War and Peace
BY DECEMBER 1941 THE UNITED States was in fact at war, but it is hard to see how a formal declaration could have come about had it not been for Japan. Japanese-American relations had worsened steadily after Japan resumed its war on China in 1937. In July 1940, with Japanese troops threatening French Indochina, Congress placed exports of aviation gasoline and certain types of scrap iron to Japan under a licensing system; in September all sales of scrap were banned. After the Japanese signed a treaty of alliance with Germany and Italy in September 1940, Roosevelt extended the embargo to include machine tools and other items. The Japanese, pushed ahead relentlessly despite the economic pressures.
The Road to Pearl Harbor
Neither the United States nor Japan wanted war. In the spring of 1941 Secretary of State Hull conferred in Washington with the Japanese ambassador, Kichisaburo Nomura, in an effort to resolve their differences. Hull demanded that Japan withdraw from China and promise not to attack the Dutch and French colonies in Southeast Asia. How he expected to get Japan to give up its conquests without making concessions or going to war is not clear.
Japan might well have accepted limited annexations in the area in return for the removal of American trade restrictions, but Hull seemed bent on converting the Japanese to pacifism by exhortation. He insisted on total withdrawal, to which even the moderates in Japan would not agree. When Hitler invaded the USSR, thereby removing the threat of Soviet intervention in the Far East, Japan decided to occupy Indochina even at the risk of war with the United States. Roosevelt retaliated in July 1941 by freezing Japanese assets in the United States and clamping an embargo on oil.
Now the war party in Japan assumed control. Nomura was instructed to tell Hull that his country would refrain from further expansion if the United States and Great Britain would cut off all aid to China and lift the economic blockade. When the United States rejected these demands, the Japanese prepared to assault the Dutch East Indies, British Malaya, and the Philippines. To immobilize the U.S. Pacific Fleet, they planned a surprise aerial raid on the Hawaiian naval base at Pearl Harbor.
An American cryptanalyst, Colonel William F. Friedman, had cracked the Japanese diplomatic code and the government had good reason to believe that war was imminent. But in the hectic rush of events, both military and civilian authorities failed to make effective use of the information collected. They expected the blow to fall somewhere in Southeast Asia, possibly in the Philippines.
The garrison at Pearl Harbor was alerted against "a surprise aggressive move in any direction." The commanders there, Admiral Husband E. Kimmel and General Walter C. Short, believing an attack impossible, took precautions only against Japanese sabotage. Thus when planes from Japanese aircraft carriers swooped down on Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 7, they found easy targets. In less than two hours they reduced the Pacific Fleet to a smoking ruin.
Never had American arms suffered a more devastating or shameful defeat. On December 8, Congress declared war on Japan. Formal war with Germany and Italy was still not inevitable-isolationists were far more ready to resist the "yellow peril" in Asia than to fight in Europe. The Axis powers, however, honored their treaty obligations to Japan and on December 11 declared war on the United States. America was now fully engaged in the great world conflict.
Mobilizing the Home Front
War placed immense strains on the American economy and produced immense results. About 15 million men and women entered the armed services; they, and in part the millions more in Allied uniforms, had to be fed, clothed, housed, and supplied with equipment ranging from typewriters and paper clips to rifles and grenades, tanks and airplanes. Congress granted wide emergency powers to the president. It refrained from excessive meddling in administrative problems and in military strategy.
Roosevelt was an inspiring war leader but not a very good administrator. Any honest account of the war on the home front must reveal glaring examples of confusion, inefficiency, and pointless bickering. The squabbling and waste characteristic of the early New Deal period made relatively little difference what mattered then was raising the nation's spirits and keeping people occupied; efficiency was less than essential, however desirable. In wartime the nation's fate, perhaps that of the entire free world, depended on delivering weapons and supplies to the battle fronts.
The confusion attending economic mobilization can easily be over stressed. Nearly all Roosevelt's basic decisions were sensible and humane: to pay a large part of the cost of the war by collecting taxes rather than by borrowing and to base taxation on ability to pay; to ration scarce raw materials and consumer goods; to regulate prices and wages. If these decisions were not always translated into action with perfect effectiveness, they always operated in the direction of efficiency and the public good. Roosevelt's greatest accomplishment was his inspiring of business leaders, workers, and farmers with a sense of national purpose. In this respect his function duplicated his earlier role in fighting the depression, and he performed it with even greater success.
A sense of the tremendous economic expansion caused by the demands of war can most easily be captured by reference to official statistics of production. In 1939 the United States was still mired in the Great Depression. The gross national product amounted to about $91.3 billion. In 1945, after allowing for changes in the price level, it was $166.6 billion. Manufacturing output nearly doubled, and agricultural output rose 22 percent. In 1939 the United States turned out fewer than 6,000 airplanes; in 1944, more than 96,000.
Wartime experience proved that the Keynesian economists were correct in predicting that government spending would spark economic growth. About 8 million persons were unemployed in June 1940. After Pearl Harbor, unemployment practically disappeared, and by 1945 the civilian work force had increased by nearly 7 million. Military mobilization had begun well before December 1941, by which time 1.6 million men were already under arms. Economic mobilization proceeded much more slowly, mainly because the president refused to centralize authority. For months after Pearl Harbor various civilian agencies squabbled with the military over everything from the allocation of scarce raw materials to the technical specifications of weapons. Roosevelt refused to settle these interagency conflicts as only he could have.
The War Economy
Yet by early 1943 the nation's economic machinery had been converted to a wartime footing and was functioning smoothly. Supreme Court justice James F. Byrnes resigned from the Court to become a sort of "economic czar." His Office of War Mobilization had complete control over the issuance of priorities and over prices. Rents, food prices, and wages were strictly regulated, and items in short supply were rationed to consumers. Wages and prices had soared during 1942, but after April 1943 they leveled off. Thereafter, the cost of living scarcely changed until controls were lifted after the war.
Expanded industrial production together with conscription caused a labor shortage that increased the bargaining power of workers. At the same time, the national emergency required some limitation on the workers' right to take advantage of this power. After Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt created the National War Labor Board to arbitrate disputes and stabilize wage rates. All changes in wages had to have the board's approval.
Prosperity and stiffer government controls added significantly to the strength of organized labor; indeed, the war had more to do with institutionalizing industry wide collective bargaining than the New Deal period. As workers recognized the benefits of union membership, they flocked into the organizations. Generally speaking, wages and prices remained in fair balance. Overtime work fattened paychecks, and a new stress in labor contracts on paid vacations, premium pay for night work, and various forms of employer-subsidized health insurance were added benefits. The war effort had almost no adverse effect on the standard of living of the average citizen, a vivid demonstration of the productivity of the American economy. The manufacture of automobiles ceased and pleasure driving became next to impossible because of gasoline rationing, but most civilian activities went on much as they had before Pearl Harbor. Plastics replaced metals in toys, containers, and other products. Although items such as meat, sugar, and shoes were rationed, they were doled out in amounts adequate for the needs of most persons. Americans had both guns and butter; belt-tightening of the type experienced by the other belligerents was unnecessary.
The federal government spent twice as much money between 1941 and 1945 as in its entire previous history. This made heavy borrowing necessary. The national debt, which stood at less than $49 billion in 1941, increased by more than that amount each year between 1942 and 1945. However, more than 40 percent of the total was met by taxation, a far larger proportion than in any earlier war.
This policy helped check inflation by siphoning off money that would otherwise have competed for scarce consumer goods. High taxes on incomes (up to 94 percent) and on excess profits (95 percent), together with a limit of $25,000 a year after taxes on salaries, convinced the people that no one was profiting inordinately from the war effort. The income tax, which had never before touched the mass of white-collar and industrial workers, was extended downward until nearly everyone had to pay it. To ensure efficient collection of the relatively small sums paid by most persons, Congress adopted the payroll-deduction system proposed by Beardsley Ruml, chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Employers withheld the taxes owed by workers from their paychecks and turned the money over to the government.
The steeply graduated tax rates, combined with a general increase in the income of workers and farmers, effected a substantial shift in the distribution of wealth in the United States. The poor became richer, while the rich, if not actually poorer, collected a smaller proportion of the national income. The wealthiest 1 percent of the population had received 13.4 percent of the national income in 1935 and 11.5 percent in 1941. In 1944 this group received 6.7 percent.
War and Social Change
Enormous social effects stemmed from this shift, but World War II altered the patterns of American life in so many ways that it would be wrong to ascribe the transformations to any single source. Never was the population more fluid. The millions who put on uniforms found themselves transported first to training camps in every section of the country and then to battlefields scattered from Europe and Africa to the far reaches of the Pacific. Burgeoning new defense plants drew other millions to places like Hanford, Washington, and Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where great atomic energy installations were constructed, and to the aircraft factories of California and other states. The population of California increased by more than 50 percent in the 1940s, that of other far western states almost as much.
During the war, marriage and birth rates rose steeply because many people had been forced to put off marrying and having children for financial reasons during the Great Depression. Now wartime prosperity put an end to that problem at the same time that young couples were feeling the need to put down roots when the husbands were going off to risk death in distant lands. The population of the United States had increased by only 3 million during the depression decade of the 1930s; during the next five years it rose by 6.5 million.
Minorities in Time of War: Blacks, Hispanics, and Indians
Several factors operated to improve the lot of black Americans. One was their own growing tendency to demand fair treatment. Another was the reaction of Americans to Hitler's barbaric treatment of millions of Jews, which compelled millions of white citizens to reexamine their views about race. If the nation expected blacks to risk their lives for the common good, how could it continue to treat them as second class citizens? Black leaders pointed out the inconsistency between fighting for democracy abroad and ignoring it at home. "We want democracy in Alabama," the NAACP announced, and this argument too had some effect on white thinking.
Blacks in the armed forces were treated more fairly than they had been in World War 1. They were enlisted for the first time in the air force and the marines, and they were given more responsible positions in the army and navy. The army commissioned its first black general. Some 600 black pilots won their wings. Altogether about a million served, about half of them overseas.
However, segregation in the armed services was maintained, and black soldiers were mistreated in and around army camps, especially those in the South. In 1943 William Hastie, a former New Dealer who was serving as an adviser on racial matters, resigned in protest because of the "reactionary policies and discriminatory practices of the Army and Air Force in matters affecting Negroes."
Economic realities operated significantly to the advantage of black civilians. More of them had been unemployed in proportion to their numbers than any other group; now the labor shortage brought employment for all. More than 5 million blacks moved from rural areas to cities between 1940 and 1945 in search of work. At least a million found defense jobs in the North and on the West Coast. The black population of a dozen important cities more than doubled in that brief period. The migrants were mostly forced to live in dreadful urban ghettos, but their very concentration made them important politically.
These gains failed to satisfy black leaders. The NAACP, which increased its membership tenfold during the war, adopted a more militant stance than in World War I. Discrimination in defense plants seemed far less tolerable than it had in 1917. A. Philip Randolph, president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, organized a march of blacks on Washington in 1941 to demand equal opportunity for black workers. Fearing possible violence and the wrath of southern members of Congress, Roosevelt tried to persuade Randolph to can off the march. "It would make the country look bad," he claimed. But Randolph persisted, and Roosevelt finally agreed to issue an order prohibiting discrimination in plants with defense contracts. He also set up the Fair Employment Practices Committee to see that the order was carried out. Executive Order 8802 was poorly enforced, but it opened up better jobs to some workers.
Prejudice and mistreatment did not cease. In areas around defense plants, white resentment of the black "invasion" mounted. By 1943 some 50,000 new blacks residents had crowded into Detroit. A wave of strikes disrupted production at plants where white workers were protesting the hiring of blacks. In June a race riot marked by looting and bloody fighting went on for three days. By the time federal troops restored order, 25 blacks and 9 whites had been killed. Rioting also erupted in New York and many other cities. In Los Angeles the attacks were on Mexican born "zoot suiters," gangs whose uniforms were broad-brimmed fedoras, long coats, and pegged trousers. Wartime employment needs resulted in a reversal of the depression policy of forcing Mexicans out of the Southwest, and many thousands flocked north. Most had to accept menial jobs, but work was plentiful and well paid compared to Mexican rates.
Some of the young Hispanics formed gangs. They had money in their pockets and their behavior was not always as circumspect as local residents would have preferred. A grand jury undertook an investigation and the Los Angeles City Council even debated banning the wearing of zoot suits. In 1943 rioting broke out when sailors on shore leave began roaming the area attacking anyone they could find wearing a zoot suit.
There were understandable reasons why white city dwellers resented the black and Hispanic newcomers, but the willingness of white leaders to tolerate discriminatory behavior at a time when national unity was so necessary was particularly frustrating. For example, blood plasma from blacks and whites was kept separately even though the two "varieties" were indistinguishable and the process of storing plasma had been devised by a black doctor, Charles Drew.
Blacks became increasingly bitter. Roy Wilkins, head of the NAACP, put it this way in 1942: "No Negro leader with a constituency can face his members today and ask full support for the war in the light of the atmosphere the government has created." Many black newspaper editors were so critical of the administration that conservatives demanded they be indicted for sedition.
Roosevelt would have none of that, but he thought the militants should hold their demands in abeyance until the war had been won. Apparently he failed to realize the depth of black anger, and in this he was no different from the majority of whites. A revolution was in the making, yet in 1942 a poll revealed that a solid majority of whites still believed that black Americans were satisfied with their place in society.
Concern about national unity did lead to a reaction against the New Deal policy of encouraging Indians to develop self-governing communities. There was even talk of trying to "assimilate" Indians into the larger society. John Collier resigned as commissioner of Indian affairs in disgust in 1945.
The war encouraged assimilation in several ways. More than 24,000 Indians served in the armed forces, an experience that brought them in contact with new people, new places, and new ideas. Many thousands more left the reservations to work in defense industries in cities all over the country.
The Treatment of German-Italian, and Japanese-Americans
However, although World War 11 affected the American people far more drastically than World War I had, it produced much less intolerance and fewer examples of the repression of individual freedom of opinion. People seemed able to distinguish between Italian fascism and Italian-Americans and between the government of Nazi Germany and Americans of German descent in a way that had escaped their parents. The fact that few Italian-Americans admired Mussolini and that nearly all German-Americans were anti-Nazi helps explain this. So does the fact that both groups were prepared to use their considerable political power to protect themselves against abuse.
But the underlying public attitude was more important. Americans went to war in 1941 without illusions and without enthusiasm, determined to win but expecting only to preserve what they had. They therefore found it easier to tolerate dissent and to concentrate on the real foreign enemy without venting their feelings on domestic scapegoats.
The one flagrant example of intolerance was the relocation of the West Coast Japanese in internment camps in Wyoming, Arizona, and other interior states. About 110,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry, the majority of them native-born citizens, were rounded up and sent off against their will. Not one was accused of sabotage or spying. The Japanese were properly indignant but also baffled, in some cases hurt more than angry. "We didn't feel Japanese. We felt American," one woman, the mother of three small children, recalled many years later. A fisherman remembered that besides his nets and all his other equipment, he had to leave behind a "brand-new 1941 Plymouth." "We hadn't done anything wrong. We obeyed the laws," he told an interviewer. "I lost everything." Then he added, almost plaintively, "But I don't blame anyone. It was a war."
The government's excuse was fear that some of the Japanese might be disloyal. (It must not be forgotten that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor without warning, something that even the Nazis had not done.) Nevertheless, racial prejudice (the "yellow peril") and frustration at not being able to strike a quick blow at Japan in retaliation had much to do with the callous decision to force people into camps. The Supreme Court upheld the relocation order in Korematsu v. United States (1944), but in Ex parte Endo it forbade the internment of loyal Japanese American citizens. Unfortunately, the latter decision was not handed down until December 1944.
Women's Contribution to the War Effort
With economic activity on the rise and millions of men going off to war, a sudden need for women workers developed. By 1944 fully 6.5 million additional women had entered the work force, and at the peak of war production in 1945 more than 19 million women were employed. Further thousands were serving in the armed forces.
At first there was considerable resistance to what was happening. About one husband in three objected in principle to his wife's taking a job. Many employers in fields traditionally dominated by men doubted that women could handle their tasks. Unions frequently made the same point. A Seattle official of the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers and Iron Shipbuilders said of women job applicants: "If one of these girls pressed the trigger on the yard rivet guns, she'd be going one way and the rivet the other." This was perhaps reasonable, though many women were soon doing "men's work" in the shipyards. But the Seattle taxicab union objected to women drivers on the ground that "drivers are forced to do things and go places that would be embarrassing for a woman to do."
These male attitudes lost force in the face of the escalating demand for labor. That employers usually did not have to pay women as much as men made them attractive, as did the fact that they were not subject to the draft. Soon women were working not only as riveters and cab drivers but also as welders, machine tool operators, and in dozens of other occupations formerly the exclusive domain of men.
Women took wartime jobs for many reasons other than the obvious economic ones. Patriotism was important, but so were the desire for independence and even loneliness. "It's thrilling work, and exciting, and something women have never done before," one women reported. She was talking about driving a taxi.
Black women workers had a particularly difficult time, employers often hesitating to hire them because they were black, black men looking down on them because they were women. But the need for willing hands was vast. Sybil Lewis of Sapula, Oklahoma, went to Los Angeles and found a job as a waitress. Then she entered a training program at Lockheed Aircraft and became a riveter making airplane gas tanks. When an unfriendly foreman gave her a less attractive assignment, she moved on to Douglas Aircraft. By 1943 she was working as a welder in a shipyard.
Few wartime jobs were easy, and for women there were special burdens, not the least of which was the prejudice of many of the men they worked with. For married women there was housework to do after a long day. One War Manpower Commission bureaucrat figured out that Detroit defense plants were losing 100,000 woman-hours a month because of employees' taking a day off to do the family laundry. Although the government made some effort to provide day-care facilities, there were never enough; this was one reason why relatively few women with small children entered the labor market during the war.
The war also affected the lives of women who did not take jobs. Families by the tens and hundreds of thousands pulled up stakes and moved to the centers of war production, such as Detroit and southern California. Housing was always in short supply, and while the men went off to the familiar surroundings of yard and factory, their wives had to cope with cramped quarters, ration books, the absence of friends and relatives, and the problems encountered by their children in strange schools and playgrounds.
Newlywed wives of soldiers and sailors (known generally as "war brides") often followed their husbands to training camps, where fife was often as difficult as it was around defense plants. Whatever their own behavior, war brides quickly learned that society applied a double standard to infidelity, especially when it involved a man presumably risking his life in some far-off land. There was a general relaxation of sexual inhibitions, part of a decades-long trend accelerated by the war. So many hasty marriages, followed by long periods of separation, also brought a rise in divorces.
Of course, "ordinary" housewives also had to deal with shortages, ration books, and other inconveniences during the war. In addition, most took on other duties and bore other burdens, such as tending "victory gardens" and preserving their harvests, using crowded public transportation when there was no gas for the family car, mending and patching old clothes, participating in salvage drives, and doing volunteer work for hospitals, the Red Cross, or various civil defense and servicemen's centers.
Allied Strategy: Europe First
Only days after Pearl Harbor, Prime Minister Churchill and his military chiefs met in Washington with Roosevelt and his advisers. In every quarter of the globe, disaster threatened. The Japanese were gobbling up the Far East. Hitler's armies were preparing for a massive attack in the direction of Stalingrad, on the Volga River. German divisions under General Erwin Rommel were beginning a drive across North Africa toward the Suez Canal. U-boats were taking a heavy toll in the North Atlantic.
The decision of the strategists was to concentrate first against the Germans. Japan's conquests were in remote and, from the Allied point of view, relatively unimportant regions. If Russia surrendered, Hitler might well be able to invade Great Britain, thus making his position in Europe impregnable. During the summer of 1942, Allied planes began to bomb German cities. Though air attacks did not destroy the German armies' capacity to fight, they hampered war production, tangled communications, and brought the war home to the German people in awesome fashion.
In November 1942 an Allied army commanded by General Dwight D. Eisenhower struck at French North Africa. After the fall of France, the Nazis had set up a puppet regime in the parts of France not occupied by their troops, with headquarters at Vichy in central France. This collaborationist Vichy government controlled French North Africa. But the North African commandant, Admiral Jean Darlan, promptly switched sides when Eisenhower's forces landed. After a show of resistance, the French surrendered.
Eisenhower then pressed forward quickly against the Germans. In February 1943 at Kasserine Pass in the desert south of Tunis, American tanks met Rommel's Afrika Korps. The battle ended in a standoff, but with British troops closing in from Egyptian bases to the east, the Germans were soon trapped and crushed. In May, after Rommel had been recalled to Germany, his army surrendered.
In July 1943, while air attacks on Germany continued and the Russians slowly pushed the Germans back from the gates of Stalingrad, the Allies invaded Sicily from Africa. In September they advanced to the Italian mainland. Mussolini had already fallen from power, and his successor, Marshal Pietro Badoglio, surrendered. However, the German troops in Italy threw up an almost impregnable defense across the rugged Italian peninsula. The Anglo-American army inched forward, paying heavily for every advance. Rome did not fall until June 1944, and months of hard fighting remained before the country was cleared of Germans.
By the time the Allies had taken Rome, the mighty army needed to invade France had been collected in England under Eisenhower's command. On D day, June 6, 1944, the assault forces stormed ashore along the coast of Normandy, supported by a great armada and thousands of planes and paratroops. Against fierce but ill-coordinated German resistance, they established a beachhead; within a few weeks a million troops were on French soil.
Thereafter victory was assured, though nearly a year of fighting still lay ahead. In August the American Third Army under General George S. Patton erupted southward into Brittany and then veered east' toward Paris. Another Allied army invaded France from the Mediterranean in mid-August and advanced rapidly north. Free French troops were given the honor of liberating Paris on August 25, and by mid-September the Allies were fighting on the edge of Germany itself.
While Eisenhower was regrouping, the Germans on December 16 launched a counterattack, planned by Hitler himself, against the Allied center in the Ardennes Forest. The Germans hoped to break through to the Belgian port of Antwerp, thereby splitting the Allied armies in two. The plan was foolhardy and therefore unexpected, and it almost succeeded. But once the element of surprise had been overcome, their chance of breaking through to the sea was lost. Eisenhower concentrated first on preventing them from broadening the break in his lines and then on blunting the point of their advance. By late January 1945 the old line had been reestablished. The so-called Battle of the Bulge cost the United States 77,000 casualties and delayed Eisenhower's offensive, but it exhausted the Germans' last reserves.
The Allies then pressed forward to the Rhine, winning a bridgehead on the far bank of the river on March 7. Thereafter, another German city fell almost daily. With the Russians racing westward against crumbling resistance, the end could not be long delayed.
As the Americans drove swiftly forward, they began to overrun Nazi concentration camps where millions of Jews had been murdered. Word of this holocaust in which no less than 6 million people were slaughtered had reached the United States much earlier. At first the news had been dismissed as propaganda. Hitler was known to hate Jews and to have persecuted them, but that he could order the murder of millions of innocent people, even children, seemed beyond belief. By 1943, however, the truth could not be denied.
Little could be done about people already in the camps, but there were thousands of refugees in occupied Europe who might have been spirited to safety. President Roosevelt declined to make the effort; he even refused to bomb the death camps on the grounds that the destruction of German soldiers and military equipment took precedence over any other objective. Thus when American journalists entered the camps with the advancing troops, saw the heaps of still unburied corpses, and talked with the emaciated survivors, their reports caused a storm of protest.
Why Roosevelt acted as he did has never been satisfactorily explained. In any case, in April, American and Russian forces made contact at the Elbe River. A few days later, with Russian shells reducing his capital to rubble, Hitler, by then probably insane, took his own life in his Berlin air raid shelter. On May 8, Germany surrendered.
The Naval War in the Pacific
While armies were being trained and materiel accumulated for the attack on Germany, much of the available American strength was diverted to the task of preventing further Japanese expansion. The navy's aircraft carriers had escaped destruction at Pearl Harbor, a stroke of immense good fortune because the airplane had revolutionized naval warfare. Commanders discovered that carrier-based planes were far more effective against warships than the heaviest naval artillery thanks to their greater range and more concentrated firepower.
This truth was demonstrated in May 1942 in the Battle of the Coral Sea, which lies northeast of Australia and south of New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. Mastery of these waters would cut Australia off from Hawaii and thus from American aid. Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto had dispatched a large fleet of troop ships, screened by many warships to attack Port Moresby, on the southern New Guinea coast. On May 7 and 8, planes from the American carriers Lexington and Yorktown struck the convoy's screen, sinking a small carrier and damaging a large one. Superficially, the battle seemed a victory for the Japanese, for their planes mortally wounded the Lexington and sank two other ships, but the troop transports had been forced to turn back, and Port Moresby was saved. Although large numbers of cruisers and destroyers took part in the action, all the destruction was wrought by carrier aircraft.
Encouraged by the Coral Sea "victory," Yamamoto decided to attack Midway Island, west of Hawaii. Between June 4 and 7, control of the Central Pacific was decided entirely by air power. American dive bombers sent four large carriers to the bottom. About 300 Japanese planes were destroyed. The United States lost only the Yorktown and a destroyer. The initiative in the Pacific war shifted to the Americans.
American land forces were under the command of Douglas MacArthur, a brilliant but egocentric general whose judgment was sometimes distorted by his intense concern for his own reputation. MacArthur was in command of American troops in the Philippine Islands when the Japanese struck in December 1941. President Roosevelt had him evacuated by PT boat to escape capture.
Thereafter, MacArthur was obsessed with the idea of personally leading an American army back to the Philippines, and he convinced the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who determined strategy. They organized two separate drives, one from New Guinea toward the Philippines under MacArthur, the other through the central Pacific toward Tokyo under Admiral Chester W. Nimitz.
Before commencing this two-pronged advance, the Americans had to eject the Japanese from the Solomon Islands. Beginning in August 1942, a series of land, sea, and air battles raged around Guadalcanal Island in this archipelago. Once again American air power was decisive, and by February 1943, Guadalcanal had been secured.
In the autumn of 1943 the American drives toward Japan and the Philippines got under way at last. In the central Pacific campaign the Guadalcanal action was repeated on a smaller scale from Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands to Kwajalein and Eniwetok in the Marshalls. The Japanese soldiers on these islands fought like the Spartans at Thermopylae for every foot of ground. They had to be blasted and burned from tunnels and concrete pillboxes with hand grenades, flamethrowers, and dynamite. They almost never surrendered. But Admiral Nimitz's forces were in every case victorious. By midsummer of 1944 this arm of the American advance had taken Saipan and Guam in the Marianas. Now land-based bombers were within range of Tokyo.
Meanwhile, MacArthur was leapfrogging along the New Guinea coast toward the Philippines. In October 1944 he made good his promise to return to the islands, landing on Leyte, south of Luzon. Two great naval clashes in Philippine waters, the Battle of the Philippine Sea (June 1944) and the Battle for Leyte Gulf (October 1944), completed the destruction of Japan's sea power and reduced its air force to a band of fanatical suicide pilots called kamikazes, who tried to crash bomb-laden planes against American warships and airstrips. The kamikazes caused much damage but could not turn the tide. In February 1945, MacArthur liberated Manila.
The end was now inevitable. B-29 Superfortress bombers from the Marianas rained high explosives and firebombs on Japan. The islands of Iwo Jima and Okinawa, only a few hundred miles from Tokyo, fell to the Americans in March and June 1945. But it seemed possible that it would take another year of fighting and a million more American casualties to subdue the main Japanese islands.
"The Shatterer of Worlds"--Building the Atom Bomb
At this point came the most controversial decision of the entire war, and it was made by a newcomer on the world scene. In November 1944, Roosevelt had been elected to a fourth term, easily defeating Thomas E. Dewey. Instead of renominating Henry A. Wallace for vice-president, the Democrats had picked Senator Harry S Truman of Missouri. In April 1945, President Roosevelt suddenly died of a cerebral hemorrhage. Thus it was Truman who had to decide what to do when a mere three months later American scientists placed in his hands a new and awful weapon, the atomic bomb.
After Roosevelt had responded to Albert Einstein's warning in 1939, government-sponsored atomic research had proceeded rapidly. The manufacture of the artificial element plutonium at Hanford, Washington, and uranium 235 at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, continued along with the design and construction of a transportable atomic bomb at Los Alamos, New Mexico. A successful bomb was exploded in the New Mexican desert on July 16, 1945.
Should a bomb with the destructive force of 20,000 tons of TNT be employed against Japan? By striking a major city, its dreadful power could be demonstrated convincingly, yet doing so would bring death to tens of thousands of Japanese civilians. Truman was torn between his awareness that the bomb was "the most terrible thing ever discovered" and his hope that using it "would bring the war to an end" and thus save lives, Japanese as well as Allied. On a less humane level, Truman was influenced by a desire to end the war before the Soviet Union could intervene effectively and thus claim a role in the peacemaking. For these and perhaps other reasons, the president chose to go ahead.
The moral soundness of Truman's decision has been debated ever since. Hatred of the Japanese must have had something to do with the decision. But it is also likely that more Japanese civilians would have died, far more than the American soldiers who would have perished, if Japan had had to be invaded.
In any case, on August 6 the Superfortress Enola Gay dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, killing about 78,000 persons and injuring nearly 100,000 more out of a population of 344,000. Three days later, while the stunned Japanese still hesitated, a second bomb, the only other one so far assembled, hit Nagasaki. This second drop was far less defensible morally, but it had the desired result. On August 15, Japan surrendered.
Thus ended the greatest war in history. Its cost was beyond calculation. No accurate count could be made even of the dead; we know only that it was in the neighborhood of 20 million. No one could call the war a benefit to mankind, but in the late summer of 1945 the future looked bright. Fascism was dead. Many believed that the Soviet communists were ready to cooperate in rebuilding Europe. In the United States isolationism had disappeared.
Out of the death and destruction had come new technology that seemed to herald a better and more peaceful world. Advances in airplane design and the development of radar were about to revolutionize travel and the transportation of goods. Improvements in surgery and other medical advances held the promise of saving millions of lives, and the development of penicillin and other antibiotics, which had greatly reduced the death rate among troops, would perhaps banish infectious disease. Above all, there was the power of the atom, which could be harnessed to serve peaceful ends.
The period of reconstruction would be prolonged, but with all the great powers adhering to the new United Nations charter, drafted at San Francisco in June 1945, international cooperation could be counted on to ease the burdens of the victims of war and help the poor and underdeveloped parts of the world toward economic and political independence. Such at least was the hope of millions in the victorious summer of 1945.
That hope was not realized, chiefly because of a conflict that developed between the Soviet Union and the western allies. During the course of World War 11 every instrument of mass persuasion in the country had been directed at convincing the people that the Russians were fighting America's battle as well as their own. Even before Pearl Harbor, former Ambassador Joseph E. Davies wrote in his bestselling Mission to Moscow (1941) that the communist leaders were "a group of able, strong men" with "honest convictions and integrity of purpose" who were "devoted to the cause of peace for both ideological and practical reasons." Communism was based "on the same principle of the 'brotherhood of man' which Jesus preached."
During the war Americans with as different points of view as General Douglas MacArthur and Vice-President Henry A. Wallace took strongly pro Soviet positions. In 1943 Time named Stalin its "Man of the Year." A number of motion pictures also contributed to revising the attitude of the average American toward the USSR. In One World (1943), Wendell Willkie wrote glowingly of the Russian people, their "effective society," and their simple, warmhearted leader. When he suggested jokingly to Stalin that if he continued to make progress in improving the education of his people he might educate himself out of a job, the dictator "threw his head back and laughed and laughed," Willkie recorded. "Mr. Willkie, you know I grew up a Georgian peasant. I am unschooled in pretty talk. All I can say is I like you very much."
These views were naive, to say the least, but the identity of interests of the United States and the Soviet Union was very real during the war. Russian military leaders conferred regularly with their British and American counterparts and fulfilled their obligations scrupulously.
The Soviets repeatedly expressed a willingness to cooperate with the Allies in dealing with postwar problems. The USSR was in January 1942 one of the 26 signers of the Declaration of the United Nations, in which the Allies promised to eschew territorial aggrandizement after the war, to respect the right of all peoples to determine their own form of government, to work for freer trade and international economic cooperation, and to force the disarmament of the aggressor nations.
In October 1943, during a conference in Moscow with U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull and British Foreign Minister Anthony Eden, Soviet Foreign Minister V. M. Molotov joined in setting up the European Advisory Commission to divide Germany into occupation zones after the war. That December, at a conference in Teheran, Iran, Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin discussed plans for a new league of nations. When Roosevelt described the kind of world organization he envisaged, the Soviet dictator offered a number of suggestions.
At another meeting at Yalta, Ukraine, in February 1945, the three leaders joined in a call for a conference to be held in San Francisco to draft a charter for the United Nations. At the San Francisco gathering it was decided that each member of the UN should have a seat in the General Assembly. The locus of authority, however, was placed in the Security Council, which was to consist of five permanent members (the United States, the Soviet Union, Great Britain, France, and China) and six others elected for two-year terms. Thus any great power could veto any UN action it did not like. The charter paid lip service to the Wilsonian ideal of an international police force, but it limited that force by incorporating the limitations Henry Cabot Lodge had proposed in his 1919 reservations to the League of Nations covenant.
Allied Suspicions of Stalin--The Cold War Under Way
Long before the war in Europe ended, however, the Allies had clashed over important policy matters. Since later world tensions developed from decisions made at this time, an understanding of the disagreements is essential for evaluating several decades of history. Unfortunately, complete understanding is not yet possible, which explains why the subject remains controversial.
Much depends on one's view of the postwar Soviet system. If the Soviet government under Stalin was bent on world domination, events of the so-called Cold War fall readily into one pattern of interpretation. If the USSR, having bravely and at enormous cost endured an unprovoked assault by the Nazis, was seeking only to protect itself against the possibility of another invasion, these events are best explained differently.
Because the United States has opened nearly all its diplomatic records, we know a great deal about how American foreign policy was formulated and about the mixed motives and mistaken judgments of American leaders. This helps explain why many scholars have been critical of American policy and the "cold warriors" who made and directed it. The Soviet Union, in stark contrast, excluded historians from its archives, and consequently we know little about the motivations and inner workings of Soviet policy. Was Russia "committed to overturning the international system and to endless expansion in pursuit of world dominance?" Daniel Yergin asks in Shattered Peace. Only access to Soviet records can make possible an answer to this vitally important question.
The Soviets resented the British-American delay in opening up a second front. They were fighting for survival against the full power of the German armies; any invasion, even an unsuccessful one, would relieve some of the pressure. Roosevelt and Churchill would not move until they were ready, and Stalin had to accept their decision. At the same time, Stalin never concealed his determination to protect his country against future attack by extending its western boundary after the war. He warned the Allies repeatedly that he would not tolerate any anti-Soviet government along Russia's western boundary.
Most Allied leaders, including Roosevelt, admitted privately during the war that the Soviet Union would annex territory and possess preponderant power in eastern Europe after the defeat of Germany, but they never said this publicly. They believed that free governments could somehow be created in countries like Poland and Bulgaria and that the Soviets would trust them enough to leave them to their own devices.
The Polish question was a terribly difficult one. The war, after all, had been triggered by the German attack on Poland; the British in particular felt a moral obligation to restore that nation to its prewar independence. Public opinion in Poland (and indeed in all the states along the USSR's western frontier) was strongly anti-Soviet. Yet the Soviets' legitimate interests (to say nothing of their power in the area) could not be ignored.
Yalta and Potsdam
At the Yalta conference, Roosevelt and Churchill agreed to Soviet annexation of part of Poland. In return they demanded that free elections be held in Poland itself. Stalin apparently could not understand why his allies were so concerned about the fate of a small country so remote from their strategic spheres; he could see no difference between the Soviet Union's dominating Poland and maintaining a government there that did not reflect the wishes of a majority of the Polish people and the United States' dominating many Latin American nations and supporting unpopular regimes within them. Roosevelt, however, feared that Polish-Americans of eastern European extraction would be furious if the Soviets took over their homeland.
In July 1945, following the surrender of Germany, the new president, Truman, met with Stalin and Churchill at Potsdam, outside Berlin.* They agreed to try the Nazi leaders as war criminals, made plans for exacting reparations from Germany, and confirmed the division of the country into four zones to be occupied separately by American, Russian, British, and French troops. Berlin, deep in the Soviet zone, had been split into four sectors too. Stalin rejected all arguments that he loosen his hold on eastern Europe, and Truman (who received news of the successful testing of the atomic bomb while at Potsdam) made no concessions. On both sides suspicions were mounting, positions hardening.
Yet all the advantages seemed to be with the United States. Besides its army, navy, and air force and its immense industrial potential, alone among the nations it possessed the atomic bomb. When Stalin's actions made it clear that he intended to control eastern Europe and to exert influence elsewhere in the world, most Americans first reacted somewhat in the manner of a mastiff being worried by a yapping terrier: with resentment tempered by amazement. The war had caused a fundamental change in international politics. The United States might be the strongest country in the world, but the western European nations, victor and vanquished alike, were reduced to the status of second-class powers. The Soviet Union, by contrast, had regained the influence it had held under the czars and had lost as a result of World War I and the Communist Revolution.