Posts Tagged ‘World War II’

You Must Remember This

Posted in On This Day on January 14th, 2013 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

January 14th

On this day in 1943, Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill set the standard for product placement by meeting in Casablanca. Perhaps FDR did owe a favor to Warner Bros., the only Democratic studio in Hollywood. Jack Warner was not deeply imbued with liberal principles; however, he felt compelled to be the political opposite of Republican Louis B. Mayer. Churchill went along with the choice of Casablanca, although he hated being mistaken for Sidney Greenstreet.

While the movie had only been planned as a B-list production, the actual Casablanca Conference was a Hollywood extravaganza. The location alone was thrilling. Here were Franklin and Winston in Morocco, which the Allied armies had just coerced from the Pro-Vichy French. (Warner Bros. would have staged better battle scenes than the French did, but heroics is not part of a collaborator’s charm.) If our leading men could meet in Casablanca, it was reassuringly obvious that that the Allies controlled the Atlantic. You did not see Hitler and Mussolini holding a conference in Havana (and I doubt that Meyer Lansky would have made Hitler feel welcome).

Although the North African campaign was not yet over, an Allied victory there was inevitable. True, the Axis still had four corps in Tunisia, but three of them were Italian and had been trying to surrender since 1941. Despite the proximity of Italy, the Axis was unable to either resupply or evacuate the trapped army there; how many men can fit in a U-Boat? Caught between Allied armies advancing from Algeria and Libya, the remnants of the Afrika Korps and Mussolini’s “Legions of Iron” surrendered in May, 1943.

If the ten day conference at Casablanca was supposed to have a memorable quote, it was “unconditional surrender.” The Allies would accept nothing less. The proclamation was meant to reassure Stalin as well as intimidate Hitler. The Soviet leader had been invited to the conference but he was somewhat preoccupied with an invading German army. The ongoing battle of Stalingrad would turn out to be quite gratifying, but Stalin still needed the Americans and British to open a second front against the Germans.

Of course, the Americans felt ready to land in France; after all the Germans had been such pushovers in 1918. However, the British remembered what pushovers the Germans had been in 1914, 1915, 1916 and 1917; and they definitely had a second wind by 1940. No, the British favored an invasion of Italy; it was conveniently close to North Africa and the Italians were a congenial enemy. Roosevelt agreed. The Second Front would be against the Italians; Stalin must have felt so relieved.

What War?

Posted in General, On This Day on May 8th, 2011 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

May 8, 1945 : V-E Day is celebrated in American and Britain On this day in 1945,German troops throughout Europe finally laid down their arms.  Both Great Britain and the United States celebrate Victory in Europe Day. Cities in both nations, as well as formerly occupied cities in Western Europe, put out flags and banners, rejoicing in the defeat of the Nazi war machine.


Of course, the German terms of surrender required a few first drafts….

  1. How many umlauts in Oops?
  2. Thanks for an exciting match.  How about three out of five?
  3. But, all in all, this was great product placement for Daimler-Benz.
  4. I don’t suppose that you’ll believe that we are just a troop of Swiss boy scouts….

p.s.  Let’s not forget the historic significance of this day:

Let’s not forget the sentimental significance of this day:

This Day in History

Posted in General on August 6th, 2010 by Eugene Finerman – 5 Comments

August 6, 1945:  Hiroshima


In early May 1945, the war in  Europe ended.  Hitler was dead, Berlin captured and the remnants of the Third Reich surrendered to the Allied Forces.  But the World War was not over.  Japan remained defiant.  Over the last two years, despite consistent defeats, the Japanese Empire continued to show fanatic resistance.  Its soldiers chose to fight to the death rather than capitulate.  They adhered to the ideas of Bushido–“the way of the warrior”.  This had been the code of the Samurai, but what once had the etiquette of the medieval nobility now was the national policy of Japan.  Every soldier was to abide by it.   

On Iwo Jima, the Japanese garrison of 18,000 fought to the last man; and 6800 Americans died taking the island.  At Okinawa, a force of 110,000 Japanese found themselves cut off, defenseless against allied air power and outnumbered five to one.  Their position was hopeless but they would not surrender.  Nearly all of them died, and so did 12,000 Americans.  Faced with this fanatic resolve, the Allies had to plan the invasion of the Home Islands of the Empire. 

Two million Japanese soldiers were stationed there. The Japanese government also had organized a militia to resist the Allied invasion.  Every Japanese man from 15 to 60, every unmarried woman from 15 to 40– a total of 28 million– received military training and weapons.  They, too, were expected to fight and die for the Empire.  The Japanese air force was training its pilots for suicide– “kamikazes”– missions “: to deliberately crash their explosive-laden planes into Allied ships.  Japan had 10,000 kamikaze pilots ready.  Furthermore, there were another two million Japanese soldiers stationed in China and Korea; they had to be prevented from reinforcing the Home Islands.

The anticipated invasion would be the hardest and bloodiest campaign the Americans had yet to fight.  In August, the Soviets would enter the war against Japan and attack the imperial forces in Korea and China.  Then in late October or early November, Americans and British Commonwealth forces would land on Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan’s Home Islands.  There, the Allies would establish a base from which they launch the next phase of the attack: an attack in March, 1946 on the island of Honshu.  Its goal was to capture Tokyo. 

Of course, the Allies expected a ferocious resistance.  Once the capital fell, the Allied strategists predicted that the Japanese would be too exhausted and demoralized to continue the war.  One evaluation by the U.S. Department of War predicted that the entire campaign would take six months and cost the lives of 260,000 soldiers; however, that was the most optimistic estimate.  Another strategic study predicted 800,000 dead.  As for the number of wounded, the standard calculation would be 4 times the number of dead.  Enemy casualties were not the primary concerns of these reports, but it was estimated that the Japanese could suffer up to 10 million dead.  At the time, the Japanese population was 80 million.

But there was an alternative to this anticipated carnage, at least one that would save Allied lives.  Throughout the war, Allied scientists had been working on the development of a phenomenal weapon that possessed unimaginable power.  Physicists had theorized the military potential of nuclear fission.  Splitting an atom of a radioactive element like uranium or plutonium could release a considerable and very destructive amount of energy.  Ten of thousands of scientists, technicians, and soldiers were involved in this top secret operation, codenamed “The Manhattan Project:  But for all these efforts, there remained the basic question: would the atomic bomb actually work?  On July 16, 1945 at Los Alamos, New Mexico, the doubt was answered: the atomic bomb detonated.  A single bomb could destroy a city.

Now the Allies could use this new weapon to overwhelm and force the Japanese to surrender.  At the time of the Los Alamos detonation, the Allied Leaders– Harry Truman, Winston Churchill, and Josef Stalin–were conferring at Potsdam, Germany.  Threatening certain but unspecified destruction, the Allies demanded Japan’s unconditional surrender.  The Empire would be deprived of all its annexations and conquests, its forces must be disarmed and Allied forces would occupy and administer the Home Islands while Japan adapted to a democratic, civilian government.  Responding through diplomatic channels, the Japanese rejected any Allied occupation of their country.

On August 6, 1945, three American planes flew to Hiroshima, a Japanese port and troop center with a civilian population of 300,000.  Such a small sortie did not concern the Japanese authorities.  But one of the planes, the Enola Gay, contained the atomic bomb.  That bomb contained 130 pounds of enriched uranium.  When detonated over Hiroshima, it created a blast equivalent to 13,000 tons of T.N.T. and ignited a fire burning at 7000 degrees Fahrenheit, the same temperature as the sun.  The bomb destroyed 69 percent of the city’s buildings and killed immediately 70,000 people; as many as 140,000 were injured. 

That same day, President Harry Truman gave a radio address to the American people.  “Sixteen hours ago an American airplane dropped one bomb on Hiroshima.”  He went on to describe the bomb and the Allied effort to create it.  The President then warned the Japanese of the further consequences if they now refused to surrender.  “Let there be no mistake; we shall completely destroy Japan’s power to make war…If they do not accept our terms they make expect a rain of ruin from the air, the likes of which has never been seen on this earth.”

Yet the Japanese government did not respond.  On August 9, 1945, a second atomic bomb was detonated over Nagasaki.  At least 40,000 people died.  That day the Japanese cabinet met to discuss whether or not to surrender.   Half of the cabinet members were prepared to keep fighting;   the Bushido Code preferred death to the disgrace of surrender.  Others were not so proud when faced with the possible extermination of the Japanese people.  They were debating into the next morning when the Emperor Hirohito intervened.  The Emperor would not allow the further destruction of his people, no matter the humiliation of surrender.  “We must endure the unendurable” and he ordered the cabinet to acknowledge Japan’s defeat and capitulate to the allies.  Since the state religion of Japan revered the Emperor as a God, he had to be obeyed.

Through diplomatic channels, the Japanese approached the Allies on August 12th, acceding to the terms of an unconditional surrender.  The only Japanese request was that the monarchy be preserved.  In fact, Americans and British actually favored the existence of a modified, constitutional monarchy.  They thought that the Emperor could be a valuable intermediary in transforming a samurai culture into a peaceful, democratic one.  On August 15th, Japan surrendered to the Allies. The Emperor Hirohito gave his first radio address to his subjects, telling them that the war was over and Japan had lost.  “Should we continue to fight, it would only result in an ultimate collapse and obliteration of the Japanese nation, but would also lead to the total extinction of human civilization.”

So the war ended.  The men who would have died on the beaches of Kyushu or the plains of Tokyo lived; many are still alive and their descendants number in the tens of millions.  The Allies occupied Japan until 1952.  The Emperor Hirohito reigned until his death in 1989; history honors him for his role in ending the war and presiding over Japan’s remarkable transformation to a prosperous and democratic society.  And now nine countries possess the atomic bomb and terrifying advancements of it.  Yet, none has risked to use the weapon; its power is its own deterrent.   The atomic bomb ended the Second World War; there dare not be a Third.

I Sink; Therefore I Was

Posted in General, On This Day on June 4th, 2010 by Eugene Finerman – 4 Comments

June 4, 1942:  Zen and the Art of Aircraft Carrier Maintenance

According to the best-sellers list from 30 years ago, the Japanese were expected to be running the universe by now. The Yen was almighty, and the rest of the world was simply Japan’s outer islands. Any aspiring entrepreneur was told to think like a samurai–except for the hara-kiri. Corporations restructured themselves on the basis of two viewings of “Yojimbo.”

Of course, we now know that the Chinese will dominate the world. (No, it was not a case of mistaken identity. There is a physical difference between the Chinese and Japanese; the Japanese dress better.) The Japanese may actually have overworked themselves into their decline. While putting in 80 hours a week at the job, they forgot to reproduce. Perhaps a 15 minute “coppy” break in the work day could have replenished the demographics; unfortunately, the Japanese sense of hygiene must have been a detriment. Japan now has a dwindling population.

No, the Japanese “invincibility” of the Eighties was simply that they were methodical. They knew a good idea when they stole one. Think of all the Japanese inventions. That didn’t take long. But consider how they successfully developed and marketed those products. If you would like an American television set, go to the Smithsonian. In fact, Japan was the first to use cheap Chinese labor for manufacturing. (The Chinese also know a good idea when they steal it.)

The Japanese are thoroughly methodical but they have no talent for improvisation. How many Japanese comedians do you know? At an open-mike night in a Tokyo club, people would reenact their favorite scenes from Kabuki. This lack of spontaneity would explain why Kurosawa made so few comedies and why the Japanese lost the battle of Midway.

On this day in 1942, a Japanese fleet found itself totally disoriented (sorry but I couldn’t resist) by the presence of a smaller American force at Midway. The Japanese were surprised to find three evidently hostile aircraft carriers confronting them. No doubt, the Japanese would have liked a few days to contemplate the petals of a chrysanthemum and develop a brilliant strategy in a haiku. But we Americans are always in a rush–fighting a two-front war can be hectic–so we rather brusquely sank four Japanese carriers. Apparently, Zen is not a good defense.

If the Japanese were a more spontaneous people, they would not been so stupefied by the surprises of war. Did they think that they had a monopoly on surprise attacks? Admiral Yamamoto did graduate work at Harvard but apparently none at the Lampoon. Just imagine if the Japanese fleet at Midway had been commanded instead by a Groucho Marx. The Japanese could have quickly reacted and reduced the American fleet to the equivalent of Margaret Dumont.

But the Japanese mind lacked that flexibility. You can’t fly by the seat of your pants when wearing a kimono.

Your RDA of Infamy

Posted in General on December 7th, 2009 by Eugene Finerman – 2 Comments

December 7, 1941:  A Date Which Will Embarrass Sony

So, why did Japan attack America?  Was it vengeance for “Madame Butterfly”?  While that attack certainly would have been justified–how dare that tenor cad Lieutenant Pinkerton abandon his devoted, pregnant geisha–Japan would have had just as much reason to attack Italy.  Imagine 300 Japanese planes bombing La Scala; the problem would be scheduling the attack for the right opera.  The strategy only works for “Madame Butterfly.”  An attack during a performance of “Aida” might not even be noticed; the Japanese bombers would be upstaged by the parade of elephants.  The bombing of “Turandot” might be considered a welcome and light-hearted distraction for the public.  (Puccini died before finishing “Turandot”, and so usually does the audience.)

Japan really was outraged by the Immigration Act of 1924, which completely banned further entry to America by any Asians.  The Japanese agreed that the Chinese, Filipinos, Indians and the rest were inferior; but seeing themselves as the rightful masters of Asia,  the Japanese expected more deferential treatment.  Yet, that affront to Japanese dignity, while not forgotten, did not incite the war with America.

No, the reason for attacking Pearl Harbor was to conquer Indonesia.  Rube Goldberg could have been a samurai tactician.  To conquer China, Japan needed gasoline.  Indonesia–then known as the Dutch East Indies–was the closest source of petroleum in Asia.  Rather than haggle over petroleum exports, the Japanese simply preferred to seize the entire Dutch colony.  But the Netherlands were allied to Britain, and the British base in Singapore offered substantial protection to the Dutch East Indies.  So Singapore would have to be taken before Japan could secure the Dutch East Indies and its oil fields.  War with Britain was inevitable.  (If only those damn oil fields had been in French Indo-China, its colonial administrators were collaborating with the Germans and would also have accommodated the Japanese.)  But Britain was allied to the United States, and so a war with America would seem inevitable.  But a fair fight against the American giant was impossible; besides the Samurai Code really did not require fairness or even a declaration of war.  So Japanese would launch a surprise attack on the American bases in the Pacific, in order to attack Singapore, in order to seize the Dutch East Indies, in order to keep slaughtering the Chinese.

And the Japanese plan worked.  However, the Japanese may have underestimated how the Americans would respond.  In hindsight, bombing La Scala would have been wiser.

And from the archives, another event on this day:

D-Day Musings

Posted in On This Day on June 6th, 2009 by Eugene Finerman – 8 Comments

June 6, 1944 should be remembered as Germany’s lucky day. With the Americans and British landing on Normandy, the Germans now had an enemy willing to take prisoners. The Russians were not so amenable; for some reason, they took their attempted annihilation rather badly and were quite vindictive. So, imagine the choice confronting Lieutenant Helmut Schmidt, Private Helmut Kohl and Private Josef Ratzinger. Should they surrender to 20 million Russians enraged with vengeance or 10 million GIs offering Hershey bars?

In films with a German perspective on World War II, I have observed a mathematical impossibility. In “Cross of Iron” there is only one Nazi in the squad. In “The Enemy Beneath” and “Das Boot” there is only one Nazi on each U-Boat. Just how many times did that one Nazi vote in order to elect Hitler.

How to Win a Pennant

Posted in General on September 21st, 2008 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

With the Tribune Cubs’ triumph in their regional division, Chicago is indulging in delusions of adequacy. Will this be the Cubs’ year to win the World Series? It has only been a century. At least, there are people who remember the team’s last pennant. It was in 1945–when the Cubs were playing against Italian prisoners-of-war.

Yes, the Cubs were competing against teams that were playing bocce. But at least the Italians were the most compatible for baseball. The Germans made miserable players; it is hard to run to base when goosestepping.  Worse, citing Nietzsche’s “Thus Sport Zarathustra”, they would kill anyone left on base.

The Japanese prisoners proved just as inappropriate. If the game was scheduled at 1 p.m., the Japanese would start at noon; they called it Surprise Baseball. Yet, while the Japanese had a remarkable advantage in the first inning, their games rarely lasted past the fourth. They had the habit of killing themselves if they struck out. It must be mentioned that the Japanese fielders were very good at camouflage. One of their players remained undiscovered in the Wrigley outfield until 1987.

In any case, today’s Chicago Cubs are ready to play–preferably against the same players of 1945.

Valkyrie Liaison

Posted in General on April 24th, 2008 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

The German aristocracy had always despised Hitler’s table manners. By 1944, they had noticed that some countries disliked him, too–and were expressing their disapproval by leveling German cities and annihilating German armies. In an attempt to salvage something of their country, a number of these aristocrats plotted to kill the Fuhrer on July 20, 1944. Their plan was called “Operation Valkryie” since they apparently were hoping to free Wagner from Hitler, too. A bomb in a briefcase was carried into a conference with Hitler. The conspirators did succeed in getting streets and high schools named for them–at least in the new and improved Germany. (Austria has never heard of them…or Hitler.)

And now the film “Valkryrie”, starring that great German actor Tom Cruise, has been produced. (No, despite being short, dark-haired and unbalanced, Cruise does not play Hitler.) However, the film is rumored to be a bigger bomb than was planted near Hitler. Of course, the film’s dialogue would be hysterical; half of the cast is German, nearly half of the cast is Royal Shakespeare Company British, and then there is one California high school graduate.

A greater problem, however, would seem to be the modern audience’s ignorance of history. Your average American adolescent only knows World War II as a video game. Although teenagers have heard of Hitler, they would likely identify him as a Moslem who fought against Lincoln. And your teenage film viewer finds history laborious with all those details. Anything with a complicated plot should at least be science fiction and have great special effects. So, perhaps the film should be reedited to make the German officers into Jedi knights.

The public might also want a more recognizable villain than Adolf Hitler. Rupert Murdoch would be an obvious choice but he might refuse to advertise the film. There also has to be a way to explain why everyone in the film is in uniform. Hmm, I think I have the answer….

VALKYRIE–the story of a group of bellhops trying to kill Donald Trump.