World War II

In this inter-war period; the German people, who had been psychologically destroyed by the punitive terms of the Treaty of Versailles and now ignored, saw the ultra-nationalist Adolph Hitler as their means to regain their national self-esteem. Japan had historic cultural issues with China and Korea dating back to olden times and saw an opportunity, with the rest of the world focused on disarming, to settle ancient scores. Russia, as always, was xenophobic, only now it was run by a genocidal communist dictator. Italy was dominated by an unstable fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini. None of them would play the disarmament game – a fact ignored by the great democracies.

The result was that more than 60 million people died as a direct result of wartime activities in the inevitable war – World War II – about 3% of the world’s population. Almost an entire race had been exterminated in their own private Holocaust. The World War I losses totaled 17 million people – about 1% of the world’s population. The law of unintended consequences had struck again.

When hostilities ceased in the Pacific theater of war on August 15, 1945, America stood alone as the most morally and militarily powerful nation in the history of mankind. Sixteen million Americans had donned the uniforms of the U.S. Army, Army Air Corps, Navy, Marine Corp, Merchant Marine and Coast Guard to annihilate the war machines of Nazi Germany, at the Western end of the World Island, and the Imperial Empire of Japan, on the Eastern end. Unprepared and unequipped for war and thus unable to deter war, the conflict cost the lives of 292,000 American servicemen/women killed in action. This miraculous and monumental feat would go down in history as the greatest military victory of all time. Then, everything went downhill.

As we know, on April 12, 1945, the progressive/liberal icon, Franklin Roosevelt died in Warm Springs, Ga. Missourian machine-politician Harry S. Truman became President. Upon assuming the Presidency, Truman asked all the members of FDR’s cabinet to remain in place, and told them that he was open to their advice. He emphasized a central principle of his administration: he would be the one making decisions, and they were to support him if they remained.

“On April 30, 1945, Adolf Hitler committed suicide in his bunker in Berlin as the Russian Army was about to overrun it, capture him and return him to the Soviet Union for a show-trial. He was mentally and physically spent and delusional. In the aftermath, Nazi Germany collapsed and the war in Europe ended. In late July, Truman traveled to Potsdam, Germany, outside Berlin, for a conference with Britain’s Winston Churchill and Russia’s Josef Stalin. During that conference, upon the advice of his cabinet and other Roosevelt holdovers, Truman agreed to Soviet domination of Eastern Europe and the rape of all German industrial materials and scientists/engineers in areas conquered by the Red Army and their return to the Soviet Union.

This concession allowed the Soviet Union to challenge the United States for power and influence in all areas of the globe for the next 44 years – the period known as the Cold War – the era that has defined all our lives. As we have seen, Truman’s advisors, who were hand selected by Roosevelt insiders, had a peculiar affinity for Stalin’s brand of economics and central planning, even if they didn’t particularly favor the brutality he rained down on his citizens. As we have also seen, some were actual Soviet agents – probably more than is known even today – they even knew about the atomic bomb before Truman did! They were pleased with the Potsdam outcome. They would not be pleased with the aftermath of the war in America.

On January 24, 1943, after the Casablanca Conference with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, President Roosevelt unexpectedly announced that the Allies would be seeking unconditional surrender from the Axis forces. As early as mid-1943, the United States Army (having had first-hand experience with disarmament after World War I) had recognized that, once victory was achieved, bringing the troops home would become a political priority. At that time, more than 12 million Americans were in uniform; and about eight million of them were scattered across 55 theaters of war worldwide. Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall established committees to address the logistical problem. Eventually, organization of the operation was given to the War Shipping Administration (WSA).  It established and coordinated Operation Magic Carpet. No one bothered to prepare a solution to the political problem.

The demobilization of the United States armed forces, after the Second World War, began with the defeat of Germany in May 1945 and continued through 1946. The United States had more than 12 million men and women in the armed forces at the end of the war, of whom 7.6 million were stationed abroad. As expected, the American public demanded a [strategically unwise] rapid demobilization and soldiers protested the slowness of the process. Military personnel were returned to the United States in Operation Magic Carpet as planned. By June 30, 1947, with the armed forces of the Soviet Union still in the field, the number of active duty soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen in the armed forces had been reduced to 1,566,000 – a suicidal 91% reduction from the peak!

[“The rapid demobilization of American servicemen threatened to create a shortage of manpower for the responsibilities of occupying Germany and Japan.” “Rapid” is a relative term compared to today. Often, troops waited weeks, maybe months for transport home, usually via slow ship transport. These weeks, spent de-stressing with their closest friends, people who had been through the horrors they had, I believe, was a significant factor in the low percentage of World War II service members to suffer with disabling PTSD. Today, troops can be home in a matter of days and disabling PTSD is epidemic.]

On January 4, 1946, the [again unprepared] War Department backtracked on its previous promises of early demobilization and announced that 1.55 million eligible servicemen would be demobilized and discharged over a six-month period rather than in three months as previously announced. This announcement generated immediate protests from soldiers around the world. Four thousand soldiers in Manila had demonstrated against the cancellation of a repatriation ship on Christmas Day 1945; on January 6, twenty-thousand marched on army headquarters.

The protests spread worldwide, involving tens of thousands of soldiers in Guam, Hawaii, Japan, France, Germany, Austria, India, Korea, the United States, and England – where 500 disgruntled soldiers confronted Eleanor Roosevelt. Although a few soldiers were arrested, most commanders took a tolerant approach to the demonstrations. Communist involvement in the demonstrations was alleged, but unproven.

In Washington, Army Chief of Staff, General Eisenhower ordered an investigation of the Manila demonstration and concluded that the main cause was “acute homesickness” and recommended that “no mass disciplinary action be taken” against the demonstrators. The military sped up demobilization by liberalizing the point system once again to further speed up demobilization, although Eisenhower banned any further demonstrations and threatened courts martial for participants.

The military also took steps to make service abroad more appealing – steps that should have been discussed in public forums long before they were needed so that Americans, both service members and their families, knew what the aftermath of unconditional surrender would look like. Because no such information was available, administrative chaos ensued.

Basic training for new soldiers was shortened from 17 to 8 weeks. The army offered free travel to families of servicemen if the soldier agreed to remain overseas for two years. Occupation troops in Europe were offered a 17-day European tour for the nominal price of between 25 and 35 dollars.

Rapid demobilization, in the [belated] view of military planners, left the U.S. military understaffed [and unable] to accomplish its responsibilities. In addition, the number of conscripts being drafted into the army was smaller than those needed to replace demobilized soldiers. The unpopular draft was terminated on March 31, 1947 and the U.S. military became an all-volunteer force until new legislation authorizing a draft was adopted in 1948.

The rapid demobilization of the U.S. military after World War II, in the words of one scholar, reduced the army “to a state of near impotency …weakened the prestige of our national policy, and endangered the security of the Nation.” Although the combat capability of the U.S. certainly declined because of the demobilization, another assessment of the U.S. military in Germany concluded that army still had defensive capability and the “ability to perform…occupational duties, to control the German population, and to suppress local uprisings”. 

That does not describe an “army”, it describes a police department, which has led to a national mindset that every foreign situation, no matter how large or small, no matter the opponent, whether Korea or Grenada, is a “police action” and mission goals are always to “bring those responsible to justice.” 

That’s not what armies, navies or air forces are built for and using them in that capacity has caused nearly 70 years of foreign policy failures because military forces are designed to destroy the enemy’s capacity and will to fight, not their will to litigate. [This policy was an abject failure of political leadership, from the President on down – in this case, President Roosevelt who never prepared the nation for a post-war world where the United States would be challenged for world leadership by the Soviet Union – a totally predictable outcome apparently recognized only by Churchill.]

A new (and highly unpopular) Selective Service Act in 1948 restored conscription as a response to challenges by the Soviet Union seeking control in Greece and Berlin, Germany. U.S. military forces remained at a level of about 1.5 million personnel until the Korean War in 1950.

At the end of World War II, millions of Europeans were homeless, the European economy had collapsed, and much of the European industrial infrastructure had been destroyed or uprooted and taken to the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union, too, had been heavily affected. In response, in 1947, U.S. Secretary of State George Marshall devised the “European Recovery Program”, which became known as the Marshall Plan. Under the plan, during 1948-1952, the United States government allocated $14 billion ($137 billion in current dollars) for the reconstruction of Western Europe.

The European economy had collapsed with 70% of the industrial infrastructure destroyed. The property damage in the Soviet Union consisted of complete or partial destruction of 1,710 cities and towns, 70,000 villages/hamlets, and 31,850 industrial establishments. The strength of the economic recovery following the war varied throughout the world, though in general it was quite robust with the Marshal Plan providing much of the impetus.

In Europe, West Germany, after having continued to decline economically during the first years of the Allied [Britain, France and the United States] occupation, later experienced a remarkable recovery, and had by the end of the 1950s doubled production from its pre-war levels. Italy came out of the war in poor economic condition, but by the 1950s, the Italian economy was marked by stability and high growth. France rebounded quickly and enjoyed rapid economic growth and modernization under the Monnet Plan. The UK, by contrast, was in a state of economic ruin after the war and continued to experience relative economic decline for decades to follow.

The Soviet Union also experienced a rapid increase in production in the immediate post-war era. Japan experienced rapid economic growth, becoming one of the most powerful economies in the world by the 1980s. China, following the conclusion of its civil war, was essentially bankrupt. By 1953, economic restoration seemed fairly successful as production had resumed pre-war levels. This growth rate mostly persisted, though it was interrupted by economic experiments during the disastrous Great Leap Forward in the mid-1960s. At the end of the war, the United States produced roughly half of the world’s industrial output. This dominance had lessened significantly by the early 1970s.

Allied during World War II, the US and the USSR became competitors on the world stage and engaged in what became known as the Cold War, so called because it never boiled over into open war between the two powers but was focused on espionage, both military and industrial, political subversion and proxy wars. Europe and Japan were rebuilt through the American Marshall Plan whereas Eastern Europe fell in the Soviet sphere of influence as the “Warsaw Pact” and was forced to reject the plan.

Europe was politically divided into a democratic US-led Western Bloc and a dictatorial, communistic Soviet-led Eastern Bloc. Internationally, alliances with the two blocs gradually shifted, with some nations trying to stay out of the Cold War through the Non-Aligned Movement.

The Cold War also saw a nuclear arms race between the two superpowers; part of the reason that the Cold War never became a “hot” war was that the Soviet Union and the United States had credible [credible in the sense that both had nuclear weapons, the demonstrated ability and the national will, in the form of nuclear-trained crews ready and willing, to use them] nuclear deterrents against each other, leading to a “mutually assured destruction” [MAD] standoff.

As a consequence of the war, the wartime Allies created the United Nations, a new global organization for international cooperation and diplomacy. Members of the United Nations agreed to outlaw wars of aggression in an attempt to avoid another world war. Sound familiar? The devastated great powers of Western Europe formed the European Coal and Steel Community, which later evolved into the European Common Market and ultimately into the current European Union. This effort primarily began as an attempt to avoid another war between Germany and France by economic cooperation and integration, and a common market for important natural resources.

The end of the war also increased the rate of decolonization for the great powers with independence being granted India (from the United Kingdom), Indonesia (from the Netherlands), the Phillipines (from the US) and a number of Arab nations, primarily from specific rights which had been granted to great powers from League of Nations Mandates in the post-World War I era but often having existed defacto well before that time.

Also related to this was Israel gaining independence from its previous status as part of “Mandatory Palestine in the years immediately following the war. President Harry Truman was the first to recognize the State of Israel, on the part of the American people, only six hours after independence is declared. Independence for the nations of Sub-Saharan Africa came more slowly.

The aftermath of World War II also saw the rise of the People’s Republic of China, as the Chinese Communists emerged victorious from the Chinese Civil War in 1949.

After the dropping of two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, the occupation of Japan proved to be relatively unchallenging under the direction of a military governor, General Douglas MacArthur. To further remove Japan as a potential future military threat, the Far Eastern Commission decided to de-industrialize Japan, with the goal of reducing Japanese standard of living to what prevailed between 1930 and 1934. In the end, the de-industrialization program in Japan was implemented to a lesser degree than the one in Germany.

Early in 1939, the world’s scientific community discovered that German physicists had learned the secrets of splitting a uranium atom. Fears soon spread over the possibility of Nazi scientists utilizing that energy to produce a bomb capable of unspeakable destruction.

Scientists Albert Einstein, a Jew who fled Nazi persecution, and Enrico Fermi, who escaped Fascist Italy, were then living in the United States. They agreed that the President must be informed of the dangers of atomic technology in the hands of the Axis powers. Fermi traveled to Washington in March 1939 to express his concerns to government officials. Few shared his uneasiness.

Einstein penned a letter to President Roosevelt urging the development of an atomic research program later that year. Amazingly, Roosevelt saw neither the necessity nor the utility for such a project, but agreed to proceed slowly. In late 1941, the American effort to design and build an atomic bomb received its code name — the MANHATTAN PROJECT.

At first the research was based at only a few universities — Columbia University, the University of Chicago and the University of California at Berkeley. A breakthrough occurred in December 1942 when Fermi led a group of physicists to produce the first controlled nuclear chain reaction under the grandstands of Stagg Field at the University of Chicago.

After this milestone, funds were allocated more freely, and the project advanced at breakneck speed. Nuclear facilities were built at Oak Ridge, Tennessee and Hanford, Washington. The main assembly plant was built at Los Alamos, New Mexico. J. Robert Oppenheimer was put in charge of assembling the pieces at Los Alamos.

By the summer of 1945, Project Director Oppenheimer was ready to test the first bomb. On July 16, 1945, at Trinity Site near Alamogordo, NM, scientists of the Manhattan Project readied themselves to watch the detonation of the world’s first atomic bomb. The device was affixed to a 100-foot tower and was discharged just before dawn. No one was properly prepared for the result.

A blinding flash visible for 200 miles lit up the morning sky. A mushroom cloud reached 40,000 feet, blowing out windows of civilian homes up to 100 miles away. When the cloud returned to earth, it was revealed that the explosion had created a half-mile wide crater metamorphosing sand into glass. A bogus cover-up story was quickly released, explaining that a huge ammunition dump had just exploded in the desert. Soon word reached President Truman in Potsdam, Germany that the project was successful. The world had entered the nuclear age. America had the bomb. Now what?

After the final bill was tallied, nearly $2 billion had been spent on research and development of the atomic bomb. The Manhattan Project employed over 120,000 Americans.

When Harry Truman learned of the success of the Manhattan Project, he knew he was faced with a decision of unprecedented gravity. The capacity to end the war with Japan was in his hands, but it would involve unleashing the most terrible weapon ever known. Secrecy was paramount.

Neither the Germans nor the Japanese could learn of the project. Roosevelt and Churchill had also agreed that the Stalin would be kept in the dark. Consequently, there was no public awareness or debate. Keeping 120,000 people quiet would be impossible; therefore, only a small privileged cadre of inner scientists and officials knew about the atomic bomb’s development. In fact, Vice-President Truman had never heard of the Manhattan Project until he became President Truman.

Although the Axis powers remained unaware of the efforts at Los Alamos, American leaders later learned that a Soviet spy named Klaus Fuchs had penetrated the inner circle of scientists and had passed atomic secrets to the Soviets. Stalin knew.

Others included David Greenglass, an American machinist at Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project. Greenglass confessed that he gave crude schematics of lab experiments to the Russians during World War II. Greenglass was sentenced to 15 years in prison, served 10 years, and later reunited with his wife

Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were Americans who were involved in coordinating and recruiting an espionage network that included Ethel’s brother – David Greenglass. Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were tried for conspiracy to commit espionage, since the prosecution seemed to feel that there was not enough evidence to convict on espionage. Treason charges were not applicable, since the United States and the Soviet Union were allies at the time.

The Rosenbergs denied all the charges but were convicted in a trial in which the prosecutor, Roy Cohn, said he was in daily secret contact with the judge, IIrving Kaufman. Despite an international movement demanding clemency, and appeals to [now] President Eisenhower by leading European intellectuals and the Pope, the Rosenbergs were executed at the height of the Korean War. President Eisenhower wrote to his son, serving in Korea, that if he spared Ethel (presumably for the sake of her children), then the Soviets would simply recruit their spies from among women

Morton Sobell was the American engineer tried and convicted along with the Rosenbergs who was sentenced to 30 years’ imprisonment, but released from Alcatraz in 1969, after serving 17 years and 9 months. After proclaiming his innocence for over half a century, Sobell admitted spying for the Soviets, and implicated Julius Rosenberg, in an interview with TheNew York Times published on September 11, 2008. The Rosenbergs remain heroes to the PLDC.

Morris Cohen, an American, “Thanks to Cohen, designers of the Soviet atomic bomb got piles of technical documentation straight from the secret laboratory in Los Alamos,” the Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda reported. Morris and his wife, Lona, served eight years in prison, less than half of their sentences before being released in a prisoner swap with the Soviet Union. He died without revealing the name of the American scientist who helped pass vital information about the United States atomic bomb project

For Truman, the choice whether, or not, to use the atomic bomb was the most difficult decision of his life. American soldiers and civilians were weary from four years of war, yet the Japanese military was refusing to give up their fight. American forces occupied Okinawa and Iwo Jima after savage and costly battles, and were intensely fire-bombing Japanese cities. But Japan had an army of 2 million strong stationed in the home islands guarding against invasion and an armed and fanatical citizenry who would also fight to the death to defend their Emperor.

American war-planners had estimated that there was a high probability that there would be upwards of one-million American casualties (perhaps a quarter-million American deaths) if an invasion of the Japanese home islands became necessary – and a similar number of Japanese casualties, although Japanese military casualties would be ten-times the Americans since most would fight to the death.

The decision was not reached precipitously. First, in late July 1945, an Allied demand for an immediate unconditional surrender was made to the leadership in Japan. Although the demand stated that refusal would result in total destruction, no mention of any new weapons of mass destruction was made. The Japanese military command rejected the request for unconditional surrender, but there were indications that a conditional surrender was possible if the Emperor were spared – but then there was only silence from the Japanese High Command.

The day before, the governments of China, Great Britain, and the United States had issued the Potsdam Declaration  demanding the “unconditional surrender of all Japanese armed forces. “The alternative is prompt and utter destruction.”  In response to questions from journalists about the government’s reaction to the ultimatum, apparently, Prime Minister Suzuki said that “We can only ignore [mokusatsu] it. We will do our utmost to complete the war to the bitter end.”  

During the war, America and Great Britain had perfected a program to intercept Japanese diplomatic and military radio traffic – called “Magic”. A “Magic” intercept of a cable from Foreign Minister Togo to the Japanese Ambassador to Moscow, Sato, shows that the Foreign Minister rejected unconditional surrender and that the Emperor was not “asking the Russian’s mediation in anything like unconditional surrender.”

This “Magic” summary of messages from both Togo and Sato show that the Japanese High Command was in disarray. In a long and impassioned message, the latter argued why Japan must accept defeat: “…it is meaningless to prove one’s devotion [to the emperor] by wrecking the State.”  Togo rejected Sato’s advice that Japan accept unconditional surrender except for one provision: the “preservation of the Imperial House.” Probably unable or unwilling to take a soft position in an official cable, Togo declared that “the whole country … will pit itself against the enemy in accordance with the Imperial Will, as long as the enemy demands unconditional surrender.”

American Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal was a regular recipient of “Magic” intercept reports; Forrestal saw the Sato-Togo exchanges as additional evidence that senior U.S. officials understood that Tokyo was not on the “cusp of surrender.”

Historians Barton Bernstein, Richard Frank, and Tsuyoshi Hasegawa, among others, also have argued that the “Magic” intercepts from the end of July and early August show that the Japanese were far from ready to surrender.  According to historian Herbert Bix, for months Hirohito had believed that the “outlook for a negotiated peace could be improved if Japan fought and won one last decisive battle,” thus, Hirohito delayed surrender, continuing to “procrastinate until the bomb was dropped and the Soviets attacked.”

A “Far East Summary” of August 4, 1945, included “Magic” intercepted reports on the Japanese army’s plans to disperse fuel stocks to reduce vulnerability to bombing attacks, the text of a directive by the commander of naval forces on “Operation Homeland,” the preparations and planning to repel a U.S. invasion of Honshu, and the specific identification of army divisions located in, or moving into, Kyushu. 

Both Richard Frank and Barton Bernstein have used intelligence reporting and analysis of the major buildup of Japanese forces on southern Kyushu to argue that U.S. military planners were so concerned about that development that by early August 1945 they were reconsidering their invasion plans.

Getting no reply to the surrender proposal, on August 6, 1945, an Army Air Corps B-29 named the Enola Gay, dropped an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima. Exploding 1,870 feet directly over a city of 320,000, the bomb vaporized over 70,000 people instantly and caused fires over two miles away. In the months and years that followed, an additional 100,000 perished from burns and radiation sickness.

[The Enola Gay was named after the pilot’s (Col. Paul Tibbetts) mother, Enola – spelled backwards is “alone”]. He hand-picked his crew who were trained for this specific mission by the very best Army Air Corps veterans, in Pueblo, CO – some of whom were veterans of the very first Army Air Corps unit to enter the war, the legendary 98th Bomb Group, the Pyramidiers, who deployed their new B-24D bombers from Florida in early July 1942, bound for Palestine.

These were the men who invented daytime high altitude heavy bombing over North Africa and had carried out the most dangerous bombing mission in history – the Ploesti Raid on August 1, 1943, flying over 2000 miles from North Africa to a heavily defended, vast complex of oil refinery facilities located about 30 miles north of Bucharest, Romania. It supplied an estimated sixty percent of the refined oil necessary to keep the German war machine running.

Flying as low as fifty feet above ground to avoid detection when they arrived over the target, fifty-three out of 178 planes failed to return with the loss of over 500 airmen. (See Booster McKeester and Other Expendables, by Willie Chapman, Global Press, 1994.)

Hiroshima had a heavy cloud cover that day and the bombardier/navigator was having a difficult time locating any landmarks to determine where the plane was. As he was about to notify the pilot that they would have to move to an alternate target, he saw, through a small break in the clouds, a running track at a soccer field that he had noted while studying aerial photography of Hiroshima. Knowing instantly where he was, he directed the pilot onto the approach course for the bombing run, took control of the aircraft, piloted it to the drop point and loosed the bomb.

Two days later, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan. On August 9, a second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, where 80,000 Japanese people perished. Still, the Japanese government stumbled around looking for a way to win.

Next time: the aftermath of war.


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