1. Day of Infamy: Japanese Expansionism and the Attack on Pearl Harbor
Americans were stunned and outraged by the Japanese air raid on a United States naval base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, that killed some 2,400 Americans and dealt a major blow to the country’s Pacific Fleet. They saw it as an unprovoked attack on noncombatants. Franklin D. Roosevelt and his military advisers, though shocked that the Japanese had come as far as Hawaii in their opening salvo, had expected an assault in the Pacific. Imperial Japan had spent the 1930s expanding its domain into Manchuria, then China, then French Indochina, and its leaders now cast an eye further south to Asian territories held by the British, Dutch, and Americans. American naval power stood in their way, and it was to eliminate this impediment that Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
Japan’s strike on American home turf instantly resolved debate about whether the country would join the armed conflict raging overseas. Congress overwhelmingly approved a declaration of war against Japan on December 8. Yet the attack also complicated America’s predicament. Japan’s ally, Nazi Germany, still posed at least as grave a threat to U.S. security. The two vast oceans Americans had hoped would protect them from attack had now become theaters of war.
2. War in Europe: 1939 to 1945
Adolf Hitler became dictator of Germany in 1933 with the dream of creating an indomitable Nazi state that would seize the resource-rich territory of its neighbors to provide additional lebensraum (“living space”) for people of superior Germanic blood. At the height of Nazi success in 1942, the Germans and their allies and collaborators claimed a new dominion stretching from Finland and Norway in the Arctic Circle down through the boot of Italy and across the Mediterranean to North Africa, and from the Atlantic coast of France all the way to Russia’s Stalingrad on the banks of the Volga River. On the Eastern Front, the Soviet Red Army in 1943 and 1944 arduously pushed the battlefront west. The Western Allies, led by the United States and Britain, drove into Axis-occupied North Africa in late 1942, then took on Italy in the fall of 1943, finally landing a massive amphibious invasion force on the French coast in June 1944 for the final push eastward into Germany. By the time Soviet and American forces met at the Elbe River just south of Berlin in April 1945, the Nazis were undone. Their final surrender, a cause for the most joyous celebrations around the world, came on May 8, 1945.
3. War in the Pacific:1937 to 1945
In the 1930s, Japan’s leaders became committed to driving Western colonial powers from Asia and the Pacific and uniting these resource-rich lands and their peoples in a self-sufficient, Japanese-dominated “new order.” Having already advanced into China and Southeast Asia, in December 1941 the Japanese launched the Pacific War by striking America at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, among other targets. By late summer 1942, their domain stretched from the British colony of Burma to the Gilbert Islands more than five thousand miles to the east, and from Alaska’s Aleutian Islands in the north all the way south to the Dutch East Indies and New Guinea.
The Allies, led by the Americans, began to turn the tide against the Japanese on the Pacific islands of Midway and Guadalcanal in 1942, then launched a two-pronged advance along the coast of New Guinea toward the Philippines and up through the central Pacific toward Japan. As Allied troops approached the Japanese mainland in 1944 and 1945, the Japanese fought with a desperate intensity for the Philippines and the islands of Iwo Jima and Okinawa, incurring and inflicting steep losses. An American bombing campaign laid waste to Japanese cities in the final months of the war, culminating, on August 6 and 9, 1945, in the dropping of atomic bombs—a new weapon tested for the first time in the New Mexico desert on July 16— on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. On August 15, Japan’s imperial government announced its surrender, bringing World War II to an end.
4. “We Are All in It”: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the American Home Front
When World War II began, America had an army smaller than Portugal’s and an economy still weak from the shocks of the Great Depression. Victory over the Axis powers was by no means assured. “We must pour into this war,” Franklin D. Roosevelt told the country in 1943, “the entire strength and intelligence and willpower of the United States.”
The way FDR organized and inspired the American people in this unwelcome task stands as one of the greatest achievements of his presidency. Americans worked hard in America’s factories to arm their nation and its Allies. They bought less, recycled, invested in U.S. war bonds, and paid higher taxes. By the millions, they gathered around radios to hear their president’s warm, confident words. “We are all in it,” he said, “and our spirit is good.”
5. Evicted and Detained: The Internment of Japanese Americans
In February 1941, amid the fear and rage that followed Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, Franklin D. Roosevelt authorized military leaders to remove people of Japanese heritage, including American citizens, from their homes on the West Coast, then considered vulnerable to a follow-up assault from across the Pacific. Though there was no evidence to support the suspicion that ethnic Japanese communities in America would collude with the enemy, it was on that basis that the federal government evicted more than 110,000 people from zones including California and parts of Oregon, Washington, and Arizona, sending them first to temporary “assembly centers,” and then on to the remote military-style camps where many were confined until January 1945. The Supreme Court upheld the internment program in 1944, accepting national security concerns as a justification for depriving Japanese Americans of personal liberty. In 1988, however, Congress issued an apology, along with reparations, to former detainees, calling the program a “grave injustice.”
6. Bundles for Britain: Sending Warmth (and Woolens) to a Nation at War
By mid-1940, Britain stood alone against the Nazi onslaught in Europe, its people starved for supplies and shivering in bomb shelters. Though reluctant to take up arms in the fight, Americans felt for their friends across the sea. As an expression of their concern, the women of America soon fell to knitting warm woolen garments for British soldiers and civilians. Under the auspices of a relief organization called Bundles for Britain, this became an undertaking of great scope and coordination; the aid group shipped hundreds of thousands of garments by war’s end. Socks, sweaters, hats, gloves, and other woolens—handmade with care in every hamlet of America—helped knit together the British and American peoples in an alliance that would endure long after the war was won.
7. Bundles from Britain: Child Evacuations from Wartime Britain
By the late 1930s, the British people had seen the Germans bomb civilians in the Basque town of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War and the Japanese drop bombs on Chinese cities. They feared that if war came to their island nation, it would come in the form of a pulverizing bombardment that would kill civilians in their homes and streets. So they laid plans to evacuate their children to safety, at first by the hundreds of thousands from English cities to safe zones in the countryside and later overseas to far-flung dominions of the Crown and to America. Parents stayed behind to do their part in the war effort, sending their children—“Bundles from Britain”—to be cared for by strangers for as long as might prove necessary. The image of a small child waving good-bye, her name pinned to her coat, became a symbol of the extremity of war and of the human response to it—anguish and terror on the one hand, on the other, courage and unity.
8. The Special Relationship: Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill
Though at sixty-five Winston Churchill was a seasoned politician and navy man when he became prime minister of Britain in May 1940, he had spent most of the 1930s out of office. Franklin D. Roosevelt, on the other hand, had been president of the United States for seven years. Churchill’s job was to helm a global Old World empire, whereas FDR led a young nation inclined to isolate itself from a troubled world. What the two men shared was an early and outspoken conviction that Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan posed a threat to democracies that they dare not ignore or appease.
In their first meeting, a shipboard rendezvous off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada, in August 1941, FDR and Churchill developed a personal rapport and created a document, the Atlantic Charter, that laid out their urgent common purpose: to defend the ideal of freedom against dictators whose fanatical philosophies gave them the right to enslave their neighbors. This Anglo-American bond formed the linchpin of a multinational alliance that would rise up to resist and ultimately defeat the Axis powers.
9. The Dictator and the Democrat: Adolf Hitler and Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin D. Roosevelt became president in 1933, the same year Adolf Hitler assumed sweeping dictatorial powers in Germany. FDR would go on to play a very significant part in destroying Hitler and his Nazi state. From early in his presidency, FDR saw Hitler as “a madman.” In the next few years, as the Führer oppressed populations and launched his expansionist war, FDR became convinced—and worked hard to persuade other Americans—that the Nazi leader posed a dire threat to American security and democracy everywhere. Though it was Imperial Japan that brought the United States into World War II by bombing Pearl Harbor in December 1941, FDR embraced a “Germany First” policy that made defeating the Nazis the top priority of U.S. forces.
10. A Wartime Alliance: Franklin D. Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin
Franklin D. Roosevelt made a concerted effort to establish diplomatic ties with the Soviet Union and cultivate a direct relationship with its autocratic ruler, Joseph Stalin. Though FDR understood Stalin was a brutal despot, he thought it better to make alliances with the powerful Soviets than to see them side with forces he considered more dangerous—Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. Once Germany made an enemy of its former Soviet collaborator by invading Russia in 1941, FDR endeavored to bind the Soviet Union to the Allied coalition by sending American aid to the Russians and, later, by pressing the case for opening a western front against the Germans to support the Red Army fighting in the east.
The Soviets did prove a critical part of the alliance that won World War II, drawing off and ultimately destroying vast quantities of German firepower on the Eastern Front. FDR knew the Soviet Union would emerge from the war a world power. As the conflict wound down and FDR neared the end of his own life, the president hoped the newly created United Nations would help channel this power in a peaceful direction.
11. Commander in Chief: FDR as Leader of the Nation’s Armed Forces
In 1940, even as critics of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal gained momentum, Americans chose FDR to lead the country through the terrifying world war they had for years hoped to avoid. To meet the crisis, FDR directed a historic expansion of the American military—the development of a navy capable of major deployments on two vast oceans, the growth of the U.S. Army from fewer than two hundred thousand personnel to more than eight million by war’s end, and the establishment of an air force equal in status to the other two service branches. FDR handpicked his war commanders and organized top brass into a unified high command with a direct link to the president—the first Joint Chiefs of Staff.
As perhaps the most important figure tying together the multinational Allied coalition, FDR was also a key director of war strategy. He believed fervently in the need to confront Nazi Germany before committing major resources to fighting Imperial Japan, advocated consistently for opening a western front against the Nazis to relieve Russian Allies fighting in the east, and in 1943 announced a policy to accept no end to the war short of the Axis powers’ “unconditional surrender.” FDR died a few months before that outcome was achieved in August 1945. But around the globe, he is remembered as a person who marshaled both reason and unyielding force against violent, fanatical movements that might have darkened the world for generations to come.
12. Grand Strategy: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Wartime Conferences
World War II was a sprawling system of interconnected battles fought on land, in the air, and at sea, involving eight major combatant nations but eventually dividing much of the world. It was essential that the Allies, despite sometimes obscure or even conflicting motivations, apply their energies against the Axis in a coordinated fashion. To that end, the Allies met in a series of wartime conferences bringing together heads of state, top diplomats, and military chiefs.
At the Arcadia Conference in Washington, DC, just weeks after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Franklin D. Roosevelt and British prime minister Winston Churchill officially launched the Allied coalition, issuing a United Nations Declaration signed by twenty-six nations. Within the year, Anglo-American forces invaded Axis-occupied North Africa. At the Casablanca Conference in January 1943, the Allies laid plans to attack Sicily and Italy, and at Tehran in late 1943, the first conference attended by both FDR and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, they committed to an invasion of Nazi-occupied France in the spring of 1944. In February 1945, at Yalta on the Crimean peninsula, the “Big Three”—FDR, Churchill, and Stalin—met for the last time. Stalin promised to join the war against Japan, participate in the postwar United Nations peace organization, and support free elections in liberated Europe. He would keep the first two pledges, but renege on the last.
13. Destruction from the Air: Strategic Bombing in World War II
World War II took place far from American shores. So Americans were spared the terror and destruction of the bombing campaigns that hammered cities and towns of other combatant nations on both sides of the conflict, from China’s Chungking (Chongqing) to Warsaw, Poland, to London and Coventry in England; from Rome, Italy, to Dresden, Germany, to Japan’s Tokyo, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki.
The bombardment of population centers was a relatively new feature of warfare that reflected evolving airpower technologies and ideas about how to apply them not just against active military forces but also in more wide-ranging efforts to soften enemy defenses and morale. Although in general the stated goal of these bombing raids was not to kill civilians, this outcome was hardly unexpected, especially as experience proved that so-called pinpoint targeting was not effective in real-world conditions. The bombing campaigns killed many hundreds of thousands of civilians and made millions homeless, their neighborhoods reduced to rubble.
United States participation came most prominently in joint bombing missions with Britain’s Royal Air Force over Germany and in devastating aerial attacks on Japanese cities in the final months of the war. Whether such extensive, deadly destruction was necessary or justifiable is a question sharply debated, but it is clear that achieving control of the skies was an important prelude to Allied victory in both Europe and the Pacific.
14. Building the Atomic Bomb: The Manhattan Project
In 1939, world-famous physicist Albert Einstein sent a letter to Franklin D. Roosevelt alerting the president that science might soon yield a new and extremely powerful bomb—and that the Nazis might already be working to develop this weapon. FDR quickly ordered an advisory panel to examine the issue. In 1942, the United States now at war with Germany and Japan, FDR threw the full weight of the federal government behind a top-secret program to build the first atomic bombs, known as the Manhattan Project. Employing some 130,000 people at multiple sites—including sprawling federal facilities that sprung up almost overnight—the effort was an awesome display of what science, government, and industry can accomplish together. Its consequences were profound and manifold. After FDR’s death and the German defeat, the secrets unlocked in the Manhattan Project would rain death on the residents of two Japanese cities, finish World War II, change the course of postwar geopolitics, and open fertile new fields for science.
15. The Holocaust: The Nazi Slaughter of European Jews
As Allied forces pushed into German-occupied Europe in 1944 and 1945, they uncovered a vast network of concentration camps where the Nazis had carried out their plan to massacre the Jews along with others they deemed subhuman or enemies of the state. Reports of such atrocities had been coming out of Nazi-controlled territory for years; in December 1942, Allied governments had confirmed that a Nazi campaign “to exterminate the Jewish people in Europe” was under way. Yet even battle-tried commanders were deeply shocked by the depravity they discovered behind the camps’ barbed-wire perimeters.
In the late 1930s, the United States had received more Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany than did any other country, but rigid immigration quotas and State Department policies meant that many more who needed sanctuary could not get a visa to enter the United States. Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke out against Nazi atrocities, promised retribution for these crimes, and in early 1944, created a rescue agency to pluck Hitler’s intended victims from harm’s way. The director of this agency, the War Refugee Board, would call its efforts “little and late.”
FDR’s answer to the Nazi assault on humanity focused on articulating an opposing set of values—the Four Freedoms—and, crucially, on confronting the Nazis with unsparing military force. The Allies drove the Nazis from the face of the earth—but not before these committed killers had extinguished the lives of eleven million civilians, including six million Jewish men, women, and children.
16. The Nuremberg Trials: Nazi Criminals Face Justice
Initially there was deeply felt disagreement in Franklin D. Roosevelt’s cabinet and among the major Allies about how best to deal with defeated Nazis. Some, including British prime minister Winston Churchill, believed the Allies should execute top Nazis as soon as they laid hands on these “arch-criminals.” Others proposed an international legal process that would meet the Nazis’ iniquity with reason and moral force and, not incidentally, leave a detailed document of their astonishing crimes for future generations. FDR himself was of two minds on the subject, but by early 1945 had come out strongly in favor of trials.
The result: From November 1945 through August 1946, twenty-three high-level Nazis faced justice before an international tribunal at Nuremberg, Germany; nineteen were convicted. Between 1946 and 1949, U.S. military tribunals in Nuremberg tried scores more perpetrators, from Nazi doctors who performed wicked human experiments to industrialists who exploited the slave labor of prisoners. “What these men stand for we will patiently and temperately disclose,” chief U.S. prosecutor Robert H. Jackson said in his opening statement in the primary trial. “We will give you undeniable proofs of incredible events.”
17. The United Nations: FDR and the Creation of the Postwar World
Franklin D. Roosevelt and others of his generation observed the aftermath of World War I with profound dismay. As the world economy slumped into depression, a failure to “wage peace,” as FDR put it—the United States had refused even to join the new League of Nations in 1920—led to the rise of strident nationalisms and renewed bloodshed in the 1930s. FDR was determined to ensure that an Allied victory in World War II, with all the sacrifice that implied, left the world with structures to prevent lawless violence among nations and instead settle disputes through dialogue and cooperation.
Even before the United States entered World War II in December 1941, he began articulating these values and setting in motion the international collaboration that would lead to the founding of the United Nations, with America as a leading member, just a few months after his death in April 1945. “In our disillusionment after the last war,” FDR said in his final State of the Union address in January 1945, “we preferred international anarchy to international cooperation with Nations which did not see and think exactly as we did. We gave up the hope of gradually achieving a better peace because we had not the courage to fulfill our responsibilities in an admittedly imperfect world. We must not let that happen again, or we shall follow the same tragic road again—the road to a third world war.”
18. Defining a Humane World: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
In December 1945, President Harry Truman courted Eleanor Roosevelt, the widow of his beloved predecessor, by asking her to serve as a delegate to the newly formed United Nations. ER’s fellow UN delegates expected little from her. But as representative to the new organization that embodied her husband’s long-cherished dream of international cooperation, ER would go on to lead the drafting of one of the twentieth century’s most important documents—the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It was no simple task to achieve agreement among the diverse nations of the UN on a first-ever statement laying out the basic rights—political, civil, social, and economic—of every person on earth. But the General Assembly adopted the groundbreaking declaration without dissent on December 10, 1948, thanks in no small part to ER’s leadership.
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IV. Statesman & Commander
in Chief: FDR in WWII
1941 – 1945
Statesman & Commander in Chief includes eighteen chapters,
on subjects from the American home front in World War II
to the post-war Nuremberg trials of Nazi officials.
click the “In Brief” button at upper right.
click the chapter arrow at lower left.
1. Day of Infamy:
Japanese Expansionism and
the Attack on Pearl Harbor
In May 1940, British prime minister Winston Churchill sent Franklin D. Roosevelt a lengthy telegram analyzing the war in Europe and detailing the supplies Britain needed to fight off the Nazis.
"I am looking to you," Churchill added, "to keep that Japanese dog quiet in the Pacific."
The island nation of Japan, though ruled by an emperor considered semidivine, was increasingly controlled by its military. By the time of Churchill's cable, Japan already had invaded the Chinese province of Manchuria, set up a puppet regime there, then driven relentlessly into China proper, committing, along the way, shockingly sadistic atrocities that Americans could read about in publications like Reader's Digest.
FDR had done little to check or penalize Japan's aggression. He and Churchill both were far more concerned about Nazi Germany. And the American public, with its broad and influential isolationist streak, was reluctant to go to war even against Hitler, whose expansionist plundering in Europe was already well advanced and seemed to strike closer to home.
In fact, Japan and Germany were driven by similar passions. Just as Germany sought additional lebensraum (living space) in the east, Japan, heavily populated and poor in natural resources, wanted space, markets for its industrial products, and raw materials like rubber, oil, and metals. It sought to corral these resources by uniting and dominating Asia, first in a "New Order" including Manchuria and China, and then, by June 1940, in a "Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere" that would take in Southeast Asia—including colonies held by the British, French, and Dutch, as well as the U.S.–controlled Philippines.
Japan's bellicose ideology, like Germany's, contained a strong racial element. Japanese leaders believed their country's ascent to the status of world power depended on driving from its backyard Western nations that had helped themselves to Asian territories while promulgating racist theories of Asian inferiority. Japan deeply resented the West's rejection of a racial-equality clause it had proposed for the peace treaty that closed World War I, as well as America's policy of rigidly and specifically barring Japanese and other Asian immigrants from its shores. When the United States refused to acknowledge Japan's takeover of Manchuria, a Japanese diplomat bitterly observed, "The Western powers taught Japan the game of poker, but after it acquired most of the chips they pronounced the game immoral and took up contract bridge."
Of course, other Asian peoples soon learned that Japan did not mean to share power with them—in fact, it regarded them as inferior.
Already feverishly building its navy against the threat of war in two vast oceans, America first took forceful action against Japanese aggression with economic sanctions. After the fall of France in the summer of 1940, Japan signed the Tripartite Pact pledging cooperation with Italy and Germany, and moved into northern French Indochina, prompting the United States to ban the sale of aviation fuel, iron, and steel scrap to Japan. After Hitler invaded Russia in 1941, Japan, relieved of the Soviet threat that had long troubled its northern frontier, invaded southern Indochina. Now the United States froze Japanese assets in America, effectively banning the sale of American oil to Japan. And so the dominoes fell.
FDR had been reluctant to test Japan with an oil embargo. Japan was highly dependent on the United States for iron, scrap steel, and especially oil, all vital to military operations. Deprived of these resources, Japanese leaders might be forced to abandon their deeply held expansionist aspirations.
As many had feared, Japan instead resolved to seek its raw materials by advancing further south in East Asia. But first, it had to cripple American naval power in the Pacific. On December 7, 1941, a few minutes before eight in the morning Hawaiian time, the attack began.
AThe “China Incident”
A. The “China Incident”
Just as the United States and other Western powers were distracted from the Japanese threat by their preoccupation with Hitler, the Chinese, in the 1930s, were absorbed by internal strife that pitted Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist government against Communist Party fighters and local warlords.
But after July 1937, when a skirmish at the Marco Polo Bridge outside Peking (now Beijing) quickly escalated into full-scale combat, the Chinese began to mount fierce resistance to Japanese domination.
By early September, having bombed civilians and destroyed villages, the invaders controlled most of northern China. Japan intended to "thoroughly chastise the anti-Japanese elements in China" and "compel China to mend her ways," its prime minister announced. Through the autumn, the combatants clashed over Shanghai. When that city finally fell, the Japanese moved inland to Nanking (now Nanjing), capturing the Chinese capital in mid-December. There followed a six-week paroxysm of looting, slaughter, and rape that left the streets of Nanking "littered with dead," the New York Times reported. Hundreds of thousands lost their lives. By the end of 1938, the Japanese had taken southern port cities, but Chiang had moved the Chinese capital to Chungking (now Chongqing) deep in southwest China.
Despite their technological superiority, the Japanese lacked the resources to subdue China, an enormous land whose people refused to yield. Japan had referred to its undeclared war as the "China Incident," in part to avert foreign intervention and embargoes under U.S. neutrality laws. But in the summer of 1940, frustrated over the Chinese stalemate and convinced a U.S. oil embargo was imminent, a new government in Japan determined to seal off friendly supply routes to China and move into Southeast Asia—French Indochina, British Malaya, and the oil-rich Dutch East Indies.
B. USS Panay
On December 12, 1937, in the midst of Japan's attack on Nanking (Nanjing), Japanese fighters bombed and machine-gunned the gunboat USS Panay and sank three American oil tankers as they lay at anchor in the Yangtze River just outside the city.
"We are all deeply concerned over the news from China and the loss of life on the Yangtze River boats," Eleanor Roosevelt wrote in her My Day column a few days later. "One's own personal worries sink into insignificance when one realizes the magnitude of the sorrows that war can bring not only to the nations who are actively engaged in conflict, but to the innocent bystanders going about their daily rounds."
The gunboat had been on the Yangtze to protect Americans and their commercial interests in China. This was the sort of incident that, Franklin D. Roosevelt well knew, could start a war. But thinking the navy ill equipped and the American public ill prepared for such a confrontation, he resisted the pressure to strike back with military force. Instead, he ordered army and navy commanders to update their plans for defense in the Pacific—and directed Secretary of State Cordell Hull to extract an apology and full reparations from Japan.
Japan, also intent on avoiding war with the United States, made its official apology on Christmas Eve. The following spring, it paid $2,214,007.36 in damages to the United States.
C“Preparations for War”
C. “Preparations for War”
In early June 1941, the Japanese cabinet and military high command invited their emperor to an imperial conference where they would brief the leader on a plan to seize Indochina (a French colony encompassing today's Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos). The imperial government, the conference agreed, would continue its efforts to "effect a settlement of the China Incident" while seeking security for Japan through "an advance into the Southern Regions." "In case the diplomatic negotiations break down," it concluded, "preparations for war with England and America will also be carried forward."
By intercepting Japanese diplomatic cables, Franklin D. Roosevelt and other U.S. officials learned of these troubling designs. But even after Japan pressed south into Indochina, FDR remained unwilling to "draw the noose tight," as Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes put it. "It is terribly important for the control of the Atlantic for us to keep peace in the Pacific," he told Ickes. "I simply have not got enough Navy to go around."
When FDR froze Japanese assets on July 26, it's not clear he intended to bar the country from buying any American oil, an interpretation of the policy implemented by senior officials. But that action, coupled with similar moves by the British and Dutch, drew "the noose" tight enough, eliminating 90 percent of the oil supplies Japan required to run the machinery of civilian life and military operations—indeed halting 75 percent of its international trade.
The next months saw increasingly strained negotiations, often carried out by Secretary of State Cordell Hull and Japanese ambassador Kichisaburo Nomura, who met more than fifty times in 1941. On November 5, Americans intercepted a cable to Nomura giving him a deadline of November 25 to conclude talks—a message they interpreted as a deadline for war. Through Nomura, the Japanese now proposed a six-month break from hostilities, with Japan withdrawing from southern Indochina if the United States would relax its oil embargo. As Japan offered no relief for China, Hull dismissed the proposal.
On November 20, though, FDR himself handed Hull a counterproposal for a provisional truce. The United States would resume economic relations with Japan, shipping "some oil and rice now"; Japan would stop sending troops to Indochina, Manchuria, "or any place South"; Japan would not declare war on America under the Tripartite Pact "even if the U.S. gets into European war"; and the United States would initiate—but not mediate—talks between Japan and China.
Hull never delivered the proposal to Nomura. On November 26, the president got word that five Japanese naval divisions had been sighted south of Formosa (now Taiwan), apparently headed to Indochina. Infuriated at this evidence of Japan's bad faith, FDR instructed Hull to again insist on complete Japanese withdrawal from Indochina and China.
That very day, a strike force of unprecedented scale and sophistication—it included hundreds of bombers on six aircraft carriers—left the Kuril Islands northeast of Japan for its three-thousand-mile journey across the Pacific.
D“A Date Which Will Live in Infamy”
D. “A Date Which Will Live in Infamy”
Just before 8 a.m. on December 7, 1941, scores of Japanese attack planes came winging over the Hawaiian island of Oahu, setting off a bedlam of explosions, fire, and death. In the first wave of assault, more than 180 planes simultaneously attacked U.S. ships in Pearl Harbor and targeted nearby airfields to disable a potential American defense. A second wave of dive-bombers was in the air before 9.
In little more than two hours, the deed was done: some 2,400 Americans were dead, more than a thousand wounded, and some twenty ships and more than three hundred planes damaged or destroyed.
Franklin D. Roosevelt and his advisors had expected an attack, given the deteriorating tone of negotiations with the Japanese over the previous weeks. They had repeatedly warned commanders in the Pacific to be on their guard. They had even decided to await a first strike from the Japanese "so that there should remain no doubt in anyone's mind as to who were the aggressors," as Secretary of War Henry Stimson later put it.
But no one had imagined the Japanese could carry out an operation so far from their homeland—and so crushing in its impact. An unprepared Pearl Harbor had scarcely mounted a defense.
FDR received word of the attack around 2 p.m., and within the hour he was briefed on the extent of the damage. The president was aghast. Called to describe the devastation to cabinet members, FDR, who took enormous pride in the U.S. Navy, seemed to have "actual physical difficulty in getting out the words," Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins would recall. Late that night, over a sandwich, he would finally release the day's emotions, pounding the table and exclaiming that American planes had been destroyed "on the ground, by God, on the ground."
However, FDR spent most of December 7 in the sober work of planning and leading. Around 5 p.m., he dictated a five-hundred-word address to his secretary Grace Tully, uttering each word "incisively and slowly," as Tully remembered, "carefully specifying each little punctuation mark and each paragraph."
The address, given the next day in Congress to roaring assent, would condemn the Japanese "treachery," vow the United States would "win through to absolute victory," and ask for a declaration of war.
December 7, 1941, was a day of infamy, as FDR would say in his speech; it was a day of anguish and alarm that led in a matter of days to open war with all the Axis powers. But the mood around the White House was resolute. While the president met with his cabinet and military brass, Eleanor Roosevelt carried this determination to the public. "Whatever is asked of us, I am sure we can accomplish it," she assured her fellow citizens in an impromptu addition to her scheduled radio address. "We are the free and unconquerable people of the United States of America."
2. War in Europe:
1939 to 1945
Although the Germans took over Austria and Czechoslovakia in 1938, it was the Nazi invasion of Poland in September 1939 that triggered England and France to declare war on the Nazis, launching World War II in Europe. America's decisive entry into World War II after Japan's bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941 brought great relief and rejoicing in London and Moscow, where leaders had watched nation after nation topple before the Nazi onslaught and feared that without major reinforcements from abroad, theirs would be the next to fall. But it was by no means certain that even this newly formed "Grand Alliance" would achieve victory in what was now a truly global war. Indeed, over the course of the first six to eight months of 1942, the Allies suffered a string of defeats so devastating it seemed their coalition might come undone. The Axis powers—Germany, Italy, and Japan—were handily redrawing the map of the world.
In the Pacific, Japanese forces overran Hong Kong, the Dutch East Indies, Malaya, Singapore, the Philippines, and Burma. It looked as if the Japanese might also capture India, Australia, and New Zealand—and finally prostrate China, driving it from the war.
Meanwhile, in North Africa, Axis forces under the command of General Erwin Rommel advanced to within sixty miles of the Suez Canal, where, by June 1942, they were in a position to cut off this vital link between Great Britain and her empire. In the North Atlantic, German submarine attacks on Allied merchant shipping intensified to a harrowing peak.
Most worrying was the situation in Russia. German forces had recovered from the Soviets' heroic defense of Moscow in December 1941 and had launched a new offensive in the south of the country, designed to seize the Caucasus oil fields and cut off the Volga River at Stalingrad. If the Soviet Union were to fall to this new German offensive, the consequences for the West would be catastrophic.
In the years ahead, the leadership of President Franklin D. Roosevelt would be critical to the war effort. He already had pushed a major military buildup in the United States and a generous program of supplying arms to the British and Russians. Now FDR's ability to work closely with British prime minister Winston Churchill and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin despite their differing hopes for a postwar world—and his unflagging nerve in the direst circumstances—would help steer America and its allies to victory.
FDR did not live to see the end of World War II. He died suddenly of a brain hemorrhage in Warm Springs, Georgia, on April 12, 1945. The people of America grieved deeply for the president they'd elected four times.
But nothing could restrain their joy when just a few weeks later, on May 8, the war in Europe ended with Germany's unconditional surrender—just as FDR and his fellow Allied leaders had insisted it would. The nation's flags still at half-staff to mark FDR's passing, Americans poured into streets and public squares all over the country, cheering and embracing in a spontaneous outpouring of emotion. Against great odds and at great sacrifice, the Allies had consigned the Nazi juggernaut to history.
AA First Move: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Decision for North Africa, 1942
A. A First Move: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Decision for North Africa, 1942
In late December 1941, America having finally jumped into the war after the December 7 bombing of Pearl Harbor, British prime minister Winston Churchill traveled to Washington, DC, to join Franklin D. Roosevelt in their first meeting as full-fledged allies. The two men agreed to focus their firepower on the Nazis before committing more resources to fighting off Imperial Japan, adhering to the so-called Germany First strategy established in secret international staff conversations earlier that year. They also agreed to create a Combined Chiefs of Staff made up of top military staff from both their countries; it would be based in Washington, DC, and report directly to FDR and Churchill.
The two leaders were in accord on the need for full unity of command among all British and American forces. But with the United States still working on all cylinders to ramp up its military preparedness, and the Pacific War placing enormous strain on resources, the best method for implementing the Germany First strategy remained uncertain.
One idea, favored by Churchill and the British Chiefs of Staff (COS), was to invade North Africa and try to reverse Axis incursions there. But the American Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) preferred a strategy concentrating all available Anglo-American forces in England for a cross-channel invasion of German-occupied France in late 1942 or early 1943. This would force the Germans to fight on two fronts in Europe, which the JCS argued was the best and fastest way to provide much-needed relief to the Soviet army.
But launching an attack on France was an ambitious undertaking, and by late spring it became apparent that a cross-channel operation was not feasible before the end of 1942. The JCS argued that the buildup of forces in England should nevertheless continue, in preparation for a cross-channel attack in 1943. This plan would have American forces standing idle for an entire year before getting the chance to confront their German foe. To Roosevelt, this was entirely unacceptable. With war also raging in the Pacific, he understood that it was critically important to get the American public and military engaged in the war in Europe as soon as possible. He also had promised the beleaguered Soviets that there would be a second front somewhere in the European theater in 1942.
Hence, FDR overruled his military leaders and—in spite of their insistence that an invasion of North Africa might delay a move on France until late 1943 or even 1944—insisted that an invasion of North Africa should go ahead promptly.
BOperation Torch and
the Birth of the Mediterranean
B. Operation Torch and the Birth of the Mediterranean Strategy, 1942–43
Code-named Operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa represented the first major joint Allied offensive of the Second World War. It began on November 8, 1942, when the Allies landed sixty-five thousand troops in three separate assaults along the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts in French Morocco and Algeria, supported by a naval task force of more than 650 ships. The goal of the force, which soon numbered nearly two hundred thousand mostly American troops, was to seize French Morocco and Algeria, then drive eastward into Tunisia, while forces under the command of British general Bernard Law Montgomery drove westward from Egypt and Libya. In this way, the Allies hoped to clear North Africa of all Axis forces within a few months.
But in a surprise move, Adolf Hitler reacted to Operation Torch by pouring reinforcements into Tunisia. By the end of the year, with the arrival of German commander Erwin Rommel's army retreating through Libya, German and Italian forces in Tunisia numbered well over 250,000. As a result, the campaign to take Tunisia involved heavy fighting—including a fierce battle between German and American forces at Kasserine Pass—that would not be brought to an end until mid-May 1943.
By this point it was clear that the Allies—much as the American Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) had predicted—would not be able to muster the forces needed to launch a cross-channel attack on France in 1943. As an alternative, British prime minister Winston Churchill and the British Chiefs of Staff (COS) argued that the Allies should press on to take Sicily and then Italy in what became known as the "Mediterranean strategy."
Much as the British had predicted, the invasion of Sicily in July 1943 led to the collapse of the Italian government and the surrender of Italy. Hoping to take advantage of this development, the Allies landed in southern Italy on September 3. But all hopes for a rapid Allied advance up the Italian peninsula were soon lost as Hitler rushed massive German forces into Italy with the object of making the Allies fight hard for every inch of Italian ground. This Axis strategy became immediately apparent at Salerno, the site of the second Allied landing, where a German counterattack nearly drove the Anglo-American forces back into the sea. From this point on, the struggle for Italy became a torturously prolonged and bloody battle, the longest campaign fought by the Western Allies in the entire European war.
CD-day and the Second Front, Summer and Fall 1944
C. D-day and the Second Front, Summer and Fall 1944
The substantial resources the Allies committed to North Africa and the Mediterranean in 1942–43 made an attack on northwest France impossible until the spring of 1944. In the meantime, Soviet forces in the east handed the German army its first major defeat at Stalingrad in February 1943, and the Soviets achieved a second major victory at the Battle of Kursk in July. Events in Russia and in the Mediterranean clearly signaled that the tide was turning in the direction of the Allies.
Nevertheless, Joseph Stalin still insisted that a second front in France was vital. Franklin D. Roosevelt and the American Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) concurred, and at the Tehran Conference of November–December 1943, British prime minister Winston Churchill's desire to expand operations in the eastern Mediterranean—even if it further delayed the cross-channel attack—was overruled by his fellow leaders The long-awaited attack on France was now the Allies' number-one priority. Over the next six months, the massive buildup of men and equipment required to make it possible would proceed at a frantic pace.
The raid to retake France—D-day—began shortly after midnight on June 6, 1944, when British and American airborne units landed behind enemy lines to secure the flanks of the invasion site—the beaches of Normandy. There, on the first day alone, more than 130,000 troops made up of five divisions—two British, one Canadian, and two American—put ashore. Nearly seven thousand ships and landing craft were employed, as well as a staggering twelve thousand aircraft. The immediate objective of the invasion was to hold and expand the beachhead to make room for the additional troops and supplies required to launch the planned attack into France. By the end of June, more than 850,000 men were ashore, along with 148,000 vehicles and nearly six hundred thousand tons of supplies, all made possible in part by two artificial harbors that were towed from the south coast of England to Normandy, and by the laying of an undersea pipeline to carry gasoline.
Although the Allies were successful in expanding the beachhead, their highly anticipated breakout into France proper proved much more difficult. The Germans put up stubborn resistance at the French city of Caen; progress in other sectors was slow as well. It was not until July 25 that American forces under the command of Lieutenant General Omar Bradley finally broke through the German lines. Within weeks the Allies had taken most of Brittany and by August 25, the city of Paris was in their hands. The liberation of the French capital was an occasion for great celebration, with a French-American victory parade along the Champs-Élysées replacing, after four long years, the appalling spectacle of Nazis goose-stepping down this same broad avenue.
In the meantime, the Allies had launched a second invasion of France on the Mediterranean coast that drove northward in a rapid advance. By mid-September 1944, nearly all of France had been liberated.
DAdolf Hitler’s Bold Move:
The Battle of the Bulge,
December 1944–January 1945
D. Adolf Hitler’s Bold Move: The Battle of the Bulge, December 1944–January 1945
Impressed by the speed with which the Allies had captured most of France after breaking through German lines on July 25, many predicted the war would be over by Christmas of 1944. But after the Allies failed to outflank the Germans through the Dutch city of Arnhem in late September (Operation Market-Garden), their advance slowed, plagued in part by increasing supply difficulties as they approached the German border.
As the British, Canadian, and American forces consolidated their positions in preparation for a final strike on Germany, Adolf Hitler launched one of his most stunning surprises of the Second World War—the famous counteroffensive pushing west into the Ardennes Forest of France and Belgium, otherwise known as the Battle of the Bulge. His hope was to split the Western forces, recapture the port of Antwerp (which had become vital to the Allied supply effort), and perhaps even force a negotiated peace in the West.
Launched on December 16, 1944, the offensive depended on and achieved complete surprise. Hitler had managed to amass roughly a quarter of a million troops for the effort, supported by a thousand aircraft. Facing the Germans were eighty-three thousand American troops, many of them new recruits. In poor weather, which helped keep the vastly superior Allied air forces on the ground, the Germans pressed through the American lines, creating, in a matter of weeks, a German "bulge" roughly seventy miles deep. In the course of the attack, the Germans surrounded the vital transportation center of Bastogne, held by the 101st U.S. Airborne Division, whose commander's famous response to a German demand to surrender was "nuts." On January 3, 1945, the U.S First and Third Armies launched a counterattack at the base of either side of the bulge. Within two weeks the German bulge was destroyed and the battle was over.
Although the Allied forces had successfully countered Hitler's daring move, the price was steep. Roughly seventy-seven thousand Allied soldiers had been killed, wounded, or taken prisoner. On the German side, an estimated two hundred thousand men were lost, more than half taken prisoner. These men represented the last combat-experienced reserves in Hitler's army. Their loss, along with the loss of some two thousand tanks and other vehicles, meant the stage was set for the final Allied push across the Rhine River into the heart of Germany.
EThe Fall of Berlin and the End of the Third Reich, Spring 1945
E. The Fall of Berlin and the End of the Third Reich, Spring 1945
Thanks in part to Adolf Hitler's surprise counteroffensive in the Ardennes in December 1944, it was not until late winter 1945 that the Allies at last crossed the Rhine River to begin their final assault on Germany.
The first crossing of the Rhine came on March 7, when elements of the Ninth U.S. Army crossed a lightly defended bridge at the German town of Remagen. Seizing the span before the Germans had the chance to demolish it, more than eight thousand American troops poured over the bridge in the next twenty-four hours. Within days, several more bridgeheads on the east side of the Rhine were established, thanks largely to the bridging work of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. By March 25, a huge armored force had crossed the Rhine. On the left flank of the Allied line, British and Canadian troops now advanced rapidly across northern Germany. Further south, American forces did the same. By April 21, the Ninth U.S. Army found itself within seventy miles of Berlin, while the Third Army, under General George Patton, dashed through Czechoslovakia, Bavaria, and Austria. In the meantime, Soviet forces had driven toward Berlin from the east, supported by heavy Allied bombing at the Germans' backs, including the famous firebombing of Dresden, which reduced much of the quaint historic city to rubble and killed more than twenty thousand.
On April 25, as arranged in advance, the meeting of Soviet and American troops took place at Torgau, south of the German capital on the Elbe River. Five days later, on April 30, while the Red Army fought to quell the last vestiges of German resistance in Berlin, Hitler, the architect of the most destructive war in human history, shot himself in his bunker deep below the Reichstag building, the longtime seat of German government. On May 2, the city finally succumbed to the inevitable. A week later, Hitler's chosen successor, Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz, ordered Germany's unconditional surrender, meeting the terms Franklin D. Roosevelt had insisted upon more than two years earlier in his meeting with Winston Churchill at Casablanca.
In a sad twist of fate, FDR had died on April 12, 1945, just weeks before Hitler's suicide and the Third Reich's demise. The beloved four-term president had lived long enough to substantially complete one of the most arduous and consequential tasks faced by any leader in history, if not to attend the celebrations. After nearly six long years of conflict, the Second World War in Europe was won.
3. War in the Pacific:
1937 to 1945
All during the late 1930s, President Franklin D. Roosevelt watched with intense concern as fascists marched across Europe. But the provocation that finally brought America into World War II came not from a German submarine trawling the Atlantic, but from Japanese bombers winging across the Pacific to bomb Pearl Harbor. And the bloodiest war in history would finally end not with the surrender of Nazi Germany in May 1945, but three months later, after the United States dropped nuclear bombs on Japanese cities.
The Axis Pact of September 1940, in which Imperial Japan had pledged alliance with Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, was a matter of expediency as much as shared values. But the aggressor nations had this in common: they wanted to acquire territory and the resources that came with it.
The Japanese strike on Pearl Harbor was only the most destructive of several simultaneous attacks that took place on December 7, 1941. As FDR noted the next day in his famous "date of infamy" speech, the Japanese also attacked Malaya, Hong Kong, Guam, Wake Island, and the Philippines. Their goal was to advance from these initial assaults over a wide area of the Pacific, from Burma and the Aleutian Islands in the north to Fiji and New Caledonia in the south, seizing the resource-rich Dutch East Indies in the process. The Japanese hoped this stunning blow delivered to the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor, combined with the rapid seizure of a vast territory, would so debilitate the American military and demoralize the American public that the United States would sue for peace, leaving the Japanese empire to enjoy the spoils of a sweeping domain its leaders called "the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere."
Japanese forces swiftly achieved nearly all of their initial goals. By the end of January, Malaya was in their hands; by the end of February, they held the Dutch East Indies. In the Philippines, American forces under the initial command of General Douglas MacArthur managed to hold out on the Bataan Peninsula and the Island of Corregidor for some months, but in early May, after FDR ordered MacArthur to leave, they, too, succumbed to the Japanese advance. Perhaps the most humiliating defeat of all, however, took place at the British island base of Singapore, where more than seventy thousand British and Commonwealth troops fell to a Japanese force of roughly half that number in mid-February 1942.
Having secured most of Burma and the northern coast of New Guinea by the end of May, the Japanese were now in a position to threaten India, Australia, and New Zealand, and, thanks to the closure of the Burma Road by which China received needed supplies, possibly even to neutralize that longtime foe.
The massive Japanese offensive that followed Pearl Harbor put the United States on the defensive in the Pacific War. But the vigorous military buildup FDR had initiated in 1939 ensured that the balance of naval power would soon turn in America's favor. Though FDR continued to insist on a strategy of defeating "Germany First," the United States would prove capable of sending reinforcements to the Pacific—and launching offensive operations in that theater much earlier than expected.
AAmerica Strikes Back:
The Doolittle Raid
A. America Strikes Back: The Doolittle Raid
The first hint that the United States might be able to mount offensive operations in the Pacific came with the so-called Doolittle Raid. Eager to restore the American public's morale after the devastating Japanese assault on Pearl Harbor, Franklin D. Roosevelt urged his commanders to find a way to quickly strike back at the enemy. In response, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, an executive body comprising the top U.S. military leaders, put together a daring plan to ferry sixteen B-25 bombers aboard an aircraft carrier to the western Pacific, where they would carry out a bombing raid on Japan. To avoid Japanese patrols or radar, the bombers, which were not designed for use on carriers, had to be launched so far out to sea that it would be impossible for them to return to the ship after completing their mission. Instead, they were expected to fly on to air bases in China.
On April 18, 1942, the planes, flown by volunteers under the command of Lieutenant Colonel James Doolittle, took off from the carrier and staged a surprise strike on Tokyo and four other cities. Though the raid inflicted little damage, it did boost Americans' confidence, much as FDR had hoped. Of the eighty aircrew involved, all but nine survived after either crash-landing their planes in China or bailing out (making an emergency escape by parachute) over Chinese territory.
BTurning Point: The Battle of Midway
B. Turning Point: The Battle of Midway
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, while devastating, had nevertheless failed to inflict any damage on America's aircraft carriers, which were by chance out at sea that day. In an effort to annihilate this force and complete the job of destroying America's offensive capability—perhaps even force the United States into a negotiated settlement—Japanese commanders devised an elaborate plan to lure what remained of the American fleet into a decisive battle.
The plan involved a minor attack on Alaska's Aleutian Islands that would divert a portion of what remained of the U.S. fleet to the northern Pacific, and a major strike at Midway Island, where the American aircraft carriers would be engaged and destroyed. But thanks to U.S. naval intelligence, which had cracked Japan's naval radio code, the Americans were aware of the Japanese plans.
Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, was thus able to set a trap of his own. He sent substantial reinforcements to Midway and secretly concentrated America's naval forces near the island. On June 4, 1942, the Americans surprised the approaching Japanese armada, sinking all four Japanese aircraft carriers in the strike force. In subsequent engagements, the Japanese would lose two additional cruisers, while the Americans lost just one carrier, the USS Yorktown, and a destroyer, the USS Hammann.
The Battle of Midway was a severe defeat for the Japanese navy. It marked a major turning point in the Pacific War, making it possible for the United States to put its enemy on the defensive.
CThe Fight for Guadalcanal
C. The Fight for Guadalcanal
Having fought Japanese naval forces to a draw in the Battle of the Coral Sea in May 1942 and inflicted severe damage to the Japanese fleet at the Battle of Midway in June, Franklin D. Roosevelt and his military chiefs turned their attention to stopping the Japanese advance in the Solomon Islands. Japanese seizure of these islands might make it possible for them to cut the critical lines of communication between the United States and Australia, leaving this ally all the more vulnerable to attack.
To halt the Japanese advance, American forces launched an amphibious assault on the largest of the Solomon Islands, Guadalcanal, in early August 1942. The Japanese responded with a major effort to drive the marines off the island. Soon both sides were pouring reinforcements into the region. The battle for Guadalcanal would prove long and costly. After six months of hard fighting, with many succumbing to malaria or tormented by dysentery in the tropical jungle, the Americans prevailed. Guadalcanal was a key victory and the first step in the Allies' long march toward Japan.
DPacific Island Advance:
Campaign for the Gilbert,
Marshall, and Mariana Islands
D. Pacific Island Advance: Campaign for the Gilbert, Marshall, and Mariana Islands
By the time American forces were engaged in the battle for Guadalcanal, American strategy in the Pacific had begun to take shape. This involved the division of the Pacific into two vast theaters of operation: the Pacific Ocean Areas, under the overall command of the navy's Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, and the Southwest Pacific Area, under the command of the army's General Douglas MacArthur. This division of command between the navy and the army would come with a division of labor: American naval and marine forces would continue the step-by-step advances from Guadalcanal northwest through the Solomon Islands, while American and Australian forces under the command of General MacArthur would "leapfrog" their way up the north coast of New Guinea and through the Bismarck Archipelago.
In mid-1943, following an agreement among Allied leaders at January's Casablanca Conference to commit more resources to the war against Japan, American strategy in the Pacific was further refined by the decision to launch a drive across the central Pacific through the Gilbert, Marshall, and Mariana Islands. This offensive, under Admiral Nimitz's overall command, got underway in November 1943. By February 1944, American forces had secured the Gilbert and Marshall Islands. In June they began their assault on the Mariana Islands, which included the battle for Saipan, one of the most important of the entire Pacific War. With Saipan's fall in mid-July 1944 and the subsequent capture of Guam in August, the new American superbomber, the B-29, could reach the Japanese home islands.
EReturn to the Philippines and the Battle of Leyte Gulf
E. Return to the Philippines and the Battle of Leyte Gulf
With the fall of the Mariana Islands in the summer of 1944, Allied forces had pushed deep into Japan's Pacific empire. A debate now ensued among American military leaders over whether U.S. forces should retake the Philippine Islands captured by Japan in 1942, as General Douglas MacArthur had promised, or simply bypass them and launch attacks against Formosa (Taiwan) or the Japanese home islands. Not surprisingly, General MacArthur, who had famously proclaimed "I shall return" when ordered to leave the islands in March 1942, urged a battle for the Philippines, while Admiral Chester W. Nimitz and the navy favored a strike closer to Japan. To settle the dispute, FDR met the two leaders in July 1944 in Hawaii. There he engineered a compromise, ordering that the two-front advance across the Pacific converge in a joint army-navy assault on the Philippines.
The attack on the Philippines began at the island of Leyte on October 20, 1944. While U.S. forces under the command of General MacArthur began their landings, a massive Japanese naval armada sailed into the Leyte Gulf to try to stop them. What followed—the Battle of Leyte Gulf—was the largest naval battle ever fought, a desperate struggle in which the Japanese committed not only seven battleships and sixteen cruisers, but also the first waves of kamikaze suicide pilots. Although the Japanese were able to inflict serious damage on American naval forces protecting the landings, they could not halt the U.S. invasion, and they suffered losses that virtually eliminated the Japanese fleet as an organized fighting force.
Following General MacArthur's successful landing at Leyte, a second invasion took place on the island of Luzon two months later. In February 1945, after a month of intense urban combat that left much of the city destroyed, Manila, the Philippine capital at the southern end of Luzon, finally fell. MacArthur's promise to "return" had been fulfilled.
FClosing In: Iwo Jima and Okinawa
F. Closing In: Iwo Jima and Okinawa
While General Douglas MacArthur completed his assault on the Philippines, U.S. marines under Admiral Chester W. Nimitz's overall command drove even closer to the Japanese mainland, attacking the heavily fortified island of Iwo Jima. The marines landed on February 19, 1945, after American airpower had pummeled the island for seventy-two days straight.
As Iwo Jima represented a crucial link in Japan's inner ring of defense, it was honeycombed with bunkers and defended with tremendous ferocity. Americans came prepared with a force of more than 110,000 American troops and eight hundred ships. The mission was expected to take fourteen days. Instead it took thirty-six days to secure the strategically vital island, and the cost was steep. Some 6,800 Americans were killed in action; many more were wounded. Three of the servicemen pictured in the famous photograph taken on February 23, 1945, by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal, Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima, died on the island in subsequent fighting.
In the wake of the bloody struggle for Iwo Jima, Nimitz's forces moved on to attack Okinawa, which, as one of the Japanese home islands, was considered a vital target due to its potential as an air base in support of the anticipated U.S. invasion of the Japanese mainland.
The Okinawa campaign was one of the largest of the Pacific War, involving over 1,200 U.S. warships and more than half a million soldiers, sailors, and marines. It began on April 1, 1945, when the first of more than 170,000 American troops waded ashore, largely unopposed. They soon found themselves in a fierce struggle with nearly a hundred thousand Japanese troops and militia bent on defending the island. It would take three months of brutal fighting to finally gain control of Okinawa.
In the end, more than twelve thousand Americans lost their lives, while thirty-six warships were sunk and nearly four hundred were damaged, many to the more than 1,900 kamikaze attacks carried out by the Japanese. Of the Japanese garrison defending the island, only 7,400 survived to become prisoners of war.
G“Utter Destruction” from the Air
G. “Utter Destruction” from the Air
The advance of American forces to the Marianas in 1944 and beyond to Iwo Jima and Okinawa in 1945 brought the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) within striking distance of Japan. Now, using a newly developed heavy bomber called the B-29 Superfortress, the Americans began a devastating air campaign against the Japanese mainland.
Initially this involved the destruction of mainly industrial targets, particularly aircraft factories, using high-altitude precision daylight bombing techniques. But by the early spring of 1945, under the direction of the newly appointed major general Curtis LeMay, this tactic gave way to low-altitude nighttime incendiary raids that rained down fire on Japanese cities. One of the most devastating took place on the night of March 9, 1945, when roughly three hundred B-29s attacked Tokyo. The resulting firestorm incinerated nearly a quarter of the city and killed an estimated eighty-five thousand Japanese civilians.
More air attacks followed on Tokyo and other Japanese cities until, by the end of July 1945, the USAAF had virtually run out of targets. With millions homeless and the Japanese economy—to say nothing of its military—shattered, the emperor and civilian Japanese leadership began to question the wisdom of continuing the war. But Japan's military leadership still refused to contemplate capitulation, and hence chose to ignore the Allied ultimatum warning Japan of "prompt and utter destruction" if it did not immediately agree to the surrender terms contained in the July 26 Potsdam Declaration.
On August 6 and 9, U.S. planes dropped atomic bombs—"Little Boy" and "Fat Man"—on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, respectively, leveling large portions of these cities and decimating their populations. The bombs killed more than 150,000 people, some by impact and fire, others by radiation. Their detonation also brought the war to a conclusion, obviating the need for a brutal seaborne invasion of the Japanese mainland with potentially heavy American casualties.
The destruction of much of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was coupled with a Russian invasion of the Japanese-held Chinese province of Manchuria on August 8—another blow to the Japanese, who had hoped the Soviets might help negotiate a less onerous peace with the Allies. Thus the Japanese defeat was incontestably complete. On August 15, 1945, the emperor and imperial government of Japan agreed to surrender. Two weeks later, General Douglas MacArthur, Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, and other Allied representatives signed the surrender documents aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay.
With this act, six years and a day after Adolf Hitler launched his attack on Poland, the Second World War, by far the bloodiest war in human history, finally came to an end.
4. “We Are All in It”:
Franklin D. Roosevelt and
the American Home Front
On the eve of World War II, America was depleted by years of economic depression and disillusioned by the bitter aftermath of the First World War, once billed as "the war to end all wars." Much of American industry lay idle, its armed forces vastly underdeveloped. Whether measured in logistical terms or by morale, Americans were not ready to face the combined might of the Axis powers.
But Franklin D. Roosevelt understood that face it they must or surrender everything they held dear. He knew that in order to prevail, Americans must confront this tremendous threat as one people, with a unity of purpose perhaps not seen since the Revolution. In the annals of history, one of FDR's greatest achievements was the way he summoned the American people to this mission.
After a tour around the country inspecting defense plants and other war-readiness programs in October 1942, FDR spoke to the country in a fireside chat. "This whole nation of one hundred and thirty million free men, women and children," he said, "is becoming one great fighting force. . . . A few of us are decorated with medals for heroic achievement, but all of us can have that deep and permanent inner satisfaction that comes from doing the best we know how—each of us playing an honorable part in the great struggle to save our democratic civilization."
The American home front was indeed critical to Allied victory. Ultimately more than sixteen million Americans would serve in the armed forces during the conflict—far more than in any war before or since. But well before the country sent large numbers of soldiers overseas in 1943 and especially 1944, its home industries were beating the Axis in the vital area of armaments production. The United States outproduced all the Axis countries as well as the other Allies by a large margin, and many have argued this "crushing superiority of equipment," as FDR put it shortly after Pearl Harbor, was a deciding factor in the war. In an extraordinary burst of effort, Americans converted industrial plants and ramped up output to arm both the Allies and themselves, nearly doubling the country's gross domestic product in the process.
This undertaking required a very high level of cooperation and coordination. Labor and management had to lay aside their differences to keep plants running 24–7. Both had to relinquish prejudices against women and minority workers. Meanwhile, everyone accepted federal controls on prices and wages to prevent war spending from boosting the cost of living to untenable heights. They accepted bans on the manufacture of certain consumer products so that materials could be diverted to war production, and rationing of food and other commodities to make sure that everyone got the essentials despite inevitable shortages. People saved the earnings from their long hours on the job, conserved resources in their homes and neighborhoods, and invested in war bonds to support their country. They grew and canned their own food.
Throughout the war, FDR reminded Americans at home that every one of these choices mattered in the great contest that would decide whether their way of life stood or fell. Now more than ever, his fireside chats riveted listeners. In the summer of 1943, for example, FDR used a radio broadcast to admonish his countrymen, "The next time anyone says to you that this war is 'in the bag,' or says 'it's all over but the shouting,' you should ask him these questions: 'Are you working full time on your job? Are you growing all the food you can? Are you buying your limit of war bonds? Are you loyally and cheerfully cooperating with your Government in preventing inflation and profiteering, and in making rationing work with fairness to all?' . . . It is not too much to say that we must pour into this war the entire strength and intelligence and will power of the United States."
The challenge was formidable and even terrifying, but FDR's sure-footedness and seemingly eternal optimism helped sustain Americans in the cause to which he had rallied them. He always believed that their strength and intelligence and willpower would carry them to victory. "Whatever our individual circumstances or opportunities," he told them in 1942, "we are all in it, and our spirit is good, and we Americans and our allies are going to win—and do not let anyone tell you anything different."
AArming America and Its Allies
A. Arming America and Its Allies
On the threshold of World War II, the United States was no military superpower. Indeed, the U.S. Army ranked nineteenth in the world—with fewer than two hundred soldiers, it was smaller than Portugal's—while the U.S. Navy, though expanding, had yet to achieve its vaunted two-ocean status.
The outbreak of war in Europe in September 1939 led the Roosevelt administration to call for increased defense spending from Congress, but it was not until the fall of France in May–June 1940 that the United States began this effort in earnest. Recognizing that the advent of airpower had fundamentally changed the nature of warfare, FDR called for the production of a staggering fifty thousand warplanes per year as well as a massive increase in the size of the navy and the expansion and modernization of the army. By year's end, Congress had appropriated more than $8 billion in defense spending; in 1941 it would appropriate $26 billion, dwarfing the mere half a billion dollars that had been appropriated for military expansion in 1939. In 1943 and 1944, America produced 40 percent of the munitions made by all the principal belligerents put together.
To accomplish this major buildup, the Roosevelt administration—over the objections of some New Dealers—turned largely to America's corporate leadership, enlisting the help of big business to convert America's factories to wartime production. FDR asked Sears executive Donald M. Nelson to head the War Production Board, created by presidential executive order in January 1942 to supervise munitions manufacturing. The board rationed materials such as steel, aluminum, and rubber and allocated raw materials according to war priorities, while banning the production of nonessential consumer goods such as cars, refrigerators and other domestic appliances, and tennis balls. In February 1942, for example, under FDR's order, the entire U.S. automobile industry ceased production of cars and commercial trucks so plants could instead make jeeps, tanks, planes, and other weapons.
By the end of the war, the level of U.S. arms manufacturing was nothing short of astounding. Between 1940 and 1945, America produced more than 299,000 aircraft, over 1,500 naval vessels, 88,000 tanks, 634,000 jeeps, nearly six thousand merchant vessels, 6.5 million rifles, and forty billion bullets.
Equally impressive was the increase in military manpower. America's first-ever peacetime draft was instituted in September 1940, after the fall of France. By the end of 1943, the U.S. Army numbered more than 7.5 million men, and by 1945 it topped 8.2 million. Of these, more than 1.4 million represented the pilots, navigators, bombardiers, gunners, and maintenance crews of the vastly expanded U.S. Army Air Corps. Meanwhile, by late 1943, the U.S. Navy had become the largest in the world, surpassing the combined fleets of all the other major powers, serviced by more than three million sailors and officers.
American industry was also providing critical arms and other supplies to its allies via the Lend-Lease program. Thanks to this "most unsordid act," as British prime minister Winston Churchill called it, America supplied Great Britain with 25 percent of its wartime needs and the Soviet Union with 10 percent, to say nothing of the arms and other goods that were shipped to China, the Free French, and other forces.
BBack to Work
B. Back to Work
In 1939 unemployment in America, though down from its peak in 1933, remained painfully high—17.2 percent. As the country swung into action to supply the war effort, Americans went back to work in droves. Unemployment sank to a scant 1.2 percent by 1944.
So massive was the Allies' need for weapons, food, clothing, and other supplies that the effort to produce them quickly turned sky-high unemployment into labor shortages in particular areas and industries. Americans had to accomplish a great deal more work even as its workforce lost millions of employable young men to the armed forces. Farmers were pressed to produce more food for soldiers and civilians, but many farmhands had left the countryside for industrial jobs. Meanwhile, industrial production proceeded at such an urgent pace that many people worked two jobs, multiple shifts, or on weekends and holidays. As Franklin D. Roosevelt wrote to United Auto Workers president R. J. Thomas in early 1942, "Every factory and every shipyard should be working seven days a week, night and day."
In order to prevent labor disputes from creating even a pause in production, FDR established the National War Labor Board in January 1942 to monitor labor relations and, if necessary, intervene in disputes. "We shall not stop work for a single day," he told Americans in February. "If any dispute arises we shall keep on working while the dispute is solved by mediation, conciliation, or arbitration—until the war is won." Workers for the most part adhered to no-strike pledges, and some gave up overtime pay. Americans' aggregate income nonetheless soared from $72.8 billion in 1939 to $165.3 billion in 1944, while corporate profits climbed even more.
In April 1942, FDR created the War Manpower Commission to recruit more workers and allocate them where needed. "We shall be compelled," he explained to the country in an October fireside chat, "to stop workers from moving from one war job to another as a matter of personal preference; to stop employers from stealing labor from each other; to use older men, and handicapped people, and more women, and even grown boys and girls, wherever possible and reasonable, to replace men of military age and fitness; to train new personnel for essential war work; and to stop the wastage of labor in all non-essential activities."
FDR went on to say that the country could "no longer afford to indulge . . . prejudices" against women and African American workers, for example. This expansion of the American workforce—and of opportunity—would be an important legacy of the war effort.
In 1941, at the urging of civil rights leaders and Eleanor Roosevelt, the president had issued Executive Order 8802 banning racial discrimination in war production facilities and established the Fair Labor Practices Commission to oversee its implementation. By war's end, blacks would make up some 8 percent of workers in war-related contracts, roughly proportional to their representation in the population. The lure of good war-industry jobs helped kick off the Great Migration of African Americans from the South to industrial cities of the North.
During the war years, female participation in the labor force surged, finding expression in the patriotic image of Rosie the Riveter. The name came from the title of a popular 1943 song: "All the day long, whether rain or shine, she's a part of the assembly line. She's making history, working for victory, Rosie the Riveter." Soon after the song was released, in a Saturday Evening Post cover, Norman Rockwell depicted a muscular, grimy Rosie eating a sandwich with a drill resting in her lap and her feet propped insouciantly on a copy of Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf. A rippling American flag is the backdrop.
From 1940 to 1945, the female labor force boosted its ranks by 6.5 million, a 50 percent increase. By the war's peak, well over a third of the civilian labor force was made up of women. Many married women and mothers of young children worked outside the home for the first time. Although many of these women left their jobs after the war, the American wartime experience presaged a decades-long increase in the percentage of women in the workforce.
CManaging a Wartime Economy
C. Managing a Wartime Economy
Going to war produced an enormous demand for goods in America, dramatically stimulating its anemic economy. But the economic impact of war isn't entirely benign. Warfare is expensive and society must bear the cost sooner or later. Also, wartime spending typically drives up prices, and inflation can impose hardships on civilians who can't meet the cost of living, and lead to postwar shocks when demand dries up. Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration took an active role in managing these risks.
The first question was how to pay for the war. FDR had always favored progressive tax schemes that rely most heavily on the wealthy and corporations. His approach to war finance was no exception. He opposed members of Congress and others who wanted to impose a mass tax in the form of a federal sales tax that would affect all consumers. Conservatives likewise rescinded FDR's executive order capping after-tax income at $25,000 ("All excess income should go to win the war," the president had said in promoting the measure in 1942.)
A compromise came with the Revenue Act of 1942, which instituted a new tax program that was both very broad and highly progressive. It lowered personal exemptions so that vastly more American workers—about three-quarters versus 5 percent before the war—would pay income taxes out of wages and salaries. It was progressive in that it imposed a steeply graduated surtax on incomes, taxing the wealthier at higher rates. The law lowered the threshold of the top income bracket to $200,000 and taxed it at 88 percent. It also imposed a wartime "excess profits" tax on corporations of 90 percent, seeking to funnel extraordinary war profits back into the war effort itself. The new law required Americans to pay much more in taxes, but in a February 1943 Gallup Poll, an astounding 78 percent of respondents who would have to pay federal income tax that year said they considered the tax fair.
The government also increased borrowing to cover war costs. By the end of the war, the ratio of debt to gross domestic product reached an all-time high of 113 percent, although the postwar economic boom would make this debt far less burdensome.
Limiting inflation in the burgeoning war economy was a major concern of FDR's administration. To that end the government controlled prices, first by a series of executive actions, beginning in February 1941 when a division of the Advisory Commission to the Council of National Defense placed a ceiling on the skyrocketing price of used machine tools. In January 1942, just weeks after Pearl Harbor, Congress, at FDR's urging and after months of heated debate, gave the Office of Price Administration (OPA) authority to establish sweeping price controls. The OPA ultimately froze the price of thousands of products, including some 90 percent of retail foods. It also controlled rents, to alleviate the effects of a housing shortage caused by the cessation of civilian construction and mass migrations to industrial areas. In October 1942, Congress authorized the government to also curtail wage and salary increases, and control the prices of farm products.
As the OPA explained in a public notice, "If prices were not controlled, the cost of everything would continue to climb until eventually only the extremely wealthy could buy even the necessities of life. Savings would be wiped out in the vain attempt to keep up with soaring prices. Prices would go up and up until the whole price structure grew so top-heavy it toppled to the ground. There would be panic and depression. The old saying is true: 'Whatever goes up, must come down!'"
“All excess income should go to win the war.”
Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1942
D“Make It Do”: Saving and Rationing
D. “Make It Do”: Saving and Rationing
Americans made more money during the war than they had in the grinding years of the Depression. Their purchasing did not keep pace. Personal savings went up and outstanding debt fell. This was partly because consumer goods were simply not available. Some, like new cars and appliances, were not being produced at all, and others, because of interruptions in importation and transportation as well as the requirements of war, were in short supply. In order to distribute supplies fairly and check the growth of black markets, the Office of Price Administration rationed an array of consumer goods, including sugar, coffee, butter, meat, gasoline, fuel oil and kerosene, tires, shoes, bicycles, and processed foods. So there was only so much families could buy.
In addition, the federal government launched a vigorous public campaign to encourage savings, thrift, and recycling of materials—an effort to both control inflation and stretch scarce materials. "All of us," Franklin D. Roosevelt said in a fireside chat several months after Pearl Harbor, "are used to spending money for things that we want, things, however, which are not absolutely essential. We will all have to forgo that kind of spending. Because we must put every dime and every dollar we can possibly spare out of our earnings into war bonds and stamps. Because the demands of the war effort require the rationing of goods of which there is not enough to go around. Because the stopping of purchases of nonessentials will release thousands of workers who are needed in the war effort."
Buy bonds! Give bonds!
War bonds were a central piece of this campaign. Buying war bonds issued by the Treasury gave Americans a way to save and invest their money at a modest return, but more importantly to contribute to the fight overseas. Posters urged Americans to do their part. "Keep 'em Flying! Buy War Bonds!" one urged. Another showed a machine gunner with the caption: "You can't afford to miss either! Buy war bonds every payday." Glamorous celebrities, such as Lana Turner, Mickey Rooney, and Lucille Ball, pitched the bonds. Even children saved ten-cent war stamps in special books to be redeemed for a bond.
In the spring of 1943, the president spoke to the country of the enormous military challenge to come—the attack on occupied France and the drive into the German heartland—while at the same time announcing a major war-bond drive. "And we can be sure," he said, "that our enemies will watch this drive with the keenest interest. They know that success in this undertaking will shorten the war. They know that the more money the American people lend to their Government, the more powerful and relentless will be the American forces in the field." To buy war bonds was to hasten Adolf Hitler's demise.
Taken together, American companies and individuals purchased more than $150 billion in war bonds between 1940 and 1945.
Producing and recycling for victory
Other campaigns urged Americans to mend old clothes, drive slowly and keep their tires in good order to save rubber, and prepare nutritious foods using alternatives to scarce products. "Use it up—Wear it Out—Make it do!" read one poster showing a woman mending the seat of a man's pants. "Sugar rationing is here!" proclaimed a government-issued bulletin with recipes using less sugar or sugar substitutes, such as maple. "Use fresh fruits liberally in place of desserts that call for sugar," it said. Homemakers were encouraged to pledge their personal commitment to uphold price controls and rationing: "I pay no more than top legal prices. I accept no rationed goods without giving up ration stamps." Every individual, including infants and children, received a ration book containing stamps for each rationed product.
To bolster the local supply of fresh fruit and vegetables, Americans turned thousands of acres of yards, parks, school grounds, and even urban rooftops into "victory gardens." At the peak of the war, more than twenty million victory gardens across the country produced 40 percent of all the vegetables grown in the United States, enhancing the diet of millions and saving on fuel and transport costs, thanks to the vast increase in local production.
Because to build the planes, ships, tanks, and weapons needed for the war required millions of tons of metal—eighteen tons for the average tank and more than nine hundred tons for the largest warships—metal was rationed in civilian life; even zippers and bobby pins were hard to come by. The government urged Americans to conserve metal and turn in for recycling anything from old shovels to broken-down farm equipment. Schools and businesses organized "scrap drives" throughout the war, at times resulting in the collection of thousands of tons of used metal. Children saved bits of tinfoil and rubber bands in balls.
All these efforts and adjustments in lifestyle helped Americans feel they were doing something to help the fighting forces overseas. "'Sacrifice,'" as FDR told Americans, "is not exactly the proper word with which to describe this program of self-denial. When, at the end of this great struggle, we shall have saved our free way of life, we shall have made no 'sacrifice.'"
EA Nation of Volunteers
E. A Nation of Volunteers
After enduring the forced idleness and seemingly pointless privations of the Great Depression, Americans eagerly threw themselves into the daily struggle against the Axis powers. Here the foe was vividly definite, and the cultural ethos, powerfully influenced by government messaging, held that everyone could be useful to the cause. In a 1943 poll, 44 percent of Americans said the government had not gone far enough in asking them to sacrifice for the war. Their energy flowed into volunteerism in myriad forms.
After Pearl Harbor, fearing enemy planes loaded with bombs might reach the U.S. mainland, millions of Americans volunteered to serve in civilian defense. Spotters watched the night sky from observation posts across the country; trained to identify various types of planes, they reported their sightings to Army Filter Centers, which, when appropriate, passed the information to an air force warning system. (Identifying Allied and enemy warplanes also became a popular hobby among children.) Civilian defense air-raid wardens ran blackout drills to practice hiding potential targets in bombing attacks, disseminated preparedness information among their neighbors, and received training in how to deal with fires and poison gas attacks.
Much effort also went into supporting those fighting overseas. Just two months after Pearl Harbor, five private service organizations came together, at Franklin D. Roosevelt’s behest, to create the United Service Organizations (USO). Its purpose was to give service personnel moral support through recreation and entertainment, and it would become a beloved feature of military life. The USO brought movies, dances, and live entertainment featuring major American celebrities, such as Judy Garland and Betty Grable—a taste of home, in other words—to lonesome and weary U.S. service personnel around the world.
Through the Red Cross, Americans gave millions of units of blood; knitted untold numbers of sweaters, socks, and other items for soldiers; and sent food to their prisoners of war overseas. Teenagers by the millions joined the Victory Corps, volunteering in scrap drives and other war programs, or the Junior Red Cross, which, among other activities, entertained wounded soldiers in military hospitals.
FR & R on the Home Front
F. R & R on the Home Front
Franklin D. Roosevelt understood the need to relax even and perhaps especially in the midst of the most intense pressures; his own ability to refresh his energies in this way was well known. It was this belief in the restorative powers of entertainment and rest that motivated FDR’s call for the establishment of the United Service Organizations (USO) to bring a little fun into the lives of armed services personnel. He also thought that Americans on the home front would benefit from recreation and encouraged these activities when they wouldn’t detract from the war effort.
Theaters and cinemas remained open and in fact their business thrived during the war. Hollywood continued to produce films, frequently treating themes of heroism, resistance to power, and the pull of home in works ranging from Casablanca (1942), set in Vichy-controlled North Africa, to Lassie Come Home (1943) to The Song of Bernadette (1943), based on a best-selling 1941 novel by Franz Werfel, an Austrian Jew who had narrowly escaped Nazi-occupied France to reach America. Before the feature film, audiences would take in a ten-minute newsreel often detailing news from the front or programs supporting the war at home. Some fifty million people viewed these newsreels each week. FDR’s filmed fireside chats became some of the most popular newsreels, drawing big audiences eager to see the image of the leader whose voice was so familiar.
Newsreel companies, Hollywood studios, and news organizations all cooperated with the Office of War Information (OWI), which vetted material, especially news from the front, with an eye to promoting national unity and an upbeat attitude. The OWI also produced its own newsreels and radio broadcasts, not to mention the ubiquitous posters promoting the war effort. In this sense, entertainment became part and parcel of the war effort.
FDR had a direct hand in ensuring that one of America’s favorite pastimes, baseball, continued unabated during the war. Just weeks after Pearl Harbor, in January 1941, baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis wrote the president to ask whether, under the circumstances, the games should go on. FDR replied right away. “I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going,” he wrote. “There will be fewer people unemployed and everybody will work longer hours and harder than ever before. And that means that they ought to have a chance for recreation and for taking their minds off their work even more than before.” FDR pointed out that a baseball game was a relatively quick and inexpensive way to blow off steam, and that he hoped more nighttime games could be played as “an opportunity to the day shift to see a game occasionally.”
FDR was careful to add that qualified ballplayers should go into the service or war-related work. Landis agreed. More than five hundred Major League players, including stars like Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams, did serve in the military during the war.
GHome Again: The G.I. Bil
G. Home Again: The G.I. Bil
Even before the United States entered World War II, Franklin D. Roosevelt was thinking about just what kind of world the Allies hoped to secure with their fighting. He considered the broader meaning of security and freedom, and he concluded that political liberties such as free speech are not enough—that in order to be truly free, a person must also enjoy basic economic security.
In his celebrated Four Freedoms speech laying out war aims in January 1941, FDR identified "freedom from want" as one of four essential freedoms required for a humane world and free society. In the Atlantic Charter, which he proposed and signed along with British prime minister Winston Churchill in August 1941, FDR set forth "hopes for a better future" that included "improved labor standards, economic advancement and social security." And he presented a more elaborated version of his vision in his 1944 State of the Union address, introducing a "Second Bill of Rights" that would include the right to a job with adequate pay, to education, to a decent home, to protection from the risks of old age and unemployment, and even to medical care.
FDR's ideas about economic freedom came to fruition in New Deal programs like Social Security. But nowhere was their expression more direct than in the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944—otherwise known as the G.I. Bill of Rights. This program sought to ensure that American service personnel came home to live as free people in the broad sense FDR had defined. It provided funds for veterans to enroll in higher education, government-backed low-interest loans to buy their own homes and businesses, and unemployment pay and hospitalization if required.
Veterans embraced college education more avidly than anyone had predicted. Roughly eight million went to college, graduate school, or job training through the G.I. Bill, which covered living expenses as well as tuition. Campuses, especially public campuses, expanded vigorously, throwing up temporary buildings to accommodate the returning veterans and, in many cases, their wives and young children. College education, once the province of the well-to-do, became something to which ordinary Americans aspired as the gateway to a productive, prosperous life. In 1940 American colleges and universities awarded 160,000 degrees. Ten years later, they handed out half a million diplomas.
A similar change took place in the area of homeownership. By 1953 the Veterans Administration had guaranteed 3.5 million home loans, helping to kick off a construction boom and drive an increase in American homeownership from 44 percent in 1940 to 62 percent in 1960.
FDR signed the G.I. Bill on June 12, 1944—six days after D-day. But he had begun talking to Americans about plans for returning service personnel nearly a year before. "We are, today, laying plans for the return to civilian life of our gallant men and women in the armed services," he told the country in a July 1943 fireside chat. "They must not be demobilized into an environment of inflation and unemployment, to a place on a bread line, or on a corner selling apples. We must, this time, have plans ready—instead of waiting to do a hasty, inefficient, and ill-considered job at the last moment. I have assured our men in the armed forces that the American people would not let them down when the war is won."
FDR was implicitly referring to the mishandling of veterans after World War I. These veterans had suffered even more than most in the Great Depression, their desperate protest to persuade Washington, DC, to release benefits actually repelled by government troops in the infamous Bonus March of 1932. As victory over the Axis approached in World War II, there was great anxiety in the country that the end of the war would renew the appalling depression that had preceded it. FDR and many allies were determined to prevent it.
FDR would not live to see it, of course, but this time would be different. The veterans of World War II would not find themselves selling apples on street corners. FDR's New Deal, Americans' industry and savings during the war, the pent-up demand of fifteen years of depression and wartime scrimping, and, indeed, the new opportunities of the G.I. Bill all helped to spark a period of great economic growth for America. Though FDR's Second Bill of Rights never was fully implemented for all Americans, the postwar period saw the creation of a broad, educated, prosperous American middle class.
5. Evicted and Detained:
The Internment of
In the months after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, under Franklin D. Roosevelt's leadership and by the authority of his executive orders, the United States orchestrated what an official report would call "the massive eviction of an entire ethnic group"—people of Japanese ancestry—from America's West Coast. After expelling these families from their homes in California, Oregon, Washington, and Arizona, the government held them under armed guard in isolated, hastily constructed camps scattered across the West for more than two years. More than 110,000 people—men, women, and children whose only crime was their Japanese ethnicity—experienced this forced migration and internment. Two-thirds were American citizens and more than half were minors.
The government's rationale for this action: "military necessity." Shocked that Imperial Japan had come as far as Hawaii in its opening salvo against the United States, Americans, including top military brass, feared the enemy's next move might be to launch a lethal strike on the U.S. mainland. Military leaders—particularly Lieutenant General John DeWitt, who headed the command responsible for protecting America's Pacific coast—argued that Japanese Americans living in the region might maintain a strident loyalty to Japan's militarist regime and collude in an attack on the vulnerable U.S. coast.
At the "exclusion" policy's inception in February 1942, there was no evidence of disloyalty, much less of treason, among ethnic Japanese communities. Nor did any emerge later. In any event, the program made no attempt to base evacuation and confinement on individual culpability. "It was unfortunate," Secretary of War Henry Stimson wrote in a 1943 report on the evacuation, "that the exigencies of the military situation were such as to require the same treatment for all persons of Japanese ancestry, regardless of their individual loyalty to the United States. But in emergencies, where the safety of the Nation is involved, consideration of the rights of individuals must be subordinated to the common security."
Western members of Congress strongly advocated the internment program. At the time, California Attorney General Earl Warren, who as chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1950s and '60s would go on to play a key role in dismantling racial segregation in America, supported Japanese internment. In 1944 the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the exclusion orders as constitutional.
But some forty years later, a bipartisan federal commission would hear testimony from former internees—testimony about disrupted lives, lost homes and businesses, and deep emotional injury—and conclude that they had suffered a "grave personal injustice" at the hands of the federal government. "The broad historical causes that shaped [the policy] were race prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership," the report said. "Widespread ignorance about Americans of Japanese descent contributed to a policy conceived in haste and executed in an atmosphere of fear and anger at Japan." Issued in 1983, the report led to bipartisan passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which extended an official American apology to Japanese internees, giving each $20,000 in reparations.
APrewar Anti-Asian Sentiment
A. Prewar Anti-Asian Sentiment
The official policy of rounding up and confining Japanese Americans at the outset of World War II reflected the fury of a nation at war, to be sure, but it also was the culmination of a long history of distrust and hostility toward Asian immigrants to U.S. shores. Americans of German and Italian descent, after all, did not as a rule meet the same fate; they were seen as elements of the American melting pot, more racially "assimilable" than Asians.
Japanese Americans to a large extent inherited the animus directed at an earlier influx of immigrants from China, many of whom came to work in California's gold fields or building the transcontinental railroad. In 1882, spurred by labor and nativist groups that insisted cheap "coolie" labor was depressing wages in California especially, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, a ban on immigration by Chinese workers, skilled or unskilled, that was unprecedented for its exclusion of a single ethnic group. The act also made Chinese immigrants already living in the United States ineligible to become citizens.
This curtailed immigration from China. Meanwhile, Japanese immigration was growing, and the same nativist activists, augmented by western farmers objecting to Japanese American competitors, began arguing that the Exclusion Act should also apply to the Japanese. In 1907 the Japanese government agreed to ease these tensions by restricting the emigration of Japanese laborers to America. But in 1919, Japanese delegates to the fledgling League of Nations were insulted when American representatives rejected their proposal to include in the organization's founding document a clause embracing a belief in racial equality. The Americans were concerned the clause would affect U.S. prerogatives in setting immigration policy, as well as offend powerful southern Democrats who supported racial segregation at home.
In 1922 the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a Japanese immigrant's bid for citizenship under a 1906 law restricting naturalization to whites and people of African descent or birth. The court ruled that the man, Takao Ozawa, was nonwhite and therefore of an "unassimilable race" that made him ineligible to become an American. With the Immigration Act of 1924, the gate slammed shut against Japanese immigration to the United States. The law set quotas on immigration from various countries, but absolutely barred entry to the United States by anyone not eligible for naturalization—including, of course, the Japanese. The Japanese government protested, to no avail.
By the 1930s, though, many Japanese Americans were well established in the West and in Hawaii, forming associations, developing a fusion of Japanese and American cultures, and farming or running successful businesses. The vast majority considered America their permanent home. As America became engulfed in World War II, Franklin D. Roosevelt identified the Chinese Exclusion Act as a "mistake" and a liability even as he authorized the eviction of ethnic Japanese from the West Coast. In 1943 he prevailed on Congress to repeal the law barring Chinese immigration and naturalization as a "display of friendship" toward China, an ally in the war, and to combat "distorted Japanese propaganda" that charged America with anti-Asian racism.
B“Exclusion” Gets Underway
B. “Exclusion” Gets Underway
Even before America entered World War II, Franklin D. Roosevelt authorized surveillance of ethnic Japanese communities, although his agents assured him that Japanese Americans were overwhelmingly loyal. Following Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, leaders in Japanese communities were quickly arrested and detained. Over the following weeks, West Coast Army officers, backed by local politicians and lobbying groups, called for mass removal of ethnic Japanese, insisting that they were potential spies and saboteurs for Tokyo.
On February 19, 1942, under pressure from the War Department, FDR issued Executive Order 9066. It authorized army leaders to designate military areas from which "any or all persons" could be "excluded" in the interest of national security. In early March, Lieutenant General John DeWitt established Military Area No. 1, encompassing the western parts of California, Oregon, Washington, and part of Arizona, and Military Area No. 2, including the rest of those states. By October the government had ordered the expulsion of all ethnic Japanese from Area No. 1 and the California portion of Area No. 2.
The policy of detention grew out of the decision to expel well over one hundred thousand individuals from the cities and countryside of the West Coast. At first the government encouraged "voluntary evacuation" of ethnic Japanese. But many had no place to go, and, given that the government had labeled the would-be migrants as threats, inland communities did not wish to receive them. So the government soon moved to take control of the process and hold Japanese Americans in remote locations. On March 18, 1942, FDR issued an executive order creating the War Relocation Authority (WRA), which, over the spring and summer, would be responsible for moving evicted families, first to "assembly centers" at fairgrounds and racetracks, and then to hastily constructed "relocation centers." They were forced to leave quickly, liquidating or abandoning homes and other property.
"Neither the Army nor the War Relocation Authority relished the idea of taking men, women, and children from their homes, their shops, and their farms," WRA head Milton Eisenhower explained in an Office of War Information film, as the relocations proceeded. "So the military and civilian agencies alike determined to do the job as a democracy should: with real consideration for the people involved."
But the optimistic notion that internees would build new communities and "reclaim the desert," as Eisenhower put it, belied the reality that the government had embarked on a policy with serious practical and ethical implications.
In a WRA report on the opening of the camps, authorities related inevitable logistical problems. "At some of the centers," the report said, "evacuees were forced temporarily to live in barracks without lights, laundry facilities, or adequate toilets. Mess halls planned to accommodate about 300 people had to handle twice and three times that number for short periods as evacuees poured in from assembly centers on schedule and shipment of stoves and other kitchen facilities lagged behind. In a few cases, where cots were not delivered on time, some newly arriving evacuees spent their first night in relocation centers sleeping on barracks floors."
During the war, some Japanese Americans would leave the camps to serve in the military, attend college, or resettle outside the West Coast. Most would remain in confinement. By the spring of 1943, it was clear the U.S. mainland was not under the threat of attack, and top U.S. military officials no longer believed it necessary to protect national security by excluding ethnic Japanese from the West Coast. Yet people of Japanese heritage were not allowed to return to the far West until January 1945.
CLife in Camp
C. Life in Camp
The ten War Relocation Authority (WRA) relocation camps where Japanese Americans lived during the war years were purposely situated in remote desert and swamp areas in the West and Arkansas. The climate was hot and dusty or humid in summer; in most locations, winters were bitterly cold. Housing consisted of tar-paper shacks, one room per family, surrounded by barbed wire and armed sentries. Health and sanitary facilities were primitive, especially at the start, though dedicated Japanese American doctors and nurses served their fellow inmates. Food was limited and of poor quality, although inmates improved their own nutrition by growing vegetables.
Indeed, Japanese Americans took up most of the work in camp. All adults were expected to work, at a maximum salary of nineteen dollars per month. Inmates staffed schools and hospitals, and ran agricultural and consumer cooperatives. Each camp had an inmate-run newspaper, and the WRA provided a measure of self-government, though camp administrators held ultimate authority.
D. Korematsu’s Challenge
A few Nisei—first-generation Americans born to Japanese immigrants—challenged Executive Order 9066 in court. One was Fred Toyosaburo Korematsu, a twenty-three-year-old from Oakland, California, whose parents ran a flower nursery. With help from the Northern California American Civil Liberties Union he argued that the government's policy deprived him of liberty "without due process of the law"—that is, without charges or a trial—and thus violated the Constitution's Fifth Amendment.
Having been rejected by the military and fired from a series of welding jobs due to his Japanese heritage, the young Korematsu resisted the 1942 order to report with his family to an assembly center at a racetrack in nearby San Bruno, California. He was arrested in the spring of 1942 and convicted of resisting military orders. Korematsu challenged the conviction, and in October 1944 his appeal was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court, one of four wartime "Japanese internment" cases heard by the court. In December 1944, the court upheld Korematsu's conviction by a six to three vote on the grounds that national security interests trumped Korematsu's civil liberties.
In his dissenting opinion, Justice Robert H. Jackson underlined the irrational and ultimately racist implications of the military order barring Korematsu's presence "in the state whereof he is a citizen, near the place where he was born, and where all his life he has lived." Jackson wrote, "Had Korematsu been one of four—the others being, say, a German alien enemy, an Italian alien enemy, and a citizen of American-born ancestors, convicted of treason but out on parole—only Korematsu's presence would have violated the order. The difference between their innocence and his crime would result, not from anything he did, said, or thought, different than they, but only in that he was born of different racial stock."
In 1983 a federal judge vacated the conviction because the government, in making its case, had suppressed evidence that Japanese Americans were not a threat. In 1998 Korematsu received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
EJapanese Americans in Uniforms
E. Japanese Americans in Uniforms
In the fall of 1942, the War Department proposed enlisting Nisei—American-born children of Japanese immigrants—in the military to obtain more recruits and allow United States citizens of Japanese heritage to prove their loyalty to America. Though the navy would remain closed to Japanese Americans for the war's duration, Franklin D. Roosevelt approved their service in the army. In February 1943, he announced the formation of a segregated Japanese American unit with the remark, "Americanism is a matter of the mind and heart; Americanism is not, and never was, a matter of race or ancestry."
Contrary to expectations, the vast majority of ethnic Japanese who enlisted voluntarily came from Hawaii, where Japanese Americans remained free, and not from internment camps. The Japanese American unit became the "Go for Broke" 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which fought in Italy and France and became the most decorated unit of its size in U.S. history. In all more than thirty-three thousand Nisei served in the war. One volunteer in the 442nd was Daniel Inouye of Honolulu, who would be awarded the military's highest distinction, the Medal of Honor, for his courageous stand against the Germans in Italy; he lost an arm in the battle. On returning home, Inouye went to college and law school on the G.I. Bill and was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1962, serving until his death in 2012.
In 1944, however, the army started drafting Nisei from the camps. Now, more than three hundred young men refused to accept military service in the government that was denying them the rights of citizenship and incarcerating their families. Federal courts convicted all but twenty-seven of them, and they went from relocation centers to federal prison.
FPeople of Japanese Ancestry in Hawaii
F. People of Japanese Ancestry in Hawaii
In the spring of 1942, as Japanese Americans were being systematically removed from the West Coast and confined in camps, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox ordered the same treatment for the 140,000 Japanese Americans in the Territory of Hawaii, where military officials likewise feared an invasion by Imperial Japan. But the president's orders were never implemented.
This was partly due to the logistic challenges involved in finding the resources to build the camps, transport whole communities there, and guard the facilities—all amid wartime shortages in materials and labor. But a more important factor was the opposition of Hawaii's military governor, General Delos Emmons. Emmons realized that Japanese Americans made up almost 40 percent of the territory's population and much of its workforce, so confining them would paralyze Hawaii's economy. Rather than defy the policy openly, Emmons quietly delayed implementing the removal, and in this way he eventually succeeded in killing the plan (although he also used the presence of Japanese Americans as justification for maintaining military rule in Hawaii). In return, Japanese communities provided soldiers and indispensable support to the territory's war effort.
G. Loyalty Questionnaires
In 1943, the original impetus for Japanese American removal having faded considerably, the military and the War Relocation Authority (WRA) introduced a "loyalty questionnaire" for Japanese internees designed to test their fitness to serve in the army or to be released for resettlement. All adults in the camps were required to fill them out.
The questionnaires were confusing and, to families that had already suffered traumatic dislocations, full of obscure and threatening implications. For example, one question asked whether an internee would "swear unqualified allegiance to the United States of America and faithfully defend the United States from any and all attack by foreign or domestic forces, and foreswear any form of allegiance to the Japanese Emperor, or any other foreign government, power, or organization." Yet Japanese immigrants had been denied naturalization as American citizens, and under the circumstances some feared an affirmative answer would make them stateless. Many native-born Americans of Japanese descent, meanwhile, were outraged at once again being treated as enemy aliens. Some feared "wrong" answers to the questions could result in family separations or expulsion from camps into hostile and dangerous U.S. communities.
Whether through confusion, defiance, or fear, thousands answered the questions in ways that, as far as the War Department was concerned, cast even greater doubt on their loyalty. The department insisted these inmates be segregated. The WRA reluctantly rounded up some fifteen thousand "disloyals" and sent them to a high-security center created at the Tule Lake camp in Northern California, where they remained imprisoned until 1946.
6. Bundles for Britain:
Sending Warmth (and Woolens)
to a Nation at War
On September 1, 1939, the American people awoke to the news that Germany had launched a massive attack on Poland. The Second World War had begun.
As news reports poured in detailing the horrors of modern war—the fear and destruction of aerial bombing; the plight of an ever-increasing flood of war refugees; and the intensifying struggle to keep the Atlantic lifeline to Europe open—ordinary Americans were eager to find ways to aid and comfort their besieged friends across the ocean.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt endorsed this humanitarian impulse within weeks of the outbreak of war in Europe. "While we, as a Nation, are neutral in the present tragic war in Europe," he said, "I am sure we cannot be indifferent to the suffering inflicted upon the helpless women and children. It is traditional the American people should wish . . . to extend material aid to the helpless victims of war abroad."
By December 1939, hundreds of small relief organizations began to spring up in various parts of the country. Natalie Wales Latham, a glamorous fixture of New York City society, launched one of these groups. Latham believed that Great Britain was "suffering more than is generally realized" and that the island nation, as defender of "the ideals of liberty, democracy, human decency and freedom of spirit," deserved all the help Americans could offer.
The British Red Cross had recently issued an urgent appeal for "sweaters, knitted helmets, gloves, and socks." So on January 14, 1940, in a small abandoned office on Park Avenue, she and a small group of like-minded friends began to knit the first of thousands of woolen garments to be bundled together and shipped to the British Isles. Thus was born one of the most popular—and most important—nonprofit wartime relief organizations: Bundles for Britain.
Latham, a divorced mother of two young children, hoped she could inspire others to join her. But she had no idea on that cold January morning when she and her friends took up their needles that Bundles for Britain would eventually include an astonishing 1.5 million volunteers in every city and hamlet of the country—or that they'd produce hundreds of thousands of knitted garments in which the men, women, and children of wartime Britain could wrap themselves for warmth. Within a year's time the program became so popular in America that the dean of a women's college in Illinois complained that knitting the bundles "interferes . . . with a college girl's education now more than any other distraction." The dean continued, "If a student starts talking about a number 5, 6, or 7 these days, she doesn't mean shoes or stockings. All she wants is a pair of new knitting needles."
This was a way for Americans to engage emotionally and practically in the war effort, a potent counterweight to the antiwar, isolationist mood that dominated in the years before the attack on Pearl Harbor brought the country fully into the conflict. Meanwhile, Britons took to looking up the American communities indicated on the labels of the knitwear they received, curious about the people who made it. Bundles for Britain became a way to knit together the people of Britain and America, nurturing an affinity that foreshadowed the grand political and military alliance that would win the war. Britons writing letters of thanks for the packages would often begin simply, "Dear Bundles."
AA Growing Concern
A. A Growing Concern
Soon after Natalie Wales Latham began knitting with her New York City friends, Americans all over the country began creating their own local chapters of Bundles for Britain. Friends and neighbors would gather together to knit, talk, and do their bit for the war effort. To raise money to buy yarn, they would sell pins and pendants, bake cakes, take in laundry, and put on neighborhood concerts and events. As word spread, local businesses began to chip in. Wool shops donated yarn and knitting needles, newspapers placed free ads, and trucking firms offered to haul the bundles to New York, where they were assembled in crates for shipment overseas.
By the summer of 1940, the news from Europe had gotten worse, not better. Norway, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, and France had fallen under the weight of Nazi assault by June. Hundreds of thousands of British soldiers faltering in their defense of France had been plucked from the jaws of death and successfully evacuated across the English Channel from Dunkirk, but an increasing stream of refugees poured into England, while air attacks on Britain by the German Luftwaffe increased in number and ferocity.
In response, Bundles for Britain stepped up its program, sending not just woolly sweaters and socks for soldiers and civilians but also surgical instruments, bandages, ambulances, and other medical supplies. It reached out to the American medical community, publishing a list of medical and surgical supplies urgently required, the organization said, for a nation "faced with the horrors of immediate invasion." The nationwide appeal for winter clothing continued, and three thousand retailers across the country agreed to supply volunteers with wool, knitting patterns, and instructions.
As more and more goods flowed into New York, it became clear the small, donated office on Park Avenue was no longer adequate, and Bundles for Britain moved its headquarters to a suite of offices on Fifth Avenue. The packing and shipping of bundles now took place in a large unused Telegraph Company building on Manhattan's Upper West Side.
By March 1941, just fifteen months after Latham launched her ambitious venture, the relief organization had shipped more than fifty thousand sweaters, thirty thousand scarves, eighteen thousand pairs of seaboot stockings, fifty thousand socks, and eight thousand caps, and raised over $1 million in cash. Bundles for Britain was now also shipping traveling field kitchen units, X-ray machines, and used clothing. It had nearly a million volunteers in nearly a thousand chapters in all forty-eight states, as well as Alaska and Hawaii—truly a remarkable achievement.
The war dragged on. In Britain, the German bombardment of cities and towns continued; in the Atlantic, German U-boats wreaked havoc on England's vital supply lines. In Washington, DC, Franklin D. Roosevelt shepherded his Lend-Lease bill through Congress, making it possible for the United States to supply Britain with war equipment free of charge. In Berlin, Hitler finalized his plans for an attack on the Soviet Union, while tensions in the Far East between Japan and the United States continued to mount.
Bundles for Britain responded to heightened warfare in the North Atlantic by launching "Bundles for Bluejackets" in July 1941. This new division of the organization set its sights on providing woolen clothes and other items to sailors in the British navy and merchant marine, proclaiming that these men were "part of the first line of American defense."
Throughout these difficult days, the bonds between the British and American people grew stronger. American newsreels captured scenes of unthinkable destruction abroad, while journalist Edward R. Murrow broadcast harrowing scenes from the bombardment of London, captivating listeners with his signature tagline, "This . . . is London," and homey sign-off, "Good night and good luck."
BFriends in High Places
B. Friends in High Places
From its inception, Bundles for Britain inspired not just ordinary Americans and Britons but also illustrious and prominent leaders of those societies, a fact that helped broadcast its purpose far and wide.
In March 1940, the organization received backing from none other than the president's formidable and wealthy mother, Sara Roosevelt, who agreed to become one of its sponsors. Shortly thereafter the beautiful Clementine Churchill—a member of the English nobility and wife of Winston Churchill (then civilian head of the British navy but soon to be prime minister)—agreed to be its honorary representative in England.
In August 1940, Bundles for Britain got a boost from America's beloved First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, who at founder Natalie Wales Latham's behest agreed to issue an appeal for donated clothing over the radio. Soon the program received the official endorsement of the British royal family.
In September 1941, as Bundles for Britain anticipated a renewed wave of German bombing over the coming winter and received another urgent plea for woolen garments from the British Army, the organization held an exhibition of children's art in New York to raise money for the effort. Meanwhile, two young female pilots—one British and one American—launched a splashy twelve-city tour in a donated plane to drum up additional support. Eleanor Roosevelt herself opened a Market of the Americas, selling antiques, curios, and art objects on behalf of the organization. And Bundles for Britain London representative Janet Brewster Murrow, wife of Edward R. Murrow and an accomplished radio reporter in her own right, launched a twenty-city U.S. lecture circuit to urge her countrymen to keep the flow of humanitarian assistance going.
In the United Kingdom, it was now commonplace to call any package from America a "Bundle for Britain."
CBundles for America
C. Bundles for America
A few weeks after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in December 1941 and brought America into the war, Bundles for Britain announced it would send $16,000 in donations to the Queen of England—the first part of a nationwide effort to collect a million Christmas greetings for Her Majesty, along with $50,000 to buy holiday gifts for British children.
The American entry into the war brought a profound change in the conflict—and in the ties that bound the American and British people. The two countries were now brothers-in-arms. Winston Churchill traveled to Washington, DC, to spend the holiday season of 1941–42 with the Roosevelts at the White House. While there, he sent his warm greetings and best wishes to the "splendid volunteers" of Bundles for Britain for all that they had done in service to the British people.
With the United States now fully engaged, calls for assistance and humanitarian aid for American soldiers, sailors, and airmen naturally increased. New relief agencies emerged to meet the need, including a fully independent offshoot of Bundles for Britain known as Bundles for America, launched in January 1942.
Although the two organizations were separate, Bundles for America and Bundles for Britain collaborated closely. In fact, the inspiration for Bundles for America came from the founder of Bundles for Britain, Natalie Wales Latham, who became president of the new organization, while the widow of the former American ambassador to the United Kingdom took the helm at Bundles for Britain.
Within weeks of its founding, Bundles for America launched its first major drive to knit more than eighty-one thousand sweaters, helmets, scarves, gloves, and socks for American soldiers and sailors, at the direct request of the War Planning Board. Later that spring it began salvaging items for the war effort, including remnants of fabric and other waste materials. By late summer of 1942, Bundles for America was a leading organizer of scrap-metal drives, sending out 250,000 volunteers in September to orchestrate this effort. Thanks to this work, thousands of tons of scrap metal were collected in the fall of 1942 and tens of thousands of articles of clothing were sent to U.S. servicemen.
Meanwhile, the work of Bundles for Britain continued. In September 1942, the organization launched an ambitious fall drive to raise $3.2 million in humanitarian assistance for the British people who, in spite of America's entry into the war, were still under savage bombardment. In America's first full year at war, the organization shipped three thousand cases of clothing to the UK. In the spring of 1943, Bundles launched its "Save and Sew Campaign" for the repair and reuse of damaged clothing, and began collecting warm woolen garments and gifts to comfort British children during another winter at war.
DA Cause Completed
D. A Cause Completed
The year 1944 saw the Western Allies return to beaches of France to retake that country from the Nazis. Ironically, the Allies' success on D-day and subsequent dash across Europe made it more difficult for Bundles for Britain to maintain shipments of humanitarian relief to the British people. Nearly every ounce of transatlantic shipping had to be dedicated to carrying supplies for the Allied advance.
Moreover, by this point in the war, the United Nations Forces—the name Franklin D. Roosevelt created for the wartime alliance—had established the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Agency (UNRRA), which began to assume responsibility for collecting and distributing humanitarian aid to Europe.
Although Bundles for Britain would continue to send clothing and other items overseas through 1945, its activities dwindled significantly after the desperate days of 1940, '41, and '42. On May 19, 1945, in the wake of victory in Europe, Bundles for Britain announced it would close its doors in June.
Britain's Lord Halifax, ambassador to the United States (who had also been the British delegate to the San Francisco Conference establishing the United Nations), took the opportunity to acknowledge the American people for their work in sending aid across the Atlantic. "The appreciation of the people of Britain for the sympathy and support they have received from America is unbounded," he said.
In its five years, Bundles for Britain sent its allies in the United Kingdom hundreds of thousands of knitted garments and other articles of clothing, as well as millions of dollars worth of medical equipment and other supplies. The men, women, and children who made up this remarkable volunteer organization helped forge a permanent bond of friendship between the British and American people.
7. Bundles from Britain:
Child Evacuations from
“I think it is well also for the man in the street to realize that there is no power on earth that can protect him from being bombed. Whatever people may tell him, the bomber will always get through.”
—British prime minister Stanley Baldwin to the House of Commons, November 10, 1932
On July 29, 1940, the British passenger liner SS Britannic docked in New York Harbor carrying a special cargo—272 children evacuated from a Great Britain gripped by war. These young people made up a small portion of the estimated fifteen to twenty thousand British children spirited to safety overseas during the course of World War II. Among the passengers arriving in New York that day was fourteen-year-old Alistair Horne, who later became a well-known author and historian. His memoir, A Bundle from Britain, recounts his heartfelt experience as a child evacuee.
Horne coined the term as a play on the name of a popular wartime program, Bundles for Britain, in which American volunteers bundled together huge quantities of hand-knitted garments and other materials for shipment to the war-ravaged British Isles. These gifts Americans sent to besieged Britons and the cherished children they in turn entrusted to American shores helped weave the two peoples together in what British prime minister Winston Churchill would later call the "special relationship."
AOrigins of the Evacuation Program
A. Origins of the Evacuation Program
As the threat of war increased in the late 1930s, the British people suffered the terrible and not altogether unrealistic dread of being bombed to extinction in their own homes. Having observed from afar the bombardment of Guernica by German and Italian warplanes during the Spanish Civil War, as well as Japanese aerial assaults on Chinese cities in the lead-up to war in the Pacific, most Britons concluded that, should war break out again in Europe, civilian casualties would be horrendous. Indeed, by 1939 the United Kingdom government in its preparations for war estimated as many as six hundred thousand civilians could die in German attacks from the air, with injuries expected to top 1.2 million.
The actual number of British civilian casualties during the war, though tragic, would be much lower— about a tenth of the 1939 estimates. But at the conflict's outset, air power had only recently emerged as a major implement of war, making it a matter of utmost urgency to devise ways of protecting people on the ground.
The British government responded to the threat by laying elaborate plans to move large numbers of civilians out of urban areas likely to be targeted. These plans called for the evacuation of roughly three million people within seventy-two hours of the outbreak of war. The vast majority of the evacuees would be children, who would leave their parents behind to keep the wheels of industry—and of war—turning. The official name for the evacuation plan was Operation Pied Piper.
BOperation Pied Piper
B. Operation Pied Piper
Operation Pied Piper was launched on September 1, 1939, the very day Germany attacked Poland but two days before Great Britain formally declared war on Germany.
The plan had divided Great Britain by risk levels into evacuation zones, reception zones, and neutral areas. Radio broadcasts now instructed parents in danger zones to take their children to their schools or to special evacuation centers for transport to areas deemed out of harm's way. The operation halted all normal train traffic, assembling hundreds of special trains and buses to carry evacuees. Each child was allowed one small suitcase and a gas mask. Pinned to every coat was a card with the child's name and school.
On the first day, more than two hundred thousand left the city of London alone, after standing in long lines and bidding a grim farewell to anxious parents. Three days later, Operation Pied Piper was complete. Nearly 1.5 million people—mostly children—had been moved to "reception" areas in the countryside.
In this manner, children as young as four, clutching teddy bears and dolls, left home for months or years, the exhortations so characteritic of the Britons' famous grit—"Keep your chin up" and "Write home soon"—ringing in their ears. The operation on the whole ran rather smoothly.
By Christmas 1939, however, hundreds of thousands of the evacuees had returned home, lured by the months of tranquility that followed Britain's October 1939 war declaration, a period known as the "phony war."
CThe Fall of France
and the “Mercy Ship”
C. The Fall of France and the “Mercy Ship" Campaign
The Nazis' rapid and victorious invasion of France and the Low Countries (Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg) in the spring of 1940 soon brought an end to Britons' false sense of security. This eruption of violence prompted another wave of evacuations from British cities to safe areas in the English countryside.
But with Britain now fighting for its own survival—in the summer of 1940 Hitler was ostentatiously preparing an assault on the island nation—many British families preferred to send their children overseas to British dominions such as Canada or to the United States. In May 1940, the British government established the Children's Overseas Reception Board (CORB) to assist this effort, while in the United States, the nongovernmental U.S. Committee for the Care of European Children (USCCEC) was established in June 1940 in the hope that a significant number of British children might take up temporary residence in the United States.
The USCCEC enjoyed the enthusiastic support of Franklin D. and Eleanor Roosevelt; ER even agreed to serve as the organization's "temporary administrative chairman." But complex U.S. immigration laws and a Neutrality Act that barred U.S. ships from entering war zones made it no simple matter to arrange the children's transport. The USCCEC launched a concerted effort to press Congress for an amendment to the Neutrality Act that would allow specially marked "mercy ships" to carry the refugee children to America if belligerents officially granted the ostensibly neutral U.S. ships safe conduct. This would avoid using British ships needed in the war and at risk of destruction by German submarines, while preventing the skirmish on the high seas many Americans feared would be the pretext for taking their country into the conflict. The amendment passed after much debate, and FDR signed it into law on August 28, 1940.
However, due to lingering concerns on both sides of the Atlantic about the safety and practicability of sending American ships to Britain to carry its children back across the ocean, no mercy ship ever sailed. Though British ships would carry out evacuations, the plan to use American vessels to rescue British children was never carried out.
DBundles from Britain
D. Bundles from Britain
In the summer of 1940, Hitler having announced his intention to "eliminate the English Motherland as a base from which the war against Germany can be continued," British families were eager to find overseas refuge for their children. They sent some 110,000 applications for evacuation to their government's Children's Overseas Reception Board (CORB) in the first few months after its establishment in May. Americans were ready to help, with tens of thousands of mostly middle-class families offering to open their homes to British youngsters.
Responding to an outpouring of goodwill from the United States and elsewhere, the British government began overseas evacuations of children in July 1940. In that fateful summer, some three thousand British children sailed overseas under the auspices of CORB, while another fourteen thousand voyaged abroad through private arrangements. Most went to dominions of the Crown—Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. Thanks in part to the efforts of both CORB and the U.S. Committee for the Care of European Children (USCCEC), roughly five thousand of these "Bundles from Britain" went to America.
But in the fall of 1940, though the German Air Force (the Luftwaffe) had begun hammering British targets, large-scale official and unofficial overseas evacuations came to an abrupt end. This was due in large part to the sorrowful fate of the SS City of Benares, a British passenger liner CORB was using to transport ninety British evacuee children and their escorts to Canada. On September 17, 1940, a German U-boat torpedoed and sunk the City of Benares in the midst of a howling gale. Of the 406 passengers and crew, more than 250 were lost, including seventy-seven of the ninety evacuee children.
Britons were anguished and thoroughly outraged by this incident, directing the force of their ire mainly at the British government for allowing the ship to proceed beyond a certain point unescorted. The government canceled CORB evacuations, and most private overseas evacuations also came to a halt.
The National Archives UK
The National Archives UK
EAn Enduring Legacy
E. An Enduring Legacy
For many wartime child evacuees, especially those forced to leave home at a young age or placed in inhospitable foster care, the dislocation left trauma in its wake.
Yet many families and children brought together by the tribulations of war established strong bonds of affection. One evacuee from a British orphanage, for example, stayed in the Bronx, attended a huge urban high school, and would recall that after Pearl Harbor brought the United States into the war, fellow students embraced the evacuee children with special warmth. "[We] were really very, very well treated and it was a marvellous experience," he said.
The evacuees' experience was just one of the ways that the Anglo-American alliance in war set in motion a lively cultural and social exchange between the British and American peoples—an exchange that would enrich both societies for generations.
Indeed, some British children who came to America as refugees during the war would return to the United Kingdom to pursue illustrious careers in the country of their birth, but others, having spent their formative years in the United States, would ultimately find their way back to its shores to live and work.
8. The Special Relationship:
Franklin D. Roosevelt and
As the world came unwound, Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt built the most celebrated political relationship in modern history. Between September 1939, when Britain declared war on Germany, and Franklin D. Roosevelt's untimely death in April 1945, the two men exchanged nearly two thousand letters and cables. They met eleven times.
During these years, both understood that their relationship—their ability to understand each other and work together—was of utmost consequence to their own nations and to the world. To reach the location of their first meeting, a shipboard rendezvous in the waters off Newfoundland in the summer of 1941, Churchill crossed an Atlantic infested with German submarines, and FDR constructed an elaborate ruse to make the press believe he was fishing off Cape Cod. Emissaries and transatlantic cables would no longer suffice. At this moment when Britain desperately required America's help in the struggle against the Nazis, the two leaders knew they had to meet face-to-face.
What developed between FDR and Churchill was a give-and-take of extraordinary candor, leavened by great mutual admiration. Churchill had begun his career as a war hero and writer, FDR as a New York lawyer and politician, and both men had a deep interest in history and a gift for language. Churchill was emotional and at times blunt, while FDR was more apt to exude a charming cordiality even in the face of ideas he was determined to oppose. Yet both men possessed an intense, magnetic personality that inspired and attracted others. In the early 1940s, history contrived to concentrate in these two leaders an uncommon share of responsibility for the future of civilization—and that was something else they had in common.
FDR and Churchill became friends, their exchanges largely unconstrained by the formalities of high office. They talked, dined, and drank together, and they stayed up late following Churchill's habit. The British prime minister lodged for weeks at a time in the Queens' Bedroom on the second floor of the White House. "I was solicitous for his comfort," Eleanor Roosevelt would later write, "but I was always glad when he departed, for I knew that my husband would need a rest, since he had carried his usual hours of work in addition to the unusual ones Mr. Churchill preferred."
After Churchill returned home from his first stay at the White House over Christmas of 1941, FDR wrote him a long missive on war matters, closing it with the warm remark, "It is fun to be in the same decade with you." Not long after FDR's death, Churchill would say that meeting him had been "like uncorking your first bottle of champagne."
The president and prime minister enjoyed each other. But while their relationship was marked by a lack of ceremony, it was hardly casual. In fact, it was FDR's style to draw his associates close, making little distinction between work and personal life. Advisors Louis Howe and later Harry Hopkins lived with the Roosevelt family for years. Secretary Marguerite LeHand was both a colleague and a constant companion. And ER, his wife and mother of his children, was every bit as much his political partner. It might be said that he mixed work with pleasure—or indeed that both were part of the mission to which he devoted himself completely.
So it was with Churchill. The two men cultivated each other's friendship, not insincerely but as the ultimate act of diplomacy. Each leader remained ever alert to his own nation's separate interests. FDR did not hesitate to oppose and disappoint Churchill, especially as the balance of world influence shifted in FDR's favor. But FDR and Churchill also recognized that, to a great extent, the interests of their two peoples were not just overlapping but inextricably joined. So much was at stake.
AAn Early Encounter, 1918
A. An Early Encounter, 1918
Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill first met at a dinner in London in September 1918. World War I was nearly over. FDR was in town following a tour of the Western Front as assistant secretary of the navy under President Woodrow Wilson. Churchill, having himself served as top civilian official of the British navy, was now in charge of the production of war munitions.
FDR found Churchill quite full of himself, marking him down as "a stinker," according to a much later diary entry by Joseph Kennedy, who served as U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom in the late '30s. Churchill, much to FDR's chagrin, would not even recall meeting the young FDR.
Churchill did, however, come to recognize FDR's growing importance on the American political stage. On at least one occasion while visiting New York he tried to set up a meeting with FDR, who was the state's governor at the time. In 1933 Churchill sent the newly elected President Roosevelt a copy of his biography of the Duke of Marlborough, with a personal inscription. But it wasn't until the outbreak of World War II and Churchill's return to his former top navy post that the two men began their famous correspondence.
BThe President and the “Naval Person,” Fall 1939
B. The President and the “Naval Person,” Fall 1939
In the autumn of 1939, Franklin D. Roosevelt was delighted to learn that Winston Churchill had entered the War Cabinet of British prime minister Neville Chamberlain as First Lord of the Admiralty—the same position he'd held in World War I. With this stalwart anti-Nazi at the helm of the Royal Navy, FDR felt more confident that Great Britain could persevere against the Germans. He sent Churchill a personal note of congratulations. Meanwhile, the British navy's governing board sent a message around to the fleet: "Winston is back."
It was not unusual for FDR to reach out to someone directly. The president often bypassed diplomatic channels to glean information from people in key posts abroad. It was, however, somewhat unusual—and a recognition of Churchill's potential importance—for FDR to contact not a head of state or, on the other hand, a mere official, but a cabinet minister in a foreign government.
For his part, Churchill wasted no time in taking up this line of personal communication with FDR. He had long been convinced that Great Britain would need America's help in the war. Knowing FDR's affection for the navy, he signed his response to the president's congratulatory note "Naval Person"—a sign-off he would modify to the tongue-in-cheek "Former Naval Person" after becoming prime minister.
CThe Fall of France, Spring 1940
C. The Fall of France, Spring 1940
On May 10, 1940, Winston Churchill took up his place on the hot seat of world events. On that day he became prime minister of the United Kingdom, and Adolf Hitler launched attacks on Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg, and France. Within weeks British forces fighting to defend their neighbors in France would be forced to evacuate from Dunkirk; shortly thereafter, France fell. Fearing for the future of democracy, the New York Times characterized these events as "the most critical hour in the world's history that Americans have ever known."
Churchill's elevation to his country's highest office would profoundly impact the course of the fight against Hitler, as well as Anglo-American relations.
In Washington, DC, Franklin D. Roosevelt's military advisors responded to the Nazi advance by issuing an urgent call to build up American military forces. In London, meanwhile, some members of the British cabinet advocated a negotiated settlement with Hitler. Churchill, of course, would have none of this, and in a series of historic orations "armed" the British—and the Americans—with the power of his words.
"You ask, what is our policy?" Churchill said before the House of Commons three days after becoming prime minister. "I can say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival."
FDR had a new and formidable partner across the ocean.
“You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime.”
Winston Churchill in the House of Commons, May 13, 1940
DThe Battle of Britain and
the “Destroyers for Bases” Deal,Summer and Fall 1940
D. The Battle of Britain and the “Destroyers for Bases” Deal, Summer and Fall 1940
Winston Churchill's stunning oratory and gritty determination moved Franklin D. Roosevelt. His confidence in Britain's ability to survive increased by the day.
But as Churchill had predicted, after conquering France in June the Nazis quickly moved on to Britain, the Luftwaffe striking British military and industrial targets, and finally central cities, from the air. While the Battle of Britain raged, Churchill—the "Former Naval Person"— renewed with increased urgency a request to FDR he had made as soon as becoming prime minister: Britain needed fifty old U.S. destroyers to help Britain stave off a possible German invasion.
The Nazi war machine seemed unstoppable. Most Americans were convinced England would fall as France had, and advisors urged FDR not to ship more arms to London. But FDR thought otherwise. In response to Churchill's request, the president came up with the idea to exchange the destroyers for British naval bases in Newfoundland and the Caribbean. Under these terms, FDR got around the American requirement that warring nations pay cash for war equipment, and he could argue the swap was part of an effort to bolster security in the Western Hemisphere. He thus avoided a showdown with Congress on the question. Indeed, FDR decided to proceed with the deal on his own authority via an executive agreement issued on September 2, 1940—even though, as he said to one aide, "I might get impeached."
EThe Great Arsenal of Democracy,
E. The Great Arsenal of Democracy, Early 1941
By September 1940, the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration had adopted a wartime policy built around Britain's continuing defense of Europe. But under U.S. neutrality laws, all of the provisions the British obtained from the United States—with the exception of the recently dispatched destroyers—were acquired on a cash-and-carry basis. By the end of 1940, London no longer had the gold or dollar reserves to purchase the material it needed to carry on the war.
FDR had not realized the extent of Britain's financial straits until he received a long and frank letter from Winston Churchill informing the president that soon the British government would be unable to continue its cash purchases. It would be "wrong in principle and mutually disadvantageous in effect," Churchill argued, if Britain, after winning the war by its own sacrifice and toil, should find itself "stripped to the bone."
FDR pondered this letter carefully and finally conceived a disarmingly simple response: America would become the "great arsenal of democracy." It would supply the British with what they needed to fight, and, in effect, worry about getting the goods back in kind at a later date.
Churchill had been persuasive; now it was FDR's turn to persuade the American people. He promoted this "Lend-Lease" program to the press and public with an analogy. Imagine, he said, that a neighbor's house were on fire and upwind. Would you expect him to buy your garden hose? No, you'd lend it to him and either get the same one back or another of similar quality.
In January 1941, a few days before introducing the Lend-Lease bill to Congress, FDR gave his celebrated "Four Freedoms" State of the Union address, insisting the war's ultimate goal was to establish a world that would be "the very antithesis of the so-called new order of tyranny" the dictators were imposing in Europe. This "moral order" would be founded in four fundamental human freedoms: freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear—"everywhere in the world."
In March Congress passed the Lend-Lease bill granting the president authority to transfer war aid to any country he deemed vital to the defense of the United States.
FThe Atlantic Charter
and American Entry into the War,
F. The Atlantic Charter and American Entry into the War, June–December 1941
The year 1941 brought increasing U.S. involvement in the British war effort in various ways: the passage of the Lend-Lease bill in March; the extension of naval patrols to the mid-Atlantic in June; and the occupation of strategically important Iceland by American troops in July. In August Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill met aboard the HMS Prince of Wales as it lay at anchor off the coast of Newfoundland in their first summit. At this dramatic rendezvous, FDR and Churchill drafted the Atlantic Charter, a set of principles to guide the conduct of the two powers in the war and lay the basis for the peace that would follow. The two men also got to know each other.
In the meantime, the German attack on Russia on June 22, 1941, meant that Great Britain—and her Commonwealth—no longer faced the Nazi menace alone. On the other hand, Japan, Russia's longtime foe, had taken advantage of Russian preoccupation with Germany to move into Indochina. FDR tried to stanch Japanese aggression with embargoes. But on December 7, 1941—a "date which will live in infamy," as FDR would famously say—Japan launched a massive attack on Pearl Harbor.
Churchill and FDR spoke on the phone that day, the president confirming the news and remarking, "Well, we are all in the same boat now." This was an enormous relief to Churchill, who knew the Americans with their vast industrial and military potential could turn the tide against the Axis. The prime minister went to bed that evening to enjoy, as he would later write, "the sleep of the saved and thankful."
“Well, we are all in the same boat now.”
Franklin D. Roosevelt to Winston Churchill, by telephone on the day of Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941
GChristmas in the White House, December 1941
G. Christmas in the White House, December 1941
With America's entry into the war in December 1941, the United States became Britain's official wartime ally, bound to it by the urgent demands of global conflict. The relationship between Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, forged largely in private, now moved onto the world stage; over the next eighteen months this important relationship would reach its zenith.
It began with Churchill's holiday visit to the White House, kept secret until his arrival on December 22; the White House butler was informed an hour before the British party was expected on the scene.
During the three-week visit the two leaders, often with FDR advisor Harry Hopkins as a third, spent hours each day talking about the war and other matters of state. Dinner, Churchill would later write, was a more social occasion. "The President punctiliously made the preliminary cocktails himself," he wrote, "and I wheeled him in his chair from the drawing-room to the lift as a mark of respect, and thinking also of Sir Walter Raleigh spreading his cloak before Queen Elizabeth."
Churchill charmed a large gathering of journalists in a joint press conference with FDR on December 23. On Christmas Eve, he joined the president on the White House balcony for the lighting of the National Christmas Tree. A crowd covered the White House lawn and many more gathered around their radios to listen at home. Addressing the American people as "fellow workers for freedom," FDR spoke of the war ahead and good people around the globe joined in a ferocious struggle to "preserve all we hold dear." "One of their great leaders stands beside me," the president continued. "He and his people in many parts of the world are having their Christmas trees with their little children around them, just as we do here. He and his people have pointed the way in courage and in sacrifice for the sake of little children everywhere."
Then Churchill addressed the American people. "I spend this anniversary and festival far from my country, far from my family, yet I cannot truthfully say that I feel far from home," he said. "Whether it be the ties of blood on my mother's side, or the friendships I have developed over here over many years of active life, or the commanding sentiment of comradeship in the common cause of great peoples who speak the same language, who kneel at the same altars, and to a very large extent, pursue the same ideals, I cannot feel myself a stranger here."
The day after Christmas, Churchill became the first British prime minister to address the U.S. Congress, where he received a warm welcome. "Many disappointments and unpleasant surprises await us," he warned the lawmakers, though he expressed confidence that the Allies would prevail.
In the years after World War I, a number of issues had created a sense of distance between Britain and America: war debt, the gold standard, tariffs, British imperialism, and American isolationism, for example. Churchill and FDR thought it imperative to close that gap and strengthen their war coalition. Both masters of spectacle, oratory, and public relations, the two leaders, having developed a warm personal relationship, now sought to promote to the American and British public the importance of what Churchill would call the "special relationship" between the two countries.
“I spend this anniversary and festival far from my country, far from my family, yet I cannot truthfully say that I feel far from home. Whether it be the ties of blood on my mother’s side, or the friendships I have developed over here over many years of active life, or the commanding sentiment of comradeship in the common cause of great peoples who speak the same language, who kneel at the same altars, and to a very large extent, pursue the same ideals, I cannot feel myself a stranger here.”
Winston Churchill at the White House, Christmas 1941
HCrafting the Grand Alliance
H. Crafting the Grand Alliance
British and American interests in the war—and Winston Churchill's and Franklin D. Roosevelt's judgments about strategy—had much in common. But they were not identical. This was apparent to both men from the beginning.
Indeed, Churchill traveled to Washington in December 1941 not just to take part in the ceremonial lighting of a Christmas tree but also to secure FDR's commitment to pursue the "Germany First" strategy agreed upon a year earlier in secret staff talks. It was Japan, after all, that had attacked the United States, but the Nazis were a far more direct threat to England.
Churchill found FDR and his military chiefs in agreement on the need to strike a stunning blow against Germany before committing major resources against Imperial Japan. But on the question of how best to deal that blow, there were sharp differences of opinion. Roosevelt's chief of staff, General George C. Marshall, argued for landing a large army in France as soon as possible. But since such an ambitious operation appeared unfeasible in the near term, Churchill and Roosevelt favored an invasion of North Africa in 1942. Churchill saw this as a way to clear the Mediterranean and "close the ring" around Germany; Roosevelt saw the North Africa campaign as a means to engage the American public in the European theater—and to satisfy his promise to the Russians to relieve them by engaging the Germans on a second front.
As the war progressed, in fact, FDR's attention increasingly focused on the Russians, whose enormous sacrifice of men and material resources on the brutal Eastern Front was proving indispensible in beating the Nazis—and seemed clearly to presage the Soviet Union's rise as a postwar superpower. Always a believer in the power of his own personal diplomacy, FDR assiduously worked to establish a direct relationship with Joseph Stalin, as he had with Churchill. These overtures to the Soviet Union had the effect of loosening FDR's bilateral alliance with Churchill.
When the "Big Three"—FDR, Churchill, and Stalin—met in Tehran, Iran, near the end of 1943, for example, FDR made it a point to show his independence from Churchill. Having ignored Churchill's repeated requests for a preconference talk, at Tehran FDR refused to back the British prime minister's fervent wish to maintain Anglo-American forces in Italy and the eastern Mediterranean rather than send them into a costly operation to retake France. Instead the president agreed with Stalin that the time had come for the British and the Americans to open this most challenging of fronts, plunging into Nazi-occupied France. Stalin insisted the operation occur no later than May 1944, a deadline the Allies would miss by less than a week.
On June 6, 1944, the Allies began their assault on the northern coast of France, landing troops by air shortly after midnight, with amphibious landings of armored and infantry divisions following around daybreak. It was a huge risk Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt were taking together, the memory of the Britons' desperate evacuation from northern France four years earlier certainly fresh in their minds, and success, in the present endeavor, by no means guaranteed.
Churchill had hoped FDR might travel to London to be there for the attack, but no such visit materialized. FDR did send Churchill a brief note on June 6, noting the day's "stupendous events" and how he wished he "could be with you to see our war machine in operation!"
By this point in the war, the relationship between the two men, though still close, had undergone a sea change. Churchill now rarely referred to himself as the "Former Naval Person." This shift to more formal language may well have reflected the tension creeping into the Anglo-American alliance as the end of the war drew near. The matters at issue—Britain's deployment of troops to fight a communist uprising in Greece, the postwar fate of Poland, the continuation of Lend-Lease—did not touch so closely on the very survival of Britain and America. That made it possible for differences to emerge.
In December 1944, as the United States refused to support Britain's actions in Greece, Churchill wrote to close FDR advisor Harry Hopkins. "It grieves me very much," Churchill wrote, "to see signs of our drifting apart at a time when unity becomes ever more important, as danger recedes and faction arises."
JThe Yalta Conference
J. The Yalta Conference
By the time the Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Joseph Stalin met for the last time in the Black Sea resort of Yalta in February 1945, the Allies were poised to make their final assault on the German homeland. Yet Japan was still very much in the game.
Franklin D. Roosevelt came to the conference intent on easing the cagey Joseph Stalin toward two objectives he considered paramount. One, he wanted the Soviet leader's promise to join the other Allies against the Japanese as soon as Adolf Hitler was subdued. Two, he wanted Stalin's assurance that the Soviet Union would participate in the United Nations, which he hoped would be a vehicle for protecting peace and individual freedoms long after the war. Indeed, this had been a preoccupation of FDR's since the beginning of American involvement in the conflict. So strenuously had FDR urged Soviet representative Maxim Litvinov to agree to support "religious freedom" in the January 1942 United Nations Declaration that Winston Churchill had teased FDR he planned to recommend him as Archbishop of Canterbury.
Churchill, meanwhile, arrived at Yalta with an outlook that was perhaps more pragmatic, and with a focused concern for the fate of European neighbors of strategic importance to Britain. In October Churchill had sat down with Stalin to work out the respective powers' postwar "spheres of influence" in southeastern Europe (an informal agreement that, for example, gave the British more power in Greece, the Soviets greater sway in Romania).
At Yalta both FDR and Churchill also worked to secure Stalin's signature on the Declaration of Liberated Europe and the Declaration of Poland, which established the right of all people to choose their form of government and, in the case of Poland, called for "free and unfettered elections as soon as possible." Stalin signed but later reneged on this promise, imposing Soviet-style communism across much of the area between Russia and West Germany. Stalin saw this as a buffer zone protecting Russia against German aggression.
FDR came home from Yalta pleased at having won the Soviets' assent to join both the war against Japan and the United Nations. But FDR and Churchill's joint errand of mitigating Soviet dominance in large swaths of postwar Europe would not, in the end, prove successful. By the time of Yalta, the Red Army occupied much of Eastern Europe. Possession, as the saying goes, was nine-tenths of the law.
On March 5, 1946—the war over, FDR dead, Churchill returned to private life—the former prime minister would travel to Missouri to give a speech describing what he viewed as an ominous new reality in Europe. "From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent," said Churchill. "Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia, all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere, and all are subject in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and, in many cases, increasing measure of control from Moscow."
KWinston Churchill and the Death of Franklin D. Roosevelt
K. Winston Churchill and the Death of Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin D. Roosevelt did not live to see either the end of the war in the summer of 1945 or the official founding of the United Nations that fall. He died at his Warm Springs, Georgia, cottage on April 12, 1945, while resting from the exhaustion apparent to many at the Yalta Conference and exacerbated by the long journey home. The news of the president's death sent shock waves around the world. The people's grief was keen, especially among the more than fifteen million Americans who had served in America's armed forces during the war.
As for Winston Churchill, he described the news as a "physical blow." In a letter to King George VI, the prime minister observed that with Roosevelt gone, "ties have been torn asunder which years have woven." Churchill delivered a eulogy to FDR in the House of Commons, recalling their friendship and Roosevelt's determination to help Great Britain at its critical hour, inspired by "the beatings of that generous heart which was always stirred to anger and to action by spectacles of aggression and oppression by the strong against the weak."
In closing, Churchill observed that, for the British people, "It remains only to say that in Franklin Roosevelt there died the greatest American friend we have ever known and the greatest champion of freedom who has ever brought help and comfort from the new world to the old."
Despite their disagreement and occasional irritation over some issues, FDR and Churchill had accomplished a great work together, developed a deep respect and affection for each other, and drawn their two peoples into a "special relationship," as Churchill put it, that endures today.
9. The Dictator and
the Democrat: Adolf Hitler
and Franklin D. Roosevelt
AConfronting a Dangerous Man
A. Confronting a Dangerous Man
Among the leaders of Western democracies, Franklin D. Roosevelt was perhaps the first to recognize a terrible threat in Adolf Hitler's rise to absolute power in Germany. "Hitler is a madman," FDR bluntly told the French ambassador to the United States in April 1933, just a month into his presidency, "and his counselors, some of whom I know personally, are even madder than he is." A few weeks earlier, the German government had given Hitler dictatorial powers—a situation FDR characterized as "alarming."
FDR's antipathy for Hitler stemmed in part from personal experience. Having often spent summers in Germany as a schoolboy, the president felt his youthful exposure to German culture gave him a keen understanding of the German mind and its lamentable corruption by exposure to a cult of militarism. As assistant secretary for the navy during World War I, FDR had watched Germany launch its initial foray into unrestricted submarine warfare. With the ascendancy of Hitler and the Nazi Party, FDR's serious concern about Germany's authoritarian streak hardened into aversion.
For much of the 1930s, however, Americans wanted no part of another European war. Congress passed a series of neutrality laws designed to prevent American intervention in brewing conflicts overseas. The public, meanwhile, kept a wary eye on its leaders lest they commit the country to an engagement that would ultimately require a sacrifice of lives. This isolationism strictly limited FDR's ability to counter Hitler's aggression. Besides this, FDR was deeply engrossed in another problem—the worst economic depression in American history. Passing and implementing a series of laws to confront the Great Depression consumed most of FDR's energy (and political capital) in the first five years of his presidency.
But FDR never lost sight of the danger posed by Hitler's Germany. He certainly never subscribed to the popular belief that the Atlantic Ocean could buffer America from troubling events abroad. On the contrary, the president insisted the rogue Nazi state imperiled not only its neighbors in Europe, but also the United States—indeed much of the world.
It was in part out of this concern that FDR developed and promoted a "Good Neighbor Policy" in the Western Hemisphere, shunning military actions in Central and South America in favor of trade and mutually respectful engagement. He hoped this policy would serve the twin purposes of establishing greater security in the New World and setting an example of peaceful international relations for the world as a whole. Concern about Hitler's aggression also played a part in FDR's decision in 1933 to formally recognize the Soviet Union; the Soviets were hardly natural allies to the United States, but they might serve as a powerful bulwark against the stridently anticommunist Nazis.
FDR also made repeated attempts to educate the American public about Hitler's growing ambition and the threat it posed to American security. In January 1936, for example, he warned of the rise of autocratic power in Europe and Asia coupled with a "trend towards aggression . . . which has in it many of the elements that lead to the tragedy of a general war." In October 1937, he returned to the same theme, describing a "spreading epidemic of world lawlessness" and the need for peaceful nations to cooperate in an effort to "quarantine" aggressive states.
As of September 1938, FDR still hoped that European conflicts would not ignite into full-scale war. He was not opposed when British prime minister Neville Chamberlain met with Hitler in Munich and agreed to permit Germany's seizure of Sudetenland, a largely German-speaking portion of Czechoslovakia. But the aftermath of the Munich Agreement—Czechoslovakia broke apart and Germany violated its promises by invading the country in 1939—deeply alarmed FDR.
It was from this moment that FDR began to embrace "all methods short of war" as an approach to the growing crisis in Europe. This meant building up American military capacity, especially airpower, as quickly as possible and, by 1941, funneling huge amounts of military aid to the British. By the time the United States entered World War II in December 1941, FDR was convinced the only way to secure America's future was to destroy Nazi Germany—that "war breeding band of German militarists"—utterly. Once the conflict had begun in earnest, FDR insisted it could not come to a close without the Axis powers' complete and unconditional surrender.
By late summer 1944, as the extent of Germany's genocide became clear and Allied victory appeared close at hand, FDR supported bombing German cities to secure Nazi submission and favored a postwar occupation that would prohibit the Germans from even entertaining the possibility of resuming military ambitions. "Too many people here and in England hold the view that the German people as a whole are not responsible for what has taken place— that only a few Nazis are responsible," FDR said. "That unfortunately is not based on fact. The German people must have it driven home to them that the whole nation has been engaged in a lawless conspiracy against the decencies of modern civilization."
10. A Wartime Alliance:
Franklin D. Roosevelt and
Never one to accord ideology much weight, Franklin D. Roosevelt tended to regard the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), a federation of communist republics dominated by Russia and formed in 1922 after a three-year Russian civil war, the same way he viewed Russia itself—as a continental power largely devoid of colonial ambitions that was driven by the same fears and ambitions as Europe's other leading states. Though concerned about the zealous rhetoric found in Soviet communism, FDR regarded the adherents of Nazism and Japanese militarism as far more dangerous. These ideologues were bent on world conquest by any means, whereas FDR remained convinced that the American people would never wholeheartedly embrace communism, a philosophy advocating class war and collective ownership of property that he considered alien to American culture and experience.
This is not to say that FDR had any illusions about Joseph Stalin or the nature of the Soviet regime. FDR understood that Stalin was an oppressive and even violent ruler, asserting in 1940 that the USSR was run by "a dictatorship as absolute as any other dictatorship in the world." But Stalinist Russia, focused inward and more concerned about protecting itself from external threats than with spreading communist ideology, could also serve as a counterweight to both German and Japanese expansionism.
It is for this reason that FDR made the decision to recognize the Soviet Union in 1933, and, in the aftermath of Russia's entry into World War II, to offer Stalin substantial American military and economic aid. Moreover, once it became clear that the Soviet Union would not only survive the German onslaught, but would emerge from the war—like the United States—as a superpower, FDR remained determined to try to extend U.S.–Soviet wartime cooperation as the basis for the peace that would follow.
Above all else, this would require developing a working relationship with Stalin—a working relationship that would allow FDR to overcome Soviet suspicions of the outside world and draw it into the postwar system of peace and security FDR hoped to establish in the United Nations. The president believed the future of the world depended to a large extent on the cooperation of what he called "the Four Policemen"—the United States, the United Kingdom, China, and the USSR. Given his faith in personal diplomacy—"I think I can personally handle Stalin better than your Foreign Office or my State Department," he wrote British prime minister Winston Churchill in 1942—FDR was most anxious to meet directly with Stalin. He would do so twice during the war, at the Tehran Conference in November–December 1943 and again at the Yalta Conference in February 1945.
AFranklin D. Roosevelt and the Recognition of the USSR, 1933
A. Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Recognition of the USSR, 1933
Franklin D. Roosevelt entered the presidency determined to reverse America's policy of refusing to officially recognize the Soviet Union, established by President Woodrow Wilson in 1917. Wilson had severed diplomatic relations with Russia in the aftermath of the revolution that saw the communists rise to power and establish a government that seized American property, refused to honor debts owed to the United States under the former czarist regime, and concluded a separate peace with Germany in the final months of World War I.
By the time FDR was elected, the United States was the only major Western power that refused to recognize the Soviet Union. For the pragmatic FDR, the normalization of ties seemed a logical move, first, because in the midst of the Great Depression, the U.S. State Department and business community were anxious to open Soviet markets to American goods, and, second, because closer ties between Washington, DC, and Moscow might help deter further Japanese aggression in Asia and might even give pause to Adolf Hitler in Europe.
In an early indication of his hands-on approach to U.S. foreign policy, FDR personally undertook a good share of the negotiations to reestablish diplomatic relations with the Soviets. Indeed, the resulting accord, signed by FDR and Maxim Litvinov, the Soviet foreign minister, at the White House in November 1933, became known as the Roosevelt-Litvinov Agreement. Under its terms, the Soviet Union pledged to participate in future talks aimed at settling its outstanding debts to the United States, to refrain from interfering in U.S. domestic affairs, and to grant religious freedom to American citizens living in the Soviet Union.
But the cooperative spirit that surrounded the negotiation of the agreement was short-lived. There would be no settlement of the debt question and little progress on trade. Joseph Stalin's initiation in the mid-1930s of great murderous purges of dissenters, which shocked the American public, led to a further deterioration in relations. Finally, Stalin's collaboration with Hitler—his signing of the Nazi-Soviet Nonaggression Pact in August 1939, followed by the Soviet absorption of the eastern half of Poland in mid-September, just weeks after Hitler had launched his own assault on the hapless Poles—would lead most Americans to conclude that there was little distinction between the two tyrants.
FDR shared this view. But he also understood it was of utmost importance to avoid doing anything that might drive the Soviet Union and Germany further into each other's embrace. Hence, while he condemned Moscow's move into Poland, criticized the Soviet attack on Finland in 1939–40, and refused to recognize the Soviet takeover of the Baltic states in the summer of 1940, he was careful not to close the door completely on possible future collaboration.
BFranklin D. Roosevelt and the Decision to Aid Russia, 1941
B. Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Decision to Aid Russia, 1941
On June 22, 1941, Adolf Hitler launched the German invasion of Russia. Code-named Operation Barbarossa, the surprise attack, which involved more than 3.5 million men, 3,600 tanks, and 2,700 aircraft, was the largest military assault in European history. In Washington, DC, many of Franklin D. Roosevelt's advisors predicted that the Soviet Union would not last more than a few months.
But FDR did not agree. Within two days of the German attack, he authorized emergency assistance to the Soviets. He then sent his trusted confidant Harry Hopkins to Moscow to assess the situation and meet with Joseph Stalin. Behind the scenes the president began to marshal congressional support to extend Lend-Lease, a generous program of military aid benefiting Britain, to beleaguered Russia.
By the end of October 1941, FDR had secured the congressional support he needed and, taking note of the "valiant and determined resistance of the army and people of the Soviet Union," announced that Russia was now eligible for Lend-Lease aid. Over the next three and a half years, the United States would provide the Soviets with more than $11 billion in war supplies. Though Lend-Lease aid to Russia constituted only about 7 percent of what the USSR produced during the war, it was vitally important. This was especially true in the first year of the conflict, when German forces drove deep into Russia, coming within fifteen miles of Moscow by December 1941. The support of the Roosevelt administration in these dark and difficult days provided Russian forces with an important psychological lift at one of the bleakest moments of the war.
Moreover, FDR's willingness to support the Soviet Union showed real leadership and took considerable political courage. There were strong arguments against it. If Russia's collapse was imminent, then the armaments might end up in the hands of the Nazis. Meanwhile, Britain was still in dire need of help in the summer and fall of 1941, and there were worrying signs in the Far East that American resources might be required there as well. The president also had to consider the need to strengthen America's defenses at home, not to mention American anticommunist sentiment and the inevitable isolationist charge that FDR's support for Russia was but one more example of his determination to take America to war.
But overriding all these considerations was the simple fact that the longer the Soviet Union could engage the Nazis in the East, the more likely Britain and America might be able to turn the tide in the Allies' favor. Indeed, within a few days of the launch of Operation Barbarossa, FDR predicted to one aide that if the German attack on Russia proved more than a temporary diversion, it would mean "the liberation of Europe from Nazi domination."
CBinding Joseph Stalin
to the Alliance, 1941–44
C. Binding Joseph Stalin to the Alliance, 1941–44
As the United States plunged into World War II and began losing brothers, fathers, and sons on faraway battlefields, Franklin D. Roosevelt's dealings with Joseph Stalin were driven by a straightforward imperative: make this autocratic ruler of millions more a friend than an enemy.
FDR's decision to offer generous military aid to Russia, especially after America's entry into the war in December 1941, was an exercise in diplomacy as well as military strategy. America's openhanded provisioning of the Russian military, he thought, would help establish trust between the American and Soviet governments, would bring the American and Soviet peoples closer together, and would serve to demonstrate to the Soviets the benefits of the democratic free-market system.
The fear that Stalin might be pressed to seek a separate peace with Adolf Hitler—a very real threat—also played a hand in FDR's generous aid policy. This concern likewise contributed to FDR's decision to invade North Africa in 1942, keeping his promise to Stalin that he would open a diverting "second front" against Germany to relieve the embattled Russians. FDR further bound the Soviets to the Allied coalition by announcing in January 1943 at the Casablanca Conference that the Allies would accept no peace without "unconditional surrender" by the Axis; the Soviets would not be left to fight on alone.
Recognizing Russia's importance to the war effort— the USSR would ultimately sacrifice more than eight million soldiers on the brutal Eastern Front—and increasingly of the mind that Soviet-American relations would also be key to postwar stability, FDR assiduously cultivated a relationship with Stalin. Thus, in the summer of 1941, FDR sent his close advisor Harry Hopkins to Moscow to meet with Stalin, not in any official capacity but as his personal representative. In October the president suggested the two leaders arrange a face-to-face meeting as soon as possible, an encounter that would take place only in the context of two trilateral conferences—Tehran and Yalta—including British prime minister Winston Churchill.
FDR's desire to meet Stalin on his own terms unnerved Churchill, who feared that the rise of Soviet and American power would diminish Britain's role in the war and in the peace that followed. To a certain extent these fears were justified, for during the first two years of the Anglo-American alliance, the British, with more troops in the field against Germany, had been the senior partner, but by November 1943, when the Big Three—FDR, Churchill, and Stalin—finally met at Tehran, the Anglo-American roles had reversed. The United States was now poised to play the dominant role in the European theater.
Moreover, by the time of the Tehran Conference, it had become eminently clear to FDR that Soviet power would endure, making Soviet cooperation vitally important in any effort to avoid another cataclysmic war and establish a stable peace. Determined to show Stalin that Britain and America were not maneuvering to establish a united front against Moscow, FDR resolved to use the Tehran Conference to establish a bilateral relationship with Stalin independent of his sturdy ties to Churchill.
At Tehran FDR sought out numerous private meetings with Stalin, while tending to avoid private discussions with Churchill. He did not hesitate to disagree with Churchill in Stalin's presence. For example, FDR refused to back Churchill's desire to beef up Anglo-American operations then underway in Italy and the eastern Mediterranean. Instead, he took Stalin's part, agreeing that the British and Americans must now focus on achieving, no later than May 1944, the long-awaited landings in northwest France that might provide some respite to Soviets fighting in the East.
DYalta: Making an Uneasy Peace
D. Yalta: Making an Uneasy Peace
Little more than a year after the Tehran Conference, in the seaside Ukrainian city of Yalta, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin met for the second and last time. This conference of the Big Three—FDR, Winston Churchill, and Stalin—took place in February 1945. Victory in Europe seemed assured, but Japan stubbornly hung on; it looked like a costly invasion of the Japanese mainland might be required. FDR was weak, ill, and, unbeknownst to anyone, very near the end of his life.
At the conference, FDR achieved his two most important aims. He succeeded in bringing the Soviet Union into the United Nations largely on his own terms, a feat he considered the crowning accomplishment of the conference. He also won Stalin's promise to join the other Allies in the war against Japan within three months of Germany's defeat.
But critics, especially Republican critics, would later condemn FDR's actions at Yalta as a betrayal of Eastern Europe that permitted the Iron Curtain to enclose and darken that part of the world for decades to come. In fact, at Yalta all three leaders signed the Declaration of Liberated Europe and the Declaration on Poland, both of which proclaimed the right of all people in lands formerly taken by the Nazis to choose their own form of government and, in the case of the Poles, called for "the holding of free and unfettered elections as soon as possible on the basis of universal suffrage and secret ballot."
The leaders did accede to Stalin's demand to shift the borders of Poland to the west (Poland would take territory from Germany, and the Soviet Union would annex part of Poland). And they failed to insist on a reinstatement of independent governments in the Baltic states, which Stalin had invaded and "Sovietized" in 1940 while his nonaggression pact with Adolf Hitler still held.
But in 1945 the reigning fact was this: the Red Army occupied much of Eastern Europe, having secured that status by a hideously long and lethal march toward Berlin. Short of an Anglo-American military campaign against the Soviets, Stalin's will would prevail in this territory. In practice, the states falling under Stalin's control would enjoy no free elections and would have only one choice of government: Soviet-style communism.
At Yalta and in the final weeks of his life, FDR was concerned both with ending the war and with transforming a temporary wartime coalition into a permanent agency for peace. He had hoped that after the war, Stalin's behavior might be modified through the United Nations and later U.S. policies. He had no illusions about the nature of the Soviet regime, but thought that securing Soviet cooperation during the urgency of war might yield dividends after the fighting stopped.
FDR would not live long enough to see the end of the war or directly influence the postwar world. But his willingness to reach out to Stalin and the Soviet regime undoubtedly helped keep this powerful ally at America's side during the bloodiest war in human history—and made a deep impression on the Russian people, who still regard FDR as one of their nation's true heroes and greatest friends.
11. Commander in Chief:
FDR as Leader of the
Nation’s Armed Forces
No American president, with the possible exception of Abraham Lincoln, bore a graver responsibility as commander in chief of the armed forces than Franklin D. Roosevelt. And no president was more active in meeting that responsibility.
FDR led the United States through the most destructive war the world had ever seen, a struggle in which the American way of life hung in the balance. He took a direct, decisive hand in American diplomacy and strategy in that conflict, aspects of wartime leadership that were not easily separated.
In part by cultivating firsthand relationships with his counterparts, Britain's Winston Churchill and the Soviet Union's Joseph Stalin, FDR drew together and carefully managed the Allied coalition that ultimately defeated the forces of fascism in Europe and militarism in Asia. FDR transformed the way the United States would execute its foreign policy and in the process gave America a much more prominent role in world affairs.
FDR was largely reponsible for preparing a reluctant America to wage all-out war. Before the United States entered the conflict, he pushed for a massive buildup in American armed forces and weapons production, and he led the fight—over the objections of his chiefs of staff— to increase American military aid to Britain in the critical summer of 1940, when it stood alone against the Nazis. Then FDR conceived and developed the generous Lend-Lease program that would make America "the great arsenal of democracy," providing tens of billions of dollars worth of crucial war supplies to its allies.
Once the United States had entered the war, FDR was an active strategist. He selected his top commanders personally and with care, and created the institutional structures that would allow the president himself to direct wartime strategy. It was FDR who insisted that the joint Anglo-American military command body, the Combined Chiefs of Staff, be based in Washington, DC—making the American capital, and not London, the principal nerve center of the war. Determined to open a second front in the war to relieve the Russians fighting in the East, FDR was the key figure in the decision to launch an Allied invasion of North Africa in 1942.
FDR, in short, was deeply engaged in all aspects of the war. It is to a great extent thanks to his decisive and inspiring leadership that the United States, in just a few short years, went from being a largely unarmed and unprepared isolationist state—with an army that in 1939 was smaller than Portugal's and ranked seventeenth in the world—to the most powerful nation on the planet.
AThe Creation of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Birth of National Security Policy
A. The Creation of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Birth of National Security Policy
It was Franklin D. Roosevelt's strong desire to personally direct U.S. foreign and military policy as president. This required a fundamental shift in the U.S. approach to foreign policy and in what it meant to be America's commander in chief. It also meant creating a massive new national security structure to support the new approach.
FDR began building this national security apparatus in the summer of 1939, when he appointed General George C. Marshall as army chief of staff and Admiral Harold R. Stark as chief of naval operations. He then transferred the command structure in which the two men served—the Joint Army and Navy Board responsible for war planning—to the newly created Executive Offices of the President. This shift forged a direct link between the president and his military chiefs, establishing America's first true national security body. It made the members of the Joint Army and Navy Board the president's foremost and immediate strategic advisors, allowing FDR to bypass his civilian secretaries of war and navy, as well as his secretary of state, in executing military policy. FDR also ordered the several military-procurement agencies to report directly to him.
In January 1942, shortly after America joined the war, FDR reshaped the Joint Army and Navy Board into the Joint Chiefs of Staff—a unified high command to work with British military chiefs in prosecuting the war. The new body included the commander of the U.S. Army Air Forces, General Henry "Hap" Arnold; the commander of the U.S. Fleet, Admiral Ernest J. King; Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall; and, to advise the president and liaise with the three service chiefs, Admiral William D. Leahy in the newly created position of chief of staff to the president.
In 1942 FDR also created America's first true international intelligence gathering agency, the Office of Strategic Services, precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). He was also the first president to create a "Map Room" or "situation room" in the White House to keep track of the progress of the war.
Taken together, these moves represent a significant consolidation of power inside the White House. They made FDR the sole coordinating link among America's various foreign-policy agencies, allowing him to merge foreign and military policies under the general rubric of national security policy—and to become much more closely involved than his predecessors in crafting and executing that policy. FDR's leadership in the war led to a permanent restructuring of America's foreign, intelligence, and military policy-making establishment, formalized in the immediate postwar years through the creation of such institutions as the National Security Council, the office of the National Security Advisor, the CIA, and the Department of Defense.
BThe Germany First Strategy
B. The Germany First Strategy
The Japanese assault on Pearl Harbor, the Philippines, and other American, British, and Dutch territories in Southeast Asia in December 1941 brought full-scale war to the Pacific region. It also directed the American people's anger toward Japan. Yet there was no question that Germany posed a far greater threat to American security.
Even before America entered the war, Franklin D. Roosevelt had agreed with British prime minister Winston Churchill to a policy of defeating Germany before committing substantial military resources to fight the Japanese. This "Germany First" strategy focusing Allied might against the Nazis had become even more critical as America's other major ally, the Soviet Union, struggled in the latter half of 1941 to beat back a German assault of unprecedented scale and ferocity.
In the months after Pearl Harbor, with American forces fully engaged in the struggle to defend the Philippines and prevent the Japanese from taking more territory, some American commanders began to question the Germany First policy. But FDR steadfastly refused any attempt to alter or weaken the strategy, and, recognizing the need to get the American people and military involved in the struggle against Germany as soon as possible, ordered the invasion of North Africa in 1942.
This operation, code-named Torch, was put in place over the objection of FDR's own chiefs of staff. It began as planned in November 1942 under the direction of Lieutenant General Dwight D. Eisenhower, and it would sweep all Axis forces from North Africa by May 1943.
CFranklin D. Roosevelt and George C. Marshall
C. Franklin D. Roosevelt and George C. Marshall
For many historians, Franklin D. Roosevelt remains the preeminent political leader of the twentieth century. The man who holds an equivalent stature in the military sphere is General George C. Marshall.
Unlike such field commanders as Dwight D. Eisenhower, Omar Bradley, or George S. Patton, who would become household names in America during the war, General Marshall was not so well known among the public. But Army Chief of Staff Marshall played a crucial role in the war—as creator of the fighting force that would lead the country to victory; as the key figure in the Anglo-American war council, the Combined Chiefs of Staff; and ultimately as FDR's principal military advisor.
FDR appointed Marshall chief of staff in the spring of 1939 and he was sworn in on September 1, 1939—the very day Germany began the Second World War by attacking Poland. In the war's early years, Marshall's foremost tasks were to increase the size of the army, equip it for modern warfare, and restructure its command. Between 1939 and 1941, while the United States was still neutral, Marshall oversaw the army's expansion from 175,000 to 1.4 million men, and by the time the war ended in 1945 to well over eight million.
A strong advocate of the Germany First strategy, Marshall pressed for an early invasion of Nazi-occupied France from across the English Channel. He was vehemently opposed to the idea of an attack on North Africa in 1942, arguing, correctly as it turned out, that this would delay the full-scale invasion of the Continent. Marshall acquiesced in the decision to invade Sicily and Italy in the summer of 1943 but was adamant about the need to attack northwest France in the spring of 1944. Although it was generally expected that he would take command of the Normandy invasion, he refused to request the position, and FDR, feeling he needed Marshall in Washington, decided to grant the post to Eisenhower.
In some respects Marshall and FDR made an odd pair. An austere man who refused to laugh at FDR's jokes and would not let the president address him by his first name, Marshall never developed the kind of rapport with Roosevelt that other members of his inner circle did. But over time there emerged between the two men something far more profound than the breezy friendliness FDR enjoyed with many of his other advisors: trust and respect.
Roosevelt knew firsthand that Marshall would speak to him with an honesty and candor that were not always forthcoming from those tasked with advising the president of the United States. Indeed, in Marshall's first White House meeting with FDR, the then deputy chief of staff had shocked his superiors by openly disagreeing with their commander in chief. Although Marshall's forthrightness often led to disagreements between the two men, FDR came to rely on it.
In 1939, when the time came to pick a new army chief, FDR reached well down the chain of command in selecting Marshall. This turned out to be one of the most inspired appointments Roosevelt made in his long tenure as president, for Marshall proved to be a model soldier-statesman, widely respected for his personal integrity and selfless public service.
DFranklin D. Roosevelt and Ernest J. King
D. Franklin D. Roosevelt and Ernest J. King
A man of vast experience, including stints as a submariner and naval aviator, Admiral Ernest J. King had mastered every aspect of modern naval warfare by the late 1930s. King is widely viewed as the U.S. Navy's principal architect of victory in the Second World War.
When Europe descended into war in 1939, King, at the age of sixty, had hoped his wide-ranging expertise would win him appointment as chief of naval operations (CNO). But his brusque manner worked against him at a time when Franklin D. Roosevelt needed to convince Congress to support an ambitious expansion of the navy. The president turned instead to the far more diplomatic Harold R. Stark. In the meantime, King was appointed to the navy's General Board, an advisory panel that frequently served as a last post before mandatory retirement at age sixty-four. There is no question that King was very disappointed by this turn of events, which he saw as signaling the end of his naval career.
The intensification of the war in Europe and the Atlantic, however, would see King returned to more active service. In December 1940, Stark appointed King commander of the Atlantic Squadron—a demotion from King's rank of rear admiral, but one he readily accepted. In February 1941, the Atlantic Squadron became the Atlantic Fleet and King was promoted to admiral.
Over the next eight months, he directed an undeclared sea war with Germany in the North Atlantic—a task he executed brilliantly, overseeing the creation of a convoy system to keep Allied ships safe in the eastern Atlantic, the deployment of U.S. Marines to strategically important Iceland, and the establishment of a number of new American naval bases. King's service in this difficult period impressed FDR, who, following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, appointed King commander in chief of the U.S. Fleet—a position that gave him "supreme command of the operating forces" of the U.S. Navy. In March 1942, FDR expanded King's responsibilities by sending Stark to London and naming King—at long last—to the navy's top post, CNO. As CNO, commander in chief of the U.S. Fleet, and a member of the newly created Joint Chiefs of Staff, King held unprecedented authority over all aspects of naval operations and planning for the remainder of the war.
He accepted the Germany First strategy but insisted that as many resources as possible be sent to the Pacific for the struggle against Japan. King recognized that merely standing on the defensive in the Pacific was not an acceptable option for the United States, as it would allow Japan to consolidate its holdings in the Pacific and might even result in the loss of Australia and New Zealand. King insisted therefore that the United States go on the offensive as soon as possible. In March 1942, he presented FDR with a Pacific strategy that included protecting approaches to Hawaii, ensuring that main lines of communication with Australasia remained open, and launching "step by step advances" northwest from the New Hebrides to the Solomon Islands and the Bismarck Archipelago. FDR, always regarding himself a navy man—an indentity stemming largely from his seven years as assistant secretary of the navy in the 1910s—concurred with King's recommendations. As a result, American forces in the Pacific would soon strike out against the Japanese through the Doolittle air raids on Tokyo, the Battle of Midway, and the bloody seizure of Guadalcanal.
Though tensions between the navy and army were inevitable, King and Army Chief of Staff General Geore C. Marshall established a good working relationship during the war. King supported Marshall's push for a cross-channel operation in 1943. But when it became clear in the spring of that year that the Allies would press on to Sicily and Italy instead, King used American acceptance of the British-led strategy as leverage in pressing for increased American naval operations in the Pacific. King's object: to maintain the initiative and make ready for a full-scale offensive against Japan once Germany was defeated. FDR, who once referred to King as "the shrewdest of strategists," agreed. After some debate, so too did the Combined Chiefs of Staff.
By the fall of 1943, then, American strategy in the Pacific had taken firm shape. It was based on a two-pronged assault against Japan. In the central Pacific, Admiral Chester W. Nimitz's forces would advance from Midway through the Gilberts and on to the Mariana Islands. In the southwest Pacific, General Douglas MacArthur's forces would continue their advance up the Solomon Islands and along the east coast of New Guinea toward the Philippines. Beginning with the devastating American attack against the Japanese fleet at the Battle of Midway in June 1942, and over the following two years, King would help engineer the defeat of Japanese sea power.
King also continued to play a decisive role in the Battle of the Atlantic, the war's longest struggle. In the spring of 1943, he brought together all elements of antisubmarine warfare in a unit that became known as the Tenth Fleet. Although the Tenth Fleet had no ships of its own, it was instrumental in the ultimate defeat of the German submarine menace in May 1943.
King's relationship with FDR—which was based on blunt speech and fitness for duty—strengthened over time. By the spring of 1942, King enjoyed the full confidence of the president, to the extent that Roosevelt abandoned his previous insistence on approving all senior naval appointments, leaving the task to King.
Most importantly, Roosevelt trusted King's strategic vision, which was based on the critical—and correct—assumption that American industry would be able to produce enough munitions to equip offensives in both the Pacific and European theaters simultaneously. King was the first leader among the Combined Chiefs of Staff to see this. His insistence on maintaining the initiative in the Pacific while simultaneously pursuing the struggle against Germany helped shape the course of the war—and bring it to a quicker end.
EFranklin D. Roosevelt
and Dwight D. Eisenhower
E. Franklin D. Roosevelt and Dwight D. Eisenhower
As the supreme Allied commander in Europe and the supreme commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, which would invade Normandy on June 6, 1944, Dwight D. Eisenhower emerged as one of the most important military and political figures of the Second World War.
A graduate of West Point, Eisenhower commanded the U.S. tank corps training center during World War I, and, in the interwar years, held staff positions under the most accomplished and influential officers of the U.S. Army. He soon caught the eye of FDR's army chief of staff, General George C. Marshall, who summoned Eisenhower to Washington, DC, in December 1941, only days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Marshall appointed Eisenhower deputy chief of the army's War Plans Division, later named the Operations Division. Eisenhower would head the division at the rank of major general.
In the spring of 1942, Eisenhower drafted plans for a possible landing in France in 1942 and for a major cross-channel attack in 1943. In this capacity, he soon gained the confidence of both Marshall and FDR, and in June of that year was selected over 366 other senior officers to go to London as commanding general of the European Theater of Operations for the U.S. Army. Once there, Eisenhower quickly won the trust and respect of the British, and, following FDR's decision to launch an invasion of North Africa in the fall of 1942, he was appointed supreme commander of the Allied forces that would carry out the invasion, code-named Operation Torch.
It was over the course of planning for Operation Torch that Eisenhower came into more frequent contact with FDR, particularly in conducting difficult preinvasion negotiations with (Nazi collaborationist) Vichy French authorities in the French territories of North Africa, as well as postinvasion negotiations between rival leaders of the Free French, Charles de Gaulle and Henri Giraud. The tact with which Eisenhower handled this delicate diplomacy among the various French factions, coupled with his clear ability to manage relationships among his Anglo-American staff during the North African campaign, marked him as a burgeoning soldier-diplomat.
Eisenhower was promoted to the rank of general in February 1943, and, following the Allied victory in North Africa in May, led Anglo-American forces in the seizure of Sicily in July and the invasion of Italy in September. As expected, the attack on Italy precipitated the overthrow of Fascist leader Benito Mussolini. In the wake of the coup, FDR turned once again to Eisenhower to handle the negotiation of Italy's surrender.
Given Eisenhower's obvious skills as a military leader, diplomat, and team player adept at working out differences among senior British and American officers—not to mention the respect he commanded among Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and the Combined Chiefs of Staff—FDR decided in December 1943 that Eisenhower, not Marshall, would become the supreme commander of the Allied British, Canadian, and American armies that would invade Normandy in June of 1944.
Having drafted the original plans for the invasion two years before, and having led three successful amphibious invasions in the Mediterranean, Eisenhower had a good deal of experience to recommend him for this post. As Churchill once noted, "No one knew better than he, how to stand close to a tremendous event without impairing the authority he had delegated to others."
The attack on Normandy of June 6, 1944, was carried out by the largest invasion force in history. After seven weeks of hard fighting, the Allied forces broke out of their beachhead position and raced across France, liberating Paris in late August. In the meantime, another assault force landed on France's Mediterranean coast and stormed up the Rhone Valley. After repulsing a fierce German counteroffensive in the Ardennes in December and January of 1944–45, Eisenhower's armies crossed the Rhine and advanced into western Germany in March 1945.
Eisenhower's decision to advance into Germany along a broad front, with British forces to the north and American forces to the south, elicited intense frustration from General Bernard L. Montgomery, who commanded the British forces and wanted to lead a narrow, deep thrust into Germany north of the Ardennes. Some postwar critics have charged that the slower broad-front strategy forfeited the Allies' opportunity to reach Berlin ahead of the Soviets, whose occupation of the city would have serious political consquences after the war. But Eisenhower had been convinced that a single thrust would risk straining supply lines, exposing a vulnerable flank, and incurring high casualties; it might also have minimized the American role in capturing the Continent, which would have sat poorly with the American land force commanders and public alike.
Promoted to five-star general in December 1944, Eisenhower succeeded his mentor, General Marshall, as chief of staff after the war. He retired in 1948 but was called back into service as the commander of NATO Forces between 1950 and 1952, and he would go on to become the thirty-fourth president of the United States in 1953.
FFranklin D. Roosevelt
and Henry “Hap” Arnold
F. Franklin D. Roosevelt and Henry “Hap” Arnold
Taught by the Wright brothers to fly, Henry "Hap" Arnold has been called the father of the modern U.S. Air Force. A 1907 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, Arnold joined the Air Section of the U.S. Army in 1911; at the time, no independent air force existed.
During World War I, Arnold served in Washington, DC, as head of flight training. The haphazard aviation programs he saw in the war inspired his tireless advocacy for building American airpower during the interwar years. In 1936 Arnold became assistant chief of the Army Air Corps, in charge of procurement and supply; in September 1938, FDR appointed him chief of the Army Air Corps, at the rank of major general.
Arnold's rise to the top post in the Army Air Corps coincided with FDR's growing conviction that the next major war would be an air war. Moreover, by the fall of 1938, FDR had become alarmed by numerous reports from the American ambassador in Berlin that German air power posed a growing threat. Appalled when, in September 1938, British prime minister Neville Chamberlain agreed at Munich to let Adolf Hitler take parts of Czechoslovakia, and likewise disgusted by the Nazi riot against German Jews, Kristallnacht, that followed in November, FDR insisted that what America and its Allies needed to bring Hitler to heel was thousands of new warplanes. Additional ground forces and "a new barracks at some post in Wyoming," he noted dryly, "would not scare Hitler one goddamned bit."
Arnold was thrilled by the president's stance, which, he would insist, had given the Army Air Corps a new foundation. Backed by the president, Arnold joined the effort to convince Congress to appropriate the funds needed to expand the Air Corps. But as war broke out, and the need to expand American readiness intensified, so too did the tensions between FDR and Arnold over the issue of allocating planes to American forces versus selling American aircraft to the British and French to bolster their ability to resist Hitler.
In October 1940, Arnold took on additional responsibility as deputy chief of staff to Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall, and in June 1941, as the threat of war increased and the Air Corps took on a more independent character, the corps was reconstituted as the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) with its own air staff—and with Arnold as its head. Although the USAAF was considered one of the army's three coequal commands, it had in fact now achieved equal status with the army and the navy. In recognition of this fact, FDR appointed Arnold to the newly created Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Anglo-American Combined Chiefs of Staff in January 1942.
Arnold's interest in the USAAF and airpower influenced his views on war strategy. For example, he was a strong supporter of the navy chief Ernest J. King's central Pacific drive to the Marianas because their capture would provide the USAAF with the air bases it needed to carry out raids against Japan. He would initiate the risky and controversial low-flying firebomb raids that prostrated Japan in the final months of the war.
Arnold's greatest contribution was in giving FDR the air force he wanted, which in itself was a remarkable achievement. In just seven years, under Arnold's direction, America's air forces expanded from a mere twenty thousand men and a few hundred old aircraft, to a force composed of 243 combat groups, 2.5 million men, and sixty-three thousand planes—the most powerful air force the world had ever seen.
GFranklin D. Roosevelt and Chester W. Nimitz
G. Franklin D. Roosevelt and Chester W. Nimitz
A 1905 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, Chester W. Nimitz spent most of his early career in submarines. He was instrumental in getting the navy to equip the U.S. submarine fleet with engines that burned diesel fuel, as opposed to the far more dangerous gasoline. Nimitz was chief of staff to the commander of the U.S. Atlantic submarine flotilla during World War I, and, following the war, he oversaw construction of the submarine base at Pearl Harbor. He rose steadily through the ranks. Nimitz had a reputation as an easygoing and affable man; he was also a person of strong will and persistence.
By 1938 Nimitz had achieved the rank of rear admiral, and in the following year he was appointed chief of the Bureau of Navigation, the navy department responsible for assigning and promoting top naval officers. Given Franklin D. Roosevelt's strong interest in the navy, this brought Nimitz into close contact with the president, and the two developed a strong bond.
FDR's esteem for Nimitz led the president to offer him command of the Pacific Fleet in early 1941, but Nimitz, not wanting to jump over the heads of so many senior officers, declined. After the disastrous Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, however, FDR, using his power as commander in chief, ordered Nimitz to take the position, which he did on December 31, 1941, soon taking up headquarters in Hawaii.
FDR's decision to once again reach down the ranks and handpick his own choice for senior command proved auspicious. Nimitz quickly lifted the Pacific Fleet's morale from an all-time low by aggressively rebuilding it and planning offensive operations—a critical development in light of the task that lay ahead. Like navy chief Admiral Ernest J. King, Nimitz believed it crucial that the U.S. Navy take the fight to the Japanese without delay. Nimitz also concluded that the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor had not been as devastating as it might have been. U.S. aircraft carriers had been spared; the dry docks and fuel depots remained intact; and the eight battleships that the Japanese had sunk or damaged were not lost at sea but lay in the shallow waters of Pearl Harbor, so five of the eight could be salvaged to fight another day.
In March 1942, Nimitz became operational commander of the Pacific Ocean Area, a vast expanse of the Pacific theater including most of the ocean and its islands. In this job Nimitz planned, executed, and picked the commanders for the Battles of Midway and Guadalcanal in June and August of 1942, the two critical engagements that halted the Japanese advance and turned the tide in the Far East.
In 1943 forces under Nimitz's command drove the Japanese from the Aleutian Islands and collaborated with General Douglas MacArthur's Southwest Pacific Area forces in reconquering the Solomons and Eastern New Guinea. Nimitz also launched the drive across the central Pacific through the Gilbert and Mariana Islands, while simultaneously carrying out a devastating attack on Japanese merchant shipping with the American submarine fleet.
In 1944 Nimitz's forces joined with MacArthur's in retaking the Philippines, which (in the battles of the Philippine Sea and of Leyte Gulf) virtually eliminated the Japanese fleet. In the war's last year, Nimitz rose to the five-star rank of fleet admiral, and from his headquarters in Guam he directed the invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa, as well as the bombing of Japan that precipitated the Japanese surrender.
The war in the Pacific was for the most part a naval war, and the American victory there—achieved in just four years with a fleet that had barely existed in 1941—is to no small extent attributable to the skill of Nimitz.
HFranklin D. Roosevelt and Douglas MacArthur
H. Franklin D. Roosevelt and Douglas MacArthur
The son of an army officer, Douglas MacArthur graduated in 1903 from West Point with the highest marks ever awarded, and he would go on to become one of the longest-serving generals in the history of the U.S. Army.
After distinguished service in World War I as a brigadier general, he served two tours of duty in the Philippines, and he returned to Washington in 1930 to become army chief of staff under President Herbert Hoover.
Given MacArthur's role in clearing the "Bonus Army" from Washington in 1932—forces under his command shocked the nation by violently removing thousands of World War I veterans demanding early payment of their service pensions—it was widely assumed that FDR would replace MacArthur as army chief of staff after his inauguration in 1933. But after firmly establishing his own authority—MacArthur soon realized the new president "would be no nominal Commander-in-Chief"—FDR decided to keep MacArthur in the chief of staff position.
One of MacArthur's first accomplishments under FDR's administration was to efficiently handle the establishment of work camps for the Civilian Conservation Corps, a popular jobs program of the New Deal. Then, in 1935, FDR sent MacArthur to the U.S.–controlled Philippines as military advisor, accompanied by a young major named Dwight D. Eisenhower. In 1937, after being appointed a field marshall in the Philippine Army, MacArthur planned to retire from the U.S. forces, but FDR recalled him to active duty in July 1941 at the rank of lieutenant general.
Setbacks in the Philippines
MacArthur has come under considerable criticism for his failure, later that year, to put the Philippines on defensive posture in the hours after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. Despite warnings that a Japanese assault might be imminent—and word that the Japanese had in fact attacked Pearl Harbor that morning—MacArthur did not take actions to prevent the enemy from winging over the Philippines to lay waste to a key base of American air operations in the Pacific, Clark Field, destroying nearly all its airplanes on the ground.
Following this disaster, MacArthur's months-long struggle to defend the Philippines against a Japanese invasion force (from a fallback position on the Bataan peninsula and the nearby island of Corregidor) captured the imagination of the U.S. public. But in March 1942, while the battle still raged, FDR ordered him to make a perilous escape by sea to Australia, where he made his famous remark about the Philippines, "I shall return." A man of considerable ego, MacArthur frequently sought out publicity, and when communications specialists at the Office of War Information told him they liked his pithy phrase but would prefer it read, "We shall return," MacArthur refused to change it.
FDR and the Joint Chiefs of Staff divided the vast Pacific region into two main theaters of war: the Southwest Pacific Area, under the command of General MacArthur, and the Pacific Ocean Area, under the command of Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, who also commanded the Pacific Fleet.
After the fall of the Philippines, the immediate concern of both MacArthur and Nimitz was to halt the Japanese advance, particularly toward Australia. Nimitz's forces accomplished this at the Battle of the Coral Sea in May 1942, followed by the decisive victory at Midway in June. MacArthur then began his long advance up the North Coast of New Guinea, while forces under Nimitz commenced the battle for Guadalcanal.
Although initially reluctant to embrace the idea, MacArthur later became famous for his so-called leapfrogging or island-hopping technique, in which American forces bypassed heavily fortified Japanese positions in favor of attacks on strategically important but less-well-defended positions or islands. MacArthur used this tactic to great effect in Operation Cartwheel, in which American forces isolated a major Japanese naval and air base at Rabaul on the eastern tip of New Britain (off the coast of New Guinea), leaving the forces there to "die on the vine."
In keeping with his promise to "return," MacArthur's forces joined with those of Admiral Nimitz in launching a major drive to retake the Philippines in October 1944. Landing first at Leyte Gulf, and two months later on the island of Luzon, these forces finally took the Philippine capital of Manila in February 1945, after a month of intense urban combat that left the former Pearl of the Orient in ruins.
MacArthur was promoted to the new five-star rank of general of the army in December 1944 and in April 1945 took command of all U.S. Army forces in the Pacific. On September 2, 1945, MacArthur accepted the Japanese surrender, joined by Admiral Nimitz and representatives from China, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, Australia, Canada, France, the Netherlands, and New Zealand.
A tale of two large personalities
Although FDR and MacArthur maintained a good working relationship, there was tension between the two men, stemming in part from MacArthur's ambivalence about FDR and the New Deal—and FDR's underlying mistrust of MacArthur's hardcore conservatism, latent political ambition, and love of the limelight. MacArthur also strongly disagreed with the Germany First policy and frequently clashed with the Joint Chiefs of Staff over Pacific policy.
With his folksy corncob pipe, sunglasses, and hat, he was enormously popular with the public, but as more than one historian has noted, the "MacArthur myth" would never have flourished without FDR's facilitation. It was Roosevelt who kept MacArthur on as chief of staff; sent him to the Philippines as military advisor in the '30s; brought him back into active service as the ranking general in the Far East in 1941; ordered him out of Bataan to command the Southwest Pacific Area; and finally concurred with his desire to retake the Philippines in the fall of 1944 over the alternatives suggested by the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
There is no question that MacArthur was a vain and complex man. His self-promotion sometimes made colleagues wary of his motives. But he also possessed the ability to lead with imagination and boldness, qualities that FDR was not only quick to recognize, but perhaps willing to exploit for his own political and military purposes. As FDR once remarked to a friend in 1932, it was important to "tame" fellows like MacArthur and "make them useful," if for no other reason than to prevent their charisma and tendency toward dogmatism from propelling them onto the political stage.
In the end, one of MacArthur's greatest contributions to the struggle against the Japanese came not in the war but, ironically, with the peace. As the supreme commander in charge of the postwar occupation, he implemented a variety of social, economic, and political reforms that would help make Japan one of America's strongest allies.
12. Grand Strategy:
Franklin D. Roosevelt and
the Wartime Conferences
Within hours of receiving news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, British prime minister Winston Churchill resolved to travel to Washington, DC, to meet with President Franklin D. Roosevelt. On December 13, Churchill secretly boarded the British battleship HMS Duke of York. With both their countries now officially at war against Germany and Japan, the two leaders came face-to-face at the White House a few days before Christmas 1941.
These events formally inaugurated the "Grand Alliance," a phrase coined by Churchill to describe the coalition of three major powers— the United Kingdom, the United States, and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR)—that together would battle the Axis. Born of urgent necessity, it was an alliance of nations with quite different histories and political philosophies, led by three markedly different men often referred to as the "Big Three"—FDR, Churchill, and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin.
A de facto alliance among the three Allied powers began even before Churchill's trip to the White House in the wake of Pearl Harbor. FDR had launched secret staff talks among British, American, and Canadian military chiefs in January 1941. And in March, he had established the Lend-Lease program to begin rushing war supplies to Great Britain and, before the year was out, to the Soviet Union. Finally, in August 1941 FDR and Churchill had met in a secret shipboard rendezvous on the Atlantic to hammer out preliminary war aims in a document called the Atlantic Charter.
Confident in his powers of communication, FDR engaged directly with his two fellow leaders, always careful to nurture the ties that bound the coalition together against the Axis, but also ready to disagree sharply on matters of strategy and principle alike.
In his work with Churchill and Stalin, FDR shaped how the war would be fought. Perhaps even more important, he took the lead in setting forth the principles the Allies were fighting to defend. Though the Grand Alliance shared a single, paramount near-term objective—to squelch the Axis—the USSR's communist totalitarianism and Britain's imperialism cast doubt on whether the leaders could share the same hopes for a postwar world. Even while waging the immediate life-or-death struggle for victory, FDR looked to the future. In taking the initiative to define the coalition's war aims, he played a prominent part in setting the terms of an eventual peace and the direction of postwar geopolitics.
AFranklin D. Roosevelt
and Harry Hopkins:
A Wartime Partnership
A. Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Hopkins: A Wartime Partnership
Harry Hopkins, a social worker from Iowa, served Franklin D. Roosevelt for years as "the whirling dervish at the center of the New Deal," as historian Michael Fullilove put it. Then Hopkins took up a notably different job as FDR's most trusted wartime counselor, gatekeeper, and emissary.
Hopkins's elevation to this position came on May 10, 1940—the day Nazi Germany launched its furious attack on France and the Low Countries and Winston Churchill became prime minister of Great Britain. Dining with Hopkins at the White House that night, the president invited him to stay the weekend. FDR's valued advisor and indeed close friend would live at the White House for the next three and a half years. With this extraordinary access to the president, Hopkins quickly assumed a central role in the most pressing work at hand—developing and carrying out U.S. war strategy and diplomacy.
An important aspect of this role was acting as a go-between to facilitate FDR's relations with his partners in war. FDR could rely on Hopkins to represent him with skill and discretion, and to relay his impressions back to the president candidly.
It was to Hopkins that FDR turned in early 1941 when he wanted to know more about Winston Churchill, sending Hopkins to London to meet with the man who, even as France was being overrun by Nazis, had stirred the British House of Commons by declaiming, "We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be . . . we shall never surrender." FDR was himself constrained from engaging in high-profile war talks, since the United States had not yet entered the conflict and isolationist sentiment ran high at home. But he thought it vital to cement an understanding with Churchill, in part so the two men could work in tandem to build political support for FDR's Lend-Lease legislation, which proposed to provide Britain with essentially any war supplies it needed to hold the Germans at bay.
FDR, who'd met Churchill only once, briefly, in 1918, sent Hopkins to London as his personal representative "so that he can talk to Churchill like an Iowa farmer," as the president explained. "Harry is the perfect ambassador for my purposes," FDR went on. "He doesn't even know the meaning of the word 'protocol.' When he sees a piece of red tape he just pulls out those old garden shears of his and snips it."
Churchill would give FDR's top advisor the admiring moniker "Lord Root of the Matter." Hopkins assured Churchill of the president's readiness to back the war effort and told the president the British could be counted on to hold the line against the Nazis. Thanks in part to Hopkins's efforts, the Lend-Lease bill passed in March 1941; he would become its chief administrator.
After returning to London in July 1941 to begin moving FDR and Churchill toward a first face-to-face meeting—the Atlantic Conference—Hopkins traveled on to Moscow to meet with Joseph Stalin in the perilous first weeks of Operation Barbarossa, the German surprise assault on the Soviet Union. Stalin, largely an unknown quantity to Americans, was unusually open with Hopkins about the state of Soviet military preparations. Hopkins relayed to the president the information most critical to American security: the Soviet Union needed help but showed no sign of folding to the German assault. With Hopkins's recommendation, the United States would soon extend its Lend-Lease war aid to the Russians.
Having established himself as a skilled communicator, Hopkins went on to become FDR's foremost aide at nearly every major Allied conference. There he served as liaison not only between FDR and the other leaders of the Grand Alliance, but also between the president and his military service chiefs. All these important figures soon came to recognize that speaking to Hopkins was tantamount to speaking with the president.
At the Tehran Conference in November–December 1943, Hopkins's closeness to Churchill helped him persuade the British leader to support a high-risk Allied invasion of France, opening a second front in the war to relieve the exhausted Soviets. After the conference, having remarried following the death of his second wife, Hopkins moved out of the White House. Complications from the stomach cancer diagnosed in 1937, which had tormented Hopkins during his trip to Russia, once again began to take a serious toll on him, and he faded from public view in the first half of 1944.
But by the end of the year, the driven public servant resumed his work advising on war strategy. In January 1945, FDR sent Hopkins back to London to review British and American war plans in anticipation of the final defeat of Germany. From there, Hopkins traveled to the Crimea to join FDR at the Yalta Conference, where he assisted the president by warding off many Russian demands. Exhausted and in terrible pain, Hopkins left Yalta by air rather than sail home with FDR aboard the USS Quincy. This was the last time the two men ever saw each other. Hopkins spent the next several months recuperating at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, where he received the news of FDR's death on April 12, 1945.
BThe Arcadia Conference:
The Planning Begins,
B. The Arcadia Conference: The Planning Begins, December 1941
Just weeks after Japan's stunning assault on Pearl Harbor, British prime minister Winston Churchill and his top war advisors traveled to Washington, DC, to meet with Franklin D. Roosevelt and his military counselors in the first of many wartime conferences between the two powers. The Washington Conference, code-named Arcadia, would last from December 22, 1941, to mid-January 1942.
At Arcadia, the Allies established an organization to administer the new Anglo-American military project: the Combined Chiefs of Staff (CCS). It joined the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff and the British Chiefs of Staff, and, at FDR's insistence, would have its headquarters in Washington. The CCS advised Churchill and Roosevelt on military strategy and implemented their decisions.
On January 1, 1942, at FDR's initiative, the conference also produced a groundbreaking diplomatic announcement. FDR, Churchill, Joseph Stalin, and representatives of China and twenty-two other states issued a statement of war goals built on the Atlantic Charter affirmed by FDR and Churchill in August 1941. In what FDR called the United Nations Declaration, signatories pledged to adhere to the principles of the Atlantic Charter; employ their full resources against the Axis powers until they were defeated; and cooperate with one another, not accepting a separate peace with any Axis power. In all, twenty-six states had for the first time officially agreed that they were in the fight together and would accept no outcome short of victory.
The Allied leaders conferring in Washington affirmed their "Germany First" strategy promising to tackle the Nazis before trying to subdue Imperial Japan. On the question of how to pursue victory over the Nazis, the British proposed continuing their policy of closing the ring around Germany through maximum aid to the Soviets fighting in the East, a possible invasion of North Africa, and an ongoing campaign of bombing, blockade, and subversion.
As newcomers to the war, U.S. military chiefs were not in a position to argue strongly against the British proposals at Arcadia. But in the weeks and months that followed the conference, as the Japanese continued their rapid advance in the Pacific and the Soviet Union seemed to falter after a brilliant defense of Moscow in December, the American chiefs began to see the British plans for 1942 as too leisurely and indirect. Army chief General George C. Marshall put forward an alternative plan drawn up by General Dwight D. Eisenhower. It called for landings in France in 1942, followed by a large-scale invasion in 1943.
The British balked. They had firsthand experience in direct clashes against the formidable German forces and preferred to wear down German military strength by all possible means—including the dispersion of German forces—before crossing the English Channel in an all-out invasion to retake France. Britain refused to undertake a landing on the coast of France in 1942, but accepted in principle the American long-range strategy, which included the build-up of forces in the UK in 1942 in preparation for a cross-channel attack on France in 1943.
Now it was FDR's turn to press. He insisted the Allies open a front somewhere in the European theater in 1942, both to relieve the Russians and to get the American public involved in the war against Germany as soon as possible. In a compromise, FDR suggested the Allies proceed immediately with their proposed invasion of North Africa. On November 8, 1942, a massive Anglo-American amphibious force landed in Morocco and Algeria. Operation Torch was underway.
CThe Casablanca Conference:
Birth of the Mediterranean Strategy,
C. The Casablanca Conference: Birth of the Mediterranean Strategy, January 1943
The Casablanca Conference took place in January 1943, just two months after the Anglo-American invasion of North Africa. The meeting had been scheduled in anticipation of a quick victory in that campaign. But Adolf Hitler's surprise move flooding Tunisia with reinforcements meant the Allies would struggle until May to clear North Africa of German and Italian forces.
Well aware that ongoing combat in Africa might delay an invasion of France, Winston Churchill and the British Chiefs of Staff urged continued operations in the Mediterranean, suggesting the possible invasion of Sardinia or Sicily as the most logical next step in the Allied advance. Although U.S. Army chief General George C. Marshall still preferred getting to France as quickly as possible, he now thought it unlikely this would be possible in 1943, and he agreed to the idea of attacking Sicily once the North African campaign was over.
The decision to move against Sicily marked the beginning of what became known as the "Mediterranean strategy," which Churchill argued was the most direct and immediate way to both weaken the German hold on France and provide relief to the Soviets. This argument became all the more persuasive once it became clear there could be no attack on France in 1943. Hence, the Allies took Sicily in July and invaded Italy in September.
Joseph Stalin had been invited to Casablanca but declined to attend. Concern was mounting that he might seek a separate peace with the Germans, a worry that led Franklin D. Roosevelt to announce, at a postconference press briefing, an Allied promise to accept no peace terms other than "unconditional surrender" by the Axis. FDR had advocated this policy before, but now it seemed imperative to issue a clear promise to Stalin that, in spite of the likely delay in launching a cross-channel attack on France, the British and the Americans would stay in the war until the Nazi threat was utterly eliminated. The Soviets would not be left to contend with the enemy alone.
The Allies also agreed to do all they could to defeat the German submarine threat in the Atlantic and to launch a joint bombing offensive against Germany. Both were logical preludes to a cross-channel assault on France, opening Atlantic sea-lanes for the buildup of invasion forces, and suppressing German industry and airpower to soften its defenses.
Finally, the two sides agreed to beef up support for the American campaign in the Pacific, building on recent American successes repelling a Japanese invasion at Midway and seizing control of Guadalcanal.
DTehran and the Second Front,
D. Tehran and the Second Front, November–December 1943
The attack on Italy decided upon at Casablanca went well initially. Benito Mussolini having been deposed in July, the Italians surrendered to the Allies in September 1943, and the invasion went forward. This course of events seemed to the British to open up glittering possibilities—a rapid advance to Rome and beyond, and perhaps the opening of new fronts in the Axis-occupied Balkans and Aegean.
But, bent on preventing the Allies from gaining this foothold, Germany soon crushed Britain's hopes by mounting its own occupation of Italy. Italy's mountainous terrain, coupled with the Nazis' quick replacement of Italian garrisons in the Balkans and in Greece, would make the Italian campaign a slow, grueling one. The Allies could scarcely afford to attempt further incursions into other parts of the eastern Mediterranean. Nevertheless, throughout the fall of 1943, Winston Churchill and the British Chiefs of Staff continued to argue in favor of expanding Allied operations in the region, even if it meant yet another delay in the invasion of northwest France, now tentatively set for May 1944.
To the Americans, however—to Franklin D. Roosevelt, Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall, and other military leaders—any expansion of the Mediterranean campaign that would delay the cross-channel attack was completely unacceptable. The Americans went so far as to recommend that after the fall of Rome, the Italian campaign should be shut down, with the bulk of the Mediterranean forces regrouped for an attack on southern France, to coincide with the invasion of Normandy in the north, now known as Operation Overlord.
It was with these matters still unsettled that FDR and Churchill arrived in the Iranian capital of Tehran in late 1943 for their first tripartite meeting with Joseph Stalin. It soon became apparent that FDR and the American delegation not only concurred with Stalin that an invasion of France should be the centerpiece of Allied operations in 1944 (and a date certain set for its execution), but also that they were quite willing to enlist Stalin's help in driving this point home to Churchill and his delegation.
The result: an agreement to begin an assault on France in May 1944. The conference overruled Churchill's pleas for operations in the Aegean, replacing this strategy with the American preference for landings on the French Riviera (Operation Anvil). As for the Italian campaign, Churchill was able to win the Allies' assent to advancing north as far as the Pisa-Rimini line. His subsequent requests to cancel Anvil in order to maintain the initiative in Italy would go unheeded.
Pleased at these decisions, Stalin in turn agreed to open a new offensive on the Eastern front to coincide with the invasion of Normandy, and, most important for the Americans, he reiterated an earlier promise that the USSR would declare war on Japan once Germany had been defeated.
Looking ahead to a victory that at last seemed likely, FDR also succeeded in winning Stalin's agreement in principle to support the establishment of a United Nations organization to maintain peace after the war. The three leaders agreed to move the postwar borders of Poland west (it would gain territory from Germany and lose it to the Soviet Union), and they discussed possible zones of Allied occupation in the wake of a German defeat. They referred the question of whether and how Germany might be dismembered into separate states to a tripartite committee meeting in London, the newly established European Advisory Commission.
The understandings achieved at Tehran, which set the tone for the remainder of the war, marked the high point of what Churchill would call the Grand Alliance of the three major Allied powers. But given FDR's clear determination to establish a bilateral working relationship with Stalin and to side with the Soviet leader on the question of a second front, Tehran also marks the moment when the world's two emerging superpowers, the United States and the USSR, began to eclipse the influence of Great Britain, not only in the conduct of the war, but also in the world that was to follow.
EThe Yalta Conference, February 1945
E. The Yalta Conference, February 1945
On June 6, 1944, the long-awaited invasion of Normandy finally began. For seven weeks the Allies struggled to expand their beachhead, finally breaking through the German line near the end of July. On August 25, they liberated Paris. By mid-September most of France was in Allied hands.
This unexpectedly rapid advance across France led many to speculate the war would be over by Christmas. But the Western Allies failed to outflank the Germans in their airborne invasion of Holland in September (Operation Market Garden), and the Germans launched a counteroffensive in the Ardennes forest (the Battle of the Bulge)—events that delayed the Allied advance into Germany until early March 1945.
Still, by early 1945, victory over Germany was clearly in sight. With a number of postwar issues still to be settled, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Joseph Stalin determined to convene their second—and last—tripartite meeting in February. Held at the Black Sea resort of Yalta on the Crimean peninsula, the Yalta Conference remains the most prominent—and controversial—of the wartime summits.
The Pacific theater and the United Nations
FDR had two main goals for the meeting. He wanted to win Stalin's firm commitment to join the war against Japan, an enemy that, though greatly reduced in strength, seemed determined to fight on. FDR also wanted Stalin to pledge Soviet participation in the postwar international peacekeeping organization, the United Nations.
At Yalta, Stalin agreed to send his forces against Japan within three months of an Allied victory in Europe. In return, FDR and Churchill agreed to support Soviet interests in the Far East, including the return of territories taken from Russia by Japan in 1905, a Soviet-dominated regime in Mongolia, and Soviet control of the Manchurian railroads. Stalin, for his part, agreed that he would recognize Nationalist Chiang Kai-shek as the leader of China and would urge the Chinese communists under Mao to enter a coalition government with him. (The two had been rivals for nearly twenty years and would resume civil war after their common enemy, Japan, was subdued.)
FDR also secured Soviet commitment to join the United Nations (UN). The leaders closed a critical gap in the blueprint for the UN by agreeing on a voting procedure for its Security Council, the eleven-member UN executive body that would be responsible for maintaining peace, by the deployment of armed forces if necessary. The council's five permanent members—Great Britain, the United States, China, the Soviet Union, and France—each would have the right to veto resolutions, but not to unilaterally block council consideration of issues. This would guarantee a hearing on any issue for all member states, large and small. FDR acceded to Stalin's request for additional seats in the General Assembly for two Soviet republics, Ukraine and Byelorussia.
The fate of Europe
A major piece of business at the conference was to finalize agreements about the disposition of Europe after the war. At Yalta the Big Three—FDR, Churchill, and Stalin—confirmed the planned westward shift of Polish borders, and, as discussed at Tehran, they agreed that Germany would be temporarily divided into zones of Allied occupation, with France taking a fourth zone composed of territory from British and American sectors.
FDR and Churchill secured Stalin's signature on the Declaration of Liberated Europe and the Declaration of Poland, both of which recognized the right of all people to choose the form of government under which they live. The agreement on Poland, where the Soviet army had installed a provisional puppet regime, specifically called for "the holding of free and unfettered elections as soon as possible on the basis of universal suffrage and secret ballot." The historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. has called Stalin's agreement to these principles at Yalta a "grave diplomatic blunder" on his part. Stalin's subsequent establishment of Soviet-dominated buffer states between Russia and Germany would expose the Soviet leader to pervasive charges of bad faith.
Indeed, many historians hold that what set the stage for the decades-long Cold War division of Europe into a Soviet-dominated east and democratic west was not so much the positions taken by the leaders at Yalta, but the position of their armies in February 1945. From the east, Soviet forces had advanced to within forty miles of Berlin, while the Western Allies had yet to cross the Rhine into Germany. The Soviet Union's dominance in Eastern Europe following the war may well have been decided on the battlefields of Russia in 1942–43 and by the Allied failure to land in France until June 1944. At Yalta, with the Soviet Union occupying much of Eastern Europe, FDR and Churchill sought not to eliminate Soviet influence there, but to mitigate it.
A final homecoming
FDR and the American delegation returned from the conference with a sense of cautious optimism about the future. They felt great relief that the Soviets had formally agreed to enter the war against Japan. And they were hopeful that, through the hard work of what FDR called "waging peace," the United States and Great Britain could overcome the Soviet regime's resistance to working with the international community.
It was to deliver this message that an exhausted FDR, with little more than a month to live, went before Congress and the American people on March 1, 1945. "It is good to be home," he said, after apologizing for his sitting posture in an unusual acknowledgment of the "ten pounds of steel" he carried on his legs. Then FDR implored Americans to embrace their role in carrying out the project begun at Yalta. "Speaking in all frankness," he said, "the question of whether it is entirely fruitful or not lies to a great extent in your hands."
13. Destruction from
the Air: Strategic Bombing
in World War II
World War II saw the rise of airpower as a key striking force in war, and the first widespread use of strategic bombing—the dropping of bombs, not against active military units such as troops, tanks, or planes in the midst of directly engaging the enemy, but as a means of weakening the enemy's ability and will to wage war in general. This could mean destroying weapons such as ships and aircraft, disabling plants key to the production of armaments, or disrupting transportation, communication, and food production capacity.
The concept of deploying aircraft deep behind enemy lines to strike at the heart of a nation's "war machine" grew out of the experience of the First World War. This drawn-out conflict had seen mass slaughter by trench warfare and poison gas, as well as the first, limited demonstration of the power of aerial bombardment when the Germans attacked London and other British cities from gas-buoyed dirigibles and the first heavy bomber planes, called Gothas.
In the interwar years, technical advances in aviation allowed planes to fly farther, carry more weight, and maneuver more accurately, making airpower a potentially far more powerful weapon. Meanwhile, airpower theorists—most notably U.S. Brigadier General Billy Mitchell (who had led American air units in France during World War I), British air force chief Hugh Trenchard, and Italian general Guilio Douhet—strenuously argued that airpower should play a greater role in war planning. They developed the theory, deeply influential in both British and American military circles, that strategic bombing of vital economic centers could force the enemy to capitulate, shortening the conflict and actually saving lives. As Mitchell put it, "Air forces will attack centers of production of all kinds, means of transportation, agricultural areas, ports and shipping; not so much the people themselves."
Indeed, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and most American generals insisted through much of World War II that bombing civilians per se was unacceptable. In 1939, after the Soviets, still in league with the Nazis, bombed Helsinki, Finland, FDR roundly condemned this and other early bombing raids that targeted "unfortified centers of population." "If resort is had to this form of inhuman barbarism during the period of the tragic conflagration with which the world is now confronted," FDR warned, "hundreds of thousands of innocent human beings who are not even remotely participating in hostilities, will lose their lives."
FDR's words would prove prescient, but as the Allies gained control of the skies, it would be the residents of German and Japanese cities who died in huge numbers under aerial bombardment. If airpower theory blurred the line between combat and civilian zones, the practice of strategic bombing in World War II eventually erased that line.
First, the tightly targeted "precision" bombing espoused by the Americans proved far less accurate and more dangerous to pilots than expected. Then, too, the animus of warfare and Allied desperation to return the enemy's blows in kind played a role. Japanese bombing of Chinese cities in the late 1930s had provoked worldwide outrage. In their advance across Europe, the Germans likewise had bombed Warsaw in 1939, Rotterdam in 1940. They pummeled London and other English cities during the summer and fall of 1940 in preparation for a possible land invasion. "We can endure the shattering of our dwellings, and the slaughter of our civil population by indiscriminate air attacks," British prime minister Winston Churchill wrote to FDR in December 1940, "and we hope to parry these increasingly as our science develops, and to repay them upon military objectives in Germany as our Air Force more nearly approaches the strength of the enemy."
The Royal Air Force would begin with military targets but ultimately mount devastating "area bombing" attacks on German cities that left them in ruins and killed hundreds of thousands of civilians. American airplanes would participate in many of these European operations, but would not take up full-scale area bombing until late in the war in assaults on Japan, including those that immolated a large swath of Tokyo in March 1945 and, in August of that year, laid waste to Hiroshima and Nagasaki with nuclear bombs. An estimated 330,000 Japanese civilians died in these strategic bombing campaigns.
Strategic bombing, largely untested before World War II, remains one of the most controversial aspects of the war. There is heated debate on the question of how much this bombing contributed to Allied military success and, even more pointedly, about whether any such gains can justify the toll in civilian lives that accompanied the bombardment of urban neighborhoods.
The U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, a report by an expert committee established at FDR's direction in November 1944, concluded that strategic bombing by the Allies in Europe—particularly bombing of German oil plants, rail and waterways, and truck production plants in preparation for the Allied thrust into Germany—did contribute to the enemy's collapse. In the case of Japan, the committee drew the provocative conclusion that Japan would have surrendered in 1945 even if it had not been attacked with nuclear bombs. But the Allies' dominance by that time, the report said, was largely attributable to its control of the skies. "The experience in the Pacific war," the report said, "supports the findings in Germany that no nation can long survive the free exploitation of air weapons over its homeland."
AThe Bombing Begins
A. The Bombing Begins
The British, loath to provoke a German attack by air, held off launching their own air offensive during the first months of the war. But the fall of France and evacuation of British soldiers from its beaches in June 1940 was soon followed by the dreaded German attack from on high. At first the German bombers of the Luftwaffe concentrated on shipping, airfields, and other military targets, but by September an accidental hit on central London had provoked a speedy retaliatory strike on Berlin by the Royal Air Force. Infuriated, Adolf Hitler responded with "the Blitz," an eight-month period of strategic bombing against sixteen British cities and towns, including heavy attacks on London and particularly destructive assaults on Liverpool and Coventry.
Lacking an army large enough to meet the Nazis on the ground, the British saw airplanes as their only means to meet the enemy and continued to send relatively ineffectual bombing raids over Berlin.
In the meantime, British fighter planes had, to the surprise of many, repelled the Nazis' attempt to neutralize the island nation's air-defense system in the summer of 1940, leading Hitler to postpone his planned land invasion. The experience both the British and the Germans gained in the skies over Europe in the summer and fall of 1940 led them to conclude that daylight bombing was highly dangerous, especially when carried out at long range without the protection of escort fighters. Both turned to night bombing as an alternative, which, though safer for the aircrews, made it much harder to hit specific targets. This led to the development of what was called "area bombing"—in essence, dropping bombs on cities.
In February 1942, the strategic bombing arm of the Royal Air Force, called Bomber Command, issued a directive calling for a shift in tactics to "focus attacks on the morale of the enemy civil population, and, in particular, of the industrial workers." A week later, Arthur "Bomber" Harris took over leadership of Bomber Command and planned a series of nighttime area bombings of German cities—Lübeck in March, Rostock in April, and, in May, an obliterating "thousand-bomber"incendiary attack on Cologne. After this first wave of attacks, Harris said in an air force newsreel, "The Nazis entered this war under the rather childish delusion that they were going to bomb everybody else and nobody was going to bomb them. At Rotterdam, London, Warsaw, and half a hundred other places, they put that rather naive theory into operation. They sowed the wind and now they are going to reap the whirlwind."
Meanwhile, over the course of 1942, American airpower was establishing itself in the British Isles in the form of the Eighth U.S. Army Air Force, which included a significant number of strategic bombers. From August 1942 onward, American B-17 and B-24 bombers carried out daylight raids against enemy targets in occupied France, which were within the range of American escort fighters.
"We must never allow the record of this war to convict us of throwing the strategic bomber at the man in the street,"said General Ira Eaker, commander of the Eighth Air Force, which was based in England in 1942 and '43. But the British use of strategic bombing made a considerable impression on Henry "Hap" Arnold, commander in chief of the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF), who would later argue for area bombing of Japanese cities.
BCasablanca and the Combined Bomber Offensive
B. Casablanca and the Combined Bomber Offensive
At the Casablanca Conference of January 1943, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, eager to intensify the war against Germany in support of the Soviets fighting in the East, agreed to join air forces in the Combined Bomber Offensive. Under this new air campaign, the two Allies envisaged round-the-clock raids against German targets, with a strict division of labor: the British would carry out area bombing by night, while the Americans would run more targeted "precision"bombing raids in the daylight, using a sophisticated new gyroscopically controlled targeting technology called the Norden bombsight.
One of the first major targets of the Combined Bomber Offensive was the German city of Hamburg, attacked in a series of raids from July 24 to 27, 1943. The intensive bombardment with high explosive and incendiary devices, coupled with extremely dry conditions, resulted in a firestorm that consumed 8.5 square miles, killing an estimated forty-four thousand people.
The Allies then turned their attention to bombing deep within Germany, but as these targets were beyond the range of American escort fighters, this proved to be something of a disaster for the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF), with loss rates sometimes exceeding 20 percent. The USAAF—whose officials still refused to engage in nighttime area bombing, despite the urgings of Arthur "Bomber"Harris of the Royal Air Force—suspended its participation in long-range attacks against Germany in late October 1943. It did not resume these operations until it had an escort fighter with a range long enough to provide continuous cover for its bombers, accomplished in early 1944 with the introduction of the P-51 Mustang fighter.
and the D-day Operations
C. Operation Argument and the D-day Operations
In February 1944, the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) resumed long-range attacks against Germany with the specific goal of destroying the German Luftwaffe and the German aircraft industry that supported it. In doing so, the Allies hoped to establish air supremacy over much of Western Europe so they could land more safely on the beaches of Normandy in the massive invasion set for June.
As part of this effort, the Royal Air Force (RAF) and USAAF launched Operation Argument on February 20, 1944. In this offensive more than six thousand American and RAF bombers dropped nearly twenty thousand tons of bombs on the German aircraft industry over the course of just six days. Allied losses during this campaign were heavy, but German losses were even heavier. The German Luftwaffe, drawn into the sky to fight American bombers and their escorts, was dealt a crippling blow from which it never fully recovered, while airplane plants on the ground sustained heavy damage. As a result, the Allies were able to continue their punishing raids on Berlin and other targets in Germany with far fewer losses, and establish something close to air supremacy over the skies of France in the weeks prior to D-day.
With German air defenses severely crippled as a result of the Combined Bomber Offensive, the Allies waged a very effective tactical air campaign to support the Normandy landings in May and June 1944. This included attacks on key rail lines, bridges, and other facilities that made it much harder for the Germans to move their forces into position to counter the Allied invasion.
DBerlin, Dresden, and
End of the War in Europe
D. Berlin, Dresden, and End of the War in Europe
Following the success of the Normandy landings to retake France from the Nazis, the Combined Bomber Offensive resumed its assaults. The Allies concentrated on oil refineries and other industrial plants, rail systems, and major cities in an effort to push Germany further into chaos as the Russian army advanced from the east.
In Operation Thunderclap of February 1945, Allied bombers struck Berlin, Magdeburg, Chemnitz, and other targets in eastern Germany. Most destructive, however, was the Allied attack on Dresden, a cultural center that was known for its medieval architecture but also a rail and industrial hub. The attack began on the night of February 13, 1945, and continued the next day, with British flying at night, Americans by day. As in Hamburg nearly two years before, conditions in the city combined with high explosives and incendiary bombs to produce a firestorm that burned much of the city to the ground, killing more than fifty thousand men, women, and children, many by burning and asphyxiation. The firebombing of Dresden provoked outcry in Britain and raised troubling moral questions that persist today. Winston Churchill himself, in a note to military brass—later revised—called for review of the practice of area bombing. "Otherwise," he wrote, "we shall come into control of an utterly ruined land."
In fact, the war in Europe came to an end less than two months later, on May 8, 1945. Over the course of the conflict, some one hundred thousand British and American aircrewmen had lost their lives in roughly equal numbers. The number of Germans—both civilian and military—killed in strategic bombing campaigns is estimated at between 750,000 and one million. While there is little doubt that Allied strategic bombing dealt a series of setbacks to the German war effort, particularly in reducing its aircraft in the last two years of the war, it did not lead to the precipitous collapse of the German economy or morale, as some airpower strategists had predicted.
EThe Bombing Campaign against Japan
E. The Bombing Campaign against Japan
In contrast to strategic bombing in the European theater, the bombing campaign against Japan was primarily an American operation. Due to the vast reaches of ocean involved in the Pacific War, the American air offensive against the Japanese home islands could not begin until 1944, when a new very long-range heavy bomber called the B-29 Superfortress became ready for action. On June 15 of that year, in the first of a series of raids launched from forward bases in China, dozens of B-29s took to the air to attack the Yawata steel works on the island of Kyushu. It was the first air attack on Japan proper since the relatively small-scale Doolittle raid of April 1942.
The raids from Chinese bases took place largely at the behest of Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was anxious to show support for Chinese Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek and to carry the war to Japan as soon as possible. The president gave his initial approval for the raids at the Casablanca Conference in January 1943. In December of that year at the Cairo Conference, the president told Chiang of his commitment to the attacks, noting that he hoped they could begin as early as January 1944.
But bombing Japan from bases in China proved a difficult undertaking, in part because of the logistic challenges involved in transporting fuel and munitions into China, and in part because the air bases were vulnerable to ground assault from Japanese troops based in China. As predicted by General George C. Marshall and other members of the Combined Chiefs of Staff, the raids from China led to a Japanese ground offensive in the summer and fall of 1944 that forced the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) to temporarily withdraw from its forward operating bases.
By this point, however, the United States had secured the island of Saipan and other possessions on the Marianas that were much closer to Japan than the Chinese bases and thus easier to supply and defend.
It was from the Marianas that the United States began a scorching air campaign against the Japanese mainland. The initial forays were precision daylight bombing raids against mainly industrial targets, particularly aircraft factories. These attacks, which included numerous bombings of industrial targets in and around Tokyo, were more effective than the attacks from China, but still only moderately so.
Impatient to inflict greater damage on the Japanese, General Henry "Hap"Arnold began to argue in favor of area bombing, and in the spring of 1945, under the direction of the newly appointed major general Curtis LeMay, high-altitude precision bombing gave way to low-altitude nighttime incendiary raids against Japanese cities. This was a substantial risk, since flying low would expose the planes to antiaircraft fire. But the danger proved minimal. One of the most devastating of the American raids took place on the night of March 9, 1945, when some three hundred B-29s attacked Tokyo. The resulting firestorm burned nearly a quarter of the city to the ground and killed more than eighty-five thousand Japanese civilians.
With Japan's air defenses crumbling, the USAAF now attacked Japan at will. From mid-May to mid-June 1945, the USAAF wreaked havoc on Japan's most important industrial centers, devastating Japanese industry and killing more than one hundred thousand civilians. By the end of July 1945, the USAAF had virtually run out of targets. With the Japanese economy shattered, its industrial capacity cut by more than half, its lines of communication in shambles, and more than 8.5 million people rendered homeless, the emperor and civilian Japanese leadership questioned the wisdom of continuing the war.
On July 26, 1945, FDR's successor, President Harry Truman, now in possession of the atomic bomb, issued a proclamation from the Allied summit meeting in Potsdam, Germany, that promised Japan "prompt and utter destruction" if it did not immediately agree to the unconditional surrender of all of its armed forces.
Unwilling to do so without a U.S. guarantee that the Japanese would be permitted to retain their emperor, the Japanese leadership chose to ignore the Potsdam Declaration. President Truman thereupon gave his approval for the USAAF to drop its two atomic bombs on Japan, the first on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, on August 6, 1945, followed by the second on Nagasaki, three days later.
The obliteration of large parts of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which killed an estimated two hundred thousand people, coupled with the invasion of Manchuria by the Russian army on August 8—and an exchange of messages in which the Americans agreed the Japanese could keep their emperor but his authority would be "subject to the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers"—finally prompted the long-awaited Japanese surrender. On August 14, 1945, the Japanese surrender was announced both in America, where people took to the streets in celebration, and in Japan, where hundreds of Japanese soldiers had just stormed the Imperial Palace in a failed coup attempt. The most destructive war in history was at an end.
14. Building the
The Manhattan Project
On July 16, 1945, in the darkness just before dawn, a flash lit up the New Mexico desert some 160 miles south of Santa Fe, and observers witnessed the world's first nuclear mushroom cloud boil and climb more than seven miles into the sky. The U.S.–led program to develop a massive explosive device based on cutting-edge physics had taken five years, cost nearly $2 billion, and included research and production facilities in more than two dozen locations. Dubbed the Manhattan Project for its first headquarters in New York City, this program had yielded a weapon of astonishing potential. Exceeding most expectations, the bomb had exploded with a force of twenty thousand tons of TNT.
Franklin D. Roosevelt launched the atomic bomb project in 1939, after a letter signed by Albert Einstein explained the potential for such a weapon and suggested the Nazis might already be working to develop one. The president ordered immediate action on the information. The combatant that laid hold of such an annihilating weapon first would surely win the war.
Of course, FDR did not live long enough to witness the successful test detonation, nor to make the final order that sent B-29s over the Japanese homeland to drop nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. That would fall to his successor, Harry Truman, who until FDR's death in April didn't even know of the top-secret weapons program. But FDR's secretary of war, Henry Stimson, who had supervised the bomb project and advised FDR on it, also headed a committee appointed by Truman to advise the new president on atomic policy. Even before the successful detonation, this committee recommended the bomb be used on Japan as soon as possible and without warning.
Though no one can say what FDR would have done in Truman's place, according to Stimson, FDR and his war planners were concerned, first, with how the bomb could help them bring the war to a speedy end with a minimum of casualties, and, second, with controlling the use of nuclear weapons after the war; at no time, according to Stimson, did FDR suggest the bomb shouldn't be used in war if it became available. "All of us of course understood the terrible responsibility involved in our attempt to unlock the doors to such a devastating new weapon," he wrote. "President Roosevelt particularly spoke to me many times of his own awareness of the catastrophic potentialities of our work. But we were at war, and the work must be done."
In the summer of 1945, the United States was at last in possession of deployable nuclear weaponry, and the war in the Pacific dragged on. A Japanese victory was out of the question, yet, thanks to a small cadre of fanatical militarists, a Japanese surrender seemed equally elusive. In approaching the Japanese mainland, Americans had sacrificed more than six thousand lives at Iwo Jima in February and twelve thousand in the spring at Okinawa. The Japanese had fought fiercely for both islands, losing some hundred thousand men at Okinawa, with many thousands of casualties among local civilians.
In June Truman authorized a tremendous amphibious assault on Kyushu, the third largest Japanese island, to take place that fall. Intelligence intercepts revealed the Japanese were massing their forces there. American casualty projections were astronomical. But the attack on Kyushu, code-named Operation Downfall, never took place. Instead the final assault on Japan would come from the air.
AThe Einstein Letter
A. The Einstein Letter
On October 11, 1939, Franklin D. Roosevelt received one of the most important pieces of correspondence of his long presidency—a letter from Albert Einstein in which the world-famous scientist warned the president that new scientific discoveries involving a nuclear chain reaction might lead to the creation of extremely powerful bombs. The letter, drafted by Einstein's colleague, the Hungarian-born physicist Léo Szilárd, also alluded to the fact that German scientists were working in this area. It noted that since Adolf Hitler's seizure of Czechoslovakia in March, all sales of the key element uranium from Czechoslovak mines—an excellent source of the ore—had ceased. In light of this ominous development, Einstein urged the president to accelerate experimental work then being carried out in various university laboratories in the United States, and to take steps to secure an adequate supply of uranium ore.
FDR immediately established the Advisory Committee on Uranium, which held its first meeting ten days later, on October 21 For the next two years, the Uranium Committee wrestled with various scientific problems associated with the development of nuclear power, but progress was often slow. A majority of the committee members remained skeptical that an atomic weapon could be developed before the end of the war.
In the meantime, two German Jewish émigré scientists working in Great Britain, Otto Frisch and Rudolf Peierls, came to a strikingly different conclusion in the spring of 1940. Their work indicated that an atomic bomb might require no more than a few pounds of uranium, estimating (quite accurately, as later tests would confirm) that a bomb made with just five kilograms (eleven pounds) of uranium would have the destructive power of several thousand tons of dynamite.
The Frisch-Peierls memorandum spurred the British government into action. By July 1941, a new committee established to look into the efficacy of uranium weapons—the Military Application of Uranium Detonation, or MAUD, Committee—concluded that a uranium bomb was not only within reach but was likely to lead to decisive results in the war. The committee recommended that the United Kingdom begin work on such a weapon without delay.
British prime minister Winston Churchill fully supported this conclusion and in October 1941, the British government launched the TUBE ALLOYS project to build an atomic weapon. But Churchill also recognized that such a project would require enormous scientific and financial resources, and he welcomed American participation in the effort. Hence, he kept FDR apprised of the work in Britain, ordering that the July 1941 MAUD report be sent directly to FDR's scientific advisors.
FDR was alarmed at the new findings. When he received word that the U.S. Office of Scientific Research (which had replaced the Uranium Committee) not only agreed with the MAUD report but also believed the Germans had gained a two-year head start on the Allies in developing nuclear weapons, he immediately approved a crash program to urgently pursue the construction of an atomic bomb.
BThe Manhattan Project
B. The Manhattan Project
Franklin D. Roosevelt's decision to throw the full weight of the United States government behind the effort to develop a nuclear weapon radically augmented the scope and scale of atomic weapons work being carried out on both sides of the Atlantic. By the fall of 1942, the British and American efforts were merged and placed under the control of the U.S. War Department in what was now called the Manhattan Project.
Centered in the United States, under the overall direction of Brigadier General Leslie R. Groves of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Manhattan Project would quickly evolve into one of the most sophisticated large-scale scientific efforts in human history. It involved scientists working at labs in a number of leading universities in the United States, Britain, and Canada, as well as the creation of significant new federal facilities—including Clinton Laboratories (renamed Oak Ridge National Laboratory in 1948) in the newly created town of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, which, between 1943 and 1945, grew from sparsely populated farmland (original residents were evicted) to a city and scientific facility of more than seventy-five thousand people; the Hanford Engineering Works located in south-central Washington State, which employed over fifty thousand workers in the construction of the world's first full-scale nuclear reactor; and the Los Alamos National Laboratory, in Los Alamos, New Mexico, which employed more than five thousand scientists and engineers.
In one of the war's great ironies, Germany's persecution of European Jews had in fact impoverished its own scientific program, while sending a number of brilliant Jewish émigrés to form the backbone of United States–led atomic weapons research. A nuclear bomb, they thought, would be the Allies' only defense should the Nazis lay hold of this powerful weapon.
Carried out in utmost secrecy, the Manhattan Project received top priority from 1942 until the end of the war. After years of work, roughly three months after FDR died of a brain hemorrhage at Warm Springs, Georgia, scientists tested the first atomic bomb at a remote desert bombing range about two hundred miles south of Los Alamos. Code-named Operation Trinity, the explosion took place at 5:29 a.m. on July 17, 1945, while General Groves, Manhattan Project scientific director Robert Oppenheimer, and others involved in the project looked on in amazement. The blast created a fireball that was visible for more than sixty miles.
In the summer of 1945, the Nazis already defeated, some scientists working on the U.S. atomic program expressed misgivings about using the bomb in war, hoping the mere threat of its use could press the Japanese to surrender. An informal poll of Manhattan Project scientists working in Chicago, taken a few days before the successful test detonation in the New Mexico desert, found that a majority favored some kind of public display of the bomb's power before dropping it on populations.
CHiroshima and Nagasaki
C. Hiroshima and Nagasaki
President Harry Truman learned of the successful bomb test while attending the Potsdam Conference outside of Berlin. After mentioning somewhat casually to Joseph Stalin that the United States had a new weapon, Truman ordered preparation for its use against Japan. On July 26, 1945, the president, joined by the newly elected British prime minister, Clement Attlee, issued the Potsdam Declaration, calling on Japan to surrender unconditionally or face "prompt and utter destruction." The Japanese government declined to consider the American terms, because they did not guarantee that Japan could retain its emperor, the very symbol of the nation. So Truman issued the order to proceed with the use of the bombs.
On August 6, at 8:15 a.m. local time, the B-29 Enola Gay dropped the first of America's two remaining atomic weapons on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Within a matter of minutes, a twenty-thousand-foot mushroom cloud rose over the city. The initial explosion and radiation killed an estimated sixty thousand people, while another sixty thousand are estimated to have died from radiation poisoning and other injuries in the weeks and months that followed. Three days later, another B-29 appeared, this time above the Japanese city of Nagasaki, where at 10:58 a.m. local time, the second atomic bomb was dropped, killing an estimated thirty-five thousand people outright, with another forty thousand dying in the aftermath from severe injuries or the effects of radiation.
After these two devastating air attacks, coupled with a simultaneous Russian invasion of Manchuria, the Japanese quickly signaled their willingness to surrender but insisted once again on retaining their emperor. The Truman administration quietly indicated its willingness to allow the emperor to remain a figurehead "subject to the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers," and on August 14, 1945, Japan surrendered. The Second World War was over.
DThe Legacy of the Manhattan Project
D. The Legacy of the Manhattan Project
America's successful development of atomic weapons and decision to use them in the war against Japan will forever remain controversial. Some contend that using the bombs against a greatly weakened Japan was needlessly destructive of human life and an unacceptable attack on civilians. Others argue that it saved lives by finally ending World War II and perhaps by displaying the bomb's terrible power—and thus preventing its use in later conflicts.
The United States, of course, did not remain the sole nuclear power for long. The Soviets exploded their own bomb in 1949, setting off the nuclear arms race and widespread fear of a truly world-ending conflict that characterized the decades-long Cold War. Prominent Manhattan Project alumni were among those who pleaded for disarmament and control of nuclear weapons during these years.
But the legacy of the Manhattan Project—which employed more than 130,000 people at a cost of two billion 1940s dollars—goes far beyond the creation of new weapons. It led, for example, to the development of nuclear power as a way of generating electricity. The first nuclear reactor for power generation began operating in 1951 in Idaho, and by 2008 nuclear power accounted for nearly 20 percent of America's electricity production.
The wartime Manhattan Project also set the precedent for large-scale federal investment in scientific research and for the government-industry collaborations that can bring discoveries into practical use. The federal project's large-scale production of the special materials, such as plutonium and uranium, required to build nuclear bombs represented an industrial feat as much as it did a scientific breakthrough; DuPont, the chemical company, played a significant role.
Moreover, government research begun in places like Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and Los Alamos, New Mexico, contributed very significantly to postwar advances in biological research and medicine. In 1946 the newly created Atomic Energy Commission took over Manhattan Project facilities to manage the peacetime development of atomic science. One important initiative was to begin supplying reactor-produced "radioisotopes" (radioactive isotopes) to universities and hospitals for research, making them far more available than they had been before the war.
These radioactive variants of chemical elements can be used to "tag" chemical compounds so they can be traced, using a radiation detector, as they undergo chemical reactions. Researchers have used the technique to better understand processes from plant photosynthesis to human absorption of minerals such as iron and calcium.
Perhaps most notably, radioactive labels have become a vital tool in clinical medicine, with more than twenty million procedures taking place in the United States each year. Most are diagnostic imaging procedures in which the radioisotope, injected into the body, helps doctors study the patient's heart, brain, or other organs, or track cancer progression. The technology can also be used to treat certain cancers, for example in a procedure called brachytherapy in which tiny radioactive pellets or "seeds" are implanted in or near a tumor, delivering high-dose radiation that damages cancer cells.
Indeed, radioisotopes also have a number of industrial applications, from studying the movement of sewage or surface water to monitoring soil erosion and corrosion of metals.
The Manhattan Project launched by Franklin D. Roosevelt in a race against the Nazis to produce a weapon of unprecedented force—a weapon, according to FDR's secretary of war Henry Stimson, "as legitimate as any other of the deadly explosive weapons of modern war"—did not reach fruition in time to affect the Allies' war against Germany. But the project's effects around the world have been profound, enduring, and nearly as varied as the consequences of knowledge itself.
15. The Holocaust:
The Nazi Slaughter
of European Jews
During the course of World War II, as the Allies fought the Axis powers on multiple continents, Adolf Hitler not only waged war by land, air, and sea, but also conducted a genocide of unprecedented calculation and scope. What began as an effort to expel Jews from Nazi territory evolved, around 1941, into a plan to imprison and eliminate them. Before putting a bullet in his own head on April 30, 1945, Hitler brought about the murder of some six million Jews, destroying Jewish communities that had existed in cities and hamlets across Europe for centuries.
In the face of such facts, to make the pledge "never again" is inevitably to ask the questions: What did America and its president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, do to stop the genocide? Could they have done more?
While taken up first with the crisis of the Great Depression and then with the demands of global war, FDR did respond to the plight of Jews under Hitler's power. He worked within the rigid U.S. immigration quotas established by Congress to admit more Germans and Austrians in the late 1930s, so America received significantly more Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany than any other country. He urged nations in Latin America and elsewhere to accept refugees, and he called an international conference attempting to promote an organized response to the refugee crisis. FDR repeatedly spoke out about the Nazis' wrongs, publicly promised retribution for them, and eventually established an American agency to work on the ground in Europe rescuing Jewish lives.
There can be little doubt that FDR was sympathetic to the victims of Nazism in general, and contemporaries saw him as friendly to Jewish concerns in particular. American Jews supported him overwhelmingly in all four of his elections and were well represented among his top advisors and friends. (Indeed, anti-Semites in America and even Hitler himself claimed that Jews exerted a nefarious influence on the president.)
Yet FDR did not choose to make Jewish refugees the subject of a confrontation with a U.S. Congress and public that, especially during the Depression years of high unemployment and poverty, supported very restrictive immigration laws that made no exceptions for refugees. Even after Kristallnacht, the violent riot against Jewish people that swept Nazi Germany in late 1938, a robust majority of Americans, while condemning the Nazi mobs, did not want to relax immigration quotas to admit more German Jews to America. In speaking against a 1939 bill to waive the quotas to admit twenty thousand refugee children, the leader of a coalition of "patriotic" organizations insisted America shouldn't "play Santa Claus while our own people are starving." In 1940 and 1941, as the Nazi conquest spread across much of Europe and America edged toward war, FDR's State Department made it even harder for Jewish refugees to get U.S. visas, citing the fear that the refugees might include Nazi-sympathizing subversives and spies.
Other elements in FDR's government, along with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, opposed the State Department's obstructionist stance, especially after December 1942, when the Allies confirmed reports that the Nazis were carrying out a plan "to exterminate the Jewish people in Europe." It was Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau Jr., a longtime close associate of FDR and the highest-ranking Jewish member of his administration, who finally mounted a successful challenge to the policy in late 1943. In response, FDR established the War Refugee Board, whose explicit mission was to rescue civilians at imminent risk of being murdered by the Nazis.
"We shall win this war"
The January 1944 executive order creating the board pledged the U.S. government to doing all it could to rescue victims "consistent with the successful prosecution of the war." Though the rescue agency would save many thousands of people (its directors regretted that it had not been created sooner), FDR's main answer to the humanitarian disaster created by the Nazis was to engage and defeat them militarily.
In the months and years before the Japanese assault on Pearl Harbor brought America into the fight against the Axis in December 1941, FDR waged a consuming campaign to ready the nation for that war—by building up its paltry military, overcoming American neutrality laws to supply allies for combat, and coaxing Americans to see Hitler as a threat to freedom everywhere. As late as the 1940 presidential election campaign, well over half of Americans, disillusioned by the bitter aftermath of World War I, said staying out of the war in Europe should be America's first objective, and FDR was insisting he would try to satisfy them.
In July 1943, when America had been officially at war for a year and a half, a scout for the Polish government-in-exile named Jan Karski visited secretly with FDR, describing to the president the despoiled state of Nazi-occupied Poland, including the savagery he had seen unleashed against Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto and at a concentration camp in the Lublin area. Before he left, Karski recalled, the president had this to offer: "We shall win this war!" FDR believed that liberating the European continent—a massive project that would begin on D-day, June 6, 1944—was the best and perhaps the only way to save the lives of civilians suffering and dying behind enemy lines.
A bitter end
As the long-awaited Allied victory drew near, it became clear the Germans' commitment to their genocidal "solution" would die out only with the last gasp of the Nazi regime itself. In the winter of 1944–45 and into the spring of 1945, the Nazis faced inevitable defeat as the Soviets and Western Allies closed in, pincerlike, on the heart of Germany. Yet the Nazis devoted their energies to moving imprisoned Jews en masse in torturous "death marches" rather than see them freed by the Allies.
The fact that the Nazis were systematically murdering Jews in vast numbers had been widely reported in America after 1942. Yet many Americans had suspected these reports contained a measure of hyperbole, rumor, or propaganda (as was the case in some reports of German atrocities during World War I). The true scope of this industrialized genocide did not sink in until Allied soldiers entered the concentration camps in 1944 and 1945. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, commander of the Western Allies in their advance across Europe, wrote that his first visit to a "horror camp" on April 12, 1945, inspired a determination to "visit every nook and cranny" and record the details so that future generations would not be tempted to write off reports of the Nazi killing machine as propaganda. "Up to that time I had known about it only generally or through secondary sources," he wrote. "I am certain, however that I have never at any other time experienced an equal sense of shock."
In the years between Adolf Hitler's rise to power in 1933 and when the Nazis barred Jewish emigration from the expanded German state in late 1941, more than two-thirds of German Jews fled the country, many, thanks to the regime's seizure of Jewish assets and emigration tax, relinquishing their worldly belongings in the process. The Nazis had rendered them stateless, penniless refugees—a dreadfully vulnerable condition in any time, but especially in the 1930s, when economic depression and rising international tensions left potential "host" states disinclined to receive needy newcomers.
The first surge of Jewish emigration from Hitler's Germany followed his seizure of absolute power and suppression of political rivals in 1933. Many of these initial emigrants went to neighboring countries, only to die by Nazi hands after those lands were swallowed up in Hitler's advance. During the mid-1930s, Germany trampled the basic rights of Jews, but there remained room for doubt as to whether they could survive there. Though emigration was steady, many Jewish families elected to stay and defend their homes, their livelihoods, and the German citizenship to which they were entitled.
The mood changed in March 1938, when the Nazis annexed Austria (an event they called the Anschluss, or "union"), and, with the help of enthusiastic Austrians, imposed anti-Jewish policies swiftly and ruthlessly, visiting upon the Jews a wave of plundering, beatings, and arrests. Jews within Nazi territory now began to flood foreign consulates, increasingly desperate for a way out. In November 1938, Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass), a brutal anti-Jewish riot across Greater Germany led by Nazi storm troopers, drove home the point: the Jews were in terrible danger.
It was in 1938 and 1939 that the outflow of Jews fleeing Nazi Germany and Austria became a refugee crisis, and potential host countries—including the United States—were pressed to back up their expressions of sympathy by opening their doors.
The United States had particularly stringent immigration regulations. Based on a 1924 law, immigration was restricted to a total of just under 154,000 a year, with quotas for each country proportional to the number of people of that national origin already living in the United States (according to the 1890 U.S. census or, after 1927, the 1920 census). Under this system, which was implicitly discriminatory, immigration barriers were highest not for Germans but for eastern and southern Europeans; Asians were excluded completely as "unassimilable." But during the Depression, quotas weren't the only restraint on immigration. In fact, German immigration did not approach the quota for that country—25,957—until 1938, largely because the U.S. State Department rigidly interpreted a 1930 regulation refusing visas to anyone who lacked a ready means of support and might become a "public charge."
Franklin D. Roosevelt takes action
In the wake of the Anschluss, Franklin D. Roosevelt moved to combine the German and smaller Austrian quotas to allow more fleeing Jews to come to America. That change—along with the administration's signal to U.S. consulates to relax requirements that visa applicants prove they have ample assets or a committed American sponsor—resulted in the admission of many more Jewish refugees, filling the combined German-Austrian quota in 1939 and nearly filling it in 1940. Yet the demand far exceeded the quota; the waiting list for visas under the German quota had mounted to over three hundred thousand.
While making adjustments in U.S. policy, FDR also tried to stimulate a concerted international response to the refugee crisis by calling a conference of nations at Évian, France, to address the problem. The conference, announced in March 1938 just after the Anschluss, represented a statement of concern for the Jewish refugees, a rebuke to the Nazis, and a new kind of engagement by the United States in international affairs. In fact, no other leader stepped up in this way.
But in calling the conference, FDR's White House made clear that it did not expect nations to admit more refugees than their countries' regulations already allowed; the United States had rejiggered its own quotas but would not increase them (a proposal that would have met staunch resistance in Congress). Nations were leery of instituting generous policies toward refugees, fearing the flood would only increase as Poland, Romania, and Hungary turned on their Jewish populations. Some diplomats expressed concern that large numbers of Jewish refugees would provoke anti-Semitic unrest at home. In the end, only the Dominican Republic agreed to welcome a substantially increased number of Jewish refugees.
Between 1933 and 1940, while there remained the possibility of flight from Hitler's Germany and before America's wartime stance reduced immigration even further, America admitted some 127,000 refugees from Nazi Germany—significantly more than were welcomed by any other country.
After 1940, wartime conditions and Hitler's 1941 ban on emigration from the expanded Reich made it much more difficult for Jews to reach escape routes through neutral countries such as Portugal or Turkey. Meanwhile the U.S. State Department, under the leadership of Breckinridge Long, appointed in 1940 as assistant secretary in charge of visas, threw up new barriers to would-be immigrants. In 1940 the department began a policy to reject visa applicants who had relatives still in German-occupied territory, with the rationale that the Nazis might be able to use family members to coerce the emigrants into collaborating. In June 1941 Congress passed and FDR signed a bill authorizing consulates to deny visas to anyone they suspected might "endanger public safety." Given all these circumstances, the refugee flow to America slowed to a trickle.
BThe St. Louis
B. The St. Louis
Many people of goodwill wanted to help the more than 900 German Jewish refugees aboard the ocean liner St. Louis as it plied the waters of the Western Hemisphere looking for safe harbor. That the ship was forced back to Europe, where more than a quarter of its passengers ultimately died by Nazi hands, stands as one of period's signal cautionary tales.
The passenger ship sailed from Hamburg for Havana, Cuba, in May 1939. When it arrived, the Cuban government barred most of the passengers from coming ashore, as they had been sold tourist passes by a corrupt Cuban official profiting from the scheme. The government, partly inspired by rising anti-immigrant sentiment, had invalidated these passes and was now demanding each passenger pay the $500 bond required of refugees.
Desperate negotiations ensued. The U.S. ambassador to Cuba made inquiries. Members of a major Jewish aid group, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), traveled to Havana to intercede. They negotiated over a payment for the refugees with Cuban president Frederico Laredo Bru, even as Bru ordered the St. Louis to depart Cuban waters. The Cubans insisted on the full $500 for each refugee, or about a half a million dollars. JDC representatives hoped to negotiate a lower amount, but Bru abruptly cut off talks. The St. Louis steamed north near the coast of Florida.
FDR declined to intervene to bring the refugees ashore, which would have meant circumventing the long waiting list for visas under the American quota system; most of the passengers were on that list and had planned to wait in Cuba for their numbers to come up. In November of the previous year, FDR had taken steps to allow some twelve thousand to fifteen thousand German Jews visiting the United States to extend their visits by six months (and perhaps longer). He explained in a press conference that forcing the visitors to return to Nazi Germany, which had invalidated their passports, would plunge them into danger—"It is a question of concentration camps, etc.," he said—and would be "cruel and inhuman." But when reporters pressed FDR about whether this policy change signaled an intention to lower immigration barriers generally, he assured them it did not.
Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau Jr., anguished over the situation of the St. Louis, asked Secretary of State Cordell Hull if perhaps the passengers could be issued tourist visas for the Virgin Islands but was told the law precluded it. He asked the U.S. Coast Guard to locate and keep an eye on the ship. He kept in touch with the JDC in New York. "Are they doing everything from New York, you think, that they should?" he asked Hull in a telephone conversation. "There's nothing that I could do, or that they should do?" "Nothing I see right now," was Hull's response.
The ship was forced to return to Europe, landing in Belgium in June. The JDC, offering financial guarantees, managed to negotiate admittance for some passengers there, for others in Britain, France, and Holland. This was occasion for relief in 1938. World War II had not yet begun, and no one envisioned the horrors of the Holocaust. But very soon all the receiving countries except Britain would fall to the Nazis, and the harrowing journey of many St. Louis passengers would end in concentration camps.
COn the Record: Statements about Nazi Crimes against Jews
C. On the Record: Statements about Nazi Crimes against Jews
During the war, Allied governments and the media often described the Nazis' Jewish victims in terms of their national identities—as Germans, Poles, or Hungarians, for example—without differentiating them from the millions of non-Jewish Poles, Soviets, Gypsies (or Romani), political dissidents, mentally disabled people, and homosexuals also murdered by the Nazis.
This may have been partly an effort to maintain unity in the war effort in the face of widespread anti-Semitic attitudes in America and elsewhere. The Allied leaders certainly wanted to frame the war in a completely different way than the arch-anti-Semite Adolf Hitler, who depicted it as a racial battle pitting Germans against Jews of all nations.
But the bare facts of the Nazi obsession to terrorize, dispossess, and ultimately destroy Jews in particular—what the top prosecutor at the postwar Nuremberg trials would call "the most far-flung and terrible racial persecution of all time"— were reported in America. On a few occasions, Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Allies addressed the public about this program in unmistakable terms.
Condemning an anti-Jewish riot
After Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass), a wave of mob violence against Jews instigated by Nazi storm troopers in November 1938, Franklin D. Roosevelt recalled his ambassador from Berlin and expressed outrage in a press statement. "The news of the past few days from Germany," he said, "has deeply shocked public opinion in the United States. Such news from any part of the world would inevitably produce a similar profound reaction among American people in every part of the nation. I myself could scarcely believe that such things could occur in a twentieth century civilization."
Announcing an extermination campaign in progress
In August 1942, Rabbi Stephen Wise, head of the World Jewish Congress (WJC) he had helped found in 1936, received a cable written by a representative of the WJC in Geneva. The Nazis, it said, had a plan to exterminate all Jews in German-occupied lands "at one fell swoop." Wise, America's most influential Jewish leader and a close friend of FDR's, brought the news to the State Department, where officials asked him not to release it until they confirmed its accuracy. By November, the government had vetted the information, and Wise, who had led a boycott of German goods in 1933 and for years tried to sound the alarm about the Nazi persecution of Jews, held a press conference. He and other Jewish leaders urged FDR and the Allies to issue a statement warning the Nazis that they would be held accountable for their crimes. On December 17, 1942, the United States, Britain, and nine other nations arrayed against the Axis powers gave a statement describing all the basic components of what future generations would know as the Holocaust.
The German authorities, not content with denying to persons of Jewish race in all the territories over which their barbarous rule has been extended the most elementary human rights, are now carrying into effect Hitler's often repeated intention to exterminate the Jewish people in Europe. From all the occupied countries Jews are being transported, in conditions of appalling horror and brutality, to Eastern Europe. In Poland, which has been made the principal Nazi slaughterhouse, the ghettoes established by the Nazi invaders are being systematically emptied of all Jews except a few highly-skilled workers required for war industries. None of those taken away are ever heard of again. The able-bodied are slowly worked to death in labour camps. The infirm are left to die of exposure and starvation or are deliberately massacred in mass executions.
The number of victims of these bloody cruelties is reckoned in many hundreds of thousands of entirely innocent men, women and children.
The governments of the United Nations (UN) condemned "this bestial policy of cold-blooded extermination," declaring that it only strengthened their resolve to "ensure that those responsible for these crimes shall not escape retribution, and to press on with the necessary practical measures to this end."
Pressing on with "practical measures" meant waging war. The Soviets were at the time fiercely battling the Nazis for control of Stalingrad, while the Western Allies fought them in North Africa, America's first major offensive in the European war. The New York Times covered the UN statement about the slaughter of European Jews the next day on its front page—"11 Allies Condemn Nazi War on Jews"—but below bigger headlines on gas rationing in the United States and very detailed coverage of Allied bombing raids against Tunis and Bizerte, among other war news. On the murder of Jews, the newspaper editorialized, "The most tragic aspect of the situation is the world's helplessness to stop the horror while the war is going on. The most it can do is to denounce the perpetrators and promise them individual and separate retribution."
"Save them from the Nazi hangman"
Under increasing pressure from inside and outside of his administration, in January 1944 FDR created the War Refugee Board to coordinate on-the-ground rescue operations from Nazi-controlled territory. On March 24, with plans set for the Allied invasion of occupied France—D-day—later that spring, the president issued a statement intended as much for the people of Europe, where it was broadcast in various languages and dropped in leaflets, as for Americans. The statement promised individual punishment for those responsible for atrocities against civilians, and it urged all people, including Germans, to help Hitler's victims wherever possible.
One of the blackest crimes in all history—begun by the Nazis in the days of peace, and multiplied by them a hundred fold in time of war—the wholesale systematic murder of the Jews of Europe—goes on unabated every hour.
Hitler is committing these crimes against humanity in the name of the German people. I ask every German and every man everywhere to show the world by his actions that in his heart he does not share these insane criminal designs. Let him hide these pursued victims, help them to get over the borders, and do what he can to save them from the Nazi hangman. I ask him also to keep watch, and to record the evidence that will one day be used to convict the guilty. . . .
In so far as the necessities of military operations permit, this Government will use all means at its command to aid the escape of all intended victims of the Nazi and Japanese executioner—regardless of race or religion or color. We call upon the free peoples of Europe and Asia temporarily to open their frontiers to all victims of oppression. We shall find havens of refuge for them, and we shall find the means for their maintenance and support until the tyrant is driven from their homelands and they may return.
“The news of the past few days from Germany, has deeply shocked public opinion in the United States ... I myself could scarcely believe that such things could occur in a twentieth century civilisation.”
Franklin D. Roosevelt, following the anti-Jewish violence of Kristallnacht, November 1938
DThe War Refugee Board
D. The War Refugee Board
Over the course of 1942, sporadic reports of Nazi mass killings of Jews coalesced into evidence of an organized genocidal campaign. By the end of the year, the Allied nations had officially confirmed that the Germans were carrying out a program of extermination. During 1943 calls for America to launch a concerted rescue effort—not just fight the war—grew louder and more insistent.
Early in the year, a radical group led by Zionist Jews from Palestine working in the United States, the Committee for a Jewish Army of Stateless and Palestinian Jews, launched a publicity campaign whose centerpiece was large advertisements in newspapers like the New York Times. Their taglines aimed straight for the American conscience: "ACTION—NOT PITY—CAN SAVE MILLIONS NOW!" "THIS IS STRICTLY A RACE AGAINST DEATH! Is There Something You Could Have Done to Save Millions of Innocent People—Men, Women, and Children—from Torture and Death?" "HOW WELL ARE YOU SLEEPING?"
In March the more mainstream American Jewish Congress, led by Rabbi Stephen Wise, held a "Stop Hitler Now!" rally at New York's Madison Square Garden that attracted a throng of some seventy thousand people.
In the spring of 1943, members of Congress agitated for action as well, with many attending a pageant, "We Will Never Die," that dramatized the destruction of Jews across Europe. Written and organized by famed screenwriter Ben Hecht (Scarface, Gone with the Wind, Spellbound) with support from the Committee for a Jewish Army, the pageant was shown first in Madison Square Garden and later in Washington, DC. Eleanor Roosevelt also attended, and she wrote about the unforgettable presentation in her My Day column. In the fall, a resolution to create a rescue agency began winding its way through Congress. As the Senate Foreign Relations Committee concluded in a report on the resolution, "We have talked; we have sympathized; we have expressed our horror; the time to act is long past due."
But the most direct instigation for what would be known as the War Refugee Board came through Franklin D. Roosevelt's Department of the Treasury under Henry Morgenthau Jr. In late 1943, a young assistant general counsel in the department, Josiah DuBois, penned a blistering report accusing the State Department of using its discretion to deny visas to fleeing Jews and to thwart private attempts to rescue them. The report assailed Breckinridge Long, the assistant secretary in charge of visas at the State Department, for clamping down on Jewish visas during wartime under the spurious pretext that the refugees might be Nazi spies. It accused the State Department of willfully delaying for months a plan to allow private funds in the United States to be sent abroad to aid and transport desperately imperiled Romanian Jews—even though the Treasury had quickly issued a license for the money transfer and FDR had approved it. The memorandum's title: "Report to the Secretary on the Acquiescence of this Government in the Murder of the Jews."
In January 1944, Morgenthau presented a synopsis of the report to FDR. A few days later, by executive order, the president established the War Refugee Board to "effectuate with all possible speed" the rescue and relief of "victims of enemy oppression who are in imminent danger of death." The State, Treasury, and War Departments would run the board jointly.
The board's work
The War Refugee Board cut through red tape, clearing the way, at last, for those ready and able to take nimble action to rescue Jewish people from Adolf Hitler's grasp, sometimes just a few at a time. The work was funded by private groups such as the Joint Jewish Distribution Committee, coordinated by Treasury officials, and carried out by local operatives and War Refugee Board special representatives in Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Portugal, Italy, Great Britain, and North Africa.
The board urged neutral countries to open their borders and provide temporary safe havens and escape routes from Nazi-occupied territory to Palestine, Central and South America, or North Africa. It encouraged governments to issue and accept false documents when it meant thwarting Nazi killers. Through the International Red Cross, it helped provide food to prisoners in concentration camps.
The board dispatched the Bloomingdale's executive Ira Hirschmann to neutral Turkey in February 1944. From there, Hirschmann offered a Romanian diplomat U.S. visas for his family if he would arrange for the release of prisoners from Romania's Transnistria concentration camps. Afraid of the fate he would meet under the advancing Russians, the diplomat agreed. Hirschmann also managed to spirit some 6,500 Jews out of Romania by ship to Turkey and then via rail to Palestine. To do so, he had to not only overcome logistic difficulties, but also negotiate with the Romanians, the Turkish, and the British (who administered Palestine) to permit the refugees to make their journey.
The War Refugee Board's representative in Sweden sent Raoul Wallenberg, co-owner of an import-export company, to Hungary in July 1944. The Nazis had invaded the country in March and deported most Jews from the countryside to Auschwitz. A large Jewish community in Budapest—indeed the last intact, major Jewish community in Europe—stood at risk of imminent deportation.
Wallenberg adopted bold, often extralegal tactics to pluck Hungarian Jews from harm's way. He invented and designed a flashy document complete with Sweden's national coat of arms that would give the holder Swedish protection, and he issued this "Schutz-Pass" indiscriminately, essentially daring the Nazis and their local collaborators to risk confrontation with the neutral Swedes. After pro-Nazi Hungarians took over the country in October and the Nazis began moving Jews in death marches toward the Austrian border, Wallenberg followed them by truck, pulling a few from the marches with the insistence that they were protected by the Swedish government, and distributing food and blankets to others. At the end of the year, hearing of a Nazi plan to destroy Jews remaining in Budapest's central ghetto, Wallenberg told the German commander he could expect to be tried and hanged for war crimes. The attack did not go forward.
The War Refugee Board also set up a small center in Oswego, New York, the Fort Ontario Emergency Refugee Shelter, where some thousand Jewish refugees were transferred from an Italian refugee camp.
Though John Pehle, the board's director, would deem its efforts "little and late," the War Refugee Board is credited with saving as many as two hundred thousand lives.
Proposal to bomb Auschwitz
In the latter half of 1944, the War Refugee Board also passed along to the War Department requests by Jewish organizations to bomb Auschwitz or the rail lines leading to it. Whether the Allies should have attacked the notorious death camp has been the subject of intense controversy for decades.
The question first arose after two Slovakian Jews, Rudolf Vrba and Alfred Wetzler, escaped from Auschwitz in April 1944 and produced details of its layout and operations—including the mass killing going on there as the Nazis deported Jews from Hungary. Pehle, like some Jewish leaders, remained unconvinced that it was a good idea to bomb the camp—which might kill Jewish prisoners—until November, after he had read the full eyewitness report on the camps. He wrote Assistant Secretary of War John J. McCloy urging him to review the report and consider bombing the camp's "elaborate murder installations."
But McCloy informed him that bombing the camp would divert military resources from the Allies' critical attack on German industrial targets and would be of dubious effectiveness anyway. "The positive solution to this problem is the earliest possible victory over Germany," McCloy wrote, "to which we should exert our entire means."
By November Auschwitz was shutting down; the Nazis were moving prisoners from the camp ahead of the Soviet advance and dismantling some of its equipment. On November 26, the War Refugee Board released the detailed report of the Auschwitz escapees, along with the report of another survivor. "The War Refugee Board," said an accompanying press release, "is engaged in a desperate effort to save as many as possible of Hitler's intended victims."
AN ESSAY BY WILLIAM J. VANDEN HEUVEL
America and the Holocaust
America and the Holocaust
Adapted from a speech delivered at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, DC, on October 24, 1996, and an essay originally published in American Heritage, 1999.
It was Winston Churchill’s judgment, which I share, that the Holocaust “was probably the greatest and most terrible crime ever committed in the whole history of the world.” The Holocaust was part of a colossal military struggle known as World War II in which sixty-seven million people were killed, where nations were decimated, where democracy’s survival was in the balance. In his lunatic zeal to exterminate the Jews of Europe, Adolf Hitler and his Nazi followers murdered six million innocent men, women, and children for no other reason than that they were Jewish. This crime is of such profound proportions that it can never be understood; it must continue to be analyzed from every aspect as to how and why it happened; and its memory must unite all of us so that we can truly say in one voice, “never again.”
We remember also that nine million non-Jewish civilians were brutally murdered by the Nazis. They were Germans, Poles, Czechs, Serbs, Croats, Ukrainians, Russians, Gypsies. They were political dissidents, labor leaders, Catholic and Protestant clergy, journalists, doctors, lawyers, intellectuals, the mentally and physically disabled, and homosexuals. Most of these victims were killed because of who they were, not for what they did. The Slavs, like the Jews, were a particular target of Hitler’s hatred. He described them as Untermensch (subhuman). When the Nazis conquered their countries, the Slavs were terrorized and tortured, their property and land expropriated. Eyewitness accounts abound of examples of unspeakable brutality, such as women and children being herded into locked barns, which were then set afire. Many shared the fate of the Jews in the extermination camps. Most were hanged, shot, starved, or worked to death. Nine million human beings. In addition, the Nazis murdered over three million Soviet prisoners of war, approximately 57 percent of those in Nazi custody. (Of the U.S. and British POWs, less than 4 percent lost their lives.)
It was only in the 1960s that the name “holocaust” came into general use to describe the Nazi genocide of Europe’s Jews. Since then, much has been written regarding America’s role during those years of persecution and destruction. Accusing the United States not only of abandoning the Jews but of complicity in the Holocaust, historian David Wyman has written: “The Nazis were the murderers but we”—and here he includes the American government, its president and its people, Christians and Jews indiscriminately—“were the all too passive accomplices.” This terrible indictment deserves a response. Another area of scholarship has questioned whether knowledge about murder of the Jews was deliberately suppressed by Allied governments. In an outstanding contribution to this debate, scholar Richard Breitman argues that if Britain had released the decrypts about the Nazi massacres in the Soviet Union in 1941, it might have alerted Jews earlier to what was happening or about to happen, hopefully enabling more to escape. This is an important argument that deserves continuing concern. Some are critical of American Jews during that period for being “passive observers,” for not wanting to know what was happening in the genocide of Europe’s Jews, for being so absorbed in their effort to be accepted or assimilated in American society that they chose silence rather than public outrage at the Nazi crimes.
The corollary question to this line of argument is: Why did American Jews give their overwhelming support to Franklin D. Roosevelt when, as his critics allege, he was indifferent to the fate of Europe’s Jews despite his knowledge of what was happening to them? Why did not the United States let the St. Louis, a German ship carrying Jewish refugees to Cuba in 1939, land at an American port when Cuba refused admission? Perhaps the most frequent question in this decade asks why the Allies did not bomb Auschwitz and the railroad tracks leading to Auschwitz. Laced through the debate is the generally unspoken allegation that America’s leaders and Americans generally were uncaring anti-Semites. After all, if the bombing of Auschwitz was not ordered, then those who did not order the bombing must be—what? Traitors? Anti-Semitic supporters of Hitler’s efforts to kill the Jews? Military and civilian leaders without conscience or moral concerns?
As Pieter Geyl, the great Dutch historian, once wrote: “History is indeed an argument without end.” My effort is not a definitive answer to those criticisms and questions, but it does offer a point of view that tries to frame the discussion in the context of the realities of World War II, putting events, values, and attitudes in their time and place.
Before the Holocaust, 1933–41
Five weeks after Hitler became chancellor of Germany in 1933, FDR became president of the United States. His loathing of the whole Nazi regime was known the moment he took office. Alone among the leaders of the world, he stood in opposition to Hitler from the very beginning. In a book published in 1937, Churchill—to whom free humanity everywhere must be eternally indebted and without whose courage and strength the defeat of Nazi Germany could never have been achieved—described Hitler’s treatment of the Jews, stating that “concentration camps pock-mark the German soil” and concluding his essay by writing that “the world lives on hopes that the worst is over and that we may live to see Hitler a gentler figure in a happier age.” FDR had no such hopes. He never wavered in his belief that the malignancy of Hitler and his followers had to be destroyed. Thomas Mann, the most famous of the non-Jewish refugees from the Nazis, met with FDR at the White House in 1935 and confided that for the first time he believed the Nazis would be beaten because in FDR he had met someone who truly understood the evil of Hitler.
To understand those years, we must differentiate between the German Jews who were the immediate and constant subjects of Hitler’s persecution and the Jews of central Europe who were the principal victims of the Holocaust. The Jews of Germany numbered about 525,000 in 1933. They were the yeast of Germany’s great culture—leaders in literature, music, medicine, science, in its financial and intellectual life. For the most part, they wanted to be thought of as Germans. They had been a proud part of Germany’s army in World War I. Anti-Semitism shadowed their lives, but they thought of Germany as their country and were deeply rooted in its existence. “We are either Germans, or without a country,” said a leading Jewish writer. They witnessed Hitler’s coming to power with disbelief and saw Nazi dominance as a temporary phenomenon. In the face of Nazi persecution, those who left Germany did so reluctantly, many seeking refuge in neighboring countries from which they expected to return to Germany when the Hitler madness subsided. In the early years, many—if not most—believed Hitler and his regime could not survive.
In his autobiography, Rabbi Stephen Wise — one of the most powerful and respected leaders of the American Jewish community during that era, and a personal friend and close advisor of President Roosevelt — tells how, in October 1932, he received a report from a scholar whom he had sent to Germany and who had interviewed thirty leading Jews, all of whom, with one exception, had declared that “Hitler would never come to power.” They sent a message to tell Wise “that he need not concern himself with Jewish affairs in Germany. If he insists upon dealing with Jewish affairs in Europe, let him occupy himself with Jewish problems in Poland and Romania.” When Wise organized a New York rally in March 1933 to protest Nazi treatment of Jews, he received a message from leading German rabbis urging him to cut out such meetings and in a most insulting way indicating that American Jews were doing this for their own purposes and in the process were destroying the Germany that the German Jews loved. Wise never wavered in his belief that the only option for the Jews was to leave Germany.
As the Nazi persecution intensified, as the Nuremberg Laws degraded the Jews as nothing before, as Hitler strove to cause their emigration and confiscated Jewish property and wealth, the prospect of escape and exile had to shadow every Jewish family. In 1934, thirty-seven thousand Jews fled Germany—but in the relative calm of the next year, sixteen thousand returned. The good and brave chief rabbi of Berlin, Leo Baeck, opposed mass emigration, setting a personal example of not abandoning his community, surviving even the horror of a wartime concentration camp. Every Jewish group affirmed the right of Jews to be German, to live in and love their country; they affirmed the legal right, the moral necessity, and the religious imperative of not surrendering to their persecutors. As important as any barriers to immigration in Western countries was the attitude of not wanting to leave Germany until absolutely necessary. It is crucial to our understanding of these years to remember that at the time, no one inside or outside of Germany anticipated that the Nazi persecution would lead to the Holocaust. As military historian Gerhard Weinberg has cogently written, the actions of the German government were generally understood, by both the victims and the bystanders, as a return to the kinds of persecutions and restrictions imposed on Jews in prior centuries, not as steps on the road toward genocide.
The annexation of Austria, the appeasement of the Nazis represented by the Munich pact, and especially Kristallnacht in November 1938 changed the situation dramatically. The assassination of a German diplomat in Paris by a seventeen-year-old Jewish youth, whose father had been among the thousands of Polish Jews expelled from Germany and dumped across the Polish border just weeks before, sparked an orgy of arson and looting by Nazi thugs in almost every town and city. Huge, silent crowds looked on. The police did nothing to contain the violence. Many German Jews for the first time understood the hopelessness of their situation.
The America that elected FDR its president in 1932 was a deeply troubled country. Twenty-five percent of its workforce was unemployed—and this at a time when practically every member of that workforce was the principal support of a family. The economy was paralyzed; despair hung heavy on the land. Disillusion with Europe after the sacrifices of the First World War encouraged profound isolationist sentiments.
The immigration laws of the United States had been established by legislation in 1921 and 1924 under Presidents Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge and by a Congress that had rejected the League of Nations and defined the new isolationism. The Congress controlled the immigration laws and carefully monitored their implementation. A formula assigned a specific quota to countries based on population origins of Americans resident in the United States in 1890. The law was aimed at eastern Europeans, particularly people from Russia and Poland, which were seen as seedbeds of Bolshevik revolution. Italians were a target and Asians were practically excluded. The total number of immigrants who could be admitted annually was set at 153,774.1 The two countries with the highest quotas were Great Britain (65,721) and Germany (25,957). As the Depression took hold, President Herbert Hoover tightened regulations by mandating that no immigrant could be admitted who might become a public charge. The Depression also encouraged an unusual coalition of liberal and conservative forces, labor unions and business leaders, who opposed any enlargement of the immigration quotas, an attitude that Congress adamantly supported. The overwhelming majority of Americans agreed with Congress, opposing the increased admission of immigrants, insisting that refugees be included in the quotas of countries from which they were fleeing. Jewish refugees from Germany, because of the relatively large German quota, had an easier time than anticommunist refugees from the Soviet Union, not to mention the Chinese who were victims of Japan’s aggression, or the Armenians, or the Spanish fleeing a civil war in which five hundred thousand were killed between 1936 and 1939. Spain’s annual quota, for example, was 252.
FDR and the refugees
The president and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt were leaders in the effort to help those fleeing Nazi persecution. In 1933 ER was a founder of the International Rescue Committee, which brought intellectuals, labor leaders, and political figures escaping Hitler to sanctuary in the United States. President Roosevelt made a public point of inviting many of them to the White House. In 1936, in response to the Nazi confiscation of personal assets as a precondition to Jewish emigration, FDR greatly modified Hoover’s ruling regarding financial sponsorship for refugees, thereby allowing a substantially greater number of visas to be issued. As a result, the United States accepted twice as many Jewish refugees than did the rest of the world put together. As Professor Weinberg has stated, FDR acted in the face of strong and politically damaging criticism for what was generally considered a pro-Jewish attitude by him personally and by his administration.
Hitler’s policy never wavered in trying to force the Jews to leave Germany. After the Anschluss in Austria, FDR, on March 25, 1938, called for an international conference on the refugee crisis. Austria’s 185,000 Jews were now also in jeopardy. The conference met in Évian, France. There was no political advantage for FDR in calling for a conference “to facilitate the emigration from Germany and Austria of political refugees.” No other major political leader in any country matched his concern and involvement. The Évian Conference tried to open new doors in the Western Hemisphere. The Dominican Republic, for example, offered sanctuary to one hundred thousand refugees. The devastating blow at Évian was the message from the Polish and Romanian governments that they expected the same right as the Germans to expel their Jewish populations. There were fewer than 475,000 Jews left in Germany and Austria at this point—a number manageable in an emigration plan that the twenty-nine participating nations could prepare; but with the possibility of 3.5 million more from eastern Europe, the concern now was that any offer of help would only encourage authoritarian governments to brutalize any unwanted portion of their populations, expecting their criminal acts against their own citizens to force the democracies to give them haven. The German emigration problem was manageable. Forced emigration from eastern Europe was not. The Nazi genocide was in the future—and unimaginable to the Jews and probably at the time unimagined by the Nazis. National attitudes then were not very different than today’s. No country allows any and every refugee to enter without limitations. Quotas are thought even now to deter unscrupulous and impoverished regimes from forcing their unwanted people on other countries.
The international Évian Conference, convened by FDR in July 1938 to address the refugee problem, failed except to organize the Inter-Governmental Committee (IGC) that was to pressure the Germans to allow Jewish refugees to leave with enough resources to begin their new lives. It led to direct negotiations between Hjalmar Schacht, head of the Reichsbank, and George Rublee, a distinguished Washington, DC, lawyer personally designated by FDR. Schacht proposed that 150,000 Jews be allowed to emigrate, taking 25 percent of their assets with them, the rest impounded in a trust fund, which would serve as collateral on bonds to be issued by the German state. It was an effort by Schacht to resolve Germany’s foreign exchange crisis. Hitler abruptly ordered the end of the discussions. The negotiations, as all barter negotiations in the years ahead, failed because Hitler would never allow them to succeed.
By the end of 1938, Kristallnacht had happened. Its impact on the Jews of Germany and Austria was overwhelming. Munich was a tragic reality. Truncated Czechoslovakia would last six months before Hitler broke his promise and occupied the rest of the country. The German Jews at last understood the barbarism of the Nazis—and that Hitler was totally in power. America’s reaction to Kristallnacht was stronger than any of the other democracies’. FDR recalled his ambassador from Germany. It was the first time since the First World War that an American president had summoned home an ambassador to a major power under such circumstances. At his press conference then, FDR said: “I myself can scarcely believe that such things could occur in a 20th century civilization.” He extended the visitors’ visas of twenty thousand Germans and Austrians in the United States so they would not have to return. The reaction of Americans in opinion polls showed overwhelming anger and disgust with the Nazis and sympathy for the Jews.
FDR remained the target of the hardcore anti-Semites in America. He welcomed them as enemies and, in brilliant maneuvering, he isolated them from mainstream America and essentially equated their anti-Semitism with treason and the destruction of both the national interest and national defense. Recognizing the inertia, frequent hostility, and sometime anti-Semitism in the State Department, he entrusted Sumner Welles, the undersecretary of state and a person totally sympathetic to Jewish needs, to be his instrument of action.
Immigration procedures were complicated and sometimes harshly administered. The immigration laws and quotas were jealously guarded by Congress, supported by a strong, broad cross section of Americans who were against all immigrants, not Jews alone. Of course, there were racists and anti-Semites in the Congress and in the country—there are today, only now, after decades of government based on liberal values, they dare not speak their true attitudes. The State Department, which guarded its administrative authority in the granting of visas, was frequently more concerned with congressional attitudes and criticisms than in reflecting American decency and generosity in helping people in despair and panic. FDR undoubtedly made a mistake in appointing and continuing in office Breckinridge Long as assistant secretary of state. Many allege Long was an anti-Semite. Others argue that he was “in an impossible situation with an insurmountable task.” His presence at the State Department was an assurance to the Congress that the immigration laws would be strictly enforced. On the other hand, there were countless Foreign Service officers who did everything possible to help persecuted, innocent people—just as they would today. There was an attitude that there were many sanctuaries available in the world besides the United States, so the department, controlled by a career, conservative elite in large part anti–New Deal and anti-FDR, was quite prepared to make congressional attitudes the guide for its administration of immigration procedures rather than the attitudes of the White House. Congress looked at the turmoil in Germany as a European problem in which it did not want America to be involved.
Nevertheless, between 1933 and 1941, 35 percent of all immigrants to America under quota guidelines were Jewish. After Kristallnacht, Jewish immigrants were more than one-half of all immigrants admitted to the United States. Of course, there were other countries of refuge, many of them preferred by German Jews who, like everyone else, did not foresee the Nazi madness of conquest and extermination and who wanted to stay in Europe. Public opinion everywhere in the democracies was repelled by the Nazi persecution. Great Britain, for example, after Kristallnacht granted immigration visas essentially without limit. In the first six months of 1939, 91,780 German and Austrian Jews were admitted to England, often as a temporary port en route to the Dominions or other parts of the empire.
FDR from the beginning saw the larger threat of the Nazis. Hitler wanted to present Germany as the champion of a universal struggle against the Jews and Bolshevism. FDR would not let him. The president understood that he had to explain the vital interest that all Americans had in stopping Hitler in terms of their own security. He pressured the Europeans to respond to Hitler. His speech in 1937 calling for the quarantine of the aggressors was met with political hostility at home and abroad. He was constantly seeking havens for the refugees in other countries, knowing that he did not have the power to change the quota system of our own country. His critics refuse to acknowledge limitations on presidential power, but clearly the president could not unilaterally command an increase in quotas.
In fact, the Democratic congressional leaders, including Representative Samuel Dickstein, who chaired the House subcommittee on immigration, warned him that reactionary forces in the Congress might well use any attempt to increase the quotas as an opportunity to reduce them. The New York Times of February 27, 1939, reports a speech by Congressman Emmanuel Celler of Brooklyn, an outspoken defender of Jewish interests, where he warned that “it would be dangerous at this time because of public opinion in the South and West to press for the passage in Congress of [Celler’s] bills to give asylum in the United States to refugees and to re-allot for refugees the unused quotas of various countries.” Congressman Celler said he had been warned by representatives from other parts of the country that if he pressed his proposals, other bills “to cut the quotas in half or to stop all immigration would be introduced and probably passed.” Nor were the Jews the only refugees Congress was determined to bar. The New York Times of March 2, 1939, reports a speech by the Reverend Joseph Ostermann, executive director of the Committee for Catholic Refugees from Germany, saying that there were five hundred thousand actual or potential Catholic refugees whom “Goebbels and Rosenberg in Germany have attempted to identify with communism.”
Seventy-two percent of all German Jews had emigrated before further emigration became impossible with the beginning of the war. Eighty-three percent of all German Jews under twenty-one emigrated. There are many reasons why the others did not get out—some were too old to leave, some believed it their religious duty to stay, some were in concentration camps and prisons, some just did not know what to do. Émigrés were plundered of virtually all of their assets, and not until Jews faced the reality of terrorism and imprisonment were many of them prepared to give up their family’s wealth and everything that they had worked for all of their lives.
In his painfully eloquent book, Bound Upon a Wheel of Fire, John Dipple writes:
Yes, there were tight restrictions on entering into the United States and other countries, but were Germany’s Jews really blocked by them before 1938? Most evidence suggests that the Jews could have circumvented these obstacles in greater numbers if they had wanted to escape Germany badly enough, if they had grasped the desperateness of their plight earlier on. But they had not. Despite everything, Germany was still their home. And, despite almost everything they were prepared to stay there.
The perspective of hindsight
It is important to say, over and over again, that it was a time and a place when no one foresaw the events that became the Holocaust. Louis de Jong, an eminent Dutch historian and Holocaust survivor, in his Erasmus lectures at Harvard University in 1989 said:
[There is] an aspect of the Holocaust which is of cardinal importance and which can never be sufficiently underlined: that the Holocaust, when it took place, was beyond the belief and the comprehension of almost all people living at the time, Jews included. Everyone knew that human history had been scarred by endless cruelties. But that thousands, nay millions, of human beings—men, women and children, the old and the young, the healthy and the infirm—would be killed, finished off, mechanically, industrially so to speak, would be exterminated like vermin—that was a notion so alien to the human mind, an event so gruesome, so new, that the instinctive, indeed the natural, reaction of most people was: it can’t be true. 2
Given the reality of the Holocaust, all of us in many countries—and certainly in America—can only wish that we had done more, that our immigration barriers had been less, that our government had had a broader worldview, that every public servant had reflected the attitudes of FDR and ER. If anyone had foreseen the Holocaust, perhaps—possibly—maybe—but no one did. Nevertheless, the United States, a nation remote from the world in a way our children can hardly understand—the United States accepted twice as many Jewish refugees than did the rest of the world put together.
Among the anguishing events we read about is the fate of the ship SS St. Louis of the Hamburg-America line, which left Germany and arrived in Cuba on May 27, 1939, with some 930 Jewish refugees aboard. This was three months before the outbreak of the war, and three years before the establishment of the death camps.
Other ships had made the same journey, and their passengers disembarked successfully, but on May 5 the Cuban government had issued a decree curtailing the power of the corrupt director general of immigration to issue landing certificates. The new regulations requiring $500 bonds from each approved immigrant had been transmitted to the shipping line, but only twenty-two passengers of the St. Louis had fulfilled the requirements before leaving Hamburg on May 13. The twenty-two were allowed to land, but intense negotiations with the Cuban government regarding the other passengers—negotiations in which American Jewish agencies participated—broke down despite pressure from our government.
It was not an unreported event. Tremendous international attention focused on the St. Louis, later made famous by the 1974 book Voyage of the Damned and movie of the same title. Secretary of State Cordell Hull, Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau Jr., and others, including ER, worked to avoid the harsh reality of the immigration laws, for example, by attempting to land the passengers as “tourists” in the Virgin Islands. Despite the legal inability of the United States to accept the passengers of the St. Louis as immigrants, our diplomats were significantly helpful in resettling them. None—not one—of the passengers of the SS St. Louis were returned to Nazi Germany. They were all resettled in democratic countries—288 in the United Kingdom, the rest in France, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Denmark. I interviewed a survivor of the St. Louis, a retired professor of human genetics at the University of Washington in Seattle. His father had arrived in Cuba in early 1939. He described Captain Shroeder of the St. Louis as a compassionate man who ordered decent treatment for his Jewish passengers and who told them that he would run his ship aground off of England to assure their sanctuary rather than return them to Germany if Cuba refused admission. The Motulsky family disembarked in Belgium. After an extraordinary saga, all of them eventually reached the United States. Their story gives a very different perspective on the voyage of the St. Louis than that of America’s critics who prepare museum exhibits about it sixty years later.
What were FDR’s own attitudes toward Hitler and the Jews? Did he reflect the social anti-Semitism that was endemic in the America of that era? Contemporary Jews knew that they had never had a better friend, a more sympathetic leader in the White House. FDR opened the offices of government as never before to Jews. Morgenthau, Samuel Rosenman, Felix Frankfurter, Benjamin Cohen, David Niles, Anna Rosenberg, Sidney Hillman, and David Dubinsky were among his closest advisors in politics and government. Wise, the preeminent spokesman for American Zionism, and his daughter, Justine Polier, were personal friends of FDR and ER with as much access to the White House as anyone. Wise described FDR by saying, “No one was more genuinely free from religious prejudice and racial bigotry.” He recalled how in March 1933, “Roosevelt’s soul rebelled at the Nazi doctrine of superior and inferior races” and how in March 1945, days before his death, FDR spoke movingly of his determination to establish “a free and democratic Jewish commonwealth in Palestine.”
The Holocaust, 1941–45
The persecution of the Jews and their emigration from Germany were the prelude to the Holocaust. Nazi policy changed radically after the outbreak of war. The possibility of emigration ended. Germany’s Jews were now prisoners. The Holocaust—the systematic killing of six million Jews—took place between 1941 and 1945.
The likelihood is that Hitler did not expect Britain and France to go to war over Poland. The Hitler-Stalin pact announced on August 24, 1939, stunned the world. The Soviets had been enemies of Hitler, the rallying point for millions around the world who saw in them the only military force that might confront the Nazis. Suddenly, the Soviets and Germans ended their threats to each other and divided Poland, Hitler gaining lebensraum and Stalin gaining a buffer zone from the Nazi armies he never trusted. Also in the package were more than three million Polish Jews, caught between Nazi brutality and Soviet degradation. Seemingly at peace on his eastern flank, where he occupied Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Western Poland, essentially dominant in central Europe through satellite fascist movements, Hitler moved to the west, occupying Norway, Denmark, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands—and again stunning the world by conquering France in a six-week blitzkrieg. France surrendered in June 1940. Benito Mussolini’s Italy became Hitler’s active ally. Francisco Franco in a Spain prostrated by devastating civil war owed his victory to Hitler’s support. England stood alone. Its new prime minister, Churchill, expressed the defiance of Britain and its empire, but Britain—facing invasion, desperately in need of arms, shaken by devastating Nazi bombings—looked to America for help and hope. Our debt to the British can never be adequately expressed. It was their “finest hour”—they salvaged the fate of freedom.
In 1939 FDR received a letter from Albert Einstein and understood that new scientific discoveries would allow the development of atomic power, threatening a force that could destroy the world—or at least win the war for whichever nation first became its master. FDR’s decision to launch the Manhattan Project, giving it whatever resources it needed for success, began the nuclear age. It was as fateful a decision as any president has ever made. Hitler had the same option. German scientists were certainly capable of producing atomic weapons. Hitler had all of the necessary resources, but he failed to pursue his option, not comprehending as FDR did that the future of the world was at stake.
As FDR won an unprecedented third term as president, he—better than any American—understood what lay ahead. He had confronted the economic collapse of the United States—but recovery was slow and painful. Now he faced the political collapse of Europe, the military collapse of China—and totalitarian governments in Germany and Japan that threatened America as never before. Nazi Germany, possessed of the most modern, best trained, best equipped military force in recorded history, occupied western and central Europe, confident that Hitler’s dream of conquest would soon include Great Britain, the Soviet Union—and ultimately the United States itself.
FDR’s priority was to repeal the Neutrality Act so that he could provide help to Britain. In 1940—with Europe under Hitler’s boot—U.S. military strength ranked as seventeenth in the world, behind Portugal. We led the world in the production of automobiles but had practically no munitions industry. Whereas Hitler had invaded Belgium and the Netherlands supported by 136 fully equipped divisions, America could barely muster five divisions. Nevertheless, isolationist sentiment remained powerful, fully reflected in the Congress. Three months before Pearl Harbor, in September 1941, the continuation of the Selective Service program was sustained by a single vote in the House of Representatives. FDR undid the public image that the isolationists had projected of themselves as peace-loving patriots. His persistent attacks on them turned the tide of public opinion. At great political risk in the midst of the presidential campaign, FDR engineered the deal that sent fifty desperately needed overage destroyers to Britain, a deed that helped save its lifeline from the unremitting attacks of German submarines. Hitler called it a belligerent act. It was. FDR proposed Lend-Lease—and built a bipartisan coalition to gain its congressional approval.
He announced the Four Freedoms as the goal that would justify the terrible sacrifices that lay ahead. He met with Churchill. They announced the Atlantic Charter, the blueprint for the survival of democracy, and together they created the partnership that we hail today as the most important alliance of this troubled twentieth century.
All this—and America was not yet at war. Nor had the genocide of Europe’s Jews yet begun. America’s isolationists continued to believe that the United States was protected from harm by the two vast oceans that separated it from Hitler’s Europe and Japan’s militarism. President Roosevelt believed otherwise. Pearl Harbor would prove FDR’s judgment correct—and give him a united country to mobilize for victory.
A vast prison, Hitler its warden
Hitler’s conquest of the European continent let loose the full force of his psychopathic obsession about Jews. With the start of the war on September 1, 1939, emigration from Germany became prohibited. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of German Jews escaped across borders into Holland, Belgium, and Switzerland. But by June 1940, with the fall of France, Europe became a prison for the Jews. Unoccupied France was still an escape route. Despite intense criticism from the political left, FDR continued to maintain diplomatic relations with Vichy, France—which allowed the escape route to remain open. The International Rescue Committee—a group in which ER remained very supportive—sent a team headed by Varian Fry that helped countless refugees find sanctuary in Spain and Portugal. But the vise was tightening. With the invasion of Russia on June 22, 1941, the lock was put on the most terrible dungeon in history. Special squads of the German SS—the Einsatzgruppen—began the slaughter of 1,500,000 Jews behind the German lines in Russia. The Wannsee Conference, which structured “the Final Solution,” was held in the suburbs of Berlin in January 1942.
The Jews of central Europe, the Jews from the occupied nations of western Europe, the Jews of the Soviet Union—the principal victims of the Holocaust—were not refugees either before or after 1939. They were prisoners in a vast prison from which there was no escape and no possible rescue. They were not subject to Nazi rule or persecution prior to the war, and few imagined that they ever would be, let alone that they would be murdered in history’s greatest genocide. Just as German Jews imagined that Hitler and the Nazi rule would pass quickly, Jews outside of Germany did not imagine themselves in mortal danger. Zionism was not a dominant force in their communities. In the 1936 Jewish community elections in Poland—the most highly organized Jewish community in Europe—the Social Democratic Bund won a sweeping victory on a pledge of “unyielding hostility to Zionism.” The party’s leaders wanted Polish Jews to remain in Poland. The policies of the Soviet Union forbade emigration. In the Netherlands—a country whose Jewish population suffered a greater percentage loss in the extermination camps than any other in western Europe—not more than 679 individuals, Jews and Gentiles, migrated in any one year before 1940, far fewer than the Dutch quota would have allowed. The assumption was that Hitler would respect Dutch neutrality just as the Kaiser had in the First World War. Once Hitler’s armies marched, the Jews of Nazi-occupied Europe no longer had the possibility of being refugees. Individuals could and did attempt escape, and, through their bravery and the extraordinary courage of those who helped them, some made it to freedom, often at great cost to those left behind. For the overwhelming number, it was now too late. They were prisoners. And only the physical liberation of their prisons—the extermination camps of central Europe—could save their lives.
The doors had been closed, not by the United States or its allies, but by Hitler. Jews were now trapped by a psychopath who was also the absolute dictator of Europe. On January 30, 1942, Hitler, speaking to the Reichstag, said, “This war can end in two ways—either the extermination of the Aryan peoples or the disappearance of Jewry from Europe.” Since the mid-1920s, Hitler had never voluntarily spoken to a Jew. He allowed himself no contact with them. He was the most determined ideologue of racial superiority and racial conflict who ever led a country—and Germany in 1940 was the most powerful country on earth. He was more extreme than anyone around him. His central obsession, the life’s mission of this deranged, monomaniacal psychopath, was to kill as many Jews as he could. Nothing diminished this mission—not the defeat of his armies, not the destruction of his country. As Germany lay in ruins, as the demented dictator prepared to end his life in his bunker in Berlin, his Nazi acolytes continued his mission above all else, diverting even urgently needed reinforcements for his retreating armies to complete the assignment of the Final Solution. The extermination camps were the efficient mechanisms of these disciplined lunatics—but two million Jews were murdered before Auschwitz was opened, and after it was closed in November 1944, hundreds of thousands more were shot, strangled, or starved to death.
The prisoners of Hitler could be saved only by the total, unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany—and that was a task that required four years and the unprecedented mobilization of all of the resources, human and material, of Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States.
No secret: news of the Nazi extermination campaign
Some critics of America and President Roosevelt say the news of the annihilation of Europe’s Jews was deliberately kept secret so that our people would not know about it—and if Americans had been aware of the Final Solution, they would have insisted on doing more than what was done. They suggest that anti-Semitism in the State Department—or elsewhere or everywhere in our government and in our country—determined that the news of the extermination process be kept secret. The facts are otherwise. President Roosevelt, Churchill, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, General George C. Marshall, the intelligence services of the Allied nations, every Jewish leader, the Jewish communities in America, in Britain, and in Palestine, and yes, anyone who had a radio or newspaper in 1942 knew that Jews in colossal numbers were being murdered.3 They may have received the news with disbelief. There was no precedent for it in human history. But the general information of the genocide was broadly available to anyone who would read or listen.
The famous telegram from Gerhart Riegner, a representative of the World Jewish Congress in Switzerland in August 1942, was not even the first knowledge that a death camp later to become known as Auschwitz, with its gas chambers and ghastly crematoria, had been built—but Auschwitz, like every extermination camp, was treated as a top-secret project by the Nazis. We publicized what we knew, but the Nazis tried to keep as much information as possible away from everybody. As Martin Gilbert points out, the details and even the name of Auschwitz were not confirmed until the escape of two prisoners in April 1944—two years after its murderous processes had begun. The names, locations, and procedures of the death camps may not have been known—some not until the end of the war—but the fact of the genocide and the Nazi determination to carry it out were not in doubt.
When Wise was given the Riegner telegram, Welles asked him not to publicize it until its information could be confirmed by sources available to the Czech and Polish governments in exile. There was no video of this original version of “ethnic cleansing” such as we had available to us from Bosnia. There were no enterprising reporters who could photograph the butchery of the Nazis or report the workings of their brutality as we had in Rwanda. Of course, everyone with any sense of decency was incredulous—and many remained so as fragments of what was happening trickled across Nazi borders carried by brave messengers who frequently were not eyewitnesses but rather reporting what they had heard. The experience of the First World War, in which atrocities attributed to the Germans turned out to be wrong—or Allied propaganda—caused many to wonder whether the incredible reports coming from the continent of Europe would ultimately prove false as well.4 Tragically, the reports beginning in 1941 were true. Even the men, women, and children being loaded into the boxcars that would take them to certain death in uncertain places generally described as “locations in eastern Europe” did not know Auschwitz or Dachau or Maidanek by name or purpose.
When Welles confirmed the truth of the Riegner telegram to Wise, the rabbi wept—as countless Jews and non-Jews would do in those terrible years when the Nazis were beyond the reach of the armies that would defeat them. Encouraged by Welles to hold a press conference to announce the terrible news, Wise did so on November 28, 1942. His announcement of the Nazi plan to annihilate Europe’s Jews was widely reported. Wise and his colleagues met with the president. They asked the president to warn Hitler and the Germans that they would be held individually responsible for what they were doing to the Jews. FDR agreed immediately. An announcement to that effect in the name of the United Nations was made in the Congress and in Britain’s Parliament on December 17, 1942. It was repeated many times throughout the war. The Parliament for the first time in its history stood in silence to mourn what was happening to the Jews, to pray for the strength needed to destroy the Nazi barbarians. In America, the labor unions led the nation in a ten-minute period of mourning for the Jews of Europe.
Who can possibly argue that there was a conspiracy of silence regarding the fate of Europe’s Jews when America’s most popular broadcaster, Edward R. Murrow, listened to by millions, on December 13, 1942, reported: “Millions of human beings, most of them Jews, are being gathered up with ruthless efficiency and murdered. . . . It is a picture of mass murder and moral depravity unequaled in the history of the world. It is a horror beyond what imagination can grasp. . . . The Jews are being systematically exterminated throughout all Poland. . . . There are no longer ‘concentration camps’—we must speak now only of ‘extermination camps.’” Six months earlier, on June 30, 1942, the New York Times had already carried a report from the World Jewish Congress that the Germans had by that date already massacred one million Jews, that the Nazis had established a “vast slaughterhouse for Jews” in eastern Europe.
American Jewry was not a passive observer of these events, cowering in silence for fear of letting loose waves of anti-Semitism in America. Despite issues that bitterly divided them, primarily relating to Palestine, the Jewish community in America spoke the same words in pleading to do whatever was possible to reach out to Europe’s Jews. Plan after plan was produced to rescue the Jews of Europe. Jewish leaders lobbied the Congress. Mass rallies were held across the country with overflow crowds throughout those years, praying, pleading for action to stop the genocide we now know as the Holocaust. The unremitting, remorseless massacre of the Jews—carefully concealed by top-secret arrangements of the Nazi murderers—continued because no one, no nation, no alliance of nations could do anything meaningful to close down the death camps—except, as FDR said over and over again, by winning the war and destroying the Nazis with absolute determination as soon as possible.
If FDR had followed the national will, Japan would have been our military priority, but understanding the Nazi threat to civilization, he ordered Nazi Germany to be the focus of our efforts. If FDR had listened to General Marshall and his military advisors, he would not have sent the few tanks we had in 1942 to help General Bernard Montgomery win at El Alamein, thereby probably saving Palestine from the same fate as Poland. FDR gave frequent audience to Jewish leaders—he sent messages to rallies of Jews across the country—he listened to every plea and proposal for rescue that came to him—but he knew that the diversion of resources from the unyielding purpose of defeating the Nazi armies might satisfy the desperate anguish felt by so many but that no one would be rescued and the rescuers in all likelihood would themselves be killed.
As Richard Lichtheim, a representative of the World Jewish Congress in Switzerland and a hero in informing the world of the genocide, said in December 1942: “You cannot divert a tiger from devouring his prey by adopting resolutions or sending cables. You have to take your gun and shoot him.” FDR understood that, and he mobilized in America an arsenal of such strength that the world would still marvel fifty years later at how the miracle was accomplished.
The only meaningful way to save the intended victims of Hitler’s murder machine was to win the war as quickly as possible. Professor Weinberg answers the cynics who question America’s policy by suggesting to them that they consider how many more Jews would have survived had the war ended even a week or ten days earlier—and conversely, how many more would have died had the war lasted an additional week or ten days. Given the determination of the Germans to fight on to the bitter end, and knowing what FDR understood then and what all of us should know now—that Hitler would never let the Jews go, that until his dying day his obsession was their destruction, that the slaughter of the Jews went on into the final moments of the Third Reich, that every day until the final surrender there were thousands of deaths by murder, starvation, and disease—we should know with certainty that the number saved by winning the war as quickly as possible was vastly greater than the total number of Jews who could be saved by any rescue efforts proposed by anyone from 1941 to 1945.
Proposals for rescue and the question of bombing Auschwitz
Serious proposals for rescue and response were not disregarded. For example, on September 16, 1944, the Hebrew Committee on National Liberation (HCNL) proposed to the State Department that a warning be issued “stating that unless the practice of using poison gas against the Hebrew people ceases forthwith, retaliation in kind will be immediately ordered against Germany.” The State Department forwarded the recommendation to the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) of the armed forces. A detailed senior JCS staff memorandum responded that such a warning would be disastrous, that the Nazis would continue their genocidal program and the proposed retaliation would unleash unrestricted gas warfare resulting in heavy civilian and military losses. The “poison gas” proposal is worth mentioning here if only for the insight that it gives into the profound schism among Jewish organizations as they responded to the genocide in Europe. Attitudes toward Zionism and the future of Palestine were at the core of the conflict. As Wise and Rabbi Silver and Joseph Proskauer spoke for the mainstream Jewish organizations, so did Peter Bergson emerge as their enemy. When Bergson announced the creation of HCNL on May 18, 1944, it was immediately denounced in a statement by a coordinated group of major Jewish organizations as a “colossal hoax” promulgated by “half a dozen adventurers from Palestine with no standing, no credentials, no mandate from anyone unless from the Irgun Zevai Leumi in Palestine, an insignificantly small, pistol-packing group of extremists who are claiming credit for the recent terror outrages.” HCNL was seen as supported by the Irgun, the extremist underground army that had declared war on the British Mandate in Palestine and regarded Great Britain and David Ben-Gurion as enemies, as well as Nazi Germany. Chaim Weizmann and Ben-Gurion were pioneer Zionists who were prepared to negotiate the creation of a Jewish state. They were sensitive to British responsibilities and Arab rights while believing that the Nazi assault on Europe’s Jews made the need for a Jewish state ever more urgent. The Bergson/Begin/Irgun movement accepted war on the British and the Arabs even in the context of World War II as legitimate means to accomplish the need for a Jewish state. The confrontation of the Zionist organizations during World War II finds dramatic resonance in contemporary discussions of the world’s response to the Holocaust. Much remains to be written on this conflict’s impact on American and British policy.
The proposal to bomb Auschwitz in 1944 has become the symbol for those who argue American indifference and complicity in the Holocaust. Some would have us believe that many American Jewish groups petitioned our government to bomb Auschwitz. In fact, there was considerable Jewish opposition both in the United States and Palestine. The focal center of the Holocaust Museum’s exhibit on bombing Auschwitz is a letter from Leon Kubowitzki, head of the Rescue Department of the World Jewish Congress, in which he forwarded, without endorsement, a request from the Czech State Council (in exile in London) to the War Department in August 1994 to bomb Auschwitz. Much is made of John McCloy’s response to Kubowitzki explaining the War Department’s decision not to undertake such a mission. What is not on display and rarely mentioned is a letter dated July 1, 1944, from the same Leon Kubowitzki to the executive director of the War Refugee Board arguing against bombing Auschwitz because “the first victims would be the Jews” and the Allied air assault would serve as “a welcome pretext for the Germans to assert that their Jewish victims have been massacred not by their killers, but by Allied bombing.”
Mainstream Jewish opinion was against the whole idea of bombing Auschwitz. The very thought of the Allied forces deliberately killing Jews—to open the gates of Auschwitz so the survivors could run where?—was abhorrent then as it is now. The Rescue Committee of the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem voted against even making the bombing request at a meeting with Ben-Gurion presiding. Although only President Roosevelt or General Eisenhower could have ordered the bombing of Auschwitz, there is no record of any kind that indicates that either one was ever asked or even heard of the proposal—even though Jewish leaders of all persuasions had clear access to them both.
Every study of the military problems related to bombing Auschwitz makes one wonder what its proponents are talking about. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell, an ULTRA intelligence officer in World War II, when asked in 1985 about the judgment of Allied military commanders that innocent Jews should not be deliberate victims of American attacks, was incredulous that anyone would even suggest that Allied forces bomb Auschwitz. “I am perfectly confident,” he responded, “that General Spaatz would have resisted any proposal that we kill the Jewish inmates in order to temporarily put Auschwitz out of operation. It is not easy to think that a rational person would have made such a recommendation.”
We are talking about the summer of 1944. American forces were fully engaged with Japanese aggression across the total expanse of the Pacific Ocean. In Europe the invasion of Normandy began on June 6. Despite the fact that two-thirds of the Nazi armies were on the Russian front, D-day and an Allied success were by no means assured. The German armies were holding our forces at bay in Italy, causing heavy casualties, making us fight for every road and hill—just ask former senators Bob Dole or Daniel Inouye, both of whom were grievously wounded in battle, what was happening on the Italian front. The Allies were planning the invasion of southern France for August 15. America and our allies were stretched dangerously across western and southern Europe. The Allied bombing strategy was totally directed toward destroying Nazi fuel supplies, their synthetic oil industries, the oil fields of Romania, and their communication and transport lines wherever possible.
A seemingly more reasonable proposal to bomb the railways to Auschwitz was made to Anthony Eden, the foreign secretary of Great Britain, on July 6, 1944. Eden, with Churchill’s immediate support, requested the Royal Air Force to examine the feasibility of doing so. The secretary of state for air, Sir Archibald Sinclair, replied several days later: “I entirely agree that it is our duty to consider every possible plan [to stop the murder of the Jews in Hungary] but I am advised that interrupting the railways is out of our power. It is only by an enormous concentration of bomber forces that we have been able to interrupt communications in Normandy; the distance of Silesia from our bases entirely rules out doing anything of the kind.” McCloy had replied to a similar suggestion weeks earlier: “The War Department is of the opinion that the suggested air operation is impracticable for the reason that it could be executed only with the diversion of considerable air support essential to the success of our forces now engaged in decisive operations.” Even the severest critics of America’s response to the Nazi murder of the Jews acknowledge that successful interruption of railways required close observation of the severed lines and frequent rebombing, since repairs took only a few days. Even bridges, which were costly to hit, were often back in operation in three or four days. Postwar studies of railway bombing totally vindicated the conclusion of the military authorities. Professor Istvan Deak of Columbia University asks: “And if the rail lines had been bombed? The inmates of the cattle cars and those at the departure points would have been allowed to die of thirst, or of the heat, or of the cold, while the lines were being repaired.”5
It is often noted that American bombers were carrying out raids in the summer of 1944 on industrial targets only a few miles away from Auschwitz. The allusion by America’s critics is that this shows how easy it would have been to bomb the gas chambers. They do not mention that preparation for the D-day invasion left only 12 percent of the U.S. Air Force available for the destruction of German fuel supplies, the primary mission as defined by General Carl Spaatz. They point to the huge blowups of reconnaissance photographs at the Holocaust Museum that show not only the Farben synthetic fuel plant—the target of the raids—but the outlines of Auschwitz and columns of prisoners. The aerial photographs of Auschwitz on display were not developed until 1978—and their details were only readable then because advanced technology, developed by the CIA more than twenty years after the end of World War II, made it possible. All such strategic raids on military-industrial bases proceeded only after months of preparatory intelligence work, entailing the creation of a target folder with specific information about the size, hardness, structure placement, and defenses of the target and detailed aerial photography. These were costly, dangerous raids against heavily protected, frequently remote targets. The losses in men and planes were tragically heavy. The Allied air forces totally lacked the intelligence base necessary to plan and execute a bombing raid against the Auschwitz extermination camp. It would have been a nonmilitary mission. Only FDR or Eisenhower could have ordered it. No one proposed it to them.
If we had bombed Auschwitz with the inevitable consequence of killing hundreds, perhaps thousands of Jewish prisoners, I have no doubt that those who defame America for inaction would denounce us today for being accomplices in the Nazi genocide. Certainly Hitler and Joseph Goebbels would have justified their madness by claiming that the Allies, by their deliberate bombing of Auschwitz, had shown their own disdain for the value of Jewish lives.
The War Refugee Board was created in January 1944, by President Roosevelt immediately upon presentation of the case for doing so by Morgenthau. There were thousands of refugees stranded on the outer peripheries of Nazi Europe. With the invasion of Italy in 1943, thousands more sought safety in camps in the south. Josip Broz Tito’s success in Yugoslavia enabled many to escape from Croat fascism and Serb hatred. But these were refugees who were already saved. These were not escapees from the death camps. Under pressure from FDR and Churchill, Spain kept open its frontiers, stating as its policy that “all refugees without exception would be allowed to enter and remain.” Probably more than forty thousand refugees, many of them Jewish, found safe sanctuary in Spain. Makeshift transit camps in Spain, Portugal, Italy, and North Africa housed them in abysmal conditions. Those who fought for these refugees to come to America were right to do so. Refugees then as now are generally powerless and voiceless. Governments have to be reminded constantly of their humanitarian responsibilities. But perhaps the Allied nations can be forgiven in the midst of a war for survival for not doing more for refugees whose lives had already been saved. Perhaps not. In remembering what we did not do, perhaps we can measure our response to today’s tragedies and ask whether we—now the richest, most powerful nation in history—have responded adequately to the “ethnic cleansing” of Bosnia, to the genocide in Rwanda, to the killing field of Cambodia. We might question the adequacy of our response to the catalog of horrors visible to all of us in Sierra Leone, where thousands of children as young as seven years old are forced to become soldiers, human shields, sex slaves, and instruments of torture and killing—having already witnessed the slaughter of their parents and the hacking off of the hands and feet of countless innocent civilians.
The most protected of the Jewish populations in central Europe were those of Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania, all nations that were Hitler’s allies. Their governments, although decidedly fascist, protected their indigenous populations as long as possible. Relentless Nazi pressure to deport their Jewish citizens to the extermination camps was resisted with some success until the last year of the war. In an extraordinary book, Beyond Hitler’s Grasp,6 Michael Bar-Zohar describes the actions of King Boris III and the heroic courage of Jewish leaders, Bulgarian politicians, and the Metropolitan Stefan, leader of Bulgaria’s church, so that not one Bulgarian Jew was sent to the death camps. The author notes: “The Bulgarian Jews became the only Jewish community in the Nazi sphere of influence whose number increased during World War II.”
FDR’s intervention with the government of Hungary (which by then understood that Nazi defeat was inevitable); the actions of the War Refugee Board, such as retaining the heroic services of Raoul Wallenberg; and the bombing of the Budapest area all played roles undoubtedly in the rescue of one-half of the Jewish community in Hungary. President Roosevelt was deeply and personally involved in the effort to save the Jews of Hungary. This is his statement to the nation on March 24, 1944:
In one of the blackest crimes of all history—begun by the Nazis in the day of peace and multiplied by them a hundred times in time of war—the wholesale systematic murder of the Jews of Europe goes on unabated every hour. As a result of the events of the last few days hundreds of thousands of Jews who, while living under persecution, have at least found a haven from death in Hungary and the Balkans, are now threatened with annihilation as Hitler’s forces descend more heavily upon these lands. That these innocent people, who have already survived a decade of Hitler’s fury, should perish on the very eve of triumph over the barbarism which their persecution symbolizes, would be a major tragedy. It is therefore fitting that we should again proclaim our determination that none who participate in these acts of savagery shall go unpunished. The United Nations have made it clear that they will pursue the guilty and deliver them up in order that justice be done. That warning applies not only to the leaders but also to their functionaries and subordinates in Germany and in the satellite countries. All who knowingly take part in the deportation of Jews to their death in Poland or Norwegians and French to their death in Germany are equally guilty with the executioner. All who share the guilt shall share the punishment.
In the meantime, and until the victory that is now assured is won, the United States will persevere in its efforts to rescue the victims of brutality of the Nazis and the Japanese. In so far as the necessity of military operations permit, this Government will use all means at its command to aid the escape of all intended victims of the Nazi and Japanese executioner—regardless of race or religion or color. We call upon the free peoples of Europe and Asia temporarily to open their frontiers to all victims of oppression. We shall find havens of refuge for them, and we shall find the means for their maintenance and support until the tyrant is driven from their homelands and they may return.
“The thing is indescribable”
Although people had read about the Final Solution and heard witnesses who had seen the camps and read the accounts of the War Refugee Board of three eyewitnesses to Auschwitz published in November 1944, no one understood what really had happened until they could see it for themselves.
On the day FDR died, April 12, 1945, General Eisenhower visited Ohrdruf Nord, the first concentration camp liberated by the American army. “The things I saw beggar description,” he wrote General Marshall. According to his biographer, Stephen Ambrose, “Eisenhower had heard ominous rumors about the camps, of course, but never in his worst nightmares had he dreamed they could be so bad.” He sent immediately for a delegation of congressional leaders and newspaper editors. He wanted to be sure that Americans would never forget the depths of the Nazi horror. Five months later, he dismissed his close friend and brilliant army commander, General George Patton, for using former Nazi officials in his occupation structure and publicly likening “the Nazi thing” to differences between the Republicans and Democrats. Patton had visited the Ohrdruf camp with Eisenhower and had become physically ill from what he had seen.
Anne O’Hare McCormick, the renowned foreign affairs reporter of the New York Times, wrote in December 1944 of a visit by a congressional delegation to the war front in Italy. The congressmen expressed shock at the rigors of the Italian campaign, at its inhuman conditions. They were quoted as saying that this was one of the toughest battles of the war—and Americans were not being told about it. McCormick wrote: “The stories have been written and have been printed. They have even been overwritten and printed so many times that readers don’t see the mud or blood anymore. They don’t hear the screams of the shells or the thunder of the rockets. Congress either didn’t read the accounts of the war in Italy or they couldn’t take in the meaning of what they read. They had to see it. It is not their fault. It is because the thing is indescribable.” How much more true is this insight regarding the death camps?
In the last seven months of the war, more than eighty thousand Dutch citizens starved to death because the German occupiers of northern Holland wanted to punish the Dutch for insurrection and strikes following the failed assault on Arnhem, the fabled Bridge Too Far. The Allies knew what was happening. Allied armies were everywhere around this occupied segment of the Netherlands; air rescue, or at least the capacity for organizing food drops, was minutes away. Still, eighty thousand men, women, and children—for the most part non-Jews—starved to death, and the forces that could have saved them remained intent on their objective of military engagement with the Germans that would lead to victory in the shortest possible time. Perhaps these military decisions were wrong, but they were not made because of hatred or bias against the Dutch—nor, regarding Auschwitz, because of anti-Semitism.
The killers bear responsibility
None of us, including scholars and historians, can review the bestial crimes of Hitler and his Nazi thugs and all those who carried out their orders to kill innocent men, women, and children without hanging our heads in sorrow. But we must never forget that it was the Nazis who committed this most terrible crime, led by a psychopath, Hitler. America—this wonderful and generous country—was a reluctant participant in the world of the ‘30s. Our parents and grandparents were not fools. It was their courage and strength that made America the leader of the Free World. We should be so brave and strong—we should do so well—in our own time, with our own problems. Had Israel existed in 1939 with the military strength that it has today, the terrible story of the Holocaust might never have happened.
How ironic that our greatest president of the twentieth century—the man Hitler hated most, the leader constantly derided by the anti-Semites, vilified by Goebbels as a “mentally ill cripple” and as “that Jew Rosenfeld,” violently attacked by the isolationist press—how ironic that he should be faulted for being indifferent to the genocide. For all of us, the shadow of doubt will always remain that enough was not done, even if there was little more that could have been done. But it is the killers who bear the responsibility for their deeds. To say that “we are all guilty” allows the truly guilty to avoid that responsibility. We must remember for all the days of our lives that it was Hitler who imagined the Holocaust and the Nazis who carried it out. We were not their accomplices. We destroyed them.
Churchill once said that FDR was the greatest man he had ever known. President Roosevelt’s life, he said, “must be regarded as one of the commanding events of human destiny.”
FDR, more than any other American, is entitled to the historical credit for mobilizing and leading the forces that destroyed the Nazi barbarians and so saved Western civilization. In the years of his leadership, he gave Jews dignity and self-respect as did no one before in American history. He understood and shared the anguish of the Holocaust as it unfolded.
FDR was the voice of the people of the United States during the most difficult crises of the century. He led America out of the despair of the Great Depression. He led us to victory in the Great War. Four times he was elected president of the United States. By temperament and talent, by energy and instinct, FDR came to the presidency ready for the challenges that confronted him. He was a breath of fresh air in our political life—so vital, so confident and optimistic, so warm and good-humored. He was a man of incomparable personal courage. At the age of thirty-nine, he was stricken with infantile paralysis. He would never walk or stand again unassisted. The pain of his struggle is almost unimaginable—learning to move again, to stand, to rely upon the physical support of others—never giving in to despair, to self-pity, to discouragement. Just twelve years after he was stricken, he was elected president of the United States and took command of a paralyzed nation. He lifted America from its knees and led us to our fateful rendezvous with history. He embraced a desperately troubled world and gave it hope.
He transformed our government into an active instrument of social justice. He made America the arsenal of democracy. He was commander in chief of the greatest military force in history. He crafted the victorious alliance that won the war. He was the father of the nuclear age. He inspired and guided the blueprint for the world that was to follow. The vision of the United Nations, the commitment to collective security, the determination to end colonialism, the economic plan for a prosperous world with access to resources and trade assured to all nations—such was the legacy of FDR and “the greatest generation,” which he led to its rendezvous with destiny.
- For comparison purposes, it may be helpful to note that U.S. law in FY 1998 allowed seventy-five thousand refugee admissions. President Clinton has proposed raising this ceiling to eighty thousand.
- 2 Louis de Jong, The Netherlands and Nazi Germany (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1990).
- 3 According to John Keegan, the famed military historian, “The removal and transportation of Europe’s Jews was a fact known to every inhabitant of the continent between 1942 and 1945.” John Keegan, The Second World War (New York: 1989), 282.
- 4 Adam Hochschild tells of alleged atrocities by the Germans in Belgium during the first World War: “Newspaper stories, cartoons, posters, and patriotic speeches luridly denounced mass rapes of Belgian women by German soldiers. The Germans, it was said, crucified Belgian babies on the doors of houses . . . the press reported that German soldiers were cutting off the hands and feet of Belgian children. . . . In the end, the mass rape, mutilation, and crucifixion charged turned out to be false.” Adam Hochschild, King Leopold’s Ghost (Houghton Mifflin, 1998), 296.
- Istvan Deak, “Horror and Hindsight,” The New Republic, February 15, 1999.
- Michael Bar-Zohar, Beyond Hitler’s Grasp: The Heroic Rescue of Bulgaria’s Jews (Holbrook, MA: Adams Media, 1998), 268. See also Randolph L. Braham, The Politics of Genocide: The Holocaust in Hungary (New York: Columbia University Press, 1981), 2 vols.
About the Author
William J. vanden Heuvel, a principal force in the founding of Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park, is also founder and chair emeritus of the Four Freedoms Park Conservancy and of the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute. Throughout his career as an international lawyer, diplomat, businessman, and scholar, Ambassador vanden Heuvel has worked to honor the legacy of Franklin D. and Eleanor Roosevelt and to uphold FDR’s vision of four fundamental human freedoms.
Born in Rochester, New York, of immigrant parents, vanden Heuvel attended public schools and worked his way through university, graduating from Deep Springs College, Cornell University, and Cornell Law School, where he was editor in chief of the Cornell Law Review. He began his career in public service as executive assistant to William J. “Wild Bill” Donovan during General Donovan’s ambassadorship to Thailand, and subsequently served as counsel to New York State governor Averell Harriman.
In 1964, as assistant to U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, vanden Heuvel led the efforts to defeat local resistance to school desegregation in Prince Edward County, Virginia, establishing the Prince Edward County Free Schools system and participating in arguments before the Supreme Court that resulted in a landmark decision relating to Prince Edward County that secured the legacy of Brown v. Board of Education.
As chairman of the New York City Board of Corrections in the early 1970s, he led a campaign to investigate and ameliorate conditions in the city’s overcrowded prison system and has had a lifelong involvement in the reform of the criminal justice system.
During the Carter administration, vanden Heuvel was U.S. permanent representative to the European Office of the United Nations in Geneva and U.S. deputy permanent representative to the United Nations (UN) in New York. Ambassador vanden Heuvel has eloquently defended the UN’s mission and importance with leadership roles in the United Nations Association of the United States of America and the World Federation of United Nations Associations. He is chair emeritus of the Council of American Ambassadors, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, chairman of the Salzburg Medical Seminars International and chair emeritus of the American Friends of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra.
Ambassador vanden Heuvel has served since 1955 as a director of the International Rescue Committee (IRC), a nonprofit agency assisting refugees from political persecution and violent conflict. In 1956 he traveled to Hungary and Austria to aid refugees of the Hungarian Revolution. As president of IRC, he later organized efforts on behalf of Cuban, Chinese, Angolan, and Eastern European refugees.
Ambassador vanden Heuvel was a senior partner at the law firm of Stroock & Stroock & Lavan, where he practiced international and corporate law. Since 1984 he has been a senior advisor to the investment banking firm Allen & Company. Ambassador vanden Heuvel has presided over a range of academic conferences and initiatives relating to the Roosevelt era, and helped to establish the institute’s Roosevelt Study Centers in the Netherlands, Russia, and South Korea. With Anne Roosevelt, Ambassador vanden Heuvel has participated annually in the presentation of the prestigious FDR Four Freedoms Medals to outstanding individuals and organizations whose work embodies a commitment to the ideals that President Roosevelt expounded in his historic Four Freedoms address of 1941.
Ambassador vanden Heuvel has coauthored a biography of Robert F. Kennedy and has written frequently on international affairs and the FDR legacy. In 2000 he edited a widely acclaimed book of essays examining current prospects for Russian political and democratic reforms, and he was coeditor, with historians Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and Douglas Brinkley, of the St. Martin’s Press Series on Diplomatic and Economic History.
Ambassador vanden Heuvel currently lives in New York City with his wife, the former Melinda Fuller of Boston. He has four children: Katrina and Wendy vanden Heuvel, Ashley von Perfall, and John vanden Heuvel Pierce.
Adapted from a speech delivered at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, DC, on October 24, 1996, and an essay originally published in American Heritage, 1999.
16. The Nuremberg Trials:
Nazi Criminals Face Justice
On a ship off the coast of Newfoundland in August 1941, four months before the United States entered World War II, Franklin D. Roosevelt and British prime minister Winston Churchill agreed to commit themselves to "the final destruction of Nazi tyranny." In mid-1944, as the Allied advance toward Germany progressed, another question arose: What to do with the defeated Nazis? FDR asked his War Department for a plan to bring Germany to justice, making it accountable for starting the terrible war and, in its execution, committing a string of ruthless atrocities.
By mid-September 1944, FDR had two plans to consider. Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau Jr. had unexpectedly presented a proposal to the president two weeks before the War Department finished its own work. The two plans could not have been more different, and a bitter contest of ideas erupted in FDR's cabinet.
To execute or prosecute?
Morgenthau proposed executing major Nazi leaders as soon as they were captured, exiling other officers to isolated and barren lands, forcing German prisoners of war to rebuild war-scarred Europe, and, perhaps most controversially, dismantling German industry in the highly developed Ruhr and Saar regions. One of the world's most advanced industrial economies would be left to subsist on local crops, a state that would prevent Germany from acting on any militaristic or expansionist impulses.
Secretary of War Henry Stimson, on the other hand, urged FDR to reject the approach championed by Morgenthau in favor of a legal prosecution that would define the Nazis' wartime behavior as profoundly criminal, a transgression against universally recognized standards of decency. The Nazis' unprovoked invasion of Europe, Stimson argued, was a "war of aggression" that violated antiwar treaties and the established laws of war, while German atrocities—against captured soldiers and civilians, for example—could be labeled as war crimes. He insisted that noted Allied jurists (many of whom FDR had appointed to the bench) could craft a sound indictment against Nazi defendants and design a multinational court capable of trying them.
Initially, FDR leaned toward Morgenthau's approach. The president believed that not just Nazi ringleaders but also the German people must take responsibility for the carnage they had wrought in Europe. In the summer of 1944, FDR had joined Morgenthau in cautioning the U.S. military against an overly generous occupation. If, for example, the defeated Germans were unable to feed themselves, they should be given soup from army kitchens three times a day. "That will keep them perfectly healthy," FDR wrote Stimson, "and they will remember that experience all their lives. The fact that they are a defeated nation, collectively and individually, must be so impressed upon them that they will hesitate to start a new war." Given the aftermath of World War I, the Allies were determined to eliminate the threat of German militarism beyond all possibility of its resurrection.
In September FDR invited Morgenthau—and not Stimson—to join him in meeting with Churchill in Quebec. There, the two leaders went so far as to initial a summary of Morgenthau's plan.
But upon returning to Washington, DC, FDR heard from an alarmed Stimson, who insisted that eliminating Nazi leaders without due process and reducing Germany to hopelessness, far from preventing armed belligerence in the future, would "tend to breed war." Meanwhile, Morgenthau's plan leaked to the press—on October 2, Time magazine ran its report under the headline "The Policy of Hate"—and the American public did not approve.
The War Department pushes for a trial
Feeling he'd made a mistake, FDR changed course, throwing his support to Stimson's War Department to develop its plan for a defeated Germany, including the handling of top Nazis. The War Department by late January 1945 had assembled the basic outlines of its plan in a memo for FDR to take with him to Yalta, where the president would meet with Churchill and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin.
It called for an international tribunal that would charge Nazis with initiating an illegal war of aggression, committing war crimes, and engaging in a conspiracy—a master plan—to commit these crimes. The last point, it was hoped, would allow prosecutors to hold individual Nazis responsible for a sprawling system of murder and terrorism against peaceful populations whose appalling scope had begun to reveal itself with the first liberations of concentration camps by the Red Army in the summer and fall of 1944.
Signed by Stimson, Secretary of State Edward R. Stettinius, and Attorney General Francis Biddle, the memo advocated war-crimes trials with a rationale at once practical and moral. A legal prosecution, it noted, would uphold the "principles of justice" and thereby prevent the Germans from martyrizing executed Nazis. It would, the trial planners argued, "command maximum public support in our own times" while also earning "the respect of history." A trial, the memo said, would allow Allied prosecutors to document the events of the war and "make available for all mankind to study in future years an authentic record of Nazi crimes and criminality."
At Yalta in February 1945, FDR found Stalin already in favor of trying Nazi leadership (although Stalin's own credibility in the matter was always in doubt, given his track record of mass murder on one hand, "show" trials on the other). Churchill, however, still thought the Allies should agree on a list of "arch-criminals" to be dispatched by firing squad.
In early April 1945, members of the U.S. Third Army entered Ohrdruf, a satellite of Buchenwald, the notorious Nazi concentration camp in east-central Germany. Ohrdruf was the first camp liberated by Americans, and they were shocked by what they saw—corpses stacked like cord wood, some hastily executed by fleeing Germans, and sick, emaciated survivors. On a tour of the camp on April 12, the Third Army's famously tough commander, General George Patton, became ill.
That same day FDR died in Warm Springs, Georgia. The lawyer and aide FDR had assigned as his personal representative in the matter of Nazi trials, Sam Rosenman, was in England with Churchill, working to persuade the British leader that the American plan for an international tribunal must be carried out. "They didn't want to try these Nazis," Rosenman would recall. "They just wanted to announce one day that all of them had been shot."
But FDR's fateful decision in favor of legal prosecution, strongly endorsed by his successor, Harry Truman, would carry the day. Though Adolf Hitler and some of his top lieutenants would die by suicide, and other Nazis would avoid capture and hide out in distant locations, some two hundred would be made to stand up and answer for their crimes at Nuremberg in Germany.
AThe Prosecution Takes Shape
A. The Prosecution Takes Shape
The day after Franklin D. Roosevelt died, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson, who had served as FDR's attorney general and been appointed by him to the high court, addressed the American Society of International Law in a speech entitled "The Rule of Law Among Nations." If Nazi leaders were to be tried instead of summarily executed, he said, the trial should be a bona fide one, impartially weighing the evidence and giving the accused opportunity to call witnesses and marshal evidence in their own defense—not a sham with a predetermined result. The credibility of law itself was at stake. "Courts try cases," Jackson said, "but cases also try courts." As one journalist summarized the jurist's remarks, the world needed to see "justice catch up with evil."
Three weeks later, on May 2, 1945, President Harry Truman appointed Jackson chief U.S. prosecutor for the war-crimes trial and empowered him to pick his own legal team and negotiate the trial location and legal procedure with his British, French, and Soviet counterparts. Most German cities had been destroyed in the war, but the Palace of Justice at Nuremberg, though damaged, had survived Allied bombing raids. The assault on German Jews had begun in Nuremberg with the infamous 1935 Nuremberg laws stripping them of basic rights. Jackson thought it a fitting place to try senior Nazi leadership.
The Allied jurists agreed to indict more than a hundred German military leaders on four charges:
- crimes against peace, or waging an aggressive war in violation of the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928 and other antiwar treaties;
- war crimes, such as the inhumane treatment of prisoners of war;
- crimes against humanity, a novel legal concept that encompassed the forced labor, deportation, and mass killing of civilians, as well as the targeting of Jews, dissidents, and other specific groups; and
- conspiracy to commit the above crimes.
They also agreed that each nation would try a specific aspect of the case. British prosecutors would manage the charges related to treaty violations and waging an aggressive war. French and Russian prosecutors agreed to argue charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The American legal team would target Nazi organizations and the conspiracy to wage aggressive war.
B. The Evidence
As the Western Allies swept into the heart of Germany in early 1945, military investigators were careful to gather whatever records they could to expose and document the German totalitarian state and its war machine. They questioned locals and captured officials. They searched crumbling government buildings. Investigators found, stashed behind a false wall in an old castle in eastern Bavaria, all the personal and professional papers of Alfred Rosenberg, a key Nazi Party official and coauthor of its anti-Semitic theories. In an insane asylum that townspeople of Hadamar in west-central Germany called "The House of Shutters," investigators discovered "death books" documenting Nazi "euthanasia" of mentally and physically disabled people as well as hundreds of Soviet and Polish forced laborers suffering from tuberculosis. Deep in an Austrian salt mine, investigators found records of European art treasures looted by the Nazis, along with many of the works of art themselves.
In the end, Nuremberg's Office of the Chief Counsel found itself "embarrassed with riches," as one official report put it. It had 250 tons of documents and three thousand frames of microfilm at its disposal, along with transcripts of some 950 individual interrogations.
Among other records in the hands of the prosecution were those of the German Foreign Office; the Army High Command as well as the German navy and Luftwaffe (air force); the Nazi Party and its paramilitary unit the SS; and companies Krupp and I.G. Farben, which had contributed to and profited from the German war effort.
The Allies also documented in still photography and film what they saw when they penetrated areas long occupied by the Nazis. One of the most harrowing pieces of evidence shown before the international tribunal at Nuremberg was a documentary entitled Nazi Concentration and Prison Camps, edited from eighty thousand feet of film shot by the U.S. military in Germany and Belgium. The film showed army personnel carrying stricken concentration camp inmates with gangrenous wounds from their filthy barracks, piles of the newly dead covered with lime, charred remains in crematoria, and the wan smiles of liberated Jewish women laid out on stretchers in the sun. The narration quoted General Dwight D. Eisenhower, supreme commander of the Allied invading forces, who called the German atrocities "almost unbelievable."
CThe Military International Tribunal: Top War Criminals
C. The Military International Tribunal: Top War Criminals
In the first and best-known Nuremberg trial, the International Military Tribunal convened by the United States, Britain, the Soviet Union, and France weighed the evidence against twenty-three high-level Nazi defendants. The trial, which would last nearly ten months, began on November 20, 1945. It took the entire day just to read the charges. The following day all defendants pleaded not guilty. Chief U.S. prosecutor Robert H. Jackson then told the court: "The wrongs which we seek to condemn and punish have been so calculated, so malignant, and so devastating that civilization cannot tolerate their being ignored because it cannot survive their being repeated. That four great nations, flushed with victory and stung with injury, stay the hand of vengeance and voluntarily submit their captive enemies to the judgment of the law is one of the most significant tributes that power has ever paid to reason."
The trial ended on August 31, 1946. The jurists took all of September to debate the evidence and the charges. On October 1, 1946, 315 days after the trial began, the verdicts were announced. Three defendants were found not guilty. Nineteen were convicted. Eight were found guilty of conspiracy to wage aggressive war, twelve were found guilty of crimes against peace (waging an aggressive war), and sixteen were convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Seven of the convicted would be imprisoned from ten years to life. Twelve were sentenced to death by hanging, including Hermann Goering, head of the Luftwaffe (the German air force) and at one time Adolf Hitler's chosen successor; Joachim von Ribbentrop, the foreign minister who helped orchestrate the deportation of Jews from occupied countries to death camps; and Alfred Rosenberg, a top Nazi Party official and architect of some of its most perverse theories about race and power. On the day before he was slated to be hanged, Goering committed suicide by biting into a cyanide capsule. How he smuggled the cyanide into his cell remains a mystery.
“That four great nations, flushed with victory and stung with injury, stay the hand of vengeance and voluntarily submit their captive enemies to the judgment of the law is one of the most significant tributes that power has ever paid to reason.”
Robert H. Jackson, chief U.S. prosecutor, November 1945
DSubsequent Nuremberg Trials
D. Subsequent Nuremberg Trials
Following the trial of top Nazis by the International Military Tribunal, the United States, empowered by the Allies to try war criminals in its own occupation zone, held twelve more trials at Nuremberg between 1946 and 1949. Judges and prosecutors were American.
These trials focused on special crimes, weighing evidence against Nazi doctors who conducted medical experiments on prisoners; heads of industrial concerns accused of seizing private property and exploiting forced labor; German judges accused of facilitating Nazi atrocities; the Nazi Einsatzgruppen, or mobile killing units, for mass murder; and German bureaucrats for organizing the deportation and murder of Jews and other minority groups.
Among those tried and convicted were five field marshals and twenty-one senior military leaders; fifty-six high-ranking SS and other "police officers" who oversaw the concentration camps and the extermination program; thirteen members of SS organizations focused on racial persecution; sixteen physicians; and more than two dozen industrialists.
EThe Nuremberg Trials and Human Rights
E. The Nuremberg Trials and Human Rights
In the Nuremberg trials, countries came together for the first time to use international law to recognize and protect human rights during wartime—whether or not a person's own nation recognized these rights. The trials set a precedent for holding individuals and not just nations responsible for wartime violations of international law. And they defined a new category of high crimes under international law, "crimes against humanity," which encompassed the unthinkable campaign of genocide, enslavement, deportation, and political, religious, and racial persecution carried out by the Nazis.
The trials also forced people worldwide to confront their common humanity. The painstaking presentation of horrific evidence—lampshades made of human skin, shrunken heads used as paperweights, films documenting the torture and murder of children—drove people everywhere to ponder concrete proofs of unbridled human cruelty and a devastating failure of compassion. The testimony of unrepentant witnesses recounting their murderous regimens compelled jurists and legal scholars around the world to reexamine the protections national sovereignty conveyed to states that violated their own citizens' basic rights. In short, as the journalist Max Lerner observed, the trials created "a collective standard by which gross violation of . . . conscience can be punished."
Yet the verdicts at Nuremberg did more than create new law and assault the world's conscience. As the human rights scholar Martha Minow observed, "Nuremberg launched a remarkable international movement for human rights founded in the rule of law; inspired the development of the United Nations and of nongovernmental organizations around the world; encouraged national trials for human rights violations; and etched a set of ground rules about human entitlement." The trials, she wrote, "symbolized how law can turn horror into hope."
“Nuremberg launched a remarkable international movement for human rights founded in the rule of law; inspired the development of the United Nations and of nongovernmental organizations around the world; encouraged national trials for human rights violations; and etched a set of ground rules about human entitlement.”
Human rights scholar Martha Minow
17. The United Nations:
FDR and the Creation
of the Postwar World
In the months before his untimely death in April 1945, having led the United States to the brink of victory in World War II, Franklin D. Roosevelt was determined to use the catalyst of global conflict to fashion a postwar world organized not by lawless violence but by respect and cooperation among nations.
In October 1944, as the Allies stood poised for the final assault on the German homeland, FDR spoke to Americans about the next great challenge: "waging peace." He urged them to support the international peacekeeping organization whose basic shape had been hammered out by the major Allies only weeks before at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, DC. He reminded them how strong had been the inclination among some Americans to maintain a pristine disengagement from world affairs and avoid entanglement in the war at just about any cost. Joining the battle to defend their country and its ideals had, in the end, risen "from the hearts and souls and sinews of the American people," FDR observed, and the experience had left them a "seasoned and mature" people with a newly prominent role to play in the world.
"The power which this Nation has attained—the political, the economic, the military, and above all the moral power—has brought to us the responsibility, and with it the opportunity, for leadership in the community of Nations," FDR said. "It is our own best interest, and in the name of peace and humanity, this Nation cannot, must not, and will not shirk that responsibility."
A worldly person who traveled extensively even as a child, FDR had always believed that nations were inexorably linked by a web of overlapping interests and that America should therefore take an active part in international affairs. As a top navy official, he'd been a passionate advocate for the League of Nations, which was established after World War I to keep the peace, and he was bitterly disappointed when the U.S. Senate refused to join the fledgling organization in 1919, weakening it substantially.
Almost from the moment warfare erupted once again in Europe in September 1939, FDR as president dedicated himself and his administration to the larger purpose of establishing a safer and more just world after the peace. Military victory for the Allies, though an immediate and crucial goal, was not enough. If the world hoped to prevent another even more cataclysmic war—World War III—the root causes of this destructive conflagration must be addressed.
Nearly a year before Pearl Harbor, as the Nazis exulted in their conquest of continental Europe, FDR, in his historic January 1941 State of the Union address, gave Americans his sense of what was at stake in the conflict: either the dictators' "new order of tyranny" would soon dominate the world, enslaving the great democracies, perhaps for generations, or "a greater conception— the moral order" would triumph. The essence of this moral order, FDR said, lay not in obscure partisan interests (later that month an unhinged Adolf Hitler would label the Allies a "Jewish-international-capitalist clique"), but in the establishment "everywhere in the world" of four fundamental human freedoms: freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. Even as Nazi Germany, fascist Italy, and Imperial Japan joined forces to menace the globe, FDR assured the American people that this better world was "attainable in our own time and generation."
He worked assiduously to attain it, always careful to emphasize ultimate goals in his wartime rhetoric, and, on a practical level, orchestrating a series of meetings, conferences, and declarations that ultimately led to the establishment of the United Nations (UN) and the post-1945 multilateral order that prevails to this day.
It took a quarter century for FDR's ideas about international cooperation to come to fruition. Sadly, he died on April 12, 1945, just a few months before the Allies celebrated a final victory over fascism in both Europe and Asia, and little more than six months before nations of goodwill formally founded the UN he had envisioned for so many years. But the legacy of his work would be very long lasting indeed.
"Take a look at our present world," the historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. said in 1998. "It is manifestly not Adolf Hitler's world. His Thousand-Year Reich turned out to have a brief and bloody run of a dozen years. It is manifestly not Joseph Stalin's world. That ghastly world self-destructed before our eyes. Nor is it Winston Churchill's world. Empire and its glories have long since vanished into history. The world we live in today is Franklin Roosevelt's world."
AWoodrow Wilson and the League of Nations
A. Woodrow Wilson and the League of Nations
In February 1919, World War I recently concluded, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt sailed home from Europe after a trip of several weeks during which FDR, as undersecretary of the navy, had been responsible for demobilizing the American fleet. They shared the journey with President Woodrow Wilson, who had been in Paris negotiating the Treaty of Versailles, which set the terms of peace, and in particular pressing for the inclusion of a charter that would found the League of Nations. This charter called on member nations to protect one another's political independence and territorial integrity from external aggression, to reduce armaments, and to submit to an executive council any disputes likely to lead to war. It also established a World Court.
Wilson ardently believed the league could help prevent future wars. FDR agreed. The mood aboard ship was hopeful, ebullient even. But the balance of the year would bring great disappointment.
After signing the treaty in July, Wilson presented it to the U.S. Senate for ratification, telling senators that the agreement had been set in motion "by no plan of our conceiving, but by the hand of God." This remark represented but one example (albeit extreme) of the way Wilson pushed the treaty and its League of Nations with an insistence that failed to take account of mounting opposition. He had broken with tradition by traveling personally to negotiate the treaty, and when the Senate appeared divided over it, Wilson, though quite ill, took to the road in September 1919 to take his cause to the American people.
On this trip, Wilson's steps were dogged by antileague senators Hiram Johnson of California and William Borah of Idaho, who spoke against the treaty with a passion equal to Wilson's. In the Senate, Borah memorably invoked Thomas Jefferson's warning against "entangling alliances" with foreign nations. The isolationists' main concern was that the league's charter would compel America to go to war in defense of other member nations. Wilson suffered a major stroke in November, and the Senate rejected the treaty (and the League of Nations) in November and again in March 1920.
America was becoming an ever-more-powerful player on the world stage, and its refusal to join the league compromised the organization's perceived muscularity. On several occasions member nations proved unwilling to take strong action to check aggressors, including the Japanese when they invaded Manchuria in 1931 and the Italians when they attacked Ethiopia in 1935. Japan and Germany dropped out of the league in 1933. Italy followed in 1937.
In planning for an international peacekeeping organization during the 1940s, FDR learned from these earlier failures. He supported a veto power for permanent members of the United Nations (UN) Security Council, a reassurance to the United States and other permanent members that their sovereignty would not be compromised. He made sure a bipartisan U.S. delegation attended the 1945 San Francisco Conference establishing the UN. And he helped ensure UN actions would not require unanimous member consent, a rule that had stymied the League of Nations in moving against aggressor states.
BThe Atlantic Charter,
B. The Atlantic Charter, August 1941
Over the course of four days in August 1941, Franklin D. Roosevelt and British prime minister Winston Churchill conferred in a shipboard rendezvous on the frigid waters off Newfoundland. Though the two men had met briefly years earlier, this was their first face-to-face encounter as would-be partners in global war and statecraft.
A great deal was at stake. Though the United States had recently pledged itself to the Lend-Lease program funneling war supplies to Allies, it remained officially neutral in the great clash of power taking place in Europe and Asia. And the war was not going well.
Churchill wanted FDR to bring the United States clearly, definitively to Britain's side; he wanted an American declaration of war. He also hoped FDR would agree to threaten retaliation against Japan if it continued its southward advance in Indochina.
FDR, on the other hand, wanted the leaders to issue a joint statement describing a vision for the future—one that would give comfort to a besieged Britain, while at the same time reassuring war-wary Americans that the Allies' ultimate goal was a just, nonviolent world, not endless quest for empire.
Churchill, though frustrated at Newfoundland in his efforts to bring America into the war, would have his U.S. declaration of war before the year was out.
FDR got his statement, dubbed the Atlantic Charter, during the leaders' meeting at sea. He and Churchill first sat down together aboard the USS Augusta on August 9, and by the afternoon of August 11, the two men had cobbled together a charter that simply—but, given the circumstances, audaciously—stated what kind of world the Allies sought to achieve by vanquishing the Axis.
They foreswore territorial expansion for themselves, as well as any change of national borders without popular consent. They called for worldwide economic advancement, labor rights, and peace. They insisted on global freedom of the seas. And, critically, they promised that the mistakes of the punitive post–World War I era would not be repeated: victor and vanquished alike would have access, "on equal terms," to the resources needed for prosperity.
In the Atlantic Charter, well before the United States entered the war and tested its might against the Axis powers, FDR wanted to establish that the Allies had something else in their favor—legitimacy. He wanted to persuade the world, including Americans and citizens of potential enemy nations, that an Allied victory would not merely substitute one form of despotism for another, but would bring about a world in which all people have the opportunity for self-determination.
CLaunch of the United Nations Alliance,
C. Launch of the United Nations Alliance, January 1942
The surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, stirred Americans quickly to the cause of war. It also launched the process by which Franklin D. Roosevelt hoped to draw nations into a global alliance committed not only to defeating the Axis powers, but also to upholding the principles he and Winston Churchill had sketched out in the Atlantic Charter during their shipboard meeting off Newfoundland.
On New Year's Day 1942, just weeks after the Pearl Harbor bombing, FDR and Churchill convened at the White House to draft what came to be known as the United Nations Declaration. FDR, Churchill, Soviet ambassador Maxim Litvinov, Chinese ambassador T. V. Soong, and representatives of twenty-two other nations signed the document, agreeing to:
- adhere to the principles of the Atlantic Charter;
- employ their full resources against the Axis powers until those powers were defeated; and
- cooperate with one another, not making a separate peace with any Axis power.
The declaration—in which the Allies and their friends dedicated themselves to "a true peace based on the freedom of man," as FDR would say in 1942—represented the first official use of the term United Nations (UN), a phrase often used by the press and others to describe the Allied forces fighting the Axis. The term would, of course, become the official name of the postwar international organization that is with us today.
By the time the war was winding down in the spring of 1945, fifty nations had signed the UN Declaration, forming the original core group of states that would meet in San Francisco in the fall to draw up and sign the UN Charter establishing the postwar organization.
DThe Moscow Conference and
D. The Moscow Conference and Four-Power Declaration, October 1943
In the months after Pearl Harbor, as war raged in Europe and the Pacific, officials in Franklin D. Roosevelt's State Department (under the direction of Secretary of State Cordell Hull and Undersecretary Sumner Welles) began quietly carrying out work to craft a new international organization to replace the League of Nations. By mid-1943 FDR was privately referring to this instrument for global cooperation as the United Nations Organization.
These initial efforts came to a head in October 1943 at the Moscow Conference of Foreign Ministers, where Hull, British foreign secretary Anthony Eden, Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov, and Chinese ambassador to Russia Foo Ping-sheung issued a document that, like the Atlantic Charter, looked to the future. In the document the powers called it a "necessity" to establish "at the earliest possible date" an international organization "based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all peace-loving states, and open to membership by all such states, large and small, for the maintenance of international peace and security."
The statement also promised punishment for wartime atrocities ("Let those who have hitherto not imbued their hands with innocent blood beware lest they join the ranks of the guilty"), addressed the postwar reintroduction of self-government in Austria and Italy, and pledged that after the war the four signatory Allies would refrain from using their militaries in the territories of other states "except for the purposes envisaged in this declaration and after joint consultation."
The New York Times called the Moscow Declaration the "first formal undertaking by the United Nations 'Big Four'" indicating that these Allies "would work together not only in war but in peace." The Times and other major news organs applauded the statement as a major step toward the creation of a new international organization.
Just a few weeks after the close of the Moscow Conference, FDR, Winston Churchill, and Joseph Stalin met at Tehran, where FDR elaborated on his vision for the postwar peace and security organization, including his concept that the "Four Policemen"—the United States, Britain, China, and the USSR—must play a leading role in such a body.
CThe Bretton Woods Agreements, July 1944
E. The Bretton Woods Agreements, July 1944
In the years after World War I, economies around the world faced increasing strain, and many countries responded by adopting protectionist policies—including discriminatory trading practices, high tariff barriers to imports, and competitive devaluations of domestic currency. These hard-knuckled policies contributed to a downward spiral in the world economy that reached its nadir in the Great Depression. By the end of the 1930s and the onset of World War II, both Franklin D. Roosevelt and his secretary of state, Cordell Hull, became convinced that if there was to be any hope of establishing a more prosperous and peaceful world in the war's wake, the protectionist trend had to be reversed.
The first order of business, FDR and Winston Churchill believed, was to promote freer trade and equal access to raw materials. But to achieve this goal, world leaders had to grasp a prickly nettle: the difficult issue of currency stabilization. Nations in the '30s had devalued their currencies in order to lower the price of their exports abroad, making these products more competitive and maintaining jobs at home. But when other nations adopted the same practice, what resulted was an unproductive "beggar thy neighbor" currency war.
In the spring of 1942, therefore, British and American Treasury officials began a series of conversations in Washington, DC, about how to foster more international cooperation in economic policy for the good of all. These talks culminated in the Bretton Woods Conference of July 1944. Officially known as the United Nations Monetary and Financial Conference, this gathering, which included delegates from forty-four countries, met over three weeks in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, to agree on new rules for the postwar international monetary system.
The conference created two organizations that continue to be important players in the world economy of the twenty-first century: the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), later called the World Bank.
The IMF would be responsible for maintaining a system of fixed exchange rates centered on the U.S. dollar and gold, and the organization would provide a forum for nations to consult and cooperate on monetary issues. To foster the expansion of world trade, the IMF also would give short-term financial assistance to countries experiencing temporary deficits in their balance of payments (a summary of all monetary transactions between a nation and the world). Longer-term balance-of-payments problems could be addressed by modifying a country's exchange rate.
The IBRD, meanwhile, was tasked with providing financial aid to help the many countries devastated by war to rebuild, and to help poor countries develop their economies and engage in the newly emerging global economy—a role the World Bank plays today.
Designing the United Nations,
F. Dumbarton Oaks: Designing the United Nations, August-October 1944
Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill had sketched out their vision of a postwar world during their first face-to-face meeting in 1941. But the document they produced, the Atlantic Charter, was provisional in nature—more a statement of principles than an organized plan. Indeed, the charter explicitly called for "the establishment of a wider and permanent system of general security" at a more opportune time in the future. In that phrase lay the germ of the United Nations (UN).
FDR once again took up this project near the close of the war, convening, at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, DC, representatives of the United States, the United Kingdom, the USSR, and China—the "Big Four" powers of the 1942 UN alliance—to design a basic shape for the new international organization.
The structure they proposed consisted of a General Assembly to include all member states, and an executive Security Council composed of eleven members. These eleven would include five permanent members—the Big Four plus France (as soon as a postwar French government could be formed)—and six rotating members, to be elected by the General Assembly for two-year terms. The draft also called for the establishment of a Secretariat, an International Court of Justice, and an Economic and Social Council, all working under the authority of the General Assembly.
The Security Council would hold the weighty responsibility of maintaining peace. Member states could place armed forces at its disposal for this purpose. The General Assembly, meanwhile, would have the authority to initiate studies and make policy recommendations to promote peace, help secure basic human rights, and foster international collaboration in social, economic, and cultural matters.
At the close of the conference, the Big Four submitted their proposals for review to the other members of the UN alliance.
GThe United Nations
and the Yalta Conference,
G. Dumbarton Oaks: Designing the United Nations, August-October 1944
One important issue was left unresolved at Dumbarton Oaks: the voting procedure of the United Nations (UN) Security Council, vested with the critical authority to call on members to bring economic sanctions against aggressor states or indeed to deploy armed forces.
This matter was ultimately settled at the Yalta Conference of February 1945, when Franklin D. Roosevelt secured Soviet marshal Joseph Stalin's agreement to accept a voting formula granting the five permanent members (who would be most likely to provide forces for UN operations) the right to veto resolutions, but not to block council consideration of any issue. This would reassure both Stalin and members of the U.S. Congress that decisions could not be made without their nations' assent, while also guaranteeing a fair hearing on any issue for all member states, large and small. In exchange for this agreement, FDR and Winston Churchill acceded to Stalin's request for two additional seats in the General Assembly for the Ukraine and Byelorussia.
FDR has been criticized for yielding too much to Stalin at Yalta—for not insisting on more rigorously enforced agreements calling for self-government in postwar Europe and especially Poland, and for conceding territory in the Far East, such as the Kuril Islands. But uppermost in FDR's mind had been winning two promises from Stalin. With the atomic bomb not yet added to America's arsenal, FDR wanted Stalin to pledge Soviet participation in the war against a determined Japan. Second, FDR wanted Stalin to agree to join the UN peace and security organization. He knew that, for good or ill, the Soviet Union would emerge from the war a major power, and he believed that Soviet participation in the UN was critical to its success. Having succeeded on both counts, FDR returned home from Yalta exhausted—he had only two months to live—but cautiously optimistic about his achievements there.
HThe United Nations Is Born:
The San Francisco Conference,
H. The United Nations Is Born: The San Francisco Conference, April 1945
The Yalta agreements establishing a voting procedure for the United Nations (UN) Security Council cleared the way for the San Francisco Conference, which began on April 25, 1945. There, the members of the UN alliance crafted the UN Charter, which formally established the UN Organization.
More than eight hundred delegates and their staffs—a total of 3,500 people—gathered for this historic meeting. For efficiency, the conference formed a steering committee and four separate commissions: one to consider the main purpose and principles of the new organization, and three others to finalize the powers and responsibilities of the Security Council, General Assembly, and International Court of Justice.
After many weeks of intense debate and discussion, the commissions placed the UN Charter before the assembled delegates for a vote on June 25, 1945. The charter passed unanimously, eliciting thunderous applause from the more than three thousand staff, press, and visitors assembled in the San Francisco Opera House, where the stage was decorated with four golden pillars linked by olive branches, symbols of Franklin D. Roosevelt's Four Freedoms. In a second emotional ceremony the next day, each delegate signed the document.
Then the charter went through a ratification process requiring the approval of the five permanent members of the Security Council, plus a majority of the other signatory states. On October 24, 1945—United Nations Day—this requirement was fulfilled. Though FDR had been laid to rest in the rose garden of his family estate at Hyde Park, New York, the organization he had worked so hard to establish came to life.
IThe United Nations in the U.S. Senate
I. The United Nations in the U.S. Senate
Not long before the election of 1944, Franklin D. Roosevelt gave a speech in which he asked Americans to support the United Nations (UN) Organization, which he hoped would foster peace for many years to come when at last the hostilities of World War II came to an end. In the speech FDR railed against isolationists in Congress who had thwarted U.S. preparations for the war, voting against the relaxation of neutrality laws, Lend-Lease aid to Allies, and the draft. He also harkened back to the aftermath of World War I, when those who would have the United States avoid foreign involvements voted against the League of Nations. The president named names.
"One of the leading isolationists who killed international cooperation in 1920," FDR said, "was an old friend of mine, and I think he supported me two or three times—Senator Hiram Johnson. Now, in the event of Republican victory in the Senate this year—1944—that same Senator Johnson—who is still a friend of mine—would be Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. And I hope that the American voters will bear that in mind."
In his State of the Union address the following January, FDR once again took up the subject of an international body for peacekeeping. He conceded that there was reason for concern about the state of international relations even among friends, for example in Poland (where Soviet power was expanding) and Greece (where Britain had sent forces to suppress a communist uprising). But he cautioned that these were just the kind of concerns that had led America, after World War I, to reject the League of Nations.
Let us not forget that the retreat to isolationism a quarter of a century ago was started not by a direct attack against international cooperation but against the alleged imperfections of the peace.
In our disillusionment after the last war we preferred international anarchy to international cooperation with Nations which did not see and think exactly as we did. We gave up the hope of gradually achieving a better peace because we had not the courage to fulfill our responsibilities in an admittedly imperfect world.
We must not let that happen again, or we shall follow the same tragic road— again the road to a third world war.
In this final State of the Union speech, FDR was fighting for the UN. But some of the most hardcore isolationists—including three FDR had mentioned in his October speech—were no longer leaders in the Senate. William Borah of Idaho had died in 1940. Gerald Nye of North Dakota had been unseated in 1944. Johnson of California was ailing and would pass away in August. What's more, the war itself had convinced many Americans that FDR's position on international relations—that America must engage and even lead—was the correct one.
A few days after FDR's 1945 State of the Union, Senator Arthur Vandenberg of Michigan, a determined isolationist before the war, gave an influential address (dubbed "the speech heard round the world") in which he proclaimed his support for an international peace and security body. The United States would take one of two paths, Vandenberg said.
The first way is the old way which has twice taken us to Europe's interminable battlefields within a quarter century. The second way is the new way in which our present fraternity of war becomes a fraternity of peace. . . .
I hasten to make my personal viewpoint clear. I have always been frankly one of those who has believed in our own self-reliance. I still believe that we can never again—regardless of collaborations—allow our national defense to deteriorate to anything like a point of impotence. But I do not believe that any nation hereafter can immunize itself in its own exclusive action. Since Pearl Harbor, World War II has put the gory science of mass murder into new and sinister perspective. Our oceans have ceased to be moats which automatically protect our ramparts.
Pleased, FDR appointed Vandenberg a delegate to the San Francisco Conference, which would found the UN, and the Republican senator went on to become an important architect of bipartisan foreign policy. On July 28, 1945, the U.S. Senate voted eighty-nine to two to ratify the new organization's charter. (One of the senators who voted against it lost his seat the next year.) On December 4, 1945, the Senate voted sixty-five to seven to authorize full American participation in the UN.
JUnited Nations Headquarters: A World Capital
J. United Nations Headquarters: A World Capital
Franklin D. Roosevelt did not survive to see the United Nations (UN) Organization formally established in late 1945, nor could he have imagined that the international body would find a permanent home in a sweeping modernist complex along the East River, little more than a mile from the Manhattan townhouse FDR had shared with Eleanor Roosevelt and their children.
FDR, perhaps the world's foremost proponent of the UN itself, had strongly championed an American headquarters for the organization—he'd even thought the Secretariat, essentially the executive office of the UN, might be located in a Manhattan skyscraper. But the matter was far from settled in December 1945, when the U.S. Congress voted to invite the UN to locate itself in America. Indeed many Europeans wanted to site the UN in Geneva, a location FDR opposed because of its association with the troubled legacy of the League of Nations. A few days after the U.S. invitation, when the Preparatory Commission of the UN voted to locate the organization's headquarters in America, Britain and France voted against the measure, preferring a base in Europe.
Nevertheless, the UN decision kicked off a yearlong hunt for a suitable American location. Cities from San Francisco to Boston to Chicago vied to host the global organization, as did smaller communities from the Black Hills of South Dakota to Claremont, Oklahoma, to Miami Beach, Florida. Jay LeFevre, a Republican congressman representing Dutchess County, had written to President Harry Truman relaying his constituents' "fervent desire" to host the UN headquarters in Hyde Park, New York, FDR's hometown.
By early 1946, the Preparatory Commission had settled on the East Coast for its relative accessibility to Europe and assigned representatives to investigate more than a dozen locations, focusing on suburban sites to avoid the expense and difficulty of acquiring a large tract of urban land. On February 14, 1946, at its first session in London, the UN General Assembly voted to locate UN headquarters near New York City, somewhere in Fairfield County, Connecticut, or Westchester County, New York. But residents of the city's northern suburbs, especially Greenwich, Connecticut, soon voiced staunch opposition to hosting the new world capital, concerned it would ruin the character of their quiet, well-to-do residential towns.
New York City itself had lobbied for the honor of hosting the UN. "I felt," Mayor William O'Dwyer would later recall, "that this was the one great thing that would make New York the center of the world." But land in the city center was in short supply and very costly, and delegates had not been persuaded by the offer of Flushing Meadows, Queens, where the General Assembly was meeting temporarily and which had been the site of the 1939 World's Fair. With an impasse developing in the New York suburbs, the city's UN Committee redoubled its efforts to win over UN representatives, as did boosters for a site in Philadelphia.
Within hours of the December 11, 1946, deadline for a UN headquarters committee to choose a site—with Philadelphia the expected winner—the New York group came through with a stunning offer: six blocks of prime Manhattan real estate along the East River, owned by developer William Zeckendorf for a planned residential and commercial complex, to be purchased for the UN with an $8.5 million gift by John D. Rockefeller Jr. His son, Nelson Rockefeller, had served in FDR's State Department and had been a delegate to the San Francisco Conference, which founded the UN, Nelson Rockefeller was also a member of New York City's UN campaign committee.
On December 14, 1946, The UN General Assembly voted to accept Rockefeller's gift and build the UN a home in the city. New Yorkers and UN delegates alike saw the city as a felicitous location for the center of global diplomacy—a diverse global crossroads that was "vital and dynamic and truly inspiring," in the words of then UN secretary-general Trygve Lie, a Norwegian.
A design collaboration
The delegates decided not to hold a traditional competition for the design of the UN buildings, but instead, in keeping with the theme of international cooperation, to hire an international team of ten architects nominated by their governments, to be led by Wallace K. Harrison, a lead planner of Rockefeller Center. Work on the designs began early in 1947. Brazil's Oscar Niemeyer and the French-Swiss Le Corbusier, both leading lights of the modern architecture that had emerged in the 1930s, took prominent roles.
What rose on the riverside site exemplified modern architecture and all it stood for: clean, balanced shapes free of ornament or historical reference, embracing the new and the universal. The thirty-nine-story Secretariat Building in the International Style (a term coined in conjunction with a 1932 exhibit on modern architecture at New York's Museum of Modern Art) became the icon of the UN. Its simple block form features the first glass curtain walls on a New York City skyscraper—tinted a delicate green—and slender sides of mottled white Vermont marble. The General Assembly Building, by contrast, is low-slung and oblique, while the Conference Building, fittingly enough, is cantilevered over the Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive that borders the East River. UN Secretary-General Lie laid the cornerstone of the complex in 1949, and builders finished it in 1952.
The eighteen-acre headquarters is international territory, not subject to U.S. jurisdiction, although by agreement with the American government, fugitives cannot use it to evade arrest. In 2009 the UN began a massive renovation of its headquarters—the first in its history—to upgrade energy efficiency, interior layout, and security features.
KThe United Nations Today
K. The United Nations Today
In the decades since its founding, the United Nations (UN) has grown to include 193 member countries, essentially all the world's recognized sovereign states. As in 1945, its overall purposes include maintaining world peace; developing friendly relations among nations; promoting basic human rights by reducing poverty, disease, illiteracy, and other social and economic ills; and serving as a world forum.
Its functions around the globe are more diverse than ever. In recent decades, the UN has deployed peacekeepers to protect civilians in conflicts from the Bosnian War of the late 1990s to fighting in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the twenty-first century. The UN's hundreds of conventions, multilateral treaties, and standards help guide and develop international law. Its observers monitor democratic elections, and its weapons experts help nations develop safety policy and make inspections in various hot spots to foster the transparency required for peacemaking. The UN has rushed to the aid of victims of natural disasters, from the 2004 tsunami in Indonesia to the 2010 Haitian earthquake. The UN's World Food Programme feeds the hungry around the globe, and its Refugee Agency protects the rights and cares for the basic needs of people driven from their homes by war or other catastrophes. Other UN agencies work to study, slow, and help nations adapt to climate change.
The UN assembly chamber in New York has been the scene of such unforgettable confrontations as when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, responding to a remark by a Filipino delegate about the subjugation of Eastern Europe, banged his shoe on the table and called the delegate a "lackey of imperialism" in 1960, and, some forty-six years later, when Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez implied that U.S. president George W. Bush, who had preceded him at the podium the day before, was the devil (Chávez crossed himself and claimed the smell of sulfur hung in the air).
The international body is certainly not immune from criticism. It has been assailed for failing to stop nuclear proliferation and tragedies like the Rwandan genocide of 1994 on one hand, and, in other circles, for threatening private or national prerogatives with international agreements such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1990), which the United States has refused to ratify. Yet most agree that the UN is an indispensible instrument for global cooperation.
Its aspirations reflect the values and the vision articulated by Franklin D. Roosevelt in his tireless effort to fashion, out of the ruins of war, a new and better world founded on four fundamental human freedoms—freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. The UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights—drafted under the guiding hand of Eleanor Roosevelt not long after FDR's death—calls these four freedoms the "highest aspiration" of the common peoples of this planet. The international peace and security organization FDR envisioned stands, today, as a living testament to his legacy.
18. Defining a Humane
World: Eleanor Roosevelt
and the Universal Declaration
of Human Rights
Eleanor Roosevelt had planned, in the spring of 1945, to ride a train with her husband across the country to San Francisco, where President Franklin D. Roosevelt would welcome delegates assembled from far and wide to draft the United Nations Charter. ER very much looked forward to the trip. She had followed FDR's plans for the United Nations (UN) closely and shared his hope that, with full American participation and the commitment of the Allied nations, the organization could prevent another world war and bring FDR's Four Freedoms to fruition around the world. She believed strongly that if the world was ever to be free from fear and want, the UN must succeed.
ER never expected to be a member of the American delegation to the UN, much less to contribute as significantly as she did to its success. She simply planned to use her column, lecture tours, and books to rally American support for the international organization. She saw herself as an advocate, not a policy maker.
The year 1945 would bring many surprises. FDR died in April, just weeks before the San Francisco Conference convened to found the UN. By December his successor, Harry Truman, found his popular support plummeting, with rivals in all parties challenging his leadership. ER had begun to join in this criticism, and Truman wanted her in his camp. He asked his confidant James Byrnes to find a way to bring the former First Lady into his administration. Byrnes's suggestion: Why not appoint her a delegate to the UN? Her status as FDR's widow could inspire the delegates and win back public support, Byrnes thought. Truman thought it a strategic, albeit controversial, move.
"I want to thank you very much for the opportunity you have given me in being part of this delegation," ER wrote the president in January 1946, during the first meeting of the UN in London. "It is a great privilege and my only fear is that I shall not be able to make enough of a contribution. I do feel, however, that you were very wise in thinking that anyone connected with my husband could, perhaps, by their presence here keep the level of his ideals."
Neither Truman nor Byrnes nor ER herself imagined her appointment would prove to be a political and diplomatic masterstroke. Certainly no one anticipated that ER's eight-year tenure with the UN would include taking a lead role—probably the lead role—in creating one of the most important documents of the twentieth century, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
AHer Voice Would Not Be Silent
A. Her Voice Would Not Be Silent
A week after Franklin D. Roosevelt's death, as Eleanor Roosevelt prepared to leave the White House for good, she wrote her trusted friend Lorena Hickok: "Franklin's death ended a period in history and now in its wake for lots of us who lived in his shadow periods come and we have to start again under our own momentum and wonder what we can achieve."
She spent the summer of 1945 in Hyde Park, New York, settling FDR's estate and considering what she could do to promote the values she and FDR had championed. She followed San Francisco's conference to plan the United Nations with eager diligence, speaking with delegates over the phone and regularly corresponding with Secretary of State Edward Stettinius.
ER rejected pleas that she run for office, serve in the cabinet, or direct a political action committee. After years of speaking for her husband and his administration, ER wanted to speak her "own mind." When a concerned Harold Ickes, FDR's interior secretary and a frequent political ally of ER's, urged her to enter the political arena, she tempered her dismissal by assuring him that her "voice [would] not be silent."
ER spent the fall traveling the nation, urging war-weary Americans to realize that "it takes just as much determination to work for peace as it does to win a war." Repeatedly she challenged audiences "to have the courage and the strength to sustain [America's] effort to win the peace." She used her column My Day to rally support for a living wage, full employment, affordable housing, and an end to segregation. She campaigned for candidates and joined the boards of directors of civil rights and other social-change organizations.
By December 1945, ER had returned to the national stage. On December 21, she reluctantly accepted President Harry Truman's request that she join the first American delegation to the United Nations. Ten days later she sailed to London to participate in the first session of the UN General Assembly.
"I feel a great responsibility to the youth who fought the war," she wrote in My Day. "Everyone has a deep and solemn obligation to them which we should fulfill by giving all that we are capable of giving to the making of the peace so they can feel that the maximum good has come from their sacrifice."
“To Build a
by Eleanor Roosevelt
BJoining Committee Three
B. Joining Committee Three
One morning in January 1945, as Eleanor Roosevelt strolled the ocean liner Queen Elizabeth's main deck on her way to London and the first meeting of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly, John Foster Dulles rushed to join her. Dulles, a Republican lawyer and political advisor, had strongly opposed ER's appointment to the UN delegation and conspired with other delegates to assign ER a position "where she could do the least damage."
As he joined ER on her walk, he told her that she would serve on "Committee Three" of the UN General Assembly— the Committee for Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Concerns. Fully aware that her fellow delegates had picked their own assignments and that they had sent Dulles to contain her, she simply asked that "all the appropriate material be sent to [her] stateroom."
Dulles underestimated ER and undervalued Committee Three. He and his counterparts focused on UN Security Council issues: veto power, UN membership, and regulation of atomic energy. He did not anticipate the major international issues that would fall to Committee Three—the plight of refugees and displaced persons, relief and rehabilitation of war-ruined communities, the drafting of international accords on human rights, and intense Cold War battles over how to handle the return of dislocated populations to their countries of origin.
ER would be a principal in work on all four of these matters. As a member of Committee Three, she would deftly refute the claims of a skilled Soviet representative that the war-displaced people of Europe were largely Axis collaborators who should be forcibly repatriated. She would help create the International Refugee Organization, the UN Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, and the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF). She would make her greatest and most unexpected contribution to Committee Three as chair of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR).
Within a few months, Dulles realized he had miscalculated. After ER convinced the General Assembly to reject a Soviet motion that would have forced many refugees to return to states run by dreaded despotic regimes, Dulles apologized to her. As they left the UN chamber, he confessed that he had thought it "perfectly awful" when she was appointed, but now he had to admit that her work had been "perfectly fine."
As for ER, she would later write that she had understood the pressure she faced as the only woman in the American delegation. Determined to be well prepared, she pored over reams of documents, which left her better informed than others about the refugee situation. "State Department papers can be dull," she wrote. "And I used to go almost to sleep over them. But I did read them all."
of Human Rights
C. Drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
The Charter of the United Nations, signed in San Francisco in 1945, had proclaimed the United Nations' (UN) commitment "to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, and in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small." Although it encouraged "respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms," the charter did not spell out what those rights and freedoms were. Instead, the UN charged its Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) with defining rights and developing support for them. ECOSOC delegated that responsibility to Committee Three.
In May 1946, a small segment of Committee Three gathered at New York's Hunter College to begin that task, and they promptly elected Eleanor Roosevelt chair. This eighteen-member subcommittee—which did not agree on private property; religion; the purpose of government; the role of citizens; or the right to wages, the vote, a nationality, or free travel, among other critical issues—ultimately decided that the first task it should undertake would be to draft an international bill of human rights.
When the committee, now known as the UN Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR), convened in January 1947, it again turned to ER to guide it. To draft a declaration of universal rights was a daunting task. No international statement of its type had ever been attempted. Everyone within the UN as well as outside observers understood how difficult it would be. One advisor summarized the UNCHR's precarious balancing act this way: "Yes, we agree about the rights but on the condition that no one asks us why." All knew that unless the UNCHR could establish consensus about "the why," the "whole enterprise could be highjacked."
ER was very conscious of how much these yet-to-be-defined rights meant to the people of the world. She had toured the squalid refugee camps, met with Holocaust survivors and wounded soldiers and noncombatants, and walked the streets of battle-scarred cities and villages. The people she met and the scenes she saw haunted her. "When will our consciences grow so tender that we will act to prevent human misery rather than avenge it?" she asked. ER told her fellow commissioners that she felt "very keenly the importance of this commission." She urged her fellow delegates to see themselves as representing "the peoples of the world" rather than their own governments and to advocate, when necessary, positions "that it may be difficult for one's own government to carry through."
The UNCHR then asked ER, P. C. Chang (China), and Charles Malik (Lebanon) to draft an international bill of rights it could review when it reconvened in December. When the French and the Soviets objected to such a small group preparing the important draft, ER used her authority as chair to add René Cassin (France), Colonel William Roy Hodgson (Australia), Hernán Santa Cruz (Chile), Geoffrey Wilson (United Kingdom), and Vladimir Koretsky (Soviet Union) to the drafting committee.
This committee met on June 9, 1947, to study a blueprint prepared by John Humphrey, a Canadian who headed the newly established UN Human Rights Division. Humphrey had reviewed materials on human rights submitted by leading philosophers, nongovernmental organizations, and lawyers. The drafting committee debated Humphrey's approach and gave ER, Cassin, Malik, and Wilson the responsibility of revising Humphrey's draft.
When the UNCHR reconvened in Geneva in December 1947, it quickly became apparent to ER how difficult it would be to adopt a legally binding human rights document. Fearful that Cold War politics and countless delays would prevent the adoption of an international bill of rights, ER urged the UNCHR to adopt a three-track process: drafting a declaration of human rights, drafting a legally binding covenant on human rights, and designing a human rights court. This was a shrewd maneuver, as it would take nineteen years to draft the legally binding conventions and another nine to implement them.
But debates over what to include in a "universal" declaration only intensified. Many of the Western nations worried that guaranteeing social and economic rights (the right to work, a living wage, food, shelter, health, and education) would require countries to adopt "socialist" policies. Many Americans objected to clauses opposing segregation. The Soviet bloc opposed political and civil rights (the right to vote, the right to political dissent, the right to speak and assemble, and the right to worship). ER convened a new drafting committee to address the questions they raised: Cassin of France, Carlos Romulo of the Philippines, and Aleksandr Bogomolov, Soviet ambassador to France. Under her leadership, Cassin drafted a declaration they all edited and presented to the UNCHR for approval.
By the summer of 1948, ER had met with each of the commission delegates separately, frequently inviting them to tea or dinner as she'd so often done in the White House. She had helped them resolve their distrust of one another and had pushed the U.S. State Department to accept that social and economic rights must be included for the proposed declaration to have any moral and legal weight. She had chaired hundreds of full commission meetings where delegates debated religion, racial discrimination, the purpose of government, whether women and children should have their own legal identity—and even the placement of commas in their statement
After more than three thousand hours of meetings, the UNCHR voted to submit its Declaration of Human Rights to Committee Three and the General Assembly.
D“I Drove Them Hard”
D. “I Drove Them Hard”
The United Nations (UN) General Assembly reconvened in Paris in the fall of 1948. The year had seen a Hindu nationalist assassinate Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi in New Delhi and Jewish extremists kill UN Special Envoy Count Folke Bernadotte in Jerusalem for his proposal on dividing Palestine between Jews and Arabs. The crisis over Palestine was intensifying, a blockade governed Berlin, and Chinese communists were poised to take control of the world's largest nation. Soviet opposition to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights threatened to derail its adoption.
Eleanor Roosevelt entered the session determined not to let that happen. The day before the General Assembly convened, she gave a major address at the Sorbonne (in French). "I have come this evening," she told an overflowing crowd of 2,500, "to talk with you about one of the greatest issues of our time—that is the preservation of human freedom." After discussing differences in the conception of human rights, she argued that those committed to the declaration's principles "must not be deluded by the efforts of the forces of reaction to prostitute the great words of our free tradition and thereby to confuse the struggle."
Her speech set the tone for her work shepherding the declaration through the full Committee Three and the General Assembly. The task was nothing short of grueling. It entailed eighty-five committee meetings (many lasting from early morning until after midnight) in which delegates revisited every word in each of the declaration's thirty articles.
As debates over the right to social security and education dragged along, ER grew increasingly concerned that Committee Three would not approve the proposed declaration in time for the General Assembly to vote on it. She used My Day to chastise Soviet delaying tactics, remarking acidly, "One would admire the Soviet persistence in sticking to their point if it were not for the fact that so often their point is not worth sticking to." She also challenged the Soviets in committee meetings. In My Day, she told the story of how one Soviet delegate used the presentation of proposed amendments to hold forth "on the perfections of their way of doing things as opposed to the bad customs and ideas of the United Kingdom and the United States," so ER bluntly asked if "those in the USSR's forced labor camps enjoyed paid vacations."
Her combination of public pressure, blunt confrontation within the committee, and respectful private conversations worked. Committee Three approved the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. A little after midnight on December 10, 1948, ER told the General Assembly why she wanted its members to approve the declaration. The delegates passed it without a single dissenting vote. (The Soviets abstained.) After the vote was tallied, the president of the General Assembly declared: "It is particularly fitting that there should be present on this occasion the person who, with the assistance of many others, has played a leading role in the work, a person who has raised to greater heights even so great a name—Mrs. Roosevelt, the representative of the United States of America."
The delegates rose and applauded, honoring ER with the first standing ovation in the history of the UN.
"I drove them hard," she wrote to a friend after the commission adjourned, "but they are glad now it's over and all the men are proud of their Eleanor with René Cassin at the U.N. accomplishment."
In its Declaration of Human Rights, the international body had laid out, for the first time, the basic rights of every single human being on Earth—including the right to be seen as a free and equal person before the law; to be free from torture, slavery, and arbitrary arrest; to own property, start a family, access education, and work for a living; and to express oneself, assemble as one chooses, and follow one's own conscience in matters of religion.
EEleanor Roosevelt Defines Human Rights
E. Eleanor Roosevelt Defines Human Rights
1n 1958, as activists celebrated the tenth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the press asked Eleanor Roosevelt what human rights meant. She replied:
Where after all do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home—so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any map of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person: The neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.