Immediately after the U.S. entered the war, President Roosevelt issued presidential proclamations authorizing the detention of potentially dangerous “enemy aliens.”  At risk were 264,000 German nationals, 599,000 Italian nationals, and 47,000 Japanese Issei.[537]  Over the course of the war, under the Enemy Alien Control Program, the U.S. Justice Department detained about 11,500 ethnic Germans and 1,900 ethnic Italians for various periods of time, but left alone the huge number of German American and Italian American citizens.[538]  Not so with Japanese Americans.  All Japanese American citizens and residents in West Coast states were ordered to leave their homes and businesses and enter internment camps – a flagrant denial of basic citizenship rights.

A young evacuee of Japanese ancestry in California waits with the family baggage before leaving by bus for an assembly center in April 1942 (US National Archives)

Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, anti-Japanese hysteria spread across the United States.  In “Little Tokyo” in Los Angeles, vigilante “patriots” attacked stores and food stands, overturned carts and tables, and threw tomatoes at anyone with an Asian face.  Idaho Governor Chase Clark stated that “the Japs live like rats, breed like rats and act like rats.”  University of Arizona President Alfred Atkinson prevented the school’s libraries from lending books to students with Japanese names, saying “we are at war and these people are our enemies.”[539]

According to a mid-February 1942 War Department report authored by General John DeWitt, head of the Western Defense Command, racial bonds were more important than nationality when it came to Japanese Americans.  “The Japanese race is an enemy race,” DeWitt declared.  “The continued presence of a large, unassimilated, tightly knit racial group, bound to an enemy nation by strong ties of race, culture, custom and religion along a frontier vulnerable to attack constituted a menace which had to be dealt with.”[540]
On February 19, 1942, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, giving the army the power, without warrants or indictments or hearings, to remove Japanese-Americans from the West Coast and transport them to remote internment camps in Arkansas, California, Colorado, Idaho, Utah, Arizona and Wyoming.  From the end of March to August, approximately 112,000 persons were sent to “relocation centers” that would be their home for the rest of the war.  Nearly 70,000 of the evacuees were American citizens.  There were no charges of disloyalty against any of these citizens, nor was there any legal means by which they could appeal their loss of personal liberty and property.  Many had to sell their homes for a fraction of the actual value or lost them from foreclosure to banks because their bank accounts were frozen by government order.  Much of their furniture was stolen after being packed into warehouses or abandoned buildings.  Some families were broken up because of internment and many suffered from stress and mental breakdown.[541]

Statue of Gov. Ralph Carr

The federal government attempted to put the best face on this forced relocation by producing the film, Japanese Relocation, which “emphasized the cheerful cooperation of Japanese Americans as they were moved hundreds of miles away from their homes into ‘pioneer communities,’” according to Susan Brewer.[542]  In 1944 the Supreme Court upheld the internment order on the grounds of military necessity.  Liberal Justice William O. Douglas wrote in the decision of Hirabayashi v. United States that “we cannot sit in judgment on the military requirements of that hour.”[543]  The military necessity argument oddly ignored the fact that Japanese Americans living in the Hawaiian Islands remained free.

Most Americans silently assented to the denial of citizenship rights of Japanese Americans, but some spoke out.  Republican Governor Ralph Carr of Colorado was the only governor to oppose internment.  In a radio address on February 28, 1942, he said:  “The world’s great melting pot is peopled by the descendants of every nation in the globe.  It is not fair for the rest of us to segregate the people from one or two or three nations and to brand them as unpatriotic or disloyal.”  Carr welcomed Japanese Americans to his state.  “If you harm them, you must harm me,” he said.  “I was brought up in a small town where I knew the shame and dishonor of race hatred.  I grew to despise it because it threatened the happiness of you and you and you.”  Over 1,600 Japanese Americans moved to Colorado from the West Coast, avoiding internment camps.  In 1976, a bust of Carr was erected in Denver’s Sakura Square to commemorate his efforts on behalf of Japanese-Americans.  The inscription reads, in part:  “Those who benefited from Governor Carr’s humanity have built this monument in grateful memory of his unflinching Americanism, and as a lasting reminder that the precious democratic ideals he espoused must forever be defended against prejudice and neglect.”[544]

Manzanar entrance (National Park Service)

Most of those sent to internment camps remained for over three years, enduring cramped living quarters, inadequate facilities, low wages, curfews, and lack of freedom and privacy.  Each camp was its own “town,” and included schools, post offices and work facilities, as well as farmland for growing food and keeping livestock.  Each “town” was completely surrounded by barbed wire and guard towers.  Two camps were located on Native American reservations despite the protests of tribal councils.  Residents who were labeled dissidents were taken to a special prison camp in Tule Lake, California.

There were some instances of open resistance.  In November 1942, internees went on strike at the Poston facility in Arizona.  Weeks later, a riot occurred in the Manzanar camp in California’s Inyo County owing to anger over the government’s use of “stool pigeons” to keep tabs on dissidents.  Manzanar authorities killed two internees and seriously wounded eight, with one officer telling a San Francisco reporter that “you can’t imagine how close we came to machine gunning the whole bunch of them.  The only thing that stopped us, I guess, were the effects such a shooting would have had on the Japs holding our boys in Manila and in China.”[545]  In 1944, Congressman Jed Johnson of Oklahoma introduced a bill that would have authorized the sterilization of all Japanese women in the camps.

Private Sadao Munemori (US Army)

Despite their discriminatory and abusive treatment, almost all those interned signed loyalty oaths and 33,000 Japanese Americans served in the U.S. military during and immediately after the war, including 18,000 in the 442nd Army Infantry Regiment, composed of Nisei and led by white officers.  Another 6,000 served in the Military Intelligence Service (MIS), decoding and translating Japanese communications.  General Douglas MacArthur’s chief of staff said of them, “The Nisei [graduates of the MIS Language School] saved countless Allied lives and shortened the war by two years.”  Approximately 800 Japanese Americans were killed in action during the war.  Among them was Private First Class Sadao Munemori who enlisted in the U.S. Army one month before Pearl Harbor.  While he fought in Italy, his family was sent to the Manzanar internment camp.  Munemori was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously in 1946.[546]

More than four decades after the war ended, President Ronald Reagan signed into law the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which officially apologized for the internment of Japanese Americans and authorized payment of $20,000 to each former internee who was still alive.  The legislation admitted that the government’s actions were based on “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.”  The federal government ultimately disbursed more than $1.6 billion (equivalent to over $3.5 billion in 2020) in reparations to 82,219 Japanese American families.[547]
Today, the Japanese internment is widely regarded as a stain on the record of the Roosevelt administration and a vivid example of the nativist strain in American culture, which almost always manifests during times of war.  The racism that was displayed dovetailed with that of U.S. soldiers fighting in the Pacific theatre and with the Tokyo firebombing and launching of two atomic bombs.  These incidents all provide a stark reminder that the notion of World War II as a “good war” is a mythic one, used mainly to sustain America’s narcissistic identity as a uniquely righteous and exceptional nation.

8.3  The war economy and society

The United States began gearing up for war more than two years before the Pearl Harbor attack.  In 1939, the War Department proposed the creation of a War Resources Administration that would develop plans for directing the economy.  This proved premature, but the White House continued in this line of thinking with the establishment of the National Defense Advisory Commission (May 1940), the Office of Production Management (January 1941), the Office of Price Administration and Civilian Supply (April 1941), and the Supply Priorities and Allocations Board (August 1941).  From January to December 1941, munitions production increased by 225 percent.[548]
The War Resources Board (WRB) was officially created after U.S. entry into the war.  At its first meeting in January 1942, the WRB outlawed the manufacture of civilian cars and trucks so as to enable the conversion of automobile factories to war production.  In short order, other manufacturers switched from making hubcaps to helmets, typewriters to machine guns, shirts to mosquito netting, and model trains to bomb fuses.[549]  The government also built hundreds of new plants, including fifty-one producing synthetic rubber.  Every armored tank took one ton of rubber, and every battleship, seventy-five tons.  Federal spending skyrocketed from $9.5 billion in 1940 to $92.7 billion in 1945, providing the wherewithal for massive economic expansion.[550]

B-24s under construction at Willow Run, circa Jan. 1943 (Wiki Commons)

One of the largest factories was the Ford plant at Willow Run, 27 miles west of Detroit, which began manufacturing parts in late 1941 and turned out the first bomber about a year later.  By 1944, the plant was producing one plane every hour.  All told, the plant manufactured 8,685 planes and employed over 42,000 workers at its peak.[551]

Research and development facilities produced a dizzying array of new military technologies, including flamethrowers, bazookas, recoilless rifles, radar, guided missiles, water-proofed magnetic detectors for use by underwater demolition teams, PT (Patrol Torpedo) “devil boats” armed with automatic weapons and torpedoes, and pilotless airplanes or drones (Joseph Kennedy Jr. was killed in an experimental test).[552]  All this was part of the so-called “arsenal of democracy,” or more accurately, the arsenal of the Allies.  The crown jewel of America’s Air Force was the B-29 bomber manufactured by Boeing.  Known as the “Cadillac of the skies,” the aircraft was twice as heavy as the B-17 and could carry a 20,000 pound bomb load 7,000 miles, yet its powerful lightweight engines enabled a speed 30 percent faster than the older bomber.[553]
The government-directed economy did not operate according to laissez-faire capitalist principles.  Rather, Big Government and Big Business combined to create a managed economy with the federal government in ultimate control.  The Roosevelt administration granted large businesses immunity from anti-trust laws and offered huge incentives in the form of cost-plus contracts.  Corporate profits, after taxes, climbed from $6.4 billion in 1940 to $10.8 billion in 1944.  For the most part, labor rights were protected, despite a no-strike pledge, and 1.5 million new members signed up during the war.
The war economy produced enough jobs for everyone, and most of those jobs paid better than before the war.  The consumer economy thrived despite the rationing of scarce goods such as gasoline, rubber, and tin.  Civilian purchases of goods and services grew by 12 percent, not including a sizable black market in illegal goods.  More than half a million new businesses were started and farmers prospered as well under government price controls.[554]

J. Howard Miller’s inspirational image was on display for only two weeks in a Westinghouse factory (Wiki Commons)

Norman Rockwell’s Rosie the Riveter was seen by millions during the war (Wiki Commons)

The federal government conducted an advertising campaign to encourage all able-bodied citizens to work and to zdiscourage absenteeism. Many of the advertisements focused on women, although the iconic “Rosie the Riveter” poster familiar to Americans today became popular only after the war.  The one most often seen during the war was a poster painted by Norman Rockwell portraying a muscular Rosie with an American flag in the background and Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” under her feet, published on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post on May 29, 1943.[555]  The federal government furthermore subsidized child care centers at some factories so as to enable young mothers to work or keep working.  In Great Britain, by way of contrast, Parliament passed a law in December 1941 making all unmarried women between the ages of 20 and 30 years liable for conscription into the workforce.

There was considerable movement across the nation during the war years.  More than 16 million men and 350,000 women served in the armed forces, with almost three-quarters going overseas for periods of time.  Another 15.3 million civilians moved around the country in search of jobs or to be near military bases.  Urban populations swelled.  Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Detroit together attracted some two million migrants.  Between 1940 and 1943, about 60,000 African Americans moved to Detroit.  In the South during those same years, Mobile’s population increased by 67 percent, Norfolk’s by 57 percent, and Charleston’s by 37 percent.  The surge of urban residents severely strained housing supply, medical facilities, schools, and day care centers.  The farm population, meanwhile, declined by 17 percent, even as productivity grew by more than 25 percent, attributable to a dramatic rise in the use of fertilizers and farm machinery.[556]

US poster (FDR presidential library)

Americans exhibited a high degree of social unity during the war, notwithstanding racial, ethnic, and religious prejudices, social conflicts, and political divisions.  First and foremost, there was the shared purpose of winning the war, expressed in the ubiquitous “V” for victory sign.  People in local communities salvaged scarce materials, abided by rationing regulations, conserved food, grew “victory gardens,” bought war bonds, and volunteered for a host of supportive agencies.  Children took part in drives to collect scrap metal, paper, and rubber products, creating a heightened sense of national identity and loyalty in that generation.[557]

Civil rights and wrongs

A. Phillip Randolph

Prior to U.S. entry into the war, A. Philip Randolph of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters called for a “thundering march” in Washington to “shake up white America.”  Randolph wanted to end discrimination against African Americans in federally-funded employment, mainly defense industries, and to integrate the armed forces.  On June 18, 1941, less than two weeks before the march was scheduled, Randolph met with President Roosevelt to make his case.  One week later, Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802 which stipulated that all government agencies, job training programs, and manufacturers accepting defense contracts must end racial discrimination in hiring.  The order created the Fair Employment Practices Committee to monitor compliance.  Though Randolph failed to end segregation in the armed forces, he called off the march.[558]

This US Army poster featuring heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis was designed to encourage African American men to join the military (US National Archives, 1942)

During the war, African American leaders promoted a double V campaign – victory against the fascist powers and victory for racial justice at home.  Randolph’s proposed March on Washington was just the beginning (the armed forces were desegregated in 1948).  Over the course of the war, membership in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) increased from 50,000 to 450,000.  African Americans also made economic gains.  Those employed in manufacturing and processing increased from 500,000 to 1,200,000 between 1940 and 1944, and those in government service increased from 60,000 to 200,000.  More than 500,000 African Americans also joined trade unions.  The stress of housing shortages and job competition nonetheless intensified racial animosity in some urban areas, leading to a riot in Detroit in June 1943, and another in New York City in August 1943.[559]

One of the roots of the modern civil rights struggle can be traced to the actions of a Chicago pacifist group in 1942. The Chicago Committee of Racial Equality organized a series of sit-ins by small, interracial groups at a white tablecloth restaurant named Stoner’s in the heart of Chicago’s Loop. Their nonviolent direct action strategy (civil disobedience) succeeded in ending segregation at the restaurant, which in turn led to the formation of the national Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), a federation of local interracial groups. During the war years, local CORE groups picketed restaurants, amusement parks, swimming pools, barber shops, hotels, bowling alleys, playgrounds, and theaters in northern cities, with some modest successes.[560]
Some 1.2 million African American men and women served in the U.S. armed forces under conditions of discrimination during the war.  African Americans were segregated in the Army, with white officers commanding black combat units.  They could join the Navy only as mess hands, and they could not enlist in the Marines or Air Corps at all.  Secretary of War Henry Stimson described the situation in September 1941:  “In tactical organization, in physical location, in human contacts, the Negro soldier is separated from the white solder as completely as possible.”  He added in his diary, “What these foolish leaders of the colored race are seeking is at the bottom social equality.”[561]

An African American U.S. Army military policeman at Fort Benning, Georgia, April 13, 1942 (US National Archives)

Some 80% of “Negro units” trained in the American South.  They endured a segregated world in which white soldiers enjoyed access to camp amenities while Blacks were regularly assigned to the most tedious jobs and quartered in the poorest barracks.  They were also subjected to community hostility and police brutality at times.  In the summer of 1943, racial unrest rocked nine military training camps.  At Camp Van Dorn in Mississippi, after a sheriff shot a soldier who was fleeing arrest, black soldiers broke into a stockade, took a supply of rifles, and exchanged fire with a military police squad.  In another skirmish at Camp Steward in Georgia, one military policeman was killed and four wounded.[562]

On July 17, 1944, the largest homeland disaster that the United States experienced during World War II occurred at the Port Chicago Naval Magazine, a deep-water terminal thirty miles northeast of Oakland, California.  Two ships being loaded with ammunition exploded.  One ship completely disappeared; the other was blown into bits and thrown 500 feet into the bay.  A huge cloud of steam, fire, and debris rose 12,000 feet into the sky.  Some 320 men were instantly killed, two-thirds of whom were African American servicemen.  Not only were they not trained for this dangerous line of work, but white officers held competitions and placed bets on how many tons of ammunition the men could load per hour.  The Navy also dismissed offers from the International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union to teach safer loading practices.
At the official military court of inquiry held after the disaster, Navy officials justified the lack of training on racist terms:  “Because of the level of intelligence and education of the enlisted personnel, it was impracticable to train them by any method other than by actual demonstration.”  The inquiry concluded that no one was to fault for the explosion.  Navy officials asked Congress to award each victim’s family a benefit of $5,000 but when Mississippi congressman John Rankin learned that most of the victims were African American, he demanded that the amount be reduced to $3,000.[563]
Facing the Holocaust

In November 1942, the State Department received a compelling account of the Nazi death camps, confirming that Jewish deportations in Europe were culminating in mass murder.  The information was released to several major news outlets.  On December 13, in a radio broadcast heard by millions, popular newsman Edward R. Murrow told his listeners, “What is happening is this:  millions of human beings, most of them Jews, are being gathered up with ruthless efficiency and murdered. . . .  The phrase, ‘concentration camps’ is obsolete. . . . It is now possible to speak only of ‘extermination camps.’”  Two weeks later, The New Republic published “The Massacre of the Jews” by Varian Fry, an American who had worked with the Emergency Rescue Committee before being expelled from France in August 1941.  Fry laid out the Nazi plan for annihilation of European Jews then underway.  The response in the U.S. was muted, as the extent of the atrocity was scarcely imaginable.[564]

Dec. 10, 1942 report on the Holocaust

On December 8, 1942, President Roosevelt met with American Jewish leaders to discuss the situation.  The meeting led to a public statement on December 17, in conjunction with ten other Allied governments, condemning Nazi Germany’s “bestial policy of cold-blooded extermination” of the Jews.[565]  Yet there was no plan of action and nothing was done.  The administration’s apparent lack of concern led Josiah DuBois, special assistant to Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, to prepare a report in January 1944 which read in part:

This [United States] Government has for a long time maintained that its policy is to work out programs to save those Jews of Europe who could be saved.  I am convinced on the basis of the information which is available to me that certain officials in our State Department, which is charged with carrying out this policy, have been guilty not only of gross procrastination and willful failure to act, but even of willful attempts to prevent action from being taken to rescue Jews from Hitler. . . . Unless remedial steps of a drastic nature are taken, and taken immediately, I am certain that no effective action will be taken by this Government to prevent the complete extermination of the Jews in German-controlled Europe, and that this Government will have to share for all time responsibility for this extermination.[566]

The person deemed most responsible for the administration’s failure to act was Assistant Secretary of State Breckinridge Long.  At Morgenthau’s insistence, Roosevelt established the War Refugee Board on January 22, 1944, empowering the agency to act outside the purview of Secretary Long’s State Department.  Over the next eight months, the board brought 982 refugees from Italy to a refugee camp near Oswego, New York.[567]

Apart from aiding Jews attempting to escape from Europe, some American Jewish leaders urged that the Allies bomb railroad lines leading to the Auschwitz concentration camp as well as the camp itself, irrespective of the casualties this would cause.  The president’s military advisers strongly opposed this, arguing that it would divert resources needed to win the war.  Auschwitz continued to operate until liberated by Soviet troops on January 2, 1945.

8.4  The peace movement

During the three-and-a-half year period in which the U.S. was at war, the major national peace organizations – Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), and War Resisters League (WRL) – undertook a variety of projects related to the war:  assisting conscientious objectors to war, providing relief to war victims, protesting Allied saturation bombing, and supporting the formation of the United Nations as successor to the League of Nations.
What they did not do was organize major demonstrations against the war.  According to the historian Scott Bennett, pacifist groups such as WRL and FOR “were committed to democratic principles and respected the majority who demanded war after the Japanese attack and the subsequent declarations of war by Germany and Italy – and pacifist organizations stated that they would not obstruct the war effort.”  They also spearheaded wartime human rights campaigns to protect the civil liberties of Japanese Americans.  AFSC and FOR in particular protested against the relocation and internment of Japanese Americans, lobbied to improve living conditions in the camps, oversaw the rental and maintenance of their homes and businesses, provided legal assistance, and helped them resettle after internment ended.[568]

The Zanesville (Ohio) Signal, Dec. 8, 1941

William Manchester, a Pacific War veteran and the biographer of General Douglas MacArthur, wrote in his memoirs that “the thought of demonstrating against the war, had it crossed anyone’s mind, would have been dismissed as absurd.”[569] Jeannette Rankin, who voted against American participation in both world wars, recalled a far different congressional atmosphere in 1917, when fifty members of the House voted “no,” including the floor leader of the Democratic Majority, Claude Kitchen.  This time, she said, “I stood alone. It was a good deal more difficult than it had been the time before.”[570]

Pacifists were disparaged during the war.  Foreshadowing developments in the McCarthy era, a number of pacifists were dismissed from their jobs.  Chalmer Johnson, a sixth-grade teacher, and Florence Auernheimer, a kindergarten teacher, lost their jobs when they refused to sell defense stamps to their students.  The Illinois Bar Association denied a lawyer admission to the bar because of his pacifist beliefs; while in Miami, Florida, a schoolteacher was dismissed from his position when his superiors learned he had registered as a conscientious objector (CO).  In California, a bill was introduced in the state legislature that would have required all applicants for employment to state their views on participation in the war; Governor Earl Warren vetoed it.[571]
Journalist Walter Lippmann, among others, blamed Axis aggression in part on pacifists in the West.  “The preachment and the practice of pacifists in Britain and America were a cause of the World War,” he wrote in 1943.  “They were the cause of the failure to keep pace with the growth of German and Japanese armaments.  They led to the policy of  . . . appeasement.”[572]  What Lippmann failed to acknowledge or recognize was that the U.S. government catered to fascism in Italy and Germany as part of a geopolitical strategy designed to thwart communism and undermine the political left; and secondly, that U.S. corporations invested heavily in Nazi Germany, with some helping to build the Nazi war machine.  Pacifists were not in the driver’s seat of U.S. foreign policymaking.
Conscientious objectors to war

George Romaine stands at the entrance to CPS Camp no. 56, located near Waldport, Oregon, and operated by the Brethren Service Committee, The men fought fires, built roads and trails, and created a School for Fine Arts (Brethren Historical Library)

Prior to the enactment of the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940, the U.S. government had only allowed men who belonged to the historic peace churches – the Society of Friends (Quakers), the Mennonite Church, and the Church of the Brethren – to register as Conscientious Objectors to war.  The act broadened this definition to any person who, “by reason of religious training and belief, is conscientiously opposed to participation in war in any form.”  This definition still excluded those not part of religious groups who morally opposed all wars and others who opposed particular wars they deemed unjust.  The act provided for non-combatant status in the military, and for those who refused participation in the military, alternative service work under civilian direction.  The Selective Service worked together with the Historic Peace Churches to operate the Civilian Public Service camps.  Participants worked in the areas of public health, firefighting, reforestation, dam construction, soil conservation, and agriculture, and other areas of national importance.

During the war, 25,000 Americans who applied for the CO status received non-combatant status in the military, 11,950 did alternative service work in Civilian Public Camps, and 6,600 men were imprisoned for either refusing to register for the draft or rejecting alternative service work.  All in all, there were more than 43,000 COs in World War II, three times as many as in World War I.  The number of COs imprisoned was almost four times higher.[573]
Two-thirds of those imprisoned were Jehovah’s Witnesses who refused to register based on their deeply held religious belief against killing other human beings.  Others, such as CO Jim Peck, developed their pacifist views independently.  Peck read books such as George Seldes’s Blood, Iron and Profits, Frank Henighen’s Merchants of Death, and Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front which focused on the futility of war through the eyes of a group of German soldiers in World War I.[574]  Among those who refused to register for the draft were six Hopi Native Americans in Arizona.  Federal officials refused to recognize their religious training and beliefs as valid, even though one had just been initiated into the priesthood.  In May 1941, a U.S. court convicted and sentenced five of the men to hard labor at Tucson Federal Prison Camp, while one signed his draft papers.[575]  In support of Jewish COs, particularly a Philadelphia draft resister named Bernard Gross, the Jewish Peace Fellowship committed itself to assisting financially and spiritually all Jewish conscientious objectors in camps or prisons.[576]
In 1940, David Dellinger and seven other students at Union Theological Seminary publicly refused to register for the draft in order to express their principled opposition to war and conscription.  Dellinger believed that engaging in war would mean a renunciation of Christian nonviolence, which he regarded as sacrosanct.  All war, in his view, was “evil and useless” and even a so-called war of self-defense consisted of “lies, hatred and self-righteousness, and the most destructive methods of violence that man can invent.”  Though conceding that Nazism was a “catastrophic evil that had to be resisted,” he felt that it was “also catastrophic for people who believed in human dignity to think that they could resist fascism under the leadership and by the methods of big business, big government and the military.”[577]  In support of the students, A. J. Muste and Evan Thomas (brother of Socialist Party leader Norman Thomas) issued a statement upholding the right of conscience:  “In a day when all over the world the freedom of the individual is being crushed . . . it is an ominous thing if our nation also imprisons men of unquestioned integrity . . . who act in obedience to conscience and from profound religious conviction.”[578]

Bayard Rustin (American Friends Service Committee)

A number of the COs sent to federal penitentiaries initiated protests against racial segregation in dining halls and dormitories.  At the Danbury facility in Connecticut, 23 COs, including Jim Peck, organized a successful 135-day work strike that resulted in an end to the Jim Crow system.  Confined to their own wing of the prison, the COs developed unique ways of communicating with each other: hollering through the ventilators, talking through the tiny open space below cell doors, and sliding messages to one another in the form of metal disks tied with string.  Supporters on the outside managed to acquire appeals from the prisoners that were smuggled out.  Distribution of these appeals to the press helped put pressure on Danbury officials.[579]

African American civil rights activist Bayard Rustin, who assisted A. Philip Randolph and was a staff member of the FOR, was sentenced to three years in prison for refusing to register for the draft in February 1944 (most draft resisters were sentenced for one year and a day).  At the federal prison in Ashland, Kentucky, Rustin refused to sit at segregated tables or remove himself from “whites only” rooms.  Prison officials transferred him to the Lewisburg penitentiary in Pennsylvania.  After his release in June 1946, Bayard wrote of his experience:  “By some prison officials we were considered the worst scum of the earth because we had refused to fight for our country, and because we were college-educated. . . . We had the feeling of being morally important; and that made us respond to prison conditions without fear, with considerable sensitivity to human rights. . . . It was by going to jail that we called the people’s attention to the horrors of war.”[580]
Humanitarian relief 
AFSC, WILPF, FOR, and the historic peace churches were active in providing humanitarian relief aid.  By 1942 the peace churches had provided over $300,000 in assistance to war-torn areas in Poland, France, India, China, and England while also sending relief workers and supplies to France and China.  AFSC operated the Friends Ambulance Unit in China, aided in relief in India, cared for war victims in France, and assisted the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration in the Mediterranean area.  FOR set up a War Victims Fund, with aid going to individuals and organizations in France.  FOR also provided funds for European members of the International FOR to provide sanctuary for refugees.  WILPF lobbied Roosevelt to increase the number of refugees admitted to the country by establishing the War Refugee Board.[581]
Opposition to mass bombing and atomic attacks
Prior to the outbreak of war in Europe, the American public viewed the bombing of civilians from the air as a form of terrorism and unworthy of civilized nations, much as President Roosevelt did.  A Gallup Poll in 1938 found 91 percent of Americans agreeing with the statement that “all nations should agree not to bomb civilians in cities in wartime.”  Three days after Pearl Harbor, however, 67 percent said they favored unqualified and indiscriminate bombing of enemy cities, with only 10 percent expressing unqualified opposition.  The American public furthermore became infatuated with air power technology, viewing it as exemplary scientific progress as well as a means of saving American soldiers’ lives.  In September 1942, Time magazine ran an article calling for the destruction of thirty-one German cities in order to shorten the war.  An article in Harper’s in January 1943 advocated burning the Japanese people out of their wooden homes with aerial attacks.[582]
U.S. military leaders were nonetheless wary of public misgivings regarding civilian casualties, and some were principally opposed to “area bombing.”  In their public announcements, they invariably stressed that the bombs were being dropped on military and industrial targets.

Vera Brittain (British Red Cross)

In March 1944, an article titled “Massacre by Bombing,” published in FOR’s Fellowship magazine, punctured a hole in this fiction.  Written by British nurse and peace activist Vera Brittain, the article was introduced by twenty-eight clergymen and antiwar activists who stated, “Christian people should be moved to examine themselves concerning their participation in this carnival of death,” referring to indiscriminate Allied bombing.  The piece paid particular attention to the bombing of innocent women and children.  With factual precision, Brittain listed the number of civilian casualties, city by city.  “It is only when the facts are collected, and the terrible sum of suffering . . . estimated as a whole,” Brittain wrote, “that we realize that, owing to our raids, hundreds of thousands of helpless and innocent people . . . are being subjected to agonizing forms of death and injury comparable to the worst tortures of the Middle Ages.”[583]

The article was widely distributed among anti-war groups and gained the attention of the mainstream press, setting off a furious response.  Brittain herself estimated that she had been condemned in at least two hundred articles.  The New York Times reported its mail ran 50 to one against her.  The editors commented, “If the kind of bombing the British and American fliers are doing over Germany will shorten the war and diminish the cost of life, we believe it justifiable. . . . Let us leave strategy and tactics to the generals, hoping that they will be as merciful as they can.”[584]  President Roosevelt issued a statement rebuking the twenty-eight Americans who signed the manifesto against mass bombing.  Robert Lovett, the assistant secretary of war for air, visited Army Air Force officers in Europe and briefed them on the problem of adverse publicity, advising them to make no public statements regarding the targeting of cities and killing of civilians.[585]

Abraham J. Muste

The dropping of atomic bombs horrified pacifists.  In the view of Reverend A. J. Muste, the specter of “total, global, atomic war” had rendered the “just war tradition of the Christian Church obsolete,” negating the distinction between combatants and noncombatants, and proportional means and ends.  He viewed the bomb as the product of “an age of mechanism, of power, of mass action, of totalitarianism, an age which looked down upon the individual and placed its faith in systems.”  The use of nuclear weapons, he believed, reflected the depersonalization and mechanization of a society where vast bureaucracies cut people off from the human implications of their work.[586]  The heart of pacifist philosophy, after all, is a personal, moral prohibition against killing other human beings, not to be discarded when authorities order you to kill.  Nor is the sense of common humanity to be cast aside when men are dressed in different national uniforms.

Dwight McDonald, founder of Politics Magazine, echoed Muste’s views when he wrote about the “deepening horror” of the “atomic atrocity” which emerged as “the product of an elaborately organized bureaucratic undertaking involving the un-coerced labor of thousands.”  The development and use of the atomic bomb revealed how readily a “modern technocratic state could organize a large-scale undertaking whose end result was horrible beyond imagination.”[587]  Unitarian minister John Haynes Holmes asserted that the bomb had shattered “not merely a city, and an Empire [Japan], but the whole system of moral law. . . . Not by such means will humanity, or any nation, be ultimately saved.  Not in the realm of sheer brute force lies the remedy we seek.”[588]

Woody Guthrie

The legendary folksinger Woody Guthrie, who served in the Merchant Marines in the Pacific War, wrote a song on September 7, 1945, based on information he had gleaned from The Yank, the U.S. Army weekly, entitled “What Kind of Bomb?”  The song read in part:  “We stuck our heads out our windows to see the big show, Hiroshima!  You’re a good town!  I hate to see you go. . . . The Jolt was so bad that it shook all the sky, a cloud sprouted up forty thousand feet high.  The heat flash so bright that it outshined the sun, we asked one another ‘oh what kind of bomb.’”  A follow-up song called “Talkin’ Atom Bomb” warned:  “Only way to save yer skin from this big bomb blast is ta outlaw th’ big bomb and I mean fast.”[589]  Another song, “World’s on Fire,” sardonically proclaimed, “My angel, my darling / When that atom bomb does come / Let me be your pillow / While this world’s on fire.  When the flames go creeping / When the smoke plume is leaping / We’ll play like we’re sleeping / While the world’s on fire.”[590]

Creation of the United Nations
Though peace groups were not popular during the war, the idea of establishing a new international organization devoted to peace gained wide acclaim, aided by political leaders of both major parties.  Wendell Wilkie, the Republican presidential candidate in 1940, published One World in April 1943, combining a vision of world government with progressive calls for an end to colonialism and racial discrimination.  To promote the book, he went on a seven-week, 31,000-mile tour, gaining the support of Albert Einstein and Mohandas Gandhi along the way.  Eleanor Roosevelt, who became the first U.S. delegate to the UN, worked assiduously to gain the support of civic associations for the international body.  She was instrumental in the UN’s inclusion of a human rights agenda as well as the creation of the Educational, Social, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Eleanor Roosevelt, first U.S. delegate to the UN (Roosevelt House, Hunter College)

The United Nations was officially established on October 24, 1945.  Its central goal, stated in the preamble of its Charter, is “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind.”  It reaffirms “faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small,” promotes “social progress and better standards of life,” urges “that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interests,” and encourages the employment of “international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples.”[591]  In short, the UN Charter is a peace and human rights manifesto, urging the world to adopt principles proffered by peace activists and movements for more than a century.[592]

The structure of the UN nevertheless reflected the international power relations of the day in allowing five permanent members of the Security Council to veto any proposition.  The UN’s effectiveness, as such, would depend in large part on whether these five powers – the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, and China – could temper their national ambitions and cooperate in global problem-solving.

8.5  The global future debate

Imaging the United Nations was part of a larger debate over America’s future role in the world.  The prewar “isolationist” position largely dissipated during the war, not only because the U.S. was engaged in a world war, but also because the advent of air warfare greatly diminished the protection once afforded by two wide oceans buffering the continental United States.  The big question was what kind of postwar international order should be constructed.  Two major orientations developed.

Henry R. Luce

One line of thought developed around Henry Luce’s vision of “The American Century,” an editorial in February 1941 urging the U.S. to enter the war (this was before the Pearl Harbor attack) in order “to promote, encourage and incite so-called democratic principles throughout the world,” in the image of Woodrow Wilson.  Americans, he urged, must “accept wholeheartedly our duty and our opportunity as the most powerful and vital nation of the world . . . to assert upon the world the full impact of our influence, for such means as we see fit.”  This was a vision of U.S. global hegemony, or Pax Americana, advanced in the name of spreading democracy.  As Luce put it, “our vision of America as a world power includes a passionate devotion to great American ideals.”[593]

Henry A. Wallace

The other major line of thought reflected Henry A. Wallace’s vision of the “Century of the Common Man” (May 1942).  Wallace was vague on details but broadly outlined a cooperative world order that addressed human needs and protected human rights.  “No nation will have the God-given right to exploit other nations,” Wallace declared.  “Older nations will have the privilege to help younger nations get started on the path to industrialization, but there must be neither military nor economic imperialism. . . . There can be no privileged peoples.  We ourselves in the United States are no more a master race than the Nazis.”[594]  Wallace’s speech was well-received in many parts of the world.  The Mexican government translated and printed the text for wide distribution in Latin American countries.  An Egyptian official remarked that he hoped Wallace’s plan would not allow Britain to continue to oppress small countries.[595]

Luce and Wallace maintained an amiable relationship and neither saw his vision as diametrically opposed to the other, but Wallace did note in a letter to Luce that his “American Century” essay found no support among other nations.  In August 1942, the perceptive foreign correspondent Edward R. Murrow wrote to his colleague, Eric Sevareid, that the postwar peace would depend on the answer to the question of whether Henry Luce or Henry Wallace “is the forerunner of the American policy of tomorrow.”[596]  Senator Robert Taft, a die-hard advocate of strict national defense, had no use for either proposal, decrying Luce’s vision as “American world supremacy” and Wallace’s as “world philanthropy.”[597]
Amid the heady debate over future directions, the public became enamored with the general idea of “globalism.”  The word “global,” rarely seen in newspapers before 1940, became daily fare after the U.S. entered the war.  The term signified both a new sense of connectivity to the far corners of the world and susceptibility to threats therefrom.  In October 1942, Wendell Willkie gave a radio address in which he presented a “new sense of the closeness of continents and peoples,” according to the New York Herald Tribune.  World maps and globes became ubiquitous as Americans traced the progress of battles and locations of American units.  A best-seller in 1944 was Atlas for World Strategy.  The Foreign Policy Association, led by Vera Micheles Dean, claimed 10,000 members and established chapters in seventeen cities.  The organization produced a weekly bulletin for newspaper editors and broadcast radio talks to audiences of several million.  Dean warned against any return to prewar “isolationism,” a theme repeated at numerous rallies, conferences, and club meetings around the country.[598]
The popularity of “globalism” had political ramifications.  A poll taken in 1937 found only 26 percent of Americans in favor of the U.S. joining the League of Nations.  In July 1944, 72 percent of those surveyed supported a postwar “union of nations.”  Opinions also changed on participation in the First World War.  In 1937, 64 percent thought that U.S. participation had been a mistake.  That number tumbled to 18 percent in 1944.  With the change, some useful lessons from the First World War diminished, including skepticism toward arms buildups, militarism, and nationalistic propaganda.  A survey in June 1943 found that 84 percent of Americans backed building overseas military bases after the war.[599]
A. J. Muste predicted that in the postwar era, the U.S. would suppress independence movements and align with reactionary and demagogic leaders.
In September 1945, as world leaders met in Dumbarton Oaks (a mansion in Georgetown, Washington, DC) to prepare for the founding of the United Nations the following month, pacifist leader A. J. Muste presented a pessimistic report to the FOR.  He predicted that the U.S. would pursue a neo-imperial policy in which “we shall be putting down independence movements in Latin America . . . and joining with Britain, Holland, and France in crushing independence movements in the Orient.”  Within the U.S., he furthermore warned, “the nation will be militarized, as the proposal for peacetime conscription suggests,” and “reactionary and demagogic elements” will make “scapegoats” of radicals and minority groups.[600]
Muste was prescient in these predictions, as the U.S. began actively aiding French efforts to recolonize Vietnam in February 1950, and experienced a witch hunt against the left, known as McCarthyism, in the late 1940s and early 1950s.  The formation of the United Nations out of the wreckage of the League of Nations appeared to favor Wallace’s vision of global cooperation, but the advocates of Pax Americana gained ascendancy in the postwar era, aided by a new “Soviet threat” which fit the pattern of “democracy versus autocracy.”
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IX. Legacies and lessons of the war

The sorrows of war were more deeply felt in lands outside the United States.  The number of U.S. soldiers and civilians who died in the war – about 419,100 – amounted to less than one percent of an estimated 80 million fatalities worldwide.  The latter include 20 to 27 million Soviets and 15 to 20 million Chinese.  More Soviet soldiers died in the six-month battle of Stalingrad (486,000) than all American soldiers who died during the whole war (407,000).[601]

Moscow museum of the Great Patriotic War (Wiki Commons)

The war is remembered in Russia today as the Great Patriotic War.  Each year on May 9, thousands of Russians march through Moscow’s Red Square, chanting patriotic songs and holding photos of family members who served on the Russian front in World War II.  The national celebration commemorates Russia’s historic sacrifices and epic victory over the Nazis.  Moscow’s World War II museum features beautifully painted murals memorializing Russia’s victory at the Battle of Stalingrad.  The murals show graphic scenes of house-to-house fighting and reflect on the heroism of Russian soldiers and citizens as they mobilized to fight off the Nazi invaders.  Like the Americans, Russians view their military power with pride, albeit tempered by their great losses during the war.[602]

The majority of Americans came out of the war believing that their nation bore the largest share of responsibility for the Allied victory.  Already in mid-1943, polls found that 55 percent of respondents named the U.S. as the nation which had done most toward winning the war.  A similar poll in Britain found that only three percent named the U.S., while the majority chose the Soviet Union.  More importantly, as the political scientist Hans Morgenthau noted, most Americans came to believe that their nation’s military victory over the Axis powers indicated American “moral superiority.”  This presumed moral superiority was “then taken to be a permanent quality which not only explains past victories, but also justifies the national claim to be the lawgiver and arbiter of mankind.”[603]
This dubious linkage between military and moral power reinforced Henry Luce’s vision of Pax Americana, or supreme global power, ostensibly in the name of spreading freedom and democracy.  Yet, as the historian Elizabeth D. Samset notes, “the proximate cause for the country’s entrance into the conflict was not proactive, but reactive:  the attack on Pearl Harbor, not a quest to liberate the world’s oppressed peoples.”  Most importantly, she writes, “World War II left behind the dangerous and seemingly indestructible fantasy that our military intervention will naturally produce (an often underappreciated) good.  Each succeeding conflict has led to the reprise and reinvention of the Good War’s mythology in order to justify or otherwise explain uses of American power. . . . Each new generation has found a new use for the Good War.”[604]  World War II came to be remembered as the “good war” in part because it set the pattern for establishing American identity as the “good nation” seemingly forever into the future.  Though the said malicious forces of the world might change over time, the U.S. would always be benevolent and protective, its motives blameless, according to this self-serving view.

Creation of the European Economic Community, 1957

Western Europe and the U.S. diverged on the main lessons of the war.  Having experienced two world wars within a span of thirty years, influential Western European political leaders recognized two fundamental causes of these wars, excessive nationalism and militarism, and took steps to ameliorate these causes.  In 1951, they initiated the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), integrating the coal and steel industries of France and West Germany – former enemies.  Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg soon joined.  The ECSC laid the groundwork for the formation of the European Economic Community in 1957 and the European Union in 1993.  These pan-European systems proved remarkably effective in forging a common European identity and reducing the threat of war.[605]

The idea that excessive nationalism and militarism are problems for all major nations was acknowledged in the founding of the United Nations, which was physically established in New York City.  Yet it collided head on with the popular idea of “peace through strength” in the U.S. which called for a militarized America projecting its power abroad in the ostensible interest of world peace as well as noble ideals of freedom and democracy.  A “victory culture” emerged in the aftermath of the war in which militarism and super-nationalism fed off each other.  To be patriotic was to support the military, and all military undertakings were described as essential to “national security.”  The War Department was renamed the Defense Department to make the point.  The arms industry, once labeled the “merchants of death,” retained its rebranding in World War II as the “arsenal of democracy” and developed into a huge military-industrial-scientific infrastructure replete with well-paid lobbyists to assure a continuous flow of taxpayer dollars and a permanent war economy.  The “peace through strength” formula furthermore depreciated diplomacy.  The spectacular failure of the Munich agreement in 1938 was touted as the lesson for all time, with political leaders citing it whenever they wanted to disparage diplomacy and employ force in international affairs.

Japanese Constitution, Article 9, printed on a T-shirt (Asia News)

The lesson imposed by U.S. occupational forces in Japan was quite different.  On August 29, 1945, just before the surrender ceremony aboard the USS Missouri, President Truman informed General MacArthur, the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers who would supervise the occupation of Japan, that the U.S. goal was to ensure “that Japan will not again become a menace to the United States or the peace and security of the world.”  To this end, Japan must be “completely disarmed and demilitarized” and every effort must be made “to bring home to the Japanese people the part played by the military and naval leaders . . . in bringing about the existing and future distress of the people.  Japan is not to have an army, navy, air force, secret police organization, or any civil aviation.”[606]  Gen. MacArthur carried out this mandate, placing into the new Japanese constitution Article 9 which prohibits Japan from maintaining any offensive war potential.  Article 9 of Japan’s Constitution reads as follows:

1.  Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes.

2.  In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.[607]

This prohibition on warmaking served Japan well over the years, allowing the country to focus on building its economy.  However, the U.S. overseers of occupied Japan covertly created a police constabulary, which was equipped with military weapons, and restored certain right-wing Japanese war criminals to power like Nobusuke Kishi under the guise of fighting communism.[608]  U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operatives also manipulated elections in Japan during the 1950s and 1960s, secretly providing cash contributions to the conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) so as to diminish the electoral prospects of the Japanese Socialist Party.[609]

The Nuclear Age
For Albert Einstein, the single most important lesson to be drawn from the Second World War was to avoid a third one.  In May 1946, nine months after U.S. aircraft dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Einstein wrote an appeal to several hundred prominent Americans, warning, “The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking, and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe.”[610]  He called for new military and foreign policies that would replace international competition with cooperation and replace war preparations with peaceful resolution of conflicts, thus freeing up vast amounts of resources and talents for constructive purposes.  True security, he believed, could only be achieved through global cooperation, which is to say, by building a friendly international neighborhood rather than one armed to the teeth.  With the advent of the Nuclear Age, moreover, there can never be another all-out war like World War II, unless mass annihilation and ecocide are the goals.
Einstein also believed that stronger measures of world government were necessary to resolve disputes between nations.  He joined a robust world federalist movement in the aftermath of the war, aimed at moving the UN further in the direction of a world federal system.  In 1948, the editors of the Washington Star rejected a proposal by Einstein for world government by arguing that it “ignores all of the lessons of our experience.  Once before, after World War I, the United States discarded its arms,” they wrote, and “in doing so we came within a hair’s breadth of losing World War II.  We must not do it again. . . . World government will have to wait.”[611]
There has neverthless been some progress in changing our ill-suited “modes of thinking” since World War II, despite continuing wars, terrorism, oppression, great power rivalries, and gross inequalities.  National leaders have signed treaties and conventions limiting nuclear buildups, restricting proliferation, banning open air tests, and establishing “nuclear free zones,” including on the ocean floor and in outer space. In January 2021, a UN-sponsored treaty outlawing nuclear weapons went into effect after being ratified by more than 50 countries, although not by the nuclear powers. The ban forbids signatories from allowing any nuclear explosive device to be stationed, installed or deployed in their territory.[612]
Perhaps the most significant development, catalyzed in part by the war, was the demise of the 500-year-old European imperial order in the 30-year period following the war.  Indeed, the very word “imperialism” became a term of opprobrium.  In India, Mohandas Gandhi led a nonviolent movement for national self-determination, but elsewhere, as in Kenya and Vietnam, the reigning imperial powers violently suppressed independence movements, sparking wars of national liberation.  Gandhi’s nonviolent civil disobedience strategy proved adaptable to domestic oppression and structural violence, evident in the civil rights movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  Challenging oppression through nonviolent means and movements also proved effective in overcoming apartheid in South Africa and liberating Eastern Europe from Soviet domination in the late 1980s.
War trials and human rights

Nuremberg Trials defendants, 1945-46: In front row, left to right, Hermann Göring, Rudolf Hess, Joachim von Ribbentrop, Wilhelm Keitel. In second row, left to right, Karl Dönitz, Erich Raeder, Baldur von Schirach, Fritz Sauckel (Wiki Commons)

The victorious allies (including liberated France) agreed in the aftermath of the war that the leaders of Germany and Japan should pay for their actions.  Hence, they established war crimes tribunals in Nuremberg and Tokyo in which German and Japanese leaders were charged with crimes against peace, conspiracy to wage aggressive war, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, including the deliberate murder of populations on grounds of race and religion.[613]  Though the trials were legally questionable, given that the victors sat in judgment of the vanquished and furthermore declared their own excesses to be out-of-bounds (such as the Soviet invasion of Poland and the British and American firebombing of cities), the tribunals nonetheless played important roles in focusing on the Axis leadership rather than the citizenry, which in turn helped foster reconciliation between peoples.

The trials also established a precedent in rejecting the “following orders” defense.  Rudolf Hess, the commandant at Auschwitz concentration camp, which executed some one million people, pleaded:  “Don’t you see, we SS men were not supposed to think about these things; it never even occurred to us. . . . We were all so trained to obey orders without even thinking that the thought of disobeying an order would simply never have occurred to anybody, and somebody else would have done just as well if I hadn’t.”[614]  The judges rejected the plea and Hess spent the rest of his life in prison.
Raphael Lemkin, a Polish Jew and international lawyer who lost forty-nine relatives in the Holocaust, coined the term “genocide” in his 1944 study, Axis Rule in Occupied Europe: Laws of Occupation, Analysis of Government, Proposals for Redress.  He defined the term broadly, as the planned and systematic destruction of a cultural, political, or national group whether through mass killing, economic deprivation, cultural oppression, or other means.  Lemkin emigrated to the U.S. in 1941 and became the key lobbyist at the United Nations for the adoption of an international convention against genocide.[615]

Raphael Lemkin

On December 9, 1948, the UN General Assembly approved the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.  This convention defines genocide as “the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group.”  It obliges nations that sign it to take appropriate action “for the prevention and suppression of acts of genocide.”  The convention entered into force in January 1951, but the U.S. Senate refused to ratify it amid fears that it would be applied to racial oppression and lynching in the segregated South.  Not until 1986 did the Senate ratify the convention, and only then after a nineteen-year lobbying campaign by Senator William Proxmire of Wisconsin, who made over 3,200 speeches on the Senate floor in favor of it.[616]

The abuse of civilians in World War II also provided the motivation for the development of a comprehensive set of international human rights standards.   On December 10, 1948, one day after approving the genocide convention, the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  The political, social, and economic rights defined therein were designed as guidelines for public policy and social progress, “a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations,” as stated in the Preamble.  These declared rights acknowledge the dignity of each individual, regardless of caste, class, race, gender, and social position, and advance an egalitarian social organizing principle in the forms of democratic governance and equal citizenship rights.  Among the economic rights is “the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services.”[617]  The latter “right,” like President Roosevelt’s proposed “Economic Bill of Rights” of 1944, has never been accepted by conservatives in the United States.
Pax Americana
The U.S. consolidated its global overseas empire in the aftermath of World War II, much as A. J. Muste had warned.  The September 1940 destroyers-for-bases deal that President Roosevelt made with Great Britain allowed the U.S. to establish a ring of military bases in the Western Hemisphere.  According to the historian Melvyn Leffler, the Truman administration planned a global network of bases and airfields immediately after the Japanese surrender in September 1945.  Primary areas for bases “stretched to the western shores of the Pacific [the Aleutians, the Philippines, Okinawa, and former Japanese mandates] . . . encompassed the polar air routes . . . and projected U.S. power into the Eastern Atlantic (the Azores) as well as the Caribbean and the Panama Canal zone.  Dozens of additional sites were denoted as secondary and minor base areas.”  These overseas bases, writes Leffler, would “permit the United States to project its power in peacetime and to punish an aggressor in wartime,” quell “prospective unrest in Northeast and Southeast Asia,” maintain “access to critical raw materials,” and “attack the vital regions of any enemy should war seem imminent.”[618]  The essential goals were to secure U.S. military predominance and a U.S.-led world order congruent with capitalist-market principles.
Recognizing the magnitude of the new strategic frontier, Admiral William E. Leahy, chief of staff to the president, explained to President Truman that the Joint Chiefs were not thinking of the immediate future, where admittedly no prospective naval power could challenge American predominance in the Pacific.  Instead, they were contemplating the long-term when the U.S. might require wartime access to the resources of Southeast Asia along with a string of bases from the American West Coast to the Asiatic mainland.  With additional bases in West Africa, the U.S. could possess complete control of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.[619]

The acquisition of the largest empire of military bases in human history was largely accomplished without public debate.  The public was conditioned after World War II to praise U.S. military predominance and accept U.S. military interventions under the guise of various protective and humanitarian pretexts.  Global ambitions and ideological crusades were conflated with national defense and security.  Out of the “victory culture” developed an American “empire identity.”  In a retrospective article on the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, the historian Andrew Bacevich writes of the influence of the war on subsequent U.S. foreign policies.  Col. Bacevich himself served in the U.S. Army from 1969 to 1992, which included tours of duty in the Vietnam War and the Persian Gulf War.  His son, 1st Lt. Andrew J. Bacevich, was killed in the Iraqi war.

Since V-E [Victory in Europe]  Day, individuals and regimes deemed in Washington to be the spawn of Hitler and the Nazis have provided justification for successive administrations to accumulate arms, impose punishments, underwrite coups and assassination plots, and, of course, wage war endlessly.  Beginning with Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin and China’s Mao Zedong, the list of malefactors that U.S. officials and militant journalists have likened to Hitler is a long one.  They’ve ranged from North Korea’s Kim Il Sung in the 1950s to Cuba’s Fidel Castro in the 1960s to Iraq’s Saddam Hussein in the 1990s.  And just to bring things up to date, let’s not overlook the ayatollahs governing present-day Iran.

Two decades after V-E Day, a succession of presidents deployed lessons ostensibly derived from the war against Hitler to justify the Vietnam War.  John F. Kennedy described South Vietnam as “the cornerstone of the Free World in Southeast Asia, the Keystone of the arch, the finger in the dike.”  Failing to defend that country would allow “the red tide of Communism,” as he put it, to sweep across the region much as appeasers had allowed the Nazi tide to sweep across Europe.  “Everything I knew about history,” Lyndon Johnson reflected, “told me that if I got out of Vietnam and let Ho Chi Minh run through the streets of Saigon, then I’d be doing exactly what [Neville] Chamberlain did in World War II,” a reference, of course, to the Munich Agreement with Hitler, which that British prime minister so infamously labeled “peace in our time.”  Even as late as 1972, Richard Nixon was assuring the public that “an American defeat” in Vietnam “would encourage this kind of aggression all over the world.”

Vietnam provides but one example among many of how viewing problems through the lens of World War II in Europe has obscured real situations and actual stakes on this planet.  In short, the promiscuous use of the Hitler analogy has produced deeply flawed policy decisions, while also deceiving the American people.  This has inhibited our ability to see the world as it actually is.  Overall, the approach to statecraft that grew out of V-E Day defined the ultimate purpose of U.S. policy in terms of resisting evil.  That, in turn, provided all the justification needed for building up American military capabilities beyond compare and engaging in military action on a planetary scale.[620]

In pursuing Henry Luce’s vision of American global supremacy, the U.S. came to forfeit much of the moral capital it had won in World War II.
The choice for empire made by U.S. leaders after the war and the use of false World War II analogies to fuel endless wars were not fated.  The embrace of U.S. and Russian troops on the Elbe and the popularity of Henry Wallace’s vision of a cooperative world order offered an alternative to Henry Luce’s vision of the American Century.  In pursuit of that hegemonic vision, the U.S. came to forfeit much of the moral capital it had won in World War II.  Looking back on the last seventy-five years, it is ever more imperative to understand the true history of World War II – its origins and catastrophic effects – and to draw appropriate lessons.  Crucial among these lessons are the needs to oppose racism and extreme nationalism, to rein in military aggression and imperialism, to pursue global cooperation and international law, to create economies that meet human needs and societies that respect human rights, and to prevent future wars, especially those that might involve the use of nuclear weapons.
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[1] “German Jewish Refugees,” Holocaust Encyclopedia, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM),; and “Immigration to the United States, 1933-41,” Holocaust Encyclopedia, USHMM,

[2] “The Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” Atomic Archive,

[3] Neil Halloran, “The Fallen of World War II, History News Network, May 8, 2015,  Of the roughly 80 million fatalities in World War II, about 41 million died in the European-Mideast-North African theater and 39 million, in the Asia-Pacific theater.

[4] According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, “Approximately 407,000 American service men and women died while in service during WW II, including 292,000 battle deaths and 115,000 other deaths.  The total death number includes 79,000 who were lost in combat and never recovered.  Another 672,000 suffered non-fatal wounds.”  Department of Veterans Affairs, “World War II Veterans by the Numbers,”  Approximately 12,100 U.S. civilians, mostly members of the U.S. merchant marine, were killed in the war, according to “World War II casualties,” Wikipedia,

[5] The Nine-Power Treaty signed by the United States, Great Britain, France, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Portugal, China, and Japan at the Washington Naval Conference in 1922 affirmed the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China, but no enforcement mechanisms were attached.  For the full text of the Nine-Power Treaty, see  For background on U.S.-Japanese relations, see Walter LaFeber, The Clash: U.S. Japanese Relations Throughout History (New York: W.W. Norton, 1997).  See also, James Bradley, The China Mirage: The Hidden History of American Disaster in Asia (Boston: Back Bay Books, 2016).

[6] Irvine H. Anderson, “The 1941 De Facto Embargo on Oil to Japan: A Bureaucratic Reflex,” Pacific Historical Review 44, no. 2 (1975): 201-31.  In September 1941, the Japanese high command finalized its “Southern Plan,” to be implemented if negotiations with the U.S. failed.  The plan envisioned a massive invasion of Southeast Asia coupled with attacks on British and American naval bases in the region.  Previous to this, in April 1941, Japan signed a neutrality pact with the Soviet Union which ruled out a northern invasion plan.

[7] The war plan was leaked to the Chicago Tribune which reported it on December 4, 1941, with a front-page bold headline, “F.D.R.’s War Plans!” causing a major stir in the country.  See Joseph Connor, “Who Leaked FDR’s War Plans?” HistoryNet, December 2018,; and Thomas Fleming, “The Big Leak,” American Heritage, Vo. 38, Issue 8 (December 1987),

[8] Richard N. Current, “How Stimson Meant to ‘Maneuver’ the Japanese,” The Mississippi Valley Historical Review 40, no. 1 (1953), 72.

[9] “The Ambassador in Japan (Joseph Grew) to the Secretary of State, 3 November 1941” [telegram], U.S. Department of State, Publication 1983, Peace and War: United States Foreign Policy, 1931-1941 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1943), 772-74,

[10] Current, “How Stimson Meant to ‘Maneuver’ the Japanese,” 67.  Stimson’s diary entry came under scrutiny after the war.  In September 1945, Congress created a Joint Committee on the Investigation of the Pearl Harbor attack.  Three Republican committee members raised the question of whether the president deliberately planned to provoke the Japanese into attacking Pearl Harbor.  In March 1946, Stimson presented to the committee an explanation of his earlier diary comments:  “If you know that your enemy is going to strike you, it is not usually wise to wait until he gets the jump on you by taking the initiative.  In spite of the risk involved, however, in letting the Japanese fire the first shot, we realized that in order to have the full support of the American people it was desirable to make sure that the Japanese be the ones to do this so that there would remain no doubt in anyone’s mind as to who were the aggressors” (72).  Although President Roosevelt was clearly eager to enter the war in Europe, the committee found no convincing evidence that he had prior knowledge of the Pearl Harbor attack.  See “Joint Committee on the Investigation of the Pearl Harbor Attack,” United States Senate, final summary issued June 20, 1946,  The full report can be downloaded at

[11] On October 7, 1940, one month after the war in Europe began, Lieutenant Commander Arthur McCollum of the Office of Naval Intelligence submitted a memo to Navy Captain Walter Anderson and Dudley Knox, two of President Roosevelt’s most trusted advisors, offering an analysis of the geopolitical situation, threats to the U.S., and possible strategies.  Though incorrect in predicting that Russia would align with the Axis powers in the future, and ambivalent as to whether the Axis powers, including Japan, planned to make war on the U.S. (two contradictory statements are made), the memo proposed an eight-step plan for the U.S. to beef up its forces and prepare for war, followed by this declaration:  “If by these means Japan could be led to commit an overt act of war, so much the better.  At all events we must be fully prepared to accept the threat of war.”  See “The McCollum Memo: The Smoking Gun of Pearl Harbor,”

[12] A number of historians have challenged the dominant view that Pearl Harbor was a surprise attack and have argued that top officials in the Roosevelt administration deliberately allowed the attack to go forward because they knew that the American public would only support the war if the U.S. had been attacked first.  The following is a synthesis of their main evidence and arguments:  (1) On the morning of December 7, 1941, at 10 a.m. (5 a.m. Hawaii time), Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall received word of the impending attack on Pearl Harbor.  Inexplicably, he did not send the information to naval commanders in Hawaii via scrambler phone, which would have gotten the information there immediately.  Instead, Marshall sent it through regular courier and did not mark the message as urgent, ensuring that it got there well after the Pearl Harbor attacks.  (2) Recent scholarship confirms that military cryptanalysts had cracked the Japanese diplomatic and military code.  Hence, they were privy to cables specifying that Japan had broken diplomatic relations, which was crucial because in Japan’s previous wars the severing of diplomatic relations was followed by a sneak attack on the enemy.  Other cables indicated that Japan was engaged in an offensive operation directed against Pearl Harbor.  One decoded dispatch had Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto directing the Japanese air fleet to depart Hitokappu on November 26, advance into Hawaiian waters through the North Pacific, and attack the U.S. fleet in Hawaii.  Yamamoto even provided the latitude and longitude for portion of the route, while calling for a “mortal blow” on the U.S. fleet in Hawaii.  (3) American monitors had meanwhile tracked the Japanese Pearl Harbor task force by means of radio direction finding techniques and interception of radio transmissions.  Even though it was known that the attacks were an imminent possibility, American naval vessels were ordered to be moved away from the vicinity of Pearl Harbor, leaving the remaining ships as sitting ducks.  (4) Admiral T.B. Inglis, the head of naval intelligence, testified before Congress in 1945 about inadequate anti-aircraft guns and radar systems and that the Army had puzzlingly failed to carry out long range patrols with long range bombers, which would have made it exceedingly difficult for the Japanese forces to have approached Pearl Harbor.  The only planes made available were B-18s, which were described by Fleet Admiral William S. Halsey as “slow, short-legged and unfitted for overseas scouting.”  (5) The FDR administration went to great lengths to deflect any responsibility for the Pearl Harbor attack.  In the weeks following the attack, the president convened the Roberts Commission, led by Supreme Court Justice Owen Roberts, which blamed Hawaiian naval commanders Husband Kimmel and Walter Short for the intelligence failure that led to the attacks.  Admiral James Richardson called the Roberts investigation “the most unfair, unjust, and deceptively dishonest document [referring to the Roberts commission report] ever printed by the Government Printing Office.”  Admiral William H. Standley, who sat on the Roberts Commission, stated after his retirement in 1954 that the commission had been “as crooked as a snake,” that Admiral Kimmel and General Short had “been martyred,” and that the real responsibility for Pearl Harbor was logged thousands of miles from the territory of Hawaii.”  In 1998, the efforts of Kimmel and Short’s children to restore their father’s reputation paid dividends when the U.S. Congress exonerated them from blame for the intelligence failure at Pearl Harbor.  Then-Senator Joe Biden (D-DE) declared that “these officers were publicly vilified and never given a chance to clear their names… I cannot accept that there is a reason for continuing to deny the culpability of others in Washington at the expense of these two officers’ reputations fifty-seven years later.”  Biden quoted in Justin Raimondo, “The Secret of Pearl Harbor – FDR’s Role Exposed, 1944,”, May 25, 2001,  On the efforts to restore the reputations of Kimmel and Short by their family members, see Anthony Summers and Robyn Swan, A Matter of Honor: Pearl Harbor: Betrayal, Blame, and a Family’s Quest for Justice (New York: Harper & Row, 2016).  For critical analyses of the conduct of the Roosevelt administration related to Pearl Harbor, see Robert B. Stinnett, Day of Deceit: The Truth About FDR and Pearl Harbor (New York: Touchstone Books, 2001); Steve Sniegoski, “The Case for Pearl Harbor Revisionism,” The Occidental Quarterly, 6, 1 (Winter 2001); John Toland, Infamy: Pearl Harbor and Its Aftermath (New York: Berkley Books, 1983); George Morganstern, Pearl Harbor: The Story of the Secret War (New York: The Devin Adair Company, 1947); George Victor, The Pearl Harbor Myth: Rethinking the Unthinkable (Washington, D.C.: Potomac Books, 2007); David Ray Griffin, The American Trajectory Divine or Demonic? (Atlanta: Clarity Press Inc., 2018), 137-152; Charles A. Beard, President Roosevelt and the Coming of the War 1941: A Study in Appearances and Realities (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1948); and Thomas Fleming, “Pearl Harbor Hype,” History News Network, June 2001,

[13] William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011), 31; and Sally Marks, “Reparations Reconsidered: A Reminder,” Central European History 2, no. 4 (1969): 356-65.

[14] Thomas Fleming, The Illusion of Victory: America in World War I (New York: Basic Books, 2003), 378; and Deborah Dwork and Robert Jan Van Pelt, Holocaust: A History (New York: W.W. Norton, 2002), 50.

[15] Quoted from the January 1942 issue of Bungei Shunjū, a monthly magazine based in Tokyo, in John W. Dower, War Without Mercy: Race & Power in the Pacific War (New York: Pantheon Books, 1986), 211.

[16] David Schmitz, Thank God They’re on Our Side: The United States and Right-Wing Dictatorship, 1921-1963 (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1999), 89.

[17] Donny Gluckstein, A People’s History of World War II: Resistance Versus Empire (London: Pluto Press, 2012), 98.  See also, “’The Creeds of the Devil’: Churchill between the Two Totalitarianisms, 1917-1945, International Churchill Society,

[18] Schmitz, Thank God They’re on Our Side, 90; and Wolfgang Schivelbusch, Three New Deals: Reflections on Roosevelt’s America, Mussolini’s Italy, and Hitler’s Germany, 1933-1939 (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2006), 31.  On U.S. citizen support for Mussolini during the interwar years, see Katy Hull, The Machine Has a Soul: American Sympathy with Italian Fascism (Princeton University Press, 2021).  IBM stands for International Business Machines.

[19] Schmitz, Thank God They’re on Our Side, 91.  On U.S. business ties to Nazi Germany, see Section IV.

[20] Schmitz, Thank God They’re on Our Side, 90.

[21] Schmitz, Thank God They’re On Our Side, 91-92.

[22] Former ambassador Rodric Braithwaite spoke at the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute on June 13, 2005; cited in F. Joseph Dresen, “Moscow 1941: A City and Its People at War,” Kennan Institute,  Paul Thomas Chamberlin, in The Cold War’s Killing Fields: Rethinking the Long Peace (New York: Harper Collins, 2018), similarly comments on the tendency in the U.S. to downplay the Soviet role in the Second World War:  “Consider, for example, histories of World War II in Europe that gloss over the fact that the overwhelming majority of the casualties took place on the Eastern Front – that ignore Stalingrad to focus on Normandy.  Such works obscure the enormous role that the Soviet Union played in the war and lionize American contributions” (5).

[23] “Research Starters: Worldwide Deaths in World War II,” The National World War Two Museum, New Orleans,

[24] David M. Kennedy, in The American People in World War II (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 422.

[25] Errol Morris, “The Fog of War” documentary film, Sony Classics, 2003.

[26] Quoted in Evan Thomas, “The Epic Madness of World War II,” The National Interest, no. 121 (2012), 74.  See Antony Beevor, The Second World War (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 2012).

[27] See Robert J. Lifton and Gregory Mitchell, Hiroshima in America; A Half Century of Denial (New York: Harperperennial, 1996); and Peter Kuznick, “The Actual Reason Why America Dropped 2 Atomic Bombs on Japan,” YouTube video,

[28] Dower, War Without Mercy, 37, 45.

[29] “Executive Order 9066: Resulting in the Relocation of Japanese (1942),  Prejudice was also evident in the 1922 Supreme Court ruling that upheld the government’s right to deny U.S. citizenship to Japanese immigrants (Ozawa v. United States).  See also, “Japanese American Incarceration,” The National WWII Museum,

[30] Studs Terkel, “The Good War”: An Oral History of World War II (New York: The New Press, 1984), 12.

[31] Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States (New York: Harper Perennial, 1990), 416; and Noam Chomsky, “On the Background of the Pacific War,” Liberation, September-October, 1967.

[32] Terkel, “The Good War,” 192-93.

[33] See Tom Engelhardt, The End of Victory Culture: Postwar America and the Disillusioning of a Generation, rev ed. (Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2007).

[34] On Cold War contradictions, see Roger Peace, “Cold War interventionism, 1945-1990,” United States Foreign Policy History and Resource Guide website, 2019, Section II.

[35] See William Blum, Killing Hope: American Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II (Monroe, ME: Common Courage Press, 1998); Noam Chomsky, Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Military Dominance (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2004); Stephen G. Rabe, The Killing Zone: The United States Wages Cold War in Latin America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012); and Andrew Bacevich, “Will 2020 Finally Kill America’s War Fetish?” The New Republic, June 9, 2020,

[36] Ian Kershaw, Hitler: Hubris, 1889-1936 (New York: Penguin Books, 1998), 73.

[37] Kershaw, Hitler, 15; and Doris L. Bergen, War and Genocide: A Concise History of the Holocaust (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2009), 31;

[38] Adolf Hitler, Mien Kampf, Chapter One, “In the house of my parents,” online:  In 1941 and 1943, the U.S. Office of Strategic Services interviewed Hitler’s parental family doctor, Eduard Bloch, who described Adolf’s relationship with his mother as close and noted that Adolf carried the grief of her death through his life.  “While Hitler was not a mother’s boy in the usual sense,” said Bloch, “I never witnessed a closer attachment.  Their love had been mutual.  Klara Hitler adored her son.  She allowed him his own way whenever possible.  For example, she admired his watercolor paintings and drawings and supported his artistic ambitions in opposition to his father at what cost to herself one may guess.”  Office of Strategic Services, Hitler Source Book, Interview with Dr. Eduard Bloch, March 5, 1943,

[39] Shelley Baranowski, Nazi Empire: German Colonialism and Imperialism from Bismarck to Hitler (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 132; Michael Kimmelman, “Karl May and the Origins of a German Obsession,” The New York Times, September 12, 2007; and W. Raymond Wood, “The Role of the Romantic West in Shaping the Third Reich,” Plains Anthropologist, November 1990, 317.

[40] Kershaw, Hitler, 87-93.

[41] Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, 30.

[42] Quoted in Dwork and Van Pelt, Holocaust, 49.

[43] Dwork and Van Pelt, Holocaust, 52; and “Meet the Freikorps: Vanguard of Terror 1918-1923,” National World War II Museum, June 7, 2018,  Ebert had made a pact with right-wing Field Marshall Paul Von Hindenburg in which Ebert promised to support the army and do everything in his power to resist Bolshevism.  Earlier, the Freikorps, with the collusion of the Social Democrats, had killed communist party leaders Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebnecht, whose bodies were tossed gangland style into the icy waters of Berlin’s Landwehr Canal.

[44] Kershaw, Hitler, 114-16, 122-24.

[45] See Eric D. Weitz, Weimar Germany: Promise and Tragedy, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2018).

[46] John S. Conway, “Resisting Militarism: The Peace Movement in the German Evangelical Church during the Weimar Republic,” Kirchliche Zeitgeschichte 4, no. 1 (1991): 29-45; Jennifer Adams, “Weimar’s peace-mongers,” Exberliner, January 8, 2017,; and Kristen Rogheh Ghodsee, “Einstein’s Pacifism: A Conversation with Wolfram Wette,” 2015, Institute for Advanced Study,  See also this brief YouTube video of the 1921 “No More War” demonstration in Berlin:

[47] Mark Roseman, The Wannsee Conference and the Final Solution: A Reconsideration (New York: Picador, 2002), 10.

[48] Jacques Pauwels, Big Business and Hitler (Toronto; Ontario: James Lorimer, 2017), 41, 158, 159.

[49] Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, 185.  A large voter turnout in the July 1932 elections expanded the size of the Reichstag to 607 seats.  For a graphic breakdown of the vote, see Jerome G. Kerwin, “The German Reichstag Elections of July 31, 1932,” The American Political Science Review 26, no. 5 (1932), 922.

[50] Henry Ashby Turner, Hitler’s Thirty Days to Power (Boston: Addison-Wesley, 1996).  William Shirer, in The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, writes (p. 193) that at the Nuremburg Tribunals following the war, General Franz Halder stated in an affidavit that Hermann Göring boasted about setting the fire: “On the occasion of a lunch on the Führer’s birthday in 1943, the people around the Führer turned the conversation to the Reichstag building and its artistic value. I heard with my own ears how Göring broke into the conversation and shouted: ‘The only one who really knows about the Reichstag building is I, for I set fire to it.'”

[51] “How did the Nazi consolidate their power?” The Wiener Holocaust Library,  See also, Peter Fritzsche, Hitler’s First Hundred Days: When Germans Embraced the Third Reich (New York: Basic Books, 2020), which documents the major repressive actions of the Nazis in power and highlights those German citizens who supported the Nazi Party and Hitler.

[52] “Concentration Camps, 1933-1939,” Holocaust Encyclopedia, USHMM,; and “The Nazi Concentration Camps: Prisoner Groups,”

[53] Pauwels, Big Business and Hitler, 51, 52; and “Book Burning,” Holocaust Encyclopedia, USHMM,

[54] Roseman, The Wannsee Conference and the Final Solution, 19, 20; Gerald Reitlinger, The Final Solution: The Attempt to Exterminate the Jews of Europe, 1939-1945 (New Jersey: Jason Aronson Inc., 1987); and Pauwels, Big Business and Hitler, 54, 55.

[55] Baranowski, Nazi Empire, 135, 136; Pauwels, Big Business and Hitler; and Anthony Sutton, Wall Street and the Rise of Hitler (GSG & Associates, 1976).

[56] Pauwels, Big Business and Hitler, 58, 61.

[57] Chloe Maxwell, “George Creel and the Committee on Public Information 1917-1918,” Tenor of Our Times, Vol. 4, Article 8, Spring 2015,, 82; and Edward L. Bernays, Propaganda, with Introduction by Mark Crispin Miller (Brooklyn: Estate of Edward Bernays, 1928, renewed 1955), 27.

[58] Allison C. Meier, “An Affordable Radio Brought Nazi Propaganda Home,” JSTOR Daily, August 30. 2018,

[59] Baranowski, Nazi Empire, 191. Hermann Göring’s father was the first colonial governor of Southwest Africa.

[60] “Germany: Jewish Population,” Holocaust Encyclopedia, USHMM,

[61] “Jews in Prewar Germany,” Holocaust Encyclopedia, USHMM,

[62] In 1543, Martin Luther, the father of Protestantism, wrote a 65,000-word treatise, On the Jews and Their Lies, that rabidly denounced Jews and urged their persecution.  His book was occasionally held up at Nazi rallies.  Going back further in time, the knights of the First Crusade in 1096 massacred Jews in the cities of Worms, Trier (both now in Germany) and Metz (now in France), before making their way to Jerusalem.

[63] “The German Churches and the Nazi State,” Holocaust Encyclopedia; and Robert P. Ericksen, Complicity in the Holocaust (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 26-27.

[64] “The German Churches and the Nazi State”; and Paul Berben, Dachau, 1933-1945: The Official History (San Francisco: Norfolk Press, 1975), 276-77.

[65] “Martin Niemöller: ‘First They Came For The Socialists …”, Holocaust Encyclopedia, USHMM,

[66] James Q. Whitman, Hitler’s American Model: The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2017).

[67] “Jews in Prewar Germany,” and “Concentration Camps, 1933-1939,” Holocaust Encyclopedia; “Timeline of Persecution,” Jewish Virtual Library,; “The Nazi Concentration Camps: Prisoner Groups,”; and “Asocial Prisoners,” Priddy Library Exhibits,

[68] “The Nuremberg Race Laws,” Holocaust Encyclopedia, USHMM,; and “Kristallnacht,” Holocaust Encyclopedia, USHMM,

[69] “Euthanasia Program and Aktion T4,” Holocaust Encyclopedia, USHMM,

[70] “Kiev and Babi Yar,” Holocaust Encyclopedia, USHMM,; Roseman, The Wannsee Conference and the Final Solution, 34; and Donald L. Niewyk, The Holocaust (London: Wadsworth, 2013), 4.

[71] Niewyk, The Holocaust, 5.

[72] Dan Kurzman, The Bravest Battle: The Twenty Eight Days of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1976).

[73] “Joseph Goebbels,” Holocaust Encyclopedia, USHMM,

[74] Roseman, The Wannsee Conference and the Final Solution, 79, 80, 81.  Heydrich was a man of contradictions as he was the son of musicians and a talented violinist, fencer, and pilot.

[75] Roseman, The Wannsee Conference and the Final Solution, 126.

[76] The Locarno treaties, named after Locarno, Switzerland, were signed in 1925 by the governments of Germany, France, Belgium, Great Britain, and Italy.  They included a number of security agreements, including the permanent demilitarization of the Rhineland region.  Hitler claimed that the Franco-Soviet Treaty of Mutual Assistance of May 1935 undermined the Locarno treaties and thus legitimized his remilitarization of the Rhineland.

[77] Arnold A. Offner, American Appeasement:  United States Foreign Policy and Germany, 1933-1938 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1969), 118.

[78] Offner, American Appeasement, 118-123.

[79] A full-sized tapestry copy of Picasso’s Guernica painting – 11½ feet tall by 25 ½ feet wide – hangs in the United Nations building at the entrance to the Security Council room, as a reminder of the horror and terror of war.

[80] Sherwood Ross, “From Guernica to Hiroshima: How America Reversed Its Policy on Bombing Civilians,” Scoop Independent News, September 20, 2006,

[81] Dwork and Van Pelt, Holocaust, 96-98; and Gluckstein, A People’s History of World War II, 137.  Renner came to head a provisional government in Austria at the end of the war, despite being viewed as a traitor by much of the population.

[82] Alvin Finkel and Clement Leibovitz, The Chamberlain-Hitler Collusion (Rendlesham, UK, and Halifax, Nova Scotia: Merlin Press/James Lorimer & Company, 1997), 13.

[83] Baranowski, Nazi Empire, 220.  British archival documents of the Bank of England opened in 2013 reportedly revealed that the UK voluntarily handed nearly $9 billion worth of gold that belonged to Czechoslovakia to Nazi Germany as part of the Munich agreement.  See Ben Quinn, “How Bank of England ‘helped Nazis sell gold stolen from Czechs,’” The Guardian, July 30, 2013,; and “Ekaterina Blinova, Unveiling Lies of the Cold War: What Lay Beneath Anti-Soviet Myths (New York: Red Star Publishing, 2015), 39.

[84] Arnold Offner, America and the Origins of World War II, 1933-1941 (Boston: Houghton & Mifflin, 1971), 68.

[85] Barbara Farnham, “Roosevelt and the Munich Crisis: Insights from Prospect Theory,” Political Psychology 13, no. 2 (1992), 210-11; and Gordon Wright, “Ambassador Bullitt and the Fall of France,” World Politics 10, no. 1 (1957): 63-90.

[86] A. J. P. Taylor, The Origins of the Second World War (New York: Atheneum, 1983), chapters 7 & 8.

[87] Thomas R. Maddux, “Watching Stalin Maneuver Between Hitler and the West: American Diplomats and Soviet Diplomacy, 1934-1939,” Diplomatic History 1, no. 2 (1977), 151, 153.  The quotes come from the diplomatic cable of former Ambassador William Bullitt to Secretary of State Hull, May 16, 1939, and from Ambassador Davies diary, July 18, 1939, published in Joseph E. Davies, Mission to Moscow (New York: Pocket Books, 1941), 450.  On Soviet efforts to forge an anti-Nazi alliance with Britain and France during the period of the Munich conference and the failure of the West to support these efforts, see Michael Jabara Carley “Only the USSR Has . . . Clean Hands”: The Soviet Perspective on the Failure of Collective Security and the Collapse of Czechoslovakia, 1934–1938,” Diplomacy & Statecraft, 21 (2010), 202-225,

[88] Michael Sayers and Albert E. Kahn, The Great Conspiracy Against Russia, with a special introduction by Senator Claude Pepper (New York: Boni & Gaer, 1946), 301; and Richard H. Ullman, “The Davies Mission and United States-Soviet Relations, 1937-1941,” World Politics 9, no. 2 (1957), 232.  Another reason for Stalin’s skepticism was that Great Britain and France along with the U.S. had attempted to kill the Bolshevik Revolution in its infancy by sending an expeditionary force in the “Midnight War.”  See Jeremy Kuzmarov, “The Wilson Administration’s War on Russian Bolshevism,” United States Foreign Policy History and Resource Guide website, 2018,

[89] Jonathan Haslam, The Spectre of War: International Communism and the Origins of World War II (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, May 2021), 4.

[90] David Reynolds, “1940: Fulcrum of the Twentieth Century?” International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944-) 66, no. 2 (1990), 337-38.

[91] Baranowski, Nazi Empire, 234, 231; Yehuda Bauer, A History of the Holocaust (Danbury, CT: Franklin Watts, 1982), 145; and Roger Moorehouse, Poland 1939: The Outbreak of World War II (New York: Basic Books, 2020).  In some towns, Jews were murdered for sport, as in Izbica, where the German mayor trained attack dogs to recognize the Jewish Star of David.  Roseman, The Wannsee Conference and the Final Solution, 39.

[92] Under Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1990, the Soviet government officially accepted blame for the massacre of 5,000 Polish military officers who were buried in mass graves.  In 2019, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin made an unprecedented gesture of good will to Poland by attending a memorial ceremony for the 22,000 Poles executed in the Katyn massacre, but he offered a controversial justification, saying that Joseph Stalin had ordered the massacres out of revenge for the death of 32,000 Red Army troops in Polish prisoner-of-war camps in 1920.  In December 2019, Putin sought to put a brighter face on Soviet history.  According to a Polish news source:  “Putin then argued that when the Soviet Union occupied the eastern half of Poland two weeks after the German invasion in September 1939, this ‘saved the lives of a large number of local people, especially Jews, because later the population would be exterminated by the Nazis.’  He also claimed that the occupation was necessary because the ‘Polish government had lost control of the country.’”  See Simon Shuster, “Gesture to Poland on Katyn massacre:  Vladimir Putin says Stalin executed POWs out of revenge,” January 12, 2019 (updated),; and “Putin Blames Poland for World War II and Says Soviet Occupation ‘Saved Lives,” December 23, 2019, Notes from Polanc,  Grover Furr argues contrarily in The Mystery of the Katyn Massacre: The Evidence, The Solution (Kettlering, Ohio: Erythros Press, 2018) that Nazi soldiers were the culprits in the massacre, pointing to shell casings at executions scenes that came from German weapons, a conclusion also rendered by a number of Russian scholars.  Furr also emphasizes the anti-communist bias of mainstream academic literature on this topic.

[93] “President Roosevelt’s statement on December 1, 1939,”; “The United States and Finland: An Enduring Relationship, 1919-1989,” Office of the Historian, U.S. Dept. of State, 2016,, 30-31; and William Trotter, The Winter War: The Russo-Finnish War of 1939-1940 (London: Aurum Press, 1991), 238-39.  According to Kahn and Sayers, in The Great Conspiracy Against Russia, a number of Finnish leaders were pro-Nazi.

[94] Alexander Werth, Russia at War, 1941-1945 (New York: Caroll & Graf, 1964), 81; and Hamilton Fish Armstrong, “The Downfall of France.” Foreign Affairs 19, no. 1 (1940), 73.

[95] Winston Churchill, “Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat,” March 13, 1940,

[96] Beevor, The Second World War, 187, 138.  Allied bombings of German cities would later resume under the auspices of undermining “the morale of the enemy,” which the British Bomber Command adopted as policy in February 1942.  See Ronald Schaffer, “American Military Ethics in World War II: The Bombing of German Civilians,” The Journal of American History 67, no. 2 (1980): 318-34.

[97] Dwork and Van Pelt, Holocaust, 184, 185.  Among those who eagerly cooperated with the Nazis was Lithuanian army officer Jonas Noreika.  His granddaughter later researched and wrote about this man whom she had been told was a hero for organizing a revolt against the Soviets in 1945.  She found that, while he indeed had led such a revolt, in his deeper past he was a military leader who personally ordered the killing of thousands of Jews in the town of Plunge.  See Silvia Foti, “My Celebrated Grandfather Had an Unforgivable Past,” New York Times, January 28, 2021, A27.

[98] Dwork and Van Pelt, Holocaust, 269.  Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Yugoslavia signed on to the Tripartite Pact in 1940-1941.  The pact was originally signed by Germany, Italy, and Japan on September 27, 1940.

[99] Prior to the German takeover of Estonia in July 1941, the Soviets took over Estonia in September 1940 and deported some 400 Estonian Jews to Siberia.  See “Report Phase II: The German Occupation of Estonia 1941-1944, Estonian International Commission for Investigation of Crimes Against Humanity, 1998,

[100] Richard Overy, Russia’s War: A History of the Soviet Effort, 1941-1945 (New York: Penguin Books, 1997), 126, 127, 128; and Werth, Russia at War, 1941-1945, 362.  An estimated one million Soviets fought against their own country, many based on coercion.  In Ukraine, anticommunist General Andrey Vlasov headed the Russian Liberation Committee.  After the war, he tried to link up with the American army to form a clandestine guerrilla force to overthrow the Stalin regime.  He was hanged by the Soviets as a traitor.

[101] Guy Mettan, Creating Russophobia: From the Great Religious Schism to anti-Putin Hysteria (Atlanta: Clarity Press, 2017), 205-237.

[102] Dwork and Van Pelt, Holocaust, 188, 265.

[103] James Weingartner, “War Against Subhumans: Comparisons Between the German War Against the Soviet Union and the American War Against Japan, 1941-1945,” The Historian, March 1996, 561.

[104] Dwork and Van Pelt, Holocaust, 190, 191.  Between 1942 and 1944, 2.8 million Russian civilians were deported for forced labor in German mines, the armaments industry, agriculture, and railroad maintenance, often fed a diet of turnip soup and a small loaf of bread.

[105] Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, 83.

[106] Weingartner, “War Against Subhumans,” 565-66.  See also Richard Overy, Why the Allies Won (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1995), 84-85.

[107] Antony Beevor, Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege, 1942-1943 (New York: Penguin, 1999), 18.  See also Omer Bartov, Hitler’s Army (Oxford University Press, 1992).  At Babi Yar in Kiev, Nazi soldiers shot an estimated 33,771 people in one of the largest single massacres in World War II.

[108] Beevor, Stalingrad, 13; and Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, 855.

[109] Overy, Russia’s War, 79.  Stalin called the German enemy “cruel and merciless.  He aims at grabbing our land, our wheat, our oil.  He wants to restore the power of the landowners, reestablish Tsarism, and destroy the national culture of the people of the Soviet Union . . . and turn them into slaves of German princes and barons.”  Werth, Russia at War, 1941-1945, 163.  In subsequent speeches, Stalin invoked Russian national heroes, including Alexander Nevsky who had routed the Teutonic Knights in 1242.

[110] Overy, Russia’s War, 79.

[111] Overy, Russia’s War, 124.

[112] Overy, Russia’s War, 87; and Overy, Why the Allies Won, 5.

[113] Overy, Russia’s War, 87.

[114] Quoted in Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick, The Untold History of the United States (New York: Gallery Books, 2012), 106.

[115] Overy, Russia’s War, 87-88.

[116] Overy, Russia’s War, 94, 90, 106, 107; and Harrison Salisbury, The 900 Days: The Siege of Leningrad (New York: Harper & Row, 1969).  The famous composer Dmitry Shostakovich remarkably composed a beautiful symphony, “Leningrad,” amidst the carnage and overhead bombing, which he dedicated to “the defiant people of the city.”

[117] Beevor, The Second World War, 289.  Beevor notes that some 2,000 Russians were arrested for the use of human meat as food (i.e. cannibalism), 886 of them during the first winter.

[118] “The siege of Leningrad (Sep. 8, 1941 – Jan. 27, 1944),” The Museum of The Siege of Leningrad,  On April 30, 1944, the Military Council of the Leningrad Front opened an exhibition, titled “Heroic Defense of Leningrad,” which became one of the first museums dedicated to the history of the Second World War.  Following the war, however, the Stalin regime declared the display to be ideologically false, as the emphasis of the museum was placed on the patriotism of Leningraders rather than on the decisive role of the Communist Party and Stalin.  In 1949, the museum was shut down to the public, and in 1953, it was disbanded.  Most of the exhibits were destroyed, and those that remained were transferred to Leningrad museums.

[119] Overy, Russia’s War, 108, 113, 116, 117, 119.

[120] LaFeber, The Clash: U.S.-Japanese Relations, 170.

[121] Iris Chang, The Rape of Nanking:  The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II (New York: Penguin Books, 1997), 58.

[122] “Bloody Saturday – a crying Chinese baby amid the bombed-out ruins of Shanghai’s South Railway Station, 1937,” Rare Historical Photos,

[123] Mark Selden, “A Forgotten Holocaust: US Bombing Strategy, the Destruction of Japanese Cities & the American Way of War from World War II to Iraq,” The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 5, Issue 5, May 2, 2007,, reprinted in Yuki Tanaka and Marilyn B. Young, eds., Bombing Civilians: A Twentieth Century History (New York: The New Press, 2009).

[124] “International Military Tribunal for the Far East, Judgment of 4 November 1948,” in John Pritchard and Sonia M. Zaide, eds., The Tokyo War Crimes Trial, Vol. 22, 494-96,

[125] Chang, The Rape of Nanking, 55, 56.

[126] Suping Lu, “The Nanjing Atrocities Reported in the U.S. Newspapers, 1937-38,” Readex Report, Vol. 7, Issue 2 (April 2012),

[127] Chang, The Rape of Nanking, 48; Saburo Ienaga, The Pacific War, 1941-1945 (New York: Pantheon, 1978), 186; and Richard B. Frank, Tower of Skulls: A History of the Asia-Pacific War: July 1937-May 1942 (New York: W.W. Norton, 2020), 49.

[128] Dower, War Without Mercy, 61.

[129] Haslam, The Spectre of War, xii, xiii.

[130] Schmitz, Thank God They’re on Our Side, 88-89.

[131] Breckinridge Long, “Letter to Roosevelt,” in Edgar B. Nixon, ed., Franklin D. Roosevelt and Foreign Affairs, Vol. 2: March 1934-August 1935 (Cambridge, MA:  Belknap Press, 1959), 487-488; and Schmitz, Thank God They’re on Our Side, 92.

[132] Schmitz, Thank God They’re On Our Side, 115.

[133] Cordell Hull, “Address Delivered by the Secretary of State at New York, November 1, 1938,” U.S. Dept. of State, Publication 1983, Peace and War: United States Foreign Policy, 1931-1941 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1943): 431-38,

[134] Notwithstanding Secretary of State Hull’s belief in international trade as the key to peace, he wrote a memo to the president on October 31, 1938, warning that the U.S. government needed to more aggressively secure its sources of strategic raw materials “which becomes more and more urgent as time goes on.”  Source: “The Secretary of State to President Roosevelt on Strategic Materials, WASHINGTON, October 21, 1938,” U.S., Department of State, Publication 1983, Peace and War: United States Foreign Policy, 1931-1941 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1943), 430-31.

[135] Schmitz, Thank God They’re on Our Side, 114.

[136] Offner, American Appeasement, 94-95.

[137] Offner, American Appeasement, 99, 103. The Anglo-German Naval Agreement was signed by Hitler’s chief foreign diplomat Joachim von Ribbentrop and British Foreign Secretary Sir Samuel Hoare.  Germany built beyond the allotted ratio, claiming that Britain was attempting to encircle Germany.

[138] Offner, American Appeasement, 122; Kershaw, Hitler, 581, 590; and A. J. P. Taylor, The Origins of the Second World War (New York: Atheneum, 1983), 102, 103.

[139] Howard Jones, Crucible of Empire: A History of American Foreign Relations from 1897 (Wilmington: Scholarly Resources, 2001), 146.

[140] Schmitz, Thank God They’re on Our Side, 117.  Another career diplomat, William Phillips, who succeeded Breckinridge Long as ambassador to Italy, wrote in April 1937, “I am greatly impressed by the efforts of Mussolini to improve the conditions of the masses. . . . Through his dynamic personality and great human qualities, [Mussolini] has created a new and vigorous race throughout Italy.  He is essentially interested in bettering conditions of the masses and his accomplishments in this direction are astounding and are a source of constant amazement to me” (Schmitz, 117).

[141] Offner, American Appeasement, 124-130; and Schmitz, Thank God They’re on Our Side, 120.

[142] Frederick W. Marks, “Six between Roosevelt and Hitler: America’s Role in the Appeasement of Nazi Germany.” The Historical Journal 28, no. 4 (1985): 971; and Fred Arthur Bailey, “A Virginia Scholar in Chancellor Hitler’s Court: The Tragic Ambassadorship of William Edward Dodd,” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 100, no. 3 (1992), 335-36.  Bailey adds:  “Dodd possessed attributes suited to his personal goal of taking American democracy to Berlin.  He held a German university degree; he spoke fluent German, softened by a natural southern drawl; he was already well-respected by the nation’s intellectuals; and he had an intense appreciation of the Teutonic culture and an admiration for its people (332). . . . As Dodd grasped Germany’s complicated social and political scene, he came to fearful conclusions.  Hitler, he cautioned Roosevelt, was creating a commanding personality cult, and his people embraced him as their new Messiah.  The German military force grew in size, skill, and enthusiasm; the ‘manufacture of arms and tanks, and poison gases [went] on day and night.’  Dodd warned of Hitler’s lust for Holland, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and the Baltic states.  He feared that the dictator’s greed extended even farther to the east. . . . Although Roosevelt valued these observations, others in the State Department and in Dodd’s own embassy considered him an alarmist” (334-35).

[143] “Letter from Hugh R. Wilson to FDR,” Berlin, March 3, 1938,

[144] Offner, American Appeasement, 252-253; and Conrad Black, “The Peculiar Life of Joseph Kennedy,” The National Interest, no. 122 (2012), 76.  See also David Nasaw, The Patriarch: The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy (New York: Penguin Books, 2012).

[145] Offner, American Appeasement, 105-106.

[146] Schmitz, Thank God They’re on Our Side, 116, 118.

[147] Arnold A. Offner,”The United States, Great Britain, and Germany, 1933-1940,” The Journal of American History, Vol. 64, No. 2 (September 1977), 392.

[148] Frank Costigliola, “The United States and the Reconstruction of Germany in the 1920s,” The Business History Review 50, no. 4 (1976), 500.

[149] Offner, “Appeasement Revisited,” 376.  See also, Pauwels, Big Business and Hitler, 168.

[150] Offner,”The United States, Great Britain, and Germany, 1933-1940,” 374.

[151] Corwin D. Edwards, Economic and Political Aspects of International Cartels (Washington, D.C.: G.P.O., 1946), 43-44, cited in Gabriel Kolko, “American Business and Germany, 1930-1941,” The Western Political Quarterly 15, no. 4 (1962), 725.

[152] Kolko, “American Business and Germany,” 714, 715.

[153] Kolko, “American Business and Germany,” 719; and Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, “How Big Business Bailed Out the Nazis,” May 20, 2016,  See also Diarmuid Jeffreys, Hell’s Cartel: I.G. Farben and the Making of Hitler’s War Machine (New York: Holt, 2010).

[154] Gerard Colby, Dupont Dynasty: Behind the Nylon Curtain (Secaucus, NJ: Lyle Stuart Inc., 1984), 335.

[155] Pauwels, Big Business and Hitler, 224.

[156] Jacques R. Pauwels, “Profits Über Alles! American Corporations and Hitler,” Labour / Le Travail 51 (2003), 232; and Michael Dobbs, “Ford and GM Scrutinized for the Alleged Nazi Collaboration,” Washington Post, November 30, 1998,  Speer’s comment was made to investigative journalist Bradford Snell in a 1977 interview.

[157] Pauwels, Big Business and Hitler, 186.

[158] Kolko, “American Business and Germany, 1930-1941,” 725; Pauwels, Big Business and Hitler, 185, 37; and Bradford Snell, “GM and the Nazis,” Ramparts, June 1974, 14-16.

[159] Pauwels, “Profits Über Alles!, 224; and Dobbs, “Ford and GM Scrutinized for the Alleged Nazi Collaboration.”

[160] Pauwels, “Profits Über Alles!, 232, 228.

[161] Edgar B. Nixon, ed., Franklin D. Roosevelt and Foreign Affairs, Vol. III; September 1935-January 1937 (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 1969), 456; and Sutton, Wall Street and the Rise of Hitler, 6.

[162] Quoted from Dodd’s letters to R. Walton Moore, August 1936, and Daniel C. Roper, October 1936, cited in Bailey, “A Virginia Scholar in Chancellor Hitler’s Court,” 336, 338.

[163] Offner, “Appeasement Revisited,” 376; and Daniel Warsh, “The Silent Partner: How the Ford Motor Company Became an Arsenal of Nazism,” Dept. of History, University of Pennsylvania, May 2008, 4-5.

[164] Edwin Black, IBM and the Holocaust (New York: Crown Books, 2001); Jack Beatty, “Hitler’s Willing Business Partners,” The Atlantic, April 2001,; and Edwin Black, “IBM’s Role in the Holocaust – What the New Documents Reveal,” HuffPost, March 17, 2015,  In 2001, a lawsuit was filed in the Federal District Court of Brooklyn which charged IBM with supplying technology what it knew would be used to “facilitate persecution and genocide.”  Barnaby J. Feder, “Lawsuit Says I.B.M. Aided The Nazis In Technology,” New York Times, February 11, 2001, A17.

[165] Joseph P. Fried, “Chase and Morgan Sued Over Jewish Assets,” New York Times, December 24, 1998; and Paul Beckett, “Chase Manhattan Bank Uncovers Deal That Aided Nazi Germany,” Wall Street Journal, February 23, 2000.

[166] Sutton, Wall Street and the Rise of Hitler; and Bill Vann, “The Holocaust and the Bush Family Fortune,” World Socialist Website, June 5, 2003,

[167] Charles Higham, Trading with the Enemy: An Expose of the Nazi-American Money Plot (New York: Delacorte Press, 1983), 2.

[168] Kolko, “American Business and Germany, 1930-1941,” 716; and “Radio Address Delivered by President Roosevelt From Washington, December 29, 1940,”

[169] “The Secretary of State to the Ambassador in Germany (Sackett),” March 3, 1933 – 5 p.m. (telegram), Foreign Relations of the United States Diplomatic Papers (hereafter referred to as FRUS), 1933, The British Commonwealth, Europe, Near East and Africa, Vol. II,

[170] Jack Beatty, “Hitler’s Willing Business Partners,” The Atlantic, April 2001,; and “German Fugitives Tell of Atrocities at the Hands of Nazis,” New York Times, March 20, 1933.

[171] Charles Callan Tansill, Back Door to War: The Roosevelt Foreign Policy, 1933-1941 (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1952), 40.

[172] Rafael Medoff, “The American Papers that Praised Hitler,” International March of the Living, December 28, 2015,

[173] Deborah E. Lipstadt, “A Road Paved with Good Intentions: The Christian Science Monitor‘s Reaction to the First Phase of Nazi Persecution of Jews.” Jewish Social Studies 45, no. 2 (1983), 95-96.  See also, Deborah E. Lipstadt, Beyond Belief: The American Press and the Coming of the Holocaust, 1933-1945 (New York: The Free Press, 1986); and Susan Welch, “American Opinion Toward Jews During the Nazi Era: Results from Quota Sample Polling During the 1930s and 1940s,” Social Science Quarterly 95 (3) (March 2014),  Welch notes, “Though the New York Times published more than 1100 articles on some aspect of the Holocaust between 1939 and 1945, only six were on the front page, and many did not focus on the destruction of the Jews as a special target.”  The Kristallnacht rampage in November 1938 was an exception, receiving wide coverage.

[174] “Nazis End Attacks on Jews In Reich, Our Embassy Finds,” New York Times, March 27, 1933; and “The Secretary of State to the Chargé in Germany (Gordon),” Telegram, March 26, 1933, FRUS,

[175] Michael Feldberg, “U.S. Policy During World War II: The Anti-Nazi Boycott (1933),” Jewish Virtual Library (no date),

[176] Sheldon Spear, “The United States and the Persecution of the Jews in Germany, 1933-1939,” Jewish Social Studies 30, no. 4 (1968), 218-219; and Offner, “Appeasement Revisited,” 61-63.

[177] “Memorandum by the Secretary of State of a Conversation With the German Ambassador (Luther),” Washington, May 3, 1933, FRUS,

[178] Medoff, “The American Papers that Praised Hitler.”

[179] Spear, “The United States and the Persecution of the Jews in Germany,” 217.

[180] Spear, “The United States and the Persecution of the Jews in Germany,” 216.

[181] Organizations protesting and lobbying in the U.S. include the American Jewish Committee, B’nai B’rith, American Jewish Congress, American League for Human Rights (formed in March 1933), Jewish War Veterans, and the American Committee on Religious Rights and Minorities (an arm of the Church Peace Union which focused on religious tolerance).  See Stephen H. Norwood, Prologue to Annihilation: Ordinary American and British Jews Challenge the Third Reich (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2021).

[182] Louis Anthes, “Publicly Deliberative Drama: The 1934 Mock Trial of Adolf Hitler for ‘Crimes against Civilization,’” American Journal of Legal History, Volume 42, Issue 4, October 1998, 391; “Nazis End Attacks on Jews in Reich, Our Embassy Finds,” New York Times, March 27, 1934; and “Mock Trial of Hitler Brings Protest,” The Cornell Daily Sun, March 10, 1934.

[183] “Memorandum by the Secretary of State, February 1, 1934,” FRUS,  See also memoranda for meetings on February 17, March 2, and March 13, 1934.

[184] Daniel Schere, “Why the top U.S. rabbi condemned the president in 1935,” Washington Jewish Week, September 27, 2017,

[185] James Q. Whitman, Hitler’s American Model: The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2018), 22.

[186] Irwin F. Gellman, Secret Affairs: Franklin Roosevelt, Cordell Hull, and Sumner Welles (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995), x, 97, 98.

[187] Schmitz, Thank God They’re on Our Side, 89.

[188] Offner, American Appeasement, 215, 251.

[189] Howard M. Sachar, A History of the Jews in America (New York: Vintage Books, 1993), 450.  Eleanor Roosevelt once wrote: “[F]or so many years, both as friends and as workers, my husband and I were closely associated with Mr. and Mrs. Henry Morgenthau, Jr… It is interesting to know that my husband never held a political office from the time of his governorship of New York State without having Henry Morgenthau, Jr., in some way in his official family… [T]here was an underlying deep devotion and trust which never really wavered.”  Quoted in “Henry Morgenthau, Jr. and the War Refugee Board,” FDR Library & Museum,

[190] Gellman, Secret Affairs, 99.  The quotes are from the group’s publication, The White Knight, August 15, 1936.  See also, Donald S. Strong, Organized Anti-Semitism in America: The Rise of Group Prejudice During the Decade 1930-40 (Washington, DC: American Council on Public Affairs, 1941).

[191] “Charles E. Coughlin,” Holocaust Encyclopedia, USHMM,; and “Father Coughlin Blames Jews for Nazi Violence,” History Unfolded: US Newspapers and the Holocaust,

[192] Richard Polenberg, War and Society: The United States, 1941-1945 (New York: J. B. Lippincott, 1972), 47.

[193] Sarah Kate Kramer, “When Nazis Took Manhattan,” February 20, 2019, NPR radio diaries,; and Bradley W. Hart, “America’s dark history of organized anti-Semitism re-emerges in today’s far-right groups,” The Conversation, November 29, 2018,

[194] Stephen H. Norwood, “Review of Bradley W. Hart, Hitler’s American Friends: The Third Reich’s Supporters in the United States,” H-Diplo, August 2019,

[195] Welch, “American Opinion Toward Jews During the Nazi Era,” 15.

[196] Spear, “The United States and the Persecution of the Jews in Germany,” 233.

[197] “German Jewish Refugees,” Holocaust Encyclopedia, USHMM,; and “Immigration to the United States, 1933-41,” Holocaust Encyclopedia, USHMM,

[198] Spear, “The United States and the Persecution of the Jews in Germany,” 227.  On Anne Frank, see Becky Little, “Anne Frank’s Family Tried Repeatedly to Immigrate to the U.S.,”, March 7, 2019,

[199] Mike Lanchin, “S.S. St. Louis: The Ship of Jewish Refugees Nobody Wanted,” BBC News, May 14, 2014,

[200] “Immigration to the United States, 1933-41.”

[201] “Breckenridge Long,” Holocaust Encyclopedia, USHMM,

[202] David Wyman, The Abandonment of the Jews: America and the Holocaust, 1941-1945 (New York: The New Press, 1994), 191.

[203] Dan Kurzman, The Bravest Battle: The Twenty-Eight Days of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1976), 133.

[204] Arthur D. Morse, While Six Million Died: A Chronicle of American Apathy (New York: Hart Publishing, 1967), 303.

[205] Morse, While Six Million Died, 304.

[206] Franklin Delano Roosevelt, “State of the Union 1936 – 3 January 1936,” American History (speeches),

[207] See Keri Lee Alexander, “Emma Lazarua” (biography), National Women’s History Museum,  By way of contrast, the U.S. allowed about 250,000 Germans to enter the country in 1882, according to the U.S. Library of Congress, “Germans in America,”

[208] U.S. foreign policy on the whole was not isolationist during the interwar years.  While there was considerable public antipathy toward becoming involved in another European war, the U.S. was a major player in the international arena.  It was the leading economic nation in the world and intent on expanding its trade empire.  It commanded a sphere of influence in the Central America-Caribbean region, held the Philippines as a colony, and worked with European nations to revise the draconian economic demands of the Versailles Treaty.  Most peace groups were internationalist during the 1920s, turning to “isolationism” only after international diplomacy and sanctions failed to keep the peace.

[209] See Thomas H. Buckley, The United States and the Washington Conference, 1921-1922 (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1970); Oona A. Hathaway and Scott J. Shapiro, The Internationalists: How a Radical Plan to Outlaw War Remade the World (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2017); and Robert H. Ferrell, Peace in Their Time: The Origins of the Kellogg-Briand Pact (New York: Norton, 1969).

[210] The U.S. peace movement was diverse, comprising religious and secular groups, absolute pacifists and peace-oriented pragmatists, socialists and moderate reformers, progressive women’s groups and traditional pacifist churches, and more.  Major organizations of the interwar era, some of which are still active today, include (listed alphabetically):  American Civil Liberties Union, American Friends Service Committee, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Committee Against Militarism in Education, International Fellowship of Reconciliation, League of Nations Association, National Council for the Prevention of War, National Peace Conference, War Resisters League, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Women’s Peace Society, and Women’s Peace Union.  A study by the Commission on the Coordination of Efforts for Peace in 1933 listed 12 international, 28 national, and 37 local peace societies in the United States.  In addition, it listed more than one hundred other groups promoting peace internationalism and another 120 bodies involved in some measure of peace advocacy.  Cited in Charles Chatfield, For Peace and Justice: Pacifism in America, 1914-1941 (Boston: Beacon Press, 1971), 95.  For additional background on the U.S. peace movement during the interwar years, see Christy Jo Snider, “Patriots and Pacifists: The Rhetorical Debate about Peace, Patriotism and Internationalism,” 1914-1930, Rhetoric and Public Affairs, Vol. 8, No. 1 (Spring 2005): 59-83; Robert David Johnson, The Peace Progressives and American Foreign Relations (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995); and Wittner, Rebels Against War: The American Peace Movement, 1933-1983.

[211] Robert D. Accinelli, “The Roosevelt Administration and the World Court Defeat, 1935.” The Historian 40, no. 3 (1978), 463.

[212] George Bunn, “Gas and Germ Warfare: International Legal History and Present Status,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, 1970,

[213] F. C. Hanighen and H. C. Engelbrecht’s Merchants of Death: A Study of the International Armament Industry (1934) was first published in the March 1934 issue of Fortune magazine and subsequently became a Book-of-the-Month Club selection.  Similar critical works of this period include Harry Elmer Barnes’s The Genesis of the World War (1926), C. Hartley Grattan’s Why We Fought (1929), Walter Millis’s The Road to War: America 1914-1917 (1935), and Charles C. Tansill’s America Goes to War (1938).

[214] Chatfield, For Peace and Justice, 283-85.  The Ludlow Amendment is remembered today in marked contrast to the onset of the “imperial presidency” following World War II.

[215] Cristiano Andrea Ristuccia, “1935 Sanctions Against Italy: Would Coal and Crude Oil Have Made a Difference?” European Review of Economic History, Vol. 4, Issue 1 (April 2000),, 3.

[216] Offner, American Appeasement, 277.

[217] Chatfield, For Peace and Justice, 288; and Manfred Jonas, The United States and Germany: A Diplomatic History (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1984), 226.

[218] Between 1935 and 1937, Congress passed three separate neutrality laws that placed an embargo on arms sales to belligerents, forbade American ships from entering war zones and prohibited them from being armed, and barred Americans from traveling on belligerent ships.  These measures reflected lessons from the First World War, especially as the presumed “right” of Americans to travel on belligerent ships upon which President Wilson insisted led to American lives being lost and hence to the president seeking a declaration of war against Germany.  See “The Neutrality Act of 1935,” Digital History,

[219] Aaron Xavier Fellmeth, “A Divorce Wating to Happen: Franklin Roosevelt and the Law of Neutrality, 1935-1941,” Buffalo Journal of International Law, Vol. 3, No. 2 (January 1, 1997), 469.

[220] “Relations with Japan 1938-1940,” U.S. Department of State, Peace and War: United States Foreign Policy, 1931-1941 (Washington, D.C.: U.S., Government Printing Office, 1943), 87-97,; and Sniegoski, “The Case for Pearl Harbor Revisionism.”

[221] Lindbergh expressed what many believe were antisemitic views at a rally in Des Moines, Iowa, on September 11, 1941, declaring, “The British and the Jewish races, for reasons which are not American, wish to involve us in the war.”  He added that the “greatest danger” Jews posed to the U.S. “lies in their large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio, and our government.”  He also stated that “no person with a sense of the dignity of mankind can condone the persecution of the Jewish race in Germany.”  The America First executive committee was divided about Lindbergh’s speech, with the chairman of the New York section, John T. Flynn warning that he did “not want to see this fine movement [America First] degenerate into intolerance.”  Michele Stenehjem Gerber, An American First: John T. Flynn and the America First Committee (New York: Arlington House, 1976), 137; and Brian Bennett, “‘America First,’ a phrase with a loaded antisemitic and isolationist history,” Los Angeles Times, January 20, 2017,

[222] Gerber, An American First; and Jonathan Marshall, To Have and Have Not: Southeast Asian Raw Materials and the Origins of the Pacific War (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), 183.

[223] “November 1944,” Franklin D. Roosevelt, Day by Day:  A Project of the Pare Lorentz Center at the FDR Presidential Library (speeches),

[224] Gellman, Secret Affairs, 252; and Polenberg, War and Society, 8.  Thomas E. Mahl’s study, Desperate Deception: British Covert Operations in the United States, 1939-1944 (Washington, D.C.: Potomac Books, 2000) documents a secret British campaign on a larger scale than that of the First World War to undermine the isolationist movement and bring America into the war.  A key role was played by “the Quiet Canadian” Sir William Stephenson, the director of the British intelligence office in New York, who recruited Hollywood directors and prominent journalists and radio commentators like Walter Winchell, New York Times publisher Arthur Hays Sulzberger, and Time Magazine publisher Henry Luce who advocated for a new “American Century.”  The influence of the isolationists was hampered by the Republican Party’s nomination of Wendell Wilkie over Robert Taft in the 1940 Republican primary, as Wilkie’s views on war were similar to Roosevelt’s, whereas Taft was an isolationist with views similar to those of the America First Committee.

[225] James I. Marino, “Undeclared War in the Atlantic,” Warfare History Network, November 23, 2016,

[226] “1941: The Atlantic Charter,”

[227] “President Franklin Delano Roosevelt Address over the radio on Navy Day concerning the attack upon the destroyer U. S. S. Kearny, October 27, 1941,”  See also, Frederic R. Sanborn, “Roosevelt is Frustrated in Europe,” in Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace, ed. Harry E. Barnes (Ostara Publications, 1953), 218-21; and Michele Stenehjem Gerber, An American First: John T. Flynn and the America First Committee (New Rochelle: Arlington House Publishers, 1976), 99, 100.  According to Gerber, in late May, 1941, hostilities between the U.S. and Germany had escalated when the merchant ship Robin Moor was sunk in the South Atlantic on its way to British bases in North Africa in what Roosevelt termed an “act of piracy.”  The antiwar America First Committee charged that seventy percent of the ship’s cargo was contraband and munitions, and that America had invited attack by violating its Neutrality Act.  In a Washington Post column on June 4, Joseph Alsop and Robert Kuttner quoted from reliable unnamed sources inside the administration who avowed that Roosevelt was “privately hoping for a shipping incident that could be used as an excuse to take the nation into war,” and that the president was determined to “force the Germans into firing the first shot” and then to “act as an outraged innocent.”

[228] Robert E. Sherwood, Roosevelt & Hopkins (New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1950), 428.  President Roosevelt’s reaction was not unusual among the political elite.  One Congressman, who had sponsored the Selective Service Act of 1940, said he regarded the prospect of war with sorrow but admitted to “a feeling of real relief, that at last we are a united people.”  Similarly, Secretary of War Henry Stimson remarked:  “My first feeling was of relief that the indecision was over and that a crisis had come in a way which would unite all our people.”  Quoted in Polenberg, War and Society, 2.

[229] James J. Lopach and Jean A. Luckowski, Jeannette Rankin: A Political Woman (University Press of Colorado, 2005), 184.

[230] Wittner, Rebels Against War, 34, 36.

[231] Bruce Bliven Jr. From Pearl Harbor to Okinawa: The War in the Pacific 1941-1945 (New York: Random House, 1960), 18; and Morganstern, Pearl Harbor, 167.

[232] Kennedy, The American People in World War II, 190.

[233] Kennedy, The American People in World War II, 101.

[234] Morrison quoted in John Prados, Combined Fleet Decoded: The Secret History of American Intelligence and the Japanese Navy in World War II (New York: Random House, 1995), 197.

[235] Kennedy, The American People in World War II, 140-41, 143-44, 146; and “U-Boat Attacks of World War II: 6 Months of Secret Terror in the Atlantic,” New England Historical Society,

[236] Kennedy, The American People in World War II, 144; Gerhard L. Weinberg, A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 543; Maurice Isserman, World War II: America at War (New York: Oxford, 1991), 57; and Stephen Budiansky, Blackett’s War: The Men Who Defeated the Nazi U-Boats and Brought Science to the Art of Warfare (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013).  A group of talented scientists who pioneered technical innovations that led to sinking of many German U-boats was led by Peter Blackett, a Marxist admirer of Joseph Stalin.

[237] “British Losses & Losses Inflicted on Axis Navies,” British Naval History,

[238] “Battle of the Atlantic: Countering the U-Boat Threat and Supplying the Allies,” U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command,; and Budiansky, Blackett’s War, 253.  The Allied war against German U-boats extended to the destruction of two French towns (Saint Nazaire and L’Orient) which housed German U-boat bases.

[239] William Manchester, American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur 1880-1964 (New York: Dell, 1978), 264.

[240] Bliven, From Pearl Harbor to Okinawa; and Manchester, American Caesar, 264, 265. On December 10, 1941, after a three-day battle, the American Naval Governor of Guam, George McMillan, surrendered to Japanese forces.  The Midway Island outpost, 13,000 miles West of Pearl Harbor, fell on December 23 after 422 U.S. Marines held out for two weeks.

[241] Edwin P. Hoyt, Japan’s War: The Great Pacific Conflict (New York: McGraw-Hill Company, 1986), 251; see also, Charles G Roland, “Massacre and Rape in Hong Kong: Two Case Studies Involving Medical Personnel and Patients,” Journal of Contemporary History 32, no. 1 (1997): 43-61.

[242] Bill Sloan, Undefeated: America’s Heroic Fight for Bataan and Corregidor (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2012), 153, 154, 82.

[243] Ronald H. Spector, Eagle Against the Sun: The American War with Japan (New York: Vintage Books, 1985), 111; “American Prisoners of War in the Philippines”, Office of the Provost Marshal, 19 November 1945,; and Manchester, American Caesar, 253.

[244] Donald Knox, Death March: The Survivors of Bataan (New York: Harcourt, Brace Jovanovich, 1981), 125. For more recollections, see also Sloan, Undefeated, 183-189.  GIs testified that numerous victims were buried alive as they cried weakly for help.  Sometimes they would randomly select prisoners and tie them to trees and use their bodies for bayonet practice.  The most sadistic Guards were Koreans who had been conscripted in the Japanese army.  See also, James Scott, Rampage: MacArthur, Yamashita, and the Battle of Manila (New York: W. W. Norton, 2018), 210.

[245] Spector, Eagle Against the Sun, 397; Hoyt, Japan’s War, 415, 416; John C. McManus, Fire and Fortitude: The U.S. Army in the Pacific War, 1941-1943 (New York: Caliber, 2019), 447; and Douglas Valentine, The Hotel Tacloban (Westport, CT: Lawrence Hill & Co., 1984), 63-65; and Gregory F. Michno, Death on the Hellships: Prisoners at Sea in the Pacific War (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2001).

[246] See Carol V. Glines, The Doolittle Raid: America’s Daring First Strike Against Japan (New York: Orion Books, 1988); and Col. Ted Lawson, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (New York: Pocket Star, 2004).  On the killing of civilians, see Dower, War Without Mercy, 49; and Barrett Tillman, Whirlwind: The Air War Against Japan 1942-1945 (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010), 5.

[247] Bliven, From Pearl Harbor to Okinawa, 219.  Naval historian Craig Symonds called Midway “one of the most consequential naval engagements in world history, ranking alongside Salamis, Trafalgar, and Tsushima Strait, as both tactically decisive and strategically influential.”  Craig L. Symonds, World War II at Sea (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018), 293.

[248] Donovan Webster, The Burma Road: The Epic Story of the China-Burma-India Theater in World War II (New York: Harper, 2004), 55; and Bill Yenne, When Tigers Ruled the Sky: The Flying Tigers: American Outlaw Pilots Over China in World War II (Dutton Caliber, 2016).

[249] Webster, The Burma Road; Troy J. Sacquety, The OSS in Burma: Jungle War Against the Japanese (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2013).

[250] Webster, The Burma Road, 34, 50, 55. The U.S. and British also recruited the Naga and Zo to fight with them.  Aung San switched sides in March 1945 when the defeat of Japan was imminent.  See also, Spector, Eagle Against the Sun, 646; Roger Hilsman, American Guerilla: My War Behind Japanese Lines (Washington, D.C.: Brassey’s, 1990), 122, 123; Charlton Ogburn, The Marauders (New York: Harper & Row, 1959); and William R. Peers and Dean Brelis, Behind the Burma Road (New York: Avon Books, 1963).  Ralph Henderson wrote in The Readers Digest that “in a jungle ambush, the Kachins can do terrible things with sharpened bamboos.  They fill the bushes on both sides with needle-sharp stakes, cleverly hidden.  When a Jap patrol was fired upon, and dived for the timber – well, I hardly like to talk about it.”

[251] Hoyt, Japan’s War, 245.

[252] Dower, War Without Mercy, 61.

[253] Spector, Eagle Against the Sun, 465-66.

[254] Chang, The Rape of Nanking, 52-53; George Hicks, The Comfort Women: Japan’s Brutal Regime of Enforced Prostitution in the Second World War (New York: W.W. Norton, 1997), 17.

[255] Arnold C. Brackman, The Other Nuremburg: The Untold Story of the Tokyo War Crimes Trials (New York: Morrow, 1987), 254-257; Michno, Death on the Hellships, 117; and Clifford Kinvig, River Kwai Railway: The Story of the Burma-Siam Railroad (London: Brassey’s 1998).

[256] Edwin P. Hoyt, To the Marianas: War in the Central Pacific, 1944 (New York: Avon Books, 1980), viii, ix; Richard Frank, Guadalcanal: The Definitive Account (New York: Penguin Books, 1990), 259-261; and Joseph Wheelan, Midnight in the Pacific: Guadalcanal the World War II Battle that Turned the Tide of War (Boston, MA: Da Capo Press, 2017).

[257] Samuel Elliot Morrison, The Two-Ocean War: A Short History of the U.S. Navy in the Second World War, rev ed. (Boston: Little & Brown Co., 1963), 211; Clay Blair Jr. Silent Victory: The U.S. Submarine War Against Japan (Philadelphia: J.B .Lippincott Company, 1975), 338; and Duane Schultz, Evans Carlson, Marine Raider: The Man Who Commanded America’s First Special Forces (Yardley, PA: Westholme Publishing, 2014), 183.

[258] Richard Tregaskis, Guadalcanal Diary (New York: Blue Ribbon Books, 1943), 148.  Tregaskis singled out the heroism of Lt. Colonel Merritt “Red Mike” Edson at Guadalcanal whom Tregaskis described as “the bravest, most effective killing machine I met in fifteen years as a war correspondent.  He could wither a man with his china blue, gimlet eyes…as purposefully as a killer’s and as unemotional as a shark’s.”  Wheelan, Midnight in the Pacific, 213-14.  See also McManus, Fire and Fortitude, 279.  McManus quotes from a Marine report which stated that “the dead on the beach [at Guadalcanal] were so thick that bulldozers were used to bury them.”

[259] Tregaskis, Guadalcanal Diary, 15, 16; and E. B. Sledge, With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa, with foreword by Victor Davis Hanson (San Francisco: Presidio Press, 2007), 129, 131.

[260] Sledge, With the Old Breed, 103.

[261] McManus Fire and Fortitude, 443. Private Roland Dettler filed a complaint through a base censors’ officer.  He wrote: “It’s beyond human belief the stupidity, meanness, and rottenness of these officers. God how I could write a book.”  In one anti-aircraft unit, an officer allegedly beat a private with a rifle butt, whittled food from him, and forced him to dig a hole when he was sick and wounded.  “This case is worse than General Patton’s,” wrote Private Joseph Kilmaszeski in reference to Patton’s abusive behavior toward his own men.  The aggrieved soldier subsequently attempted suicide.  McManus recounts the case of another officer, Colonel Kinsler, of the 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment, who committed suicide after he was censured by the army for his poor leadership.  A Major Britten wrote to his wife that Kinsler was a “foul individual” whose “escapades with women and drunken orgies [were] known by every soldier in the Regiment.  Furthermore, his inefficient handling of the Regiment was pathetic.  The investigation revealed so many startling things that Kinsler could not face, so he chose to die as he lived, by shooting himself….after enjoying himself with…[a] nurse, and a bottle of gin and a lonely road.” (p. 444).

[262] Gerald F. Linderman, The World Within War: America’s Combat Experience in World War II (New York: The Free Press, 1997), 229-231; Michael Blankfort, The Big Yankee: The Life of Carlson of the Raiders (Boston: Little & Brown, 1947), 21, 23; Schultz, Evans Carlson, Marine Raider, 21, 24, 25, 229; Kenneth E. Shewmaker, “The American Liberal Dream: Evans F. Carlson and the Chinese Communists, 1937-1947,” Pacific Historical Review, 38, 2 (May 1969), 207-216.  Carlson had met with Mao in 1937 during a trek behind Japanese lines to study the operations of the Chinese Communist Army.  Carlson considered Mao a “humble, kind, lonely genius striving here in the darkness of the night to find a peaceful and equitable way of life for his people.”  Winner of the Naval Cross, Carlson had trained the Nicaraguan National Guard and had served in the U.S. Marine Corps in the Philippines and China for many years as part of military advisory missions.  He had come to see how much of U.S. foreign policy was driven by the need to protect its investments abroad, such as Standard oil in China and the United Fruit Company in Nicaragua.  When he met with Mao, he talked with him late into the night about war, politics and religion.  After the war, Carlson allied with Henry Wallace, lobbied to cut off aid to Chiang Kai-Shek and promoted the peaceful use of atomic energy.  He was attacked by Louis Budenz, a professional anticommunist witness before the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee investigating the alleged spread of communism in the nation, as a communist agent, and by Joseph McCarthy (R-WI) who said that Carlson was a hero of the international communist movement and disciple of radical journalist Agnes Smedley.  Carlson defended himself by writing to Time Magazine in 1946 that he was never a member of the communist party but had “chosen now to work for peace.”

[263] Kennedy, The American People in World War II, 135-136.

[264] John Wukovits, One Square Mile of Hell: The Battle for Tarawa (New York: Penguin Books, 2006), 117, 135; Hanson W. Baldwin, Battles Lost and Won: Great Campaigns of World War II (London: Konecky & Konecky, 1961), 251; Robert Sherrod, Tarawa: The Story of a Battle, 40th anniversary edition (New York: Bantam Books, 1983); and William Manchester, Goodbye Darkness: A Memoir of the Pacific War (Boston: Little & Brown, 1980), 268.

[265] Peter Schrijvers, The GI War Against Japan: American Soldiers in Asia and the Pacific During World War II (New York: New York University Press, 2002), 171, 245, 247; Manchester, Goodbye Darkness, 264.  Rear Admiral Harry W. Hill, the Southern Force Commander, boasted prior to the landing that we’re going to “pound [Tarawa] with naval shell fire and dive bombers.  We’re going to steamroller the place until hell wouldn’t have it.”  By the third day of the fighting, the islet of Betio in the south had been transformed into a “savage landscape of broken palms, bomb craters and the charred ruins of blockhouses,” according to historian John Costello.

[266] Clive Howard, One Damned Island After Another (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1946), 156.  See also Wukovits, One Square Mile of Hell, 135.  A correspondent described the island as “nothing but stink and death.”  Another wrote that the Marines “butchered their way across the island.”  One Marine stated that his only thought was of killing the enemy.  I wasn’t thinking of home or anything like that, or a girl-friend.  I just wanted to go out there and kill as many Japs as I could.  We had to stop them from shooting our own people.” (Vukovitz, One Square Mile of Hell, p. 186, 187).

[267] General Holland M. Smith, with Percy Finch, Coral and Brass (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1949), 111; and Baldwin, Battles Won and Lost, 253.

[268] John Costello, The Pacific War, 1941-1945 (New York: Harperperennial, 1981), 449.

[269] George Johnson, The Toughest Fighting in the World: The Australian Campaign for New Guinea in World War II (Yardley: Westholme, 2011), 212.

[270] E.J. Kahn, G.I. Jungle: An American Soldier in Australia and New Guinea (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1943), 123.

[271] Kahn, G.I. Jungle, 123.  See also Robert L. Eichelberger, Our Jungle Road to Tokyo (New York: The Viking Press, 1950); McManus, Fire and Fortitude.

[272] Manchester, Goodbye Darkness, 218, 297; 437. See also Sy M. Kahn, Between Tedium and Terror: A Soldier’s World War II Diary, 1943-1945, foreword by Ronald Spector (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1993). The urge to get way from the war drove some soldiers to self-mutilation.  They shot themselves in the foot or chopped themselves with machetes.  Those who did so later felt ashamed.  Eric M. Bergerud, Touched with Fire: The Land War in the South Pacific (New York: Viking, 1996), 451, 452.

[273] Douglas Valentine, The Hotel Tacloban (Westport, CT: Lawrence Hill & Co., 1984), 3, 8.

[274] Quoted in D.F. Fleming, The Cold War and Its Origins, 1917-1960, vol. 1: 1917-1950 (New York: Doubleday & Co., 1961), 148.

[275] Pauwels, The Myth of the Good War, 91; Eric Margolis, “The Soviet Union Defeated Germany in World War II – Not the Western Forces,” The Unz Review, May 11, 2020,; and “The Eastern Front,” The National WWII Museum (New Orleans),

[276] Weingartner, “War Against Subhumans,” 567; Overy, Russia’s War, 89, 123, 124; and Dwork and Van Pelt, Holocaust, 191.

[277] “World War II Allies: U.S. Lend-Lease to the Soviet Union, 1941-1945,” U.S. Embassy & Consulates in Russia,

[278] Overy, Why the Allies Won, 3.

[279] Quoted in George Nash, ed., Freedom Betrayed: Freedom Betrayed: Herbert Hoover’s Secret History of the Second World War and Its Aftermath (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2011), xvi, 239; Truman also quoted in New York Times, June 24, 1941.  Hoover characterized the Soviet Union as “one of the bloodiest tyrannies and terrors ever erected in history.” (p. liii).  Pennsylvania Republican Congressman Robert F. Rich said quite characteristically that “those people who want us to get into this war on the side of Russia want us to get in bed with a rattlesnake and a skunk.” (Freedom Betrayed, p. 240.)

[280] George C. Herring Jr., “Lend-Lease to Russia and the Origins of the Cold War, 1944-1945,” Journal of American History, 56, 1 (June 1969), 95; and Bash, Freedom Betrayed, 237.

[281] Franklin D. Roosevelt, “Fireside Chat,” April 28, 1942, The American Presidency Project,; and Helga Zepp-Larouche, “Putin’s Discussion of the Second World War Can Prevent World War III,” June 26, 2020,; and Alexander Werth, Russia at War, 1941-1945 (New York: Carrol & Graf, 1964), xiv. Ernest Bevin, British Minister of Labor in the war-time government acknowledged the “tremendous effort of the Soviet people,” noting that “our children’s children will look back, through their history books, with admiration and thanks for the heroism of the great Russian people.”

[282] Lutz Kleveman, The New Great Game: Blood and Oil in Central Asia (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2003), 19.

[283] “Order No. 227, July 28, 1942, J. Stalin,”

[284] Beevor, The Second World War, 337; Beevor, Stalingrad, 105.

[285] Beevor, Stalingrad, 157; and Knightly, The First Casualty, 259.

[286] Overy, Why the Allies Won, 73, 74; and Raymond Limbach, “Battle of Stalingrad, Encyclopedia Britannica,

[287] Overy, Why the Allies Won, 84,172, 183-85; Beevor, Stalingrad, 98, 407; Werth, Russia at War, 1941-1945, 543; and Maurice Isserman, Which Side Were You On? The American Communist Party During the Second World War (Ohio: Wesleyan University Press, 1982), 158.

[288] Overy, Russia’s War, 209-210.

[289] Kennedy, The American People in World War II, 148.

[290] Fleming, The Cold War and Its Origins, 1917-1960, 149-150.

[291] Fleming, The Cold War and Its Origins, 150-52.

[292] For a quick overview, see Paul Mulvey, “The British Empire in World War II” (lecture),

[293] Prime Minister Winston Churchill Speech at the Mansion House, London, Nov 10, 1942, reported in the New York Times, November 11, 1942,

[294] Kennedy, The American People in World War II, 159-160.  The report was issued in early 1943 and directed to General George Marshall.

[295] Mark A. Stoler, The Politics of the Second Front: American Military Planning and Diplomacy in Coalition Warfare, 1941-1943 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1977), 55-58.

[296] Fleming, The Cold War and Its Origins, 149-53.

[297] Fleming, The Cold War and Its Origins, 157-59.

[298] Fleming, The Cold War and Its Origins, 151.

[299] Orr Kelly, Meeting the Fox: The Allied Invasion of Africa, from Operation Torch to Kasserine Pass, to Victory in Tunisia (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2002), 43.

[300] Overy, Why the Allies Won, 52.  The term “GI” became a popular reference for American soldiers, originating in the “government issue” stamp on military goods.  Cartoonist Dave Breger, who was drafted into the Army in 1941, is credited with coining the name with his comic strip titled “G.I. Joe,” which he published in a weekly military magazine called Yank, beginning in 1942.

[301] Kelly, Meeting the Fox, 108.

[302] Dr. Benjamin Franklin Cooling, “Dwight D. Eisenhower at the Army War College, 1927-1928,, 35; and Isserman, World War II, 65.

[303] David Nichols, ed., Ernie’s War: The Best of Ernie Pyle’s World War II Dispatches, with foreword by Studs Terkel (New York: Touchstone Books, 1986), 113, 119.  Ernie Pyle was the most popular war correspondent in the U.S.  He went to London, traveled with U.S. troop during the North Africa and Sicily campaigns, and, in 1945, went to the Pacific.  He was killed by a sniper bullet on the island of Iwo Jima on April 17,1945.

[304] Nichols, Ernie’s War, 128, 63; and Kelly, Meeting the Fox, 100.

[305] Nichols, Ernie’s War, 128, 76-77.

[306] Susan Brewer, Why America Fights: Patriotism and War Propaganda from the Philippines to Iraq (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 125.  See also, John McCallum, “U.S. Censorship, Violence, and Moral Judgement in a Wartime Democracy, 1941-1945,” Diplomatic History, Vol. 41, No. 3 (2017): 543-66.  The Office of War Information, notes McCallum, censored all statements that revealed the killing of German prisoners by U.S. troops as well as the effects of napalm in bombing Berlin, Hamburg, and other cities.

[307] “Tunisia Campaign,” Holocaust Encyclopedia, USHMM,

[308] “Operation Husky: The Allied Invasion of Sicily,” July 12, 2017, The National World War II Museum in New Orleans,; and Kennedy, The American People in World War II, 168.  Under Operation Mincemeat, British intelligence dressed a suicide victim as a Royal Marine, planted false papers on the corpse, and deposited the package off the coast of Spain for the Germans to find and interpret. The ruse proved successful, and German resources were shifted to the islands of Sardinia and Corsica.

[309] Beevor, The Second World War, 495; and Robert F. Dorr, “Friendly Fire’s Deadliest Day,” America in WWII, 2018,

[310] Kennedy, The American People in World War II, 168-69.

[311] “Armistice with Italy Instrument of Surrender; September 29, 1943,” section 30,

[312] Kennedy, The American People in World War II, 169; and James J. Weingartner, “Americans, Germans, and War Crimes: Converging Narratives from ‘The Good War,’” The Journal of American History 94, no. 4 (2008): 1165, 1166.

[313] Kennedy, The American People in World War II, 169.

[314] “Cephalonia Island Massacre (September 1943),” in Spencer C. Tucker, ed., World War II: The Definitive Encyclopedia and Document Collection, Vol. 1 (Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2016), 382-83.

[315] Midge Mackenzie, “An Antiwar Message from the Army’s Messenger,” New York Times, April 16, 2000.

[316] “Bombing of Rome in World War II,” Wikipedia,; “Rome marks 1943 bombing of S. Lorenzo,” July 18, 2018,,was%20declared%20an%20open%20city; and David Broder, “When the Americans Came,” Jacobin, July 19, 2018,

[317] “Protection of Civilian Populations Against Bombing From the Air in Case of War, League of Nations, September 30, 1938,” and “Appeal of President Franklin D. Roosevelt on Aerial Bombardment of Civilian Populations, September 1, 1939,”  See also, Charles S. Maier, “Targeting the city: Debates and silences about the aerial bombing of World War II,” International Review of the Red Cross, Vol. 87, No. 859, September 2005.

[318] Robert S. Dudney, “Douhet,” Air Force Magazine, April 1, 2011, ttps://; and Randy Kee, “Brig Gen Billy Mitchell’s Continuing Legacy to USAF Doctrine,”  See also, Michael Sherry, The Rise of American Airpower: The Creation of Armageddon (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987), ch. 2.

[319] The main officials in this debate were Henry Arnold and Ira Eaker, Army Air Forces commanders, Carl Spaatz, commander of U.S. Strategic Air Forces in Europe, Henry Berliner, an intelligence officer on Arnold’s staff, Robert Lovett, assistant secretary of war for air, Admiral William Leahy, President Roosevelt’s chief military adviser, and Dwight Eisenhower, supreme Allied commander.  Schaffer, “American Military Ethics in World War II.”

[320] John T. Correll, “Daylight Precision Bombing,” Air Force Magazine, October 1, 2008,  Correll writes, “Bombing accuracy was terrible. The average circular error in 1943 was 1,200 feet, meaning that only 16 percent of the bombs fell within 1,000 feet of the aiming point.”

[321] United States Strategic Bombing Survey, “The Effects of Strategic Bombing on German Morale,” Vol. 1, Morale Division (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, May 1947).  See also, “List of air operations during the Battle of Europe,” Wikipedia,

[322] Max Trethaway, “1,046 Bombers But Cologne Lived,” The New York Times, June 2, 1992,; Alexander McKee, Dresden, 1945: The Devil’s Tinderbox (New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1982), 161; and “Bombing of Hamburg, Dresden, and Other Cities,” World War II Database,  In July 1945, a month after the war in Europe ended, journalist Alexander McKee drove through the city of Cologne and recorded the following:  “I only saw about a dozen buildings which were intact, though several hundred had been damaged and repaired, and still stood.  The destruction and damage in the very considerable area of Cologne through which we toured must have been in the neighborhood of 98 percent.  All through these streets there was a peculiar smell . . . the smell of human flesh, long dead, decomposing in the heat.”  McKee, Dresden 1945, 11.

[323] Correll, “Daylight Precision Bombing”; “Memorandum by the Combined Chiefs of Staff [Casablanca,] January 21, 1943,” Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS), the Conferences at Washington, 1941, and Casablanca, 1943, Doc. 412,

[324] Ronald Schaffer, “American Military Ethics in World War II: The Bombing of German Civilians.” The Journal of American History 67, no. 2 (1980), 319.

[325] Stephen Budiansky, Air Power: The Men, Machines, and Ideas That Revolutionary War from Kitty Hawk to Iraq (New York: Penguin Books, 2005), 321.

[326] Anderson to George E. Stratemeyer, July 21, 1943, file 312.1-E, box 194, Records of the Army Air Forces; cited in Schaffer, “American Military Ethics in World War II,” 332-33.

[327] A.C. Grayling, Among the Dead Cities: The Historical and Moral Legacy of the World War II Bombing of Civilians in Germany and Japan (New York: Walker Publishing Company, 2006), 82-83.  Police reports described demented people who had gone insane from the whole ordeal, carrying the remains of deceased relatives in their suitcases as they left the city.

[328] Kenneth Hewitt, “Place Annihilation: Area Bombing and the Fate of Urban Places,” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 73, no. 2 (1983), 272.

[329] Schaffer, “American Military Ethics in World War II,” 324.

[330] Ted Morgan, FDR: A Biography (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1985), 526; cited in “Anglo-American Relations,” Lincoln & Churchill, A Project of the Lehrman Institute,

[331] Overy, Why the Allies Won, 109, 110.

[332] Audie Murphy, To Hell and Back (New York: Henry Holt, 1949), 125; Kennedy, The American People in World War II, 175.

[333] See Alfred W. McCoy, The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drugs Trade (New York: Lawrence Hill Books, 2003); Douglas Valentine, The Strength of the Wolf (London: Verso, 2004).

[334] Richard Harris Smith, OSS: The Secret History of America’s First Central Intelligence Agency (Guilford, CT: Lyons Press, 2005), 11, 12.

[335] Lynda Lamarre, “Heroes or Terrorists? War, Resistance, and Memorialization in Tuscany, 1943-1945,” Georgia Southern University,, 48-51.

[336] Antony Beevor, D-Day: The Battle for Normandy (London: Thorndike Press, 2009), 108, 161; and Smith, OSS.

[337] Beevor, D-Day, 379; and James Holland, Normandy ’44: D-Day and the Epic 77-Day Battle for France (New York: Grove Press, 2019), 297.

[338] David Chrisinger, “The Man Who Told America the Truth About D-Day,” The New York Times, June 5, 2019; Kennedy, The American People in World War II, 296; Beevor, D-Day. Some soldiers drowned because of the weight of their packs.

[339] Brigadier General Denis Whitaker, Normandy: The Real Story How Ordinary Soldiers Defeated Hitler (New York: Ballantine Books, 2000), 13, 16.

[340] Kennedy, The American People in World War II, 306.

[341] Holland, Normandy, 561; and Whitaker, Normandy, 21.

[342] Kennedy, The American People in World War II, 306; and John Keegan, Six Armies in Normandy: From D-Day to the Liberation of Paris, June 6th to August 25th, 1944 (London: Jonathan Cape, 1982), 283.

[343] Beevor, D-Day, 282, 306, 500, 502. Among the institutions destroyed in Caen was the university on Rue Pasteur. The bombing ironically impeded the advance of vehicles and thus benefited the German defenders.  German General Eberbach described Caen as “a heap of ruin which was hard to cross.”

[344] McKee, Dresden 1945, 16, 17.

[345] Whitaker, Normandy, 236; Beevor, D-Day, 316, 317; and Antony Beevor, Ardennes, 1944 (New York: Thorndike Press, 2015), 506, 507.

[346] Whitaker, Normandy, 27.

[347] Beevor, D-Day, 823, 824, 825.

[348] Kennedy, The American People in World War II, 307-308.

[349] See Robert E. Merriam, The Battle of the Bulge (New York: Ballantine Books, 1957); John Toland, Battle: The Story of the Bulge (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1999); Steven Zaloga, Battle of the Bulge 1944 (Oxford: Osprey, 2004).

[350] Beevor, The Second World War, 656, 657.

[351] Beevor, Ardennes, 1944, 503.

[352] Beevor, Ardennes, 1944, 201, 286, 673; Merriam, The Battle of the Bulge, 172; and “The Malmedy Massacre,” The History Place,

[353] John Fague, “B Company 21st AIB,” The 11th Armored Division Legacy Group (no date),

[354] Beevor, Ardennes, 1944, 356, 626, 679.  Vonnegut was taken as a prisoner to Dresden where he witnessed the horrific firebombing of the city, which is what led him to write his famous novel, Slaughterhouse 5.

[355] Beevor, Ardennes, 1944, 666. Another 200 civilians were killed by Allied air raids in Luxembourg.

[356] Beevor, Ardennes, 1944, 536, 554, 556, 623, 653.

[357] “Battle of the Bulge,” U.S. Army Center of Military History,,only%20a%20matter%20of%20time.

[358] Matt Robinson, “The Battle of Berlin, 1945: A Day-by-Day Account,” April 14, 2020,; and Merriam, The Battle of the Bulge, 150, 151, 161.

[359] Charles Glass, The Deserters: A Hidden History of World War II (New York: The Penguin Press, 2013), xvii, xix, 204.

[360] Glass, The Deserters, xx.

[361] Glass, The Deserters, 203.

[362] Glass, The Deserters, xi.

[363] Glass, The Deserters, xii.

[364] Glass, The Deserters, xiv.

[365] Schaffer, “American Military Ethics in World War II,” 327, 328.

[366] Schaffer, “American Military Ethics in World War II,” 328.

[367] Barbara, Christina and Sybilla Knuth, “The Chimneys of Leipzig: Three American Girls Tell the Story of How Germany’s Third Largest City Was Destroyed,” Life Magazine, May 15, 1944.

[368] Schaffer, “American Military Ethics in World War II,” 327, 325.

[369] Kennedy, The American People in World War II, 319; Kurt Vonnegut Jr. Slaughterhouse 5, reprint (New York: Dial Press, 1999); David Irving, The Destruction of Dresden, introduction by Ira Eaker (New York: Holt Rhinehart & Winston, 1964). Vonnegut had survived the bombing working in a meat locker underground and then was given the gruesome task of excavating bodies from the rubble, which shaped his antiwar outlook. His convoy of POWs had also been mistakenly been bombed by the RAF while they were traveling to Dresden, though Vonnegut luckily was among the survivors.

[370] Knightly, The First Casualty, 313, 314.

[371] Ronald Schaffer, “The Bombing Campaigns in World War II: The European Theater,” in Tanaka & Young, Bombing Civilians, 41-42.  See also Richard Overy, The Bombers and the Bombed: Allied Air War Over Europe, 1940-1945 (New York: Viking, 2014).

[372] McKee, Dresden 1945, 316.

[373] Charles S. Maier, “Targeting the city: Debates and silences about the aerial bombing of World War II,” International Review of the Red Cross, Vol. 87, No. 859 (September 2005), 435.

[374] Howard Zinn, The Politics of History (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1990), 258.

[375] “Foe’s Bordeaux Pockets Shrink; French Mop Up Royan, Drive On,” New York Times, April 17, 1945, page 4.  See also, Howard Zinn, “The Bombing of Royan,” in Howard Zinn on War (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2001), 105-115; and Zinn, The Politics of History, chapter 16, “Hiroshima and Royan.”  Howard Zinn, a noted historian of American history, was a bombardier in the 490th Bombardment Group of the U.S. Air Force, which bombed targets in Berlin, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and, notably, Royan in April 1945.  He later investigated the operation and wrote about it.

[376] Zinn, The Politics of History, 268-69.

[377] “The United States Strategic Bombing Survey, Summary Report (European War), September 30, 1945,, 1.  For a statistical overview of Allied bombing, see KennethHewitt, “Place Annihilation: Area Bombing and the Fate of Urban Places.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 73, no. 2 (1983): 257-84.

[378] Kennedy, The American People in World War II, 319, 320.

[379] “1944: Leningrad siege ends after 900 days,” On This Day (27 January 1944), British Broadcasting Corporation,

[380] Philip Knightly, The First Casualty: The War Correspondent as Hero, Propagandist and Mythmaker (New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1975), 263.  After the city’s liberation, the Soviets deported the entire Crimean Tartar community of 300,000-500,000 people and sent them into exile in Central Asia, as the Tartar population had collaborated with the Germans and even hunted down Russian soldiers in disguise.

[381] “The Liberation of Majdanek,” July 23, 2020, The National World War II Museum, New Orleans,

[382] “The Yalta Conference, February 1945,” The Avalon Project,  The Yalta agreement stipulated that “all democratic and anti-Nazi parties shall have the right to take part [in the elections] and to put forward candidates.”  This stipulation subsequently became the pretext for the outlawing of all parties except two, the Polish Peasant Party and the Communist Party (government bloc).  In January 1947, the government bloc won 80 percent of the vote in for the 444-seat national legislature in what Western observers viewed as skewed elections.  Meanwhile, the U.S. engaged interfered covertly and overtly in the Italian elections of April 1948 in order to prevent a leftist alliance from gaining power.  See Roger Peace, “Cold War interventionism, 1945-1990,” United States Foreign Policy History and Resource Guide website, 2019, Section 2.

[383] “Sealing the Third Reich’s Downfall: Adopf Hitler’s ‘Nero Decree,’” March 18, 2020, The National WWII Museum,  See also, Hugh R. Trevor Roper, ed., Blitzkrieg to Defeat: Hitler’s War Directives 1939–1945 (NY: Holt Rinehart and Winston, 1971); and “Nero Decree,” Wikipedia,

[384] Anjan Basu, “When Hitler Realised the End of the War Was Upon Him,” The Wire, May 8, 2020,

[385] Figures taken from Pauwels, Big Business and Hitler, 97.

[386] Mark Scott and Semyon Krasilshchik, eds., Yanks Meet Reds: Recollections of U.S. and Soviet Vets from the Linkup in World War II (San Francisco: Capra Press, 1988); and Terkel, The Good War, 444-459.

[387] Walther Kempowski, “Oath of the Elbe,” Harper’s Magazine, April 2015,

[388] Tyler Marshall, “U.S. and Soviet Vets Muster at Elbe for Peace,” Los Angeles Times, April 26, 1985.

[389] Scott and Krasilshchik, eds., Yanks Meet Reds (George Peck), 64.

[390] “Statement by the President Announcing the Junction of Anglo-American and Soviet Forces in Germany,” April 27, 1945, Harry S. Truman Library & Museum,

[391] Jeremy Kuzmarov, “Remember the Oath of the Elbe,” The Progressive, November 28, 2019,

[392] Antony Beevor, “’They raped every German female from eight to 80’”, The Guardian, May 1, 2002,  See also, Beevor, The Second World War, 685; and “Mass Rape of German Women: When the Country Lost the War in 1945,” History in Images website,

[393] Beevor, The Second World War, 687.  Galina Brok-Beltsova, age 95, the last surviving member of Stalin’s three famous all-female air regiments admitted that the Soviet Air Force decimated much of the East German city of Königsberg when it was liberated from Nazi rule, but she said that this was because the Germans had tried to “destroy us and occupied our villages and towns.”  Quoted in Robyn Dixon, “The Last of Stalin’s Female Fliers.” The Washington Post, August 5, 2020.

[394] Seth A. Givens, “Liberating the Germans: The US Army and Looting in Germany during the Second World War,” War in History 21, no. 1 (2014), 48.  See also, J. Robert Lilly, Taken by Force: Rape and American GIs in Europe during World War II (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007); and Ruth Lawlor, “American Soldiers and the Politics of Rape in World War II Europe,” dissertation, University of Cambridge, 2019.

[395] Miriam Gebhardt, Crimes Unspoken: The Rape of German Women at the End of the Second World War (Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2017), Introduction; and Klaus Wiegrefe, “Were Americans as Bad as the Soviets?” Spiegel International, February 3, 2015,

[396] Alexander Gordeuk, interview by G. Kurt Piehler and Richard J. Fox, April 1, 1996, in New Brunswick, NJ, Rutgers Oral History Archives of World War II, cited in Givens, “Liberating the Germans,” 41.

[397] “The Bombing of Germany 1940-1945,” Center for the Study of War, State and Society, University of Exeter,; David L. Bashow, “The Balance Sheet: The Costs and the Gains of the Bombing Campaign,” Canadian Military History, Vol. 15, Issue 3 (2006), 53; and Tara Aahra, “Lost Children: Displacement, Family, and Nation in Postwar Europe, The Journal of Modern History, Vol. 81, No. 1 (March 2009), 45.

[398] John Laurenson, “D-Day anniversary: France’s forgotten Blitz” BBC News, June 5, 2014,

[399] Omar Bartov, Atina Grossmann, and Mary Nolan, eds., Crimes of War: Guilt and Denial in the Twentieth Century (New York: The New Press, 2002), xi.

[400] “Allies Are Urged to Execute Nazis,” New York Times, July 2, 1942.  See also, Arthur D. Morse, While Six Million Died: A Chronicle of American Apathy (New York: Hart Publishing, 1968), 5.

[401] Bartov, Grossmann, and Nolan, Crimes of War, 55.

[402] “Nazi Persecution of Soviet Prisoners of War,” Holocaust Encyclopedia, USHMM,

[403] See Norman Davies, God’s Playground: A History of Poland, Vol. 2 (Oxford University Press, 1983); and “Soviet Union: German Prisoners of War following World War II,” January 24, 2017, World Peace Foundation (Mass Atrocity Endings),

[404] Jack Fincher, “By Convention, the enemy within never did without,” Smithsonian magazine, Vol. 26, No. 3 (1995): 126-43; Sarah Razner and Sharon Roznik, “”Just like us’:  How Wisconsin held captive, and made peace with, German POWs in World war II,” USA Today Network – Wisconsin, April 7, 2019,; and Mark Van Ellis, “Oral History Interview with Kurt G. Pechmann, Private, German Army, World War II,”  Wisconsin Veterans Museum Research Center, 1996,

[405] “Documenting Numbers of Victims of the Holocaust and Nazi Persecution,” Holocaust Encyclopedia, USHMM,; Stone and Kuznick, The Untold History of the United States, 128; and “Mittelbau Main Camp: In Depth,” Holocaust Encyclopedia, USHMM,

[406] Menachem Z. Rosensaft, “75 Years Ago at Nuremberg: Giving a Name to Crimes Against Humanity,” Just Security, November 19, 2020,

[407] John Q. Barrett, “The Nuremberg Trials: A Summary Introduction,” St. John’s Law Scholarship Repository, 2017,

[408] Smith, Coral and Brass, 144; Costello, The Pacific War, 1941-1945, 439. General Smith acknowledged that the island could have been seized using “less ammunition.” See also Schrijvers, The GI War Against Japan, 245.

[409] Morrison, The Two-Ocean War, 310.  For U.S. soldiers’ perspective, see S.L.A. Marshall, Island Victory: The Battle of Kwajalein Atoll (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2001). After visiting Kwajalein, famed aviator and war critic Charles Lindbergh wrote in his journal: “War is like a flame, where it sweeps it sweeps life disappears, the birds and the trees with the Japanese. We come with bulldozers and scrape over the surface until it is barren as a gold-dredged area.” In Schrijvers, The GI War Against Japan, 242.

[410] Morrison, The Two-Ocean War, 316.

[411] Howard, One Damned Island After Another, 235.

[412] Schrijvers, The GI War Against Japan, 179, 250, 252; Costello, The Pacific War, 1941-1945, 484; Victor Brooks, Hell is Upon Us: D-Day in the Pacific, June-August 1944 (Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2005); Eric Bergerud, Touched with Fire: The Land War in the South Pacific (New York: Penguin Books, 1997), 519, 520; and “Operation Forager: The Battle of Saipan,” Naval History and Heritage Command,  In New Herbides off Medea, the Americans cleared the residents so they could use the island for recreation and target practice. Nearly the entire population of Green island was removed to make way for airfields. Many were subsequently reported to be “psychologically dispirited” and 148 died from malaria.  Schrijvers, The GI War Against Japan, 88.

[413] Manchester, Goodbye Darkness, 324, 331; and “Mariana Islands,” World War II Database,

[414] Schrijvers, The GI War Against Japan, 247.

[415] Costello, The Pacific War, 1941-1945, 521.

[416] Brackman, The Other Nuremburg, 244, 245; and Linderman, The World Within War, 176, 177.  Japanese Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita was sentenced to death for the Manila Massacre and other war crimes in December 1945.  In April 1946, Japanese Gen. Masaharu Homma, who directed the battle for Bataan, was executed for his role in the death march and atrocities committed in prison camps.

[417] Schrijvers, The GI War Against Japan, 246; Spector, Eagle Against the Sun, 500, 501, 502; Robert Leckie, The Battle for Iwo Jima (New York: Random House, 1967); and James Bradley, Flags of Our Fathers, with Ron Powers (New York: Bantam Books, 2000).

[418] Bill D. Ross, Iwo Jima: Legacy of Valor (New York: Vintage, 1986), 80; and Bradley, Flags of our Fathers, 172.

[419] Schrijvers, The GI War Against Japan, 254.

[420] Spector, Eagle Against the Sun, 495; and Robert Leckie, The Battle for Iwo Jima (I-books, 2004), 18, 55. Tadamichi’s command post was located in a cave 75 feet underground.  The GIs nicknamed the caves “Jap dungeons.”  One journalist wrote very undiplomatically that “the Japs had to be burned and dug out of their holes [at Iwo] like rats.” Howard, One Damned Island After Another, 326.

[421] Paul Fussell, “Thank God for the Atom Bomb,” The New Republic, August 1981,

[422] Larry Smith, Iwo Jima: World War II Veterans Remember the Greatest Battle of the Pacific (New York: W.W. Norton, 2008), 35; and Spector, Eagle Against the Sun, 499.

[423] Matt Carney, “Iwo Jima: U.S., Japanese Veterans Recall Horror of Pivotal World War II Battle, 70 Years On,” ABC News, March 27, 2015,

[424] Baldwin, Battles Lost and Won, 380.

[425] Leckie, Okinawa, 39; “U.S. Launched Massive Attacks on Japanese Mainland After Taking Okinawa, Documents Show,” Japan Times, January 8, 2018, Buckner was the son of a famous confederate General of the same name.

[426] Joseph Wheelan, Bloody Okinawa: The Last Great Battle of World War II (Hachette Books, 2020), 14, 224; and Schrijvers, The GI War Against Japan, 201. In 1966, the first time the statistic was measured, Okinawans suffered from schizophrenia at a rate 3.4 times the average for mainland Japan, a figure that is surely of no coincidence.  Ryukyu Shimpo, Descent into Hell: Civilian Memories of the Battle of Okinawa (Portland, Maine: Merwin Asia, 2014), 473.

[427] Schrijvers, The GI War Against Japan, 252; Shimpo, Descent into Hell, 214.

[428] Shimpo, Descent into Hell, 186, 233, 209; and Donald Smith, “Dark Caverns Entomb Bitter Memories, Bodies of Okinawan Lily Girls,” The Los Angeles Times, June 4, 1995,; and Hoyt, Japan’s War, 391.

[429] Calvin Sims, “3 Dead Marines and a Secret of Wartime Okinawa,” The New York Times, June 1, 2000,; Yuki Tanaka, Japan’s Comfort Women: Sexual Slavery and Prostitution During World War II and the US Occupation (New York: Routledge, 2003), 112; and Donald Jeffries, Crimes and Cover-Ups in American Politics 1776-1963: The History They Didn’t Teach You in School (New York: Skyhorse, 2019), 262.

[430] Masahide Ota, “Re-Examining the History of the battle of Okinawa,” in Johnson, ed., Okinawa: Cold War Island (Japan Policy Research Institute, 1999), 30.

[431] Shimpo, Descent into Hell, 176-185.

[432] Manchester, Goodbye Darkness, 446-47; and “Site MALA24 Mistaken bombing by USN Torpedo Squadron 8,” Archaehiotria: WWII Historian and Shipwreck Researcher,

[433] Dower, War Without Mercy, 11.

[434] Dower, War Without Mercy, 7. Comic books portrayed the Japanese at the time as “loathsome, buck-toothed little yellow savages” and “cunning devils.”  See also Ronald Takaki Hiroshima: Why America Dropped the Atomic Bomb (Boston: Little, Brown & Company, 1995).

[435] Dower, War Without Mercy, 20, 21.

[436] Spector, Eagle Against the Sun, 408. See also Robert Fyne, The Hollywood Propaganda of World War II (Lanham, MD: The Scarecrow Press, 1997).

[437] Wheelan, The Last Great Battle of World War II, 209.

[438] Spector, Eagle Against the Sun, 409, 410.

[439] Ernie Pyle, “Europe This is Not,” February 16, 1945 in Ernie Pyle’s War: The Best of Ernie Pyle’s World War II Dispatches, ed. David Nichols, with foreword by Studs Terkel (New York: Random House, 1986), 367.

[440] Dower, War Without Mercy, 64.

[441] Dower, War Without Mercy.  Congressman Francis Walter (D-PA) sent President Roosevelt a letter opener made from the arm bone of a dead Japanese soldier.  James J. Weingartner, “Trophies of War: U.S. Troops and the Mutilation of Japanese War Dead, 1941-1945,” Pacific Historical Review 61, 1 (February 1992), 60, 61.

[442] Dower, War Without Mercy, 36; Linderman, The World Within War, 178.

[443] Terkel, “The Good War,” 67.

[444] Terkel, “The Good War,” 320.

[445] Dudley McCarthy, Australia in the War: Second World War Official Histories: Volume V – South–West Pacific Area – First Year: Kokoda Wau (Australian War Memorial, 1959), 334, 335.

[446] Linderman, The World Within War, 82.

[447] Schrijvers, The GI War Against Japan, 207. One soldier conceded that “any atrocity the Japanese commit can be matched by Americans.” Marine Sy Kahn heard that members of the 41st Division, “living up to its reputation as ‘bloody butchers,’” had come upon a Japanese hospital on Biak and killed everyone in it.  Another Marine unit slaughtered Japanese soldiers relaxing on a beach.  When a Japanese prisoner pleaded that he had a wife and three children, a leatherneck shot him down and quipped: “now he has a widow and three orphans.”

[448] Dower, War Without Mercy, 63; Sledge, With the Old Breed, 129, 131, 314. Sledge wrote: “We had all become hardened.  We were out there, human beings, the most developed form of life on earth, fighting each other like wild animals.  It was so savage.  We were savages.”

[449] See Robert Jay Lifton, Home from the War: Vietnam Veterans Neither Victims nor Executioners (Boston: Beacon Press, 1973).

[450] Dower, War Without Mercy, 70, 85; Linderman, The World Within War, 168, 169; Schrijvers, The GI War Against Japan, 218; Sherrod, Tarawa, 40.  One Lieutenant stated: “The Japs live like rats, squeal like pigs and act like monkeys.”

[451] Lawrence Wittner, Rebels Against War: The American Peace Movement (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1984), 105.

[452] Brackman, The Other Nuremburg; and Chang, The Rape of Nanking, 175.

[453] Brackman, The Other Nuremburg, 198, 199; Sheldon Harris, Factories of Death: Japanese Biological Warfare, 192-1945 and the American Cover-Up, (New York: Routledge, 2002); and Saburo Ienaga, Japan’s Last War: World War II and the Japanese, 1931-1945 (New York: WileyBlackwell, 1979), 188, 189.  Beyond heinous actions by Japanese units, there were individual members of the Japanese military who came to rue their part in the war.  Japanese flying ace, Kaname Harada, who shot down 19 Allied aircraft, later became a pacifist.  He did not speak of his war experiences until 1965, after experiencing frequent nightmares.  “He said he was able to alleviated the pangs of guilt by dedicating himself to teaching young children the value of peace,” according to the New York Times.  He continued to do so for the next fifty years.  Martin Fackler, “Japanese Ace in World War II Is Pacifist Voice,” New York Times, April 4, 2015.

[454] Hoyt, Japan’s War, 379, 380; and Selden, “A Forgotten Holocaust.”

[455] Daniel L. Haulman, “Firebombing Air Raids on Cities at Night, Air Power History, Vol. 65, No. 4 (Winter 2018), 41.  According to Haulman, between November 1944 and August 1945, the Army Air Forces dropped 856,598 individual and 360,826 cluster firebombs on Japan, for a total of 1,273,115 incendiary bombs unleased on urban areas.  More than 16,000 bomber sorties dropped 194,930 tons of bombs on Japan, and most of these were incendiary weapons.  They destroyed 56.30 square miles of Tokyo, or half of the city.

[456] Sherry, The Rise of American Airpower, 287, 288.

[457] Charles Griffith, The Quest: Haywood Hansell and American Strategic Bombing in World War II (Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama: Air University Press, 1999), 169.

[458] Selden, “A Forgotten Holocaust;” Hoyt, Inferno.

[459] Selden, “A Forgotten Holocaust.”  See also, John Ismay, “‘We Hated What We Were Doing’: Memories from the Airmen,” The New York Times, September 6, 2020, Special Section, 75 Years After World War II, 7.

[460] Tillman, Whirlwind, 153.

[461] Selden, “A Forgotten Holocaust.” Captured pilots were usually tortured at makeshift POW camps or starved in revenge for their actions. Tillman, Whirlwind; and James Bradley, Flyboys: A True Story of Courage (Boston: Little & Brown, 2003).

[462] Sherry, The Rise of American Airpower, 274; and Ismay, “We Hated What We Were Doing.”.

[463] Hoyt, Inferno, 88-89, 93-94.

[464]  Hoyt, Inferno, 60, 85, 114, 115.

[465] Hoyt, Inferno, 88-89, 402, 116; and Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard, Killing the Rising Sun: How America Vanquished World War II Japan (New York: Henry Holt, 2016), 165.

[466] Tillman, Whirlwind, 169.

[467] Terkel, “The Good War,” 200.

[468] Ismay, “We Hated What We Were Doing.”

[469] Costello, The Pacific War, 1941-1945, 552, 553.

[470] Selden, “A Forgotten Holocaust”; and United States Strategic Bombing Survey, “Summary Report (Pacific War)” (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing office, July 1, 1946), page 17.  The report also noted, “In the aggregate, 104,000 tons of bombs were directed at 66 urban areas; 14,150 tons were directed at aircraft factories; 10,600 tons at oil refineries; 4,708 at arsenals; 3,500 at miscellaneous industrial targets; 8,115 tons at air fields and sea-plane bases in support of the Okinawa operation; and 12,054 mines were sown” (page 17).

[471] Hoyt, Inferno, 71.

[472] Ernie Pyle, “Inside a Super Fortress in the Marianas Islands,” March 1, 1945, in Nichols, Ernie’s War, 377, 378.

[473] John Steinbeck, Bombs Away: The Story of a Bomber Team (New York: Penguin Classics, 2009); and Sherry, The Rise of American Airpower, 137.

[474] Sherry, The Rise of American Airpower, 130.  H. Bruce Franklin, in Crash Course: From the Good War to the Forever War (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2018), tells of his reaction to wartime films as a young boy (nine or ten):  “Most of us had already seen and cheered the complete extermination of the Japanese in that 1943 Disney animated movie Victory through Air Power, where gigantic American bombers blacken the sky and then magically transmute into an American eagle that claws the Japanese octopus to death.  As we watched Japan being bombed and burned into smoldering rubble, we heard the swelling strains of “America the Beautiful” and then saw “VICTORY THROUGH AIR POWER” emblazoned across the screen” (21-22).

[475] Sherry, The Rise of American Airpower, 131.

[476] Dwight Eisenhower, Mandate for Change (New York: Doubleday, 1963), 380.

[477] “Ike on Ike,” Newsweek, November 11, 1963.  See also, Timothy P. Carney, “‘It wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing’ — Why dropping the A-Bombs was wrong,” The Washington Examiner, August 8, 2013,; and “Hiroshima: Who Disagreed with the Atomic Bombing?”

[478] Haulman, “Firebombing Air Raids on Cities at Night,” 41.  For quotations and primary sources, see Dominick Abel Severance, “The Dropping of the Atomic Bomb: Truman’s True Intentions,” B.A. Thesis, Christendom College, December 13, 2007.

[479] Admiral William D. Leahy, I Was There (New York: McGraw Hill, 1950), 441.  General Haywood Hansell, who had been the commander of the 21st bomber command prior to Gen. Curtis LeMay, believed that the U.S. could have won the war without an invasion, without saturation bombing of cities, and without the use of nuclear weapons.  He constructed a scenario in his book, Strategic Air War against Japan (Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama: Air War College, Airpower Research Institute, 1980), in which more training of U.S. pilots, better use of radar, and more strategic bombing focus could have sealed Japan’s fate.   He estimated that the Japan’s military capacity could have been nullified with 18,500 sorties, which was 7,900 less than the number that the 21st Bomber Command actually flew from November 1944 to August 1945.  Cited in Griffith, The Quest, 202.

[480] Stimson memorandum to The President, “Proposed Program for Japan,” 2 July 1945, Top Secret, pp. 3-6 (Source: Naval Aide to the President Files, box 4, Berlin Conference File, Volume XI – Miscellaneous papers: Japan, Harry S. Truman Presidential Library), National Security Archive Briefing Book #716,

[481] “Tokyo Radio Appeals to U.S. For a More Lenient Peace,” New York Times, July 26, 1945.

[482] Manchester, American Caesar, 512; and Peter Kuznick, “The Atomic Bomb Didn’t End the War,” U.S. News & World Report, May 27, 2016,  For a collection of relevant primary sources, see William Burr, ed., “The Atomic Bomb and the End of World War II,” National Security Archive Briefing Book #716, August 4, 2020.  Walter Trohan, a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, reported that two days before President Roosevelt left for the Yalta conference with Churchill and Stalin in early February 1945, he was shown a forty-page memorandum drafted by General MacArthur outlining a Japanese offer for surrender almost identical with the terms later concluded by President Truman. Trohan related that he was given a copy of this communication by Admiral William Leahy who swore him to secrecy with the pledge not to release the story until the war was over. Trohan honored his pledge and reported his story in the Chicago Tribune and the Washington Times-Herald on August 19, 1945.  Cited in John J. McClaughlin, “The Bomb Was Not Necessary,” History News Network (2010),; and Harry Elmer Barnes, “Hiroshima: Assault on a Beaten Foe,” National Review, May 10, 1958, 441-443.  Barnes said that the Trohan article was never challenged by the White House or the State Department, and that after MacArthur returned from Korea in 1951, his neighbor in the Waldorf Towers, former President Hoover, took the Trohan article to MacArthur and the latter confirmed its accuracy in every detail.

[483] Richard Norton Smith, An Uncommon Man: The Triumph of Herbert Hoover (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1984), 347; and Marc Gallicchio, “Unconditional Surrender: The Domestic Politics of Victory in the Pacific,” History News Network (2020)

[484] “Szilard Petition,” Atomic Heritage Foundation,; and Peter J. Kuznick, “The Decision to Risk the Future: Harry Truman, the Atomic Bomb and the Apocalyptic Narrative,” The Asia Pacific Journal, July 23, 2007,

[485] J. Samuel Walker, “Recent Literature on Truman’s Atomic Bomb Decision: A Search for Middle Ground,” Diplomatic History, Vol. 29, No. 2 (April 2005), 314-15; and Rufus E. Miles, “Hiroshima: The Strange Myth of Half a Million American Lives Saved,” International Security 10, no. 2 (1985), 127.

[486] “Potsdam Declaration,” Atomic Heritage Foundation,

[487] Gar Alperovitz, Robert L. Messer and Barton J. Bernstein, “Marshall, Truman, and the Decision to Drop the Bomb,” International Security, Vol. 16, No. 3 (Winter, 1991-1992), 210-11.

[488] Walker, “Recent Literature on Truman’s Atomic Bomb Decision,” 322; and Alperovitz, Messer, Bernstein, “Marshall, Truman, and the Decision to Drop the Bomb, 208.

[489] Katie Lange, “The Enola Gay’s History Lives On,” Dept. of Defense News, August 14, 2020,

[490] Gregory A. Johnson, “An Apocalyptic Moment: Mackenzie King and the Bomb,” 1997,; Robert Trumbull, “Canadian Chief’s ’45 Diary: Hiroshima Spared Whites,” New York Times, January 3, 1976,; and “Harry S. Truman’s Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb,” Harry S. Truman National Historic Site, Manhattan Project National Historic Park,

[491] Alex Wellerstein, “Counting the Dead at Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, August 4, 2020,

[492] See Bruce Cumings, “American Airpower and Nuclear Strategy in Northeast Asia Since 1945,” in Mark Selden and Alvin Y. So, eds., War and State Terrorism: The United States, Japan, and the Asia-Pacific in the Long Twentieth Century (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2004), 63-91.

[493] President Harry S. Truman, “August 9, 1945: Radio Report to the American People on the Potsdam Conference,” University of Virginia Miller Center Presidential Speeches,

[494] Peter Kuznick, “Atomic Bombings at 75: Truman’s ‘Human Sacrifice’ to Subdue Moscow,” Consortium News, August 3, 2020.

[495] Susan Southard, Nagasaki: Life After Nuclear War (New York: Penguin Books, 2016).

[496] David Dean Barrett, “The Atomic Bomb, War Room Intrigue and Emperor Hirohito’s Decision to Surrender,” History News Network, April 5, 2020,

[497] “Emperor Hirohito, Accepting the Potsdam Declaration, Radio Broadcast; Transmitted by Domei and Recorded by the Federal Communications Commission, 14 August 1945,”  Japan’s surrender document maintained the emperor as follows (second paragraph):  “We hereby proclaim the unconditional surrender to the Allied Powers of the Japanese Imperial General Headquarters and of all Japanese armed forces . . . .”  In the 6th paragraph, it read:  “We hereby undertake for the Emperor, the Japanese Government and their successors to carry out the provisions of the Potsdam Declaration in good faith, and to issue whatever orders and take whatever action may be required by the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers or by any other designated representative of the Allied Powers . . .”  See Plate 132,

[498] The claim was made by Truman, Winston Churchill, and Henry Stimson in their memoirs, and was generally promoted by Truman’s defenders in the public arena.  As noted by the historian Rufus E. Miles, the “mass of data presented by the [U.S. Strategic Bombing] Survey and its conclusions are simply not compatible with the clear implication of these men that without the use of the atomic bombs as many as a million American casualties or, alternatively, a half-million deaths might have had to be paid in battles in the heartland of Japan.”  Miles, “Hiroshima: The Strange Myth of Half a Million American Lives Saved,” 131.  See also, Barton J. Bernstein, “Reconsidering Truman’s claim of ‘half a million American lives’ saved by the atomic bomb: The construction and deconstruction of a myth,” Journal of Strategi Studies, Vol. 22, Issue 1 (1999).

[499] Walker, “Recent Literature on Truman’s Atomic Bomb Decision,” 315.

[500] The United States Strategi Bombing Survey: The Effects of Atomic Bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, June 30, 1946 (Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1946), 22.  See also, Jeremy Kuzmarov and Roger Peace, “Was There a Diplomatic Alternative? The Atomic Bombing and Japan’s Surrender,” The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus, Vol. 19, Issue 20, October 15, 2021,

[501] Paul Fussell, Thank God for the Atom Bomb, rev ed. (New York: Blackstone, 1994), 114.  See also Robert Jay Lifton and Greg Mitchell, Hiroshima and America: A Half Century of Denial (New York: Harper Collins, 1996).

[502] Lifton and Mitchell, Hiroshima in America, 33.

[503] Wittner, Rebels Against War, 106. No poll in late 1945 ever revealed more than 4.5% of the respondents opposed to the use of atomic bombs under any circumstances.  According to J. Samuel Walker, in Prompt and Utter Destruction: Truman and the Use of Atomic Bombs against Japan (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2016), chapter 3, American antagonism toward the Japanese appeared to increase over the course of the war as atrocity after atrocity was revealed in the U.S. press.  After Pearl Harbor, there were reports of the rape and murder of nuns in Hong Kong, the grotesque mistreatment of American prisoners on Bataan, the fanaticism of Japanese defenders on Pacific islands, and the execution in April 1943 of three American pilots involved in the Doolittle raids.  In May 1945 the War Department released photographs and reports of Japanese executions of American servicemen.  One photograph showed a Japanese soldier with a raised sword prepared to decapitate a kneeling, blindfolded prisoner (later identified as an Australian).  The effect of such news releases was to mitigate any public concern for the wholesale firebombing of Japanese cities, the civilian deaths of which were much greater in number.

[504] “Notes on the Initial Meeting of the Target Committee [held April 27, 1945],” (2 May 1945), in Correspondence (“Top Secret”) of the Manhattan Engineer District, 1942-1946, microfilm publication M1109 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1980), Roll 1, Target 6, Folder 5D, “Selection of Targets”; cited in Alex Wellerstein, “The Kyoto misconception,” The Nuclear Secrecy Blog, August 8, 2014,

[505] President Harry S. Truman, “August 9, 1945: Radio Report to the American People on the Potsdam Conference,” University of Virginia Miller Center Presidential Speeches,

[506] W. H. Lawrence, “No Radioactivity in Hiroshima Ruin,” New York Times, September 13, 1945, page 1.

[507] Tom Heenan, From Traveler to Traitor: The Life of Wilfred Burchett (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2006), 11, 4.  Burchett’s report was preceded by a similar revealing and accurate report by former United Press (UP) journalist Leslie Nakashima – who before the war had possessed both U.S. and Japanese citizenship and been stranded in Japan for the duration of the war.  He arrived in Hiroshima on August 22 to search for his mother amid the ruins.  He filed a UP wire report on August 27, noting both the horrific destruction of this city of 300,000 people and the continuing deaths due to “the bomb’s ultra-violet rays.”  Lesley M. M. Blume, Fallout: The Hiroshima Cover-up and the Reporter Who Revealed It to the World (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2020), 25-26.

[508] “Wilfred Burchett: The Atomic Plague,” Fair Observer, August 27, 2014,, 7-8.  Burchett had written articles glorifying the firebombing of Japanese cities but after witnessing the atomic attacks, he became a lifelong pacifist and communist sympathizer who wrote antiwar books about the Korean and Vietnam Wars.  Burchett’s report echoed Japanese journalists.  He wrote in one report:  “Beyond the zone of utter death in which nothing remained alive, houses collapsed in a swirl of bricks and girders.  Up to about three miles from the center of the explosion, lightly built houses were flattened as though they had been built of cardboard.  Those who were inside were either killed or managed to extricate themselves by some miracle, found themselves surrounded by fire.  And the few who succeeded in making their way to safety generally died about twenty days later from the depraved effects of the deadly gamma rays.”  (In Costello, The Pacific War, 1941-1945, 591.)  Thirty-eight years later, in a book entitled Shadows of Hiroshima (London: Verso, 1983), Burchett wrote that even he had “failed to grasp the full extent of the crimes committed at Hiroshima and Nagasaki and underestimated the extent and persistence of the official coverup of the reasons for dropping the bomb and the long-term effects on survivors.”  A study by Japanese doctors at Yamaguchi University found that one fourth of children born to hibakusha had birth defects.  Leukemia and cancer rates were also extraordinarily high for people living near the site of the blast.  Burchett also recalled that after his reporting he was isolated from his colleagues and whisked off to a military hospital and had his camera with rolls of film of the devastation stolen.  His colleague George Weller of the Chicago Daily News told him years later about how stories he filed from Nagasaki were censored by General Douglas MacArthur and never published.  “The total accumulation of lies, half-truths and manipulated public opinion,” Burchett wrote, “makes the Watergate affair look like small change.”  Burchett, Shadows of Hiroshima, 7, 8, 61, 65.

[509] Blume, Fallout, 56.  Blume notes that Hersey believed that the second atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki was “totally criminal” (22).  Blume’s well-researched study details the making of Hersey’s “Hiroshima” and many issues surrounding its publication.

[510] Fleming, The Cold War and Its Origins, 1917-1960, 391, 397-99; and Lawrence S. Wittner, Confronting the Bomb: A Short History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009), 13.  See also, Lawrence Wittner, “Review: Lesley Blume’s ‘Fallout: The Hiroshima Cover-up and the Reporter Who Revealed It to the World,'” History News Network, May 30, 2021,

[511] Paul Ham, “Why Americans Have Been Duped over the Use of the Atomic Bomb,” History News Network, November 9, 2014,  See also, Paul Ham, Hiroshima Nagasaki: The Real Story of the Atomic Bombings and Their Aftermath (New York: Picador, 2015).  The National Security Archive has thoroughly documented the great cover-up of the lethal effects of atomic radiation by General Leslie Groves, head of the Manhattan Project, after the war.  See National Security Archive Briefing Book #800, “77th Anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki Bombings: Revisiting the Record,” August 8, 2022,

[512] Alperovitz, Messer and Bernstein, “Marshall, Truman, and the Decision to Drop the Bomb,” 212.  See also, Gar Alperovitz, Atomic Diplomacy: Hiroshima and Potsdam: The Use of the Atomic Bomb and the American Confrontation with Soviet Power (New York: Vintage Press, 1965); and Gar Alperovitz, The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb and the Architecture of an American Myth (New York: Knopf, 1995).  See also Tsuyoshi Hasegawa, Racing the Enemy: Stalin, Truman, and the Surrender of Japan (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2005).

[513] Rob Edwards, “Hiroshima bomb may have carried hidden agenda,” New Scientist, July 21, 2005,  J. Samuel Walker identified another reason for Truman’s sense of urgency to bring an end to the war, namely that Americans were still being killed in the war.  In the month of July 1945, “although there were no battle fronts at that time, 775 soldiers were killed in action and another 2,458 died from causes other than combat.”  Walker, “Recent Literature on Truman’s Atomic Bomb Decision,” 327.

[514] James V. Forrestal, The Forrestal Diaries (New York: Viking, 1951), 78, cited in Alperovitz, Messer and Bernstein, “Marshall, Truman, and the Decision to Drop the Bomb,” 212-213; and Paul Ham, “Did the Atomic Bomb End the Pacific War? – Part 1,” History News Network, August 2, 2020,

[515] V. M. Molotov, Molotov Remembers: Inside Kremlin Politics, edited by Albert Resis (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1993), 55, 58; cited in Blume, Fallout, 161.

[516] Walker, “Recent Literature on Truman’s Atomic Bomb Decision, 333-34, 329. See also, Jeremy Kuzmarov and Roger Peace, “Was There a Diplomatic Alternative? The Atomic Bombing and Japan’s Surrender,” The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus, Vol. 19, Issue 20, October 15, 2021,

[517] Jennifer Wright, “Exhibiting the Enola Gay,” Smithsonian Institution Archives, June 25, 2020,; and Kuznick, “The Decision to Risk the Future.”  The U.S. Senate weighed in on the issue, passing a resolution on September 23, 1994, by a vote of 99-1, declaring that “the role of the Enola Gay during World War II was momentous in helping to bring World War II to a merciful end, which resulted in saving the lives of Americans and Japanese.”  The resolution reviled the initial script for the Enola Gay exhibit as “revisionist and offensive to many World War II veterans.”   Franklin, Crash Course, 35.  See also Edward T. Linenthal and Tom Engelhardt, eds., History Wars: The Enola Gay and Other Battles for the American Past (New York: Metropolitan Books, 1996).

[518] “Text of President Obama’s Speech in Hiroshima, Japan,” The New York Times, May 27, 2016.

[519] John Reed, “Surrounded: How the U.S. is Encircling China with Military Bases,” Foreign Policy, August 20, 2013.

[520] Hibakusha Stories,

[521] Jeremy Kuzmarov, “Hibakusha Serve as a Voice of Conscience in Our Troubled World,” The Huffington Post, November 18, 2017,

[522] Robert Jay Lifton, Death in Life: Survivors of Hiroshima (New York: Vintage Books, 1967). Many women feared the contamination of their offspring and never married or committed suicide. Others faced discrimination in the workplace.

[523] Lorrie Grant, “Enola Gay Pilot Paul Tibbits, 92, Dies,” National Public Radio, November 1, 2007,  Prior to piloting the Enola Gay, Tibbits had flown forty combat missions over the Third Reich.

[524] Lifton and Mitchell, Hiroshima in America, 235; Claude Eatherly, Burning Conscience: The Case of the Hiroshima Pilot, Claude Eatherly, told in his letters to Gunther Anders, with a postscript for American Readers by Anders, preface by Bertrand Russell and foreword by Robert Jungk (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1961). See also Anne I. Harrington, “’I Asked Them to Forgive Me’: The Remorseful Hiroshima Pilot,” The New York Times, September 6, 2020, Special Section on World War II, 9.

[525] Burchett, Shadows of Hiroshima, 97.

[526] John W. Chambers, II, ed. The Oxford Companion to American Military History (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 849.

[527] “Post Traumatic Stress Awareness Month,” The National WWII Museum,” June 27, 2020,

[528] Polenberg, War and Society, 38.

[529] “1941: The Atlantic Charter,” The Avalon Project,

[530] Franklin D. Roosevelt, “State of the Union Address,” January 6, 1942, The American Presidency Project,

[531] Henry A. Wallace, “The Century of the Common Man,” speech delivered May 8, 1942, Grand Ballroom , Commodore Hotel, New York,

[532] For a critical review of the development of the freedom and democracy theme by the Woodrow Wilson administration, see Section IV of Charles F. Howlett, Jeremy Kuzmarov, and Roger Peace, “United States Participation in World War One,” United States Foreign Policy History and Resource Guide website, 2018.  For a review of the extension and exploitation of freedom and democracy ideals in the Cold War, see Section II of Roger Peace, “Cold War interventionism, 1945-1990,” United States Foreign Policy History and Resource Guide website, 2019.  Among the countries with authoritarian governments suported by the U.S. in the two decades following WW2 were Spain, Portugal, Greece, South Korea, Philippines, Indonesia, Iran, Congo, Guatemala, Cuba, Paraguay, Brazil, and Venezuela.

[533] Richard Polenberg, “The Good War? A Reappraisal of How World War II Affected American Society,” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 100, no. 3 (1992), 301.  See also, Allan M. Winkler, The Politics of Propaganda: The Office of War Information, 1942-1945 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1978).

[534] “June 13, 1942: The Office of War Information is Created,” The National WWII Museum, New Orleans,

[535] “War at Home,” A Spirit of Sacrifice, New York State in the First World War, New York State Museum & Archives,; and New York Times, June 14, 1942, cited in Polenberg, War and Society, 41-42.  See also, Michaela Hoenicke-Moore, Know Your Enemy: The American Debate on Nazism, 1933-1945 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010).

[536] “Background to Japanese American Relocation”; and “Japanese in Hawaii & the Buildup to War,” MIS: America’s Secret Weapon: Japanese Americans in the Military Intelligence Service in World War II,

[537] Polenberg, War and Society, 41.  Out of a U.S. population of 132 million in 1940, 12.2 million Americans were either born in Germany or had at least one parent from that country.

[538] Elly Farelly, “The Internment Camps of Germans in America During WW2,” War History Online, January 26, 2019,; and Karen E. Ebel, “German-American Internees in the United States during WWII,” Traces Museum, 2005,  See also, John E. Schmitz, Enemies Among Us: The Relocation , Internment, and Repatriation of German, Italian, and Japanese Americans in the Second World War (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2021); and Max Paul Friedman, Nazis & Good Neighbors: The United States Campaign Against the Germans of Latin America in World War II (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003).   Friedman notes that the U.S. government arranged for 4,058 Germans, 2,264 Japanese, and 288 Italians to be deported from Latin America and interned in the U.S. during World War II.

[539] Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States (New York: Harpercollins, 1980), 416; and Richard Reeves, Infamy: The Shocking Story of the Japanese American Internment in World War II (New York: Henry Holt, 2015), 18, 19, 34.  Clark quoted in William Manchester, The Glory and the Dream: A Narrative History of America, 1932-1972 (Boston: Little & Brown, 1974).

[540] Polenberg, War and Society, 62-63.

[541] Reeves, Infamy, 75.

[542] Brewer, Why America Fights, 109-110.  On prejudice against Japanese immigrants in America, see “Background to Japanese American Relocation,”

[543] Zinn, A People’s History of the United States, 416; Brian Masaru Hayashi, Democratizing the Enemy: The Japanese-American Internment (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004); Roger Daniels, The Decision to Relocate the Japanese-Americans (Malabar, Florida: Robert E. Krieger Publishing Company, 1986), 57.

[544] Stephanie Reitzig, “’By the Code of Humanity:” Ralph Carr Takes a Stand for Japanese-American Rights in World War II,” The History Teacher, 51, 1 (November 2017), 105; Adam Schräger, The Principled Politician: The Ralph Carr Story (Golden, Colorado: Fulcrum Publishing, 2008; and “Governor Ralph L. Carr – Denver, CO – Statues of Historic Figures on,”  Carr halted a bill which would have revoked Japanese-American citizenship in Colorado.

[545] Hayashi, Democratizing the Enemy, 2; Kennedy, The American People in World War II, 329; and Reeves, Infamy, 99.

[546] “Japanese Americans in military during World War II,” Densho Encyclopedia,; and “Patriotism and Prejudice: Japanese Americans and World War II,” National Park Service,

[547] “Civil Liberties Act of 1988,” Densho Encyclopedia,

[548] Polenberg, War and Society, 5-6, 8-11.

[549] Polenberg, War and Society, 12-13, 155.

[550] Gerhard Peters, “Federal Budget Receipts and Outlays,” The American Presidency Project,

[551] Polenberg, War and Society, 11, 18, 140.

[552] Vannevar Bush, Modern Arms and Free Men (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1949); James P. Baxter III, Scientists Against Time (Boston: Little & Brown, 1946); Robert Buderi, The Invention That Changed the World: How a Small Group of Radar Pioneers Won the Second World War and Launched a Technical Revolution (New York: Touchstone, 1998); William B. Breuer, Devil Boats: The PT War Against Japan (Novato, CA: Presidio, 1987); Bergerud, Touched with Fire, 372.  World War II also saw amazing advances in military medicine including in antimalarial drugs and penicillin. There were also new innovations in insecticides such as DDT and rodenticides. The flamethrowers were so powerful they would give off intense heat which burned off the eyebrows of its handler.

[553] Spector, Eagle Against the Sun, 488; and Bradley, Flyboys, 264.

[554] Kennedy, The American People in World War II, 221.

[555] “Rosie the Riveter,”, April 23, 2010,

[556] Department of Veterans Affairs, “World War II Veterans by the Numbers,” (Office of Public Affairs Fact Sheet),; and Polenberg, War and Society, 158, 139.

[557] Polenberg, War and Society, 133-35.

[558] Polenberg, War and Society, 102.

[559] Wittner, Rebels Against War, 112; and Polenberg, War and Society, 128-29.

[560] August Meier and Elliott Rudwick, “The Origins of Non-violent Direct Action in Afro-American Protest: A Note on Historical Discontinuities,” in Meier & Rudwick, Along the Color Line: Explorations in the Black Experience (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1976), 344-89.  See also, Scott Bennett, “World War II: Antiwar Movement,” in Michael K. Hall, ed., Opposition to War: An Encyclopedia of U.S. Peace and Antiwar Movements, vol. 2 (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2018), 96-98; and Chatfield, The American Peace Movement, 83-87.

[561] Polenberg, War and Society, 123-24, quoting Stimson’s diary entry on January 24, 1942.

[562] Polenberg, War and Society, 126.

[563] Erika Doss, “Commemorating the Port Chicago Naval Magazine Disaster of 1944: Remembering the Racial Injustices of the ‘Good War’ in Contemporary America,” American Studies Journal, No. 9 (2015),

[564] Welch, “American Opinion Toward Jews During the Nazi Era,” 8; and “Edward R. Murrow,” Holocaust Encyclopedia, USHMM,; and Varian Fry, “The Massacre of the Jews,” The New Republic, December 21, 1942,  Fry’s work in Marseille became the basis for a Netflix film in 2023 titled “Transatlantic.”

[565] Robert N. Rosen, Saving the Jews: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Holocaust (New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2006).  For a review of debates on FDR’s policies, see Rafael Medoff, “New Perspectives on How America, and American Jewry, Responded to the Holocaust.” American Jewish History 84, no. 3 (1996): 253-66.

[566] Quoted in Richard Breitman and Alan Kraut, American Refugee Policy and European Jewry, 1933–1945 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987), 189; cited in “A Report on the Murder of Jews,” Facing History and Ourselves (Chapter 9),

[567] Kennedy, The American People in World War II, 369-71.

[568] Bennett, “World War II: Antiwar Movement,” 759, 760.

[569] Manchester, Goodbye Darkness, 290, 291.  Manchester added that standards at the time were “rigid” and “everyone was determined to conform to them because the alternatives were unthinkable.”  The veterans of the First World War “ruled their homes like sultans” and imbued in their kids “the indissoluble relationship between virility and valor” and “justness of the war. . . . The United States was a different country then [compared to the post-1960s] with a lordly father figure in the White House, and a tightly disciplined society.  A counter-cultural didn’t exist, as a word or as a concept.”

[570] Wittner, Rebels Against War, 35; Murray Polner and Thomas E. Woods, Jr., eds., We Who Dared Say No to War: American Antiwar Writing from 1812 to Now (New York: Perseus Books, 2008), 165, 167.  Some of the opponents of the war were anti-New Deal conservatives and political reactionaries.  Oklahoma’s former Governor “Alfalfa’ Bill Murray (1930-1934), who had supported World War I and military intervention in Mexico as a congressman in the 1910s, opposed American entry into World War II on the grounds that such action was being advocated by “Jews and Communists.”  These views echoed right-wing anti-Semites like Father Charles Coughlin, who denounced U.S. intervention in World War II because Jews had allegedly planned the war for their own benefit. Keith L. Bryant Jr. Alfalfa Bill Murray (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1968), 267; “Charles E. Coughlin, Holocaust Encyclopedia,”  The American Socialist party was divided over the war and adopted a compromise at its 1942 convention in Milwaukee permitting both positions.  After the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, the American Communist Party began distributing Elizabeth Gurley Flynn’s pamphlet, I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier – for Wall Street, which warned about the sleepless nights that were to be the lot of American mothers should their sons be sent to Europe’s trenches to be “bombed from the skies, torn by shrapnel, maimed, wounded, crippled, gassed with deadly fumes, shell-shocked or killed outright.”  She advised the mothers further to visit local veteran hospitals to see the “poor, twisted wrecks of humanity” left from the last war.  After Belgium and Holland were conquered, the Communist Daily Worker insisted “this is not our war” and blamed “imperialist bandits” on both sides for “turning the world into a madhouse of murder.”  The American Communist Party dramatically switched positions after Hitler’s launching of the Operation Barbarossa and rallied support for Soviet-American cooperation.  At a large rally in Madison Square Garden in July 1941, the Communist Party leadership called for the defeat of what it termed “Hitler’s friends in the United States, the Lindberghs, Hoovers, Wheelers, Norman Thomases, and all other appeasing Munich-men.”  The Trotskyist sect within the communist movement took a different stand. It dismissed all the capitalist powers as imperialist and rejected communist participation with bourgeois political parties in an anti-fascist front.  Wittner, Rebels Against War; Isserman, Which Side Were You On? 33, 63, 65, 181, 183; Gerber, An American First, 130; Manfred Jonas, Isolationism in America, 1935-1941 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1966), 40, 41; Irving Howe, Leon Trotsky (New York: The Viking Press, 1978), 183.  Trotsky adhered to the Lenninist view of imperialist war, which in 1914-1917 had told the European working class that it had no stake in either side, the Kaiser’s or that of the Western bourgeoisie and the Tsar.

[571] Wittner, Rebels Against War, 36.  Anti-interventionists such as Charles Lindbergh were subjected to FBI surveillance and smear campaigns directed against them by high-level government officials.  The FBI amassed a bulky file on Lindbergh’s statements, foreign connections and finances, and tapped his telephone.  The IRS also investigated his finances and those of other anti-interventionists.  Walter L. Hixson, Charles A. Lindbergh: Lone Eagle, 3rd, ed. (New York: Pearson, 2007), 115, 116.

[572] Wittner, Rebels Against War, 101.

[573] See Mulford Q. Sibley and Philip E. Jacob, Conscription of Conscience: The American State and the Conscientious Objector, 1940-1947 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1952); Steve McQuiddy, Here on the Edge (Corvalis: Oregon State University Press, 2013); and Wittner, Rebels Against War, 62-96.  Psychological studies found that COs tended to be idealists and radicals with high levels of intelligence and educational achievement, and were more interested in artistic and social service occupations than business, as compared to non-pacifists of comparable age.  Wittner, Rebels Against War, 48.

[574] Jim Peck, We Who Would Not Kill (New York: Lyle Stuart, 1958), 60, 61.

[575] Brian D. Haley, “Ammon Hennacy and the Hopi Traditionalist Movement: Roots of the Counterculture’s Favorite Indians,” Journal of the Southwest 58, 1 (Spring 2016), 146-47; and Frank Waters, Book of the Hopi (New York: Vintage Books, 1963).  Not all who were arrested for draft resistance were COs.  In September 1942, in a series of raids, federal agents in Chicago arrested 85 African Americans, charging twelve with sedition and the remainder with draft evasion.  Elijah Muhammad, leader of the Nation of Islam, was among those charged with sedition for voicing his support for Japan as a champion of the darker races against Western colonialism.  According to one member of the Allah Temple of Islam, “the time has come when the white devils will be destroyed by the dark mankind.”  Ernest Allen Jr., “’When Japan Was Champion of the Darker Races’: Satokata Takahashi and the Flowering of Black Messianic Nationalism,” The Black Scholar, 24, 1 (Winter 1994), 24.

[576] Michael Young, “Facing a Test of Faith: Jewish Pacifists During the Second World War,” Peace & Change, Vol. 3, nos. 2 & 3 (Summer/Fall 1975), 34-40.

[577] Andrew Hunt, David Dellinger: The Life and Times of a Nonviolent Revolutionary New York: NYU Press, 2006), 65; and David Dellinger, “Statement on Entering Prison,” in Marc Favreau, ed., A People’s History of World War II (New York: The New Press, 2011), 123.  See also, Jim Peck, We Who Would Not Kill (New York: Lyle Stuart, 1958), 60, 61.  Dellinger went on to become famous as one of the coordinators of the 1968 anti-Vietnam War protest outside the Democratic Party National convention in Chicago.  In 1943, he wrote down his thoughts about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in an unpublished paper, arguing that the U.S. had broken the Japanese code and “knew in advance where and when the Japanese attack would take place.”  David Dellinger, Revolutionary Nonviolence (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1971), 7-16.

[578] Evan Thomas and Muste statement, November 14, 1940, series A-3, box 12, folder 7, FOR Records, Swarthmore College Peace Collection, cited in Danielson, “Christianity, Dissent, and the Cold War,” 653.  See also, Nicole Rhoton, “World War II Resisters: Creating Communities of Resistance in Prison,” Peace & Change, Vol. 36, No. 2 (April 2011): 191-217.

[579] Sibley and Jacob, Conscription of Conscience; Bennett, “World War II: Antiwar Movement,” 764: and Scott H. Bennett, Radical Pacifism: The War Resisters League and Gandhian Nonviolence in America, 1915-1963 (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2003), 79-88.

[580] “Bayard Rustin, the First ‘Freedom Rides,’ and Prison,” Prison Culture, March 28, 2013,; and John D’Emilio, “Before Montgomery: Bayard Rustin and the Fight for Racial Justice During World War II,” National WWII Museum, February 26, 2021,

[581] Wittner, Rebels Against War, 60.

[582] Budiansky, Air Power, 320.

[583] Vera Brittain, “Massacre by Bombing,” Fellowship (March 1944), John Nevin Sayre Papers, Swarthmore College Peace Collection.

[584] “Massacre by Bombing,” New York Times, March 8, 1944, page 18.  See also, Grayling, Among the Dead Cities, 200-202; and Schaffer, “American Military Ethics in World War II,” 323.  Even thoughtful journals like The New Republic and The Nation were against Brittain’s stand arguing that all means were necessary to win the war.  Well known journalist William Shirer characterized Brittain as a mouthpiece of Nazi propaganda.  Eleanor Roosevelt responded to Brittain by proclaiming that her pamphlet was “sentimental nonsense.” In Britain, George Orwell attacked the pamphlet in The Tribune, suggesting that the 6,000 or 7,000 German children killed to date was less than the number killed in road accidents in the same period. Later after working as a war correspondent in Germany and witnessing the carnage first hand, he changed his mind and condemned the inhumanity of the bombing, writing that “to walk through the ruined cities of Germany is to feel an actual doubt about the continuity of civilization.”  For all the hate mail she received, Brittain received a sympathetic note from one of the pioneers of air power, Basil Liddel Hart, who expressed profound respect for Brittain’s courage in “upholding the claims of human decency in a time when war fever is raging.”

[585] Schaffer, “American Military Ethics in World War II,” 323.

[586] Leilah Danielson, “Christianity, Dissent, and the Cold War: A. J. Muste’s Challenge to Realism and U.S. Empire,” Diplomatic History 30, no. 4 (2006), 654, 652; and Leilah Danielson, American Gandhi: A.J. Muste and the History of Radicalism in the Twentieth Century (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014), 242-43.  In a letter to Albert Einstein, Muste pointed out that moral and social development had not kept pace with technological advance and that this cleavage would be “healed by the scientist who becomes a prophet; that is a man who assumes responsibility for what he creates and what is done with it and whose words and actions are in true accord” (p. 246). See also, Charles F. Howlett, “A. J. Muste: The 20th Century’s Most Famous U.S. Pacifist,” April 1, 2005, Friends Journal,

[587] Paul Boyer, By the Bomb’s Early Light: American Thought and Culture at the Dawn of the Atomic Age (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1994), 234.

[588] Danielson, American Gandhi, 243.

[589] Jeremy Kuzmarov, “Hey Hey General Mackymacker, Ho, Ho Mr. Lovitt:” Woody Guthrie’s Forgotten Dissent from the Atomic Bomb to the Korean War,” The Asia Pacific Journal, April 1, Volume 16, No. 7, 2018,

[590] Kuzmarov, “Hey Hey General Mackymacker, Ho, Ho Mr. Lovitt.”  A copy of Guthrie’s song is available at the Woody Guthrie archives in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

[591] “United Nations Charter,”

[592] As far back as 1828, the American Peace Society had called for a “Congress and High Court of Nations.”  During the Great War, the Women’s Peace Party, among others, pushed the idea of a league of nations before President Woodrow Wilson adopted it and turned it into a justification for U.S. entry into the war.  See Charles DeBenedetti, The Peace Reform in American History (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1980), 45-46.  For WWI background, see Charles F. Howlett, Jeremy Kuzmarov, and Roger Peace, “United States Participation in World War One,” United States Foreign Policy History and Resource Guide, 2018.

[593] Henry R. Luce, “The American Century,” Life, February 17, 1941; reprinted in Diplomatic History 23, no. 2 (Spring 1999): 159-171; available online:  For background on Luce, see Alan Brinkley, The Publisher: Henry Luce and His American Century (New York: Knopf, 2010).  One critic, journalist Max Lerner, denounced Luce’s essay for promoting “capitalist imperialism” and using “democratic” as a surrogate for U.S. power.  Andrew Buchanan, in “Domesticating Hegemony: Creating a Globalist Public, 1941-1943,” Diplomatic History, Vol. 45. No. 2 (2021), 209.

[594] Wallace, “The Century of the Common Man.”

[595] Donald W. White, “The ‘American Century’ in World History,” Journal of World History 3, no. 1 (1992), 120-21, 125.

[596] White, “The ‘American Century’ in World History,” 125.  The letter from Wallace to Luce is dated May 16, 1942.

[597] Buchanan, “Domesticating Hegemony,” 327.  Taft made his comments in May 1943.

[598] Buchanan, “Domesticating Hegemony,” 310-19.  See also Stephen Wertheim, Tomorrow the World: The Birth of U.S. Global Supremacy (Cambridge: Belnap of Harvard University Press, 2020).  Wertheim writes (pp. 4-5):   “Only during the war [WWII] did internationalism come to be associated with military supremacy, whose architects devised the new, pejorative term isolationism and redefined internationalism against it.  For the same reason, it makes no sense to characterize a group of Americans as advocates of isolationism.  Essentially, no one thought of him- or herself as such.  Nor did any group of Americans, prior to the run-up to World War II, regularly use the “i” world to describe or tar others.  Isolationism, – the claim that the United States ever followed it, or that influential Americans ever favored it – is a myth.  Like all myths, it is produced, and reproduced, to serve a purpose.  If an isolationist United States caused two world wars to break out, then the opposite posture, the deployment of U.S. power across the globe, seems necessary.  More than that, armed dominance begins to look profoundly moral if it is the defining feature of internationalism.”  Put another way, the reputed historical debate between so-called isolationists and internationalists is rather a set-up, a skewed framework created by proponents of American global hegemony that conflates internationalism and militarism, and defines the alternative as, not cooperative internationalism and peaceful diplomacy, but an exaggerated “isolationism” which is also laden with the historical burden of appeasement.  America’s postwar hegemonic designs, as such, are presented as both moral and necessary.

[599] Buchanan, “Domesticating Hegemony,” 317.

[600] Danielson, American Gandhi, 232, 242.  See also, David McNair, “War is Not an Accident: A Profile of Radical Pacifist A.J. Muste,” The Rutherford Institute, October 21, 2002,  According to Petra Goedde in The Politics of Peace: A Global Cold War History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019), p. 6:  “The war [WWII] gave rise to a new system of international cooperation, as illustrated by the creation of the United Nations, the Declaration of Human Rights, and a host of other international economic, financial, and cultural organizations and agreements in the service of peace and understanding.  Nevertheless, the proliferation of these institutions did not eliminate the system of spheres of influence that had brought about World War I.  That system became much more rigid and absolutist than any of the nineteenth-century political and military alliances had been.  The idealism and optimism that produced the United Nations soon became buried under the increasingly tense and confrontational tone of the political exchanges among the four powers charged with determining the future of Germany and Central Europe.”

[601] See U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, “World War II Veterans by the Numbers,”  Figures from Stalingrad from Antony Beevor in Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege: 1942-1943 (1998), cited in “Death Tolls for the Man-made Megadeaths of the 20th Century,”

[602] Pauwels, The Myth of the Good War, 91; and Eric Margolis, “The Soviet Union Defeated Germany in World War II – Not the Western Forces,” The Unz Review, May 11, 2020,

[603] Wittner, Rebels Against War, 103, 109.

[604] Elizabeth D. Samset, Looking for the Good War: American Amnesia and the Violent Pursuit of Happiness (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2021), Introduction.

[605] “The history of the European Union,” European Union (official website),

[606] Quoted in Theodore McNelly, “The Renunciation of War in the Japanese Constitution,” Political Science Quarterly 77, no. 3 (1962), 353.    The U.S. assumed responsibility for Japan’s national security and established a number of military bases in the country.  This was a mixed blessing for Japan at best, as the warlike U.S. posture in the region along with actual wars in Korea and Vietnam did much to undermine cooperative relations in the region.

[607] While the “pacifist” constitution has been embraced by most Japanese, ardent nationalists have pushed to weaken or undo it.  They have also used the Yushukan war museum to subtly counter international condemnation of Japanese aggression during World War II.  The museum, for the most part, presents Japan as heroically defending itself against hostile outside forces and omits mention of atrocities committed by Japanese troops in Asia.  See Howard W. French, “At a Military Museum, the Losers Write History,” New York Times, October 30, 2002; and Walter Hatch, “Bloody Memories: Affect and Effect of World War II Museums in China and Japan,” Peace and Change, 39:3 (July 2014): 366-95.

[608] See Jeremy Kuzmarov, Modernizing Repression: Police Training and Nation Building in the American Century (Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2012), chapter 3.

[609] Tim Weiner, “C.I.A. Spent Millions to Support Japanese Right in 50’s and 60’s,” New York Times, October 9, 1994.  In the aftermath of World War II, the U.S. adopted a neutral policy toward Japan, allowing left and right factions to compete in elections without interference, but as the Cold War heated up, the U.S. reversed course and sided with Japan’s corporate elite despite the fact that they had aided and abetted Japan’s militaristic expansionism.  According to the diplomatic historian Fintan Hoey, “Following the surrender U.S. authorities had lifted the ban on left-wing political parties and labor unions, imposed a liberal constitution and carried out a major program of land redistribution.  However, in 1947 a planned general strike was banned by General Douglas MacArthur, the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers.  Plans to break up Japan’s large industrial combines, the zaibatsu, were shelved.  Figures associated with Japan’s wartime government and bureaucracy, once purged as dangerous militarists, were now welcomed back into public life.  Conversely, a ‘Red Purge’ was carried out against Communists and other leftists.  H-Diplo Roundtable XXI-19 (Dec. 9, 2019), Review of Jennifer M. Miller, Cold War Democracy: The United States and Japan (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2019),

[610] Robert R. Holt, “Meeting Einstein’s challenge: New thinking about nuclear weapons,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, April 3, 2015,  Another famous quote attributed to Einstein:  “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”

[611] Wittner, Rebels Against War, 102.  There was disagreement among pacifists as to whether to support world government. Some favored it as the best practical means for reining in international aggression; some doubted that it could overcome mutual suspicions between the great powers, and would be manipulated by those powers; still others believed in grassroots, nonviolent social change activism as a prerequisite to a creating a new world order.

[612] Bill Chappell, “U.N. Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapons Takes Effect, Without the U.S. And Other Powers,” National Public Radio, January 22, 2021,

[613] For a brief review, see Richard Overy, “Making Justice at Nuremberg, 1945-1946,”BBC History, February 17, 2011, For a longer study, see David M. Crowe, War Crimes, Genocide, and Justice: A Global History (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), chapters 6 & 7.

[614] G. M. Gilbert, The Psychology of Dictatorship (Ronald Press Co., 1950), 255, cited in Facing History and Ourselves, “Holocaust and Human Behavior,” 2017,

[615] James J. Martin, “Raphael Lemkin and the Invention of ‘Genocide’,” The Journal of Historical Review (Spring 1981): 19-34.

[616] “Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, adopted by Resolution 260 (III) A of the United Nations General Assembly on 9 December 1948,”  “Crimes against humanity” are defined as any systematic attack against a civilian population, including mass killings, forcible removal, enslavement, forcible removal, torture, and rape (Rome Statute, Article 7).  “War crimes” include the wanton destruction of human settlements, the killing or maltreatment of prisoners-of-war, and other abuses during wartime (Rome Statute, Article 8).  In 2010, the “crime of aggression” was added to Article 8 of the Rome Statute, applicable to both states and individuals, but enforcement provisions were still pending as of 2014.  An “act of aggression” is defined as “the use of armed force by a State against the sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence of another State . . .”  Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court,  The ICC issued its first verdict in March 2012, successfully prosecuting Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga on charges of inducting child soldiers, a war crime, and sentencing him to fourteen years imprisonment.  United Nations Treaty Collection, Chapter XVIII, Rome Statue of the International Criminal Court,

[617] United Nations, “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” Article 25,

[618] Melvyn Leffler, A Preponderance of Power: National Security, the Truman Administration, and the Cold War (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1992), 56.

[619] Melvyn P. Leffler, “The American Conception of National Security and the Beginning of the Cold War, 1945-1948,” The American Historical Review, 89, 2 (April 1984), 350.

[620] Andrew Bacevich, “V-E Day Plus 75: From a Moment of Victory to a Time of Pandemic,” May 5, 2020, TomDispatch,  See also, Andrew Bacevich, “Will 2020 Finally Kill America’s War Fetish?” The New Republic, June 9, 2020,

About the authors

Jeremy Kuzmarov received his PhD from Brandeis University and has taught at numerous universities and colleges in the field of U.S. history and foreign relations. He is the author of The Myth of the Addicted Army: Vietnam and the Modern War on Drugs (University of Massachusetts Press, 2009); Modernizing Repression: Police Training and Nation Building in the American Century (University of Massachusetts Press, 2012); Obama’s Unending Wars: Fronting the Foreign Policy of the Permanent Warfare State (Clarity Press, 2019); and with co-author John Marciano, The Russians Are Coming, Again: The First Cold War as Tragedy, the Second as Farce (Monthly Review Press, 2018). He is active in Tulsa Peace fellowship and is currently the managing editor for CovertAction Magazine.
Roger Peace is a diplomatic historian, coordinator of this website, and former community college instructor. He is the author “Choosing Values: Toward an Ethical Framework in the Study of History,” The History Teacher, Vol. 50, No. 2 (February 2017); A Call to Conscience: The Anti-Contra War Campaign (University of Massachusetts Press, 2012); and A Just and Lasting Peace: The U.S. Peace Movement from the Cold War to Desert Storm (Noble Press, 1991).
Thanks to readers and commentators John Marciano, Tom Clark, and Anne Meisenzahl.

Cite this article:

Bibliography:  Peace, Roger, and Jeremy Kuzmarov. “The United States and World War Two.”  United States Foreign Policy History and Resource Guide website, 2016,
Endnotes or footnotes:  Roger Peace and Jeremy Kuzmarov, “The United States and World War Two,” United States Foreign Policy History and Resource Guide website, 2016,

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