Obama’s Whitewashed World War II

Originally published on ZNet, June 22, 2014

“If we see that Germany is winning we ought to help Russia and if Russia is winning, we ought to help Germany and that way let them kill as many as possible.”

So said US Senator (D-MO) and future US Vice President and President Harry Truman on the floor of the US Senate on June 23, 1941.

Just shy of three years later, after millions of Russians had already perished under German onslaught, the US and England, finally launched their assault on Nazi-occupied Europe from across the English Channel – the famous D-Day invasion whose 70th anniversary the West celebrated with great fanfare two weeks at the Normandy American Cemetery on the west coast of France.

 Kill List Obama: “The World Had Never Seen Anything Like It”

US President Barack Obama condemns untold numbers to death and disfigurement without trial through targeted drone attacks ordered off his personal Kill List and from the safe and secure confines of the White House. With raised nostrils and puffed-up chest, he really got his nationally narcissistic mojo working during the commemoration at Omaha Beach. Obama boasted about how “America …gave so much for the survival of liberty at its moment of maximum peril.” He saluted how “freedom’s victory was made possible by [those]…who wore America’s uniform” and “an army of women, including my grandmother, who helped build a mighty arsenal of democracy.”

Obama lavished praise on the US troops, calling them “men who were willing to lay down their lives for people they’d never met, and ideals they couldn’t live without….These men,” Obama declared, “waged war so that we might know peace. They sacrificed so that we might be free.”

“What more powerful manifestation of America’s commitment to human freedom,” Obama intoned, “then the sight of wave after wave of young men boarding those boats `to liberate people they’d never met….[I]n the annals of history,” Obama droned on, “the world had never seen anything like it. When the war was won, we claimed no spoils of victory — we helped Europe rebuild. We claimed no land other than the earth where we bury those who gave their lives under our flag, and where we station those who still serve under it. But America’s claim — our commitment — to liberty; to equality; to freedom; to the inherent dignity of every human being — that claim is written in blood on these beaches, and it will endure for eternity.”

Then Obama heaped acclaim on the United States’ “9/11 Generation of service members” who have endured “combat’ (occupation) tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and “proved once again that the United States is and will remain the greatest force for freedom the world has ever known.”

How’s that for national humility? As usual with Obama’s loftier global orations, I was chilled by the president’s Orwellian capacity for the outwardly eloquent distortion of past and current history in accord with the doctrinal requirements of empire.

US Support of European Fascism as a Bulwark Against Socialism

The people of Russia can be forgiven if they didn’t exactly go gaga for Obama and the rest of the speakers at the Normandy extravaganza two weeks ago. Beyond Obama’s recent, brazenly imperial actions in Eastern Europe (the latest phase of the US-led West’s ongoing provocation of Moscow), there’s the inconvenient historical fact that the US/Allied invasion of Nazi-controlled Europe came quite late in the United States’ purported struggle to rescue “liberty at its moment of maximum peril.” The Soviet Russians suffered by far and away the lion’s share of the virulently anti-Marxist Nazi regime’s murder toll (more than 20 million Soviet citizens died because of Hitler’s invasion of Russia).

Harry Truman was hardly the only top American, British, or Western “leader” who hoped that fascist Germany and the “socialist” Soviet Union would tear each other to shreds. Along with many ruling class comrades in England, France, Italy, Spain, and elsewhere, the US corporate and imperial establishment in the interwar years had supported the rise of virulently authoritarian and militarist anti-Left European fascism as a bulwark and bettering ram against socialism, anarchism, and workers’ parties and movement not just in “socialist” (actually state-capitalist and tyrannical) Russia but in Western and Central Europe as well.

It should hardly surprising, then that “in the first area of Europe liberated [from Nazi control] – southern Italy…the US….imposed a right-wing dictatorship headed by fascist war hero Field Marshall Badoglio and the King, Victor Emmanuel III, who was also a fascist collaborator.” As Noam Chomsky explained in his 1992 volume What Uncle Sam Really Wants, “US planners recognized that the ‘threat’ in Europe was…worker- and peasant-based antifascist resistance with its radical democratic ideals and the political power and appeal of the local communist parties,” who had heroically led the struggles against Italian and German fascism. Therefore, “As US forces advanced through Italy, they dispersed this antifascist resistance and restored the basic structure of the prewar Fascist regime.” A similar logic led the US to install a leading Nazi collaborator as the Governor General of French North Africa during the war and to ally with fascist and monarchical forces against workers and peasants in Greece after the war.

Contrary to what many US high school history teachers like to think, the US did not (belatedly) enter the fight with Hitler’s Third Reich out of concern for the terrible plight of Jews in Nazi-controlled Europe, or in order to challenge Hitler’s racist ideas, or out of some kind of special concern for the freedom of unknown people in defenseless countries. Saving European Jewry was never anything remotely like a high priority for the US wartime Franklin Roosevelt administration. The popular historian and WWII veteran Howard Zinn flew hundreds of death-defying missions over Nazi German. As he noted in his bestselling book A People’s History of the United States (originally published in 1980):

“It was not Hitler’s attacks on the Jews that brought the United States into World War II, any more than the enslavement of 4 million blacks brought Civil War in 1861. Italy’s attack on Ethiopia, Hitler’s invasion of Austria, his takeover of Czechoslovakia, his attack on Poland-none of those events caused the United States to enter the war, although Roosevelt did begin to give important aid to England. What brought the United States fully into the war was the Japanese attack on the American naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941. Surely it was not the humane concern for Japan’s bombing of civilians that led to Roosevelt’s outraged call for war-Japan’s attack on China in 1937, her bombing of civilians at Nan king, had not provoked the United States to war. It was the Japanese attack on a link in the American Pacific Empire that did it.”

 Separate and Unequal

Like the United States’ domestic society itself, the US armed forces were savagely segregated by race, with blacks relegate to separate and inferior positions. As Zinn observed in A People’s History:

“When troops were jammed onto the Queen Mary in early 1945 to go to combat duty in the European theater, the blacks were stowed down in the depths of the ship near the engine room, as far as possible from the fresh air of the deck, in a bizarre reminder of the slave voyages of old….The Red Cross, with government approval, separated the blood donations of black and white. It was, ironically, a black physician named Charles Drew who developed the blood bank system. He was put in charge of the wartime donations, and then fired when he tried to end blood segregation. Despite the urgent need for wartime labor, blacks were still being discriminated against for jobs. A spokesman for a West Coast aviation plant said: ‘The Negro will be considered only as janitors and in other similar capacities….. Regardless of their training as aircraft workers, we will not employ them.’ Roosevelt never did anything to enforce the orders of the Fair Employment Practices Commission he had set up.”

More than 100,000 Japanese-Americans were swept up and taken by force from the US West Coast to prison camps in the US interior for the duration of the war. The war ended with the United States’ vicious and completely unnecessary atom-bombing of hundreds of thousands of “Jap” civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki – monstrous war crimes meant to warn the Soviets not to cross the new global hegemonic power Uncle Sam in Asia or anywhere else. US President Harry Truman had an interesting comment when news of the Hiroshima bombing reached him: “This is the greatest thing in history!”

An Unlikely Liberator

Did the United States really enter World War II and undertake the D-Day invasion out of a noble desire to desire to liberate people that Americans had never met and didn’t know and to defend democratic “ideals they couldn’t live without”? Not likely! By WWII veteran Zinn’s account:

“For the United States to step forward as a defender of helpless countries matched its image in high school history textbooks, but not its record in world affairs. It had instigated a war with Mexico and taken half of that country. It had pretended to help Cuba win freedom from Spain, and then planted itself in Cuba with a military base, investments, and rights of intervention. It had seized Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Guam, and fought a brutal war to subjugate the Filipinos. It had ‘opened’ Japan to its trade with gunboats and threats. It had declared an Open Door Policy in China as a means of assuring that the United States would have opportunities equal to other imperial powers in exploiting China. It had sent troops to Peking with other nations, to assert Western supremacy in China, and kept them there for over thirty years….While demanding an Open Door in China, it had insisted (with the Monroe Doctrine and many military interventions) on a Closed Door in Latin America – that is, closed to everyone but the United States. It had engineered a revolution against Colombia and created the ‘independent’ state of Panama in order to build and control the Canal. It sent five thousand marines to Nicaragua in 1926 to counter a revolution, and kept a force there for seven years. It intervened in the Dominican Republic for the fourth time in 1916 and kept troops there for eight years. It intervened for the second time in Haiti in 1915 and kept troops there for nineteen years. Between 1900 and 1933, the United States intervened in Cuba four times, in Nicaragua twice, in Panama six times, in Guatemala once, in Honduras seven times. By 1924 the finances of half of the twenty Latin American states were being directed to some extent by the United States. By 1935, over half of U.S. steel and cotton exports were being sold in Latin America….Just before World War I ended, in 1918, an American force of seven thousand landed at Vladivostok as part of an Allied intervention in Russia, and remained until early 1920. Five thousand more troops were landed at Archangel, another Russian port, also as part of an Allied expeditionary force, and stayed for almost a year. The State Department told Congress: ‘All these operations were to offset effects of the Bolshevik revolution in Russia.’”

US War as a Racket (Butler)

How committed were the US Armed Forces to liberty and democracy abroad – or even at home? On his 1935 book War is a Racket, the recently retired and highly decorated US Marines General J. Smedley Butler recalled that “like all members of the military profession, I never had a thought of my own until I left the service. My mental faculties remained in suspended animation while I obeyed the orders of higher-ups. This is typical with everyone in military service.”

Free to think independently upon leaving the Marines, Butler left little doubt as to who the ultimate higher-ups were. “I spent 33 years four months,” Butler wrote, as a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.” Further:

“I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.”

The US war-racket enriched a select few wealthy Americans, Butler reflected, not the mostly working-class soldiers on the front lines: “A few profit and the many pay…How many of the war millionaires shouldered a rifle? How many of them dug a trench?”

“Be Sure to Kill the First One” (Patton)

In his D-Day commemoration speech, Obama gave shout-outs to the famous US WWII Generals Dwight Eisenhower, George. S. Patton, and Douglass MacArtthur. Each of these generals participated m the bloody US military suppression of the 1932 Bonus Army – a march on Washington by more than 20,000 US World War I veterans who came in the depths of the Great Depression to claim from Congress the “bonus certificates” they were due. As Zinn noted in A People’s History, they were met and crushed by the future WWII commanders:

“Four troops of cavalry, four companies of infantry, a machine gun squadron, and six tanks assembled near the White House. General Douglas MacArthur was in charge of the operation, Major Dwight Eisenhower his aide. George S. Patton was one of the officers. MacArthur led his troops down Pennsylvania Avenue, used tear gas to clear veterans out of the old buildings, and set the buildings on fire. Then the army moved across the bridge to Anacostia. Thousands of veterans, wives, children, began to run as the tear gas spread. The soldiers set fire to some of the huts, and soon the whole encampment was ablaze. When it was all over, two veterans had been shot to death, an eleven-week-old baby had died, an eight-year-old boy was partially blinded by gas, two police had fractured skulls, and a thousand veterans were injured by gas.”

Later that same year, then Major George S. Patton reflected on the lessons of this domestic military repression to write a government paper titled “Federal Troops in Domestic Disturbances.” Here are some of the more lovely democratic, freedom-loving formulations in that paper:

“The use of gas is paramount. It may be used by hand grenades with a range of 25 yards, rifle grenades with a range of 250 yards, or bombs and stokes mortars. While tear gas is effective, it should be backed up with vomiting gas.”

“Although white phosphorus is incendiary, it is useful in forming a screen for the attack of barricades and defended houses.”

“Next in order of importance come the saber, the bayonet, and the club. In the case of dismounted troops, do not close in on a mob with the bayonet or club if you are largely outnumbered. If the mob refuses to disperse, give them a fixed time, perhaps five minutes. Call the minutes so they can hear. If they are unheeding, lob some gas into the rear of the crowd at exactly the end of the period. If this fails to move them, open fire with one man per squad for a frontal attack while at the same time have men in houses shoot into the rear ranks selecting apparent leaders. Always fire for effect. Due to over shooting of the battle sight at short range, caution the men to fire at the knees of the crowd. If it is necessary to use machine guns, aim at their feet. If you must fire, DO A GOOD JOB. A few casualties become martyrs; a large number becomes an object lesson.

“When guarding buildings, mark a ‘DEAD’ line and announce clearly that those who cross it will be killed. Be sure to kill the first one who tries to cross it and to LEAVE HIM THERE to encourage the others.”

“As in all military operations, information is vital. By the use of detectives, soldiers in civilian clothes, and friendly citizens, get all possible information about the condition within the city. In particular, locate on a map the position of public utilities, banks, commercial districts, residential districts, armories, sporting goods stores, and other places of importance. Also the general focal points of the disturbance and the names of the leaders. It may be desirable to fly over the city to become oriented. If fired upon while in the air, reply at once with small bombs and machine gun fire.”

“From the information secured, arrange your axis of approach so as to drive the mob into the poor quarter and away from vital areas” (http://www.pattonhq.com/textfiles/federal.html)

Patton’s paper certainly suggests that he had little problem helping the US “restore…the basic structure of the prewar Fascist regime” in southern Italy, that’s for sure.

To Stay Alive

What about the troops themselves? The future Marxist British historian C.H. George signed up in the US Armed Forces at the age of 20 to fight Nazi fascism in the names of democracy and workers’ power. His 692nd Tank Destroyers Battalion A helped “liberate” the horrific Nazi death camp in Dachau. Talking about his wartime memoir Journey to Dachau in DeKalb, Illinois in the early 1990s, George remembered that none of his fellow enlistees shared his ideological or egalitarian commitments: “They wanted to get drunk and to get laid,” and, above all, “to survive” (though George did note that the sight of what had been done in Dachau led many of his fellow troops to go on a Nazi-killing rampage).

I am in possession of a box full of my maternal grandfather’s last correspondence with his son and my uncle Connor Freed, who was killed by German artillery in the waters off North Africa in 1942. The uncle I never met was an artful and eloquent writer, reflecting widely on the nature of his surroundings and deployment. Still, there is not the slightest sense anywhere in his letters that he or his fellow troops were enlisted in a campaign to liberate anyone or to spread democracy. His basic and completely understandable wish was to survive and to return home in one piece. In a recent television segment on D-Day, I heard invasion survivors say the same thing again and again: “I was just trying to survive.”

In his memoir, C.H.George reflected that there were “no words or pictures to express the utterly isolated otherworldliness of combat.” He recalled “that feeling of entering a zone of being that in both life and death insulates one thereafter from all that has been familiar – family, friends, music, movies, sports, pets, edible food, the beauties of nature, laughter and conversation, the possibility of love – all are lost, perhaps forever….”

Kill List Obama has no business pretending to know what was going on the in hearts and minds of US soldiers on the battlefields of World War II. Elite politicians love to wrap mostly working-class soldiers’ ordeals and sacrifices in the noble flag of grand ideals but, more often than not, the real-life soldiers on the ground are concerned primarily with the basic struggle to survive without shame the commands of their superiors and the weapons of the official enemy.

Spoils of War

The US claimed no “spoils of victory” in World War II? How stupid does Obama take the world to be? President Kill List must have missed this part of A People’s History:

“Quietly, behind the headlines in battles and bombings, American diplomats and businessmen worked hard to make sure that when the war ended, American economic power would be second to none in the world. United States business would penetrate areas that up to this time had been dominated by England. The Open Door Policy of equal access would be extended from Asia to Europe, meaning that the United States intended to push England aside and move in….With British imperial power collapsing during World War II, the United States was ready to move in. [US Secretary of State Cordell] Hull said early in the war: ’Leadership toward a new system of international relationships in trade and other economic affairs will devolve very largely upon the United States because of our great economic strength. We should assume this leadership, and the responsibility that goes with it, primarily for reasons of pure national self-interest.’ Before the war was over, the administration was planning the outlines of the new international economic order, based on partnership between government and big business.”

During WWII, while millions perished and cities collapsed in flames, the US State Department and Council on Foreign Relations “developed plans for the postwar world in terms of what they called the ‘Grand Area,’ which was to be subordinated to the needs of the American economy. The Grand Area,” Zinn’s good friend Noam Chomsky noted, “was to include the Western Hemisphere, the Far East, the former British Empire (which was being dismantled), the incomparable energy resources of the Middle East (which were passing into American hands as we pushed out our rivals France and Britain), the rest of the Third World, and, if possible, the entire globe. These plans were implemented, as opportunities arose” (Chomsky, What Uncle Sam Really Wants).

As the leading US foreign policy planner George Kennan explained in an internal State Department policy document in 1948, “we have about 50% of the world’s wealth, but only 6.3% of its population….Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain that disparity.”

“The Problem After a War”

The monumental rewards – “spoils” indeed – were attained during and after the war, when the United States emerged as the richest and powerful nation on the planet: the first truly global power in world history. The defense and advance of those spoils by any means necessary – democratic methods being largely inapplicable given the natural opposition of most world people to “subordinat[ion] to the needs of the American economy” (more specifically the needs of the U.S. corporate elite) – led to a fascinating record of    In July of 2011, the dissident US historian William Blum published his “updated summary of the record of US foreign policy.” Since the Second World War, he noted that the US had:

* Attempted to overthrow more than 50 governments, most of them democratically-elected.

* Attempted to suppress a populist or national movement in 20 countries.

* Grossly interfered in democratic elections in at least 30 countries.

* Dropped bombs on the people of more than 30 countries.

* Attempted to assassinate more than 50 foreign leaders.

In all, Blum determined that the United States had undertaken one or more of these actions in 69 countries – always in the name of peace, liberty, and democracy since (as Obama and all US presidents before him have repeatedly explained) “the United States is…the greatest force for freedom the world has ever known.”

Since 2011, there are new additions to the list, including most significantly Ukraine, where the Obama administration has played a critical role in the overthrow of a democratically elected government in ways that threatened to bring about civil, regional and even global war.

The criminal, mass-murderous, and significantly racist US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan – praised as glorious “9/11 Generation” fights for “freedom” by Obama in Normandy – are among the worst episodes in this terrible record. They are all hauntingly consistent with Howard Zinn’s haunting judgment on America’s supposed “good war” WWII – a verdict that is all the more poignant given Zinn’s combat record during that epic conflict:

“True, the war…ended. Italy… [was]…defeated… Germany…had surrendered, crushed primarily by the armies of the Soviet Union on the Eastern Front….Japan surrendered (emphasis added). The Fascist powers were destroyed….But what about fascism – as idea, as reality? Were its essential elements – militarism, racism, imperialism – now gone? Or were they absorbed into the already poisoned bones of the victors? A.J. Muste, the revolutionary pacifist, had predicted in 1941: ‘The problem after a war is with the victors. He thinks he has just proved that war and violence pay. Who will now teach him a lesson?’” (emphasis added)

As Obama resumes terrorist drone killings after a six-month hiatus in nuclear Pakistan, prepares to launch drones and other weapons in Iraq, threatens nuclear Russia and China on their regional doorsteps, and extends the reach of US Special Forces to more than 130 “sovereign” nations, millions around the world are lining up to teach Uncle Sam a lesson he’s never seemed willing to learn since 1945 on the authoritarian absurdity and futility of trying to manage and discipline the world in US “national [ruling class] interests” from the banks of the Potomac. If Obama’s Orwellian D-Day speech is any indication, Washington is in no historical mood to take the instruction. One question of vital significance for future prospects is whether Uncle Sam can take the lesson without blowing and/or burning up the world.

Paul Street is the author of numerous books, including Racial Oppression in the Metropolis: A Living Black Chicago History (Rowman&Littlefield, 2007); Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics (Paradigm, 2008); The Empire’s New Clothes: Barack Obama in the Real World of Power (Paradigm, 2010); and They Rule: the 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm, 2014, http://www.paradigmpublishers.com/Books/BookDetail.aspx?productID=367810. For queries on sources or related matters, readers can reach Street at paul.street99@gmail

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By | 2014-07-09T11:18:51+00:00 June 23rd, 2014|Articles|