3. People’s War
In spite of the business-as-usual operations and voracious war profiteering of giant American corporations, their uninterrupted dealings with enemy cartel interests and their growing hold on the nation’s economy, the American people had never before achieved such unity or engaged in such a prodigious democratic struggle as during the epochal days of the Second World War.
Following Pearl Harbor, the manpower and industrial might of the land were galvanized with lightning speed into a stupendous war effort under the leadership of President Roosevelt. Within a matter of months, millions upon millions of American men and women had been mobilized into the Armed Services and transported overseas, or were undergoing intensive training at huge army encampments throughout America; supply lines totaling more than 56,000 miles, to ten fighting fronts, webbed the oceans and continents of the earth; and the names of scores of far-off, hitherto unfamihar places— Bataan, Midway, Guadalcanal, Okinawa, Anzio, Buna, Guam, Wake, Tarawa, Bizerte— had become every-day words designating battlefields where U. S. soldiers and sailors were carrying the offensive to the Axis enemy by land, sea and air.
By the winter of 1942 American troops, convoyed 5,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean, had landed in North Africa. Ten months later Anglo-American armies forced Italy out of the war and drove the Germans back to the north of the Italian peninsula. On June 6, 1944, in Operation Overlord, a gigantic armada of 800 warships and 4,000 boats loaded with men and guns swarmed across the English Channel, debarked Allied troops in Normandy and opened up the long-awaited Second Front. “The history of wars,” declared Marshal Joseph Stalin of this military achievement, “does not know any such undertaking so broad in conception and so grandiose in its scale and so masterly in its execution.”
On the homefront, American men and women gave full meaning to Roosevelt’s phrase— Arsenal of Democracy. One year after Pearl Harbor, America was producing as much war material as the combined industrial plants of the Axis powers. By V-J Day, almost fifty bilHon dollars’ worth of Lend-Lease— military supplies, petroleum products, food, industrial materials and equipment— had been furnished by the United States to its allies …
Two weeks after America entered the war, the leaders of almost eleven million organized workers voluntarily relinquished their right to strike. Joint labor-management committees, which were set up in every industry to increase production and arbitrate labormanagement differences, numbered almost 5,000 by 1944, included 50,000 committeemen and represented some 8,000,000 workers.
“The contribution of the production front to America’s successful offensives,” Admiral Ernest T. King, Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Fleet, declared on May 15, 1944, three weeks before the invasion of France, “constitutes in itself a lasting tribute to the American workman. He is doing more than I can tell you to help win the war.”
Said General Dwight Eisenhower, Supreme Commander in the European Theatre of Operations, at the war’s end:
When great emergency demanded special effort, time and again our unions loyally responded. American labor rightly shares in the laurels won by American troops on the battlefield.
The total membership of American trade unions grew from 8,944,000 in 1940 to 14,796,000 in 1945 . . .
In marked contrast to the Great War of 1914-1918, the Second World War gave rise to a new democratic spirit in America. “During the war,” the American Civil Liberties Union later reported, “national unity and necessary government controls resulted in protecting and even extending democratic liberties, and in a remarkable lack of hysteria and intolerance.” *
* The American Civil Liberties Union was referring in its report to the period in which the United States was actively engaged in the war.
During the early stages of the war— the so-called phoney war phase, when Britain and France were still under the influence of the Chamberlain-Daladier appeasement policies— there were extensive curbs on civil liberties in America and widespread repressions against the progressive and labor movement, which strongly opposed any American involvement in the war which had not yet become a people’s war. On the other hand, America First and other pro-fascist isolationist forces were permitted to operate with complete freedom. This was, in fact, the most reactionary period of the Roosevelt Administration.
Regarding the Smith Act, which epitomized this period, Zechariah Chafee, Jr., writes in Free Speech in the United States:
“On June 28, 1940, the Alien Registration Act became law. Its official tide would make us expect a statute concerned only with finger-printing aliens and such administrative matters . . . Nor until months later did I for one realize that this statute contains the most drastic restrictions on freedom of speech ever enacted in the United States during peace. . . . the 1940 Act gives us a peace-time sedition law— for everybody, especially United States citizens. . . .
“A. Mitchell Palmer is dead, but the Federal Sedition Act he so eagerly desired is at last on the statute-books. The host of over forty alien and sedition bills in Congress in 1939 and 1940 recalls the similar situation cxacdy twenty years before . . .”
The Fair Employment Practices Committee was established by President Roosevelt to enforce Executive Order 8802 which stated that “there shall be no discrimination in the employment of workers in defense industries or Government because of race, creed, color, or national origin.” Communists were officially recognized as part of the broad coalition supporting the American war effort. On February 5, 1944, Major General James A. UUo, the Army Adjutant General, circularized a directive authorizing the granting of army commissions to known members of the Communist Party. When the House Military Affairs Committee instituted an investigation of this directive, and twenty-three Communist officers were singled out by the die-hard Chicago Tribune for special attack. Major General Clayton Bissel, head of the U.S. Army Intelhgence Corps, declared: “The Army files show the loyalty of these officers . . . these officers have shown by their deeds that they are upholding the United States by force and violence.”*
* Of the 15,000 Communists in the U. S. Armed Forces, a number received commendations and decorations for bravery in action and other exemplary services.
Among such soldiers was Robert Thompson, former vice-president of the Young Communist League and later member of the national board of the Communist Party, who was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for heroism in the campaign at Buna, New Guinea. (In 1949 Thompson, together with ten other Communist leaders, was sentenced to prison for having allegedly conspired “to teach and advocate the overthrow and destruction of the Government of the United States by force and violence.” For details of this case, see pages 332 ff.)
Another Communist with a particularly distinguished record in the U. S. Army was Herman J. Bottcher, an anti-Nazi German who had fought with the International Brigade against Franco in Spain. After being promoted from sergeant to captain and decorated for bravery on the field of battle during the Buna campaign, Bottcher later became a major before he was killed in combat in the Philippines. In an article published in the Saturday Evening Post on August 13, 1949, Lieutenant-General Robert L. Eichelberger, former commander in the Buna campaign, wrote regarding Bottcher: “On my recommendation, the Allied commander commissioned Bottcher as a captain of infantry for bravery on the field of battle. He was one of the best Americans I have ever known. . . . His combat experience was extremely useful at Buna, and his patriotism as a new American was vigorous and detemiined.” According to General Eichelberger’s article, Bottcher was “Buna’s greatest hero.”
Out of the global conflict between the armies of progressive mankind and the international forces of fascism, and in the suffering, sacrifice and bloodshed of battle, a new and unprecedented unity— symbolized in the United Nations Organization— was born among the democratic nations of the world. The most meaningful expression of this unity was in the friendly relations and fighting alliance established between the United States and the Soviet Union, the two greatest powers in the world. As one anti-Soviet propaganda lie after another was stripped bare by the grim realities of the war, Americans came to regard Russia as their most valuable fighting ally and learned much about the true stature of the Soviet nation, its leaders, its industry, its army and, in Secretary of State Cordell Hull’s words, “the epic quality of their patriotic fervor.” *
* In 1943 the former Republican presidential candidate Wendell L. Willkie, after a seven-weeks world-encircling tour by airplane, wrote a book entitled One World, in which he summed up his views on the Soviet Union as follows:
“First, Russia is an effective society. It works. It has survival value. The record of Soviet resistance to Hitler has been proof enough for most of us, but I must admit in all frankness that I was not prepared to believe before I went to Russia what I now know about its strength as a going organization of men and women.
“Second, Russia is our ally in this war. The Russians, more sorely tested by Hitler’s might even than the British, have met the test magnificently. Their hatred of Fascism and the Nazi system is real and deep and bitter . . .
“Third, we must work with Russia after the war. At least it seems to me that there can be no continued peace unless we learn to do so . . . Russia is a dynamic country, a vital new society, a force that cannot be bypassed in any future world.”
Regarding the Soviet war effort, Winston Churchill declared in 1943: “No government ever formed among men has been capable of surviving injuries so grave and cruel as those inflicted by Hitler on Russia . . . Russia has not only survived and recovered from those frightful injuries but has inflicted, as no other force in the world could have inflicted, mortal damage on the German army machine.”
Such statements by Churchill and numerous other Allied leaders are worth recalling in view of the postwar tendency in some quarters in America to belittle the Soviet war effort. The historical fact is that the Red Army engaged approximately 240 German divisions throughout four years of the war (during most of the war, German troops in the West did not exceed 50 divisions). Soviet military losses, in killed, prisoners and missing, were estimated at some 6,500,000— a number almost seven times as great as the combined casualties of the Anglo-American armies. This figure does not include the enormous casualties among the civilian population of Soviet regions occupied by the Germans.
More than that, the realization came to the American people that the achievement of their major war aims— security, progress and durable peace in the postwar world— depended primarily on the maintenance of friendship between the Soviet Union and the United States. As the New York Herald-Tribune stated on February II, 1943:
There are but two choices before the democracies now. One is to cooperate with Russia in rebuilding the world— as there is an excellent chance of doing, if we believe in the strength of our own principles and prove it by applying them. The other is to get involved in intrigues with all the reactionary and anti-democratic forces in Europe, the only result of which will be to alienate the Kremlin.
“Today,” wrote President Roosevelt in the draft of a speech during the early days of April 1945, on the eve of the San Francisco Conference of the United Nations, “we are faced with the pre-eminent fact that, if civilization is to survive, we must cultivate the science of human relationships— the ability of all peoples, of all kinds, to Uve together and work together in the same world, at peace. . . . The work, my friends, is peace, more than an end to this war— an end to the beginnings of all wars, yes, an end, forever, to this impractical, unrealistic settlement of differences between governments by the mass killing of peoples.”
Roosevelt concluded his speech with these words: “And to you, and to all Americans who dedicate themselves with us to the making of an abiding peace, I say: The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today. Let us move forward with strong and active faith.”
The speech, which was scheduled to be broadcast as the President’s Jefferson Day Address, was never delivered . . .
At 5:49 P.M., Eastern War Time, on April 12, a radio program being broadcast over the Columbia Broadcasting System was abruptly halted. “We interrupt this program to bring you a special news bulletin from CBS World News,” stated the tense voice of a radio commentator. “A press association has just announced that President Roosevelt is dead . . .”
As the terrible and tragic news sped through the nation, men and women wept like children in the streets, and work stopped in the factories and on the farms. Grief, like a dark and sudden night, engulfed the land.
To millions of Americans the very world seemed suddenly to change, as if an elemental part of life itself were strangely, unbelievably and irrevocably lost ‘. . .
And when the funeral train brought Roosevelt’s body from Warm Springs to Washington and from Washington to Hyde Park, hundreds of thousands of mourning people stood along the many miles of track and clustered silently at railroad stations and crossings; and as the train went by, men bared their heads and women raised children in their arms, bidding their President a last farewell.
At Harmon Station on the Hudson River, as the funeral train passed through during the grey early morning, a man said to a stranger standing beside him, “I never voted for him. I should have but I never did. We’re going to miss him, miss him terribly.”
A small boy asked his father, “Daddy, when Pvoosevelt died did he leave treasures in his house?”
The father answered, “Yes, he left a lot of treasures, but his house wasn’t just the building where he lived, his house was ail America, and the treasures he left belong to all of us”. . . .
In every part of the world countless millions shared America’s sorrow. Throughout the British Empire, the Union Jack was ordered to half-mast. Black-edged red flags were hoisted above the Kremlin in Moscow and in the city squares. In Nanking and Paris, in Warsaw and Manilla, in Prague, Mexico City, Bombay, Budapest, and hundreds of other cities and towns on every continent men and women grieved and wept.
Never before had the death of any American been so widely mourned among the peoples of the world.
On the evening of April 12, Vice-President Harry S. Truman was svv^orn in by Chief Justice Harlan Fiske Stone at the White House as President of the United States.
Three weeks after Roosevelt’s death, armored troops of the Red Army stormed and captured Berlin. On May 8, 1945, Field Marshal Wilheim Keitel of the German High Command, in the presence of Am^erican, British and Russian generals signed the final act of unconditional surrender of the forces of the Nazi Wehrmacht.
In mid-August the Government of Japan accepted the terms laid down in the Potsdam Declaration. On September 2, aboard the U. S. battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay, the official instrument of surrender was signed by Foreign Minister Magoru Shigemitsu on behalf of the Japanese Emperor.
The Second World War was over.