Dear Grandchildren – History You Should Know
I contemplated how to begin this Blog until I replied to a note Illinois Senator Mark Kirk sent regarding his concerns about the Iranian Nuclear Deal. He asked me to take a moment to “share this on Facebook and Twitter” and then, of course, there was that DONATE button. I skipped all three in favor of an email:
“Dear Senator Kirk, Yes, I agree with you and am ‘extremely disappointed and gravely concerned’ about this capitulation to a Country that sponsors terrorism and expounds “Death to America, Death to Israel.” I have 11 grandchildren and 8 2/3 great grandchildren—all of whom I love dearly and agonize for their future. In fact I am interrupting the writing of a new blog for my website marspeak.net titled Dear Grandchildren—History You Should Know to send this note to you. My goal in this blog is to recount our history that is being rewritten by self-appointed educational experts—God knows their nefarious reasons, but I will relate the history that I know from living in the world 77 years.”
“THOSE WHO DON’T KNOW HISTORY ARE DOOMED TO REPEAT IT.” You, Dear Grandchildren, are in control of your future and that of your children. It is necessary, however, to understand past history (what your grandfather and I have experienced and a bit of history before) and the importance of it. Each of you are dynamic young people whom I trust to become knowledgeable and involved in matters that shape your lives. There are 11 of you who will be voting in the 2016 election and I don’t want any low information voters in our family!
HISTORY YOU SHOULD KNOW begins with World War II, 1939-1945. I was born in 1937, so some of what I write is from history lessons of yore. Knowing this history is important in understanding THE PRESENT so “we are not doomed to repeat it!”
THE TREATY OF VERSAILLES drawn up at the end of World War I (1914-1918) between Germany and the Allied Powers imposed harsh terms on Germany that some felt fueled the rise of Adolf Hitler who became Reich Chancellor in 1933 and appointed himself Führer (supreme leader) the next year.
Like many in Britain who had lived through World War I, NEVILLE CHAMBERLAIN, Britain’s Prime Minister, was determined to avert another war. His policy of APPEASEMENT (a diplomatic policy of making political or material concessions to an enemy power to avoid conflict) emboldened Hitler to defy the Treaty at his whim.
By 1936 Germany had 95 warships, 8,250 airplanes and an army of nearly one million men—many more than the “6 warships, 0 planes, and 100,000 men” allowed by the Treaty.
The Treaty prohibited Germany from keeping military forces in a 50 kilometer stretch of the Rhineland (see map). The Rhineland formed a natural barrier to Germany’s neighbor and rival, France; in the event of a war, the River Rhine would be difficult for an invading force to cross. Never-the-less, Hitler boldly marched 22,000 German troops into the Rhineland in direct contravention. (Not only was Hitler defying the Treaty, but believing he knew more about military strategy, acted against the advice of his own Generals.) BRITAIN DID NOT REACT!
NEVILLE CHAMBERLAIN’S policy of APPEASEMENT toward Adolf Hitler culminated in the MUNICH PACT on September 30, 1938 in which Britain and France accepted that the Czech region of the SUDETENLAND (a territory along the Czechoslovakian border that had been given to them in the Treaty) should be ceded to Germany.
This is a short assessment of how the Munich Pact transpired.
- Hitler demanded that Sudetenland (see map) be reunited with Germany. War seemed imminent.
- Chamberlain went to Hitler’s retreat at Berchtesgaden to discuss the said demands personally with the Führer. Chamberlain agreed to try to persuade his cabinet and the French to accept Hitler’s demands and then returned to England.
- The next day Chamberlain flew back to Germany to meet Hitler only to learn the demand had been stiffened: the German army would occupy Sudetenland and the Czechoslovaks would evacuate the area in six days. Chamberlain agreed to submit the new proposal to the Czechoslovaks, who rejected it as did the British cabinet and the French.
- In a last-minute effort to avoid war, Chamberlain convened a four-power conference (Britain, France, Germany, and Italy) in Munich where the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini introduced a written plan which in effect gave in to Hitler’s demands.
Chamberlain returned home and declared to the British citizens that he had achieved “peace with honor”… “peace for our time.” These words were immediately challenged by his greatest critic, Winston Churchill, “You were given the choice between war and dishonour. You chose dishonour and you will have war.’ On September 1, 1938 after the German Army invaded Poland, Chamberlain declared war. World War II had begun!
This was a global war involving the vast majority of the world nations eventually forming two opposing military alliances; the ALLIES (United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union) and the AXIS (Germany, Italy and Japan.)
Each of the AXIS had their reasons for war: Hitler wanted to secure a vast empire and domination over the world for the “Aryans” (blonde haired and blue-eyed) who, he felt, were destined to rule the world, Benito Mussolini saw the war as a way to gain more land and power over a larger territory besides fearing being overrun by Hitler, and the Empire of Japan aimed to dominate Asia and the Pacific. The United States did not enter the war until Japan, failing to get the oil embargo lifted and frozen assets restored that rendered its navy and air force completely useless, bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. From then on it was an American fight. As American soldiers went off to battle, the country came together: old, young, and no matter their descent. IT WAS THE SAME WE EXPERIENCED AFTER 9/11—WE WERE UNITED!
The War raged on: Battles won, battles lost. The war in Europe finally ended with an invasion of Germany by the Allies, the capture of Berlin, and Germany’s unconditional surrender on May 8, 1945—V-E Day (Victory in Europe.)
The war against Japan was not over however—On July 26, following Germany’s surrender, the United States President Harry Truman, United Kingdom Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Chairman of the Nationalist Government of China Chiang Kai-shek issued the POTSDAM DECLARATION that called for Japan to surrender or face “prompt and utter destruction.” The Japanese military command refused.
President Harry Truman was faced with a decision of unprecedented gravity. With the knowledge that the Manhattan Project had successfully developed and exploded the first Atomic Bomb on July 16, 1945 in Alamogordo, New Mexico, Truman made the decision to use the bomb to end the war. He felt that it was the only way to prevent what he predicted would be a greater loss of life were the United States to invade the Japanese mainland. On August 6, 1945 an atomic bomb was dropped on the city of Hiroshima, followed on August 9th with a second bomb on Nagasaki. (Aunt Norene had taken me on vacation to Virginia Beach. We were playing at the ocean—on the very day Hiroshima was bombed. When we returned to our Hotel we found the lobby filled with people sitting around a radio listening to Truman’s broadcast. I’m sure no one understood the enormity of what had just happened.)
ON AUGUST 15, 1945 JAPAN SURRENDERED: V-J DAY (VICTORY IN JAPAN.
My Grandma, Aunt Norene, Aunt Marion, and I were on a bus on Woodward Avenue in downtown Detroit, Michigan on that day. Traffic stopped and people flooded the streets—horns blared and people cheered. I was only 8 years old, but I fully understood and joyfully joined the celebration hanging out the bus window waving and shouting for joy.
In my child like eyes I had seen the War in terms of something that men fought in lands far away, but I lived the realities of its effect at home. Between 1939 and 1942, my Mother, Dad and I lived on the Farm with Grandma and Grandpa. Uncle Earl enlisted in the army, Uncle Bob was commissioned into the Navy upon graduation from Marquette University’s ROTC program, and my father received a deferment from service for medical reasons resulting from rheumatic fever. I’ve often marveled at Grandma and Grandpa’s incredible faith and courage knowing that two of their sons were in harm’s way every day in places unknown. I like to think that our living with them allayed some of their daily anxiety.
As soon as the U. S. entered the War shortages began. You couldn’t just walk into a grocery and buy as much sugar, butter, or meat as you wanted. The Government introduced rationing; War Ration Books were issued to each American family, controlling how much any one person could buy of rationed items—sugar, coffee, processed food, meats, canned fish, cheese, canned milk, butter, tires, cars, bicycles, gasoline, fuel oil, kerosene, solid fuels, stoves, rubber footwear, sugar and even typewriters.
In 1942 we moved from the Farm to our house at 4213 Jefferson in Midland, Michigan, and it became my duty to stop at Lemke’s grocery store on the way home from school each day to see if any of the rationed foods were available and if they were, to run home to tell my mother so she could rush back before they were gone. How happy I was when bubble gum was available! Can you imagine being excited about bubble gum? (That bubble gum, however, got me free tickets to a Saturday’s Double Feature at the Midland movie theater where we were treated to Westerns starring Gene Autry, Hopalong Cassidy, Roy Rogers and his Happy Trails, Lone Ranger and others. It was between movies one Saturday when a bubble gum blowing contest was held on stage and I won by blowing the biggest bubble.)
And then there was SPAM! Lots of Spam! Hormel Foods provided 15 million cans to the troops each week. Since “real” meats were severely rationed, Spam became a staple with us civilians at home— much to my consternation. It needed no refrigeration and could be served cold or cooked in any number of ways and my mother knew all the ways. We had Spam and eggs for breakfast, Spam sandwiches for lunch, and the most dreaded of all—fried Spam in brown sugar and oleo for dinner. Every tin can was carefully “delidded” with a dangerous looking appliance and squashed flat for recycling.
Because of the shortage and rationing of butter, Oleo (bogus butter) became another misfortune of the War. I’m not referring to margarine in neatly wrapped quarter sticks; our Oleo came in odd-looking plastic packages filled with a white lard-like substance and a little red/yellow food coloring button in the center. It was another of my chores to knead that plastic bag until that white, lard-like stuff resembled something edible.
We had a 1937 Ford, but gas was rationed. The distance between our house and Dow Chemical Company where my father worked was such that there wasn’t enough for the week. So my father salvaged his old bicycle and rigged a small motor on the back to use for his 22 mile round trip transportation. Somehow my father found and bought me a little red bicycle during the War.
Anything using metal— from chicken wire to farm equipment—was rationed; it took massive amounts of metal to build tanks, ships, planes, and weapons. Americans were urged to turn in scrap metal for recycling, and schools and community groups across the country held scrap metal drives Your Grandfather remembers at the age of 6 or 7 scouring his neighborhood for scrap metal filling and pulling his little RED RYDER WAGON.
There are so many personal stories of sacrifices made during those years. It was a time of sacrifice for every American—and all of us did our share. The nation was united in thought, word, and deed; “We are all in this together,” was a common saying expressing the essence and exceptionalism of the American spirit.
Since the War might have been prevented but for Neville Chamberlain’s APPEASEMENT, I worry about Obama’s pattern of appeasement: abandoning friends (Israel) in the hope of reducing hostility from enemies (Iran), having no strategic plan to defeat ISIS—treating it as a J. V Team, ignoring the advice of his own Generals, weakening our military preparedness. All these things ring eerily in the face of