Posts Tagged ‘roosevelt’

Title: Fateful Choices: Ten Decisions That Changed The World (1940-41)
Author: Ian Kershaw
Genre: World War II, History, Politics

The series of events that marked the opening of the Second World War left most of the world in a state of shock. Suddenly it seemed almost anything was possible. For the aggressors there was no limit to what they could do; for their victims a new Dark Age seemed to beckon. Within this hurricane of events, small groups of individuals were faced with a huge range of decisions on which triumph or extinction could turn.

In this gripping book Ian Kershaw re-creates ten critical decisions taken between May 1940 (when Britain decided to fight on rather than surrender) & the autumn of 1941 (when Hitler decided to destroy Europe’s Jews). In London, Tokyo, Rome, Moscow, Berlin & Washington, politicians & generals, often working with very poor information & vast logistical, financial, economic & military problems, had to decide how they were going to exploit or combat the unfolding crisis. These decisions really did determine the future of the world.

Fateful Choices gives the reader an extraordinary sense both of the real constraints within which leaders worked but also of the role of personality: Churchill fighting on in the face of the catastrophe in France, Hitler ordering the invasion of the USSR despite Germany’s failure to defeat Britain, Stalin trusting Hitler & leaving his country wide open to Operation Barbarossa, Roosevelt realizing that the revolutionary idea of lend-lease could keep Britain fighting, the Japanese high command opting to attack the USA even in the face of evidence that it would fail.

Fateful Choices is a remarkable book that looks into the terrible heart of the modern age, & attempts to understand how decisions that changed or ended millions of lives really came about.

Read more about Sir Ian Kershaw @ Wikipedia

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The Ghost of Goebbels: Historical Revisionism & World War II

This article written by Wayne Madsen, political scientist (USA), Strategic Culture Foundation expert, & was published in International Affairs magazine.

An expected outgrowth of the world’s steady descent into total & extreme capitalist control is the increasing tendency by some historians and their accomplices in the media to re-invent certain aspects of history.

Although the history of the Middle East & colonialism have been favorite playgrounds for the historical revisionists, it is World War II & the role played by the Soviet Union in the war that has attracted the attention of most of the alterers of history, both professional & amateur. As we recall the Nazi attack on the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, the 70th anniversary of which we now remember, it is important to note that the “revisionism” of the events of that day began with chief Nazi German propagandist Joseph Goebbels and the disappearance of historical facts “down the memory hole,” as George Orwell put it in 1984, is carried on to this day by Goebbels’s ideological heirs who are mainly funded by the barons of Wall Street through various tax-free right-wing “think tanks” & research institutes in the West.

Although the revisionists claim that the 1939 Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact & its secret protocol to divide eastern Europe into respective German & Soviet spheres of influence somehow made Soviet leader Joseph Stalin a “partner” of Hitler, little attention is paid to secret German-British talks in 1939 that would have divided the world into German & British spheres of influence while making common cause against the Soviet Union.

Goebbels’s ideological heirs would have everyone believe that Stalin & German Fuhrer Adolf Hitler were on the same ideological plane & were conniving to jointly conquer the world. This revisionist account is meant to mask the goals of the Western industrialists at the time. Many of the world’s wealthiest capitalists, including the German-descent British royal family, wanted Hitler to stamp out Soviet Communism & had no problem with the Nazis’ “long march East.”

The pandering of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain to Hitler at the 1939 Munich Conference, which saw the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia, was seen in the eyes of many British & American industrial barons as the remnants of Czechoslovakia being safe from Soviet Russia. That same mind-set would exist as Nazi troops invaded Poland, the Baltic states, Yugoslavia, & then, the USSR, itself. Not until December 7, 1941, & the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, would the western industrial barons decide it was time to support the war effort against the Axis Powers, albeit reluctantly.

Certainly, Britain was not alone in its secret campaign to align with the Nazis against the Soviet Union. U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt, who enraged many capitalists & Republicans by establishing diplomatic relations with the USSR after he took office in 1933, found himself almost ousted in a coup d’etat in 1933 arranged by Wall Street robber barons intent on declaring a state of national emergency & placing Roosevelt under virtual house arrest. The plot was discovered by retired Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler & communicated to the U.S. Congress where details of the plot remained secret until 1970. Among the chief coup plotters was Prescott Bush, the father & grandfather, respectively, of two later U.S. presidents. Prescott Bush was a chief Wall Street banker for German Nazi-owned businesses in the years leading up to & following the outbreak of World War II.

In 1936, U.S. ambassador to Berlin, William Dodd, wrote to Roosevelt to warn him that the threat posed to him in 1934 by the Wall Street-Nazi alliance remained as such two years later. Dodd wrote:

A clique of U.S. industrialists is hell-bent to bring a fascist state to supplant our democratic government and is working closely with the fascist regime in Germany and Italy. I have had plenty of opportunity in my post in Berlin to witness how close some of our American ruling families are to the Nazi regime . . . A prominent executive of one of the largest corporations, told me point blank that he would be ready to take definite action to bring fascism into America if President Roosevelt continued his progressive policies. Certain American industrialists had a great deal to do with bringing fascist regimes into being in both Germany and Italy. They extended aid to help Fascism occupy the seat of power, and they are helping to keep it there. Propagandists for fascist groups try to dismiss the fascist scare.

The words of Dodd: “propagandists for fascist groups try to dismiss the fascist scare” ring true today. Wall Street of the 1930s & 1940s owned the major media outlets, including the large publishing houses, that gave notoriety to the revisionist commentators & historians of their day. The situation remains much the same today.

There is the distinct danger that soon, the historical revisionists will not be content in putting Stalin & Hitler on the same level. With global media in the hands of a select few capitalists, it is forseeable that Stalin will be re-assessed as the reason Hitler had to conquer most of Europe & Hitler will be painted favorably. There are already signs that this historical revisionism is taking place among the right-wing political parties of Europe that are adopting many of the planks of the neo-Nazi movement, including the meme that Hitler had no choice to invade eastern Europe & the Soviet Union to protect the world against Bolshevism. That argument of the capitalists is nothing new but it is one, 70 years after the invasion of the USSR by the Nazis, that should have long ago been discarded into the ash bin of fascist propaganda.

Final Statement

We, the assembled representatives of historical research communities & civil societies of Belarus, Latvia, Moldova, Russia & Ukraine participating in the Sevastopol International History Conference commemorating 70th Anniversary of the outbreak of 1941-1945 Great Patriotic War, regard the War and our Victory as one of the most tragic and at the same time heroic pages in the common history of our nations.

We are increasingly alarmed with the current rise of revisionism of the history of World War II in the West & in several post-Soviet republics where incendiary political considerations outweigh commitment to historical accuracy.

We consider it absolutely unacceptable to draw the Great Patriotic War against fascism as a ‘fight of two totalitarian regimes’, to deny the justified & liberating nature of that war for our nations, to depict the Red Army’s liberation mission in 11 European countries as ‘Soviet occupation’.

We state that the concept ascribing ‘mutual responsibility’ for unleashing the war to ‘the Nazi & Soviet regimes’ lacks any historical & moral foundations. As historians, we are aware that the responsibility for that devastating war rests fully with the Western powers. Until now the diplomatic archives in London keep guarding the secrets of the British-German talks held in June 1939 on the division of the world into Great Britain’s & Germany’s spheres of influence, aimed to deter Soviet Union from taking part in shaping the future of Europe.

While Hitler’s military machine was destined to exterminate Soviet Union as a ‘hotbed of Bolshevism’, today the Nazism is sometimes being portrayed as a ‘natural response to the red threat’. This is an utmost lie contradicting recognized historical facts.

We claim that all civilized nations should officially outlaw any endeavors to justify fascism, Nazi criminals or collaborationists. Any revisions of the Nuremberg Tribunal outright statements condemning fascism are totally inadmissible.

The present round of revisionism is supposed to provide an ideological backing for “anti-totalitarian” appeals like the notorious OSCE Parliamentary Assembly resolution adopted on July 3, 2009 calling for a trial over the Soviet Union’s allegedly ‘criminal past’. Such campaigns, provoking territorial claims against Russia & compensation demands for ‘damages caused during Soviet occupation’ trigger imminent & far-reaching dangerous consequences for the European security, still not adequately assessed by the short-sighted instigators of these campaigns & their blind contractors.

A distorted view on the meaning and the results of World War II & Russia’s Great Patriotic War would pave the way for a new division of Europe & the world with catastrophic consequences. This is why we are calling upon the academic community for a fair & unbiased research of the period of 1941-1945 in the name of historical truth & our common future. The sacrifices of millions of Russians in the defeat of Fascism & the devastation wrought in the war must not be perverted for current political narratives. Such actions only serve to cause division within Europe, & prevent the advancement of peace & unity amongst peoples.

(Views expressed in this article reflect the author’s opinion & do not necessarily reflect those of RIA Novosti news agency. RIA Novosti does not vouch for facts & quotes mentioned in the story.)

The initial American military response to Churchill’s plan for a second front in North Africa was firmly negative. On July 11th, 1942, less than three weeks after the prime minister’s visit to Washington, army chief of staff Marshall & navy chief of staff Ernest J. King recommended to the president that he “assume a defensive attitude toward Germany, & use all available means in the Pacific” should the British insist on “any other operation rather than forceful, unswerving adherence to full Bolero plans.”

Roosevelt; however, had no intention of abandoning his “Europe first” strategy & immediately sent the two chiefs to London to work things out with the British. When Churchill proved adamant, Marshall & King, following Roosevelt’s instructions, acceded to the North African landing, now code-named Torch.

If the two chiefs of staff were perturbed by the shelving of Bolero, their agitation was niggling compared to Soviet premier Joseph Stalin’s outrage. In the wake of the PQ 17 disaster, Churchill had already halted the Arctic convoys, & now the second front in France that had been promised for 1942 was also disappearing. Meanwhile, the Germans were once again on the move, advancing on Stalingrad & punishing the Soviets, who continued to bear by far the heaviest part of the fighting against Hitler. Unless the British & Americans became more actively involved & soon, Churchill feared, Stalin might well choose to seek a separate peace. Therefore, the British prime minister decided to visit the Soviet leader personally & use his considerable diplomatic talents to improve, as best he could, Stalin’s morale.

During his subsequent journey to Moscow, Churchill contemplated how he might mollify “this sullen, sinister Bolshevik state I had once tried so hard to strangle at its birth.” In the end, there was little he could do. As he noted later, “Stalin observed that from our long talk it seemed that all we were going to do was no Sledgehammer, no Roundup, & pay our way by bombing Germany.” The RAF had indeed intensified its area-bombing campaign during 1942, but this was hardly equivalent to the Soviet contribution & did nothing to distract the Nazis from their onslaught in the East. “Peering into that Kremlin gloom in August 1942,” David M. Kennedy has written, “some historians have discerned the first shadows of the Cold War. Certainly the Soviets at this point had ample reason to doubt their Western partners.”

In October 1937, America was a nation sharply divided between isolationists & interventionists. World War I had been a great disappointment. President Woodrow Wilson had promised in April 1917 that American entry into the war would bring about lasting world peace. Yet the onerous terms of the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, never ratified by the United States, made another European war more, rather than less, likely.

American disillusionment intensified during the mid-1930s, when Senator Gerald P. Nye of North Dakota sponsored a series of congressional hearings to investigate World War I munition sales. President Wilson had declared that the war was being fought to make the world “safe for democracy,” yet Nye showed that the war had also been fought, at least in part, to safeguard the US-backed international loans & enrich American war profiteers. Arms manufacturers were Nye’s favorite target because, as he revealed, these so-called merchants of death had made huge fortunes before 1917 selling exorbitantly priced munitions to both sides.

The resulting public outrage moved Congress to pass a series of four increasingly restrictive neutrality acts that shackled US foreign policy during the years leading up to World War II. The first of these laws, passed in August 1935, forbade all arms sales to belligerent nations once the president had determined that a state of war existed among them. Because the law made no distinction victim & aggressor, there was little the president or his interventionist cabinet could do to counter the expansionism then being practiced by Germany, Italy, & Japan. In fact, in July 1937, when Japan instigated a war with China, the president chose not to acknowledge the conflict formally because doing so would have forced him to bar all weapons sales to our Chinese allies.

Instead, Roosevelt made another sort of public statement. Motivated by Japan’s aggression in China (as well as German & Italian adventurism in Spain & elsewhere), the president decided to take on the isolationists directly in his famous “quarantine” speech. It’s often forgotten that, when immediate public reaction proved somewhat negative, Roosevelt quickly backed off the strong words he spoke that day in October 1937. Yet the Quarantine Speech nevertheless proved prophetic, expressing thoughts & attitudes that would only grow stronger in Roosevelt’s mind as the international situation worsened & war drew near.

THE WAR COMES TO ITALY

We pull out in the morning for the invasion of Sicily, I think it will be a pretty bloody show… I doubt that I will be killed or even wounded, but one can never tell. It is all a question of destiny.

General George S. Patton, letter to his wife Beatrice, July 9th, 1943

At a meeting in Casablanca, western Morocco, in January 1943, Churchill had persuaded Roosevelt that, after North Africa, they should attack the “soft underbelly” of EuropeSicily. However, in an elaborate deception, a body in a Royal Marine uniform was dropped in the waters of Spain with papers suggesting the attacks would be on Sardinia. The Spanish handed the papers to the Germans, who were taken in by the ruse. Hitler ordered the strengthening of fortifications on Sardinia & Corsica. A panzer division was sent to Greece & two more withdrawn from the Soviet Union, immediately before the conflict at Kursk.

THE ALLIES IN SICILY

On July 10th, 1943, at 05:00 hours, Montgomery’s Eighth Army & General Patton’s Seventh Army landed on the southern shores of Sicily to find the island’s defenders were drawn up along the north shore, facing Sardinia. They knew an attack was coming. For a month, their defenses had been pounded by 4,000 Allied planes. In response, the defenders could put up just 200 Italian & 320 German planes, & much of the island’s infrastructure, including its airfields, had been wiped out. Even so, the landings were nearly a disaster. Axis aircraft had spotted the Allied fleet leaving Malta. The fleet was hit by a storm, nearly forcing it to turn back. In the heavy weather, the defenders dropped their guard, but high winds took their toll on the invading airborne troops, blowing its gliders & parachutists out to sea to their deaths. Those that landed on the island were widely dispersed. Nevertheless, they succeeded in harassing enemy movements, & 100 British airborne troops took a vital bridge on the coastal road & held it for five days until the Eighth Army arrived.

THE AMPHIBIOUS ASSAULT

At dawn on July 10th, the coastal defenses were pounded by tactical aircraft & naval gunfire. Then a fleet of 2,590 ships, including 237 troop transports & 1,742 landing craft, began putting ashore 115,000 British & Canadian troops, & 66,000 Americans. Facing them were the 230,000 men & 150 guns of the Italian Sixth Army & two panzer divisions. The Italian coastal force put up a heroic defense but was virtually wiped out. The following morning the Panzers ran into the forward posts of the First American Division, but they came under fire from six Allied destroyers & the cruisers Savannah & Boise, who knocked out 30 German tanks. The Italian “Livorno” Division was also badly mauled. Meanwhile, the British Eighth Army occupied the ports of Augusta & Syracuse in the southeast without a shot being fired, because their garrisons had already been evacuated. On July 14th, the airfields at Comiso & Ragusa in southern Sicily were taken & rapidly put back into commission.

PATTON & MONTGOMERY RACE FOR MESSINA

The Allied dash was then on for Messina, the crossing point to mainland Italy. Once Messina was taken, the enemy would be trapped on the island & forced to surrender, but Field Marshal Albert Kesselring, now the German commander in Italy, preempted them. He sent in another Panzer division & General Hans Hube took over command of all German fighting forces in Sicily.

Montgomery’s dash for Messina was stopped at Catania by stiff defense, halfway up the east coast. He then turned inland, switching his attack to the west of Mount Etna. But this move stepped on the Americans’ toes. Patton pushed westward & captured Sicily’s capital, Palermo, on July 22nd, 1943. He then began his own dash on Messina along the north coast. But Hube stopped him at the small town of Santo Stefano, halfway down the coastal road. Meanwhile, the First Canadian Division pushed northwest, confining German defenders to the northeast corner of the island. The British were now landing the 78th Division at Syracuse, while the American Ninth Division landed at Palermo. This increased the Allies’ strength to 11 divisions. Totally outnumbered, Hube pulled back.

MUSSOLINI’S DOWNFALL

On the night of July 24th, Mussolini told the Grand Council of Fascists that the Germans were thinking of evacuating southern Italy. Hitler was clearly more interested in defending Germany than Italy &, after the reverses on the Eastern Front, some members of the Grand Council believed that his defeat was inevitable. Their priority was to prevent Italy from becoming a battleground. They voted against Mussolini, who was arrested & imprisoned at Campo Imperatore, high in the Abruzzi mountains. Meanwhile, the new Italian government, led by Marshal Pietro Badoglio, began secret peace talks with the Allies, while assuring the Germans that they were doing nothing of the sort. After the fall of Mussolini, Kesselring was ordered by Hitler to withdraw from Sicily. The Strait of Messina was bristling with anti-aircraft guns & Hube managed to get two-thirds of his force across to the Italian mainland before, at 08:30 hours on August 17th, 1943, the British & Americans met in the ruins of Messina, leaving just two miles of clear water between the Allied Army & the mainland. The invasion of Sicily cost 5,532 Allied dead, 14,410 cruisers damaged. The Italians lost 4,278 dead & the Germans 4,325. The Allies had taken 132,000 prisoners, along with 520 guns & 260 tanks.

PATTON’S DEFENSE

After winning the race for Messina, “Old Blood & Guts” Patton snatched disaster from the jaws of triumph. Visiting the Allied wounded, he slapped two shell-shocked enlisted men, accusing them of cowardice. The press was outraged, but Eisenhower refused to sack him, saying: “Patton is indispensable to the war effort – one of the guarantors of our victory.” However, Patton was forced to apologize & was ordered to remain behind in Palermo when the Allies invaded Italy. The final blow came when he heard that General Omar Bradley had been chosen to lead the US land forces in the invasion of Normandy.

From The Story Of A World At War: World War II, by Nigel Cawthorne

The Western democracies had, apart from the US, been exhausted by World War I. They were convinced that Europe could never afford another such conflict & pinned their hopes on the League of Nations & disarmament. They also had to weather severe economic depression.

Following the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, the principal aim of the Western democracies was to switch from a wartime to a peacetime economy. This meant demobilizing most of their snow swollen armed forces & converting their munitions industries to the production of non-military goods.

For the US this was easier than for Britain & France, since its late entry into the conflict meant that its munitions industry had hardly been established on a wartime footing. At the same time, especially, through loans to its European allies, its economy had been made stronger by the war. The United States also had few overseas possessions, so it could reduce its armed forces to the bare minimum. While it encouraged international disarmament, it otherwise adopted an isolationist foreign policy, refusing to join the League of Nations & turning in on itself. The US became gripped by a “get rich quick” mentality. Set against the freneticism of the Jazz Age, Americans in increasing numbers began to gamble on the stock market, whose rapid growth reflected an ever expanding economy.

Political Instability

For Britain & France, the transition from war to peace proved to be much more difficult. Both economies had been drained by over four years of war. France’s manpower, in particular, had been gradually diminished, & a significant portion of the country, especially the industrial north, had been devastated. But like other European countries, France was bedeviled by a series of weak governments, usually coalitions of Left or Right. Some trade unions were vehemently Communist & took their line from Moscow. Strikes were a frequent occurence & the economy remained fragile. When the Popular Front, a left-wing coalition led by the socialist Leon Blum, was elected in 1936, the immediate response of the more combative industrial workers was to occupy their own factories. The coalition government had to award them all pay raises in order to persuade them to go back to work.

Foreign Policy & the Maginot Line

In terms of foreign & defense policy, French governments of all shades were determined that never again should Germany be allowed to invade, as it had done twice within the past century. One strategy was to encircle Germany with alliances. Thus the French supported Poland from the outset, but left-wing governments also reestablished a rapport with Russia. Alliances were also made with states in southeast Europe. As for Germany itself, successive French governments alternated between insisting on the terms of the Versailles Treaty being followed to the letter to a more conciliatory attitude over reparations.

As a physical deterrent to any future German invasion, the French came up with a plan to construct a line of modern fortifications along their eastern frontier. This was to be called the Maginot Line, after defense minister, André Maginot, who had been badly wounded during World War I. By 1930 work had started on it. It was to consume a massive portion of the French defense budget & would become not just a physical barrier, but a psychological shield behind which the French people felt safe & secure.

The false & demoralizing notion… that once we have fortifications the inviolability of our country is assured.

French General, Adolphe Guillaumat, 1922

Disillusion In Britian

Britain had not suffered France’s physical devastation but was equally exhausted by the end of the war. The government’s dream was to create a “land fit for heroes” & for a short time there was an economic boom, but it did not last. Traditional British industries fell into decline, with overseas customers having developed their own during the war. Coal had been a major export, but with oil now taking over from it there was no longer the markets for coal that there had been before 1914. High interest rates deterred new business start-ups & the result was a massive increase in unemployment. Spending on postwar reconstruction also had to be drastically cut &, as in France, industrial relations worsened, with strike action becoming commonplace as workers struggled to protect their jobs & wages.

The British defense budget suffered along with all other areas of public spending. The government introduced a rule that defense planning was to be done on the premise that there would be no war in Europe for ten years at least. The Ten Year Rule, as it was called, was renewed annually throughout the 1920s, after which it was reduced to five years. Priority was given to the defense of the empire, in particular India, & policing the former Turkish possessions of Iraq, Transjordan, & Palestine. Consequently there was little left to spend on the armed forces for British home defense.

The Great Depression

In October 1929 came the Wall Street Crash, when the US stock market bubble finally burst. Tens of thousands of Americans were made bankrupt overnight, banks collapsed, & the country went into deep recession. The shock waves of this quickly spread around the world & the struggling European economies were badly affected. It was little wonder that the Western democracies were in no position to counter German, Italian & Japanese aggression.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, elected to his first term as US president in 1933, introduced his New Deal, based on public work & relief for the poor, in the following year. But the US economy did not recover fully until, like the economies of Western Europe, it was once more on a war footing.

From World War II: The Definitive Visual History, by Richard Holmes