Lecture Notes From Summer Institutes



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Lecture 2: World War II


  • Usually frames study of WWII on following question:

    • THE WAR: Which of these events has the greater weight? Depression, New Deal, WWII

    • In terms of domestic America: New Deal and WWII

    • Internationally: WWII

  • Transformative effect of WWII

    • Jack McGlynn and Mao asked how would history have changed if Kruschev had been assassinated? Aristotle Onassis would not have married his wife.

    • What if US have lost WWII?

    • What if we won it differently?

    • Premise: WWII was truly transformational event

    • Proposition: Transformations did not just happen, they flowed from strategy, a particular kind of war

      • Philip Roth: American Pastoral: This was the moment of the greatest collective inebriation in history. Everything was right, confident, prospering, when it had been so bad just years before.

      • Line in a speech by Churchill in August of 1945, when he said in parliament, WWII would mean “The United States stand at this moment at the summit of the world.”

      • How improbable in 1944 when in 1940 45% of white households, and 95% black households were impoverished; when 17% unemployment was true (double digits never happened again except for 1981) and we were isolated for so long before WWII, including exclusion of so many potential immigrants, economically protectionist: a society trying to cut itself off from the world somehow became the world’s great leader in a short span of time

      • The “one-thing-after-another” explanation is wrong in describing how we fought WWII

      • As of Dec. 1941, it was not clear how we would fight WWII

        • Hitler said after Pearl Harbor: Now it is impossible for us to lose this war, because we now have an ally who has never been vanquished in 3000 years.

        • Churchill said: so the US was in the war, up to the neck, so I went to bed and slept the sleep of the saved and thankful.

        • foreign minister Von Ribbentrop 12/41: we have just one year to cut Russia off from her military supplies. If we don’t succeed, and the US supplies combine with Russia’s manpower, we will lose

        • Admiral Yamamoto 9/40 (planned Pearl Harbor and Midway): if I am told to fight, regardless of the consequences, I will run wild for the first 6-12 months, but not the next two years

        • FDR 1940: we shall be the great arsenal of democracy

        • Ribbentrop and Yamamoto knew their enemy

        • Tale of Three Cities decisions were made that shaped war

          • Rouen, France August 17, 1942:

            • Halfway between Paris and LeHavre on Seine

            • Squadron of US Army Air Corps in B-17s dropped 100% of bombs on target without any loss at all

            • The day on which strategy was confirmed for the war by Italian Douhet, who wrote in 1922 called Command of the Air: strategic bombing

            • Bomb civilian infrastructure eliminated material possibilities and attack morale of civilians

            • US began preparing for such warfare in ‘30s with competition for building bombers, which Boeing won in 1935 with B-17

              • Lead pilot was Paul Tibbets, who later piloted the Enola Gay

            • A technology and strategy that made the most of American assets: a reusable ordinance delivery vehicle

          • Washington, DC: October 6, 1942

            • Donald Nelson (had been CEO of Sears), the War Production Board director, aided by the Kuznetz, if the mobilization went forward at that pace, the feasibility would be impossible if standard of living among civilians stayed low

            • Target goals of the Victory Program by Alfred Wiedemeyer, who makes detailed blueprint of how much they’d need to make

            • Nelson concludes that targets and pace is not feasible, and he argues for slower production

            • On October 6, in Nelson’s office, a meeting with military leaders and VP Wallace, he wins the feasibility argument

            • Two consequences

              • Time table for D-Day is postponed by a year to June of ‘44

              • The target goal of 215 divisions in Victory Program was cut to 90

                • 90-division gamble

          • Stalingrad (Volgograd) Feb. 1943

      • Stalin said the Americans were fighting with Russian men

      • On homefront, America’s war was different from others’

      • The civilian standard of living declined by at least 30% in Britain and USSR, where women were conscripted into the economy

      • Only in the US did the civilian economy grow during the war (15%)

      • Only in America: Macy’s was looking for a date in 1944 for a nationwide sale and they decided Dec. 7 a time of peak fighting, and Macy’s had higher volume of sales than any other day in their history up to that point

      • The government wanted to use the war to improve the economy

    • Number of dead

      • UK: 350,000 with 100 k civilians

      • China: 10 million died including 6 million

      • Yugoslavia: 2 mil, 1

      • Japan: 3 mil and 2 mill civilians mostly

      • Poland: 8 million, mostly civilians an Jewsd mostly

      • Germany: 6.5/1 mil.

      • USSR: 24/16 million

      • US: 405,399 military dead, 6 civilian dead in Southern Oregon in Bly

        • Elsie Mitchell and five children going to church picnic and they pulled at a strange object, which blew up and killed them

        • Mulberry paper balloon bomb six feet wide with helium with three-pound incendiary device launched in jet stream to land in US and set off forest fires and redirect manpower

        • Japan ran out of helium in 1945 after six months enduring fire-bombing of B-29s

        • US fire-bombing: 500 bombers with four engines and high technology attacking nightly versus balloon bombs



Session III

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