spacer.gif (46 bytes)

mmmfileslogo2.gif (20202 bytes)

THE SECOND WORLD WAR

INTRODUCTION

The course of events and the outcome of the Second World War occupy a central position in the development of American Cold War mythology. That war itself and the necessary Anglo-American alliance with the Soviet Union somewhat eased the tensions of the first phase of the Cold War -- a Cold War, please, which actually began in November, 1917. As was stated in the first part of this essay [which appeared in last month’s issue of the Los Angeles News Advocate], American political leaders, including former President Harry Truman, and most American historians, have fastened upon the Soviet Union the responsibility for destroying that war-time alliance and for initiating the Cold War.

Many of these politicians and historians have simply erred in their assessments, erred either through ignorance of historical events or through an ideological obtuseness – which always perceives "our" actions in the most favorable light, and "theirs" in the least favorable. Too many, however, became conscious partisans in a cause in which, as is usual, truth was the first casualty.

The reader is already, no doubt, quite familiar with the standard American interpretation of the Second World War, and how it was primarily the Untied States that defeated both Germany and Japan. Elementary, secondary, and college history classes and textbooks in this country have generally seen to that. For an equally partisan view, albeit a Soviet one, read the relevant chapters in A Short History of the U.S.S.R, including the "selected bibliography." The concluding portion of this essay, however, is directed to a consideration to some of the events, and non-events, of the period 1941 to 1945 and how they might look to someone neither so obtuse nor so partisan.

As this essay has argued, the "western democracies" of Great Britain, France and the United States opposed not only the Axis nations of Germany, Japan and Italy, but also the U.S.S.R.

Excluding Italy for the moment – whose military strength, as that of France, proved illusory, the overwhelming portion of the world’s military strength in land and air forces (1939 to 1940) had accumulated in the hands of Germany, Japan and the Soviet Union.

George F. Kennan, in his book American Diplomacy, 1900-1950, argues, that had these three "enemies of the west" united, they probably could not have been defeated on the landmass of Eurasia. Of these three, only Japan could have been beaten without the assistance of one of the other two. Clearly, to defeat any two of these, the aid of the third was required. That is, to defeat a Soviet-German combination, the "West" had to have the active aid of Japan; to defeat a Soviet-Japanese alliance, the assistance of Hitler’s Germany was necessary; and to defeat a German-Japanese attempt at conquest – an alliance fundamentally weakened by the great difficulty affecting communication and coordination due to the immense distances separating them, the "West" needed the Soviet Union on their side.

This argument does not insist that without Soviet assistance, Germany could have conquered the world – even in conjunction with Japan. What is contended is that because Germany and Soviet Russia were so industrially, militarily and strategically strong – both in fact and in potential, together they could probably not have been defeated in their area of the world. And individually, to defeat one, the aid of the other was going to be required.

Obviously, in a war which pitted the Soviet Union against Germany, and independent of the actions of their respective allies, Eastern Europe was going to be their major battlefield. Now, regardless of which side won the Second World War, that battlefield – Eastern Europe – was going to fall under the influence or control of the victor. Consequently, I am afraid, the complete political independence of the various Easter European countries could never have been an issue in the war. Rather, the issue was simply which of the two – Fascist Germany or Communist Russia – would emerge dominant in the area. This conclusion may make few of us in the non-fascist capitalist west happy, however we never avoid pain by evading the truths which trouble us, though we may be able to still escape the disaster by confronting them.

THE GERMAN INVASION

The German invasion of Russia began June 22, 1941. Within a few weeks the German advance had reached to the suburbs of Leningrad, to Smolensk, and deep into the Ukraine. That winter, the winter of 1941-1942, was the worst for the Russians. Entire industries had to be evacuated from German occupied and German threatened areas. In addition to whole industries, thousands of people were moved to the wilds of the Ural mountains, to Siberia, and to Kazakhstan – much of this during the exceptionally severe winter of 1941-42. Nevertheless, by September, 1942, Russian production of war material and equipment again reached the level of the summer of 1941. In fact, during the year 1942, with much of European Russia either occupied or directly threatened by the Germans – and therefore with the most of the industrial centers of the region either inoperative or functioning well below normal, the Russians produced 23,500 tanks; 25,000 airplanes and 35,000 guns. By comparison, German industry turned out 9,300 tanks; 14,700 airplanes and 12,000 guns during the same period.

It seems clear that had Russia been able to stave off a German attack until 1942, all would have been different. For example, at the time of the German invasion, the Soviet Union had little more than 1,000 modern tanks. Secondly, they were in the process of rebuilding their network of airfields in western Russia and consequently had their planes concentrated in a few fields where most of them were wiped out in the first few days of the war. And while the majority of German infantrymen in 1941 were armed with automatic or semi-automatic weapons or various kinds and calibers, Russian infantrymen were wholly armed with conventional rifles.

Hitler and the German General Staff no doubt realized that 1941 was the last chance to defeat the Russians. Certainly Stalin recognized this and was willing to do most anything to prevent an attack at that time. Though he failed and Germany did attack, supported by her allies, Hitler and the Germans failed also.

Even in 1941, as events proved, Hitler could not defeat and conquer Russia. The German three-pronged thrust, to Leningrad in the north, to Moscow in the center, and through the Ukraine to the oil-rich Baku field in the south, was finally halted in the winter of 1941-42. During the Battle of Moscow that winter, the Germans suffered 500,000 casualties; lost 1,3000 tanks; 2,500 guns and 15,000 trucks. Their losses at Stalingrad, the following winter, were three times as great.

The German inability to break through the defenses of Leningrad, followed by their defeat at Moscow, and capped by the disaster at Stalingrad turned the tide against the European Axis powers. Many of Germany’s allies, in the spring of 1943, began looking for ways out of their alliance. Germany was defeated. That was obvious then; the questions that remained dealt with the date and the extent of that final defeat. However, even after the great Soviet victory at Stalingrad, the Soviet Union still had a long way to go to clear her lands of the invaders. And as late as the summer of 1943, the German-led armies still had over five million men on Russian soil.

SOVIET LOSSES

While the Germans failed in their overall military objective, tremendous damage was done to Russia and to the Russians. According to official Soviet estimates, some 15 to 20 million of their people perished in the war. The Germans destroyed or partially destroyed 15 large cities, almost 2,000 towns and some 70,000 villages. Over six million buildings were burned or otherwise demolished, depriving some 25 million people of shelter. In Leningrad alone, during the siege in the winter of 1941-442, on-third of the civilian population died of starvation, with the Germans at one time only two miles outside of the city.

The destruction wrought upon Soviet industrial capacity was astonishing: 31,850 industrial enterprises of all sized; 39,000 miles of railroad track; 56,000 miles of highway and 90,000 bridges. Also ruined were over 1,000 coal mines and 2,000 oil wells. In addition, huge amounts of industrial equipment – steam boilers, turbines, generators, etc. -- were literally carried off to Germany.

To Russian agriculture, the damage was at least as great: 98,000 collective farms sacked; seven million horses, 17 million cattle, 20 million hogs, and 27 million sheep and goats – all either slaughtered or carried off to Germany.

GERMAN LOSSES

While the Russians paid dearly for repulsing the invaders of their country, the costs to the German war machine were staggering. In the three great battles of Moscow, in the winter of 1941-42, of Stalingrad, in the following winter, and at Kursk, in the summer of 1943, the Germans lost over 2.5 million men. They also lost nearly 7,000 tanks and self-propelled guns and 17,500 mortars and artillery pieces. All of these losses, or men and materials, were irreplaceable. Of additional significance is the fact that the Germans had to regularly shift large numbers of men and equipment from Italy and France to make up the losses on their eastern front, moving seventeen divisions in the summer of 1943 alone.

No serious historian, and certainly not this writer, would insist that the Soviet Union on its own accounted for the defeat of the Axis powers in Europe. However, the evidence is rather overwhelming that the Soviet Union’s contribution to that defeat was significantly greater than the combined effort of its allies.

LEND LEASE

In a country as materialistic as ours, it is probably no surprise that a fundamental article of the "American creed" states that money in the form of lend-lease assistance, or foreign aid loans and grants, equaled in value the actual human and physical losses of our allies. According to many of our political leaders, historians, and various other commentators, the American money so disbursed was, and remains, of paramount value.

The tragic significance of this opinion is that from the point of view of the dominant American value system, it may be quite valid. An extensive inquiry into the tragic implications of a foreign policy generated by such a value system must remain the topic of a later essay; however, certain aspects are very relevant to this discussion of the Second World War and its relation to the continuing Cold War.

The United States did grant Lend-Lease Assistance to the U.S.S.R., a contribution that was most pronounced in the some 400,000 trucks and jeeps sent to that country. And while this most welcomed aid greatly facilitated the Russian advance after the lifting of the siege of Stalingrad, American lend-lease obviously did not account for the stopping of the German advance. That had already been accomplished; and clearly, the Russians would have liberated their country without the jeeps and trucks and other materials given by the United States.

THE SECOND FRONT

The United States and Great Britain could have really assisted the Russians had they lived up to their promise and opened a second front in 1942. In May of that year, the Soviet government, through Molotov in Washington, was "assured" that a second front would be opened in Western Europe before the year was out. The question of a "second front" remained paramount in the minds and discussions of the Russians; it would, of course, have drained off large numbers of Germans from the Russian front.

A recent book by Stephen E. Ambrose, The Supreme Commander: The War Years of Dwight D. Eisenhower, indicates that both General Eisenhower and his superior, General George Marshall, urged a frontal assault upon Germany in 1942, opposing the less important campaigns in Africa and Italy. Ambrose also makes it clear that the generals were overruled by Roosevelt and Churchill, who apparently cared more for securing as much of the Mediterranean area as possible than for the more immediate task of defeating Germany.

The "second front" was not actually opened until June of 1944, more than one and one-half years after it had been promised. Further, the invasion of Normandy came only after the Russians – though at tremendous cost – had achieved their main objectives of repulsing the German invasion and of removing the threat of their own defeat. In fat, the Germans were already in full, though still orderly, retreat from the Russian advance by June, 1944.

The lend-lease extended to the Soviet Union was designed to aid in the defeat of Germany; but only because of the necessary effects of the aid, was real assistance given to the Soviet Union. As was stated earlier in this discussion, the Second World War, and the requirements of maintaining some sort of unity in the ace of the German threat, eased the tensions of the Cold War that had begun in 1917. However, it remains quite incorrect to assume that Great Britain and the United States ever intended to deal with the U.S.S.R. with anything approaching equity, or at the very least, understanding.

WARTIME PLANNING FOR THE FUTURE

In August, 1941, some months before the United States officially entered the war – but after the German attack upon Russia – Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt met and drafted the famous "Atlantic Charter." This charter, this Anglo-American agreement, indicates no awareness whatsoever of the Soviet Union, of that country’s role in the war, or that county’s position in the future and post-war world.

Rather, the "Atlantic Charter" is predicated upon the assumption that Great Britain and the United States will decide the post-war settlement for the entire world. In point of fact, when Churchill asked Roosevelt about including in the charter a proposal for the creation of an international organization of nations, somewhat similar to the old League of Nations, Roosevelt replied that he would not be in favor of "the creation of a new Assembly of the League of Nations, at least until after a period of time had passed and during which an international police force composed of the United States and Great Britain had had an opportunity of functioning" (my emphasis from Sumner Welles, Where are We Heading).

TRUMAN & ACHESON

Before the Japanese bombs fell upon Pearl Harbor and the United States fully entered into war against the Axis powers, Senator Harry Truman of Missouri, on the floor of the United States Senate, proposed that the United States alternate its aid between Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Russia. He argued that we ought to aid the side that was losing, then switch over and assist the other, and to do this in such a manner that the Soviet Union would become the eventual, but exhausted victor. In 1944, because of his dedicated and demonstrated loyalty to the party bosses of the Democratic Party, the "Senator from Missouri" was nominated for the vice-presidency. Several months later, Harry Truman became president of the United States.

Many other influential Americans, in addition to Harry Truman, in the government and in the business community looked upon the Second World War as a golden opportunity to spread American economic institutions throughout the world. Remember, in 1940 most of the promises of the New Deal remained unfulfilled; and unemployment stood at about nine million. The Great Depression, and its accompanying threat of social unrest, continued to disturb the sleep of America’s leaders – liberals and conservatives alike.

William Appleman Williams in his Tragedy of American Diplomacy, and numerous "revisionist" historians since, chronicled some of the war time policies and their motivations, demonstrating that these policies were primarily motivated by the belief that American capitalism could not continue to survive without an aggressive and further expansion into the world markets. And as one Congressional leader in 1943 explained it, lend-lease provided us with "a wonderful opportunity" to bring the United States to a greater degree of "determining authority" in the world.

In 1944, the then Undersecretary of State, Dean Acheson, stated that in order to assure social stability in post war America, it would be essential to maintain and even expand the wartime level of employment, for "If we do not, it seems clear that we are in for a very bad time ... having the most far reaching consequences upon our economic and social system." It was simply, "a matter of markets," he argued. "We cannot have full employment and prosperity in the United States without foreign markets."

Perhaps Dean Acheson, and the others who led this nation during the Second World War, underestimated the essential strength of the American economy and its ability to stand and prosper without the exploitation, the neo-colonialism and the imperialism associated with an aggressive pursuit of foreign markets. It is sufficient for the purposes of this essay to recall that this man, who believed that our system had to expand into world markets in order to survive, later became Secretary of State for the "Senator from Missouri" who once argued that the United States ought to alternate its aid between Germany and Russia.

Throughout the war, it was the view of the United States State Department, that Soviet Russia’s extremely weak and devastated condition could and should be used as a lever to insure the dominant voice to the United States in all of the important decisions concerning the post war world. The only conceivable threat to the establishment of an "American Century," a sort of Pax Americana, emanated from the Soviet Union. We were not fighting the German and Japanese empires and encouraging the dissolution of what remained of the Dutch, French and British imperial holdings to share the world and its "goodies" with the U.S.S.R.!

Also in 1944, the Soviet Union made an official request to the United States for a post war reconstruction loan of six billion dollars. This request was in response to the continual American refusal to discuss German reparation payments to Russia for war damage, and in response to regular American assurances that assistance for post war reconstruction would be forthcoming. However, Roosevelt’s sympathetic reply was the sending of Averill Harriman to look into the matter and make a recommendation. Harriman, a wealthy banking and industrial leader, staunch friend and financial supporter of the New Deal, equally staunch Russo-phobe and anti-Communist, advised upon his return to the United States that the loan be cut to six hundred million dollars, ten percent of the request. He also advised that the loan be changed to a credit, which would have to be spent in the United States, as this would give American government a say-so about how the money would or would not be used.

The whole matter of the Russian loan request has only recently been explored in depth by American historians. The evidence appears to indicate that the United States government deliberately manipulated the discussions surrounding the request in order to force the Soviet Union to conform to American desires and designs in Eastern Europe. Later, after it became clear that the Soviet Union was not going to surrender its interest in that area, the State Department "lost" their official request. "Lost," mind you, was the United States government’s official reply to much later Soviet inquiry. Needless to say, the U.S.S.R. did without American assistance, but they helped themselves in the zone in Germany.

When Franklin Roosevelt died in April of 1945, and Harry Truman became President, Soviet-American relations entered a new and a rather distinct phase. During this second phase of the Cold War, the united States aggressively seized the mantle of leadership of the anti-Soviet, anti-Communist and anti-Leftist forces of the world. Probably the elevation of Harry Truman to the presidency was simply the public dramatization of the direction American policy would have taken in any event.

American support for the British military repression of the Greek anti-fascist and anti-royalist underground forces in 1944, as well as the general and specific American policy toward the various leftist orientated resistance movements in the liberated areas of Western Europe, pointed in the direction of a restoration of the pre-war status quo, under a post-war American leadership. Gabriel Kolko’s study, The Politics of War: The World and United States Foreign Policy, 1943-1945, delves into this entire issue in great detail. It is most heartily recommended to those who continue to believe that the division of the world into "us" and "them" in the concluding months of the Second World War was synonymous to "good guys" and "bad guys."

Germany surrendered in May of 1945. Almost instantly, President Truman canceled all lend-lease shipments to the Soviet Union, and our other allies in the war against Germany. In point of fact, ships already on the way to Russian ports, and at least two already in Russian harbors, were ordered returned to the United States. Truman later acknowledged that this had been an error – especially since all conferences during the war, the Russians had been led to believe that the U.S. would continue to assist the Soviet Union after the defeat of Germany. Truman insisted that he had apparently signed the cancellation order without reading it. Well, we all knew that Harry was not the most competent individual to occupy the White House; but no one has ever accused him of being the most honest either.

THE ATOM BOMB

After becoming president and being appraised of the existence of the atom bomb, Truman stated, "If it explodes, as I think it will, I’ll certainly have a hammer on those boys." Talking about the Japanese was he? No, I think not. The then Secretary of State, James Byrnes, told a scientist that the atom bomb was needed, not so much to defeat the Japanese, but "to make Russia manageable in Europe." And 20 years later, on a special television show, Byrnes disclosed that he and Truman specifically discussed the matter and decided against informing the Russians of the details of the bomb.

At the February 1945 Yalta Conference and upon the urging of the United States, the Soviet Union had agreed to declare war upon Japan within three months after the surrender of Germany. It appears that the United States government had changed its mind and no longer wished the U.S.S.R. to enter the war against Japan. Consequently, the Japanese surrender had to be rapidly effected, even if that meant using the atom bomb when it was clearly not militarily required. The Japanese had already made two official requests for terms prior to the atom bomb attacks. Their second request stated the willingness to completely surrender as long as the Emperor could be retained. To both of these requests, the American answer was the same: no terms; the surrender had to be unconditional. Not even the traditional and orthodox historians still insist that the atom bombing of the two Japanese cities was militarily necessary. Indeed, few authorities still hold that the American civilian and military leaders in August of 1945 even believed the atom bombs were necessary to induce the Japanese surrender without an invasion of the Island Empire.

Former President Eisenhower testified [Los Angeles Times, August 1, 1966, p.9.] that in 1945, he urged the United States government not to drop the bomb. He "knew Japan was beaten," and that they were simply "looking for a face-saving way to surrender." Clearly, the truth is that the United States became the first country in the world to use nuclear weapons not for military reasons, but for reasons of international politics. And while the Japanese were made to suffer, the lesson was intended for the Russians.

 



20th Century | MMM Files | to the top