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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Late in the evening of March 11, 1942, a small boat slipped away from the shores of Corregidor.  This small, tadpole-shaped island was strategically placed right in the middle of the entrance to Manila Bay in the Philippine Islands, so watercraft were not unusual.  But this was an unusual watercraft.

It was a PT boat.

The PT (or “Patrol Torpedo”) boat was designed pretty much as lightweight, high-speed attack boat…you could think of it as “the water-based F-16” (though that’s a pretty cheesy analogy).  They were very manueverable (compared to larger vessels), small, hard to hit, and packed a wallop.  Carrying a cannon, twin .50-caliber machine guns, and a brace of torpedoes, they could be devastating in the right hands at night.  And this particular example, PT-41, was no exception.  But PT-41 wasn’t attacking anyone…it was escaping with a very important passenger.

That passenger was General Douglas MacArthur.

Back in December of 1941, the Japanese had invaded the Philippines.  Though at a clear numerical disadvantage, they enjoyed such a superiority in training and equipment and by March of 1942, they were well on their way to victory.  MacArthur, a General in the U.S. Army and a Field Marshal in the Philippine Army, had seen his forces overwhelmed.  And as the enemy made its way down the southwest side of Luzon towards Manila, the General’s headquarters, located on Corregidor, was threatened.

It was at that point that President Roosevelt ordered MacArthur to Australia and out of harm’s way.  After giving brief thought to resigning his commission in order to stay, the General packed up his wife, his son, and a few military personnel.  Turning over command to General Jonathan Wainwright, MacArthur put out to sea under the cover of darkness and departed.  Upon arrival in Australia, he would utter his famous line “I shall return.”

But for General Wainwright, it was almost as though his boss had never left.  MacArthur’s desire to be in charge caused him to try to micro-manage Wainwright’s situation from thousands of miles away, and a hopeless situation got no better being run from afar.  Ultimately, U.S. forces would be forced to surrender at Bataan the following month (against MacArthur’s wishes), and the rock of Corregidor would fall in early May, and it would be three years before General MacArthur could make good on his promises.

And another birthday shout-out is required today.  My grandmother turns 95!!  Happy Birthday, Grandma!!

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When George Washington took the Presidential Oath of Office for the second time in 1793, he did so reluctantly.  He had served his first term as the first President of the United States with distinction, and proved himself to be a very capable leader.  But a second term?  He wasn’t really in favor of that.  The Colonists-recently-turned-Citizens, however, would not be denied and support for Washington was overwhelming (as a 100% vote in the Electoral College would bear out), and so he served.

When election time came again in 1796, the luster of Washington’s leadership had dimmed just a bit, and even this most-loved-of-Presidents had his detractors.  But there was no question that the First President could, and would, be elected again if he so chose.  He did not so choose, and without expressly saying so, set a “two-term” precedent of that would stand for nearly 150 years.

There were some Presidents who sought to serve more than Washington’s self-imposed 8 years (President Ulysses Grant and President Theodore Roosevelt come immediately to mind), but none did…until Franklin Roosevelt was elected to a third term in 1940 and a fourth in 1944.  Of course, by 1944, our 32nd President was in very poor health, and would serve only a few months of his 4th term before his death in April of 1945.

Based on the timing of events, I would guess that President Truman had barely been sworn into Office when Congress went to work on what would become the 22nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  It essentially mandated that…well…it’s short, we’ll just write it out:

Section 1. No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice, and no person who has held the office of President, or acted as President, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected President shall be elected to the office of the President more than once. But this article shall not apply to any person holding the office of President when this article was proposed by the Congress, and shall not prevent any person who may be holding the office of President, or acting as President, during the term within which this article becomes operative from holding the office of President or acting as President during the remainder of such term.

Section 2. This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of three-fourths of the several States within seven years from the date of its submission to the States by the Congress.

The Amendment was passed by Congress in March of 1947, and became law on February 27, 1951, when 75% of the States (Minnesota being the 36th) ratified it.

There are some who claim that the 22nd Amendment may not cover all contingencies.  For example, a person serves two terms as President and is then selected as a Vice Presidential candidate.  As first-in-line to become President, what if something happens to the actual President in his first year?  The answer may lie back in the 12th Amendment, which states that only people eligible to be President can run for Vice President.  But even that’s a bit nebulous, which is why we have the Supreme Court.

The 22nd Amendment had its detractors back then, and it still does.  Some have said that it dimishes the “will of the people”, who may want someone in Office for more than two terms.  Others say that mandated term limits hamstring 2nd-term Presidents (which is probably true), robbing them of some of their ability to do work.

But for now, the 22nd Amendment stands.  And that means re-elected Presidents will continue to be associated with water fowl that limp.  Congress can be fun!

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I watched a couple of Charlie Brown Thanksgiving specials last night, and that’s put me in the mood to talk a little about the holiday.  As we probably all know, the Thanksgiving tradition goes all the way back to the Pilgrims, the Mayflower, and Plymouth, Massachusetts.

When the Pilgrims first arrived in late 1620, they barely survived that terrible first winter.  But the coming of spring and Squanto (who taught them much of agriculture) meant the Colony survived.  In 1621, they set aside a day to give thanks to God and to the natives that had helped them.  The tradition carried on in an irregular pattern for the next 160 years, with colonial leaders declaring days of thanksgiving, usually after the harvest, but not on any particular day.

In October of 1789, it was President George Washington that declared the first Thanksgiving holiday in the newly-formed United States of America.  His proclamation read (in part):

“Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be. That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks, for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation, for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war, for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed, for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.”

I think our first President said it well, so we’ll leave it at that.  On November 26, 1789, Thanksgiving was celebrated as a national holiday for the first time.  And on this date in 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt would sign a bill establishing, by law, Thanksgiving as the 4th Thursday of November.

As we celebrate Thanksgiving tomorrow, take some time in the midst of all the eating and the egg-nog and the football to give thanks.  For what (and whom) are you thankful?

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It may have been Japan that drew America into the Second World War, but America’s President adopted a policy of “Germany First” early on.  At that time, Great Britain stood alone in Western Europe and Russia, though having checked the German advance near Moscow, stood on legs most wobbly, near the brink of collapse.

But in a sense, President Roosevelt had, to this point, not made good on his policy as the main action had indeed been in the Pacific, checking the Japanese in the Coral Sea, defeating them at Midway, and then launching its first offensive action at Guadalcanal in August.  However, the Pacific Theater was more easily engaged, as the U.S. Navy already had a presence (albeit weakened) there, so it should never be thought that there was any change in the original plan…”Germany First” was still the order of the day.

So where to strike?  The beleaguered Joseph Stalin was calling for a major strike on the coast of Europe to relieve pressure on his property.  Churchill agreed.  But landing a viable invasion force somewhere in France in 1942 was simply not practical.  The U.S. was not prepared with the manpower nor the infrastructure to attack in Western Europe, where German defenses were formidable (and soon to get much stronger).

But North Africa presented a more feasible target for several reasons.  First, like the Russian Front, enemy forces sat at the end of a rather long supply chain, so they were more sensitive to heavy attack.  Second, control of the Mediterranean Sea and the Suez Canal was very important to Germany, so it’s possible that opening a front there, while maybe not as good as a direct attack in Europe, would still provide relief to the Soviet Union by drawing off forces.  Finally, an Allied-control North African coast would provide a terrific launching point for an invasion of Southern Europe.

It was for all of those reasons (and more besides) that, on November 8, 1942, American and British forces landing in North Africa signalled the beginning of Operation Torch.  The Western Force landed near Casablanca and Fedala, the Center Force was assigned with Oran and Arzew in northwest Algeria, and the Eastern Force took aim at the capital of Algiers.

Admittedly, the North African theater is one I don’t know that well, but every day is an opportunity to learn.  So, over the next few months, we’ll occasionally dive into the desert together and see what we find.

Recommended Reading: An Army at Dawn – Rick Atkinson’s work is immensely readable.  I’m working through this book now.

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August 12, 1941 marks the anniversary of the creation of the Atlantic Charter by President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.  Meeting in secret at Placentia Bay, Newfoundland, the two leaders spent time assessing the current situation and how they envisioned a postwar world to look.

The Soviet Union, under intense pressure from the German armies that now threatened Leningrad and the capital of Moscow, needed help from the West.  Joseph Stalin had asked for aid, primarily in the form of a second front being opened on the European continent to relieve pressure.  But Britain, still standing alone and heavily involved in North Africa, could do nothing in terms of a landing in France.  Still, the U.S. promised to offer Lend-Lease supplies to the Russians, who would eventually become America’s biggest client.

But the biggest impacts of the Charter were “down-the-road” considerations, as both countries were looking ahead to a postwar world.  The groundwork for the United Nations was laid in Newfoundland, as well as the goals of the Allied Powers (despite the current “neutrality” of the U.S.).  Chief among them commitment to forego all territorial gains made in the war, unless the wishes of the people in those territories were otherwise.  In addition, all people had the right of self-determination, and there was to be economic cooperation and improvements in social welfare.

The goals of the U.S. and Britain were certainly at odds with those the Soviet leader, whose picture of Eastern Europe and Soviet influence looked radically different.  But still, it was August of 1941, the War was relatively young, a Soviet collapse was looking more inevitable every day, and there was hope that, when (or if) things did turn around in Russia, Stalin would be more amenable to the terms of the Charter.  History would prove he was not.

Recommended Reading: War Summits: The Meetings that Shaped World War II and the Postwar World

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Today marks the death of our 32nd, and longest-serving, President of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. His life was conspicuously studded with grand achievements and honors, but was also beset with struggle and illness.  On April 12, 1945, he suffered a stroke and passed away in Warm Springs, Georgia.

A lot could be said about his sickly childhood and his life-long struggle with poor health.  There could be much discussion of his famous Fireside Chats and how they spark images of people gathering around the radio to listen in silence to his static-laced voice.  And too many books to count have already been written concerning his leadership during The Great Depression and his controversial expansion of the U.S. government.

But since I write mostly about WWII, I’ll say a couple words from a different perspective.  U.S. soldiers fighting across the world mostly loved FDR…LOVED him…and for most of them, this was a day filled with grief and brimming with tears.  They may not have agreed with his political views, but they loved “the Chief”.

In “The Ultimate Battle“, Bill Sloan writes,
“With the possible exception of Abraham Lincoln, no wartime president in America’s history had been held in higher regard by the rank and file of its armed forces or more closely identified with the war effort. While he had his share of political foes, FDR had become an inspirational father to millions of younger Americans, especially those serving their country in faraway places.”

It’s interesting to see the varying reactions to Roosevelt’s death from the enemies with whom we were still fighting.  The Japanese on Okinawa showed a bit of respect when, in the midst of combat, they dropped leaflets to U.S. soldiers fighting on Kakazu Ridge that began, “We must express our deep regret over the death of President Roosevelt…”

Adolf Hitler was very different in his response.  In his memoirs, Albert Speer recalls the delusional glee his boss displayed.  He writes…
“When I arrived in the bunker, Hilter caught sight of me and rushed toward me with a degree of animation rare in him these days. He held a newspaper clipping in his hand. ‘Here, read it! Here! You never wanted to believe it. Here it is!’ His words came in a great rush. ‘Here we have the miracle I always predicted. Who was right? The war isn’t lost. Read it! Roosevelt is dead!'”

World opinion differed on FDR, domestic opinion differed on FDR, and history has differed on FDR.  But the soldiers were largely in agreement.  Roosevelt was their father, their friend, and their ally.

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“We are buying . . . not lending. We are buying our own security while we prepare. By our delay during the past six years, while Germany was preparing, we find ourselves unprepared and unarmed, facing a thoroughly prepared and armed potential enemy.” So said War Secretary Henry L. Stimson when debating the Lend-Lease Act of 1941 in committee.

The Lend-Lease Act, passed by Congress on March 11, 1941, really had its beginnings nearly a year earlier.  In July 1940, President Franklin Roosevelt responded to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s request for assistance by giving Britain 50 U.S. Destroyers in return for basing rights.  And he did so without consulting Congress.

The political fallout was immediate as two sides of the issue began an intense debate.  There were those believed that the United States should maintain a stance of strict neutrality, while others, like Stimson, felt strongly that giving aid to England was in the best security interests of the country.  In January 1941, the President proposed Lend-Lease as a way to aid the British while, at the same time, reiterating his commitment to keep the country neutral.  Congress debated for two months before passing the bill.

And the assistance went out, primarily to England, to the Soviet Union, to China, and to France.  Over the course of the war, aid totalling more than $50 billion was given.  And one could make a pretty strong argument that Lend-Lease most helped the U.S. itself.  When war finally did come at the end of the year, the country was already at a very high level of war production.  It took very little time to ramp up to full speed.

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