Posts Tagged ‘World War Two’

A Canadian on the end of the American era

August 12, 2020

Ford’s WIllow Run plant during World War Two

When people are faced with external threats, they need to pull together.   A Canadian anthropologist named Wade Davis pointed out that this once was true of the United States.

In 1940, with Europe already ablaze, the United States had a smaller army than either Portugal or Bulgaria.

Within four years, 18 million men and women would serve in uniform, with millions more working double shifts in mines and factories that made America, as President Roosevelt promised, the arsenal of democracy.

When the Japanese within six weeks of Pearl Harbor took control of 90 percent of the world’s rubber supply, the U.S. dropped the speed limit to 35 mph to protect tires, and then, in three years, invented from scratch a synthetic-rubber industry that allowed Allied armies to roll over the Nazis.

At its peak, Henry Ford’s Willow Run Plant produced a B-24 Liberator every two hours, around the clock.

Shipyards in Long Beach and Sausalito spat out Liberty ships at a rate of two a day for four years; the record was a ship built in four days, 15 hours and 29 minutes.

A single American factory, Chrysler’s Detroit Arsenal, built more tanks than the whole of the Third Reich.

That was then.  This is now.

COVID-19 didn’t lay America low; it simply revealed what had long been forsaken.

As the crisis unfolded, with another American dying every minute of every day, a country that once turned out fighter planes by the hour could not manage to produce the paper masks or cotton swabs essential for tracking the disease.

The nation that defeated smallpox and polio, and led the world for generations in medical innovation and discovery, was reduced to a laughing stock as a buffoon of a president advocated the use of household disinfectants as a treatment for a disease that intellectually he could not begin to understand.

As a number of countries moved expeditiously to contain the virus, the United States stumbled along in denial, as if willfully blind.

With less than four percent of the global population, the U.S. soon accounted for more than a fifth of COVID deaths.

The percentage of American victims of the disease who died was six times the global average. Achieving the world’s highest rate of morbidity and mortality provoked not shame, but only further lies, scapegoating, and boasts of miracle cures as dubious as the claims of a carnival barker, a grifter on the make.

Some of these statements need asterisks.  Latin America has overtaken North America as the center of the coronavirus infection, and several advanced countries have higher coronavirus-related deaths per million people than the USA does, at least so far.

Davis, like many Canadian critics of the USA, is somewhat blind to the problems of his own country.  An American who has lived in Davis’s Vancouver pointed out that it is far from being the semi-utopia he claims it is.

But none of this disproves Davis’s general point.  U.S. industrial and governmental capacity has been unraveling for a long time.  This process won’t reverse by itself.  The first steps in change are for us Americans to understand our situation, pull together and stop accepting excuses for failure from our supposed leaders.

LINKS

How Covid-19 Signals the End of the American Era by Wade Davis for Rolling Stone.

The Unraveling of “The Unraveling of America” by Deanna Kreisel for Medium.

Hitler lost WW2 because he ran out of gas

July 12, 2019

I came across an interesting history video that explains how access to oil was Adolf Hitler’s main goal in World War Two, how it determined his strategy and why his failure to achieve that goal doomed Nazi Germany to defeat.

It provides good food for thought, both about history and today’s geopolitics.  Here is an outline of what it said.

Adolf Hitler believed that Germany could not be a powerful or even an independent nation so long as it depended on imports for food and energy.  His long-range goal was to acquire the farmland of Ukraine and the oil of the Caucasus for Germany.

Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939 was a step toward that goal.  If Britain hadn’t declared war on Germany in 1939 or had agreed to a truce in 1940 or 1941, he might have succeeded.

The United States during that period produced 70 percent of the world’s oil.  Most of the rest came from the USSR and Venezuela.  Even after Germany conquered most of Europe, including the oil fields of Rumania, the British blockade remained in place.  Germany was cut off from the oil of the USA and Venezuela and the USSR did not supply enough to meet its requirements.

Germany’s blitzkrieg strategy depended on tanks and other motorized vehicles operating on a broad front.  But Germany lacked enough oil of its own to conduct long campaigns.

The German army “demotorized” in order to provide enough fuel for the tanks.  It used horse-drawn vehicles to move supplies.  Messengers rode bicycles rather than motorcycles.  It also used an expensive process to synthesize oil from coal, even though coal supplies also were limited.

This meant Germany had a limited time in which to invade Soviet Russia and obtain the oil it needed.   Otherwise it would run short of the fuel needed to power its tanks and trucks.

That is why Hitler did not plan for a long campaign, and why he wanted his generals to concentrate on the Caucasus rather than Leningrad and Moscow.

The 1941 invasion failed.  After that Germany had one last chance of victory—by using what fuel reserves it had in 1942 to make one last stab at Maikup and Grozny in the Caucasus while conquering Stalingrad so the Soviets could not transport oil up the Volga River from refineries in Baku.

Lack of fuel was why Hitler ordered troops to stand fast and hold the line at all costs rather than allowing his generals to engage in a war of maneuver.

If the Nazis had succeeded, Russia would have been cut off from both the oil of the Caucasus and the Ukraine breadbasket.  Soviet forces would have been hard put to find the means to keep on fighting in 1943 and 1944.

But the Nazis failed.  From then on, Germany’s only goal in fighting was to prolong the war in hope of a negotiated peace.

All this shows that while Hitler was evil, he was not a madman—at least not where military strategy was concerned.  He understood strategy better than his generals.

It also shows the British blockade and American oil were as important to victory as the actual fighting by the Red Army.  If Winston Churchill had not become Prime Minister in 1940, Britain might have made a separate peace with Germany, and the German army would have had the fuel it needed to blitzkrieg Russia.

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What if the Axis had won the Second World War?

December 26, 2016

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Philip K. Dick is not my favorite science fiction writer, but many of my favorite science fiction movies—Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, Paycheck, A Scanner Darkly, Next and The Adjustment Bureau—were based on his ideas.

I did greatly admire and enjoy his novel, The Man in the High Castle, which gives the Dickian imagination free rein but has a more coherent plot than many of his other stories and novels.

The setting of The Man in the High Castle is a 1962 USA which has lost World War Two and been partitioned between Nazi Germany and the Japanese Empire, with the Rocky Mountains serving as an unoccupied neutral zone.

There are two plots.  One involves high-level Japanese and German officials conspiring to avoid a nuclear war between the two superpowers.  The other involves ordinary Americans trying to survive in Japanese-occupied San Francisco and one of them traveling to the neutral zone in search of “the man in the high castle,” author of a novel in which the Allies won the war.

Amazon Prime has started a series based on the novel, which incorporates most of the material in the novel, but which branches out to include Nazi-occupied New York and the Reich itself.

I subscribed to Amazon Prime mainly to watch this series, and Seasons One and Two have been well worth it.

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Lest we forget: the fallen of World War Two

May 30, 2016

Click on fallen.io/ww2 for an interactive version of this video.

World War Two was in sheer numbers the greatest mass slaughter of human beings in human history.  It was an era of great heroism and great crimes—great heroism not only by those who were fighting in the good cause, great crimes not only by those who were fighting in the bad cause.

I take nothing away from the honor due to the Americans who fell at Normandy, Guadalcanal and other battles in saying that, compared to Russians, Poles, Germans and many other nationalities, the USA got off lightly.

The makers of the video take satisfaction in the fact that no comparable mass killing has taken place in the subsequent 70 years.  I think that, overall, this is true—although Koreans, Vietnamese and others might see things differently.

I recall, though, that people in 1913 took satisfaction in the fact that nothing comparable to the Napoleonic Wars had taken place in Europe for nearly 100 years.  Their mistake was to assume that peace is something that can be taken for granted.

The thing the current generation needs to think about is that there is that is in place that would prevent the outbreak of another world war.   We, too, take too much for granted.

The best way to honor the fallen is to make sure their sacrifice does not have to be repeated.

A heroic girl sniper of World War Two

May 4, 2015

Hat tip to Jack Clontz

Obama insults Russian people with V-E Day snub

April 22, 2015
Red Army enters Berlin in 1945

Red Army enters Berlin in 1945

VICTORYPresident Obama and other Western leaders gravely insult the Russian [1] people, as well as show base ingratitude, by snubbing V-E Day celebrations in Moscow on May 9.

The Red Army suffered more casualties in World War Two than the USA, UK, Commonwealth, France and all the other Western allies put together.  More than 80 percent of the Germans killed in World War Two died fighting the Red Army.

VEDay.Russia025kIf you remember the opening scenes in the movie “Saving Private Ryan,” reflect that the Normandy landings probably would have failed if the bulk of the German army had not been tied down on the Eastern front.  Then reflect that (although this is not certain) the Red Army might well have made it to Berlin even if the Normandy landings had failed.

I am not an admirer of President Putin’s authoritarian government.  Bad things happen to his political opponents although, it must be admitted, that is also true of opponents of the U.S.-backed regime in Ukraine.

But boycotting the celebration of the 70th anniversary of V-E Day is more than just a personal rebuke to Putin.  It is in a different category from a boycott of Olympic games or some other contemporary event.  It is not just an insult to the valor and sacrifice of the Russian people.

Human beings resent insults to their honor more than they resent material injuries.  I fear Russians will remember this insult for years to come.

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Hiroshima’s Shadow: crossing a moral line

March 24, 2015
Click to enlarge.

Double click to enlarge.

Source: Professor Olsen@large

Seventy years after the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we live under the possibility that nuclear weapons will be used again—possibly but not necessarily by us Americans or on us Americans.

I’m trying to understand the reasons for Hiroshima and Nagasaki by reading Hiroshima’s Shadow:Writing on the Denial of History and the Smithsonian Controversy, edited by Kai Bird and Lawrence Lifschultz, which was recommended by my e-mail pen pal Tanweer Akram of the Bertrand Russell Society.

The book was published after the Smithsonian Institution in 1995 canceled an exhibit about the 50th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing, after the American Legion and the Air Force Association objected to inclusion of material questioning the necessity of the bombing.

It is plain to me as I read this book that  the decision to use the atomic bomb mainly reflected the momentum of two earlier decisions:

  • The decision to wage war against civilians by bombing enemy cities from the air.
  • The decision to develop atomic weapons for that purpose.

Hiroshima's Shadow 0_After these choices were made, I think the decision to bomb was, if not inevitable, the path of least resistance.   Once the original bright moral line was crossed, the only issue was whether to do the same thing by means of a new and more horrible method.

I think the consequences of these decisions would still be with us even if the tragedy of Hiroshima could have been avoided.

Americans and Britons once were shocked by the German Zeppelin raids on London during World War Two, the destruction of the village of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War, the bombing of Shanghai by the Japanese and of the bombing of Rotterdam and Warsaw by the Germans.

But we soon came to accept the fire-bombing of Hamburg, Dresden and Tokyo, first as regrettable necessities and then as the new normal.

That new normal is still with us.  Bombing is still the basic American military tactic, even when it doesn’t work.  When your only tool is air power, everything looks like a target.

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Was the Hiroshima bomb necessary?

January 29, 2015

UntoldHistoryStoneKuznick00379519I’ve been reading Oliver Stone’s and Peter Kuznick’s The Untold History of the United States, a companion to their TV series of the same name.  It is a compendium of the crimes and follies of the U.S. government in the 20th century.

One chapter is devoted to an indictment of the USA for dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Stone and Kuznick contend that:

  • The dropping of the bomb was partly due to President Truman’s need to affirm his masculinity.
  • The dropping of the bombs was partly due to American racism against the Japanese.
  • The dropping of the bombs was intended mainly as a deterrent against the Soviet Union.
  • Japan’s surrender could have been negotiated without the bomb.
  • The Soviet invasion of Manchuria, not the atomic bombs, were the main reason why the Japanese eventually did surrender.

For me, it’s not so simple.

Hiroshima and Nakasaki were the culmination in the greatest mass slaughter of human beings in history.  An estimated 50 million to 60 million people, more than half of them civilians, were killed in the war, not counting those who died of war-related famine and disease.

World War Two was a war without mercy.  All sides lost their moral inhibitions.  I was a small boy during World War Two and I remember the wartime atmosphere.  Everyone wanted to win the war as quickly as possible and by any means necessary.

There was no bright line that separated the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings from what had gone before, including the systematic bombing of the German and Japanese cities.  I couldn’t have imagined the United States possessing such a powerful weapon and not using it.

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Inside New York City’s most secret basement

January 15, 2015

Hat tip to Bill Elwell.

The old South vs. the totalitarian dictators

July 9, 2014

In the 1920s and early 1930s, Germany’s Nazis thought of American white Southerners as soul brothers.  But they were wrong.  The Southern Democrats in the U.S. Congress were the Nazis’ sworn enemies.

Fear ItselfIn a previous post, I summarized Ira Katznelson’s Fear Itself: the New Deal and the Origins of Our Time, and his account of how the Southern Democrats both supported and set limits on FDR’s New Deal reforms of the 1930s.  In this post, I carry my reading of Katznelson’s book forward into how the Southern Democrats shaped U.S. policy toward the Axis and then toward the Soviets.

Hitler despised black people, admired the Ku Klux Klan and regretted the defeat of the South in the Civil War, as a lost opportunity to create a society based on inequality and slavery.  He loved the movie, “Gone With the Wind,” which he watched while awaiting the news of the German invasion of the USSR.

While the Old South states were not dictatorships, they were similar to Hitler’s Germany in that all were ruled by a single party with restricted franchise.  In 1936, Franklin Roosevelt received 97 percent of the vote in Mississippi and 99 percent in South Carolina, with some counties reporting not a single Republican vote.  This is equal to what Hitler and Stalin got in their plebiscites.

But although Hitler had great esteem for the American South, this feeling was not reciprocated.  The South was the most anti-Nazi, pro-British and pro-interventionist region of the United States.

Katznelson is not completely sure why.  One explanation is that white Southerners were mostly of British descent, and felt sympathy for the mother country in peril.  There is something to this.  New England Yankees, also of British descent, were strong interventionists.  Ethnic ties never entirely die.

I think that, in addition, Southerners were sincerely devoted to their idea of democracy—limited government, legislative supremacy, state’s rights and individual freedom (for white people), which, for all their racism, was diametrically opposed to Hitler’s totalitarianism.

Also, the South is the only part of the United States with a historical memory of invasion and defeat.  That may have made the Nazi threat seem more real to them than to other Americans.

And finally, I don’t think the South is as war-averse other parts of the United States.   When I did my Army service in the 1950s, the career soldiers were disproportionately Southern, and I don’t think this was for economic reasons.   Southerners regard military service as honorable and worthy of respect.

Be that as it may, the South was united in support for Britain and resistance to Hitler in a way that the rest of the country was not.

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Today is the 70th anniversary of D-Day

June 6, 2014

D-Day landing scenes in 1944 and now.

Today is the 70th anniversary of D-Day, the landing of Allied forces in Normandy, which was the beginning the liberation of France and the invasion of Nazi Germany from the west.

My e-mail pen pal Jack Clontz sent me this link to an interactive archive from The Guardian newspaper showing photos of the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944, and the same locations today.

I stand in awe of the bravery of the soldiers who landed on open beaches without protection from the heavy fire of German machine guns and artillery in the overlooking hills.  I remember the opening scene of the movie, Saving Private Ryan, and the comment of a D-Day veteran that the movie did not convey even a fraction of what the experience was like.

I dimly remember listening to news of D-Day on the radio with my parents.  It seems odd to think that it is almost as far in the past as Lee’s Surrender at Appomattox was from 1936, the year I was born.

The fortunes of war

August 26, 2012

The following is from George Orwell’s “As I Please” column in the London Tribune for October 13, 1944

Recently I was told the following story, and I have every reason to believe it is true.

Among the German prisoners captured in France there are a certain number of Russians.  Some time back two were captured who did not speak Russian or any other language that was known either to their captors or their fellow prisoners.  They could, in fact, only converse with one another.  A professor of Slavonic languages, brought down from Oxford, could make nothing of what they were saying.  Then it happened that a sergeant who had served on the frontiers of India heard them talking and recognized their language, which he was able to speak a little.  It was Tibetan!  After some questioning, he managed to get their story out of them.

Some years earlier they had strayed over the frontier into the Soviet Union and had been conscripted into a labor battalion, afterwards being sent to western Russia when the war with Germany broke out.  They were taken prisoner by the Germans and sent to North Africa; later they were sent to France, then exchanged into a fighting unit when the Second Front opened and taken prisoner by the British.  All this time they had been able to speak to nobody but one another and had no notion of what was happening or who was fighting whom.

It would round the story off neatly if they were now conscripted into the British army and sent to fight the Japanese, ending up somewhere in Central Asia, quite close to their native village, but still very much puzzled as to what it is all about.

Here’s a similar story told a few weeks ago in The Daily Mail of London.

American paratroopers in Normandy in June 1944 thought they had captured a Japanese soldier in German uniform, but he turned out to be Korean.  His name was Yang Kyoungjong.

In 1938, at the age of 18, Yang had been forcibly conscripted by the Japanese into their army in Manchuria.  A year later, he was captured by the Red Army after the Battle of Khalkhin-Gol and sent to a labor camp.  The Soviet military authorities, at a moment of crisis in 1942, drafted him, along with thousands of other prisoners, into their forces.

Then, early in 1943 he was taken prisoner at the Battle of Kharkov in Ukraine by the German army.

In 1944, now in German uniform, he was sent to France to serve with one of the Wehrmacht’s eastern battalions made up of Soviet prisoners to defend Normandy at the base of the Cotentin peninsula.   After time in a prison camp in Britain, he went to the United States.  Yang settled there and died in Illinois in 1992.

via Mail Online.

Hat tip to SLICETHELIFE for Yang’s story.

I don’t draw any particular conclusions from these stories, except to take note of the tens of millions of people in the 20th century who were dispossessed, conscripted, uprooted, exiled and killed by totalitarian governments and global wars, and to be thankful I lived where I did when I did.   I hope that Mr. Yang had a good life in the United States.