Reflections of an American World War II Veteran on the Fiftieth Anniversary of the D-Day InvasionCharles E. Weber
Television stations throughout the United States recently devoted many hours to the events of the bloody “D-Day” battle half a century ago, broadcasting gruesome scenes recorded on thousands of feet of motion picture film. But what did that pain and sacrifice on the beaches of Normandy really bring for Americans?
I am an American veteran of the Second World War, born in 1922. I was sworn into the Army of the United States on January 13, 1943, and discharged from military service on a pleasant spring day in Heidelberg, April 13, 1946. During those three and a quarter years I went to places as I was ordered, and did what I was ordered to do. Since my overseas service was in Europe, my reflections of June 6, 1944, are mostly concerned with the American military role in Europe. When I view the film footage of American “D-Day” military action, I realize how fortunate I am not to have been on the “Omaha” beachhead sector that day.
After the end of military action in 1945, I became involved in the process usually called “Denazification,” which afforded me the unusual opportunity to hear views from both sides of the war. My training had been in military intelligence, and my Military Occupational Specialty Number was 631, that of an intelligence non-commissioned officer.
Opposing the American military forces that invaded Europe in June 1944 were men of my race, in fact exclusively of my race, from various parts of Europe, a Europe that had been exhausted by nearly five years of war. At the time the United States was closely allied with the most destructive tyranny that has ever existed in the history of mankind. Men from many lands were opposing the advance of Communism into Europe: Finns, Germans, Hungarians, Italians, Romanians, Slovaks and Croatians, as well as nearly a million volunteers from the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Denmark, Norway, and other countries. These volun-teers included some of the finest and most courageous men of all the combatants, not only in terms of their military feats, but also because in many cases their governments, some of which had fled into exile, disowned them and later tried many of them as traitors for idealistically defending Europe against the armed forces of Communism.
In the years since the end of the Second World War, a number of courageous historians have been reevaluating the history of that conflict, including the American role. A notable, early example is the 1951 book by American intelligence officer Col. John Beaty, The Iron Curtain Over America [available through the IHR]. A recent and quite disturbing book by Canadian journalist James Bacque, Other Losses (1989) [available from the IHR], deals with the ruthless American treatment of Germans who laid down their arms in 1945. Scores of other important books in this category have also been published. In spite of a flood of continuing propaganda by the mass media, which present the history of American involvement in that conflict as the “Good War,” historians such as Beaty and Bacque have had the courage and intellectual integrity to delve objectively into the darker realities of America’s role in the conflict.
On September 1, 1939, German forces, wisely or not, attempted to regain by arms parts of Germany that had been forcibly taken by Poland in 1919–1920. Three days later this conflict between Germany and an overconfident Poland was expanded into a world war when a heavily armed and overconfident Britain, together with a somewhat hesitant France (which considered itself well protected behind an impressive line of modern fortifications) declared war against Germany.
While the motives for these fateful declarations were complex, British fear of German competition for export markets, at a time of lingering massive unemployment in Britain, was unquestionably a prominent factor. On that same day — September 3, 1939 — another significant event took place about which nearly all Americans are ignorant: a mass murder of civilian ethnic Germans by Poles, known as the “Bromberg Bloody Sunday.” This event, which the German government quickly publicized in newspapers and other publications, complete with grim photographs, lent the conflict a grim and desperate atmosphere from the outset.
From Polish Foreign Office documents captured in Warsaw in 1939 by invading German forces, we know that President Franklin Roosevelt had been ordering his diplomats in Europe to help incite war in Europe, motivated at least in part by a desire to solve with war the still pressing problem of massive unemployment in the United States — even after six years in office. [See: M. Weber, “President Roosevelt’s Campaign to Incite War In Europe,” JHR, Summer 1983, pp. 135–172.] Well aware that the vast majority of Americans wanted no involvement in the war that raged in Europe (particularly after the outbreak of hostilities between Germany and the USSR in June 1941), the shrewdly duplicitous occupant of the White House assured the American people that he had no intention of sending their sons to fight on foreign battlefields. Among the citizens who played prominent roles in the popular campaign against American involvement in the war were Charles Lindbergh and Walt Disney.
On the basis of newly published histories of Soviet military units and secret documents, we know today that Stalin was planning a Soviet Russian invasion of central and western Europe in 1941. [See, in particular, the book Icebreaker by V. Suvorov.] Ordered into offensive positions in the spring and early summer of 1941 were massed Soviet armies that had powerful, modern tanks in numbers far greater than those under German command.
Following arrogant demands to German officials by Soviet diplomats in the autumn of 1940 (which previewed what Germany and indeed all of Europe could expect from a militarily victorious Soviet Union), and after Germany’s political and military leaders became convinced that time and further delay were putting their nation at ever greater military disadvantage, Hitler ordered a mighty military offensive against the Soviet Union. This great strike, code-named “Operation Barbarossa,” began on the morning of June 22, 1941. It met with astonishing initial successes against the Soviet forces that had been massed on the frontier for offensive (and not defensive) operations — another instance of overconfidence. These initial German military victories took place in spite of inadequate preparations for a sustained offensive (including a shortage of clothing suitable for winter warfare).
Roosevelt had an intense personal hatred of Hitler, who had, in some important ways, been far more successful in solving the great economic problems that afflicted both the United States and Germany. In contrast to Adolf Hitler, who had come from modest circumstances and who had served his nation in its armed forces as a front-line soldier who witnessed, first-hand, the horrors of war, Franklin Roosevelt had come from a very wealthy family and never served in combat. During 1940–41, and in spite of the overwhelming sentiment of the American people against military involvement in another European war, the United States, under Roosevelt’s leadership, increasingly committed U.S. armed forces and war supplies to military actions against Germany.
In a lengthy speech delivered on December 11, 1941 — just a few days after the Japanese attack on Hawaii — Hitler finally recognized that Roosevelt’s duplicitous efforts had won out, and declared the existence of a state of war with the United States. [Complete text of Hitler’s speech published in the JHR, Winter 1988, pp. 389–416.] Without such a formal declaration by Hitler, the full force of American military and industrial power against Germany might have been delayed for months or even years. Hitler had underestimated the sentiment of the American people to keep out of the European war. When one reads the text of this speech today, it becomes apparent that the German leader had become emotionally moved by American military attacks against German naval forces in the Atlantic. Japan’s attack against Pearl Harbor several days earlier served to realize Roosevelt’s desire for full American involvement in war, and made his political position virtually unassailable.
Soaked with the blood of young American men, the Normandy beaches are a symbol of American sacrifices in a war that produced results that caused many thoughtful Americans to later ask themselves what the bitter sacrifices had really brought. For more than four decades eastern and much of central Europe suffered under a brutal, exploitative Soviet occupation. During 1945–1946, brutal expulsions of millions of ethnic Germans from areas that had been part of Germany for centuries resulted in the deaths of many hundreds of thousands. By the start of the Soviet blockade of Berlin in June 1948, many Americans were asking themselves what we had done as a nation.
I was still in Europe during the summer of 1948, having taken a position with the War Department following my discharge from the Army. That summer was a time of great tension and fear that a new war might break out, this time in a military vacuum that likely would have resulted in the rather sudden defeat of whatever western military forces were still left in Europe, and the subsequent Soviet occupation of the portion of Europe that had not already been occupied by Soviet forces.
We Americans can be proud that our Constitution forbids “ex post facto” laws, in keeping with thousands of years of European legal tradition expressed, for example, in the ancient Latin legal dictum, “nulla poena sine lege” ("no punishment without a law"). One day in the summer of 1946 I attended the protracted show trials in Nuremberg of German leaders who had been obeying the laws of their country, and defending it against ruthless foes who had made genocidal threats — such as the notorious “Morgenthau Plan” — against the German nation. [See: A. Kubek, “The Morgenthau Plan and the Problem of Policy Perversion,” JHR, Fall 1989.] The Nuremberg trials were a cynical repudiation of American legal principles, against which some courageous Americans — including Senators Robert Taft and Joseph McCarthy — raised their voices at the time.
These trials, with their cynical disregard of American and European legal principles (similar to present efforts in some European countries to suppress open inquiry into some taboo historical questions), can be seen as a sort of psychological necessity for many Americans, who had come to realize what their country had done in Europe. The trials served to help rationalize or morally justify our conduct of the war, including the merciless and largely unnecessary bombing of German and other civilian populations (such as the fire-bombing of Dresden in February 1945). Largely unknown to most Americans at the time was the disgraceful American postwar treatment of German prisoners of war, and the barbaric “Operation Keelhaul” treatment of eastern Europeans. Such actions were not worthy of a nation that claimed to be guided by Christian moral principles. But war seems to have the ability to “hallow any cause,” to use Nietzsche’s phrase.
The Second World War also served as the perfect pretext for the establishment of Big Government, with its gigantic and intrusive federal bureaucracy. (For example, the payroll deduction system that was introduced as a temporary “war measure” has remained permanent.)
The young men who served in the air forces of Britain, Germany and the United States during the Second World War were, physically and mentally, the finest examples of their race. Fighting each other, they died by the scores of thousands in the gun fire of aerial combat and in the flaming wreckage of downed aircraft. In most cases their genes were lost forever — a striking example of the dysgenic effect of modern warfare.
Far more insidious and perhaps far more damaging, I believe, has been the psychological consequence of America’s involvement in the Second World War. The well-calculated propaganda image of America’s “victory” in 1945 and the subsequent Nuremberg trials, along with the “Holocaust” campaign, have served to help poison and debilitate the psyche and even the will to survive of Americans of European ancestry. In one law after the other, in one judicial decree after the other, and in one foreign policy decision after the other, this poison and debilitation have manifested themselves. During the past few decades the political and cultural standing of European-Americans has been steadily declining.
However great his faults, or misguided his actions, Hitler’s basic aim — the welfare of his own people, race and culture — was, I think, valid. A consequence of the constant denigration in the American popular media of Hitler and his regime is to discredit the pursuit of any similar aim by European-Americans. Any defense of European-American interests has become not only unfashionable, but is now widely regarded as immoral.
It seems especially ironic that a man who slyly and selfishly evaded military service during the war in Vietnam, and whose past personal behavior is a source of shame to our country, should be the one to represent the United States in commemorating the sacrifices made by American soldiers on the beaches of Normandy and in central Italy.
It is proper that we honor the well-intended sacrifices of American soldiers who were killed and wounded during the Second World War. At the same time, though, we must also keep the results of these sacrifices in proper perspective, especially with regard to the long-range results of the war.
About the author
Charles E. Weber earned his Ph.D. in German literature at the University of Cincinnati (1954), and has taught at the University of Cincinnati, the University of Missouri, Louisiana State University, and the University of Tulsa (Oklahoma). He has served as Head of the Department of Modern Languages at the University of Tulsa. Dr. Weber (no relation of this Journal’s editor) is the author of The 'Holocaust': 120 Questions and Answers, and is chairman of the Committee for the Reexamination of the History of the Second World War. He is a member of this Journal’s Editorial Advisory Committee.
From the Journal of Historical Review, July/August, 1994; vol. 14 no. 4: p. 11.