Don't Know Much About History

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The bulk of Americans have a distorted view of what America was like during World War 2. While yes America eventually banded together to support the war effort initially that was far from the case.  In the early 1940s most of America, FDR included didn't take the Japanese threat seriously.  FDR himself viewed the Japanese as intellectually inferior and unable to shoot straight to his perceived notion that all Japanese were shortsighted.


In 1941 Hawaii was not a state and considered to be nothing more than a distant outpost.  Even after Pearl Harbor most Americans felt the declaration of war unnecessary.  Although Germany declared war on the US two days after Pearl Harbor, it was really nothing more than a symbolic raving of a mad man.  Hitler's armies were bogged down in a dogfight with the Russians and the unexpected resistance.  Hitler could not have mounted any serious attack against American soil.  American troops did not begin to fight along the Brits and Russians until the end of 1942.


As 1942 was rung in the soon rationing and drafting of young men made the war even more unpopular.  So concerned was FDR, his staff and the War Department FDR restarted his fire side chats.  Famous and popular writer Alistair Cooke was sent across the country on a road show to sell the war to ordinary Americans. In a later book he described how factory owners were angry that the War Department took over production.  Moreover, the prime demographic for factory and mine work, young males ages 18 to 35 were being drafted into service.  Word came down that labor shortages would not be tolerated as an excuse for missed production quotas.  Business reluctantly hired older men and women to get the job done and they performed admirably.


By 1943 Americans were for the most part supporting the war.  However, a few were still critical of the war.  Their primary objection was that the Brits and particularly the Russians were no better than the Germans.  Even Vice President Henry Wallace publicly denounced British imperialism angering Churchill.  FDR had no choice but to pull Wallace off the war effort.


By late 1943 the allies realized that to win the war they must invade mainland Europe as a path to march all the way to Berlin.  From this came D Day.  Planning for D Day feel mostly on the shoulders of FDR and Eisenhower.  It was a complex, difficult, unsure, confusing and nerve racking process with risks galore.  By 1944 FDR's health was failing.  War Department brass met to consider options but a President Wallace was no option given Churchill's intense dislike for the man.  Ultimately the word came down to FDR's doctors to keep him well enough to remain in the game of planning for the event.  D Day by most accounts was a huge success and allowed the allies to eventually win the war.


By the summer of 1944 and after D Day in June FDR's was failing fast.  He was ambivalent about a 4th term but said that if the American people chose him he would serve.  He did next to no campaigning.  Conservative Democrats at the time realized that FDR would never live out the term.  A President Wallace to them could not happen.  At the convention they forced FDR to take the benign and malleable Harry Truman as VP pick.  FDR was too weak to put up his typical fight for what he wanted.


Although FDR accepted Truman as his running mate he never had any intention of allowing Truman to be a real part of his cabinet.  Up until FDR died Truman was never invited into any White House, policy or planning meeting.  He considered Truman a total twit. Truman wasn't told about the Manhattan Project or contingency plans being made with Churchill and Stalin for a post WW2 world.  In fact during the entire time FDR and Truman only met once for a hasty lunch for PR purposes in which nothing was discussed.  When FDR died Truman was totally unprepared for the job.


If FDR has lived any appreciable time during his 4th term we would not have had the Cold War.  Stalin greatly admired and respected FDR.  Both men were warm towards each other and had discussed a post war world in which all participants would become friendly countries.  When Truman met Stalin both men instantly disliked each other.  Truman further infuriated Stalin when asked by the press his opinion of Stalin calling him "a little odd fellow."  Stalin never trusted Truman.


The myths of WW2 and FDR have been promoted for years but in truth both were far more complicated and varied.  FDR had great capacity for compassion yet could be insanely cruel.  There's never been a President like FDR and highly likely never again.




Dino Manalis Added Dec 21, 2017 - 4:37pm
History is an important lesson to learn from past mistakes and not to repeat them.  Repeat only what worked!
Benjamin Goldstein Added Dec 21, 2017 - 4:48pm
we would not have had the Cold War.  Stalin greatly admired and respected FDR.
Stalin murdered his own family.
Bill Kamps Added Dec 21, 2017 - 4:58pm
George, we would not have had the Cold War.  Stalin greatly admired and respected FDR.
This seems like quite a large extrapolation based on very little information.  You are saying that Stalin would not have extended the Soviet Union to include Eastern Europe?  that seems a stretch.
Stalin was very unpredictable and dangerous, and killed almost as many Russians as the Germans did.   Just because he liked FDR does not mean much, he killed a lot of people he "liked".
Jeff Jackson Added Dec 21, 2017 - 5:14pm
Nice article, George. I might point out that Truman at least sort of trusted the Russians until Igor Gouzenko walked into the Canadian embassy and spilled the beans on all of the Soviet spying on the Manhattan Project. Truman decided the Soviets were a threat, because who could trust a country that spied on its allies?
TexasLynn Added Dec 21, 2017 - 6:09pm
Really good article George!
I do have to take exception with (at least) one assertion though...
>> Even after Pearl Harbor most Americans felt the declaration of war unnecessary.
I've always read that Pearl Harbor was one of the few unifying events in American History.  Opposition to entering the war (while prevalent before) practically melted into oblivion overnight or certainly within a few days.  Here is a fairly decent article on the subject... The attack on Pearl Harbor united Americans like no other event in our history
"Congress voted nearly unanimously for war with Japan. In the Senate, the vote was 82—0; the House vote was 388—1. The sole opposing vote, from Rep. Jeannette Rankin (R-Mont.), was met with boos and hisses. Rankin, who had voted against World War I in her first term in Congress, also abstained from voting for war against Germany and Italy. These votes effectively ended her political career." -- Washington Post
"The America First Committee [the main organization opposed to US involvement] dissolved, never to be seen again in any sort of political or ideological structure again. “The time for military action is here,” said national chairman Robert Wood on Dec. 11. “Therefore the America First Committee has determined immediately to cease all functions and to dissolve … There is no longer any question about our involvement … [and] can be completely defined in one word, victory." -- Washington Post
"Most" (which I interpret as a majority) had certainly changed their minds after Pearl Harbor.  There may have been concerns for their young men going to war; but that's totally different from being against the war (or declaring war).  Those who did not now support the war effort were in fact in the smallest of minorities after Pearl Harbor.
George N Romey Added Dec 21, 2017 - 6:15pm
One would be very wrong to assume FDR didn’t have an appreciation for who he was dealing with. He was the ultimate politician keeping his enemies as friends. Stalin in part was angry over the way Hitler considered his friend a retarded cripple as Hitler said so many times.
Truman just didn’t have much political moxie one reason FDR had no respect for him. Truman just didn’t understand that kissing the ass of a tryant was required. Finally FDR really did have a vision of a peaceful world and knew Russia had to be part of that. Remember FDR got Stalin to agree to fight the Japanese.
Thomas Sutrina Added Dec 21, 2017 - 6:19pm
Great article George.  Need to ask my daughter with a PHD in American history.  I am not questioning what you wrote.  It makes sense with the facts that I have in my mind.  Scattered throughout the article as my checks.  A lot of people write creative history.  I never thought you were one of those.
opher goodwin Added Dec 21, 2017 - 7:00pm
Fascinating stuff George. Imagine what the world would have been like without a cold war. Would we have had McCarthy and the present American knee-jerk fear of socialism? Hell - American might have been socialist. What a thought.
Katharine Otto Added Dec 21, 2017 - 8:46pm
I recently finished a biography of FDR by jean Edward Smith.  Smith says FDR and the military were completely surprised and humiliated by the Pearl Harbor attack.  We were already helping the Brits as much as possible without actually declaring war.  FDR had a strong racism against the Japanese.  
On another front, I've read that Hitler was developing a nuclear weapons program but abandoned it as unfeasible.  Albert Einstein later said he would never have agreed to work on the Manhattan Project if he'd known Hitler had abandoned the idea of developing nuclear weapons.  
I don't think Stalin would have been persuaded by FDR diplomacy, even if he liked him.  He was responsible for the largest genocide against his own people, estimated at 25 million, ever.  He was also very paranoid, as all such beings are, and of course would have been suspicious of the US nuclear capacity.
George N Romey Added Dec 22, 2017 - 8:04am
I’ll give it a full response to comments when I get on a desktop. Yes initially the US thought the Germans to be developing an atomic bomb but by 1944 the US had intelligence that Germany had abandoned that project. But FDR went ahead with the project  anyway and Truman had been kept in the dark.
By all accounts Stalin respected FDR because he was a very driven and when he wanted to be a no nonsense negotiator. I think FDR despite his outward warmth to Stalin knew the devil he was dealing with. Truman on the other hand was woefully weak in dealing with such a person.
Even A Broken Clock Added Dec 22, 2017 - 10:03am
George, I agree with Lynn in that the attack at Pearl was the unifying factor that eliminated the resistance to the war. My parents often talked about how strong the support was on the home front. As far as the interplay with Wallace and Truman, the information you provided is interesting. My comment is that you never heard much about Roosevelt's VP's until one had to take over.
At least none of them groveled like Pence did yesterday at the feet of our fearless leader.
Dave Volek Added Dec 22, 2017 - 10:14am
Nice synopsis of history. Of course, there will be some disagreement.
I think what gets to me of the history of this piece is how history can choose its "forks in the road" based on the the flippant choice made by people. Wallace would have taken the world in a different direction than Truman. I have to wonder why we are putting so much emphasis on just one individual.
In contrast, the highest tier of TDG will determine the destiny of society.  This tier will consist of four to 12 individuals who have passed several tests of good character and competence for governance and will bring their individual knowledge, experience, and wisdom into one voice. With the TDG, we are more likely to get a more sound direction, rather than an emotional charge out out of one individual coming from a questionable selection process.
George N Romey Added Dec 22, 2017 - 10:24am
So my research has found, and I probably should have flushed this out was that many Americans were fearful of what were two large scale wars.  Even FDR's own advisors recommended that we not go into the European theater until the war with Japan was on solid footing of winning.  However, as Katharine pointed out FDR was under extreme pressure from Churchill to enter the war.  While the declaration of war by Hitler against the US was mostly an empty threat at the time it would have been impossible for FDR not to take on those two big enemies at the time.  Like I said even at that it wasn't until the end of 1942/beginning of 1943 US troops began to fight in the European theater.
Also, Hitler even back to the mid 1930s referred to FDR as a  physical and presumably on his part intellectual cripple.  Given FDR's ego he must have taken that personally.  FDR could put Trump to shame when it came to ego.
FDR was one of the most, if not the most pragmatic politicians we've ever had.  He desperately needed Russian engagement to end the war against Hitler in a quick manner.  So if that meant a warm relationship with Stalin so be it.  Little doubt he probably admired the Russian resolve to fight against the German takeover, which Hitler thought would only take weeks. 
Lets not forget FDR was no angel.  He was very prejudice against the Japanese leading him not to take their threat seriously.  Also, even when confronted with solid evidence and pleas from American Jewish leaders, and his own wife, FDR would not take decisive action to end the concentration camps.  He simply kicked it to a anti Sematic State Department, which ignored the evidence.  Quite possible FDR was deep down an anti Sematic.  His unwillingness to intervene caused millions of Jews to die an unspeakable death.
Unlike Trump FDR knew when to keep his mouth shut and keep some things (like his true feelings for Stalin) a secret.
Finally, EABC when Truman met with Eleanor soon after FDR's death he asked if there was anything he could do for the family.  In turn, Eleanor quipped no President Truman is there anything we can do for you (or words to that effect).  Even Eleanor knew FDR purposely never considered Truman a real VP.
George N Romey Added Dec 22, 2017 - 10:55am
I should also add that in 1942 getting valid information to Americans on farms and in small towns was challenging. Hence the War Department PR moves and FDR restarting his fireside chats,
Bill Kamps Added Dec 22, 2017 - 11:50am
It is interesting to speculate about things in history.  For example if the USA had decided not to create a nuclear weapon during the war, when would it have been developed?   Tough to imagine no one would have done it at some point.
Similarly George's speculation that the Cold War might not have happened had FDR lived a bit longer.  There still would have a rivalry between the Soviets and the US, and it seems unlikely Stalin would have given up all the land they conquered during the war in eastern Europe.
It like the old expression, if things happened differently they wouldnt have been the same.  But how different? 
While it certainly appears that FDR was a statesman, and given his great wealth before becoming a politician, may not have needed to feather his own nest as our politicians did with the recent tax reform.  However, he lived in a time of secrecy, where many people didnt even know he was handicapped and the press went along.  If he did engage in policies that enriched himself, it would have been much easier to hide then, compared to now.  We know full well that even rich politicians often feel they dont have enough.
As George points out he could be ruthless, as when he put our Japanese citizens in concentration camps simply for being Japanese.   That he did out in the open, no telling what things he did that he chose to hide from the citizens.
George N Romey Added Dec 22, 2017 - 4:22pm
Bill I agree that much of FDR did was done under cover. However he had no illusions about Stalin and could be a great negotiator. Truman was totally outgunned by Stalin and did a big mistake by personally attacking Stalin in the press. Given Stalin’s mentality calling him an odd little favor was a piss poor idea.
Remember FDR was the one that put his 1940 opponent in a high level war position and even planned a post war country with him until Wilkey died in 1944.
Bill Kamps Added Dec 23, 2017 - 7:35am
George, on the other hand, FDR is also criticized for giving away the farm at Yalta,  because he was in poor health and not up to the task of being tough with Stalin.  Like all very powerful people, there are a lot of grey areas. 
However, both Churchill and FDR are credited with getting us through WWII, which to this point is the most traumatic event our civilization has faced.  A lot of that was keeping high morale in the face of awful events.  Fortunately the war was not on TV or it might have had a different outcome.
George N Romey Added Dec 23, 2017 - 9:24am
Bill it’s said that Germany had no chance of winning once it invaded Russia. A huge country with many more young men and more resolve from its leaders. Hitler was an irrational tyrant that had grand ideas and impractical thinking. Even by 1943 some of his generals knew the war was lost. 
Russia was the real lynchpin for fighting Germans.
I don’t if television would have made a decision. FDR was a beloved leader. Americans both rich and poor ultimately embraced rationing and both rich and poor were proud to send sons to serve. I think we were a different culture with less of the “me” attitude. Also a President was much more able to guide the narrative.
Katharine Otto Added Dec 23, 2017 - 11:14am
Interesting discussion.  My question comes down to "what about now?"  I would like to think Americans have wised up since WWII, that we are less inclined to jump into foreign contests, but we seem happy to watch the nightly news about fighting "for American interests" presumed to be anti-ISIS or anti-terrorist.  
Still, everyone knows it's all about oil and the fact that the mid-eastern countries are sitting on that precious resource that wouldn't be so valuable if Americans weren't so dependent on the private automobile and plastic toys.  Where is the idealogy?  We killed Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, so where does it end?  In the opium poppy fields of Afghanistan?  Who are we kidding?
George N Romey Added Dec 23, 2017 - 11:33am
Katharine it’s really about supporting the MIC which like the Fed and Wall Street enriches the few at the expense of the many.
The interesting thing is that Germany in actuality proved no meaningful threat to the US. However once Germany declared war on the US FDR realistically couldn’t put off Churchill.
You would think that after the disaster the Vietnam War wasthe MIC would have become permanently disabled. I also think there is much more to 9/11 than meets the eye. But too many Americans can’t give up this fantasy that our  government is kind and just. 
As the saying goes “there’s a sucker born every minute” and Americans certainly make that a valid statement.
mark henry smith Added Dec 23, 2017 - 12:29pm
Wonderful synopsis of a period in history that made America so great. Let's not forget that our entry into the European theater made us a player in European redevelopment and was the catalyst to the manufacturing boom in the US that followed. The Marshall Plan allowed the punitive mindset that predominated after WWI to be put aside and recreate a much more stable and equitable world.
We really do have a much more stable and equitable world despite the gross inequities at the top. But the reason the world is allowing private individuals to amass so much wealth isn't because these individuals desire it, it is because it allows a massive pool of private money to be used to direct economies and social institutions around the world in directions that might not be acceptable to governments and citizens.
As a woman told me at a party, a woman who was attending the gathering of the international assembly of accountants, or money managers, or some group of private capitalists, the age of governments controlling monetary policy are over. The control is all in private hands. The Fed and other government players are merely the spokespeople and fall guys, to convince the common people that their votes still matter.
Do you really think it made that much difference whether we got Trump or Clinton? The level of political competence might have been higher, but I would argue that the relevant policies would have looked much the same. Market booming, defense spending growing, social programs gutted, Obama-care the same mess, a windfall for the large insurers.
Let's change the name of the defense department to the contract-killing department and see what happens.  
Bill Kamps Added Dec 23, 2017 - 12:31pm
However once Germany declared war on the US FDR realistically couldn’t put off Churchill.
This is why countries have allies.  We wouldnt allow the UK to fall if we could help it.  Imagine trying to wrest Europe back from Germany without the UK to base the troops.   Tough to say how things would have been different  for the US had Germany consolidated Europe under its rule.
TV would have shown the violence like it did in Viet Nam.  I think it would have brought the war home to the living room.  Maybe that would have given people more resolve, or maybe it would have  made them less patient.  Just interesting.  Viet Nam was the first war fought on TV, and we see the impact that had.  Impossible to compare of course because Viet Nam wasnt fought for the same reasons as WWII. 
Stone-Eater Added Dec 23, 2017 - 4:24pm
Stalin was no better than Hitler or Mao. People who walk over corpses to secure their power. There was or is no "leader" in my knowledge who was empathically sane and care for his people. The only exception I might believe are Mujica or Morales. At least from the info that is available to me.
But since I haven't been in either country I'm not in a position to really judge.
George N Romey Added Dec 23, 2017 - 6:51pm
SEF many of our Presidents weren’t much better. We seem to have a much more better global propaganda theme.
Don Added Dec 23, 2017 - 11:12pm
A fascinating article George and thanks to all the rest of you who added information. In my case I read it with all sorts of mixed emotions. I was there.
Down on the ground where I was, I was totally oblivious of all you wrote. An even then I was a news junkey. From the point of view of my fellow high school kids, the war was everything to us. We did not even know there were people against it.
In high school, like all my fellow students, we were gung ho. In my case I volunteered as a plane spotter. I was trained to identify every airplane by its silhouette and immediately call it in. I sat in a little hut for hours on a hill just outside Washington DC.
Like my class mates, I volunteered for service at age 17 and kept dogging the War Department when they did not call me up the moment I was 18.
I loved FDR and as far as I knew so did everyone else. I was thrilled one day when riding on my bicycle he came by, had his motorcade slow down, and waved at me.
Later of course when I found out there were people against the war, I still never understood it. I never knew such people existed. I do know now though how off guard and unprepared we were and I worry. 
It is inconceivable to me who lived through that time that there are writers on WB who sound exactly like the deniers leading up to the war. Almost using some of the same phraseology, they think there is no threat from North Korea and that we are being manipulated into war. You guys better check out your history!!
wsucram15 Added Dec 23, 2017 - 11:54pm
Merry Christmas George.. just stopped in to say hi and wish you a happy holiday and will check back in if I survive the family...LOL.
George N Romey Added Dec 24, 2017 - 7:38am
Thank you Jeanne, you also. Sadly we are no longer a United country.
opher goodwin Added Dec 24, 2017 - 3:44pm
Happy Holiday Folks.
A. Jones Added Dec 25, 2017 - 6:31pm
Sadly we are no longer a United country.
Happily, we now recognize that a diversity of viewpoints — even highly divergent ones — is as important to the American Way of Life as diversity of ethnicity. We can mainly thank communication technologies — both new and old — for promoting this diversity: the Internet, cable television, and talk radio on the AM dial.
The dream of "unity", in which all Americans happily agreed with one another on issues, was always a myth.
Stone-Eater Added Dec 28, 2017 - 9:53am
FDR was ok.
Now....the US is being regarded as the clown with too many weapons.
Kinda Pennywise.