Today in History

Today is September 1, 2017. Seventy-eight years ago World War II began, when the Nazis invaded Poland. The United States of America didn’t come in to that war until December 7, 1941, or, more technically, December 8, 1941, when Congress voted to declare war on Japan. As a side note, the US wasn’t legally at war with Germany until December 10, 1941, when Nazi Germany declared war on the US. That, despite the fact that the US Navy was in an undeclared shooting war with the U-boats of the Kriegsmarine under the so-called “Neutrality Patrol.” That “Neutrality Patrol” was a risky endeavor for the US Navy. Some of you may have heard of the USS Reuben James, DD-245, a World War 1 era destroyer sunk by a U-boat on October 31, 1941, while engaged in Neutrality Patrol duty.

The US was at war with Germany, then, from December 10, 1941, through May 8, 1945 — VE Day — not quite three and a half years. The US was at war with Japan from December 8, 1941, through August 15, 1945, when Japan ceased hostilities, even though the formal surrender wasn’t signed until September 2, 1945. So, something less than three years and nine months for us Yanks, but nearly six years to the day for the British, who declared war on Nazi Germany on September 3, 1939.

World War II, in some ways, involved every single person in the United States, Europe, Russia, and Japan. Over twenty million died. Six million of those dead were deliberately exterminated by the Nazi policy of genocide towards those deemed to be “untermenschen” — Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, Slavs, those with birth defects and subnormal intelligence. This policy of “racial superiority” painted the Nazis as enemies of humanity and civilization for all time, a stain that will never, can never, be erased.

Lesser known to us in the West are the atrocities inflicted by the Empire of Japan upon the people of China. Some scholars contend that World War II actually began in 1937, when the Japanese went to war to conquer China. The Japanese religion of Shinto taught that the Japanese were superior to all other people of the Earth. This belief, like the Nazi belief in their own “racial superiority,” enabled the Japanese military to behave with the utmost bestiality in China and during the war with the Allies in the Pacific. The total casualties of that side of the war will never be known.

World War II ended 72 years ago. The veterans of that war are mostly gone. Too soon, they will all be gone. Their memories will be lost to us. The nature of the war they fought against fascism, bigotry, and intolerance is in danger of being lost with them.

Let’s remember a time when this entire country came together with a common cause, to defeat enemies who espoused genocide and bigotry as the norm.

Let’s keep that memory alive, lest we be scorned by those who fought for us.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Today in History

  1. Great post – and I agree. We forget how close the world came to a human catastrophe during the first decades of the twentieth century, with the rise of the ‘new order’ and the apparent decline of democracy. And we forget, too, how close the totalitarian states came to winning the Second World War. I have a book by Richard Overy, ‘Why the Allies Won’ (Pimlico 2006) which is compelling (also debatable in some ways – but then all history is really about constructive discussion rather than conclusions). What worries me is that the forces that drove the totalitarian Axis regimes of the 1920s-40s (and the Soviet Union beyond that) reflected an aspect of humanity that is within every society, one way or another. As you say, once those who KNEW how awful that totalitarian world was have gone, we have to be constantly vigilant against the risk of it happening again.

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