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Posts Tagged ‘President Franklin Roosevelt’

When we last discussed the Chindit forces more than a year ago, we came to the conclusion that the perceived successes of Orde Wingate’s brainchild were greater than the actual success.  But we also realized that, in early 1943, any good news for the Allies was pounced on and broadcast to the masses back home.

Prime Minister Churchill was fascinated by Wingate and formed a friendship with the wildly eccentric military man.  When the Quadrant Conference began in August of 1943, Wingate was invited to join Churchill.  Based on his experience with the Chindits, Wingate presented a larger, more ambitious plan to the Allied Supreme Command.  Of course, President Franklin Roosevelt was in attendence, and took a keen interest in the proposals he heard concerning these “unconventional” forces.

He returned home, mulled it over for a bit, and then took action.  In his book The Burma Road, Webster describes it for us.  “…on August 31, 1943, in the United States – and throughout the entire U.S. Army – a call from President Roosevelt himself had gone out.  The request was for 2,830 army officers and troops to volunteer for ‘a dangerous and hazardous mission.'”  The men would need to be physically fit and trained in jungle warfare.

Borrowing heavily from pattern of the Chindits, the unit was officially called the 5307th Composite Unit and code-named “Galahad”.  The men came from jungle training camps.  Some came from the far flung island fights in the South Pacific.  Others came from army jails and psychiatric wards.  They were about as unconventional and could be.

And eventually, they would take the name that made them famous in the jungles of the CBI…the name of their leader, Brigadier General Frank Merrill.  Merrill was no stranger to the jungles of Southeast Asia.  He had been with General Joseph Stilwell as the region was overrun in 1942 as an Army Major.  He had accompanied “Vinegar Joe” on his walk out of Burma, developing a heart malady for his efforts.  And now he had his own version of the Chindits.

Merrill’s Marauders.  Born on this day in history by order of the President of the United States.

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As another disastrous month at the keyboard winds down – I either need to get it back together or let this proposition go – let’s talk a bit about President Franklin Roosevelt, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and North Africa.

With the first half of 1942 “in the books”, President Roosevelt found himself in the middle of a debate concerning when and where American soldiers should fight the Germans.  To be sure, we were already doing battle with Japan – the Coral Sea and Midway engagements were recent history and Operation Watchtower (the landings at Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands) were just around the corner.  But we had yet to make a concerted effort against the Axis’ primary belligerent.  And the President had already stated his “Germany First” policy, but where to put it into action?

Britain’s Prime Minister had his idea.  North Africa.  Churchill saw a boat-load of advantages to offensive action there, and he was happy to enumerate them.  Occupation of North Africa (particularly Algeria and Tunisia) would trap Rommel’s vaunted Afrika Korps between those forces and the British Eighth Army that was already protecting Egypt and the Suez Canal.  North Africa offered American soldiers a way to “get their feet wet” in a situation less dangerous and difficult than a frontal assault on France.  Removing the German presence from the Mediterranean would allow supplies to be shipped through the Suez Canal, which saved a massively long trip around the southern tip of Africa through German-infested waters.  And it got American soldiers into battle against Germans (thereby relieving the Russians) in 1942, rather than further down the road.  It made sense to Winston Churchill, and he told Roosevelt, saying, “This has all along been in harmony with your ideas.  In fact, it is your commanding idea.  Here is the true second front of 1942.”

Roosevelt’s military commanders most assuredly did not agree.  They saw North Africa as a sideshow.  They didn’t believe an invasion there would pull a single German soldier from the Russian steppes or from the approaches to Stalingrad.  In fact, American commanders believed that action in North Africa was more about protecting Britain’s flagging empire than winning a war against an aggressor, and they wanted none of it.  A frontal assault on Germany’s stronghold in Europe, though not feasible in 1942, certainly made more sense to them.

And in the middle sat Roosevelt.  He took these arguments in and then added his own ideas to the mix.  There was politics.  It was 1942, and mid-term elections were coming.  Early indications showed that a restless populace, eager for action against Germany, could give his party a ballot-box beating in November.  But ultimately, it came down to doing something – anything – to help the Russians in 1942.  Earlier in the year, he had stated “the simple fact that the Russian armies are killing more Axis personnel and destroying more Axis materiel than all the other twenty-five United Nations put together.”

And on July 30, 1942, the President made his decision.  As the sun set on summer-time Washington, D.C., Roosevelt gathered his military commanders and told them North Africa was the target.  A European invasion, while on the cards, would not be happening this year.

The torch of Operaton Torch had been officially lit.

Recommended Reading:  An Army at Dawn

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The PWA (Public Works Administration) was formed in 1933. Like all the other programs that comprised President Roosevelt’s New Deal, the PWA was designed to help kick-start an economy devastated by depression. The focus of the PWA was public works projects (bridges, dams, roads, schools, etc.), which would create thousands of jobs. The people hired would be paid, and would in turn spend their money on goods and services, thereby stimulating the economy. And though PWA was only around for six years, it was responsible for the start of thousands of projects all over the country.

Much ink has been used (and probably a little blood shed) arguing over the merits of Roosevelt’s New Deal…it helped spur the economy and bring the U.S. out of the Great Depression…it infused into American culture a massive influx of entitlement programs and government control.  So much ink, in fact, that I don’t need to spend any time on it.  My opinion doesn’t matter anyways.  What we need is a history lesson of some kind…it’s been four days, after all.

On December 22, 1937, a PWA-funded project was completed as the first two lanes of the Lincoln Tunnel were opened for business.  Construction on the Tunnel, which runs under the Hudson River and connects New York’s Manhattan with New Jersey’s Weehawken, began in 1934 and cost $75,000,000.

Its first year in service didn’t see much use, as just 1.8 million cars passed through the 8,200-foot tunnel (which averages out to about 3.5 cars per minute).  But there weren’t nearly as many cars around in the 1930s, and with the arrival of the Second World War, resource rationing cut into the overall traffic even more.

But that’s not the case today.  Two more lanes were opened in 1945, with another two built and pressed into service a dozen years later.  As part of I-495, the Lincoln Tunnel routinely sees more than 120,000 cars pass through each day (83.3 cars per minute).

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Our ISP seems to have conquered the Internet ills it had yesterday.

The Civil War battle at Fort Donelson earned Ulysses S. Grant the nickname “Unconditional Surrender” Grant (see it there?…”Ulysses S”…”U. S.”…”Unconditional Surrender”?).  But you probably didn’t need to be reminded of that, much less have it explained.  It’s one of those pieces of Americana that just never goes away.

But that same demand, emanating from the mouth of President Franklin Roosevelt at the end of the Casablanca Conference 80 years later on January 24, 1943, was probably a little more surprising, particularly considering the circumstances under which he said it.  In 1862, Fort Donelson was beaten and General Grant’s Union forces had clearly won the day.  In January 1943, the same could not be said for Allied forces fighting around the world.

To be sure, there had been victories.  The Wehrmacht had been stopped and reversed at Moscow.  Leningrad was suffering badly, but holding on.  And Paulus and his men had been outflanked (brilliantly, I may add) and then surrounded at Stalingrad…a massive defeat there was looking inevitable.  But even with those losses, German strength in the east was formidable.

In North Africa, the forces of America, Britian, and France were struggling to make good progress against a German enemy that, even in a somewhat weakened state and at the end of a very long supply line, was still a formidable foe.  To the east, British forces were pushing the remnants of Rommel’s powerful Afrika Korps towards Tunisia.

And American Marine and Army forces were on the verge of seizing Guadalcanal in the Pacific.

So there had been gains and some considerable victories, but calling for “unconditional surrender” at this point was not all that unlike the Indianapolis Colts calling for the Jets to forfeit the game this afternoon when the Colts were down 17-13 in the 3rd quarter (though Manning’s men had gained the momentum).  The Allied forces clearly had momentum, but they were still behind with a long ways to go.

But Roosevelt was convinced that (eventual) victory was certain, and he had discussed the policy with his Joint Chiefs prior to leaving for Casablanca.  And so, at the conclusion of the Conference, in front of the cameras and with Prime Minister Churchill sitting next to him, he stated that, “The elimination of German, Japanese, and Italian war power means the unconditional surrender by Germany, Italy, and Japan.”

Prime Minister Churchill reaction, which he controlled very well, was still one of surprise.  In his book War Summits, David Stone recognizes this but also clarifies the Prime Minister’s position.  He writes, “Apparently, although he had certainly broached the subject with Churchill beforehand, Roosevelt’s decision to announce it at this press conference took the British leader by surprise.  However, this would appear to have been more a question of presentation and timing rather than an indication of any disagreement over policy, and Churchill immediately endorsed and reinforced Roosevelt’s announcement at the January 24 press briefing.”

Neither Roosevelt nor Churchill had the clairvoyance to see that the Second World War was going to last another two-and-a-half years, but they had laid down the terms under which it would end.

Recommended Reading:  War Summits

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I’ve been off for a couple days, fighting a case of the blah’s.  I would go to the office in the morning, then end up working from home in the afternoon.  And by the time 4:00pm got here, I was pretty wiped out.  This evening I’m better, though still not great.  But let’s talk about something…and try to keep it brief.

How about a little conspiracy?

For years, there has been speculation that President Franklin Roosevelt knew in advance about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  As Commander-in-Chief, any President has access to classified information that no one else can see.  FDR was certainly no exception, and in 1994 the McCollum Memo was declassified.  Conspiracy theorists jumped on this highly sensitive document like flies on stink as proof the President not only knew an attack was coming, but that he had purposely engineered the debacle, then expressed outrage when it occurred.

What is the McCollum Memo?  It’s a 6-page document penned by Arthur McCollum, a Lt. Col. in the Office of Naval Intelligence, and submitted to his superiors on October 7, 1940 (14 months before the Pearl Harbor attacks).  Germany, Italy, and Japan had, less that two weeks before, signed the Tripartite Pact, and McCollum’s paper begins with his strategic view of the world in light of their close association.  He then offered up an assessment of Japan’s strengths and weaknesses.

So far so good.

But then McCollum added 8 steps he believed would drive the Japanese to declare war on the United States.  They included things like keeping the U.S. Fleet parked in Hawaii (which we did), instigating a trade embargo with Japan (which we did), and aiding Chiang Kai-shek and the Chinese military (which we also did).  He finished the document with the curious phrase, “If by these means Japan could be led to commit an overt act of war, so much the better.”

The “superiors” to whom he submitted his work weren’t just “the next guys in the chain”, they were Captains Walter Anderson and Dudley Knox, both very close to President Roosevelt.  And you’re all sleuthy enough to put the sequence of events together…Knox and Anderson receive the memo, which they read and pass to the President.  The President then reads the memo, has light-bulbs go off in his brain, and manipulates foreign policy to follow McCollum’s suggestions, and then allows Pearl Harbor to be attacked so we can enter the war with Britain.

But the 64-thousand-dollar question still lingers…while this sequence of events is possible, did it actually happen?

And, unfortunately for the conspiracy theorists, the best answer is likely “no”.  Anderson (the Director of Naval Intelligence) certainly read McCollum’s paper…he added his own comments at the end, which included the phrase, “…we should not precipitate anything in the Orient.”

The eight “steps to war” proposed by McCollum were largely followed by the Roosevelt Administration, but they were measures that were largely dictated by the current political/military situations of the moment rather than a pre-meditated drive to war.  There is zero factual evidence (and only the most obtuse of circumstantial evidence) that the McCollum Memo ever landed in front of the President’s eyes.  And finally, it was Japan who attacked first, regardless of real or implied provocation, and it was they who jumped through all kinds of hoops to make it not look like an undeclared act of war.

In the end, I think the McCollum Memo was far more a “what if” analysis by a mid-level officer than a serious policy document that the administration adapted for its own purposes.  There may be “smoking guns” in the the Roosevelt Administration (like there are in many), but those looking for a real story will probably have to look elsewhere.

Recommended Reading:  Day of Deceit: The Truth About FDR and Pearl Harbor – I recommend Stinnet’s book as an interesting read, not necessarily the Scouts-honor gospel of what happened leading up to Pearl Harbor.  The McCollum Memo looms fairly large in this book.  For another good take (and links to the entire document), check this site as well.

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The dropping of the second atomic bomb on Nagasaki is usually considered the final act of the Second World War.  It was not.  Just hours before Bockscar took to the air with its single-bomb payload, the final offensive action of the war began.

When the war ended in Europe, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin began shuttling troops eastward.  At the Yalta Conference, he had promised an ailing President Roosevelt that Soviet forces would take offensive action in the Pacific no later than three months after hostilities ended in the west.  And in the early morning hours of August 9, 1945 (precisely three months after Germany’s surrender), 1.5 million men, thousands and thousands of planes, tanks, guns, and calvary crossed the border into northern Manchuria.

Max Hastings, in his terrific book Retribution, recounts Russia’s official war history.  It says, “The Soviet Union’s aims…were…the provision of security for its own far eastern borders, which had been subjected to threat again and again by Japan;  the fulfilment of obligation to its allies; …to hasten the end of the Second World War, …and the restoration of the USSR’s historic rights in territory which Japan had earlier seized from Russia.”

But it’s pretty safe to say that Russia’s official history got the priorities exactly backwards.  Stalin’s massive offensive in the east was little more than a land grab…the taking of territory from a country with almost no way to defend itself.  The Japanese saw it differently, with one officer stating bitterly, “It was if they were burglars breaking into an empty house.”

In fact, the United States had rather hoped that they would be able to force a Japanese capitulation before the Soviets entered the war.  But its call for unconditional surrender was repulsed by the Japanese, who were secretly trying to negotiate with the Russians (with whom they still had a non-agression agreement, hoping for a “less-than-unconditional” threshold).  All the while, the Russians dragged out the peace talks, while moving their military pieces into place.

When the first atomic weapon was dropped on Hiroshima, the Russians feared the Japanese would simply surrender, closing their window of opportunity on an easy acquisition in the east.

Fortunately (for the Soviets anyway), the Japanese waffled for two crucial days after Hiroshima, and the final Soviet armies moved into position.  And on the August 8th, the Soviet Union abrogated the non-aggression pact with Japan.  Then next morning, as war was about to end in the Pacific, it was just beginning again along the Russian border.

Recommended Reading: Retribution

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President George Washington was presented with a bill concerning how representatives would be apportioned among the states.  When he rejected the bill on April 5, 1792, he was casting the first Presidential veto in the county’s brief history.

It would certainly not be the last.

In the 217 years since Washington’s first veto, the 42 subsequent Presidents have exercised their veto power on more than 2,500 occasions.  Most Commanders-In-Chief have used the veto power.  In fact, only 7 Presidents have not.  The last President to veto the veto?  James Garfield…of course, he only served 6 months of his term, so he didn’t get much of a chance.  Current President Barack Obama has also yet to veto any legislation, but he’s only a couple months into his 1st term, so there’s still plenty of time.

U.S. Presidents have two ways to veto a bill.  The first is to explicitly return the bill to Congress, which is the most common method and has been used in about 1,500 cases.

The President also has the option to neither sign the bill nor return it to Congress.  After ten days, the bill automatically becomes law.  But (and pay attention here), Article 1, Section 7 of the U.S. Constitution states that if the Congressional session ends before the ten days has elapsed and the President does nothing with the bill, it is vetoed.

Called the “pocket veto” (the President effectively puts the bill in his pocket and ignores it), this veto is more powerful because it effectively kills the possibility of a Congressional override (the bill is in the President’s pocket).  There is some ambiguity concerning pocket vetoes, and they’ve been challenged in the past.  They’ve been exercised by various Presidents more than 1,000 times.

Remember Schoolhouse Rock?  Well, I do, and the famous “I’m Just a Bill” clip from Saturday mornings should give you low-down on bills becoming law and the whole veto process.

Some interesting facts about vetoes:

  • The President with the most vetoes?  Franklin Roosevelt (635 of them in his 3+ terms).
  • Among 2-term Presidents, Grover Cleveland exercised veto power 414 times.  A strong opponent of earmarks, he rejected spending bills left and right.  And only two of his vetoes were overridden.
  • President Roosevelt exercised 263 pocket vetoes.
  • Presidents that did not use their veto power:  Adams I, Jefferson, Adams II, Harrison, Taylor, Fillmore, and Garfield.

Recommended Reading:  Presidents – All You Need to Know – An outstanding compilation of facts about the first 43 Presidents.

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