March 2011

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                 A20th CENTURY REDUX

                             SY SCHECHTMAN


       We are now one decade into the next century and sowe 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 IIover 60 million people werekilledand 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   miscalculationin human history.The most classicawakening 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 OceanAmerican bastion of Pearl Harbor,where many ofour 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 dayeight 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 wouldnowcease 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 Hitlerturned 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 expansionfor more lebensraum-- livingspace.   Which Hitler studiously conflated now against his brand new enemy,Bolshevic Red Russia.   It was no problem now for Hitler to combine in his spellbindinglengthy 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 communistdictatorship of the proletariat, of which at that time Leon Trotzky,-a notable Jew,was a prominent very liberal leader.  Two evil contra devils incarnate,amost

delightfulirrational contretempsto foster and fester in the willing soil of the thirsting anti-semite!

        Meanwhile,thanks to that devious American president,known affectionately as FDR,  we graduallyovercame Hitler’s little dance of triumphat the Arc de Triumph as Nazi troops marchedthrough Paris,andthe dismal spectacle of the British evacuation of Europeat Dunkirk.This was one battle the Allied troops did not lose.  With the great airplanecover of the British Air Force (RAF) and literally an armada of small craft, both military and civilian, the great bulk of the troops managed anescape 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,beleagueredbut 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. entrywas the Allies last best hope,as Churchillwell knew.And almost from at best a somewhat dubious standing startRoosevelt skillfully managed thegreatest mobilization in history of all the resourcesof a peacetime economy to lead a total world wide war---WorldWar II.   Just thirty years after the first World War,which was won but had asomewhat   less than the idealistic peace treaty that the Americanshad 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 likeold fashioned imperialism than liberating democratic vigor, most people in this countrybecame isolationist, or “America

first”.   Inthe 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  proNazi gatheringoutside of Germanywas held outside of Madison Square Garden,where over 20,000 people gatheredto support Hitler Germany and  it’s aims.   Against this largelyneutral or indifferentmass ofAmerican citizens  Rooseveltlabored 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 someof the newly recruitedsoldierstrained 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 reallywas 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---soonbecamenecessary “veterans”in the face of the raw novice civilian that started to be drafted as thecountry 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 pathof 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 bombsforced the Japanese surrender.

       In the Atlantic war zone, early in the war,just before the “fortuitous” Hitler declarationof war on the United StatesPresident Roosevelt authorized the secretuse of United Statessubmarine convoys to protect the merchant marine shipssending supplies and warmaterial 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 merchantmarineships and supplies were authorized by the “lend lease”act passed by Congress. Thisact allowed American use of British bases along the AtlanticOcean in return for much needed weaponry and sup- plies for the Bititish.

       However, the military mobilization from an almost indolentpeacetime 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 andalmost 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 6,000,000in thearmy, 3,4000,000 in the navy,and 2,4000,000 in the air force. In total over 11 million men and womenundermilitary rule.   Wehad 2,500 air planes in l939; in l945 we had80,000! In l939 we had 760 warships and in l945 wehad 2500armed 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 threatof Nazi Germany and fascist Italyand 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 Chuchilland some small bravuras for Degaulle,for his efforts to hold up the somewhat ludicrous sagging French effort in Hitler controlled southern Franceunder MarshallPetain.

       But why did Hitler declare war on America? Our country posed no legitimate threat,far away across the wide Atlantic Ocean. Probably over ridingoverconfidence.In just a few years all of continental Europewas under NaziGerman dominance,and the American military power seemed of indifferent strength at most.  And that GermanU Boats (submarines) would pindown thelarge American  naval presence in the open Atlantic ocean.   And historyreveals Hitler’s impatience withthis 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 Aushwitzand allied crematoriumswere planned to begin under the cover of the Russian invasion inthe coming spring.And when launched in the June of 1942 it was an incredible model of thorough sadisticperfection,with mainly hapless Jews, but also stray Gypsies and other “misfits”.   Besides Auschwitz, scattered through conquered Poland andother eastern European sites in the next few years about four millionwere exterminated.  In addition about two million werekilled on site, as the Germans advanced over Polish and western Russian territory;  simply roundingup masses of newly capturedJews 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 mightyGerman army (Wehrmacht) was in overt retreat

an almost“intramural” contest broke out with the Wehrmacht in open competition with the Shutzstaffel,theNazi secret service in charge of the killing of the Jews,for the premiumfreight train spaceof retreating back to Aushwitz Jew killing,or German troop surrender.Toward the very end, most unfortunately,it seemedthat the pace of Jew killing increased.   Despite intense civilian pressure for the Allied High Command to intensifybombing the railroad tracksaround Auschwitz and other death campswent unheeded;the highest priority of utter, totalGermandefeatprecludedother goals of lesser import.And, to this day,many older Jews,who hadfamily 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 mysteriumtrememdum 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 deathsseem to demand explanation in some rational form.  Or in the failure of God.Rationally we know that throughout historypersecution 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 thenascent Christian movement fed on the “Christ Killer” credo.  Also the evident ease with profiting from anti semitic pillaging and lootingduring periodic pogromsin the 2500 year Jewishdiaspora 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 chasidicrabbi,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 lookeddown He would say I did not cause this…..And He would be a liar”…

      It is easy to go justa bit beyond this to the “death of God” movementto 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.!  Togo from the oblivion before birth to the everlasting oblivion beyond mortal life is insupportable. Sodespite the chaos and continued indeterminacy of mortal lifemost of us mere mortals still believe that somehow we are still in some way still created inGod’s image,and that post mortal existence is now a mostacceptable concept—or fantasy.  But still, perhaps, our last best hope!

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