7 December 1944. A Telegram Arrives.

7 December 1944. A Telegram Arrives Informing the Family of the Death in France Of their Son, Husband, and Father.

It must have been early evening on that December day in 1944. I was then five years old. Mom was getting me and my younger brother ready for bed and dad was also in the living room, likely listening to the evening news on the radio.

There was a knock on our front door. I remember that when dad opened the door, a cold wind filled the room. It was a Garwin telephone operator, a young girl finishing an evening shift at the telephone office. She had in her hand a telegram announcing my cousin Hollis’s death on 27 November 1944. She had come to dad because she couldn’t bear to hand-deliver such terrible news to Hollis’s family.

I can vividly remember my mother bursting into tears; “What will Etta [Hollis’s mother] do?” Mom must have rushed us up to bed and then awaited dad’s return. How dad must have grieved his sad errand, knowing how it would devastate his brother and sister-in-law – Ralph and Etta, Betty – Hollis’s widow, and his young family – Judy and Jim.

There is a family story that Hollis had come to dad in April 1944 when he was trying to make up his mind about whether to enlist or take his chances on being drafted. By 1944 the army was drafting fathers and men even older than 26.

I can imagine that my Uncle Ralph would have urged his son to ask my dad for advice. Dad had volunteered for the Great War in 1917, not quite 18 and so might have had a useful perspective on Hollis’s decision. He advised his nephew to wait. Hollis did not take his advice; he went off for his basic training that same month.

His decision was motivated by both a personal patriotism and a sense of adventure. Both sentiments had stirred my dad into enlisting in WWI. Getting “over there” seemed to be an exciting way to get out of his small Iowa town.

The U.S. had entered the war after Pearl Harbor in December 1941. American soldiers had fought in North Africa and Italy. The Normandy landings were still a few months off. We were now the ‘arsenal of democracy.’ And we still had a reserve of men capable of, perhaps even willing to serve.

Garwin, Iowa was a farming community; farm boys could still obtain exemptions if they were an only son because of their importance to food production, essential to the Allied cause. But Hollis couldn’t qualify for that exemption from the draft. Moreover there was a certain amount of disfavor associated with such exemptions.

Hollis’s army unit, the 315th infantry regiment (though not Hollis) had come ashore at Utah Beach. They fought but mostly trucked across northern France, reaching the Lunéville area, in Lorraine, in September 1944. Hollis was a replacement, a stranger to his unit but also a stranger to the skirmishing that involved deadly German machine gun fire. He was killed by that machine gun fire after less than a month at the front.

There is a story told about Hollis as he departed for France. He received a furlough after his brief basic training in Texas and returned to Garwin to say good-bye to his family. On that occasion he is said to have stated that he couldn’t fire a gun at anyone with the intention of killing him, not an uncommon sentiment amongst those leaving for battle. Like so many young Americans in the War, Hollis was not a ‘warrior.’ Would he have become one had he not been killed so immediately?

We lived only two blocks from both Ralph and Etta’s and the house that Ralph had rented for Hollis’s family while he was serving in the army. Dad first knocked on Ralph and Etta’s door; they weren’t there. He then noticed that Betty’s house across the street was all lighted up. He came upon the family, decorating their Christmas tree.

 

 

Embracing Defeat; Japan in the Wake of World War II

Embracing Defeat; Japan in the Wake of World War II by John Dower. W.W. Norton, 2010, paper. (835)

 

On 15 August 1945 Emperor Hirohito announced Japan’s capitulation via Japanese radio. Two weeks later the Supreme Command Allied Powers began an occupation that would last until April 1952. Most of the officials who administered occupied Japan were American. There were never more than 3200 of them, plus an occupying military force. John Dower argues that while the end result of our occupation was a post-war Japan of remarkable vitality, the means where by that was accomplished were flawed.

 

When General Douglas MacArthur was fired during the Korean War, he left Tokyo to Japanese acclaim. But for the seven years of his administration, this hero reigned as a paternalistic dictator, or in terms of Japanese history an all-powerful shogun.

 

Japan was destitute. The bombing of Japanese cities had created millions of homeless. Japan’s industrial economy was shattered as was its transportation system. Cut off from its traditional sources of food and its merchant marine sunk, starvation now stalked the land. In 1946 the inflation rate was 539% and still 256% in 1949. There were 6.5 million Japanese soldiers and civilians stranded in East, Southeast, and Pacific Asia. Most families had a father, son, or brother either missing or dead. Many Japanese civilians suffered from what was called the kyodatsu condition – despair and exhaustion.

 

The Potsdam Declaration had determined that the American occupying force should destroy the basis of Japan’s militarism, ultra-nationalism, and feudal elements and build the basis for a democratic future. With this mandate the American occupation introduced a “revolution from above.” One of the earliest reforms was MacArthur’s proclamation of universal suffrage before the first postwar election in April 1947.

 

The end of the military dictatorship produced what John Dower calls a “new social space,” characterized by openness, and personal freedom. It provoked a flourishing of literature and film, and a public that relished this new ‘brightness.’ It also gave rise to a rambunctious mixture of overlapping subcultures, including the all-pervasive black markets, and panpan – prostitution. The latter was intended to serve American servicemen, oversexed the Japanese thought.

 

One of the most remarkable amongst the many interesting stories in Embracing Defeat was the drafting of a new constitution for Japan. Several Japanese attempts had failed, and characteristically MacArthur made the unilateral decision to appoint a drafting committee drawn from civilian talent then serving in the army of occupation. MacArthur gave the committee a week to finish its work. The proceedings of this ‘constitutional convention’ were in English as was the final document, followed by a “translation marathon.”

 

What do you tell the dead when you have lost a war? Dower compares the ‘community of remorse’ to that of the ancient Greek tribute to its fallen heroes. Victors can comfort their grieving by claiming that the outcome of the war – the good war – is partial recompense. The vanquished must celebrate less glorious outcomes.

 

Surprisingly one trope was that the war dead represented a ‘sacrificial atonement for the crimes of the nation.’ But this sacrifice could not be praised. Censorship by the occupation forces excluded this and a long list of other topics. Among them: criticism of SCAP and the occupation forces; criticism of Great Britain, or Russia; criticism of pre-war Allied behavior toward Japan; fraternization of Allied personnel with Japanese women; and the divine descent of the emperor.

 

Dower is much interested in the fate of Emperor Hirohito. General MacArthur protected the throne, reasoning that after its ‘dry cleaning’, the institution of the Emperor would become a rallying point for post-war Japan. The trouble was that the Emperor had participated in the planning and execution of Japan’s ‘Great East Asia War,’ including the attack on Pearl Harbor. And General Eisenhower had told MacArthur to include an investigation of the Emperor’s role, with his possible inclusion in the Tokyo trials of Japanese war criminals.

 

MacArthur basically ignored that command. He chose instead to bring to trial a selection of the war-time Imperial Cabinet and the army leadership. Tōjō Hideki became perhaps the most notorious war criminal to be tried. He did not implicate his Emperor.

 

The general who was responsible for the Bataan Death March escaped a trial. He had made himself useful to the Nationalist Chinese in their war with the Chinese Communists. Indeed the “loss of China” and the Cold War cast their shadows over the trials and the American occupation in many ways. Americans in Japan came to appreciate Japan as a potential ally against Mao’s China and the Stalin’s Russia.

 

The book has only a brief mention of one of the most remarkable creations of the occupation. The economic planners, mostly Japanese, decided to foster a cutting-edge economy. Stagnant for the first decade or so after the war, Japanese manufacturing took off. An envious America and Europe eventually talked about “Japan as Number One.” Japan became a wealthy economy with a lot of consumer confidence and with a more equitable distribution of that wealth than was true of the victors’ postwar economies.

 

Fast Food; Roadside Restaurants in the Automobile Age

Fast Food; Roadside Restaurants in the Automobile Age by John Jakle & Keith Sculle, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002, paper.

 

The authors explore how corporate America has created various formulas for the businesses that dominate the American roadside. They call the formula ‘place – product – packaging.’ Fast-food restaurants with multiple locations, the subject of this book, are the result of an integration of programmatic architecture, interior decorating, the standardized products and services for sale, and their regimented operating procedures.

 

‘Place – product – packaging’ is a manifestation of the American consumer’s dependence on branded products. But it needs to be noted that the expansion of the interstate system after the Federal Highway Act of 1956 both nourished our automobile age and created a new opportunity for American restaurant entrepreneurs.

 

The present-day roadside quick-eating restaurants, John Jakle and Keith Schlle suggest, had precedents, which many of us are old enough to remember. Most originated in America’s ‘downtowns.’ Soda fountains, luncheonettes, lunchrooms, cafeterias, and diners have mostly disappeared along with those downtowns.  When young I can remember tearooms usually in private homes along highways. High school in the early 1950s would not have been the same without carhops and drive-ins to feed hungry teen-agers after a movie at the drive-in theater.

 

The authors describe how these types of eateries metamorphosed into fast-food chains. White Castle diners were one of the earliest. Their smallish, rather greasy hamburgers were eventually replaced by a better product dished up by MacDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Hardee’s, Checker’s, Krystal Restaurants, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Subway, Chick-fil-A, Sonic Drive-In, Whataburger, and others. Mexican, I give up! Pizza, I give up!

 

Two of them, Sonic Drive-In and Whataburger closed within a year of their opening in Gainesville and sat for a long time forlorn and empty. That brings up a problem which the authors don’t mention: These themed buildings and their chain-specific interior décor do not recycle well.

 

It takes three chapters of Jakle and Sculle’s book to get through the progress of the hamburger. There follow chapters on sandwich, ice cream, breakfast, chicken, seafood, pizza, and taco shops, with lots said about singularities, but also their similarities.

 

The authors trace ice cream parlors back to portable stands that would motor over to factory gates at lunchtime, schools letting out, and football fans returning from a sunny stadium. Those portable stands led to Diary Queens. The old Howard Johnson’s Ice Cream and Coffee Shop, found at one time along many a ‘blue highway,’ had “28 flavors” of ice cream. The Howard Johnson’s have been replaced by Häagen Das, Ben & Jerry’s, Baskin Robins, and TCBY. And competing with all of them in Gainesville, thank you, is our own Sweet Dreams.

 

One similarity amongst these different eateries is the use of franchising. Though initially mostly ownership chains, the rapid expansion of roadside fast-food was facilitated by local investors. There was a range of services and obligations demanded of both sides to a franchise agreement. The chain would obtain both a source of venture capital and a local owner-manager. The franchisee would secure a known branded product and a good start in the fast-food business. He was often required to obtain his supplies from the chain’s commissary.

 

Not all roadside restaurants were about quick service. Some have gone upscale to create the “destination restaurant.” Like their fast-food neighbors, they are ‘casual’ or ‘family oriented’ but they offer a more varied and expensive menu. The largest destination restaurants in terms of units as of the late 1990s were Applebee’s T.G.I. Friday’s, Chili’s, Ruby Tuesday, and Hooters.

 

Several of these were once in our Oaks Mall. Is the Oaks Mall to be considered a road-side place or a transplanted downtown? In terms of their suite of restaurants, I would say the former.

 

Fast Food was published in 2002, and some quick food places that cater to Americans-on-the-go are not included. Sports bars are not mentioned, which are common along airport concourses, a more recent version of the American roadside. There is overlap between roadsides and concourses. Vending machines are appearing in airport concourses, an interesting throwback to the automats of bygone years.

 

The authors contend that the roadside is a place. They have provided the reader with an interesting tour of its precincts.

 

That Neutral Island; A Cultural History of Ireland During the Second World War

That Neutral Island; A Cultural History of Ireland During the Second World War by Clair Wills. Harvard University Press. 2007

 

Eamon de Valera, president of Ireland from 1932 and 1948, made the decision to keep Ireland neutral after Britain declared war on Germany in 1939. He was supported in this decision by most Irish politicians and a good majority of the public. Yet Clair Wills suggests that it remains a festering historical issue.

 

De Valera had been a critic of the “victor’s peace” dictated to Germany at Versailles in 1918. He had become disillusioned with the League of Nation after it failed to respond to Italy’s invasion of Abyssinia. It would have been impossible for any Irish statesman to have imposed on Ireland an active participation in the war; 1939 was only a few years beyond the Irish rebellion against Imperial Britain and civil war between Irish republicans and unionists. Not to stir up that hornet’s nest! There was also the very practical reason that Ireland lacked both an army and coastal defenses.

 

Small nations, De Valera, believed had the right to make decisions about entering this great-power war. At least until the summer of 1940, he could argue that Germany was respecting that decision. Neutrality was the popular choice across the Channel. Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Scandinavia, most of the Balkans, Portugal, Spain, and Switzerland had remained neutral. The USA had also remained neutral; Irish-Americans were divided on the issue.

 

Irish neutrality, Wills maintains, was a pragmatic, inevitable, and difficult response to war on the continent. And ultimately it was also successful. But that is not how both Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt viewed it at the time. Rather the Irish were shirking their responsibility as good Europeans. More specifically, they worried that the Germans would invade neutral Ireland to strike at England’s west Coast, avoiding the more difficult cross-channel invasion.

 

From the spring of 1940 until the invasion of Russia in June, 1941, Germany carried on an extensive aerial bombardment of RAF factories and installations in preparation for an invasion of Britain. That included Belfast in north Ireland. The Irish were shocked; in 1940 north Ireland was still considered part the Irish republic, though under temporary English occupation. The war came home to Irish living in the communities on its west coast in another way. Bodies of dead seamen began washing up on shore, the result of German submarine warfare against ships bringing supplies to England. And Ireland.

 

While Sweden and Switzerland may have profited from their neutrality, Ireland did not. That was because, Wills points out, Ireland was dependent on imports of food, most of the raw materials that fed its young industries, and coal to produce electricity and heat homes. Shortages produced price increases which made available food stuffs too expensive for the rural and city poor.

 

With high unemployment particularly in the western counties, many young Irishmen sought employment in Britain, building English factories, landing strips, coastal defenses, and army bases. They weren’t all that well treated by Brits. But they found the pay good and they were fed.

 

Wills contends that the severity of newspaper and radio censorship heightened a sense of isolation from events in Europe. As part of their neutrality, incoming news about the war had to be “balanced.” Movies were hugely popular. But most films came from the US or Britain and had to be heavily censored so as not to appear to be Allied propaganda.

 

Many Irishmen, Wills argues, thought this isolation a boon to Irish arts, long dominated from abroad. Prewar Ireland was stuck in what would today be called the post-colonial mind set. In the absence of British, French, and American cultural

production, Irish drama and the short story flourished, finding new audiences among Ireland’s educated classes.

 

There were those who advocated the establishment of a corporatist society. Benito Mussolini in Italy, Francisco Franco in Spain, and particularly António Salazar in Portugal were admired for their social experimentation. Irish conservatives resonated to their rhetoric of order and social harmony.

 

Much of the Roman Catholic clergy joined in that enthusiasm, attacking the individualism and materialism of popular culture in Europe and America. Ireland would be a force in the rejuvenation and re-Christianization of Europe after the war. Thus the pragmatic decision for neutrality acquired a moral virtue.

Such a good book.

A Stranger to Myself; The Inhumanity of War; Russia, 1941 to 1944

A Stranger to Myself; The Inhumanity of War; Russia, 1941 to 1944 by Willy Peter Reese, Stefan Schmitz, ed. & Michael Hofmann, trans. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005 paper.

A Stranger to Myself is a powerful book. Willy Peter Reese was a young German who served on the Russian front from the autumn of 1942 until he was reported missing in action in June of 1944.

Reese’s memoir of his experience was kept by his parents as a shrine to his memory. A cousin realized its extraordinary literary quality and spent years deciphering his handwriting. The book was published in Germany in 2003, almost sixty years after Reese’s death, and became a bestseller. The English translation by UF’s Michael Hofmann followed by several years.

There have been few memoirs of Germany soldiers who served on the Russian front. This is explained in the preface as an unwillingness on the part of post-war Germans to confront its horrors. It took the distance of sixty years to produce an audience ready for Willy’s account.

The title chosen for the manuscript should not imply that Reese was wholly alienated by his experience. His response was more complicated. He had, he confesses, been transformed into a warrior. Rather than experiencing elation in quiet, thoughtful moments between battles, Reese found the experience of battle itself, however horrible, also exhilarating. His euphoria was more the product of understanding how it molded his soul, refined his notions of god, made him more knowing. His repeated affirmation, even in the months before his death, was “I love life.” “I love life.”

There has never been a more deadly warfare than that which engulfed the Russian front. The initial German advance into the Soviet Union was not like the Blitzkrieg waged in the Low Countries and France. From the beginning it was clear that there would be no easy victory.

The German military command was aware of the superiority of the Russian forces arrayed against them and the vast industrial establishment that would continue to supply those armies. But Adolf Hitler refused to listen. He assumed that Ukrainians, the Belarus, the Russian peasantry would welcome his armies as
liberators. He underestimated the determination of the Russian people to resist theGerman advance.

Because the Germans believed that their campaign would only last through the summer, no provision was made for winter warfare. The German soldiers were not equipped to fight through the fierce Russian winter.

The Wehrmacht has been indicted by world opinion for its brutality. They were brutal. They were also starving. Willy had no food for days, no water, no winter uniforms. He suffered with lice, diarrhea, jaundice. He was exhausted from the continuous nA Stranger to Myself; The Inhumanity of War; Russia, 1941 to 1944 by Willy Peter Reese, Stefan Schmitz, ed. & Michael Hofmann, trans. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005 paper.

A Stranger to Myself is a powerful book. Willy Peter Reese was a young German who served on the Russian front from the autumn of 1942 until he was reported missing in action in June of 1944.

Reese’s memoir of his experience was kept by his parents as a shrine to his memory. A cousin realized its extraordinary literary quality and spent years deciphering his handwriting. The book was published in Germany in 2003, almost sixty years after Reese’s death, and became a bestseller. The English translation by UF’s Michael Hofmann followed by several years.

There have been few memoirs of Germany soldiers who served on the Russian front. This is explained in the preface as an unwillingness on the part of post-war Germans to confront its horrors. It took the distance of sixty years to produce an audience ready for Willy’s account.

The title chosen for the manuscript should not imply that Reese was wholly alienated by his experience. His response was more complicated. He had, he confesses, been transformed into a warrior. Rather than experiencing elation in quiet, thoughtful moments between battles, Reese found the experience of battle itself, however horrible, also exhilarating. His euphoria was more the product of understanding how it molded his soul, refined his notions of god, made him more knowing. His repeated affirmation, even in the months before his death, was “I love life.” “I love life.”

There has never been a more deadly warfare than that which engulfed the Russian front. The initial German advance into the Soviet Union was not like the Blitzkrieg waged in the Low Countries and France. From the beginning it was clear that there would be no easy victory.

The German military command was aware of the superiority of the Russian forces arrayed against them and the vast industrial establishment that would continue to supply those armies. But Adolf Hitler refused to listen. He assumed that Ukrainians, the Belarus, the Russian peasantry would welcome his armies as
liberators. He underestimated the determination of the Russian people to resist theGerman advance.

Because the Germans believed that their campaign would only last through the summer, no provision was made for winter warfare. The German soldiers were not equipped to fight through the fierce Russian winter.

The Wehrmacht has been indicted by world opinion for its brutality. They were brutal. They were also starving. Willy had no food for days, no water, no winter uniforms. He suffered with lice, diarrhea, jaundice. He was exhausted from the continuous night warfare in which the Russians excelled. He acknowledges his reliance on inebriation.

After Stalingrad in the early months of 1942, the Germans were in continuous and often disorderly retreat. Occasionally that “wandering,” as Reese calls it, was by train, mostly on foot through the Russian countryside.

Unlike the Russian soldiers who fought for the duration of the war, German soldiers did return home for brief periods. Reese was wounded three times and spent time in military hospitals. He was granted home leave. On those occasions he worked on his manuscript.

Away from the front he complained of feeling empty, homesick for Russia. Russia was home to that strange friend he seemed to himself.

ight warfare in which the Russians excelled. He acknowledges his reliance on inebriation.

After Stalingrad in the early months of 1942, the Germans were in continuous and often disorderly retreat. Occasionally that “wandering,” as Reese calls it, was by train, mostly on foot through the Russian countryside.

Unlike the Russian soldiers who fought for the duration of the war, German soldiers did return home for brief periods. Reese was wounded three times and spent time in military hospitals. He was granted home leave. On those occasions he worked on his manuscript.

Away from the front he complained of feeling empty, homesick for Russia. Russia was home to that strange friend he seemed to himself.

Dark Continent; Europe’s Twentieth Century by Mark Mazower.

Dark Continent; Europe’s Twentieth Century by Mark Mazower. Vintage, 2000 paper. (752)

 

Mark Mazower has received much praise for his Dark Continent. He argues there and in this book that European fascism in the interwar period is a continuation of the authoritarian regimes of the nineteenth century and not alien to European traditions. Thus National Socialism cannot be explained solely by the party and its leader’s insanity. Moreover post-war European political economy has many of the same intentions as the National Socialist regime in Germany. Had Adolf Hitler not chosen to divert the German economy to war production in the late 1930s, the economic consequences of his corporatism might have resembled the prosperity of post-war Germany and Europe.

 

The Treaty of Versailles in 1919 had created 25,000,000 citizens living in states in which they were a minority. The largest two minorities were Germans and Jews. It was assumed that the League of Nations would be able to guard Europe’s ethnic complexity; hence there was no necessity for an exchange of populations. But ethnic conflict remained a continuing challenge to the League. Unlike America, Europe had no tradition of the ‘melting-pot.’

 

This minority problem was particularly acute in Eastern Europe. The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk which ended the Great War on the eastern front had established a “Pax Germania.” That was overturned by the Russian revolution in 1917 and the Versailles treaty, which created relatively weak buffer states between Russia and Germany with uncertain futures.

 

The success of Mazower’s book is that it explains interwar developments that have often been considered inexplicable. For example, the British policy of ‘appeasement’ which we are always told only encouraged Adolf Hitler’s ambitions. The alternative to appeasement, it is commonly argued, would have been opposition, and that had been ruled out because Britain was unprepared. Mazower suggests, rather, that Chamberlain was “blinkered” by the traditional anti-Bolshevism of the British Conservative Party. National Socialism, many Brits believed, was an understandable reaction to the rise of Bolshevism. Sooner or later the two dictators would clash, sparing Britain another land war. Or so they hoped.

 

Both the Soviet Union and National Socialist Germany were in the process of creating a new social order. However Russia believed in the future of the industrial state and had little regard for the welfare of its agricultural classes. Hitler wanted to turn Germans into peasants, not industrial workers. Both economies were evolving in an interwar backdrop of population decline, unemployment and political extremism.

 

Mazower does a remarkable job of making post-World War II Europe interesting. One can sense in the Dark Continent the declining interest of historians in the Cold War. The conflict between the two world powers that emerged from the rubble did not, fortunately, result in military confrontation. Rather the Cold War, according to Mazower, brought stability to post-war Europe. There was an acceptance of the status quo, post-1945, despite the rhetoric.

 

Mazower speaks of continuity but he fashions Margaret Thatcher’s victory in 1979 and her years as Britain’s Prime Minister as a bolt out of the blue. She set about dismantling social democracy in Britain while it was being rebuilt on the Continent. She sold off state-owned enterprises when Continentals were comfortable with theirs. Hers was an authoritarian form of neo-liberalism, both strengthening the role of the state in, for example, regulating labor relations, but also weakening Britain’s industrial sector. During her decade Britain lost over a million factory jobs. She looked with disfavor on the post-colonial migration of colonials to Britain. Her legacy is rarely celebrated these days.

 

Mrs. Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, who occupied the White House in those same years, have often been given credit – have taken credit – for the unexpected collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe. Rather than Anglo-American bluster, it was the result of the prolonged old age of the political economy of Stalinism that lasted for three decades after his death in 1953, and well beyond its usefulness.

 

Meanwhile in Eastern Europe “goulash consumerism,” the importation of consumer goods from the West, mollified the public and propped up the “little Stalins.” Occasionally the Russians had to lend a helping hand, for example suppressing the Hungarian Revolution in 1956 and the Prague Spring in 1968. But ultimately Russia lacked the will to continue these interventions.

 

The real victor in 1989 and the Soviet zone in Eastern Europe was not the Anglo-Americans, nor the European Union. Rather it was European capitalism, but a capitalism willing to accept the welfare state and recognize its continuity with Europe’s twentieth century.

Savage Continent; Europe in the Aftermath of World War II

Savage Continent; Europe in the Aftermath of World War II by Keith Lowe. St. Martin’s Press, 2013 paper.

Keith Lowe asks the reader to imagine a world without institutions, no functioning governments, no courts, no schools, universities, no cinema or theater. Railroads had all but ceased running, no telephones, post offices, no banks or stores. That was the situation throughout much of Central and Eastern Europe in April 1945 when Germany surrendered.

World War II is dated by that German surrender. But its ending occurred over several years. Sicily and Southern Italy were liberated by the autumn of 1943. France and Belgium by the in fall of 1944. Russian armies swept through Ukraine, Poland, and the Baltic States and brought their ‘peace’ to the region later that same year. However, civil wars and ethnic conflicts troubled Eastern Europe and the Balkans for years after their liberation.

As his title would suggest, Lowe does not diminish the savagery of the last years of World War II or the slaughter the followed German defeat. He does, however, warn us that casualty figures are exaggerated. As is the myth of Poles, Ukrainians, Lithuanians, etc. united in opposition to German occupation. Lowe shows that there were many divisions within the ranks of those partisans fighting the Germans, and they reflect long-standing ethnic and class conflict unleashed by the war.

Much has been made of the flight of Germans from Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, the Baltic States, and the former Czechoslovakia in front of the advancing Russian army.  Later, the 12.4 million Germans living outside post-war Germany were forced to move, sometimes by governments, sometimes by civilian brutality. But as the author reminds us, ‘ethnic cleansing’ had been a well-used policy of both Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany prior to 1945. Moreover this removal of Germans had been blessed by the Allied leadership. In World War I, peacemakers had attempted to move borders to reflect ethnic patterns. After World War II, the policy was to transfer populations to achieve that homogeneity.

The rape of German and Austrian women by the Russian soldiers is the well documented. Lowe reminds us, however, that rape was only one of the forms of revenge. Many, many women were raped; Men and boys were hanged, shot, and beaten to death. Lowe explains that the police and the courts had collaborated with the Germans and that justified individuals taking the law into one’s own hands. There was no one in authority to stop the revenge.

I can remember seeing newsreels of revenge against women who had slept with German soldiers. They were often stripped and their heads shaven. (This was documented by Movietone News and screened in the Savoy Theater in Garwin, Iowa.) Lowe suggests that the number of sexual unions of French women with German soldiers is “staggering.”  The children that resulted from these unions were ostracized after the war, considered Germans.

Lowe makes it clear that what happened in post-war Europe is nothing like the scale of barbarities committed by the Third Reich; nothing like the destruction of Eastern Europe’s Jewry.

The anti-Semitism that had fueled German savagery didn’t disappear after April 1945. At that point the surviving Jews had to decide to return to and rebuild their communities. Or emigrate. But their homes and property hand been seized and occupied by their Christian neighbors. And they were quickly made to feel unwelcome. Lowe warns that individual incidents of violence can misrepresent the more universal story. But the pogrom at the town of Kielce in Poland in July 1946, he believes, the incident which convinced Polish Jews that return was not an option. They fled, if they could, to displaced persons’ camps in the British, French, and American sectors to await an alternative.

The Russians were the first to liberate a German concentration camp, Majdanek near Lublin. And very soon after that Auschwitz. Their reports were at first discounted as Russian propaganda, but then an American unit liberated a camp in Alsace. The discovery of the camps, Lowe contends, changed the moral landscape.

What to do with camp survivors? At first camp inmates were released, with little in the way of assistance in returning to their home. The ensuing lawlessness and savagery compelled the Allied occupation forces to create camps for these displaced persons’ camps, often the camps from which they had been recently liberated.

Keith Lowe’s Savage Continent; Europe in the Aftermath of World War II should make readers cautious about the traditional date for the end of the war, or any war. In 1949 both West Germany (British, French, and American zones of occupation) and East Germany (Russian zone) were independently established. Perhaps 1949 would, therefore, be a better date for the end of World War II.

 

 

The Beauty and the Sorrow; An Intimate History of the First World War

The Beauty and the Sorrow; An Intimate History of the First World War by Peter Englund. Knopf, 2012 paper. (781)

 

A wonderful book. Peter Englund has woven together the experiences of twenty individuals to form a narrative of the “Great War.” Drawn from diaries and memoirs, they suggest the sorrow and something of the beauty experienced by those men and women caught up in a world at war. Englund has provided excellent explanatory footnotes to give these accounts their context.

 

The author follows a chronological order, traveling from one front to another: France and Belgium, the Russian front, Italy, Mesopotamia, East Africa, the Caucasus, and back. He reinforces the common view that this vast waste of human life was never guided by any intermediate objectives, only the ultimate ‘total victory.’ Initially the war was popular; by 1917 war weariness and the huge loss of life were fomenting revolutions.

 

We can comprehend the sorrow emanating from this seemingly senseless slaughter. Less so the beauty. But in fact the diarists often remark on the beauty encountered: the landscape, the sunsets, the sacrifices, the sense of comradeship. When fighting, soldiers experienced the thrill of combat. Their low-paying civilian jobs offered no future; the war provided them with purpose.

 

Most of the time, however, they are not fighting but waiting, waiting and having time to think about and dread the next enemy engagement. They had no idea of the significance of their battlefield nor knowledge of what is happening elsewhere. They were exhausted, bored, depressed, and in some cases hungry.

 

Englund’s war experiences include two women, volunteer nurses caring for the bodies and souls of the wounded and dying. The wounds are horrendous; infections that would now be stopped with drugs usually meant death in World War I. Soldiers died of the Spanish flu, dysentery, and typhus and suffered from malaria, trench foot, and dengue fever. Although the care of the wounded and sick became more organized over time, it remained mostly a volunteer effort.

 

Many soldiers suffered a cluster of symptoms resulting from the trauma of battle; a dazed stare, shaking and stammering, difficulty walking, dizziness, vomiting, sever headaches, buzzing in the ears, a yellowish mist in front of the eyes, amnesia. This phenomenon was called ‘Shell Shock’ in World War I. In our later wars ‘Combat Stress Reaction’, ‘Battle Fatigue’, and ‘Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.’

 

Several of the diarists were from the New World. Harvey Cushing was a doctor from Boston who went to France to study war surgery. He reflects on the field hospitals and their care. He is struck by the amount of wastage in the war. After a battle, the field would be strewn with dead bodies but also the detritus of warfare.

 

Rafael de Nogales was a Venezuelan who did not wish to miss the excitement ‘over there.’ His first choice was the German army. Rejected he offered his services to “heroic little Belgium,” then to Serbia and Russia which likewise rejected his offer. He finally settled on the Ottoman Army first serving on the Caucasus front and ultimately Mesopotamia. The Ottoman Army proved a bad choice; De Nogales openly disapproved of their shooting the wounded, prisoners, deserters, and all partisans. He tried on several occasions to save the lives of enemy airmen. He feared for his own safety.

 

Much has been made of the mutinies of soldiers and sailors. Mutinous behavior began with the tendency of soldiers to adopt a strategy of live-and-let-live. The famous ‘Christmas truce’ in 1914, for instance. By 1916 indiscipline was becoming serious. The contagion spread from the Austrian to the Russian army and then to the western front. On the home front there were strikes in factories and dockyards. The diary entries in the last two years of the war are much less poetic. Rumors that the war would soon be ending did not help with the willingness to fight on.

 

Paolo Minnelli, a trooper in an Alpine regiment of the Italian army, tells the story of an execution of two deserters in those last years, soldiers from his own unit.  The first is tied to a tree and the adjutant orders the squad to fire. Nothing happens. A second order to fire. Nothing happens again. The adjutant claps his hands, a threat to the reluctant executioners. A third command works. The second soldier’s death then follows. The firing squad is dismissed, having made its statement about the war and its commands.

 

Will in the World; How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare.

Will in the World; How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare by Stephen Greenblatt.  W.W. Norton, 2005, paper.

 

A young man from the provinces arrived in London in the early 1590s, having perhaps first joined a theater troop touring his home county. Within two years he had written his three Henry VI plays and become a successful actor/playwright.

 

William Shakespeare was then in his late 20s. He hailed form Stratford on Avon in Warickshire. His father, John Shakespeare, had been a successful glove merchant, dabbling illegally in the wool trade and money lending. He was an alderman for many years and the town’s mayor. About the time that Will might have gone off to Oxford or Cambridge, his father’s fortunes crumbled. Shakespeare, instead, took up the low trade of acting.

 

Shakespeare scholars differ over the facts of the bard’s life. Stephen Greenblatt is more speculative than are most. His wonderful book, Will in the World, argues that Shakespeare incorporated his life’s experiences into his poetry and plays. Hence something of those experiences can be known from his writing. It is also possible to reconstruct portions of Shakespeare’s life from the better-known lives of his contemporaries.

 

For example, the reason for Shakespeare’s leaving his home town, his wife, and a young family for London. Much has been made of Will’s having to leave because of a youthful prank that went array. The sport of deer poaching, believed to have been Will’s transgression, was a symbolic act intended to challenge authority. Deer parks were sanctuaries for the England’s diminishing wildlife. They were also private hunting preserves. Shakespeare fled town to avoid persecution by the owner of the deer park, Sir Thomas Lucy, who was also the county’s justice of the peace.

 

Or so tradition has it. Greenblatt has a more frightening explanation. Shakespeare’s father was likely to have been a secret Roman Catholic who had maintained his allegiances to the old church, even though outwardly conforming to Henry VIII’s Anglicanism. This was a dangerous double life, made more so by a clandestine network of Roman Catholic priests, many of them suicidal, whose mission was to keep the faithful, faithful.

 

Will was probably educated in Stratford’s free grammar school by closeted Catholic schoolmasters. And Greenblatt speculates that he may have spent his ‘lost years’ between 1584 and 1591 in Lancashire as a tutor in the homes of Catholic gentry. And Sir Thomas Lucy, it turns out, had a reputation for hounding out reclusive Catholics.

 

Lucy eventually got his comeuppance for badgering young Will about poaching. Shakespeare transformed him into Justice Shallow in The Merry Wives of Windsor. Residual Catholic loyalties, however, were not something that one even hinted at. Certainly not on a London stage.

 

Greenblatt’s notion about the Catholic loyalties of father and perhaps son is based on disputed scraps of evidence. And hints that Greenblatt finds from a close reading of, Hamlet. Shakespeare returned to Stratford in 1596 to attend his son, Hamnet’s, funeral. The service read over the dead child was that allowed by the new Anglican prayer book. But these few words may have been insufficient comfort for the mourning. To satisfy the grandfather, Shakespeare may have found some priest to perform the old Roman Catholic rite. Was Shakespeare still brooding over his son’s death when he created the ghost of Hamlet’s father?

 

Greenblatt pays attention to the entertainment business in Tudor and Stuart London. Shakespeare enjoyed the patronage of the powerful and the favor of both Elizabeth and her successor, James I. He worked hard, avoiding the disorderly life common to his rival playwrights. He wrote about two plays a year, which drew daily crowds to the Globe Theater, which packed in 1500 per show. He made money, owned shares in the Globe, invested in rural and urban property. Stephen Greenblatt’s life of Shakespeare is a success story.

 

 

 

 

Helluva Town; The Story of New York City during World War II

Helluva Town; The Story of New York City during World War II by Richard Goldstein. Free Press, 2013, paper.

Richard Goldstein’s title is taken from the hit song “New York, New York, It’s a Helluva of a Town.” It was in a Broadway musical called On the Town, a salute to the US Navy, which opened in 1944. The Army also had its musical review This is the Army with songs by Irving Berlin and the Air Force, Winged Victory by Moss Hart. They were good public relations for the armed forces. Though, since they were used as recruiting vehicles, they rarely touched on the downside of the war.

New York was the major port from which troops embarked for Europe. Hence there were tens of thousands of soldiers, sailors, and marines stationed in the city for brief periods or for the duration, if carrying on support tasks for the military. They needed to be entertained and their entertainment was part of New York’s war effort.

The port also shipped out a massive amount of war materiel. Goldstein cites the statistic that in World War II, it took a ton of ammunition, food, clothing, medical equipment, and petroleum products to keep one soldier in frontline combat for a month.

The Midwestern industrial heartland and California manufactured most of the planes, tanks, and ships used in World War II. But employment in New York’s garment industry, electronics, printing and publishing, as well as entertainment, did lift it out of the Depression. Disadvantaged by these patterns of military procurement, New York had catching up to do after the war.

The Brooklyn Navy Yard was one exception to New York’s light industry. It built the battleships Missouri, Iowa, and North Carolina and many smaller war craft. But it was mainly involved in repair and maintenance. At one time it employed 75,000 workers.

New York was the country’s ceremonial city; Goldstein describes one of its grand military parades. In June 1945, Dwight Eisenhower was home on leave and led a motorcade through New York’s streets that was cheered by an estimated four million people. It was Alfred Eisenstaedt’s famous photograph of a sailor kissing a nurse, both in uniform, in Times Square, which became the cover of Life magazine’s special issue commemorating V-J Day.

This home front had its thrills but also its miseries, often long hours of work and crowded living conditions.  And anger. Goldstein has a chapter on the Harlem riots that took place in 1943. They were part of wave of riots and looting in many US cities, sparked by continuing racial segregation and differential treatment in the armed forces. There are several versions of the initial incident which sparked the riots, but all agree that it was fueled by pent up anger and frustration. African-American leaders and New York mayor Fiorella La Guardia worked to quell the violence, which occurred over several days and nights.

Even the casts for the musical reviews like On the Town, advertising the contribution of our fighting men and women to the war, were largely segregated. Although to the credit of the entertainment industry, it began calling on known black musicians.

Goldstein has a chapter on an incident involving a B-25 Mitchel bomber that flew into the Empire State Building in July 1945. The pilot, intending to land at Newark airport, mistook the East River for the Hudson and could not pull up fast enough to keep from slamming into the Empire State Building between its 78th and 79th floors. The crash ignited the plane’s aviation fuel and the ensuing fire spread to the next six flours. The building remained standing and nearly all of the occupations exited safely.

Goldstein ends with a short piece about the entry into the New York harbor of the transport ship, Joseph V. Connally, two years later. It was carrying 6,200 coffins containing dead soldiers. The reader is reminded that New York, a vibrant city during the war and an active home front, was still far removed from the fighting, and its sorrow.