1942 All Over Again?
John Moser writes an editorial at Ashbrook Center, May 2004:
.... A spate of propaganda over the past ten years about the "greatest generation" has contributed to a widely-held belief that during World War II Americans accepted such developments stoically, without complaint, and that bad news only intensified their resolve to see the fight through to a successful finish. In fact, the reverse was true; Americans were stunned by these reversals, and were quick to look for someone to blame. For a while the British appeared to be a convenient target; one poll taken after the fall of the North African fortress of Tobruk elicited responses suggesting that there was "too much tea-drinking and not enough fighting." The editors of The New Republic, meanwhile, complained that the British army was underperforming due to a "social rigidity which has kept the best British military ability from coming to the top."
Nor was the administration immune to criticism, particularly for its commitment to defeating Germany first. Given that it had been the Japanese who had attacked Pearl Harbor, Americans found it difficult to understand why in the first months of the war more U.S. troops were being sent to the United Kingdom than to, say, the Philippines, where they might help Gen. Douglas MacArthur to stop the invading Japanese forces. A Gallup poll showed that a substantial majority of the population believed that Japan was the nation’s "chief enemy," and therefore that most of the country’s resources should be committed to the Pacific. In fact, as late as mid-1943 a bipartisan group of senators — all of whom, it should be noted, had a history of opposition to the president’s policies — were accusing the administration of an almost criminal neglect of the war against Japan.
Such attacks convinced Roosevelt that he had to give the American people a victory; if possible, before the midterm congressional elections in 1942. However, Operation Torch — the Anglo-American invasion of North Africa — had to be pushed back until after Election Day, and the result was a debacle for the Democratic Party. The Republicans picked up no less than 44 seats in the House of Representatives and nine in the Senate. Only in the so-called "solid South" did Democrats manage to survive reelection challenges.
But even if Operation Torch had taken place before Election Day it is unlikely that the result would have been much different. American troops coming ashore in French-held North Africa soon encountered stiff resistance from French troops, who arguably fought harder in this campaign than they had against the invading Germans in 1940. The fighting only ceased when an agreement was negotiated with Admiral Jean Francois Darlan, the Vichy French commander. This, however, led to howls of protests from liberals—Darlan was a fascist, and to negotiate with him was a betrayal of what the war was supposed to be about. "A deal with the devil," was how radio commentator Walter Winchell put it. In the words of historian Thomas Fleming, hostility to the Darlan deal reflected the struggle "between the New Dealers’ approach to the war and those who rated realism above moral purity."
If these events have largely faded from public memory, it is no doubt because we know that ultimately what mattered was the outcome of the war — the Allies won, Nazism and fascism were crushed, and the former Axis Powers would become constitutional republics. The defeats of 1942, and the resulting criticism of the war effort, today appear to be of merely academic interest. However, it is important to remember them during these trying days. Modern communications have developed to the point that every bit of information coming in from Fallujah and elsewhere is eagerly pored over, and a host of reporters, columnists, radio personalities and internet bloggers are under pressure to offer instant analysis, desperately trying to make sense of a complicated situation based on highly limited information. In such a situation, is it any wonder that the overall picture we receive tends to be one of imminent disaster?...
Lane Core Jr. CIW P Tue. 05/04/04 05:46:33 PM
Categorized as Political.