Story #7 was about two of my brothers who contributed to the war effort in World War II. In that story, I wondered how many 15-year-old guys today would do what Jim did?
There is some thought among the millennial generation that Jim and Nate just did not have the modern communication that today’s millennials enjoy. So, they volunteered in ignorance.
Let’s talk about ignorance a moment. Did you know that they actually had radios? And they received nightly a 15-minute newscast by Gabriel Heatter. By the way, you should know that there was only 15 minutes of news worth reporting daily back then. Also, by the way, today there is not more than 30 minutes of daily news worth repeating. The 24-hour news channels just repeat this news 24 times daily with some commentary in between.
In 1942 these are some of the things that they knew.
- Germany invaded Poland in September 1939.
- From late 1939 to 1941 Germany conquered or controlled much of continental Europe and made a treaty with Italy and Japan, becoming known as the Axis Powers. Their goal was to conquer every country worldwide.
- Japan had taken over Korea and had then invaded China in late 1939.
- In mid-1940 France fell, after Poland, Finland, Romania and the Baltic states.
- Meanwhile General Rommel of Germany invaded North Africa and East Africa with the goal of occupying Egypt.
- In June 1941 Germany also invaded the Soviet Union.
- Otherwise, in Europe it was a battle between Britain and Germany with Germany controlling all the resources of the European continent. In the aerial Battle of Britain, the German Luftwaffe bombed London every night. Britain was in a desperate state. This is when Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of Britain, gave some of his most memorable radio addresses, saying in one: “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat.” And in another: “We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”
These are the things that Nate and Jim knew. They knew that Hitler’s goal after Britain was to conquer the United States.
Now you probably tend to think of the United States as the predominant power in the world, as we have been for the past thirty years. But in 1940 the U.S. was not a world power, perhaps it was considered to be a second-rate power. George Washington in his advice to his successors advised that the U.S. should avoid foreign entanglement. From that time forward the U.S. had a strong streak of isolationism in its people and its legislature. Although the U.S. assisted the allies in defeating Germany in World War I, she afterwards refused to join the League of Nations, which was set up in 1920 to try to prevent war and engender peace.
The world was at war and America was on the sidelines. Nate and Jim were poor farm boys, but they were not ignorant. Then on December 7, 1941 the Japanese made a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii and the American fleet. The Japanese, with 353 aircraft on the attack, sank or damaged eight battleships, three cruisers, three destroyers, and killed 2,403 Americans. When America was attacked without provocation and without a declaration of war, the world conflict became very personal to every American. Japan had poked the Eagle, and they would bitterly regret the day.
This attack was a great unifying force and the voices of isolationism disappeared like mist. I recommend a couple of movies that represent part of the history. “Yankee Doodle Dandy” is somewhat lighthearted but shows the eagerness of the people to work together for a great cause. “Patton” gives more of the nitty gritty military mindset of the U.S. military. If you watch these two movies you will not be ignorant of the things that Nate and Jim knew.
I try to check for facts, but let me know if I missed something.