Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Freedom from Fear excerpts

This week, Dead Air Library features excerpts from the Pulitzer-Prize winning Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945, by David M. Kennedy:

But if the United States could do little for the Jews inside Germany [in 1933], could it not open its doors to those trying to leave? After the announcement of the Nuremberg Laws in September 1935, New York governor Herbert Lehman, a prominent Jewish leader and usually a close political ally of Roosevelt's, proposed doubling the number of German Jews annually admitted to the United States, from twenty-five hundred to five-thousand--"almost a negligible number," Lehman noted. Roosevelt responded sympathetically that consular officials had been instructed to offer "the most considerate attention and the most generous and favorable treatment possible under the laws of the country." The numbers of German-Jewish immigrants grew modestly but nevertheless stayed "negligible." Immigrants of whatever faith from Germany totaled some six thousand in 1936 and eleven thousand in 1937.

Why did the potential refugee flood remain such a trickle? The explanation lay partly in the intersection of Nazi policy with those "laws of the country" about which Roosevelt reminded Lehman. Nazi regulations severely restricted the sum of money that a departing Jew could take out of Germany. As early as 1934 the amount had been reduced to the equivalent of four dollars, essentially pauperizing any Jew who tried to leave the country. In the United States, immigration statutes forbade issuing visas to persons "likely to become a public charge." Herbert Hoover in 1930 had ordered consular officials to apply that clause strictly, as the American unemployment crisis worsened. Under the circumstances, few systematically impoverished German Jews could qualify for visas.


Before long frontline Japanese troops [on Guadalcanal] were on one-sixth rations. Rear-echelon personnel made do with one-tenth. Of six thousand men in one Japanese division, only 250 were judged fit for combat by mid-December [1942]. One Japanese officer calculated a grim formula for predicting the mortality of his troops:

Those who can stand - 30 days
Those who can sit up - 3 weeks
Those who can not sit up - 1 week
Those who urinate lying down - 3 days
Those who have stopped speaking - 2 days
Those who have stopped blinking - tomorrow


In Roosevelt's mind, China would serve as a counterweight to Britain and the other European powers in postwar Asia, thus helping to secure permanent decolonization. A strong China would also help protect against a resurgent Japan and would check Soviet ambitions in the region as well. Churchill considered Roosevelt's concept of China as an eventual great power nothing less than ludicrous. "To the President, China means four hundred million people who are going to count in the world of tomorrow," Churchill's physician noted in his diary, "But Winston thinks only of the colour of their skin; it is when he talks of India or China that you remember he is a Victorian."


The [Sicilian] campaign [in 1943] proved personally costly for [General George] Patton, too. In two separate incidents, soldiers under his command massacred seventy-three Italian and three German prisoners of war near the airfield at Biscari. Patton tried to cover the matter up--"it would make a stink in the press and also would make the civilians mad," he told a subordinate--but the facts came out, and a sergeant and a captain were charged with murder. Both pleaded that they believed themselves to be following Patton's orders in an inflammatory preinvasion speech, when he admonished his men to beware of enemy troops who might be feigning surrender in order to bait a trap. In case of doubt, Patton had said, "Kill the SOB's." The captain was acquitted, but the sergeant was sentenced to life imprisonment, later commuted.

In two further incidents, Patton verbally abused and physically struck two soldiers recovering from "battle fatigue" in field hospitals. Patton thought the men were malingerers. "You yellow son of a bitch," he yelled at one of them, brandishing one of his twin pearl-handled revolvers. "I won't have these brave men here who have been shot seeing a yellow bastard sitting here crying... You ought to be lined up against a wall and shot. In fact, I ought to shoot you myself right now, God damn you!" Patton then slapped the man repeatedly. For these actions, Eisenhower ordered Patton to apologize publicly to his troops and temporarily removed Patton from command.


As spring began to unroll its green carpet across the south of England in 1944, American GIs drilled on the softly undulating fields, staged mock attacks on the shingle beaches and in the leafing copses, rumbled in trucks and tanks along stone-hedged roads, snickered at the quaint ways of the tea-and-warm-beer-drinking British, and oiled and sighted their gleaming new weapons. Occasionally they relieved their boredom by setting fire to haystacks with tracer bullets. The teeming Yanks, arriving at a rate of 150,000 per month since late 1943, were "overpaid, oversexed and over here," the British quipped. (To which the Yanks replied that their British-comrades-in-arms were underpaid, undersexed and under Eisenhower.)

Listening to: Jimi Hendrix Experience - Third Stone from the Sun
via FoxyTunes