March 2011

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                  A  20th CENTURY REDUX

                              SY SCHECHTMAN

       

        We are now one decade into the next century and so  we can look back at that last calendar hundred year segment with some dispassionate judgement.  While a general pattern of growth seemed in place,  as indicated by the general population increase,  it is also lamentably true that that humans were not necessarily “their brothers’ keeper”.   In World War II  over 60 million people were  killed  and in the last century over 160 million died in military combat.  Indeed, in the period between  September l939 and August l945 (World War II) the most consequential act in human history was committed.  This was the declaration of war by Nazi Germany against the United States.  The greatest military    miscalculation  in human history.  The most classic  awakening of a the most sleeping, reluctant giant ever—the United States.

        This historic act occurred just two days after the devastating Japanese surprise attack in the Pacific Ocean  American bastion of Pearl Harbor,  where many of  our  prime battle ships, on this peaceful Sunday morning on December 7th l941 were most inadequately anchored or protected.   By the end of that horrendously eventful day  eight American warships lay on the floor of the ocean at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii; 2400 were killed and 188 airplanes destroyed.    Most probably Hitler,   whose war plans had been fiendishly successful up till then, assumed that decadent capitalist America  would  now  cease and desist and remain meekly quiescent.   The Germans by then had conquered all of Europe and only England, across the English channel, was left to endure nightly Nazi rocket attacks—“buzz bombs”.  And Hitler  turned his attention eastward   toward his erstwhile  but temporary treaty partner Soviet Russia.   They were in a relatively new alliance, dividing up hapless in between Poland,  and on June 22, l941 on some specious  pretext  the German army attacked,  thus renewing the Drang nach Osten, a mythic German obsession of eastward expansion  for more lebensraum--  living  space.   Which Hitler studiously conflated now against his brand new enemy,  Bolshevic Red Russia.    It was no problem now for Hitler to combine in his spellbinding  lengthy harangues against the twin enemies of his Thousand Year Reich,  the swine of the filthy rich capitalist money bags Jew and the scheming world wide communist  dictatorship of the  proletariat, of which at that time Leon Trotzky,-a notable Jew,  was a prominent very liberal leader.   Two evil contra devils incarnate,  a  most

delightful  irrational contretemps  to foster and fester in the willing soil of the thirsting anti-semite!

         Meanwhile,  thanks to that devious American president,  known affectionately as FDR,   we gradually  overcame Hitler’s little dance of triumph  at the Arc de Triumph as Nazi troops marched  through Paris,  and  the dismal spectacle of the British evacuation of Europe  at Dunkirk.  This was one battle the Allied troops did not lose.   With the great airplane  cover of the British Air Force (RAF)  and literally an armada of small craft, both military and civilian, the great bulk of the troops  managed an  escape almost intact across the English channel.  And as Churchill succinctly and eloquently put it,   referring to the RAF,    “ …never have so few done so much for so many.”      

          And     Winston Churchill,  beleaguered  but still valiant British Prime minister is said to have done his own little dance, or prayerful thanks to God, for Hitler’s declaration of war against the United States about a year later.  The U.S. entry  was the Allies last best hope,  as Churchill  well knew.  And almost from at best a somewhat dubious standing start  Roosevelt skillfully managed the  greatest mobilization in history of all the resources  of a peacetime economy to lead a total world wide war---World  War II.   Just thirty years after the first World War,  which was won but had a  somewhat   less than the  idealistic peace treaty  that the Americans  had hoped for.  Woodrow Wilson, our president had then averred that our goal was “to make the world safe for democracy”.      Indeed,  somewhat disenchanted with the results, which seemed more like  old fashioned imperialism than liberating democratic vigor, most people in this country  became  isolationist, or “America

first”.    In  the decade of the thirties, while  a general indifference to foreign affairs was common  the number of neo Nazis in this country was relatively large.   It is estimated that the largest   pro  Nazi gathering  outside of Germany  was held outside of Madison Square Garden,  where over 20,000 people gathered  to support  Hitler Germany and   it’s aims.   Against this largely  neutral or indifferent  mass of  American citizens   Roosevelt  labored carefully as the Nazi fascist tide gradually infested Europe.  His weekly Fireside Chats on radio at times highlighted his concern for our long term allies, France and Britain, and finally in l940 congress passed the first  peace time conscription (draft)  law.  But, be it noted,  by only a few slim votes,  and for awhile some  of the newly recruited  soldiers  trained with broomsticks while     waiting for still scarce  rifles to arrive   Our family bemoaned the fact, too, that my older brother Dave,  was one of the first to go,   but this really  was a blessing in disguise for the first to arrive on the scene  became “permanent party” at these suddenly enlarging military bases,  and the first to arrive---as my brother---soon  became  necessary “veterans”  in the face of the raw novice civilian that started to be drafted as the  country became more directly involved.  An instance of “the first shall be last”, not necessarily fervent patriotism but fortuitous luck as the country started down the soon tumultuous  path  of World War II mobilization.    My brother stayed back in the states as “permanent party”  for over three years before being shipped to the Pacific war zone not long before the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs  forced the Japanese surrender. 

        In the Atlantic war zone, early in the war,  just before the “fortuitous” Hitler declaration  of war on the United States  President Roosevelt authorized the secret  use of United States  submarine convoys to protect the merchant marine ships  sending supplies and war  material across the Atlantic to the British.   The submarine escort was not legal at the beginning because we were still definitely a neutral power but the merchant  marine  ships and supplies were authorized by the “lend lease”  act passed by Congress.  This  act allowed American use of British bases along the Atlantic  Ocean in return for much needed weaponry and sup- plies for the Bititish.

        However, the military mobilization from an almost indolent  peacetime pace in l940 has never been match-ed.     It is FDR’s most signal achievement,  not his much debated stop gap make work programs which proliferated in the l930’s. Unemployment did decline but was still over 10% by our entry into the world combat; but the country was vastly energized and  almost enthusiastically  cooperative under Roosevelt’s steadfast leadership. And a well coordinated industrial miracle began to emerge. In l939 we had                   200,000 in the army, 125,000 in the Navy,  and 20,000 marines.   In l945, at war’s end, we had 6,000,000  in the  army, 3,4000,000 in the navy,  and 2,4000,000 in the air force. In total over 11 million men and women  under  military rule.   We  had 2,500 air planes in l939; in l945 we had  80,000! In l939 we had 760 warships and in l945 we  had 2500  armed vessels.

        Also our industrial mobilization included quite a large number of women workers.  About 2 million strong.   Remember the somewhat evocative song “Rosie the Riveter”?

        So without question very great kudos to Roosevelt for his sterling and steadfast leadership in the fight against the triple fascist threat  of Nazi Germany and fascist Italy  and  imperial Japan.    Also for that almost

two term faithful follow up Harry Truman,  who implemented many of Roosevelt’s unfinished deeds following his much lamented sudden death at the start of his unprecedented fourth term.   Also very  high grade Honorable Mention   for British Prime Minister Winston Chuchill  and some small bravuras for Degaulle,  for his efforts to hold up the somewhat ludicrous sagging French effort in Hitler controlled southern France  under Marshall  Petain.

        But why did Hitler declare war on America?  Our country posed no legitimate threat,  far away  across the wide Atlantic Ocean. Probably over riding  overconfidence.  In just a few years all of continental Europe  was under Nazi  German dominance,  and  the American military power seemed  of indifferent strength at most.   And that German  U Boats (submarines) would pin  down the  large American   naval presence in the open Atlantic ocean.    And history  reveals Hitler’s impatience with  this little historical footnote.    As detailed above,   Hitler had great plans in the east----Operation   Barbarosa----the attack on Soviet Russia,  which happened in June 1942.  Napoleon, 130 years before, in 1812,  tried a similar, ill fated invasion.         Surely it was not some obsessive preoccupation with making the world judenrein. (free of Jews!)  That horrible Final Solution would begin at  Aushwitz  and allied crematoriums  were planned to begin under the cover of the Russian invasion in  the coming spring.  And when launched in the June of 1942 it was an incredible model of thorough sadistic  perfection,  with mainly hapless Jews, but also stray Gypsies and other “misfits”.    Besides Auschwitz, scattered through conquered Poland and  other eastern European sites in the next few years about four million  were exterminated.   In addition about two million were  killed on site, as the Germans advanced over Polish and western Russian territory;   simply rounding  up masses of newly captured  Jews on site,  marching them out into nearby fields,  having them build their  own mass graves,  and killing them.  No elaborate suffocating gas “showers”  as at Auschwitz type crematoriuims.

        In the last few months of the war, when the once mighty  German army (Wehrmacht) was in overt retreat

an almost  “intramural” contest broke out with the Wehrmacht in open competition with the Shutzstaffel,  the  Nazi secret service in charge of the killing of the Jews,  for the premium  freight  train space  of retreating back to Aushwitz Jew killing,  or German troop surrender.   Toward the very end, most unfortunately,  it seemed  that the pace of Jew killing increased.    Despite intense civilian pressure for the Allied High  Command  to intensify  bombing the railroad tracks  around Auschwitz and other death camps  went unheeded;  the highest priority of utter, total  German  defeat  precluded  other goals of lesser import.  And, to this day,  many older Jews,  who had  family in the crematoriums,  begrudge FDR his rightful due for his necessary  redirection of some additional bombing to other targets of a higher priority elsewhere.

        It is never too late, or too early to speculate, and ponder the mysterium  trememdum of Adolf Hitler,  his manifestation of absolute evil and the sway he had over other people.    His actions and control of the fate of so many millions of people and their untimely deaths  seem to demand explanation in some rational form.   Or in the failure of God.  Rationally we know that throughout history  persecution of the Jews has been quite common.  In some deliberate sense Jews set them selves apart with their exclusive  eating customs—kashruth-  and the credo of being the “chosen people”. And the  nascent Christian movement fed on the “Christ Killer” credo.   Also the evident ease with profiting from anti semitic  pillaging and looting  during periodic pogroms  in the 2500 year Jewish  diaspora existence..    Non of these come close to  making emotional sense.

          Elie Wiesel, still the living legend of the horror of the Holocaust, in one of this inimitable holocaust ponderings tells of a pious chasidic  rabbi,  surrounded by his disciples in a concentration camp telling his surprised pupils that “Hashem  (the Lord) is a liar….   If He opened up his window in heaven and looked  down He would say I did not cause this…..And He would be a liar”…

        It is easy to go just  a bit beyond this to the “death of God” movement  to make rational sense in the spiritual void of the “living entity” of   a non God.   As a dubious novelty of the rational mind.  But not for long—for most people.!   To  go from the oblivion before birth to the everlasting oblivion beyond mortal life is insupportable.   So  despite the chaos and continued indeterminacy of mortal life  most of us mere mortals still believe that somehow we are still in some way still created in  God’s image,  and that post mortal existence  is now a most  acceptable concept—or fantasy.   But still, perhaps, our last best hope! 

        History never really repeats itself  but is always very worth while  learning from.    But   which, of course,  brings up that fellow Ahmadinajab……. Our new Hitler?