World War II

World War II and the US

The wreckage of ships and planes at Pearl Harbor ended forever the illusion that the US could be a world power and remain safe from world conflict.

The Japanese had clearly crippled the Pacific Fleet, had destroyed 200 planes and killed nearly 2500 men.

The navy lost three times as many men in this single attack as it had lost in the Spanish American war and First World Wars combined.

On December 11, 1941 Germany and Italy declared war on the US and Congress quickly declared war on the Axis powers.

Fighting a world war would bring profound changes to US society. The first problem in engaging in conflict was to produce machines and weapons for global warfare.

In 1941 monthly expenditures for the military had reached about $2 billion, but only 15% of industrial output had gone into military production.

Roosevelt announced that the production objectives for 1942 would include 60,000 planes, 45,000 tanks, 20,000 anti-aircraft guns, 8 million tons of shipping and set up the War Production Board to transform the civilian economy of the US and mobilize for exigencies of war time production.

In the first half of 1942 the government placed over $100 billion in war contracts.

FDR than assigned areas of authority to other civilian agencies. For instance the War Food Administration assumed direction of the nation's food programs.

The War Manpower Commission supervised the mobilization of men and women for both civilian and military purposes.

Also the office of Scientific Research and Development mobilized scientist and technicians who were responsible for directing programs that developed short range rockets, bazookas and the proximity fuse.

In 1942 the percentage of the economy engaged in wartime production increased from 15% to 33%.

The GNP was to grow from $99 billion in 1940 to $211 billion by 1945.

Federal purchase of goods and services rose from $6 billion in 1940, to $89 billion in 1944.

The real question was how was all this to be paid for?

The first fiscal measure was broaden and deepened the tax structure, but total tax revenues for the war years totaled about $130 billion and FDR was successful in paying for only about 41% of war expenditures.

The rest of the defense bill was mad up by borrowing. In 1941 the national debt totaled $25 billion, in 1944 the debt was $50 billion, and by 1945 the debt totaled $280 billion.

An incidental effect was to support the Keynsian argument that the way to end the depression was to heighten public spending, and between 1941 and 1942 unemployment rapidly vanished.

Congress was able to abolish old New Deal agencies such as the Works Progress Administration.

The problem now had become not to find jobs for people but to find people for jobs.

The attack on Pearl Harbor produced a surge of national unity, though there were a number of groups that were still suspicious of Great Britain and the USSR.

To combat the threat of enemy activity with the US, FDR gave the FBI expanded powers and authorities, including the power to tap wires without a court order when the FBI believed that the national security of the US was at risk.

The new mandate encouraged the agency to widen its investigations into the beliefs as well activities of Americans.

Your book points out that the years between 1941-45 were not marred by widespread assaults on civil freedom. However, the tragic exception to this was the forced internment of over 100,000 Japanese Americans who were forcibly removed.

In addition, both Congress and the President failed to open the way for the immigration of European Jews who were desperate to escape Nazi genocide.

However, if you were a prominent scientist, especially Jewish nuclear physicists were more than welcome to immigrate.

The rise in output and employment was accompanied by a tremendous increase in real income as well as a more equitable distribution of the real income.

For example in 1929 5% of the population received 30% of the national income, and 24% in 1941 and by 1944 their share was down to 21%.

Food, gasoline and merchandise were strictly rationed during this period.

between 1941 and 1945 shortages of labor brought some 6.5 million women into the working force.

Some of the women did not intend to remain of the work force when the war ended but did anyway.

Ultimately the demand for labor also provided new opportunities for Blacks though throughout the war they received much less than equal treatment.

Black resentment fostered an unprecedented and often effective militancy during the defense boom.

Those who received jobs were often given the most low paying and less-skilled jobs that employers could find, with almost no chance for promotion.

Also the army and the navy persisted in the segregation of the armed forces, and most Blacks were forced into menial duties and tasks, and could never join the airforce.

Critics called the US "a Jim Crow army".

As a result of this the head of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, A. Philip Randolph, organized the Negro march on Washington Committee, which planned to recruit tens of thousands of Blacks for a rally at the Lincoln Memorial in the spring of 1941.

FDR persuaded Randolph to call off the march in exchange for Executive Order 8802

The Executive Order made in June of 1941 made it national policy to forbid discrimination in employment in defense industries.

Roosevelt also appointed the Fair Employment Practices Committee to enforce that policy by investigating complaints and taking steps to redress grievances.

Unfortunately the FEPC lacked the authority to fulfill its mission.

War industries did hire Blacks and Mexican Americans there was serious wage and promotion discrimination.

The War and Navy Departments took only token steps toward desegregation in the services.

Consequently Randolph kept alive his March on Washington Committee with its mass membership and its commitment to forms of non-violent protest.

Later, Gandhian tactics of non-violent protest became the tactics of newer organizations such as the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE).

CORE successfully employed these non-violent tactics to desegregate Northern restaurants, theaters and skating rinks. By 1945 CORE was planning freedom rides to desegregate public transportation in the South.

During this period there was movement of thousands of Black workers to industrial centers, south and north and this created much hostility by Whites who felt that they were competing with Blacks for jobs, housing, and schooling.

In a dozen cities there were incidents of racial violence. In 1943 there were open attacks on Mexican Americans in East Los Angeles and in Central Los Angeles by the US Navy and Zoot Suiters.

The Zoot Suit riots also occurred in New York.

Bur the worst episodes occurred in Detroit were over 30 people, Blacks and Whites died during two days of guerrilla fighting that ceased only with the intervention of the National Guard.

There was continuing evidence of White racism and this served to dampen, but not dispel the civil rights militancy.

Relations with Congress presented Roosevelt with difficult problems.

The 1942 congressional elections took place when America had been hard hit by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor but had yet to realize any victories in the war.

Consequently, the Republicans reasserted their control in the Senate and the conservative complexion of Congress increased Roosevelt's difficulties in dealing with congress which was now filled with Republicans who had high hopes for the presidential election of 1944.

American military planners had already concluded by March 1941 that if the US entered the war, then American war strategy must be to beat Hitler first.

There were several reasons for this approach to the war, Germany with its access to the Atlantic, presented a direct threat to the Western Hemisphere and there was particular concern with an Axis threat in Latin America.

Also Germany seemed far more likely to make some type of military break through in terms of revolutionary technology than Japan.

The Germans attacked the USSR on June of 1941.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Guam, Wake Island, Hong Kong, Java, Borneo, New Guinea, Singapore and the Philippines all fell to the Japanese within a matter of months.

Japanese forces were moving into Burma and threatening advances as far to the West as India and as far to the south as Australia.

In Tokyo Japanese militarists were looking forward to the consolidation of the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere where Japan would mobilize the power of East Asia behind a wall of air and naval defense.

At Pearl Harbor the Japanese had failed to destroy a single air craft carrier, or the fuel depots and most importantly the repair yards.

US carriers were able to disrupt Japanese supply lines and even carry out air raids on Tokyo in April of 1942.

But another faction of Japanese militarists wanted to broaden Japanese gains in the Pacific.

In May of 1942 an American Carrier Task force intercepted a Japanese carrier task force and turned back the enemy at the Battle of the Coral Sea.

This was the first naval engagement in History were not a single shot was fired by the ships, nor did the ships even have visual sight of one another.

30 days later the bulk of the Japanese navy some 200 ships headed towards Midway Island and the western Aleutians.

But the Americans had broken the Japanese codes and anticipated the Japanese advances and intentions. The Battle of Midway is considered one of the greatest, if not greatest naval battle in recorded history.

Under the command of Admirals Spruance and Fletcher the US forces destroyed four aircraft carriers and many other Japanese Ships and forced the enemy into a disorderly retreat. Japanese naval power had been destroyed, and after Midway most Japanese strategists knew that the end for Japan was only a matter of time.

There was still a threat to communications between Hawaii and Australia for the Japanese held land bases in the Solomons and Bismarcks and these powerful bases were also serious obstacles for US forces on the road to Tokyo.

In 1942 US intelligence reports concluded that the Japanese were building a major air strip on the island of Guadacanal in the Solomon chain.

This news precipitated an Invasion of US Marines in August of 1942, and six months of bloody combat followed in the steamy jungles of Guadacanal. In February of 1943 the Japanese abandoned the island.

The US had hoped that China could take a leading role in the war with Japan.

But China was racked with internal problems and political schisms.

Nevertheless keeping China in the war was a major American objective and starting in 1941 the KMT government began to receive supplies flown over the "Hump" from India.

Then in 1943 an assortment of Chinese, Indian and American troops under the command of Joseph Stilwell began to construct a road and pipeline across northern Burma to China.

Soon Stilwell was sent to Chunking to urge the KMT Nationalists to maximize their war against Japan, but he found that the KMT would rather fight the Chinese Communists led by Mao who were based in Yenan, rather than the Chinese.

War had sharpened the contrast between the self-indulgence and conspicuous consumption of the Chunking regime and the dedication of the Yenan communists.

Mao in all the liberated territories carried out a thorough land reform for t he peasants, educated them and provided the poor with basic services.

When the peasants received land they now had something to defend and they would join the CCP to fight the Japanese in order to protect their lands.

By 1944 some 400,000 Nationalist Chinese troops had been diverted from fighting the Japanese and were now fighting the Communists. Only Stilwell and Mao were fighting the Japanese.

In June of 1944 the 14th Air Force began sending B-29's to fire bomb the Japanese homeland and this action provoked the Japanese into counterattacking especially around Chunking.

Chinang Kai shek was completely ineffective as a commander and the Joint Chiefs of Staff recommended that Stilwell be placed in charge of all military operations in China, Chiang Kai shek then demanded Stilwell's dismissal.

Back in Europe relations between the USSR and its western allies were somewhat ambivalent and problems of the future were clearly evident, especially in how to administer the newly liberated nations.

In Poland the Soviets refused to allow th Red Cross to investigate the Katyn Forest Massacre where tens of thousands of Polish officers were executed by Soviet troops.

In Yugoslavia, the communist partisans led by Tito were already in conflict with a monarchists resistance movement of Chetniks led by General Mihailovich.

A similar feud between communist and non-communist forces divided the resistance movement in Greece.

Also Roosevelt at Churchill's insistence had decided to keep secret the development of new weapons systems from the Soviets.

FDR's re-election in 1944 found the Allies pressing hard for victory and the Big Three met at a conference at Yalta to decide several questions such as the post-war fate of Germany, the post-war fate of the Orient and the formation of the United Nations.

After the war critics wrote that FDR had betrayed the West by giving all of eastern Europe and China to the Soviets in an effort to appease Stalin.

Your book claims that had the agreements at Yalta been kept this never would have happened and this may have been the case in Europe, but it was never the case in China.

All in all military realities at the time set the terms for the agreements at Yalta and short of preparing for war against the USSR FDR had no other choice but to recognize that the USSR was for the most part, the victorious power in the European war.

On May 3 the slow process of German surrender had occurred.

In the Pacific Japanese resistance grew more and more fanatical and the atrocious blood shed of US troops in the invasions of Okinawa and Iwo Jima seemed to confirm to the US public that an invasion of the islands of Japan would cost a tremendous number of US deaths.

Another development had occurred, on April 25, 1945 Secretary of War Stimson told then President Harry Truman that within four months we shall have in all probability the most terrible weapon ever known in human history, one bomb that could destroy a whole city.

The next question was when and how the weapon should be used and FDR before his death in 1945 recommended that the weapon should be used.

On August 6 the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima killing 100,000 civilians and fatally injuring another 100,000.