What We Really Need to Remember on Memorial Day
This Memorial Day will see the opening of the National World War II Memorial to all those who made American participation in the victory over the Axis powers possible. It will honor the 405,000 Americans who died, the 671,000 who were wounded while serving, and the millions of others who participated in the military conflict and in the home front production and volunteer efforts that were a vital part of the struggle.
The dedication of the new memorial will open a 100 day series of events, “America Celebrates the Greatest Generation.” Tom Brokaw coined the term “the greatest generation” in his 1998 book by that title. Brokaw conceived of the idea when he was at Normandy for the fortieth anniversary of the D-Day landing in June 1984 and was deeply moved by the veterans he met who had returned to the battle site for the occasion. Although it was awareness of the sacrifices of the soldiers that inspired Brokaw to write, he widened his vision to include the stories of people on the home front and of groups facing discriminatory barriers to full participation. The sponsors of “America Celebrates the Greatest Generation” have followed Brokaw’s lead and include exhibitions and events on the roles of women and racial minorities in both the military and home front struggles. The emphasis on inclusiveness and diversity stems in part from the increased egalitarianism in our country since the 1960s, but it also reflects the truth of the World War II experience and the reality that these formerly overlooked groups were present and active.
It is fitting for the country to a pay a full tribute to a generation whose members are increasingly leaving our visible presence. The contributions and sacrifices they made to us, their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren are enormous.
An important part of the story we will celebrate on Memorial Day weekend will be the meaning imparted to patriotism, military discipline, and national unity. As significant as these ideas and values were, they are not abstractions that can be transplanted to another era by an act of will. To truly learn from, as well as honor, the World War II generation, we need to understand the historical context that led the country to come together on the battlefield and on the home front and to persevere for nearly four years until victory was won. Understanding fully and accurately the role of those Americans who participated in the defeat of the Axis powers means, first, comprehending where those Americans came from, second, grasping the specific role of Franklin Roosevelt, and, third, appreciating how we as a nation fit into the global struggle against fascism.
The generation that came together to fight the Axis powers after the attack on Pearl Harbor had lived through a decade of depression. One third of the nation was jobless at the worst point in the depression. Many searched for work, faced pay cuts if working, or experienced hunger, homelessness, failed businesses and farm foreclosures. Although individualism and blaming oneself remained common, a new emphasis on cooperation, sharing, and holding the government and corporations accountable for the crisis emerged as millions of the unemployed, workers, farmers, professionals, students, writers, artists, and homemakers joined a variety of protest organizations.
In his first inaugural address on March 4, 1933, following his decisive 1932 victory over Herbert Hoover, Franklin Roosevelt responded to the new “temper of our people” and emphasized putting people to work and strong government action. He declared: “ The money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization. We may now restore that temple to the ancient truths. The measure of the restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit. . . . We now realize as we have never realized before our interdependence on each other; that we cannot merely take but we must give as well.” Two years later, Roosevelt and New Deal Democrats and their allies in Congress enacted a series of advanced reforms that embodied a vision that emphasized caring, social values, and interdependence. They created a social security system which provided old age pensions, unemployment compensation, and aid to the elderly poor, dependent children, and the disabled. Equally important was the passage of the Wagner Act, which encouraged the formation of unions. Workers had already begun a massive campaign to establish a measure of industrial democracy in the nation’s workplaces. The Wagner Act gave that grass roots movement an important boost. By the time of the Pearl Harbor attack, union membership stood at 10.5 million, nearly three times the pre-depression figure. At the same time, led by unions, working people gained a more important seat at the table of American politics than they had ever had before.
Americans sacrificed together in World War II not because of clever publicity efforts and not solely because of Pearl Harbor. They were shaped by the suffering of the depression and by successful struggles to achieve a new more democratic United States in which working people had more respect and more rights than ever before. Ordinary people defended a country whose democratic promise had expanded. Inclusion of women and minorities was also growing and civil rights advocates were beginning to place the goal of full equality on the nation’s agenda.
Roosevelt won a landslide reelection in 1936 and was reelected again in 1940 and 1944. During the Roosevelt era in American politics, a pro-labor liberal served in the White House and leftists, liberals, and trade unionists joined together in an array of coalitions for social reform at home and a foreign policy based on the values of peace and justice. Roosevelt led the nation in creating a new more democratic and caring social policy framework in the 1930s and then led the united national struggle in World War II, passing away four weeks before victory over Germany and twenty weeks before victory over Japan. Although during World War II Roosevelt worked with the business leaders who had often opposed him, workers’ organizations and left-center coalitions continued to play important roles on the local and national scenes. Roosevelt continued to hold to a vision of social reform. Indeed, sixty years ago in an anniversary that passed almost unnoticed this past January, Roosevelt proposed an Economic Bill of Rights in which all would have the right to a useful job, a decent house, a good education, adequate medical care, and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health. The presence of a charismatic leader who cared about ordinary people and emphasized shared sacrifice is a large part of the reason that the people of the United States remained fairly united in World War II.
Understanding America’s greatest generation would be incomplete if we did not see that we were an important part of a much larger struggle. While we gave the British significant aid, after the fall of France they essentially stood alone for many months against a German onslaught in the Battle of Britain. Resistance to Axis occupiers took place in dozens of countries and was particularly effective in China, Vietnam, France, Yugoslavia, and Greece. The most critical battlefront was that in the Soviet Union. Invaded by the Nazis, the Soviets at first lost a vast territory where 45 percent of its prewar population lived, but they mobilized their society, received aid from the U.S., fought back, and succeeded in destroying three-quarters of the Nazi forces. In the course of making the most important contribution to the victory over fascism, the Soviets lost 20 to 25 million people.
The generation of Americans who joined others to defeat fascism in World War II were part of a world struggle to eliminate a system that promoted nationalism, militarism, domination of other countries, terrorism against opponents, destruction of independent unions and all other democratic institutions, subordination of women, and in the Nazi case, an ideology of racial superiority. The anti-fascist coalition came together for such positive goals as self-governance, economic cooperation among nations, improved labor standards and social security, peace, and a new system of security against future wars that would become the United Nations. We need to remember our allies and to appreciate the democratic vision that underlay our joint struggles. In honoring those who contributed to a decisive event in world history, the Allied victory over fascism in World War II, we should remember all those who participated at home and abroad and understand as well the struggles they had experienced before war loomed and the values for which they fought. Patriotism, military discipline, and national unity were important themes of World War II. They developed in the context of a caring government led by a charismatic leader who responded to and helped strengthen a grass roots movement among the nation’s working people for jobs, social security, industrial democracy, inclusion, and respect. Our government worked cooperatively with others governments in the anti-fascist struggle and, at the same time, supported the grass roots anti-fascist resistance movements throughout the world that aspired to a better and more democratic life for their peoples. We can learn from as well as honor the legacy of the Roosevelt generation.
comments powered by Disqus
Nathaniel Brian Bates - 5/30/2005
I posted this in 2005, not when this was written. However, the sentiment is the same.
Nathaniel Brian Bates - 5/30/2005
I have a very simple message, one that is not academic in nature. I just wanted to wish you all a happy and blessed Memorial Day. In spirit, let us be with the Bikers in Washington D.C. who are commemorating the dead. Their work is very important. If there are MIA's, then let us please bring them home.
Dave Livingston - 1/7/2005
There is a problem, there was one way it certainly was not a "good" war. The conclusion of WWII locked more than 75 million Eastern Europeans into a Soviet prison, the Eastern European client states/colonies of the U.S.S.R. for forty-five years and it cost tens of thousands of Eastern European lives in those countries. In addition, it permited Yugoslavia to go unhappily Communist too.
During the Cold War Eastern Europe, at least the very little of it I saw in '64, a scrap of Poland & bits of Leningrad & Moscow, & a single venture into rural Russia was definitely not a happy or cheerful place. So much for "The Good War!"
B. S. Crawford - 6/6/2004
Thank you for your response - wow - you are in Nepal? Interesting!
Thank you for sharing your website - I now better understand your position. I mean not to attack you in any way. You seem to truly be an advocate for human rights, which is admirable - in fact, you are probably at some level a better person than me because I bet you are more able to "turn the other cheek" and "love thy neighbor" than am I, and I do consider myself a Christian - although there are probably many fundamentalists that would not agree, but that is another issue.
I agree that we need objectivity - and I apologize in that I took your post to be more of an attack on the U.S. than simply trying to find that so needed objectivity. History as a discipline is quite interesting in that historians must attempt to be objective yet many times turn to what are highly politically charged interpretive models to understand the past; in a sense, all history is at some level political, and thus loses objectivity. Case in point, our above posts. You put forth some valid concerns about America's past - I, in turn, attempted to challenge those concerns and show another side. I dare say we both allowed our political persuasions and beliefs to direct how we interpret those same events - and here is the rub: we both want objectivity and truth, but yet neither of us can completely escape the political baggage that we carry that in turn shapes our views about the same events - so is there truth? Can there be objectivity? Well, from a post-modern perspective, the answer is no. But thanks to Joyce Appleby et. al, in their work TELLING THE TRUTH ABOUT HISTORY, we can have healthy skepticism. Message boards, as well as journals and monographs, can allow historians to throw out their ideas, supported, hopefully, with evidence, that can then in turn be digested and debated by historians and somewhere within those works and within that dialogue the "truth" exists. History and the study of history becomes one big dialogue among historians as competing interpretations do battle and we as scholars move closer to the truth - something Socrates discovered 2400 years ago! However, the one element of HNN that has bothered me most is that so many people place posts that, when evidence is lacking, they launch into ad homonym attacks or rely on hyperbole - this is not healthy, in my opinion. I appreciate the manner in which you have posted your thoughts - I wish more could turn to a healthy dialogue than to the ruthless hegemonic approach to discussion that so many evince.
It is ironic that so many individuals on HNN who condemn Bush’s foreign policy as being too hegemonic attach him, and his defenders, in a manner that does not allow others to have an opinion – those authors become intellectually hegemonic as anyone who disagrees with them is beaten into the ground through ad homonym attacks.
But I digress. I agree with you that defining terms is important, I just assumed that someone posting on this site would know their terms and I thought questioning someone's intellectual ability to be rude - thanks for clarifying.
As far as the atomic bombings of Japan and Dresden, not to mention the overall policy of strategic bombing in general, I do recognize your position as valid - I just do not entirely agree. Rather than rehash my points above, let it suffice to say that, in my opinion, if the bombing of Dresden and the resulting large loss of life could have brought an end to the war sooner and thus have saved lives, it was worth it. So did it bring the war to a close sooner? That is extremely debatable. Some historians maintain that the Allies' strategic bombing campaign during World War II was NOT successful, while others, reviewing the same evidence, argue that it did indeed hurt the German war machine and thus shortened the war - again, somewhere there is the truth, and it is up to us to review the evidence and decide for ourselves what we believe to be closest to the truth. Having studies this to a fair degree, I believe the evidence suggests that the strategic bombing campaign during World War II did hurt the Axis' ability to wage war and was therefore justified. In the case of the atom bombs, again, the multitude of factors that led the US to decide to drop those bombs did justify their use - I do agree, one reason WAS to show the Soviets what we had such a weapon AND that we were not afraid to use it. This, in turn, possibly placed a check on perceived Soviet aggression in Eastern Europe and the belief that that aggression would spread toward the West - again, possibly saving more lives. This is not to mention the lives that were saved by avoiding a prolonged naval blockade, that would not only have resulted in the deaths of Japanese civilians but would have also put American sailors' lives at risk (remember Japanese subs were still a threat - the Indianapolis serves as an example). Also, an invasion of Japan would have been fairly horrendous. The atomic bombs ended the war quickly - a noble thing overall.
Yes, you are correct that we tend to justify American atrocities and condemn the Soviets, Germans, Japanese, or whomever. Let me clarify that my "war is Hell" comment was simply responding to your comments about Dresden and Tokyo, starved POWs, etc. What I meant was that war brings about atrocities by its very nature - it is truly an evil thing in most cases – although I do believe in just war theory (sorry). Civilians die in war - it cannot entirely be avoided. But when you look at the US and its, relatively speaking, high respect for human life, I think we can forgive the US for some of its atrocities that are labeled "collateral damage" (a term I really don't like, but I am using it anyway). What I mean is that unless it is wanton destruction in war, SOME, but not all, atrocities on any side can be expected and forgiven. For example, the first stages of the Battle of Britain witnessed the Luftwaffe bombing English cities containing industries, RAF airbases, and radar stations. Innocent civilians died. I do not condemn Germany for this since they were attacking England in a militarily logical manner and because their targets were military related. However after the British successfully bombed Berlin and Hitler changed his strategy so that an actual policy of terror bombing emerged, condemnation on my part is, I believe, justified. Nowhere did the Allies have an actual policy of terror bombing during World War II - the targets did tend to be of a military nature, and, as I note earlier, it can be argued that the US actually put its aircrews at risk in order to lessen civilian casualties.
Also, Chris, keep in mind that when the US has committed wanton aggression which inflicted needless casualties, its own institutions have sought out the guilty parties - case in point: the recent POW scandal in Iraq. I did not mean to be trite when I stated "war is Hell," I was simply stating a fact we should all remember.
In essence, I guess the reason Germany and Japan during World War II and the Soviet Union before, during, and after World War II are easy to condemn is that within their own society and institutions terror and extreme violations of human rights were part of everyday policy - not only accepted, but expected. In other words, they did not have any real standard to which to hold themselves in regard to how individuals should be treated - they, therefore, could not, and did not, police themselves as can the US.
In summation, I would just like to state that this is where the US differs from the above nations: the US has a standard to which to hold itself. It has an ideal that has never been reached, but is something for which to strive. It is an ideal that is arguably, in the words of Martin Diamond, a "national credo" or national "we believe." It is an ideal put forth by a man who had to struggle with the recognition that due to circumstances beyond his control he could not live up to that ideal himself. It is an ideal that allows all men and women, of any race, religion, or class, to be able to unite as Americans. It is the ideal to which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., envisions in his "I have a Dream" speech.
It is the belief that ALL men (and women) are created equal and that we all possess certain natural rights. This ideal that hangs above the US gives all Americans a goal to attempt to reach; and it is why so many Americans are disgusted by the mistreatment of Iraqi POWs. It is why Lietenant Calley was brought to justice for the My Lai massacre.
Chris, it is this ideal that separates the US from World War II Germany, Japan, and the Soviet Union. Those nations had no such ideal to serve as a moral barometer to which citizens could turn to try and find justice. It is not that I want to understand and justify American atrocities, but rather I want to focus on what truly are, or were, atrocities, and not get bogged down in a simple regurgitation of one act after anther that was “wrong” without fully exploring whether or not that act was indeed “wrong.” Believe me, if the US commits an unjust act, I would be the first to point out that act. I simply don’t agree with you that the acts you mention were entirely unjust; I hope I have clearly explained this.
Thank you again for your response; I hope I have given it justice. Be careful searching for Yeti! If you find him, or it (?), be sure to post a picture! Also, good luck with your endeavors as you protect human rights – that truly is a noble endeavor, and I too hope we can someday rid our world of war. I just think you and I have different views as to how we can achieve that goal.
chris l pettit - 6/5/2004
Ben and Mr. Crawford...
Thanks for the qualified kind words. I apologise this post cannot be much longer but due to circumstances beyond my control (Nepalese phone lines) I am limited to a few minutes. I would love to continue the conversation in more detail in the future.
I guess first I should note that I posted simply to try and bring some objectivity and evenness to the conversation. I share feelings about the violations of the Soviets...it is just as a human rights guy, I feel that everyone needs to be excoriated for their actions...not just those you happen to agree with.
In that vein, my comment about defining terms was not a cheap shot in any way. As Ben knows very well, I am a firm believer in defining your terms so people understand what you are referring to. In Mr. Livingstone's case, I suspected that he was using communism as a political tool to insult the Soviet regime after WWII...which was anything but communist...which Mr. Crawford notes is well known. But we do not know how it is being used...and Mr. Livingstone has the history of being sloppy both intellectually and with his language. This is why I asked him to either define his terms or become a bit more nuanced in his studies. I would think perception dictates whether one takes this as a cheap shot or whether one takes this as advice to correct ones definitions. I will be happy to discuss anything on anyone else's terms...they just have to define them. Ben on a couple occasions has corrected me for broad or sloppy usage...and I try to be the first to offer a mea culpa for it...or acknowledge when a better definition than the one I offered is presented and well supported.
I actually think I have support for everything I have presented...at least from a human rights and legal standpoint. Stategically and philosophically one can make arguments regarding nuclear weapons and the bombing of Dresden, but the fact is that regardless of the strategic importance of Dresden, there is no justification for the firebombing on the scale we did. Even supposing that our weapons could be so inaccurate as to be so far off bombing a communications depot, the entire city was destroyed on a horrific scale, massacring civilians. Even under the international law and human rights of the period, this was an atrocity. And it was already established that nations cannot break international law simply because their opponents did. The very fact that there was a massive question over the Japanese intentions and that a great deal of evidence existed (and still exists) that the Japanese were ready to surrender without the weapons being used should rule out any logical, ethical or legal usage. It was (supposedly) developed as a last resort weapon. There is ample evidence of the desire to use the weapon as a message to the Soviets. Truman has been shown to have been very naive on the subject (his diaries). His deputies were running the intelligence and information shown to him...he honestly thought he was making the right decision. unfortunately, the majority of the credible authorities without political motivations were in disagreement with him...including the greatest mind of the time, Einstein. Einstein's take on things and why he was excluded from the project when it was his theorythat made it possible is fascinating and worth reading.
One last question and I gotta run....would love to continue the conversation at a later date becuase I really want to address some of your other points...why do we "try to understand" atrocities committed by the US (or whatever side we support) and rush to condemn the acts of the Soviets...or Germans...or Japanese...whoever. There seems to be a big inconsistency here that has an inherent bias. I would prefer to call out everyone equally instead of justifying things. The whole "war is hell" comment has no validity in the legal and ethical world. Strategically...and in a very twisted philosophical sense it may have value in a pure power play ideology, but one cannot claim to have any sort of legal, ethical or moral basis for such a position. When do these positions stop to apply to a situation?
Not to cause animosity of any sort...just asking.
Pleasure speaking to such intelligent and thought provoking scholars...off to find the Yeti!!!
oh...if you get a chance and want to see a bit more about my background...
Mr. Morgan asked a while back and I finally got around to posting the website...
Ralph Osbon - 6/4/2004
holocaust n. 1: a sacrifice consumed by fire.
2: a through destruction, esp. by fire.
I must admit that this definition is from the 1973 edition of Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary.
No where is there any mention of the murder of 12 million Jews and others under the Nazis.
Maybe a newer dictionary might mention " The Holocaust " with the dates this term came into popular usage.
From my own recollections over the years, I simply do not recall ever hearing this term used before the early 70s maybe. That would mean there was a stretch of 30 years approximately after the end of WWII in which the term apparently did not exist. As stated earlier, none of the war-time leaders, such as General Eisenhower, Winston Churchill, Generals Omar Bradley or Patton, President Roosevelt, nor anyone else, ever spoke or wrote this phrase " The Holocaust." So again, why is the term now being used almost exclusively with WWII, while those people who should have known all about the war, didn't see fit to do so. Did they miss something?
So to assume it just oozed under the academic door one night, with no one knowing where it originated or came from; yet it being used so widely these days, completely unchallenged, as if it has always existed and mentally carved in stone, that it seems only proper to know how and when it came into our popular vocabulary.
It might prove interesting to see how a modern-day dictionary treats the word holocaust now.
Benjamin Scott Crawford - 6/4/2004
Thanks Ben - it is nice to see that at least one person at HNN sees things similarly to me.
Benjamin Scott Crawford - 6/4/2004
Wow - Ralph you ask a potential bomb-shell-question from a politically correct standpoint. The Holocaust, referring to the murder of 6 million Jews and 6 million others under the tyranny of the Nazis, was most truly a horrific event and was indeed a holocaust. However, 20-40 million Jews and "others" died under Stalin, and genocide has been no stranger in Rwanda, the Balkans, former Soviet republics, Cambodia, and the list can, unfortunately, go on and on and on. So while many holocausts have occurred during the twentieth century - and history in general (remember the inhabitants of Melos and how Athens treated them when they refused to enter into the Peloponnesian War on Athens' side against Sparta?), one could wonder why more weight is placed on any one holocaust by giving it the prestige of having a capital H?
Do I agree - again, wow. I think that since the Holocaust was so horrific and so shocking, not that other holocausts were less horrific and shocking, but rather since there was such a scientific approach to genocide in Nazi Germany, it serves nicely as the archetypal holocaust, thus granting it capital H status. In other words, Nazi Germany's ovens, its gas chambers, its death camps, its horrific scientific experiments on victims, its nationalized prejudicial policies against certain groups took genocide to a new level. Stalin's purges many times resulted in mass executions in a field and/or individuals being sent to gulags that, compared to Nazi Germany, were not as organized in regard to how mass murders were carried out. This is NOT to say that those who perished in the gulag or under Stalin did not suffer to the degree of those who were victims of the Holocaust. What I am suggesting is that when compared to Rwanda, Stalin, Cambodia, etc., Nazi Germany had a more systematic, "scientific" approach to genocide, thus making it almost archetypal - thus the move from h to H.
Ralph, I would be very interested in reading your thoughts on this; you pose an interesting question.
Ralph Osbon - 6/4/2004
" THE Holocaust " then, was invented since WWII.
As you correctly noted, the word holocaust, was always used before WWII with a small h.
Do you agree with this?
Ben H. Severance - 6/3/2004
You have ably (and respectfully) rebuked the specious assertions and statements of both Mr. Pettit and Mr. Larison, two of HNN's more formidable commentators. I felt tempted to chime in against them, but you nicely covered most of my objections.
Benjamin Scott Crawford - 6/2/2004
1- "Just a few brief observations. Chris, you're absolutely right about the nuclear bombings and the terror bombings of Tokyo and Dresden--they served no purpose except to massacre people and act as a demonstration of brute power. The Japanese were seeking a negotiated surrender, but "unconditional surrender" Roosevelt and then Truman would have none of it."
I could not disagree more. Dresden was a major communication/transportation route, as well as home to several factories related to the production of war material. Tokyo was a political target and contained numerous industries related to the keeping the Japanese war machine moving. The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki - again, saved more lives than lost. True, Japan did want a negotiated surrender, but it had been agreed earlier that unconditional surrender was the objective - do you think our enemies would have expected less had the shoe been on the other foot?
2- "Guernica is a red herring . . . Guernica contained a Republican military outpost and was as legitimate a military target as there can be"
Funny that the death and destruction of anyone but those whom Americans kill can be justified. Guernica still resulted in the deaths of innocent civilians in the hope that fear could be struck in the hearts of the enemy; it is recognized by many historians as the first use of terror bombing. As far as a "red herring," I was just trying to bring some art into the discussion.
3- "Embargoes were and are an act of war. To engage in such an embargo against a belligerent power is to commit one's nation to involvement in that war sooner or later. . . it is important to remember that, like so many reckless and ideological administrations, the Roosevelt administration wanted a war and did everything it could to provoke it. In a more sane America, I should think that Roosevelt would be excoriated daily for his role in bringing about the deaths of 400,000 Americans."
Oh come on - First: the embargo was in reaction to Japanese aggression and imperialism - an aggression and imperialism that was bringing about the deaths of numerous Chinese men, women, and children. Yes, FDR wanted war, but he did indeed attempt to, through economic means, resolve the situation peacefully - unlike the Japanese who were unleashing their military might against Asia - again killing wantonly and indiscriminately. As far as your observation about a more sane America condemning FDR for indirectly getting the US involved in World War II, well, all I can ask is if you really do believe the world would be better with Japan controlling the Pacific and Nazi Germany controlling Europe?
4- "Incidentally, Roosevelt also authorized the waging of unconstitutional naval warfare in the north Atlantic and did everything he could to give the Germans the impression that he meant to attack them in Europe."
Unfortunately you forget about the wolf packs roaming the Atlantic attacking American unarmed merchant ships attempting to carry out trade as a neutral - granted, these ships were carrying war material, legally authorized by Congress, but the need for protection from German aggression brought the need for a war in the Atlantic to be waged - PLEASE explain how this was unconstitutional. Also, Hitler, after hearing of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, was outraged - he wanted to keep the US out of the war as long as possible.
5- "As Chris and I have discussed before, modern socialists need not be tyrannical and brutal towards their fellow citizens and political enemies, but when they are not they are usually diverging from classical socialism rather than being true to it."
I own my property - but a socialist regime gains control of the government. They want to redistribute land and property equally. I refuse to give up my property - I defend it as the government attempts to confiscate it - what will they do? Arrest me or kill me - and we have tyranny. Socialism/communism ONLY works if EVERYONE agrees to it - and since it is based on an inaccurate view of human nature, it will never, and can never, work at any large scale - government cannot "wither away" since a force will be needed to keep those that do not agree in check.
Daniel B. Larison - 6/2/2004
Just a few brief observations. Chris, you're absolutely right about the nuclear bombings and the terror bombings of Tokyo and Dresden--they served no purpose except to massacre people and act as a demonstration of brute power. The Japanese were seeking a negotiated surrender, but "unconditional surrender" Roosevelt and then Truman would have none of it.
I'd be interested to hear more about your views on Allied treatment of Germans, especially in the west. I am aware of a Morgenthau book that protested the treatment of Germans after the war, but I do not yet know if this includes all Allied treatment or just the Soviet treatment with the connivance of the Allies.
Guernica is a red herring, popularised by Picasso and then whitewashed by Marxist historians. If you will consult Stanley Payne's excellent history of the Franco regime, you will find that the evidence shows that Guernica contained a Republican military outpost and was as legitimate a military target as there can be. That, unlike Dresden, was a tactical strike. Dresden was the use of pure terror just because the Allies could. By contrast, the "Blitz" was relatively limited in terms of the bombing of civilian targets when compared to the massacres of so many German cities and towns. More Germans died in one bombing attack on Hamburg than in all of the Blitz. Saying "it's war" does not relieve anyone of the responsibility to conduct a war justly.
Chris is correct about mistreatment of POWs, especially Japanese POWs, though I had understood it more in terms of brutality rather than starvation. Regardless, this is just the sort of thing that Gunther Bischof was talking about in his article on "the good war" vs. the German "bad war." Our accounts of American conduct in the Pacific campaign have become so sanitised that most have never known how bad the treatment for Japanese POWs really was. I suppose you could say, "It's war. Stuff happens." But that is hardly a worthy response.
Embargoes were and are an act of war. To engage in such an embargo against a belligerent power is to commit one's nation to involvement in that war sooner or later. In the case of Japan, the American embargo of oil was an obviously and deliberately hostile act against a country then at war. This is not an apology for the Japanese "cause," but it is important to remember that, like so many reckless and ideological administrations, the Roosevelt administration wanted a war and did everything it could to provoke it. In a more sane America, I should think that Roosevelt would be excoriated daily for his role in bringing about the deaths of 400,000 Americans. But apparently the more Americans a president gets killed in battle, the more fondly he is remembered as a great leader. God spare us from such great leaders.
Incidentally, Roosevelt also authorised the waging of unconstitutional naval warfare in the north Atlantic and did everything he could to give the Germans the impression that he meant to attack them in Europe. Without an awareness of these provocations, Hitler's declaration of war really does appear lunatic. The point is not that "they" were the good guys and "we" were the bad guys, but that the war as it was provoked and fought cannot seriously be called a "good war." Likewise, anticommunism was a good cause, but I wouldn't go out of my way to defend most of the ways in which people used that cause to get into conflicts that had little to do with America or the major goal of containment.
I would refer anyone who wants to believe in the "good but impossible communism" idea to The Lost Literature of Socialism. The most glaring political problems of the Soviet state (the repression, dictatorship, etc.) were not a contradiction of communism or socialism. The ideas of the coercive state apparatus, the mass killings and the use of terror were all there in early socialist writings of all stripes, including Marxist. As Chris and I have discussed before, modern socialists need not be tyrannical and brutal towards their fellow citizens and political enemies, but when they are not they are usually diverging from classical socialism rather than being true to it.
Benjamin Scott Crawford - 6/2/2004
"Holocaust," when referring to the horrific events occurring in Germany and its conquered territories during World War II, is capitalized because it is a proper noun. I do not know when this began, but when referring to THE Holocaust, as opposed to a holocaust, the H is capitalized. The authors, to whom you refer, due to when they wrote their works, did not "miss something," nor did anyone invent a new word in the above posts.
Ralph Osbon - 6/2/2004
Seeing how you have used the capitalized version of the world ' holocaust ' to read as the Holocaust, I was wondering where did you get the idea to do so, since none of the war-time leaders, from General Eisenhower in his Crusade in Europe, or Winston churchill in his History of WWII, nor any other American statesmen or politicial or military leaders ever use the word holocaust either capitalized H or not in any of their war time writings. Did they miss something or have you just invented a new word?
Benjamin Scott Crawford - 6/1/2004
Aren't you glad you live in the United States - where you can freely express your ideas, even when critical of your nation, and not fear the heavy hand of tyranny? I believe that it is this to which Dave is drawing our attention - that at a certain level, World War II did not end on a positive note for Eastern Block countries due to the tyranny under which they were placed as a result of Soviet occupation. The historian B.H. Liddell Hart even suggested that ultimately the primary objective of the Allies in Europe - to protect the sovereignty of Poland - was not reached due to the Soviet occupation following the war. Had you lived in Eastern Europe or the Soviet Union and written a diatribe resembling the one above, of course criticizing the Soviet Union as opposed to the US, you would have felt the heavy hand of tyranny.
But this is not the case. You are fortunate enough to live in a free society in which descent and debate are encouraged - in fact, such opinions MUST be brought out in order that we may make well-informed decisions as to whom we should elect for public office. Unfortunately, however, such freedom many times allows for a devolution toward hyperbole and ad homonym attacks - something seen quite often on HNN; something that surprises me as I thought primarily historians would engage one another through messages and a spirited debate relying on well supported arguments seeking objectivity and the ever elusive "truth." Alas, this does not seem to be the case. However, your points have forced me to address your concerns; I do so with the utmost respect of your opinion and the recognition that some of your concerns are valid.
1- "how about the internment of thousands of Japanese and German Americans?"
True. This was indeed a blot on the United States' history. But let us remember that Americans primarily on the West coast were reacting to a fairly substantial attack against a United States naval base, not to mention attacks on American bases throughout the Pacific, resulting in the loss of US territories and protectorates (yes, gained through evil imperialist means, I know, I know). There was a real fear that saboteurs and spies were roaming across the country, preparing for a now known to be unrealistic fear of attack and or invasion along the West coast. Many Japanese Americans were unfairly detained, and, yes, due to racist policies, suffered the brunt of the interment camp movement - to my understanding, relatively speaking, very few German Americans were detained. While this is no excuse, it is an attempt to understand those tragic events.
2- "how about the dropping of two atomic weapons without any cause (please don't start that "we had to avoid invading" crap)?"
The United States had been at war with Japan for over 3 and 1/2 years. Yes, setting up a naval blockade of Japan could have starved them into submission - how many Japanese civilians would that have killed? Either way, US troops would have had to land on the Japanese homeland at some point - and the track record of the Japanese (i.e., Kamikaze attacks, fighting to the death, etc.,) suggested that the Japanese would have to be decisively defeated - the atomic bombs accomplished that. An invasion WOULD have resulted in needless loss of BOTH American and Japanese life. The dropping of the atomic bombs ended the war quickly - a responsible objective.
3- "how about the fact that the D-Day invasion was launched when over 80% of the German army was being engaged and eventually defeated by the Russians?"
So? What is your point? Are you in some way suggesting that just because the entire German Wermacht was not defending the Atlantic Wall the invasion of Normandy was yet another evil act committed by the US? If not, this point does not really fit your overall argument. Everyone knows that Hitler's war on the Eastern Front prevented him from adequately defending his western flank; yet that does not take away from the achievements of the Allies at Normandy on June 6, 1944 in any way. Likewise, what if there was no threat along Hitler's Atlantic Wall? What if those troops forced to defend the Western Front could have been moved to the Eastern Front - might that have been the amount of force Hitler needed to find victory? Stalin seemed to believe this since he began pressuring FDR and Churchill to open a second front ASAP as early as 1942.
4- "how about the fact that prior to and during WWII American investment in Germany rose almost 50% (1929-1945)?
Yes, there were US corporations investing in Germany during the 1920s and 1930s - IBM even, according to a recent work, helped facilitate the Holocaust through its business dealings with Germany ( I am surprised you left that one out). However, remember that during the 1930s there was a Great Depression - a worldwide depression - and investments abroad were needed. Also, the truly evil nature of Nazi Germany was not being fully realized in the 1930s - anyway, no nation wanted war, so such evils would have been ignored - the classic case against appeasement. Until December, 1941, the US was officially neutral, so corporations could still invest - but after war broke out in 1941 for the US, it is my understanding that such investments stopped.
5- "how about the fact that the US firebombed cities for little or no reason (Tokyo, Dresden), starved thousands of POW's, massacred surrendering German soldiers (congrats to Steven Spielberg's mostly propoganda [sic] piece for at least acknowleging [sic] this fact)?"
Chris, it was war - "war is Hell." Such horrible events happen in war - the object is to defeat the enemy as quickly as possible to end the horribleness that defines war. Remember, had the Japanese not been attempting to carve up China, had they not attacked Pearl Harbor, had they not attacked American possessions throughout the Pacific, had Germany not invaded Poland, and had Germany not tried to take over all of Europe, Tokyo and Dresden, as well as numerous other Japanese and German cities, would NEVER have been bombed by the allies. Also, do note that it was the German Luftwaffe that first terror bombed a city; Picasso captures his representation of this event in his painting "GUERNICA." The US did have a strategic bombing campaign that it unleashed against its enemies - but the strategy did involve targeting the enemies' industry. The US, at least in Europe, made it a point to practice "precision" bombing as B-17s and B-24s actually targeted factories and other targets related to Germany's ability to wage war as opposed to simply carpet bombing the entire city, as was the case with the British. This resulted in the US having to conduct bombing missions during the day when it was less safe - as opposed to the British who tended to conduct their raids at night when Germany's air defenses were weaker. Thus, in order to save civilian lives, albeit to no degree as can be done today with the use of so-called "smart bombs," the US conducted air raids against Germany at greater risk to US aircrews. Also, remember that Tokyo was an industrial center in Japan, as well as Japan's capital - seems like a good target to me; I take issue with your claim that it was targeted for "little or no reason."
Starved thousands of POWs? Well, Chris I do not believe you to be accurate on this account. Granted, I am sure some POWs did not receive the best meals available and abuse did occur, but this was absolutely NOTHING compared to atrocities committed against US soldiers in Japanese prison camps, or the atrocities that occurred in the German and Russian prison camps. Now, Chris, I know from one of your other posts that you do not believe there to be a difference between violent acts, even though you also seem to have conceded there is a difference later in that string of posts, but I would ask you, if it were 1943 and you were a prisoner of war, to which camp would you rather be taken: Japanese? German? Soviet? or US? If you can answer any of the above because they are all the same, you really have no concept of how POWs were treated during World War II.
As far as massacring German soldiers, as depicted in SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, were such "massacres" involving taking already surrendered German troops to a field and then mowing them down? No, that was not the case - it was NEVER official US policy to shoot surrendering soldiers, although after the 1st SS Division took US soldiers who had surrendered during the first day of fighting during the Battle of the Bulge to a field on December 17, 1944, and mowed them down with machine gun fire, US troops began not to accept surrenders from SS troops. As one veteran commented when SAVING PRIVATE RYAN was released in response to seeing US soldiers shoot Germans with their hands in the air: (I paraphrase) "that did happen. Here was a guy that was shooting at you, killing your comrades, and only because he ran out of ammo he throws his gun down and surrenders - some guys could not contain themselves and simply shot them in the heat of battle." That is quite different from what happened at St. Malmedy on December 17, 1944.
By the way, SAVING PRIVATE RYAN was not necessarily propaganda. It was basically showing our generation the sacrifices made by "the greatest generation" so that we can have the life we enjoy today. You, Chris, and I are "private Ryan" in that those men and women went to war against fascism and tyranny so that we can post messages on message boards such as this. When Ryan at the end asks his wife if he lived a good life, it is a question we should all ask ourselves - our we living good lives so that those men and women did not die in vain? This is reminiscent of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address - it is our mission to take this nation closer to the ideal upon which the nation was founded: that all men are created equal - so that those who died in previous wars did not die in vain.
6- "the fact that FDR never did declare war on Germany...the Germans declared war on us...we were busy dealing with the "surprise" attack at Pearl Harbor (the location and actual attack were a surprise...the fact it was coming should not have been due to our oppressive policies)"
Again, so? Clearly a state of war existed between the US and Germany. The US was busy dealing with a surprise attack that nearly crippled its Pacific fleet - thank God the carriers were out of Pearl. It is true that the attack was not a surprise, per se, but to state that it was "due to our oppressive policies" is ludicrous. Remember, the oil embargo was placed on Japan in reaction to Japan's invasion of China and subsequent occupation of French Indochina - it was the oppressive and imperialistic policy of Japan that created the devolution in relations between the US and Japan that then brought about Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor. What surprises me, Chris, is that you are not angry at Japan for not seeking another solution to the crisis: simply withdraw troops from French Indochina and China. That would have brought an end to the embargo and war would have been avoided. The US was simply trying to use economic pressure to force Japan to stop waging war in Asia - a fairly noble thing, don't you think? As with all embargos, though, it simply gave the enemy time to build its military and launch a first strike.
7- " the fact the US turned away thousands of Jewish refugees fearing their "socialism"...causing them to face the horrors of Europe (it should be noted that the UK was guilty of the same crime...the "Final Solution" was only instigated after Hitler tried to force the Jews to emigrate but found no takers...hence universal responsibility for the Holocaust)"
It is a tragedy that the US turned away Jewish refugees that then later many of whom met a horrible fate. However, the US did not know the degree to which the Holocaust would reach. Also, it is no individual's right to move to any country - the US, or any country, can deny anyone or group of people entry into its territories. As far as "universal responsibility for the Holocaust," come on, Chris, thank about this. Let us say that in the middle of the night a man is banging at my door screaming insanely that he needs help - should I let him in? Could he not harm my family? I believe it to be unsafe to let him in and he flees, only to be killed by someone stalking him - am I at fault? Of course not - ultimately, the individual who actually committed the crime is the murderer. Germany, and Germany alone, is responsible for the Final Solution.
8- "in all your Soviet bashing I see no reference to the negative effects on West Germany or the atrocious satellite states of South America and Southeast Asia that were to arise from US doctrine"
Negative effects on West Germany? Chris, just compare West Germany to East Germany in 1989 as the wall collapsed. Which nation was more jubilant? East Germany was much more grateful to now be able to attach itself to the healthy economy existing in West Germany - it was West Germany that was fearful that the needed rebuilding of East Germany would undermine its stable and growing economy. Also, Chris, why was there a need for a wall in the first place? BECAUSE SO MANY FROM THE EAST WERE TRYING TO CROSS OVER TO THE WEST! Also, if the US is so terrible, why does the US have to, in essence, build "walls" to keep people out? As far as South America and Southeast Asia, granted, some failings are there, but also some successes - look how Vietnam is now approaching the US to open up trade relations.
9- "None of this is meant to refute your well stated points on totalitarian Soviet policy...it is simply to ask you be an equal opportunity basher and acknowledge the bankruptcy of both US and Soviet approaches."
Same to you Chris, just think through some of your hyperbole.
10- "by the way...you would do well to either a) define your terms since Soviet totalitarianism had little to do with true communism or even socialism or b) learn the difference between the two."
I am willing to guess that Dave knows his terms, that is, after all, a cheap shot Chris. Everyone knows that a truly communist state, as defined by Marx, has never existed - or for that matter can ever exist.
Ben H. Severance - 6/1/2004
The American men and women who endured the Great Depression and World War Two are to be commended for persevering and prevailing, but their era is only one of several "great" periods in American history. The Revolutionary generation--the so-called "Founding Fathers"--was filled with impressive characters. The politicians and soldiers, such as Lincoln and Grant, who suppressed a formidable rebellion and then emancipated four million slaves must rank as a great period. And what about the reformers of the Progressive Era? Teddy Roosevelt, LaFollette, Brandeis, Wilson, Debs, all exemplify greatness in their own way.
While labels like "the greatest generation" may make people such as Tom Brokaw feel good about themselves (he is part of his own described greatness), but it insults those who came before and those who follow. Is America now on the decline because its peak of greatness lay between the 1930s and 1950s. I love my grandparents, and I suppose they did good things during their prime, but I will never consider their generation the greatest at anything.
chris l pettit - 5/31/2004
how about the internment of thousands of Japanese and German Americans?
how about the dropping of two atomic weapons without any cause (please don't start that "we had to avoid invading" crap)?
how about the fact that the D-Day invasion was launched when over 80% of the German army was being engaged and eventually defeated by the Russians?
how about the fact that prior to and during WWII American investment in Germany rose almost 50% (1929-1945)?
how about the fact that the US firebombed cities for little or no reason (Tokyo, Dresden), starved thousands of POW's, massacred surrendering German soldiers (congrats to Steven Spielberg's mostly propoganda piece for at least acknowleging this fact)?
the fact that FDR never did declare war on Germany...the Germans declared war on us...we were busy dealing with the "surprise" attack at Pearl Harbor (the location and actual attack were a surprise...the fact it was coming should not have been due to our oppressive policies)
the fact the US turned away thousands of Jewish refugees fearing their "socialism"...causing them to face the horrors of Europe (it should be noted that the UK was guilty of the same crime...the "Final Solution" was only instigated after Hitler tried to force the Jews to emigrate but found no takers...hence universal responsibility for the Holocaust)
in all your Soviet bashing I see no reference to the negative effects on West Germany or the atrocious satellite states of South America and Southeast Asia that were to arise from US doctrine
None of this is meant to refute your well stated points on totalitarian Soviet policy...it is simply to ask you be an equal opportunity basher and acknowledge the bankruptcy of both US and Soviet approaches.
by the way...you would do well to either a) define your terms since Soviet totalitarianism had little to do with true communism or even socialism or b) learn the difference between the two.
Steven Lee Uanna - 5/30/2004
Understanding and appreciating the WW II generation involves a lot more than a memorial. It involves taking care of the veterans and their families, like giving them good health care in the Veterans Hospitals. This is something that has been lacking for generations. Stop treating them like they lost the war instead of won it.
And it involves making sure the whole story about WW II and the Korean War (the forgotten war) in which many WW II veterans fought is brought out into the light.
One of the main heroes of WW II and the Cold War has been literally "written out" of history. This is a man who went "above and beyond" the call of duty. In fact he was portrayed by actor James Whitmore in a movie called ABOVE AND BEYOND. His role in the Manhattan Project was crucial to the surrender of Japan and the end of WW II. Many veterans in Washington now celebrating the dedication of the Memorial would probably like to thank this man, especially the ones who were on ships heading to Japan when they heard the news about the strange new weapon that would make the assault on the island unnecessary.
The man I am talking about is named WILLIAM LEWIS UANNA.
Although his government has forgotten him, and by all indications is covering up his murder, "unofficial historians" have portrayed his role in the Manhattan Project in two other movies - ENOLA GAY and HIROSHIMA.
You can read about his amazing career and mysterious death at http://www.securitysuperchief.com
It was at the end of the movie ENOLA GAY that it said he was murdered in Africa and all records relating to his death have dissappeared. The source to VIACOM for this information? It was Paul Tibbets, the pilot of the B-29 Bomber Enola Gay.
The main government agency covering up his murder is the U.S. Department of State. Mr. Uanna had set up the security at the State Department in the early 1950's and at the time of his death on December 22, 1961 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia he was the CHIEF OF THE DIVISION OF PHYSICAL SECURITY AT THE DEPARTMENT OF STATE.
Mr. Uanna, or "Bud" as he was called worked on many of our nations most secret projects after he was the main security officer on the Manhattan Project.
A role General Leslie Groves seems to miss in his "offical" account of the Manhattan Project called NOW IT CAN BE TOLD which came out only months after Mr. Uanna's death. Before he was exiled to Addis Ababa from Washington D.C. Bud Uanna would work with some of the prime suspects in the assassination of President Kennedy.
So as they dedicate the WW II Memorial on the mall this holiday weekend, look over toward Arlington Cemetery. That is where Bud Uanna's grave is, near the McClellan Gate. But from the information I have I doubt his body is in that grave. This and much more about United States history is deemed "secret" by the custodians of our security. There are many veterans in Washington this weekend that I am sure would like to thank Bud Uanna if they could.
The U.S. Government has tried to wipe his memory out.
Read about his amazing career and death at http://www.securitysuperchief.com Bud Uanna was my father. And I honor all those who died fighting in WW II and I salute all the survivors of the WW II generation, the soldiers and those who labored on the home front. I only ask that the whole truth about this generation be told.
Thank you, Steven Uanna
- Joan Baez, Sly Stone, Steve Martin, Ben E. King -- all honored by the Library of Congress
- StoryCorps to Launch Global Expansion With $1M TED Prize
- Hofstra Event Looks at Bush Presidency
- Did Israel steal uranium from a town in Pennsylvania in the 1960s?
- Sequel to Nelson Mandela's Long Walk to Freedom to be published next year
- History Camp "unconference" returns for the second year in Boston
- History Department at Connecticut College deplores Facebook post on Palestinians
- Historians join other scholars in protesting Georgia's anti-gay legislation
- Homeland Security historian builds winning case against Salvadoran leader who oversaw crimes
- What Howard Zinn taught the students of Spelman College