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The lessons of any naval war are of great importance to the United States. The lessons of the war against Japan are unique. Unlike the great conflicts of the eighteenth century and the First World War, where blockade and relatively passive control of sea lanes provided limited, although decisive, naval objectives. Japanese expansion and the United States victory were campaigns fought across the sea. World War II also witnessed the full development of aviation. In view of the complete lack of factual evidence, many of the opinions expressed between the two World Wars on the role of air in naval operations were based largely on theory and to a considerable degree were ultimately proved false. Bombing of anchored and undefended battleships off the Virginia Capes after the last war led to statements that navies were obsolete and that no ship could operate within range of land-based aircraft. Although certain advocates of independent air power questioned both the possibility and usefulness of close support of troops, such support was proved not only possible but indispensable. The accuracy of high-level, precision bombing was vastly overestimated, as witness both the ineffectiveness of this means of attack against shipping and the improved efficiency of B–29 attacks after the adoption of medium-altitude, area bombing. A considerable body of opinion in both the Army and the Navy held that the airplane would quickly master the submarine. While this was ultimately accomplished, it came about rather late in the war after immense e ffort in research and design of new equipment and in the development of techniques for cooperation of planes and surface ships. Certain improvements in U-boat design and equipment, which appeared too late to become operational on a wide scale, made it extremely doubtful that Allied superiority would have long prevailed. Those who questioned the importance of the airplane were equally far from the mark. The disappointment of officers who planned for fleet engagements after the fashion of Trafalgar and Jutland was doubtless as great as that of theorists who had confidently dismissed the battleship as a modern weapon, only to find it profoundly useful and singularly invulnerable in support of amphibious landings. The conclusion is that while times do change, revolutions are seldom as complete as the revolutionaries hope. The efforts of the various nations between the wars to solve the problems of the employment of aircraft in naval warfare were instructive. The debilitating effects of Britain’s separate air force on the British Navy are well known. The effectiveness of the lumbering Swordfish torpedoplane was a high tribute to the gallantry of the pilots but hardly complimentary to the organizational system which produced it. Counting on their geography, the Italians established a landbased air force with which they thought to control the Mediterranean. Constantly outfought by British carrier aircraft, the greatest victory of the Italian Air Force was scored against its own navy- which it once put to ignominious flight. The Japanese developed aviation as part of their fleet, and the operations of their carrier striking force from Pearl Harbor to Ceylon set the pattern of the Pacific war, but they failed to solve the defensive problem and this failure, with their limited recuperative abilities, nullified their whole war plan. The outbreak of war found United States aviation, both military and naval, woefully deficient in types and quantities of aircraft. Doubly fortunate in geography and in- STRIKE ON TOKYO Planes from Carrier Task Force Pass Mount Fujiyama, February 1945 dustrial power the country was able to go forward with the building of great forces incorporating the early lessons of the war and the most recent technology, thus achieving an unexpectedly early victory. As it may not again be possible to extemporize, the importance of correct evaluation of the experience cannot be overestimated. The experiences of warfare, however, are never conclusive. They cannot be controlled like experiments in a laboratory but must be taken as they occur. Two examples from the recent conflict may be cited to show the dangers of facile generalization from insufficient evidence. In the past it had been taken for granted that aircraft carriers could not operate for extened periods within range of a large number of enemy air bases, yet from September 1944 until the end of the war this was done and in every instance the shore bases had the worst of it. It would be unwise to deduce from this experience too rigid theories for the future because against an enemy, equal plane for plane and pilot for pilot, it would have been much more difficult and costly, although at what point such operations would become unprofitable it is impossible to determine. Likewise the operational capabilities of B–29’s with full bomb loads against heavily defended targets were somewhat limited. Although islands within
1, 300 miles of Tokyo had been secured, it was necessary to pay a great price for Iwo Jima, 600 miles nearer the objective, in order that the bomber bases might be free from attack and that the bombers might have fighter protection and an emergency landing field. The impact of technology on modern warfare is such as to render generalization and prediction doubly dangerous. Although the carrier task force was the outstanding fighting unit in the advance across the Pacific, if the developments in radar and fighter direction had not occurred when they did, the event would have been far different. On the other side of the picture, had the Germans developed the proxim - ity fuse for antiaircraft fire, the important effect of the heavy bomber in Europe, achieved as it was at great cost in men and effort, might have been drastically reduced. The United States possessed no single weapon sufficiently effective in itself to defeat Japan. All the tools of modern war were used in the advance across the Pacific. The integrated employment of all forces each possessing its specialized weapons and equipment was essential to accomplish the ultinate aim. Each assault clearly demonstrated that we had no single means of destroying the enemy or securing the objective. The extent to which man could protect himself and absorb punishment, particularly from air attack, was a striking feature of World War II and revealed limitations in the capabilities of modern weapons. The fact is that there exists no single science of war. There are many sciences with which war is concerned, but war itself is a practical art and skill. It is impossible ever wholly to anticipate war’s requirements as the experiences of the Germans and the Japanese revealed. Any exclusive adoption of a single weapon or type of weapon immediately limits freedom of action and greatly simplifies the enemy’s probem of defense. War is a phenomenon of immense complexity whose problems are solved pragmatically by hard experience and clear thinking. There is danger that investigation of a single aspect of one war may give rise to an unbalanced interpretation. Limitations are as significant as accoplishments. Certain features of the war in the Pacific, however, are of such importance that they must be considered in any planning for the future:
1. Control of the air was prerequisite to control of the sea.
2. Control of the sea permitted the concentration of carrier air power to control the air, and 53 . for continued the construction of bases necessary local control of the air.
3. Local control of the sea permitted the landing, support, and supply of amphibious forces on hostile shores.
4. General control of the sea was decisive against an enemy dependent on ocean commerce for vital supplies.
5. Control of the sea, including the landing of mililary forces on a hostile shore, was properly a naval function achieved by air, surface, and submarine forces acting in concert.
6. Naval aviation was an integral part of the naval forces and, as such, possessed the especially designed planes and equipment and employed the special tactics necessary to fullfill its role.
7. With control of the sea gained and maintained by the Navy, it was possible for land forces to control large-scale offensive operations and for strategic bombing to destroy enemy's industrial potential at will. Technology is never static, it produces changes in the methods and tactics of warfare, but it does not alter basic concepts of strategy. For centuries control of the sea has permitted a belligerent to remove the field of operations from his own shores and to fight on the territory of an enemy. Since the United States achieved status as a great power in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, it has been three times engaged in war. On each occasion it has been able to carry the confict to the enemy because it possessed control of the sea. Behind a shield of sea power, the country has employed its great resources and industrial machine to build the forces for victory Whether the growing range of bombing aircraft and the greatly increased destructiveness of explosives has made immunity from air attack impossible in the future is arguable. However, the amount of explosive carried will continee to vary inversely with the distance a plane must travel. Each added mile of range increases the opportunity for interception before the attacking aircraft reaches its objective. Although air raids may level cities, they do not lay waste an entire countryside as large-scale land operations do. So long as war remains a possibility, control of the sea will be vital to the national defense. When the Japanese entered the conflict, they had a plan for a war of limited objectives. They seized a perimeter but soon found that it was insufficient for proper defense. In Europe the Germans conquered large amounts of territory but failed to put either England or Russia out of the conflict, and so long as those belligerents remained in the field Hitler could not force a peace. Experience proves that in the modern world there is no such thing as a war of limited T0DAY'S, "SHIP OF THE LINE" New Midway-class Carrier Devloped During the War 54 objectives; there is only total war which ends defeat of one of the with the exhaustion and contestants. Such defeat can best be accomplished by an attack on the enemy’s homeland, the source of his ability to wage war. Against Germany a direct land campaign was required; the Japanese recognized the inevitability of defeat as the strategic air attack was reaching high gear and as the invasion forces were assembling. In offensive air operations the closer the base to the objective the more effective and the less costly will the task be. For the United States this means the establishment of bases supplied by ships, and for the free movement of ships control of the sea is mandatory. Control of the sea will also remain vital to the offfense. Submarines and aircraft, within the limits imposed by range, penetrated enemy-held areas without support. Neither of them could capture and hold territory or supply a beachhead. When the Japanese lost their carriers at Midway the invasion fleet turned back without attempting to land. Control of the air was prerequisite to control of the sea. When United States forces moved across the Central Pacific, they encountered a string of strong, mutually supporting. Japanese air bases which were frequently referred to as so many "unsinkable aircraft carriers." With control of the sea it was possible to concentrate enough "sinkable carriers" to overwhelm and isolate the area under attack and to reduce the Japanese bases to so many unsinkable hulks. After strategic islands had been captured, the freedom of United Stattes ships to sail the ocean made it possible to construct installations and to keep the occupying forces continually supplied with men, equipment, and aircraft, which in turn contributed to control the air in the vicinity. Control of the sea was vital to control of the air. Spanning oceans with loads of atomic explosives may become technolgically possible but will not alter the basic fact that each added mile of range will increase the likelihood of interception and decrease the bomb load of the attacker. As the naval task force found in combating guided missiles in the form of Kamikazes, early warning increases the chance of breaking up a raid. For that reason alone, bases which can only be supplied and held as long as control of the sea is maintained will remain important. In the second place, the belligerent possessing bases closest to an enemy will have the advantages of being able to launch a more concentrated attack with fewer aircraft. Since the United States is not connected by land with any great power, the necessar- y bases must be away from its shores; i. e., in an area where possession can be maintained only by sea communications. the war on an enemy’s territory with all the destruction that such a campaign implies. In the War of 1812, superior sea power allowed the enemy to burn Washington. In two great wars of the twentieth century the United States protected by the Navy was safe from devastation. Except for strategic bombing, in which the Navy did not engage aviation does not function independently. It exists as one of the elements necessary- for control of the land or control of the sea and operates with other forces having the same end in view, and the techniques for control of land and sea are not the same. The experience of other nations shows, and the lessons of the war confirm, that modern warfare is highly specialized and each phase requires its particular aircraft, equipment, and tactic’s, for the use of which special training is necessary. In the United States this has resulted in the creation of separate military and naval air components, capable when the situation demands of operating in support of one another, but each concentrating on the development of planes, equipment, and tactics best suited to its normal sphere of action. In naval warfare the necessity for complete integration of aviation with the other naval
forces was completely demonstrated in the conflict with Japarn. Because naval aircraft used.
Five lessons we learned about Canada in wartime
It is now 115 years since Canada first sent troops overseas to fight. Since the Boer War, we have fought in the Great and Second World Wars the Korean War in some warlike peacekeeping operations as in Cyprus on several occasions in Somalia and the former Yugoslavia peripherally in the first Gulf War then in Kosovo and most recently in Afghanistan. More than 115,000 Canadians have died in service. This country has paid its dues again and again.
But what have we learned from our war experience? What lessons can we draw from a century’s conﬂicts, loss, defeats, and victories?
Historians don’t really believe that there are lessons in history. Assad is not Hitler. Ahmadinejad was not Mussolini, even if he was a dangerous buffoon. The times are never in sync, the people involved always different, the challenges and opportunities never the same. And yet, some things do stand out when we think about Canadians and war. Let me point to five maxims that might be construed as lessons of history.
The first maxim is that we will always fight someone else’s war. Canadians have never been the aggressor, and we will never start a war. We go into battle to be a good, loyal ally. This is not to suggest that Canada’s national interests have not been at stake in our wars, only that they have never been decisive factors in our decision to fight, and we have never considered what they are before we go to war. That was certainly true in South Africa, and true again in 1914—the Dominion was a colony with as much say as the Gold Coast in determining British policy. It was true again in 1939, notwithstanding the Statute of Westminster of 1931, which made Canada as independent in foreign policy as it was in domestic matters. Canadian loyalty to Britain was our reason for going to war, not fear of Nazi aggression. Canadian interests were not directly at risk until the fall of France in June 1940 or, more likely yet, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour on December 7, 1941. This was also true in Korea and Kosovo it was true in Afghanistan, although Canadian national interests are probably more directly involved in the fight against Islamist terrorism than they were in opposing the kaiser and führer in 1914 and 1939. But that is a discussion for another time and place.
Secondly, we will always go to war as part of an alliance, but we will never have much say in shaping alliance strategy. Canada is simply too small a player to get a very loud voice. We had almost no say in the Great War, although prime minister Sir Robert Borden used the Canadian Corps’ battlefield performance to win more autonomy within the Empire. We had almost no voice in Allied strategy in World War II, although Mackenzie King used the nation’s huge war effort to get a role in the combined boards that ran the Allies’s economic war and to establish Canada’s middle power status. We had no say in Korea, none in Kosovo, and none in Afghanistan—except in trying to get other NATO allies to buy into the war and largely failing. The reality is that Canada is a small power, and small powers do not determine the policies of the great. A little realism on the part of our politicians, our media and our people would be useful in assessing our role and responsibilities.
A third and more contentious point: Canada is unlikely to be united in war. The sharp anti-military attitudes of the present have their resonance all through our history. We have never fought a war where Canadians en masse supported the effort. And in truth, in all our wars, one substantial part of the population—with many honourable exceptions—largely opted out, public opinion in French Canada being sharply against participation. This was attributable to a lack of political leadership, not to character. We need to remember that it was a Quebec politician—Louis St. Laurent—who brought Canada into NATO, into the Korean War, and to spending seven per cent of GDP on defence because he was unafraid to lead. We have not had a political leader since 1957 who has done so, not one who has been willing to talk national interests to Quebec instead of pandering to the nationalistes.
Then, preparedness matters. There will be another war. No historian could say otherwise. There has always been war and, barring an extraordinary change in human nature, regrettably, there will always be wars. Thus Canadians either pay for their defence with dollars now or with lives later. The lack of realism, the sense that Canada has only values and no national interests to defend, or at least none we think about, has always meant we are unprepared. We all have fire insurance on our homes against the small chance of a fire, but we refuse to have the national insurance policy that a well-equipped, well-trained military provides. Canadians have never been and are not prepared now. And we will pay in lives yet again. If that doesn’t prove that there are no lessons in history, what could?
Finally, Canadians do well fighting wars once we set our mind to the task. At Vimy, Passchendaele, and in the Hundred Days Offensive at Ortona, the Gothic Line, in Normandy, and at the Scheldt at Kap’yong and Kandahar, Canadian grit, determination, and military skill shone through. Though the losses were terrible, uncommon courage was the norm.
On November 11 each year, some Canadians stop to remember. They all should because we live in freedom and relative peace thanks to those who put their lives on the line for us. We must remember all the men and women who gave their todays for our tomorrows. All Canadians must never forget.
J. L. Granatstein, OC is a Canadian historian who specializes in political and military history. He served in the Canadian Army from 1956 to 1966. His latest book is The Greatest Victory: Canada’s One Hundred Days, 1918. This essay first appeared in Lest We Forget, a booklet accompanying an exhibition of First World War paintings by Charles Pachter on view at the Lieutenant-Governor’s Suite at Ontario’s legislature until June 2015, or through the vice-regal website. Copyright 2014, Office of the Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario.
What lessons did World War II teach? Question of the Week
The Greatest Generation is fading, but is its relevance?
World War II — the world’s deadliest conflict — officially ended on Sept. 2, 1945, when Japan signed a treaty of surrender aboard the USS Missouri (though on Aug. 15, Emperor Hirohito announced Japan’s decision).
As we mark the 70th anniversary of the end of the war, are there lessons — both big and small — that continue to resonate today?
That’s our question of the week.
The end of World War II established a new world order that changed the course of history, but also deeply altered the way Americans understand the world.
In geopolitical ways, the atomic bomb’s mass devastation reshaped how Americans view weapons of war and how they see the state’s responsibility in reconstruction.
How have thoughts shifted as times have changed? Should this inform how America deals with Iran and groups like the Islamic State?
In the ensuing decades the globe has evolved in ways unimaginable to those who toiled in America’s wartime factories or dodged enemy fire from the skies above Europe.
A jihadi thousands of miles away can now recruit American teens to the Islamic State. Hackers can hijack Sony’s internal servers and cause an international crisis. Do advances in technology make knowledge gleaned during World War II obsolete, or are the lessons timeless?
What about notions of patriotism and how Americans view themselves and their country?
During World War II, patriotism swelled, but that wasn’t true during Korea, Vietnam or the Iraq wars. What changed? Was it a loss of innocence in America, a lack of trust in the military or something more?
For veterans who made it home from the war, the GI bill offered promise. Did the GI bill change the course of your family? Or did your family member’s service have a different impact?
Tell us your stories about how World War II shaped you, your family and your understanding of our world today. As importantly, what lessons did it teach?
The overall effort, an example of project-based learning, broke down like this:
World History class studied World War II and learned about the crane tradition.
Theater students studied the play, "A Thousand Cranes," and learned Sadako's story.
English students wrote more than 1,000 messages of hope, love and positivity.
Visual arts students folded all of the messages into more than 1,400 paper cranes.
Theater students hung up the cranes and set up a presentation in the Meraki Gallery.
The gallery exhibit also included a video component created by students with an interest in film.
4 Important Things We Can Learn From History
There is a lot we can learn from history if we’re open to it. Even though our ancestors faced different circumstances, they have faced trials and tribulations that we can identify with. By being a witness to their stories, we’ll benefit from the wisdom they left behind. (Estimated reading time: 7 minutes)
“Learning history is easy, learning it’s lessons seems almost impossibly difficult.”— Nicolas Bentley
“Like a grand and miraculous spaceship, our planet has sailed through the universe of time and for a brief moment we have been among it’s passengers. But where are we going? And what kind of future will we discover there? Surprisingly, the answers lie in our past.”
The eloquent voice of Judi Dench boomed these words through the speakers of our ‘Time Machine’ as we journeyed on Epcot’s Spaceship Earth in Disney World. The ride took us back in time to witness the origins of prehistoric man, then forward through other phases in human history like Ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome, the Industrial Revolution, and many more.
The fifteen-minute ride inside Epcot’s massive geosphere leaves curious passengers spellbound as they marvel at the advancements and breakthroughs in communication that developed throughout history—from the creation of the alphabet to the manufacture of the printing press, all the way through to modern devices like smartphones and the Internet.
As a kid, I found the ride creepy. At various points, you’re enveloped in darkness while in others the animatronics, that look like real people, eerily gaze on you when you’re close enough. But, as a young adult, I grew to appreciate it. The rides broad-brush approach to history left me pondering our progress, and the events that shaped the modern world.
Even a visit to a museum or an archeological site, or reading a work of historical fiction, will make you realize that the road that we walk today is well-worn. For centuries, millions of others have walked where we now walk. We reap the rewards of those who toiled to invent the devices that make our life convenient and enjoy the rights and privileges that they fought hard to obtain.
Even though our ancestors wore different types of clothing and their circumstances were far removed from what we experience today, what connects us to them are the trials and tribulations of the human experience.
Universal themes such as love, victory, pain, and tragedy are echoed in their stories, and they left behind a trail of wisdom from which we can grow.
Every period is a colored timeline, some short, and some long. A big-picture perspective allows you to connect the dots and understand how the impact of decisions made by key figures catapulted humanity to unprecedented change. For example, Rosa Parks, who refused to give up her seat on an Alabama bus to make room for white passengers sparked a revolution in the Civil Rights movement. On the flipside, Hitler’s hateful ideology led to the death of millions.
You get a sense of the complexity of human nature, nations, and institutions, as well as the power dynamics and political maneuvering that continue to evolve. By understanding the macro-trends, perhaps you can start to grasp where the world is heading while knowing that random and unforeseen events, like the French Revolution or 9/11, can shake the foundation and topple our current reality.
Studying history is a humbling undertaking. We realize that life doesn’t revolve around us and that the world is so much bigger than we ever thought it could be. We are only one of the billions of stars in the constellation of humanity, and it’s up to us shine as brightly as we can by understanding the past and using what we learn to shape the future.
In his book Homo Deus, Yuval Noah Harari says that “the best reason to learn history: not in order to predict the future, but to free yourself of the past and imagine alternative destinies.” You can imagine a better destiny when you’re open to seeing the broader economic, cultural, and social trends of the past and applying them to your own life and current social climate.
Although there’s a lot that we can learn from bygone eras, these are the four most important things from history, from which I believe we can benefit:
1. Human trends are cyclical: If we examine history, we’ll see that there are recurring cycles in the fields of economics, finance, social, and political phenomenon. British philosopher, John Gray, said, “we’re not moving to a world in which crises will never happen or will happen less and less. We are in a world in which they happen several times during a given human lifetime, and I think that will continue to be the case in any future that we can realistically envisage.” The events that occur in a given period determine social trends.
For example, during World War II, women’s fashion was conservative and followed military-style designs to honor the soldiers who fought at war. In the 1950’s, outfits became more feminine and accentuated the female figure. When we examine the shifts from one epoch to the next, we can understand where our generation stands and how to capitalize on current trends.
2. Nothing good has ever come from war, greed and violence: Throughout history, wars and battles have been fought by the power-hungry to accumulate more fortune, territory, and influence. Some of the biggest tyrants in history, like Genghis Khan of Mongolia, Henry VIII of England, Ivan the Terrible, and Joseph Stalin have shown what the dark side of human nature is capable of. Too many lives were lost in the name of political and religious ideologies. Innocent people were coldly murdered, tortured, and mistreated.
Even though we’re endowed with the ability to reason and exercise self-control, humans have allowed their reptilian instincts of fear and greed to cloud their judgment. What we see in every case, from the tribal wars fought during the Neolithic period to the more recent World Wars, that the end result is bloodshed and broken hearts. When we see the futility in defending with violence, we can choose to eradicate it as a means for protection, and use peace instead.
3. Progress is spearheaded by the brave and unconventional: It takes a special type of person to pierce through the veil of darkness and ignorance of their times. These are the innovators who created marvelous machinery and new technology, and the revolutionaries who shook things up and broke the mold of convention. When we look at the lives of luminaries such as Gandhi, Einstein, Mandela, Da Vinci, and Steve Jobs, we’ll see that they followed unconventional paths and had beliefs that were considered radical by their contemporaries.
It was their self-belief and passion for their causes that set them apart from others. They were trailblazers who showed us what’s possible if we’re willing to act on our dreams and channel our strengths into endeavors that would benefit us, our communities, and the wider world. Nothing extraordinary can come from playing it safe.
4. We are a product of the times in which we’re born: When we study history, we’ll see that each period represents a chapter in human history. When you think of the ancient Egyptians, what comes to mind are pyramids, hieroglyphics, tombs filled with treasure, and mummies. The Elizabethan era brings up images of Shakespeare, gowns made of brocade covered in intricate designs, and of course Queen Elizabeth herself, the 1970s will make you think of discotheques, bell bottoms, and hippies. Similarly, we’re living in a phase in history that’s characterized by certain fashion styles, world events, social ideologies, and technological milestones.
We have to understand that we’re merely a product of our times. Whether we realize it or not, our values and tastes are influenced by the zeitgeist. Instead of getting caught up in the bubble of our generation, be aware of how much your personality is your own and how much is a part of the collective. By becoming conscious of this, you’ll understand the deeper motives and psychology of our times and use that knowledge to stand out and appeal to the sensibilities of others.
The best part about studying history is that we get a sense of perspective, and we understand our place in the vast ocean of time. You’ll begin to appreciate why things happened the way that they did in the past and see the larger purpose. Even though the tide is always moving and nothing will ever stand still, eventually everything moves us forward toward our own, personal evolution.
All my best on your journey,
Reflection Question: What are some important lessons that you have learned from history and how did it shift your perspective?
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Lessons Learned From WW2 - History
Roosevelt, who served as U.S. president from 1933-1945, tried to avoid U.S. involvement in World War II but changed course after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He partnered with Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and China to defeat Germany and its allies.
Born in 1929, Frank was 13 years old when she and her Jewish family were forced into hiding in the Netherlands to avoid Nazi persecution. They were discovered two years later and sent to concentration camps, where Frank died. After the war, her father published her diary, which has been read by millions of people.
Hitler ruled Germany from 1933 to 1945 and led the Nazi Party. He sought to reestablish Germany as a leading power in Europe by seizing land from other countries and eliminating European Jews. Hitler killed himself on April 30, 1945, after realizing he faced certain defeat.
As prime minister of Great Britain during World War II, Churchill gave powerful speeches and famously resisted tyranny. He is largely credited with Britain’s decision to ally with the United States and the Soviet Union--a strategy that helped end the war.
Supplemental resources that link to external websites about World War II
The National Archives' collection of more than 200 World War II photographs, organized by topic
The History Channel: World War II
Film footage, interactives, and articles related to the war
An interactive history of World War II told through artifacts and images
Terms and definitions that pertain to World War II
discrimination against Jews
a prison or place of forced labor often a general term that includes death camps specifically designed by the Nazis as mass killing centers during World War II
a part of a city in which members of a minority race or group live, usually in poor conditions
the mass slaughter of millions of Jews and other people by the Nazis during World War II
a place where enemies or suspected enemies are held
a member of a political party, led by Adolf Hitler from 1920 to 1945, that was dedicated to German dominance of Europe and the destruction of Jews
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narvikk/Getty Images (Plane) Illustration by Dave Seeley (Pearl Harbor) Bettmann/Getty Images (code talkers) Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images (internment camp) Courtesy Sarah Kaminsky (forging materials) Hulton Archive/Getty Images (FDR) Anne Frank Fonds Basel/Getty Images (Anne Frank) Bettmann/Getty Images (Adolf Hitler) Fox Photos/Getty Images (Winston Churchill)
How is WW2 taught in Germany from students:
Read the participants accounts below.
When you grow up here and you are still rather young, you get the sense that you (as in Germans) fucked up in the past and its a lingering feeling but you are too young to understand or make sense of it. As in you might wave to someone with your right arm and hold it up to long and someone scolds you for it or a parent quickly tells you to lower your arm and they try to tell you why.
In short, every German student has at least 5+ years of history that is either directly or indirectly about WW2 and it’s effects on the world we live in today. I can only speak of my personal experience which to make this easier to understand was 4 years in the Grundschule, followed by 6 years on the Realschule and topped of by 2 years on the FOS. (currently studying but there is no real impact).
Of these 12 Years, I had History lessons starting at 6th grade officially. Something you quickly learn is that the education system, at least where i was, had a very heavy focus on WW2 and the DDR (google Berlin Wall if in doubt). We had 2 years in which we had the whole history from the Stone Age to the Great War (WW1).
The next years we intensely learned everything from the stability of Germany after WW1, the Nazis rise to power, and WW2 itself.
When i mean intensely, I mean we started in the 1920’s and worked ourself towards the war staying at specific events for long periods of times, such as the “Hitlerputsch” and later the “Kristallnacht”.
The war itself was explained from one front to the next and we jumped a lot, but the largest focus was on the “German Perspective”. We learned about Partisanen, Yugoslavia, the Pacific War, etc., later.
We had debates and where shown documents or videos about each topic. Looking back what struck me as weird, was we covered WW2 in large parts and there where hints here and there about war crimes. But they waited till 9th Grade and then unloaded a shit tonne of information on us stretched over months. (maybe they thought we where too young before).
I felt ill more than once after the X video was shown to us in which mass graves or Detention Camps where shown. I visited the Concentration Camp Dachau (and another smaller camp) with my school and there was a heavy focus on us knowing what exactly happened there, starting with numerous videos on people entering the camp and the piles of bodies.
I know it wasn’t meant as such by the teachers, but you feel like a piece of shit. Walking through a place in which countless lives have been ruined by your ancestors and you feel that weight, or it comes back. I still feel shitty whenever someone calls me a Nazi or accuses the Germans of being racist war criminals.
All in all, I feel it was important that we had such a big focus on it, since i honestly believe in the statement, that those who don’t learn about history will repeat it.
Without WW2 Germany wouldn’t be as liberal or openminded as it is today (starting to regret that statement thanks to the rise of the AfD & NPD in the Refugeecrisis).xTyrez –
We spend about a year in school talking about it. Writing it all down is going to take pretty long lol.
One important thing to point out – we spend a lot of time explaining why everything happened like what was going on in Germany and everyone else that actually ended up causing WWII.
Not as an excuse, but more as an attempt of making us understand how everything got so fucked up.TheMadDoc
German here, we learn as much as possible about it. The general atmosphere in Europe that led to the nazis rise to power, how they were able to take control of the government, the major battles and figures who are associated with the war and of course the Holocaust.
Most schools include visits to at least one concentration camp during field excursions (I have been to Auschwitz, Buchenwald and Theresienstadt) and there is a very interesting art project called Stolperstein, which indicates where jews were persecuted in Germany. In a nutshell, you know how Americans always say ‘Never forget’ when it comes to 9/11? Most Germans are like that with World War 2 and the Holocaust.okelwombat
Five Lessons from History
The most important lessons from history are the takeaways that are so broad they can apply to other fields, other eras, and other people. That’s where lessons have leverage and are most likely to apply to your own life.
But those things take some digging to find, often sitting layers below the main story.
The Great Depression began with a stock market crash. October 24th, 1929. That’s the story, at least.
It makes for a good story because it’s a specific event on a specific day. But if you were to go back to October 1929, during the crash, the average American might seem unfazed. Only 2.5% of Americans owned stocks in 1929.
The huge majority of Americans watched in amazement as the market collapsed, and perhaps lost a sense of hope that they, too, might someday cash in on Wall Street. But that was all they lost: a dream. They did not lose any money because they had no money invested.
The real pain came nearly two years later, when the banks started to fail.
Just over 500 U.S. banks failed in 1929. Twenty-three hundred failed in 1931.
When banks fail, people lose their savings. When they lose their savings they stop spending. When they stop spending businesses fail. When businesses fail, banks fail. When banks fail people lose their savings. And so on endlessly.
The stock market crash wasn’t a relevant lesson to the vast majority of Americans who didn’t own stocks in 1929 and likely never would. But the bank failures upended the day-to-day lives of tens of millions of Americans. That’s the real story of how the Depression began.
As we look back at the Depression 90 years later, you might think the main lesson is “don’t let the banks fail.” And it’s a good lesson.
But it’s also a lesson that’s not useful to many people today.
I’m not a banker or a regulator. So what can I do with a lesson like “don’t let the banks fail?”
And does it even apply to bank regulators in 2019, when things like FDIC insurance now lower the odds of repeating the kind of consumer bank runs we saw in the 1930s?
The point is that the more specific a lesson of history is, the less relevant it becomes. That doesn’t mean it’s irrelevant. But the most important lessons from history are things that are so fundamental to the behaviors of so many people that they’re likely to apply to you and situations you’ll face in your own lifetime.
Let me offer one of those lessons from the Great Depression. I think it’s one of the most important lessons of history:
Lesson #1: People suffering from sudden, unexpected hardship are likely to adopt views they previously thought unthinkable.
One of the most fascinating parts of the Great Depressions isn’t just that the economy collapsed, but how quickly and dramatically people’s views changed when it did.
Americans voted Herbert Hoover into office in 1928 with one of the biggest landslides in history (444 electoral college votes). They voted him out in 1932 with a landslide in the other direction (59 electoral college votes).
Then the big changes began.
The gold standard, gone. Gold actually became illegal to own.
Attempts to provide taxpayer-funded old-age pension insurance made no progress for decades, with supporters arrested on the Capitol lawn during the most serious push after World War I. The Depression practically flipped a switch: a fringe idea was suddenly embraced. The Social Security Act was passed in 1935 372 to 33 in the House of Representatives, and 77 to 6 in the Senate.
On the other side of this was an alleged coup by wealthy businessmen to overthrow Franklin Roosevelt, with a Marine General named Smedley Butler taking his place as dictator, similar to fascist trends sweeping Europe at the time.
These are not the kind of things that occur when people are sleeping well and have stable jobs. It’s not until your life is upended, your hopes dashed, your dreams uncertain that people begin taking ideas they’d never consider before seriously.
Nowhere was this more powerful than in Germany, where the Great Depression was preceded by a devastating hyperinflation that destroyed all paper wealth.
The book What We Knew interviews German civilians after World War II, seeking to understand how one of the most civilized cultures turned so sharp, so quickly, and committed the worst atrocities in history:
[Interviewer]: At the beginning of this interview, you said that most grown-ups welcomed Hitler’s measures.
[German civilian]: Yes, clearly. One has to remember that in 1923 we had the inflation … nobody had anything, everybody was unhappy. Then Adolf came to power with his new idea. For most that was indeed better. People who hadn’t had a job for years had a job. And then the people were all for the system. When someone helps you get out of an emergency situation and into a better life, then you’re going to give them your support. Do you think people would then say, “This is all such nonsense. I’m against that”? No. That doesn’t happen. How things were done later on is something else. But the people at that time were happy, even full of enthusiasm, and they all joined in.
These are some of the most extreme examples that exist. But the idea that people who are under stress quickly embracing ideas and goals they never would during calm times has left its fingerprints all over history.
In investing, saying “I will be greedy when others are fearful” is easier said than done, because people underestimate how much their views and goals can change when markets fall apart.
The reason you may embrace ideas and goals you once thought unthinkable during a downturn is because more changes during downturns than just asset prices.
If I, today, imagine how I’d respond to stocks falling 30%, I picture a world where everything is like it is in 2019 except stock valuations, which are 30% cheaper.
But that’s not how the world works.
Downturns don’t happen in isolation. The reason stocks might fall 30% is because big groups of people, companies, and politicians screwed something up, and their screw ups might sap my confidence in our ability to recover. So my investment priorities might shift from growth to preservation. It’s difficult to contextualize this mental shift when the economy is booming. That’s why more people say they’ll be greedy when others are fearful than actually do it.
The same idea holds true for companies, careers, and relationships. Hard times make people do and think things they’d never imagine when things are calm.
Lesson #2: Reversion to the mean occurs because people persuasive enough to make something grow don’t have the kind of personalities that allow them to stop before pushing too far.
What kind of person makes their way to the top of a successful company, or a big country?
Someone who is determined, optimistic, doesn’t take “no” for an answer, and is relentlessly confident in their own abilities.
What kind of person is likely to go overboard, bite off more than they can chew, and discount risks that are blindingly obvious to others?
Someone who is determined, optimistic, doesn’t take “no” for an answer, and is relentlessly confident in their own abilities.
Reversion to the mean is one of the most common stories in history. It’s the main character in economies, markets, countries, companies, careers – everything.
Part of the reason it happens is because the same personality traits that push people to the top also increase the odds of pushing them over the edge.
This is true for countries, particularly empires. A country determined to expand by acquiring more land is unlikely to be run a person capable of saying, “OK, that’s enough. Let’s be thankful for what we have and stop invading other countries.” They’ll keep pushing until they meet their match (usually Russia).
It’s true for companies. The kind of corporate culture that lets companies dominate an industry is not friendly to people who say, “I think we’ve grown too fast. Maybe we should scale back.” They’ll keep pushing until they’re forced to make painful cuts.
It’s true for investors. The kind of personality willing to take enough risks to earn outsized returns is generally not compatible with the kind of personality willing to shift everything into muni bonds once they’ve made enough money. They’ll keep taking risks until those risks backfire. It’s why the Forbes list of billionaires has 60% turnover per decade.
Long-term success in any endeavor requires two tasks: Getting something, and keeping it. Getting rich and staying rich. Getting market share and keeping market share.
These things are not only separate tasks, but often require contradictory skills. Getting something often requires risk-taking and confidence. Keeping it often requires room for error and paranoia. Sometimes a person masters both skills – Warren Buffett is a good example. But it’s rare. Far more common is big success occurring because a person had a set of traits that also come at the direct cost of keeping their success. Which is why downside reversion to the mean is such a repeating theme in history.
Take the best current example: Elon Musk.
What kind of 32-year-old thinks they can take on GM, Ford, and NASA at the same time? The kind of person who thinks normal constraints don’t apply to them – not in an egotistical way, but in a genuine, believe-it-in-your-bones way. Which is also the kind of person who doesn’t worry about, say, SEC rulings about your Twitter etiquette.
The kind of person who says there’s a 99.9999% chance humanity is a computer simulation is not the kind of person worried about making untenable promises to shareholders.
A mindset that can dump a personal fortune into colonizing Mars is not the kind of mindset that worries about the downsides of hyperbole.
Musk is a visionary genius. He’s an extraordinary engineer. He’s a lot of amazing things. But the same traits that have fueled success have counteracting sides that make keeping that success a challenge, which partly explains Tesla’s current state.
History is full of these things in varying degrees. At some level they apply to all of us because the successes we have – at any level – trigger behaviors that can make keeping those successes difficult. Overconfidence. Over-optimism. Cherry-picking.
Jason Zweig summed this up so well: “Being right is the enemy of staying right because it leads you to forget the way the world works.”
Lesson #3: Unsustainable things can last longer than you anticipate.
There’s a long history of military leaders following a logic that goes like this: “The enemy is outnumbered. They are out-gunned. We are gaining ground each day. Their morale will soon break and, accepting reality, they will surrender.”
And then that outnumbered, out-gunned enemy keeps fighting, and fighting, and fighting. Sometimes to the last man.
A rational person might look at this and say, “Why are they still fighting? It’s unsustainable, and they have to know it.”
But wars often aren’t governed by spreadsheets and clean reasoning. During the Vietnam War, Ho Chi Minh put it bluntly: “You will kill ten of us, and we will kill one of you, but it is you who will tire first.”
Identifying that something is unsustainable does not provide much information on when that thing will stop. To tie this into the last lesson: Knowing there will be a reversion to the mean does not mean you know when things will revert. Unsustainable things can sustain for a long time.
There are two reasons why. One is incentives. The other is storytelling.
If you looked at the U.S. housing market in 2003 and said, “Prices are too high. Growth is being fueled by low interest rates that are going to rise soon. This is unsustainable,” you were 100% right.
But the housing market kept rising for another four years. Bankers kept lending, buyers kept buying.
Put yourself in the shoes of a subprime mortgage broker in 2003. Your job was to make loans. Feeding your family relied on you making loans. And if you didn’t make those loans, someone else would, so quitting in protest just lowers your pay and hurts you more than it hurts anyone else. Plus, that pay was huge. Rule of thumb: The more unsustainable an industry gets, the more it relies on inexperienced workers pulled from less prosperous industries to expand. Exposed to pay they couldn’t dream of before, those workers become more susceptible to looking the other way as their industries go off the rails.
True story about a guy I knew well: A pizza delivery man who became a subprime mortgage banker in 2005. Virtually overnight he could earn more per day than the earned per month delivering pizza. The bar for him to say, “This is unsustainable so I’m going to quit and deliver pizza again” is unbelievably high. It would be high for most of us. I didn’t blame him then, and I don’t blame him now. A lot of people screwed up during the financial crisis. But an unpopular view I have is that most of us underestimate the extent to which we’d act similarly if we wandered into the same incentive pool.
This goes up the food chain, from the broker to the CEO, the investors, the real estate appraiser, the realtor, the house flipper, the politician, the central banker – incentives lean heavily towards not rocking the boat. So everyone keeps paddling long after the market becomes unsustainable.
Then there’s the storytelling.
If enough people believe something is true, unsustainable ideas can gain durable life support.
Stories are more powerful than statistics because they take less effort for your brain to contextualize complex issues.
“Housing prices in relation to median incomes are now above their historic average and typically mean revert,” is a statistic.
“Jim just made $300,000 flipping homes and can now retire early and his wife thinks he’s amazing” is a story. And it’s way more persuasive in the moment.
It’s more persuasive because the gap between what works in a spreadsheet and what’s practical in real life can be a mile wide. This usually isn’t because we don’t know the statistics. It’s because spreadsheets are cold and rational, but real life is messy and involves all kinds of variables from different parts of the world that are easy to leave out of spreadsheets but easy to tell in stories.
On paper, or to outside observers, decisions should be made with facts. In reality, to those in the field, they’re made with facts contextualized with things like social signaling, time horizon, office politics, government politics, year-end bonus targets, making up for past mistakes, massaging insecurities, and so on. There are so many moving parts that the easiest way to answer the question “What should I do?” is to be guided by a story that makes sense to you. Not a statistic, and not a fact. A good tale.
That’s not ideal. But it’s realistic and reasonable. And it helps explain why people keep doing things long after they’re factually unsustainable.
The solution is knowing the difference between expectations and forecasts. The former are good, the latter should be used sparingly. The difference between “That looks unsustainable so I don’t want to be a part of it,” and “That looks unsustainable so I’m going to bet that it will end by Q1 2020” is enormous.
Lesson #4: Progress happens too slowly for people to notice setbacks happen too fast for people to ignore.
There are lots of overnight tragedies. There are rarely overnight miracles.
On January 5th, 1889, the Detroit Free Press pushed back against the long-held dream that man could one day fly like a bird. Airplanes, the paper wrote, “appears impossible”:
The smallest possible weight of a flying machine, with the necessary fuel and engineer, could not be less than 300 or 400 pounds … but there is a low limit of weight, certainly not much beyond fifty pounds, beyond which it is impossible for an animal to fly. Nature has reached this limit, and with her utmost effort has failed to pass it.
Six months later, Orville Wright dropped out of high school to help his brother, Wilbur, tinker in their backyard shed to build a printing press. It was the brothers’ first joint project. It would not be their last.
If you had to make a list of the most important inventions of the 20th century, the airplane would be at least top five, if not number one. The airplane changed everything. It started world wars, it ended world wars. It connected the world, bridging gaps between cities and rural communities oceans and countries.
But the story of the Wright Brothers’ quest to build the first plane has a fascinating twist. After they conquered flight, no one seemed to notice. Nobody seemed to care.
In his 1952 book on American history, Frederick Lewis Allen wrote:
Several years went by before the public grasped what the Wrights were doing people were so convinced that flying was impossible that most of those who saw them flying about Dayton [Ohio] in 1905 decided that what they had seen must be some trick without significance – somewhat as most people today would regard a demonstration of, say, telepathy. It was not until May, 1908 – nearly four and a half years after the Wright’s first flight – that experienced reporters were sent to observe what they were doing, experienced editors gave full credence to these reporters’ excited dispatches, and the world at last woke up to the fact that human flight had been successfully accomplished.
Even after people caught on to the plane’s wonder, they underestimated it for years.
First it was seen mainly as a military weapon. Then a rich person’s toy. Then, perhaps, used to transport a few people.
The Washington Post wrote in 1909: “There will never be such a thing as commercial aerial freighters. Freight will continue to drag its slow weight across the patient earth.” The first cargo plane took off five months later.
Now compare that slow, years-long awakening to how quickly people pay attention to a corporate bankruptcy.
Or a plane crash. Some of the first mentions of the Wright’s plane came in 1908 when an Army Lieutenant named Thomas Selfridge was killed during a demonstration flight.
Growth is driven by compounding, which always takes time. Destruction is driven by single points of failure, which can happen in seconds, and loss of confidence, which can happen in an instant.
The irony is that growth – if you can stick around – is a more powerful force, because it compounds. But setbacks capture greater attention because they happen suddenly.
If you want to measure the progress of medicine, looking at the last year will do you little good. Any single decade won’t do much better. But looking at the last 50 years will show something extraordinary – the age-adjusted death rate per capita from heart disease has declined more than 70% since 1965, according to the National Institute of Health. A 70% decline in heart-disease death is enough to save something like half a million American lives per year. Picture the population of Atlanta saved every year. But since that progress happened so slowly, it captures less attention than quick, sudden losses like terrorism or plane crashes. We could have a Hurricane Katrina five times a week, every week – imagine how much attention that would receive – and it would not offset the number of annual lives saved by the decline in heart disease in the last 50 years.
This same thing applies to businesses, where it takes years to realize how important a product or company is, but failures can happen overnight.
And in markets, where a 40% decline that takes place in six months will draw congressional investigations, but a 140% gain that takes place over six years can go virtually unnoticed.
And in careers, where reputations take a lifetime to build and a single email to destroy.
Understanding the speed differences between growth and loss explains a lot of things, from why pessimism is seductive to why long-term thinking is so hard.
Lesson #5: Wounds heal, scars last.
More than thirty million people – about the population of California – died over four years on the Eastern Front during World War II. The dozen or so territories that made up the Soviet republic represented about 10% of the world’s population in 1940. By 1945, 13.7% of that group was dead. Forty thousand villages were completely destroyed.
But most of the physical damage was cleared away and rebuilt by 1960. There are stories of people still finding bones, bullets, and bombs today. But the physical damage of the war was cleaned up. Industries rebuilt. People reorganized. Total Soviet population surpassed its pre-war level less than a decade after the war ended.
This trend was more powerful in Japan, whose economy opened up to global markets after the war. In 1946 Japan was producing enough food to provide only 1,000 calories a day for its people. By 1960 it was one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. Its GDP increased from $91 billion in 1965 to $1.1 trillion in 1980, with technology and manufacturing rivaling and surpassing any other region in the world.
The same is true for recessions things heal. And markets – things recover. And businesses – past mistakes are forgotten.
Those who survive calamities – an important distinction – have a remarkable ability to adapt and rebuild. It’s often far greater than you expect it to be at the end of the calamity.
But there’s a big difference between a wound healing and a scar remaining.
There’s a long history of people adapting and rebuilding while the scars of their ordeal remain forever, changing how they think about risk, reward, opportunities, and goals for as long as they live.
A study of 20,000 people from 13 countries who lived through World War II were 3% more likely to have diabetes as adults and 6% more likely to suffer depression. Compared to those who avoid the war, they were less likely to marry and less satisfied with their lives as older adults.
In 1952 Frederick Lewis Allen wrote about those who lived through the Great Depression:
[They] were gnawed at by a constant lurking fear of worse things yet, and in all too many cases actually went hungry but because what was happening to them seemed without rhyme or reason.
Most of them had been brought up to feel that if you worked hard and well, and otherwise behaved yourself, you would be rewarded by good fortune. Here were failure and defeat and want visiting the energetic along with the feckless, the able along with the unable, the virtuous along with the irresponsible. They found their fortunes interlocked with those of great numbers of other people in a pattern complex beyond their understanding, and apparently developing without reason or justice.
Even if they tried to hide their dismay, their children sensed it and were marked by it. The editors of Fortune wrote in 1936: “The present-day college generation is fatalistic . . . it will not stick its neck out. It keeps its pants buttoned, its chin up, and its mouth shut. If we take the mean average to be the truth, it is a cautious, subdued, unadventurous generation. . . .”
As time went on there was a continuing disposition among Americans old and young to look with a cynical eye upon the old Horatio Alger formula for success to be dubious about taking chances for ambition’s sake to look with a favorable eye upon a safe if unadventurous job, social insurance plans, pension plans. They had learned from bitter experience to crave security.
They had learned from bitter experience to crave security. This, again, was written in the 1950s, when the U.S. economy was roaring and the unemployment rate was near a record-low of less than 3%.
It is too easy to examine history and say, “Look, if you just held on and took a long-term view, things recovered and life went on,” without realizing that mindsets are harder to repair than buildings and cash flows.
We can see and measure just about everything in the world except people’s moods, fears, hopes, grudges, goals, triggers, and expectations. That’s partly why history is such a continuous chain of baffling events, and always will be.
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Lessons from history in a war letter from Okinawa
Editor’s Note: The following letter written by Lieutenant WM Foster to his father, Walter Foster of Clackamas will give the reader some idea of what our boys in the Pacific are undergoing. Lt Foster was stationed in the Pacific.
If you receive a notice that I was wounded on the 17 th of June please don’t worry about it, as I am getting along fine and expect to come back to the states soon.
I’ll try to explain to you the way that it happened and I want to assure you I consider myself one of the luckiest guys in the world.
I was carrying a grenade on my shoulder strap and a sniper’s bullet hit it, causing it to detonate. It took about four inches out of my right arm between the elbow and the shoulder and as result my arm was taken off just below the shoulder. Otherwise I am uninjured and doing fine.
I say I’m very fortunate because you can well imagine the results if the grenade had blown toward my chest. I am now on a hospital ship and receiving the best of care. As yet, I don’t know where I’ll be sent upon arrival in the states, but I’ll keep you informed all along.
This isn’t bothering me and I hope you folks at home will take it the same way. Please tell the folks around home, as I won’t get too many letters written.
One of the boys in the ward wrote this for me as I didn’t want to write it left-handed.
I wrote this for Wall and I can honestly say he’s in wonderful spirits and taking it fine. His chief concern is the folks back home and he doesn’t want you to worry in the least.
Lt. Walter Foster’s US Army ID. Photo: Courtesy the Foster family
That was 75 years ago this month.
My father’s name was Walter and his wife and friends called him Walt, but he must have gone by Wally, or Wall for short, when he was in the army. The newspaper made one mistake: His middle initial was not M but W, for Winfield.
Walter Foster’s war
A longshoreman and dynamite truck driver on road building projects before the war, Dad, like millions of Americans, signed up after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, volunteering for “the duration plus six months.”
His training included the Officers’ Rifle and Heavy Weapons Course at Fort Benning, Georgia. In January 1943, he entered active duty as an infantry platoon leader in L Company, 32 nd Infantry Regiment, 7 th Infantry Division. A troop ship carried him the long way around the South Pacific, eventually arriving at New Caledonia.
The story he told us of the first three years in uniform was a classic military one of “Hurry up and wait” – though he also had some very derogatory comments about the Vichy French in Noumea.
Then came a stint clearing tunnels after the Battle of Iwo Jima. After that, he was pitched into combat as US troops stormed Okinawa.
The battle for the island was horrific in its intensity. Offshore, the US Navy was pounded by Japan’s most terrifying weapon: the kamikaze or suicide attack. Onshore, the Japanese fought from limestone caves, linked by tunnels, and used stone funeral vaults as machine gun positions. Dug-in artillery and mortars were pre-positioned to chew up attackers.
Much fighting was at close range, with hand grenades and a particularly hideous weapon the Americans used to clear dug-in Japanese: the flamethrower. To be caught in its arc, in Japanese parlance, meant “being fried like a chicken.”
It was a grinding affair. The 7 th Infantry Division took seven days to advance just six kilometers. The Americans moved during the day at night, the Japanese would attempt to infiltrate their lines. Men lived in waterlogged holes as the tropical rains broke, mid-battle.
On August 3, 1945, Dad was awarded a Purple Heart “for wounds received as result of action against the enemy.” Despite the loss of an arm, he was indeed lucky.
According to historian Anthony Beevor, 7,613 US ground troops were killed and 31,807 wounded in the “Typhoon of Steel” that was the Battle of Okinawa, which lasted from April 1 to June 22. Of their enemies, 107,539 Japanese soldiers were killed, though many were missing in action – lost in collapsed caves or tunnels, or simply obliterated.
The most tragic victims were 149,425 civilians – half the local population – who were killed or ordered to commit suicide by the Japanese military.
That hideous butcher’s bill – and the anticipated carnage in the invasion of the southern Japanese home island Kyushu – were factors in the US decision to drop the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Echoes of war
Dad returned to Oregon in 1946 after several months in hospital and learned to write with his left hand. After graduating from Oregon State University and Willamette Law School, he embarked on a long career as a trial lawyer, district attorney and district judge for Polk County, Oregon.
He didn’t talk much about the war while my brother, sister and I were growing up, but he did tell us a few stories.
Following the Marines to Iwo Jima after the battle, Dad and his comrades searched Japanese tunnels – there were 25 kilometers of them honeycombing the fortress island – to see if an enemy were still hiding (as many were). In one tunnel, they came to a sharp bend and threw a grenade around it just in case – a prudent operational procedure. After the explosion, they rounded the corner to discover the nose of an unexploded shell poking through the ceiling.
Some of his memories were jocular.
On Iwo Jima, which is volcanic, Dad and his buddies buried 50-gallon drums full of seawater in the sand, waited until they were boiling hot, then washed clothes. And on Okinawa, after smearing mud over the number of their truck, they stood in another group’s line and made off with a stash of beer.
But other anecdotes made clear the callousness and grimness of those days.
Ambushing a Japanese patrol, the machine gunner mowed them all down as soon as they got within range. One of the guys said, “Gee, you didn’t even say ‘Halt!’” And Dad recalled jumping over a log and landing ankle deep in a rotting corpse that made a mess of his boots.
About war in general, his advice was terse: “Don’t let it happen here.”
Like many veterans, old habits died hard. Once, when I once ran over a croquet wicket with the lawnmower and a small piece of metal hit him in the leg, he yelled “Hit the deck!” He subsequently told us, “Whenever I give you an order, do what I say immediately, no questions asked.”
And for many years, he could not abide Japanese. When the family decided to invite a foreign exchange student to our house in Oregon for the last year of high school, he used the argot of the time to specifically request “No Japs.” We were assigned – and he welcomed – a German girl.
Despite Dad’s experience, I did not bear a grudge against Japan. Rather, I was motivated to study Japanese history, which I found interesting. And captivated by the sound of Japanese bamboo flute, I decided to go to Japan to learn how to play it. That led me to study Japan and Japanese, and eventually landed me a related consulting career in the country.
After I had moved to Tokyo, Dad visited – and discovered that he rather liked the place and the people. He admired the clean, orderly, modern city built by his former enemies, and their economic energies.
When I married a Japanese, he got along very well with her father, who told him, “Good thing I fought in Manchuria. We might have killed each other!”
The lesson of history
My father’s story comes to mind whenever someone says or writes that the Covid-19 pandemic – still less than a year old – is an unbearable tragedy or “the worst crisis since World War II.”
It’s not. And the comparison is self-indulgent.
Mankind’s most terrible war finished 75 years ago this Saturday, with Japan’s August 15 surrender. In the days, weeks, months and years prior to that date, somewhere between 70 million and 85 million people died in it.
Large swathes of Eastern and Western Europe, the USSR, China, Southeast Asia and Japan were totally destroyed. Millions didn’t hear from family members and friends for months, for years – or forever.
For Americans and Soviets, the war started in 1941. For Europeans, it started in 1939. For Japanese and Chinese, it started in 1937. And it would not be the war to end all wars. The Chinese Civil War, which bracketed the Japanese invasion, continued for 22 years, from 1927 to 1949. The Korean War, a result of the peninsula’s division at the end of World War II, raged from 1950-53 and – on paper, at least – is still not concluded.
The people who lived through these conflicts were forced to accumulate reserves of endurance and fortitude that are not evident in today’s populations, particularly in the United States.
We should think about them when we feel annoyed at having to put on a mask, wash our hands with alcohol at the supermarket, skip that after-work drink with friends or postpone foreign travel.
Yes, Covid-19 is a bad thing. But the lesson that history teaches us, as we approach the anniversary of Japan’s surrender on August 15, is that matters could be far, far worse.
Former Lieutenant Walter Foster, 7 th Infantry Division, passed away at his home in Oregon in 2010, two months short of his 90th birthday.
What We Learn from Women Who Fought in the WWII
I love foreign war movies, especially ones from Russia.
I used to be a WWII history buff, particularly for the European Theater. My war history passion led me to travel to Poland twice to visit the famous war monuments, museums, and sites.
One day, I stumbled across Russian war movies on the Amazon. I finished one and started watching another then I continued watching different series and stories. I was quite pleased with the quality of many films for acting, story development, and historical background. Plus, good-looking actors (actresses) are always helpful. (Yes, Russians are quite good looking)
I noticed that many Russian war films show women soldiers, which seems to be more common than those made in other countries. The Soviet Union (former Russia) had many females in the military, as I found.
Most of the women started in the medical units however, many of them enlisted in the army or air force. By the end of WWII, over 800,000 women served in the Soviet armed forces. (Source: Wikipedia).
Over 800,000 women serviced in the military, and it was the highest among any countries during the war.
The idea of allowing women to join the military didn’t take place until 1941, when Germany invaded the Soviet Union. Immediately after Germany’s invasion, the Soviets quickly had to seek as many volunteers as possible, regardless of gender. Many women volunteered purely from their Patriotic duty.
Here are three movies/series that I enjoyed most.
This film was about Lyudmila Mikhailovna Pavlichenko, a Russian female sniper who killed 309 Germans during “The Siege of Sevastopol.”
“The Siege of Sevastopol” was the critical key event that divided the fate of the Soviets in the early stage of WWII. It lasted for approximately one year (1941–1942), and the Soviets suffered a considerable loss. In the end, the major defeat gave Nazi Germany to gain access to advancing towards Southern Russia.
The film started with Eleanor Roosevelt’s narrative memoir when she visited the Soviet Union in 1957. Her narration was about a young lady named, Pavlichenko. Pavlichenko came to America in 1942 with a special mission to request FDR to provide the additional war efforts to Stalin, which he needed desperately to sweep the European Continent against the Nazis.
The remarkable scenes of Pavlichenko shooting Germans with her incredible skill, along with her romantic affair with her comrade, bring both her strong endurance and vulnerability as a woman at the same time.
Polina Gagarina, who was the runner-up of the 2015 Euro Vision contest, sang the beautiful theme song.
2. The Dawns Here Are Quiet (2015)–Original Title: A zori zdes tikhie
The film is the four-part series of a remake of a 1972 film based on the novel with the same title.
The story is about a Sergeant major who commands his team of inexperienced females at the anti-craft defense post. The Sergent picked five girls to form a group to hunt for Germans who landed nearby. As their journey proceeds, their fate is fading away slowly.
The most notable part of this film was that those girls were just common individuals who lived very ordinary lives before entering the unit. Their lives changed drastically because of war, and the development of each story was genius. Their lives’ contrasts played out so eloquently that reminded me of how war changes our lives completely.
3. The Night Swallows (2013) — Original title: Nochnye lastochk
In October 1941, Stalin ordered to form a special all-woman aviation unit (later, it’s known as “Taman” Guards) to conduct secret bombing campaigns. The company flew over 20,000 missions all together by the end of WWII.
“Night Witches” (German: die Nachthexen Russian: Ночные ведьмы, Nochnyye Vedmy) was a World War II German nickname for the all-female military pilots of the 588th Night Bomber Regiment, known later as the 46th “Taman” Guards Night Bomber Aviation Regiment, of the Soviet Air Forces. (Source: Wikipedia)
While the film was based on a true story, the characters were all made up. Nevertheless, the entire stories were convincing and entertaining enough to make you think that this is a non-fiction film.
What we learned.
Here are the remarkable stats for the Soviet women in the service during the war.
The army assigned the vast majority of female conscripts to the medical, signal, and anti-aircraft defense services. In those fields, the percentages of women are astonishing: 41 percent of doctors, 43 percent of surgeons, 43 percent of veterinarians, 100 percent of nurses, and 40 percent of nurses’ aides and combat medics were female. Nearly half of all traffic controllers were female, and tens of thousands of vehicle drivers were women. (Source: Roger Reese, Historynet.com).
Reese mentioned that the selection of accepting women’s service force was much tougher than the one for men. This easily resulted in securing considerably more competitive and qualified women soldiers than average male soldiers.
In the meantime, he also pointed out that one challenge of being in the combat line for women was interaction with male soldiers. Most men in the fights were not very pleased with women in the units. Usually, women became inferior to men, or many women became the subject of sexual harassment.
Some women got better treatment by male commanders, officers, or anyone who is above them. Those who gained a privilege got away with many harsh duties compared to other female soldiers. This type of incident caused tension in the regiment that left bitter resentments among women.
Even with the negative effects of having women in the military, women took incredible steps to achieve their status in the military and all other areas.
This year, at the start of 2021, our awareness of “equality” has become more apparent as a nation. If we focus on “gender,” we have the first woman Vice President in our history of the United States.
In Estonia, the first time in history that both President and Prime Minister are women.
On January 26, Kaja Kallas officially became Estonia’s first-ever woman prime minister, making it the first nation in the world to have 2 elected women as head of state and head of government simultaneously. (Source: Now This Politics)
When we talk about “race,” we had another historical appointment in the high office.
On January 25, 2021, the first Black secretary of defense, Lloyd J. Austin III, the retired general, who served in the military for 41 years, was confirmed by the Senate with overwhelming approval, 93–2. (Source: Now This Politics)
While our government is restoring democracy after corrupted administration, which openly promoted the idea of discriminating against race, gender, sexual orientation, and all others, it is vital to include all elements of equality throughout all three branches.
However, are we seeing the change after we took massive efforts, like the one in the war?
Although we see many changes now, my answer is only “gradually.” It is very fragile, indeed. As we experienced with our last President, who raised more questionable statements and indications against equality. Then, our efforts can be vanished instantly, which seems to create an impossible dilemma of “one step forward and two steps backward” situation, and this makes an almost attainable result that we want.
Yet, we still hope to keep striving to gain true equality for everyone, not only for gender but also for the race, age, sexual orientation, and so on. What we need is an awareness of each person, and we need social and judicial support from the government. I know we still have a long way to go.
Regardless, our effort will continue further through history, because we must.