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Archive for the ‘WWII’ Category

Thought I’d throw down a quick post since its been a while.  Incidentally, I do have a couple of posts on the way in the near future that may be interesting to three or four of my seven readers.  Look for those in the next week or two.  In the meantime, a little quickie (yeah, right) answer to this question from the Wondering Junior:  who were the important people in W2?

Now, I’m going to assume that our friend the Wondering Junior meant the important people of WW2 and not the IRS clerks that developed the W2 form.  With that clarification out of the way we can continue.

Asking who the important people were in WW2 is a little like asking someone to name all the cast members in a war movie based on a Cornelius Ryan book;  the list is long and illustrious, full of prominent and familiar names.  So, we’ll have to narrow things down a bit to prevent this post from needing the longest day to complete (Get it?  Cornelius Ryan? Longest Day?  I know, don’t say it).  We’ll look at a few major players from each of the major belligerents.  We’ll pick at least on political and one military leader from Germany, Britain, the Soviet Union, Japan, Italy, and the US.  Let’s start with the bad guys.

Germany

Adolph Hitler:  Nazi dictator of Germany – You’ve got to think that Hitler is one of the most recognizable names the world over.  You could make the argument that without Adolph Hitler there would not have been a World War 2, at least not on the scale of what is was.  He was a charismatic public speaker, rallying the German masses to support the Nazi cause of domination and ethnic purity.  His hatred for the Jews spawned the terrible “Final Solution” which included death camps, sterilization, and human experimentation, and lead to the extermination of about 6 million Jews and about 5 million other “undesirable” persons, such as Slavs and gypsies.  An Austrian by birth, he served in the German army in WWI, never rising above the rank of corporal, and yet he took command of the German wermacht, or armed forces, during the war.  Before his death by suicide in the wars final days, stress and paranoia had turned him into a raving, suspicious wreck, with uncontrollable trembles, bordering on dementia.

Joseph Goebbels:  Nazi propaganda minister – Goebbels lead Nazi Germany’s campaign of propaganda to instill in the German people the “ideals” of the Nazi party.  He controlled all forms of communication in Germany.  He and his wife poisoned their seven children before committing suicide themselves as the Red Army closed in on Berlin.

Herman Goering:  Luftwaffe chief and Nazi party leader – Goering was a WWI flying ace who transformed the German air force, the Luftwaffe, into a formidable force.  Was the heir apparent to the Fuehrer, but was captured in the closing days of the war.  While on trial for war crimes at Nuremburg after the war, he committed suicide in his cell.

Erwin Rommel:  General and Field Marshall – Perhaps Germany’s most well known general.  Scored early victories in the war in France and became famous for leading his Afrika Corps against the British in North Africa.  Implicated in a plot against Hitler later in the war, he was given the “opportunity” to commit suicide rather than be shot by firing squad.

 Did you notice a trend there on how things ended up for these guys?  On to Japan.

 Japan

Hideki Tojo:  General and Prime Minister – Tojo was a leader in the military junta that controlled Japan.  He led the Japanese army in its war with China and became Prime Minister just before the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  He was complicit in war crimes against those living in Japanese controlled areas of Asia, which included human experimentation.  He was captured, tried, and in 1948, hanged.

Hirohito:  Emperor – The Emperor at first sought to avoid war with the West, but was eventually swayed by the army and navy.  Ordered the Japanese surrender of the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki against the will of many military commanders, some of who attempted a coup which failed.  Somewhat controversially, was not implicated or charged with any war crimes though some claim many of these were committed with his knowledge and even at his behest.  Died in 1989.

Isoroku Yamamoto:  Admiral – Yamamoto was the admiral who devised the Pearl Harbor attack plan.  He had opposed virtually all of Japan’s aggressive maneuvers prior to that, including the invasion of Manchuria and the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy, but in loyalty to his country fought on anyway.  While his famous “all we have done is awaken a sleeping giant” quote, referring to the attack on America at Pearl, is likely apocryphal, he is documented as warning, “I can run wild for six months … after that, I have no expectation of success.”  Yamamoto was killed when his plane was shot down by American P-38’s while inspecting forward units

Italy

Benito Mussolini:  Fascist dictator of Italy – Mussolini was really the inventor of fascism, though his brand was initially a much less racist version than Hitler’s.  Like Hitler, a talented orator and motivator.  Il Duce, as he was called, invaded Ethiopia and what is now Somalia in Africa.  Italy was not a strong military power, and had to be bailed out by Germany on several occasions.  After things deteriorated for Italy during the war, Mussolini was dismissed as Prime Minister and arrested by order of King Emmanuel.  He was later rescued by German special forces and set up by Hitler as a kind of puppet ruler in northern Italy.  Captured by communist partisans while attempting to flee Italy at the close of the war, he and his mistress were executed and their bodies hung upside down from a gas station.

Ok, I don’t know any Italian military types.  You’ll have to learn that on your own.  On to the allies and their communist partner.

Soviet Union

Joseph Stalin:  Communist dictator – Stalin initially made a pact with Hitler and jointly invaded Poland with the Nazis.  Pact ended when Germany invaded Russia.  Suffering early reversals, in no small part due to a depleted Red Army officer core due to his paranoid purges, Stalin employed a scorched earth policy as his predecessors had done when invaded by Napoleon and Charles XII of Sweden.  Ironically framed the war against the Nazis as the Great Patriotic War and this morale booster coupled with the victory at Stalingrad helped to turn the tide.  Stalin was a thorn in the allies side immediately following Germany’s surrender, refusing to give up territory his Red Army occupied to its rightful possessors.  Tensions soon escalated into the Cold War.  Stalin died in 1953 as a result of a stroke.

Georgy Zhukov:  General – Though he briefly fell out of favor with Stalin early in the war, his defense of Moscow put him back in good graces.  Zhukov was instrumental in many of the crucial Red Army victories, including Stalingrad, Leningrad, Kursk, and the invasion of Germany itself.  He died in 1974.

Vyacheslav Molotov:  Foreign Minister – Along with Joachim von Ribbentrop, the foreign minister of Nazi Germany, concluded the pact between Germany and the Soviet Union which called for the partition of Poland and the dividing up of the Baltic states.  In the resulting Soviet-Finnish war of 1939 the Fins coined the term Molotov cocktail for homemade bombs.  Throughout the wider war, Molotov was a tough negotiator with the other allies and secured their promise of a second front in Europe.  He died in 1986 at the age of 96.

Great Britain

Winston Churchill:  First Lord of the Admiralty & Prime Minister – Politically isolated before the war and one of the few who saw the danger of Hitler early one, became First Lord of the Admiralty when the war broke out.  Not long after was appointed Prime Minister.  Lead Britain with a steely resolve in the face of seemingly hopeless times, including during the Blitz and the Battle of Britain.  Pressed President Roosevelt for help, which helped lead to the Lend Lease Act.  Kept Britain in the fight until the US finally joined the war in 1941. 

Bernard Law Montgomery:  General – Skilled and boastful, Montgomery commanded the British army in North Africa to the first major allied land victory of the war, El Alamein.  He was in command of armies that invaded Sicily, where he and US general George Patton developed a rivalry that wasn’t always friendly and which was further fueled by Montgomery’s actions and comments during the Battle of the Bulge.  Operation Market Garden, a plan to cross into Germany via the Rhine River in Holland was his operation, though it was poorly planned and he ignored key intelligence.  The operation was an allied disaster, despite Monty’s claim of it being “90% successful.”  His armies did eventually cross the Rhine and Montgomery accepted the surrender of Germany in Denmark and Holland.

United States

Franklin D. Roosevelt:  President – Though the US was neutral at the war’s outset, Roosevelt did everything short of actual fighting to aid the allies.  The Lend-Lease Act which provided Britain with badly needed supplies and equipment and the oil embargo on Japan in response to their aggression in Asia were major components of his policy.  His most controversial act as President was Executive Order 9066 which called for the internment of those of Japanese descent on the West Coast.  Met with Churchill, Stalin, and China’s Chang Kai-shek on various occasions to discuss strategy and post-war plans.  Died after being elected to a fourth term in 1945.

Harry S. Truman:  Vice President  & President – Taking office after Roosevelt’s death, Truman initially very little about FDR’s war policies.  He had been largely kept in the dark.  A hard worker and quick learner, he rapidly got up to speed.  Alone made the decision to drop two atomic bombs on Japan to force their surrender.

Dwight D. Eisenhower:  General – Commander of all allied forces in Europe.  Presided over D-Day invasion of Normandy and was prepared to take full responsibility had it failed.  Had to manage enormous personalities and egos in the likes of Patton and Montgomery.  After the war became NATO commander and then President of the United States.

George S. Patton:  General – Brilliant, eccentric, and controversial.  A skilled tank commander, notoriously profane and religious.  Commanded a huge dummy army in England prior to the Normandy invasion.  Drove his tank battalions across central Europe after breaking out of France, all the way to Czechoslovakia.  Famously slapped a soldier in a military hospital who was suffering from shell shock and called him a coward.  He was forced to apologize for the incident.  Died from injuries suffered in a car crash in 1945.

Ok, so maybe this wasn’t a quick post at all.  But now you’ve got a little bit of an idea of who a lot of the major players were in the greatest conflict in the history of the world.

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Don’t Forget

pearl.jpg

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Pop Quiz

Ominous title, I know.  Well, a history teacher in the Bay Area thought that his students needed one.  A pop quiz on World War II.  His students are juniors and, hypothetically, had studied WWII in both their sophmore and junior years.  The results were less than impressive.  As an article in the San Francisco Chronicle details:

If high school juniors’ answers to a World War II questionnaire were strung together, here’s how history would look:

World War II took place in 19-something, when Theodore Roosevelt was president and the Germans claimed to be the best race.

Hoping to aid Third World countries, the United States joined the war to stop racism and end the dispute over Jews.

The head of the Nazis was a killer named Hitler whose evil partner, Mussolini, was president of the USSR. Ultimately, the war ended with the bombing of Iwo Jima and Hitler’s suicide. Then a treaty was signed.

Well, I just finished watching The War and Ken Burns must have really screwed up because I don’t remember it happening like that.  Unfortunately in our schools these days, history seems to be getting pushed off to the side.  I’m sure its always been a tough task for teachers to make what seems like old, dusty stuff to kids seem alive, interesting, and relevant.  It seems like other subjects, like math, english, and science, are given priority.  I’m not expert on education, and maybe those others are more practical, but as someone who loves history and sees the value in knowing our own, I find it sad that it appears to be neglected in many cases.  It’s tough for teachers because there’s always more every year and its tough to cover a couple hundred years in a school year without skimming over everything.  I remember when I was in school, it always seemed like the history classes barely got past the pilgrims.  Things like the Civil War and especially WWII seemed like they were thousands of years away, not tens.  In my junior year my American History teacher actually started the year with the Civil War because she knew we’d never have time to get to even the twentieth century if we didn’t.  I don’t have any answers or suggestions for making this better, like I said, I’m no expert on education.  Just some rambling thoughts.

Below is the quiz that the HS kids took, with the answers in small print at the bottom.  Quiz yourself and post your score.  I promise not to make fun of you…too much.  (I got 100%, BTW).

World War II quiz

Test your World War II knowledge – or your children’s. This Chronicle questionnaire was administered in San Francisco to 36 sophomores, 34 juniors and 20 seniors – but without benefit of multiple-choice options. Below is a multiple-choice version of the quiz, with each choice – incorrect, correct and nearly correct – taken from the students’ original answers.

1. When was World War II?

a. 1700

b. 1939 to 1945

c. Europe: 1930 to 1945; U.S.: 1941-1945

d. 1967

2. Who was president during most of World War II?

a. Woodrow Wilson

b. Theodore Roosevelt

c. Franklin Delano Roosevelt

d. Harry Truman

3. Who was Winston Churchill?

a. Prime Minister of the U.K.

b. General of the U.S.

c. A dictator

d. Some important dude

4. Who was Adolf Hitler?

a. Super evil guy

b. Nazi leader

c. Killer of Jews

d. All of the above

5. Who was Benito Mussolini?

a. Soviet leader

b. An explorer

c. Dictator of Italy

d. A columnist

6. Who was Rosie the Riveter?

a. Icon of U.S. female participation in the war

b. A protester

c. Gay gang member

d. Congressman

7. What caused the U.S. to join World War II?

a. Fighting over Hawaii

b. Revenge

c. Zimmerman’s note

d. The bombing of Pearl Harbor

8. How did World War II end?

a. Two atomic bombs were dropped in China

b. Hitler’s suicide

c. Germany lost as Allies pushed into Berlin, Japan was bombed by two atom bombs, and Emperor Hirohito surrendered.

d. Americans and Russians freed the Jews

9. What was the war about?

a. Racism

b. Communism

c. Boston tea

d. Liberation of Europe and the Pacific

10. What was the Holocaust?

a. Genocide of over 6 million Jews and others

b. Slavery

c. Killing of those that weren’t white

d. People looking down on Jews

ANSWERS:

1. b; 2. c; 3. a; 4. d; 5. c; 6. a; 7. d; 8. c; 9. d; 10. a

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First things first; apologies for the lack of posts.  I’m not taking any classes right now, so I don’t have that as an excuse, but then again that also means I don’t have assignments which are then conveniently converted into posts.  So, my not having an excuse is my excuse.  Chew on that for a while.

 On to today’s topic….

 A while back I asked for questions that needed answering.  I received two:  Did Hitler really die in a fire or is he living in some other country under an assumed name? and Did you hear the rumor about Napoleon not dying as a island prisoner, but being swapped with one of his many doubles?

And now the answers.

Did Hitler really die in a fire or is he living in some other country under an assumed name?

No Hitler did not die in a fire.  So he is living in some other country under an assumed name?  No, he is not.  Here’s how it went down.

Hitler spent the waning days of World War II holed up in the Reich Chancellery bunker in the heart of Berlin.  By April 1945, the Soviet Red Army was slugging its way through the streets to reach the heart of the Third Reich.  When it became imminent that they would soon be knocking on the chancellery door, quite literally, and even he realized the war was lost, Hitler vowed to commit suicide rather than be captured.  On April 29th, Hitler dictated his will to his secretary Traudl Junge and later that night he and his longtime female companion Eva Braun were married in the bunker.  The next day, Hitler had a spaghetti lunch with his staff in the bunker and then he and Eva retired to his study.  At about 3:30 PM a gun shot was heard and Nazi party leader Martin Borman and Hitler’s valet opened the door to his office to find Hitler had shot himself in the temple and Eva Braun slumped over from an apparent cyanide capsule.  Both were obviously dead.

Shortly after, SS guards took the Hitlers into the Tiergarten of the Chancellery, above ground, and burned their bodies as Hitler had ordered.  The bodies had not been completely consumed by the fire, but due to Soviet shelling of the Chancellery the guards fled.

So, if this is indeed how Hitler died, why all the fuss about if he’s secretly living in Argentina or some place?  While the above account was reported in Hugh Trevor-Roper’s book The Last Days of Hitler in 1947, Berlin, and especially that part of Berlin, were in Soviet control at the end of the war, and thus they were in possession of Hitler’s remains.  The Soviet Union is not what we would call a real open society, and they didn’t release much information concerning what may have become of Hitler.  In 1968 a report on the autopsy conducted by the Russian intelligence agency SMERSH was widely published, but it was thought to be part of a misinformation scheme by the Soviets and thus not trustworthy.  It wasn’t until 1993 when KGB files were at last opened and confirmed what was already suspected.

 In 1970, the facility that contained the information regarding Hitlers’ remains final resting place, an unmarked, paved-over grave in Magdeburg, Germany, was to be turned over to the East German government.  Worried that the burial site may become some sort of Neo-Nazi shrine, KGB Yuri Andropov had the remains exhumed, re-burned and the ashes dumped in the Elbe river.

The speculation and conspiracy theories relating to Hitler not being dead, were no doubt spurred on by the USSR’s secrecy in the matter.  What also probably helped propagate the rumors were that many Nazi’s had in fact escaped, many to South America (including Final Solution architect Adolf Eichman, who Israeli agents hunted down and captured in 1960).  Also, Hitler had an uncanny knack for escaping attempts on his life.  One such attempt was the July 20 Plot, where a briefcase of plastic explosive was to be detonated, and in fact was, while Hitler was in a briefing.  For some reason, quite fortuitously for Hitler, calamitous for the rest of the world, the briefcase was moved either to the opposite end of the table from where Hitler was, or behind the heavy oak legs of the table, and the full force of the blast was deflected from it intended target, killing three others.

Did you hear the rumor about Napoleon not dying as a island prisoner, but being swapped with one of his many doubles?

No, I haven’t heard that one.

For further reading and viewing on Hitler’s last days:

The Fall of Berlin 1945 by Antony Beevor

Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer

Der Untergang (DVD)

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