Topics in the News
America at War: Background to Involvement
The Imbalance of Power.
In American popular mythology World War II began on 7 December 1941, the "day of infamy" when the Japanese attacked U.S. naval and army bases at Pearl Harbor without warning. The Japanese attack, however, did not occur in a vacuum; nor did Hitler's subsequent declaration of war on the United States on 11 December. World War II was caused by World War I—or, more accurately, by the failure of that war and the subsequent Treaty of Versailles to resolve important issues among the major powers, including comparative advantages in markets and financial resources, in military and naval strength, and in national prestige.
The Treaty of Versailles was imposed by the victorious Allies on a defeated Germany. Vindictive and harsh, the treaty was intended to punish Germany by compelling her to surrender territory to France, Poland, and Czechoslovakia; to suffer an Allied occupation army in the Rhineland; to pay heavy reparations for damages caused to the Allies; and to submit to a clause in the treaty admitting "guilt" for initiating the war. Alone among the Allies, the United States wanted to restore Germany's economic strength so that it could serve as the anchor of America's European trade. When the treaty was signed in June 1919, the German economy had collapsed, and a state of near civil war...
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America at War: from Humiliation to Hegemony in the Pacific
Setbacks in the Pacific.
Three days after Pearl Harbor the Japanese Imperial Army invaded the American-controlled Philippines. Despite the war alert and the debacle at Hawaii, the entire American air fleet at Clark Field remained uncamouflaged and lined up on runways wingtip to wingtip. It was thus destroyed on the ground. Had it remained intact it might have thwarted, or delayed, the invasion. Meanwhile, the Japanese continued their drive into Thailand, Malaya, and Singapore. In quick order the American territories of Guam and Wake Island fell before Christmas, The new year witnessed Japan's takeover of the Dutch East Indies, and on 26-28 February a major defeat for Allied naval forces in the Battle of the Java Sea, where American forces were all but wiped out. By then the American garrison in the Philippines had withdrawn to the Bataan Peninsula, where it was overwhelmed and forced to surrender on 9 April. More than seventy-five thousand Americans and Filipinos would be forced on a "Death March" to Japanese prison camps. A majority of those taken prisoner died of maltreatment, hunger, and disease. All was not loss and defeat, however. In mid April Gen. James Doolittle led a force of bombers in the first American air raid on Tokyo, Most of the aircraft were either shot down or crash-landed in China for lack of fuel. The raids were not
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America at War: The Campaigns in North Africa and Italy
The Battle for Oil Reserves.
The Mediterranean Sea and the Suez Canal, which allowed passage into the Indian Ocean, had been the lifeline linking Britain and France to their African and Asian colonies and to the oil reserves of Iraq, Iran, and the Arabian Peninsula. Hitler wanted to deny these resources to his enemies and acquire them himself, but he was unwilling to commit troops to take them by force because such actions would have weakened his position in Europe. Instead he exploited anti-British sentiment to obtain from the Persians a treaty guaranteeing Germany access to oil and another from the Turks assuring German entry to the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. Benito Mussolini complicated these plans, however. Like its Axis ally Germany, Italy had chafed at its lack of an overseas empire and had invaded Ethiopia in 1935. In September 1940, when Hitler's western blitzkrieg seemed about to achieve early victory, Mussolini sent troops to threaten Britishheld Egypt. Simultaneously he invaded Greece, thus jeopardizing British control over the Mediterranean. Italian maneuvers proved inept, however, and German armored divisions had to be sent to the rescue. Because German divisions were diverted to Greece and North Africa, Hitler had to postpone Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of Russia. Gen. George C. Marshall, U.S. Army chief of staff, later said that Hitler's overextension in North...
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America at War: The Final Push in Europe
Planning the D-Day Invasion.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill had met regularly since the United States entered the war. Since the inclusion of Russia in the alliance came about essentially as a marriage of convenience, it is not surprising that Russia was not included in strategic planning until midway through the war. Both the United States and Britain had been hostile to the Communist state since its birth in 1917. Some politicians in England and America even believed that their nations should have allied themselves with Germany against Russia. As a senaator in 1940, Harry S Truman had declared, "If we see that Germany is winning then we should help Russia and if Russia is winning we ought to help Germany,…and let them kill as many as possible." At the Casablanca Conference in January 1943, Roosevelt and Churchill announced demands for the unconditional surrender of Germany and Japan, ensuring their other allies that an armistice like the one which ended World War I would not endanger future peace and reassuring Stalin that they would not conclude a separate peace with Hitler. They also planned the invasion of Sicily and Italy while considering a plan to invade France by crossing the English Channel. Though not present, Stalin made clear his desire for the establishment of a significant second front somewhere in western Europe to draw off the bulk of...
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America at War: The War Ends in the Pacific
Shortly after the success of American troops in Normandy, U.S. long-range bombers began to pummel the Japanese mainland. In October MacArthur returned to the Philippines as he had promised, and in March U.S. Marines completed the capture of Iwo Jima in the bloodiest fighting in the Pacific up to that time. The raising of the flag on Mount Suribachi after the Iwo Jima campaign became the symbol of American triumph. Yet even worse fighting took place in June on Okinawa, the gateway to the Japanese home islands, where some 13,000 Americans and 100,000 Japanese lost their lives. So savage was the fighting in the last months of the Pacific War that troops in the field came to fear that a presumed invasion of Japan proper would cost the United States a million casualties, dwarfing the losses at Normandy the year before. The need to avoid such shocking losses became the overriding concern in the official rationale for what happened next.
Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
On 16 July 1945 the United States detonated the world's first atomic bomb at Alamogordo, New Mexico. On 6 August a single American bomber flying over Hiroshima, the eighth largest city in Japan, dropped one bomb, code-named "Little Boy." The resulting explosion, astounding even the scientists who created it, leveled more than four square miles of the city, instantly...
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America at War: The War at Home
The Public Prepares.
Though the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor virtually wiped out isolationist sentiment and unified the United States for war, there was little public romanticism or glorification of war, as there was when the country entered World War I. The American public understood that the war would be costly and disruptive of everyday life. To meet the challenge the American people were encouraged by wartime propaganda to expect and accept the intrusion of government into daily affairs. Though somewhat conditioned to government intervention by federal programs during the Great Depression, the scale on which the government ran the war economy and invested in it caused many in public life to worry about a possible long-term alteration in American traditions. They feared that the defeat of the totalitarian Axis powers might well require the United States to adopt some their enemies' methods of social and economic organization.
Alone of all the Allies, the United States had the manpower and resources to supply the entire war effort—and to win the war. Organizing this task properly would make or break the cause. No political leader was better placed than President Franklin D. Roosevelt to head this endeavor, and most Americans followed his lead with deep loyalty. Lauded as the architect of the New Deal, the president...
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America at War: The Internment of Japanese Americans
Denial of Civil Rights.
The imprisonment of Japanese Americans during World War II was one of the gravest violations of constitutional liberties in the history of the United States. Although their internment was a direct result of animosities raised by the attack on Pearl Harbor, the wartime treatment of Japanese Americans is also symptomatic of the anti-Asian sentiment present in the western United States since the arrival of Chinese as laborers on the construction of the Central Pacific Railroad in the 1860s. When overcrowding in Japan also sent waves of immigrants eastward in search of opportunity, West Coast states and cities passed laws discriminating against foreign-born Japanese and established segregated schools. In 1924 the U.S. government passed the Alien Restriction Act, which prevented recent Asian—but not European—immigrants from owning property and obtaining citizenship. Clannish and facing discrimination from most of their neighbors, the Japanese kept to themselves along the western seaboard. Possessed of a strong work ethic, they prospered, but numbering only 110,000 they were a tiny minority, politically powerless.
Executive Order 9066.
Anti-Japanese sentiment intensified rapidly after Pearl Harbor, Rumors were rife that Japanese Americans were engaging in sabotage for Tokyo. As a result, race hatred became overt and...
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America's Response to the Holocaust
The Jews in America.
Jews were among the first European settlers in America and have played a role in the development of the United States since colonial times. Anti-Semitism, the hatred of Jews based partly upon long-standing myths about their role in Christ's crucifixion, accompanied their arrival in America. Serious incidents of discrimination against them, however, did not erupt until the great wave of Jewish immigration from Russia and Eastern Europe began around the turn of the twentieth century. In the 1920s the Ku Klux Klan began to direct its venom at Jews as well as blacks and Catholics. The Immigration Act of 1924, by locking in immigration quotas from 1890, intentionally limited the number of Jews allowed into the United States. By the 1930s Hitler's terror campaign against the Jews of Germany was underway and well known. As huge numbers of Jewish refugees sought entry into the United States, American anti-Semitism increased in response. To some extent the unemployment engendered by the Great Depression fed anti-immigrant sentiment, but the real problem was the widespread dislike, if not hatred, of Jews. The well-known sociologist David Rieseman declared in 1939 that anti-Semitism in America "was just below the boiling point." Public-opinion polls confirmed the fact. In some circles the Roosevelt Administration's social and economic program was known as the "Jew Deal," because...
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The March On Washington Movement.
The modern civil rights movement has its origins in the early 1940s, as civil rights organizers used the Roosevelt administration's condemnation of the Nazis' racist ideology as an opportunity to accuse Roosevelt of being all too tolerant of racism in America. In January 1941, nearly a year before Pearl Harbor, A. Philip Randolph called for a massive 1 July March On Washington to shake up white America. As head of the all-black Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, Randolph was a powerful labor leader who could mobilize the black masses in ways that middle-class organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) could not. The NAACP stressed legal action; Randolph urged direct action. The NAACP welcomed whites, while the March On Washington Movement (MOWM) excluded them, though not for racist reasons. While separatist in structure, the MOWM had integration as its goal. According to Randolph, "Negroes are the only people who are the
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The Cold War: Prelude in Wartime
The Origins of the Cold War.
The United States and Great Britain accepted the Soviet Union as an ally during World War II out of necessity. Prime Minister Winston Churchill said that the German threat was such that if "Hitler had invaded hell, I would have made a pact with the devil," and many Allied leaders characterized the Soviets in demonic terms. The roots of such attitudes were decades deep. From the moment the Bolsheviks took power in Russia in 1917, they were at odds with the Western powers. First, the Russians signed a separate peace treaty with the Germans in World War I, enabling Kaiser Wilhelm II to transfer troops to the western front, thereby increasing pressure on the Allies. The Bolsheviks expropriated many Western properties without compensating their owners, and then the new Russian leaders began to stir up revolutionary activity against Western governments. Britain, France, and the United States found the new Russia so intolerable that in 1920 a coalition of the Western powers and Japan landed troops throughout the Soviet Union in an effort to kill the Communist revolution in its infancy. From the Soviet perspective such intervention in their internal affairs constituted an act of war, and hostility between the Soviet Union and the West continued until Hitler invaded Russia in 1941. The United States had taken the lead in thawing relations with the Russians in 1934, when...
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The Cold War: Postwar Tensions
The Factor of the Third World.
Alone of all the belligerent nations, the United States emerged from the war with its home soil unscathed and richer for having developed its wartime economy. Roosevelt and the internationalists knew that the other great powers of Europe were going to be severely weakened by the war, that the collapse of the European world empires was virtually inevitable, and that the United States alone was in the position to take economic advantage of this situation, especially in the Third World colonies of European nations. Even as the Japanese were signing the formal documents of surrender on 2 September 1945, the Vietnamese in Southeast Asia were declaring their independence from France. Before long Great Britain, once the largest empire in the history of the world, was forced to grant independence to many of its colonies—including India, Burma, Malaya—and mandates such as Palestine France, the Netherlands, Belgium, and other European nations also began, willingly or unwillingly, to lose their colonies. By the mid 1950s Africa and Asia were ablaze with the fires of decolonization. U.S. officials hoped to establish American economic dominance in these areas Because the Europeans had imposed Western-style capitalism on their colonies by force and had exploited them, however, communist and socialist political movements had developed in many of these regions, including...
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The Development of the Affluent Society
As World War II drew to a close many Americans wondered if it would be followed by a return to depression and massive job losses. Huge government outlays for the defense production ended unemployment, made the American worker the best paid in the world, and raised the financial expectations of the American public. Government spending for goods and services soared from $11 billion in 1939 to $117 billion in 1945. The gross national product (GNP) went from $100 billion in 1940 to $200 billion in 1945. With 6 percent of the world's population, the United States was producing 50 percent of the world's goods. As a result the personal consumption of civilians rose by 25 percent, reaching the highest level in U.S. history. In 1939 about 15 percent of Americans were unemployed; by 1945 that rate had been reduced virtually to zero. Before the great stock market crash of 1929, fewer than one-third of Americans had earnings that put them in the economic middle class. After the war two-thirds qualified. At the same time, about 14 million soldiers and sailors were poised to return to the labor market.
The End of Laissez-Faire.
The initial New Deal spending programs of Franklin Roosevelt had been harshly attacked by laissez-faire economists and businessmen, who believed that the economy would right itself if business were left to...
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National Politics: Democratic Primaries and Convention 1940
Roosevelt's Bid for a Third Term.
In 1940 President Franklin D. Roosevelt sought a third term as president. Following in a tradition established by George Washington, no previous president had ever run for a third term, even though the Constitution did not yet forbid it. Roosevelt had claimed to close associates that he had no intention of seeking another term, yet he controlled the Democratic Party and knew that popular opinion would support him if he ran again. Foreign affairs, moreover, were bringing the war ever closer to America. Few Democrats could imagine any other man at the helm of the U.S. government in such perilous times. Roosevelt and his advisers shaped a careful strategy to make it appear that the president was not seeking the nomination but that the Democratic Party and the American people were drafting him. Other Democrats tried their hands in state primaries. John Nance Garner, Roosevelt's vice president since 1932, had broken with the president over the "court packing" plan of 1937—through which Roosevelt had hoped to appoint new, sympathetic justices to U.S. Supreme Court. Opposing much of the later New Deal, "Cactus Jack" Garner announced in December 1939 that he would seek the nomination. Although Roosevelt did not declare himself a candidate, state Democratic Parties ran his name on ballots, and in state primaries he easily defeated Garner. Meanwhile James A. "Big...
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National Politics: Republican Primaries and Convention 1940
In early 1940 there appeared to be three serious candidates for the Republican nomination. A Gallup poll indicated that Thomas E. Dewey, former district attorney of New York, was the leading contender, favored by 43 percent of party members. Sen. Robert A. Taft of Ohio was the choice of 17 percent of Republicans, while 22 percent liked Sen. Arthur H. Vandenberg of Michigan. Though Dewey was the front-runner, he was young—only thirty-seven—and had never held an important office. Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes quipped that Dewey "had thrown his diaper into the ring." Taft, son of former president William Howard Taft, was lacking in personal appeal, and many party leaders did not think Vandenberg was ambitious enough. In 1940 concern over the sudden escalation of the war in Europe turned public focus on the Republican candidates' lack of foreign-policy experience. Outflanked by Roosevelt on foreign policy, the Republicans searched for a new candidate. They turned to a man who had only recently switched to their party and who had never held any elective or appointive government office. Reasoning that the party could not unseat Roosevelt by waging a conservative campaign against him, party leaders turned to Wendell L. Willkie, a liberal Republican, who lambasted the Democrats for the failure of the New Deal to end the Depression.
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National Politics: Election 1940
Roosevelt was vulnerable on economic issues. Despite New Deal efforts such as social security, a fair-labor act, unemployment insurance, and public housing, government spending had not adequately "primed" the economic pump. The economic slump of the late 1930s was dubbed the "Roosevelt recession." Though unemployment was down from the catastrophic 25 percent rate of the year Roosevelt took office, it had edged up to nearly 15 percent by 1938. Members of Roosevelt's own party thought the New Deal went too far in redistributing wealth, and many disapproved of his efforts to stack the Supreme Court to win approval of his programs. Roosevelt's attempted purge of conservative Democrats in 1938 left his right flank exposed.
A Foreign Policy Coup.
Roosevelt had already begun to undercut Republican challenges when he appointed Republican stalwarts Henry L. Stimson as secretary of war and Frank Knox as secretary of the navy only four days before the Republican National Convention, ostensibly in a gesture toward bipartisanship in foreign policy. Though Republicans tended to be isolationist, they constantly criticized what they called Roosevelt's negligence of national defense. Stimson had been secretary of state under President Herbert Hoover, and Knox was a retired army colonel. Better appointments than these could not have been...
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National Politics: Election 1942
Roosevelt's liberal advisers insisted that the war was a crusade against fascism and political tyranny abroad and against elitist economic rule and racism at home. Roosevelt was aware, however, that to struggle against the Right at home would alienate those business leaders whose expertise in production was necessary for victory. Somehow class conflict would have to be ameliorated, and a sense of national unity fostered. The president, moreover, needed to act as commander in chief, emphasizing foreign relations. Roosevelt thus veered from one style of leadership to another. When he joined Winston Churchill in issuing the Atlantic Charter on 12 August 1941, he stressed social commitments as a major basis for Allied cooperation. Yet, by the congressional elections of 1942 the president was calling for "an end to politics" and took virtually no interest in the selection of his crucial wartime Congress. The normal midterm swing away from the party in power was intensified in 1942 by military reversals and inflation. Labor was unhappy with wage controls, farmers with price limits, consumers with inflation, and rationing. Wartime mobility of the workforce and the absence of millions of men overseas combined with popular disgruntlement to result in a low turnout for the midterm elections.
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National Politics: Democratic Primaries and Convention 1944
If Roosevelt's third term was unprecedented, his running for a fourth term seemed almost unimaginable. Roosevelt had grown visibly older under the strain of war, and Republican gains in the midterm elections of 1942 had weakened the Roosevelt Democratic coalition. Though the darkest days of the war had passed, victory was by no means assured. Some polls indicated that many who had previously voted for
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National Politics: Republican Primaries and Convention 1944
Targeting Roosevelt's Health.
The Republicans tried gingerly to draw attention to Roosevelt's health. He had been hospitalized from late 1943 to early 1944 and had been diagnosed with arteriosclerosis and hypertensive heart disease. Doctors prescribed rest, and his closest aides were alarmed by his deteriorating physical condition. Photographers generally tried not to take unflattering pictures of the president, and often he appeared hale and hardy. Yet occasionally a published photograph would reveal how frail he had become. Republican newspapers especially emphasized Roosevelt's poor health.
The Communist Bogey Appears.
Meanwhile, Republican strategists attacked the system of wartime controls, arguing they would lead to an administrative "dictatorship" tinged by communism. The president and Congress were then at odds over the Communist Party. Roosevelt had enlisted Communist support for the war, primarily because Stalin was now an ally. American Communists, for their...
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National Politics: Election 1944
Though Dewey resisted the temptation to attack the president for the American military's unpreparedness at Pearl Harbor, he maintained that the Republicans could manage the war better. He focused on the issue of taxes and on the anti-Roosevelt passions of the Irish, Italian, and German Americans. He charged Roosevelt with a secret plan to keep men in the military after the war rather than risking widespread unemployment again. Other Republicans kept red-baiting the Democrats, and in the South Roosevelt was attacked for drafting blacks who challenged segregation. Seizing the race issue, the Republicans began an alliance with conservative Democrats that would eventually break the Democratic lock on the "solid South."
Political Action Committees.
During the last six weeks of the campaign, the Political Action Committee (PAC) of the Congress of Industrial Organization (CIO) registered nearly 7 million additional voters—important because of the millions of men serving overseas and because in general the larger the voter turnout the more likely Democrats to win. The PAC had been organized in 1943 by CIO official Sidney Hillman and Philip Murray of the United Auto Workers as a way of getting around the prohibition on union politicking in the Smith-Connally Act. The committee was organized to accept "voluntary" contributions...
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National Politics: Election 1946
The Republicans Gain Control of Congress.
Public irritation with the Democrats' handling of reconversion to a peacetime economy and worries over tension with the Soviets spurred a sudden shift in voting behavior in 1946, resulting in Republican control of both the House and the Senate for the first time since 1928. Truman, who had become president on Roosevelt's death in April 1945, had alienated Southern Democrats by calling for a Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC) to prevent job discrimination against blacks, and Truman's
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National Politics: Democratic Primaries and Convention 1948
The most obvious sign of weakness in Truman and the Democrats was the Republicans' success in the 1946 elections, which resulted in their control of both houses of Congress. The once-powerful Democratic coalition had developed fissures. Black war veterans were in no mood to accept the humiliation of segregationist "Jim Crow" laws. Labor had been clashing with the administration since the end of wartime price controls. Liberals were angry at the president's firing of Henry A. Wallace from his cabinet post in 1946. Where Democrats had been elected in 1946 they were conservatives rather than New Dealers. To many Democrats and much of the public in general the president seemed weak, vacillating, inexperienced, and too reliant on his advisers. As yet there was no consensus on the developing Cold War, and the liberal wing of the party saw Truman as bellicose, uncompromising, and betraying Roosevelt's vision of the possibilities for global peace and security. Simultaneously, conservative Democrats criticized civil rights efforts and condemned him for not being anticommunist enough. Even so, the party had retained much of its Roosevelt base, particularly blue-collar voters and farmers. Fortune magazine reported that 39 percent of the electorate was still Democratic while 33 percent was Republican. Moreover, independents were leaning toward the Democrats. The race was...
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National Politics: Republican Primaries and Convention 1948
A Mixed Bag of Candidates.
At the beginning of 1948, polls showed Dewey in the lead for the Republican nomination, but he was closely followed by Harold Stassen, Robert A. Taft, Arthur Vandenberg, Douglas MacArthur, and Earl Warren. Stassen was popular with the voters; Taft was believed to be incapable of defeating Truman; Warren was not widely known outside of his home state of California; MacArthur was out of the country, serving as commander of the Allied occupation forces in Japan. The battle in the primaries seesawed between Dewey and Stassen. As the Republican convention drew near, Dewey was more than ten percentage points farther ahead of Truman than Stassen, while Taft had strong support from the party leadership. When the Republicans met in Philadelphia in June, they appealed to the South by taking a call for a permanent Fair Employment Practices Commission out of the platform. The efficiency of the Dewey organization and the ineptitude of Taft's followers ultimately led to Dewey's nomination on the third ballot. Earl Warren was nominated as Dewey's running mate without opposition. The GOP ticket immediately led in the polls. As the convention ended, even Democratic newspapers were predicting Truman's defeat in November.
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National Politics: Election 1948
Pessimism Among the Democrats.
Truman was in an unusual and difficult position. Both the left and right wings of his party had bolted to form separate parties. His popularity was low. The Republicans were stronger than they had been since 1932, and Dewey was expected to win easily. But both renegade movements had serious problems. Though his advisers urged him to repudiate the Communists in his movement, Wallace refused to do so, arguing that he would be guilty of the very red-baiting of which he accused Truman. When Wallace allowed the Progressive Party to be endorsed by the Communist Party U.S.A., his popular support declined dramatically. As much as 51 percent of the public believed that
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Bunche, Ralph 1904-1971
DIPLOMAT, UNDERSECRETARY-GENERAL OF THE UNITED NATIONS
In 1950 Ralph Bunche became the first black person awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in fostering an armistice between warring Arabs and Israelis. The award brought to public attention a long record of public service. Bunche was a central figure among blacks, and although less well known during the 1940s than W. E. B. Du Bois or A. Philip Randolph, like them he prepared the way for the civil rights revolution of the 1950s and 1960s. An early leader in forming American policy in Africa, Bunche played a major intellectual role in the decolonization movement after World War II.
The grandson of slaves, Bunche was born on 7 August 1904 in Detroit. Showing intellectual promise early, he excelled academically and graduated with honors from the University of California, Los Angeles....
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Dewey, Thomas E. 1902-1971
GOVERNOR OF NEW YORK (1943-1955), REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (1944, 1948)
In one of the most famous photographs in American political history, a beaming President Harry S Truman is shown displaying the headline of the first edition of the Chicago Daily Tribune following the 1948 presidential election. In a banner headline the newspaper trumpets Thomas E. Dewey's win over the incumbent Truman. The Tribune got it wrong, of course: Truman won by 2.2 million popular votes and 114 electoral votes. Dewey's defeat disappointed his formidable constituency in the Republican Party and set him politically adrift for much of the 1950s. In the 1940s, however, Dewey—along with Robert Taft and Arthur Vandenberg—was a politician whose name was synonymous with the Grand Old Party.
Born in Owosso, Michigan, on 24 March 1902 to a middle-class family, Dewey was educated in public schools and attended the University of Michigan and Columbia University Law School. Admitted to the New York bar, he made Manhattan his home and involved himself in local politics. In 1931 he was appointed assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York and began successfully prosecuting the racketeers and bootleggers of the Prohibition era. Named full U.S. attorney in 1933, Dewey...
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Eisenhower, Dwight D. 1890-1969
SUPREME ALLIED MILITARY COMMANDER (1943-1945)
Dwight D. Eisenhower's military career in World War II belies F. Scott Fitzgerald's observation that there are no second acts in American life. By 1938 Eisenhower's career was by any objective standard over, and his ambitions were thwarted. By 1950 he was the most recognizable figure in the United States and a shoo-in to the presidency in 1952. Between those two dates he served as supreme Allied military commander in World War II and president of Columbia University. As it did for so many Americans, World War II gave him a second chance, and he used his talent for organization and administration to lead the United States to victory and himself to the pinnacle of power and success.
Eisenhower, or "Ike," as he was often called, grew up in modest means in the farming community of Abilene, Kansas. An athlete and a good student with a penchant for history and math, he won an appointment to West Point in 1910. His early military career was unexceptional; for a man of his high ambitions, his rise in the ranks was painfully...
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Forrestal, James V. 1892-1949
FIRST U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE
A Tragic Story.
The story of James Vincent Forrestal is a tragic one. A man of humble birth raised high by his own ambition, he was brought low by his doubts about his worthiness to possess his exalted status. He entered the upper reaches of patrician power and was accepted as one among equals, but he seems never to have accepted himself as such. As secretary of the navy during World War II, he reinvented the U.S. fleet, enabling it to conduct the sea operations and marine landings that brought victory in both the Atlantic and Pacific. Rewarded by being named the first secretary of defense, he sought vainly to bring unity and central control to competing services. One of the most anti-Communist members of the foreign policy elite, he was convinced that war with the Soviet Union was inevitable; he tried desperately to convince President Harry S Truman to increase military spending but was dismissed as too hawkish. Convinced that both his political enemies and Communists were conspiring to kill him, and expressing despondency at his own failures, Forrestal was hospitalized in a psychiatric unit at Bethesda Naval Hospital, where he committed suicide by jumping from a sixteenth-floor window. Though honored at his funeral in Arlington National Cemetery as the most patriotic of public servants, he died believing he had betrayed his past and...
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Hobby, Oveta Culp 1905-
DRECTOR OF WOMEN'S ARMY CORPS
An unusually energetic and talented woman, Oveta Culp Hobby presided over the formation of America's first female military corps during World War II. The Women's Army Corps (WAC) was to a great extent her invention. She labored against many bureaucratic dismissals of female soldiering and struggled to prevent the WACs from devolving into menial assistants to the male corps. She also held the WACs to high moral standards to offset suggestions that the WACs were glorified camp followers and prostitutes. She forged the WAC into a disciplined unit that earned the respect of male and female commentators.
Born Oveta Culp on 5 January 1905 in Killeen, Texas, she was a gifted student who followed her father into law. A graduate of the University of Texas Law School, by age twenty she was not only Houston's assistant city attorney but also parliamentarian of the Texas legislature and codifier of Texas banking laws. At twenty-six she married William...
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Marshall, George C. 1880-1959
ARMY GENERAL, CHIEF OF STAFF, US. SECRETARY
OF STATE (1947-1949), U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE
Important General and Statesman.
Gen. George C. Marshall's bureaucratic career soared as America evolved from a largely isolated economic powerhouse to the world's military superpower and global policeman. Though he never came under fire himself, Marshall planned key offensives during World War I and trained the leading generals of World War II. As army chief of staff during the World War II, he shaped and managed all elements of global strategy and in the armed peace that followed shaped critical aspects of the postwar global economy in line with the goals of American internationalists. As the civilian secretary of state and later secretary of defense, Marshall served as one of the principal strategists of the Cold War. He became the only military man ever awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his organization of the postwar reconstruction of Europe, a program termed the Marshall Plan in his honor.
Rising in the Ranks.
Marshall came of age at a time when the United States began to...
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Patton, George S. 1885-1945
MAJOR GENERAL, U.S. ARMY TANK CORPS
Perhaps no other military figure in American history, with the exception of George Armstrong Custer, was more impetuous, flamboyant, or controversial than Maj. Gen. George S. Patton, nicknamed Old Blood and Guts." A swashbuckler wearing ivory-handled six-guns, he was a great deal more successful in battle than Custer and contributed to the Allied victory at the crucial Battle of the Bulge in 1945. A man consumed by military history and tradition, Patton could nevertheless disregard classic military rules, demonstrating a fearless initiative that often pulled victory from the edge of catastrophe. Considered arrogant by fellow officers and ruthless by his troops, Patton was instrumental in transforming the obsolete U.S. Cavalry into a modern armored corps that defeated some of the best German panzer divisions. Patton sometimes claimed to be the reincarnation of Julius Caesar and often cited Caesar's campaigns against the barbarians during his own operations against the Germans. Believing himself a man of destiny, Patton was ever certain of victory, and his confidence was infectious to his troops....
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Perkins, Frances 1882-1965
U.S. SECRETARY OF LABOR 1933-1945
Advocate of Workers.
Frances Perkins was the first woman ever appointed to a cabinet position in the United States. As secretary of labor during all of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's administrations she was instrumental in shaping government recognition of the American labor movement. By rebuilding a nearly defunct department she was able to enforce the sweeping legislation that emerged from the New Deal, which aimed to impart rights and dignity ordinary working people never before enjoyed. As an expert on the health and safety of workers, especially women and children, Perkins left an indelible stamp upon the Labor Department and contributed to widespread public support for fair and safe workplaces.
Born in Boston on 10 April 1882 to a prosperous upper-middle-class family, in 1902 Perkins graduated from Mount Holyoke College, where she adopted the social activism characteristic of privileged educated women during the era. A few years after graduation she began working closely with Jane Addams of Chicago's Hull House, where she observed firsthand the tremendous problems of poverty and social isolation endured by the many immigrants flowing into America at the turn of the century. Perceiving that America was becoming increasingly polarized into a nation...
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Rankin, Jeannette 1880-1973
FIRST WOMAN ELECTED TO CONGRESS
Because she was the only member of Congress to cast her vote against war with Japan on 8 December 1941, Jeannette Rankin is associated by some with appeasement or even disloyalty. However, her vote was entirely consistent with the views she had championed since she had voted against American entry into World War I in 1917, and she had run for Congress in 1940 as an overtly antiwar candidate. A lifelong pacifist, she was also a leader in movements for women's suffrage and social justice. In 1968, at age 87, she led five thousand women in a march against the war in Vietnam, remaining true to her principles until the very end.
The First Congresswoman.
Born on the western frontier in Montana on 11 June 1880, Rankin became active in the women's suffrage movement early and became legislative secretary of the National American Woman Suffrage Association in 1913. Many western states adopted suffrage amendments before the federal government did, and Rankin was able to win election to Congress—the first woman ever to do so—from Montana in 1916. She introduced the first bill calling for full citizenship for women independent of their husbands. An early isolationist, she cast her vote against President Woodrow Wilson's call for war in 1917 along with forty-eight other...
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Roosevelt, Franklin D. 1882-1945
PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, 1933-1945
Franklin Delano Roosevelt is the only person to have been elected president of the United States four times. This fact alone testifies to his influence and popularity, at least among much of the American population. Among the most intelligent and complex of presidents, Roosevelt almost certainly left the greatest legacy of any in this century. He virtually created a proactive, socially responsible government, initiating several programs that today are taken for granted. He led the nation through most of World War II, leaving the United States the wealthiest and most powerful nation on earth. He helped to lay the foundation of the United Nations, hoping that the institution would serve the interest of peace and cooperation among the remaining global powers.
The thirty-second president was born to a wealthy patrician family in the Hudson Valley of New York in 1882. A descendant of...
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Truman, Harry S 1884-1972
PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, 1945-1953
Harry S Truman became the thirty-third president of the United States upon the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1945. Compared inevitably to his predecessor at first, Truman seemed poorly suited to the office. Unlike many national politicians, he had never been ambitious for the presidency. A politician specializing in domestic issues, he found himself overwhelmed by foreign affairs. Beginning his presidency with the terrible burden of having to decide whether to use the atomic bomb, he ended it embroiled in war in Korea. He was a New Dealer through and through, committed to social and racial justice at home. While his own "Fair Deal" went largely unimplemented, it nevertheless set the agenda for the "Great Society" reforms of a later generation.
Soldier and Politician.
The son of farmers, Truman was born on 8 May 1884 and grew up in rural Missouri. A serious, bookish, sheltered youth, he harbored ambitions to attend West Point but was denied admission due to poor eyesight. Nonetheless, he enlisted and became an artillery captain in...
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Wallace, Henry A. 1888-1965
VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, 1941-1945,
PROGRESSIVE PARTY PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE,
Spokesman for the Common Man.
Henry A. Wallace began his political career as secretary of agriculture under President Franklin D. Roosevelt and served as Roosevelt's vice-president from 1941 to 1945, only to be replaced by Harry S Truman in Roosevelt's reelection bid due to his increasing belief that compromise and cooperation could be achieved with the Soviet Union. Perhaps more than any other Democrat of his day, with the exception of Roosevelt, Wallace represented the socially conscious and compassionate wing of the New Deal. Had he remained vicepresident he would have been president upon Roosevelt's death in 1945; though he would have been pressured by the same advisers as Truman, his approach to the issues of postwar global reconstruction would undoubtedly have been different. Wallace hoped to make government responsive to the needs of America's weakest, its farmers and laborers, by committing it to the goal of rational economic planning and the regulation of industry. He looked forward to a "century of the common man." Possessing a religious faith in the inherent goodness of humanity, he believed that a global New Deal might be effected after World War II, with the United States as its leader. Though his faith in the capacity of Soviet leaders to...
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People in the News
Attorney General Francis Biddle declared on 12 October 1942 that 600,000 Italian citizens residing in the United States were no longer "enemy aliens." American citizens of Japanese descent, meanwhile, were interned in concentration camps.
Returning to Mississippi to run for reelection in November 1946, Sen. Theodore Gilmore Bilbo answered northern critics of his white-supremacist speeches by saying, "We tell our Negro-loving Yankee friends to go straight to hell."
In July 1944 Republican vice-presidential candidate John Bricker made the first public statement of the Dewey-Bricker team about the Democrats' choice for vice-president, saying, "Truman—that's his name, isn't it? I can never remember that name."
On 27 October 1942 James F, Byrnes, director of the Office of Economic Stabilization and former associate justice of the Supreme Court, issued regulations limiting individual salaries at twenty-five thousand dollars (before taxes, charitable contributions, and fixed obligations), including President Franklin D. Roosevelt's. This meant that all salaries more than this amount were to be taxed at a rate of 100 percent. The measure was rescinded by Roosevelt under pressure from conservatives in Congress.
On 3 August 1948 Whittaker Chambers, an admitted Communist, accused State Department...
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Charles A. Beard, 73, leading historian who believed that President Franklin D. Roosevelt actively sought to lead the United States into World War II, 1 September 1948.
Theodore G. Bilbo, 69, senator from Mississippi (1935-1947), leader of conservative opposition to racial progress in both the New Deal and World War II, 21 August 1947.
William E. Borah, 74, progressive senator from Idaho (1907-1940), leading isolationist before World War II and part of the opposition that defeated President Woodrow Wilson's League of Nations Treaty, 19 January 1940.
Louis D. Brandeis, 84, associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court (1916-1939) and the first Jew appointed to the highest court, opponent of trusts and monopolies known for his devotion to free speech, 5 October 1941.
Philippe-Jean Bunau-Varilla, 81, French engineer engaged in secret machinations with the Theodore Roosevelt administration to sever Panama from Colombia in order to build and operate the Panama Canal under U.S. control, 18 May 1940.
Smedley Darlington Butler, 58, Marine Corps major general, winner of two Congressional Medals of Honor, leading opponent of U.S. entry into World War II who promoted a national defense system through which "a rat couldn't crawl," 21 June 1940.
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Saul Alinsky, John L. Lewis: An Unauthorized Biography (New York: Putnam, 1949);
Hanson W. Baldwin, Strategy for Victory (New York: Norton, 1942);
Baldwin, United We Stand: Defense of the Western Hemisphere (London: Whittlesey House New York: McGraw-Hill, 1941);
Stephen Vincent Benét, Zero Hour: A Summons to the Free (New York & Toronto: Farrar & Rinehart, 1940);
Eduard Bernays, Speak Up for Democracy: What You Can Do—Practical Plan of Action for Every American Citizen (New York: Viking, 1940);
Leonard Broom and Ruth Riemer, Removal and Return: The Socio-Economic Effects of the War on Japanese-Americans (Berkeley & Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1949);
James Burnham, The Managerial Revolution: What is Happening in the World (New York: Day, 1941);
Vannevar Bush, Science, The Endless Frontier: A Report to the President (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1945);
Bruce Catton, The Warlords of Washington (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1948);
Peter Drucker, The Future of Industrial Man: A Conservative Approach (New York: Farrar & Rinehart, 1941);
Ethel Gorham, So Your...
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Important Events in Government and Politics, 1940–1949
- On January 3, in his State of the Union Address, President Franklin D. Roosevelt asks Congress for $1.8 billion for defense, an unprecedented sum that alarms isolationists.
- On January 26, the 1911 U.S.-Japan Treaty of Commerce expires, and Secretary of State Cordell Hull informs the Japanese government that trade will continue only on a day-to-day basis.
- On June 3, the War Department agrees to sell Britain millions of dollars' worth of outdated munitions and aircraft.
- On June 10, President Roosevelt declares that U.S. policy is changing from "neutrality" to "non-belligerency." Isolationists predict that this shift will lead to America's entrance into the war.
- From June 11 to June 13, Congress passes both the Naval Supply Act and the Military Supply Act, authorizing $3.3 billion for defense projects.
- On June 28, Republicans nominate Wendell L. Willkie as their presidential candidate; Charles McNary is nominated as his running mate two days later.
- On June 28, Congress passes the Alien Registration Act (Smith Act), which requires registration and fingerprinting of all foreigners in the United States and makes it illegal to advocate the overthrow of the U.S. government.
- From July 15 to July 19, the Democratic National Convention...
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