The Second World War came just 20 years after the first World War, known at the time as ‘the war to end all wars’ (which it had obviously failed to do). However, this war was different from the first and far more deadly. Fought with then-modern weapons, including the atomic bomb, far-superior military tactics, and mass exterminations predicated by the Holocaust and premeditated starvation, World War II not only killed more people, it also caused catastrophic damage to the countries where the fighting occurred.
The war began as the joining of what had initially been two separate conflicts, with the first beginning in Asia in 1931 (the second Sino-Japanese War) and the other beginning in Europe, September 1st, 1939 when Germany invaded Poland. This instituted a series of events that rapidly escalated into a global military conflict. By the time the war ended, it had affected the entire planet.
The major participants, from ‘super powers’ to powerless tiny countries, threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, often blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. The war was characterized by massacre and unspeakable atrocities. From the first day of war to the last, violent actions by the warring factions often came as a surprise and almost always initiated dogged, often deadly, retaliation.
As the war waged, spreading across Europe, Africa, and Asia, the United States refused to engage. Watching from afar, the U.S., under the direction of President Roosevelt and Congress, maintained a position of neutrality, staying out of the conflict as long as possible. Some U.S. legislators even suggested England and France surrender to Hitler!
Meanwhile, the U.S. did supply war materials to the Allies, a practice driven more by economics than politics, and one which put the country on a deadly course toward full involvement.
While we clung to our isolationist policy, President Roosevelt feared that if the Axis powers were successful, the United States would eventually become the only surviving democracy in the world. He lobbied for America to enter into the war and took steps to insure that we would be ready, calling upon Congress to authorize funds to naval forces in the Pacific and Atlantic if and when they might be needed.
We may have been preparing, but we weren’t prepared,
When the event occurred that pulled the U.S. into the war, it came as a shock and a deadly surprise. The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor December 7th, 1941. The attack killed over 3,000 people and destroyed a large portion of our navy’s Pacific Fleet. The isolationist policy could no longer be tolerated or maintained.
The U.S. entered the war. With a vengeance.
And the U.S. effectively ended it, with the ultimate retaliation against the country that drew it in, dropping two atomic bombs on Japan, basically obliterating two cities. Japan surrendered September 2nd, 1945 (four months after Germany surrendered).
The war was over, but so was the world has we had known it. World War II re-wrote the geographic and socio-economic world map. Entire countries and cultures were annihilated. Some economies would never recover.
But perhaps most concerning of all, the patriotism, the love of God, family, and country, the unique sense of responsibility that characterized so many who fought, has been lost.
We are a different people today and sadly, as evidenced by the political turmoil that characterizes the United States now, unlikely to be able to face such a crisis again and emerge victorious. We are a country divided, more acclimated to fighting one another than standing together to fight a common enemy. The majority of us have never known first-hand the terror of bombs and bullets. We tune in to the news and social media—both providing, a relentless, politicized pounding of negativity—and we tune out. Thanks to television and social media, we choose our ‘truths’ and follow the ‘news’ we want to see and hear. We have forgotten the lessons World War II taught us, if we ever knew them at all, and instead have become a nation cowed by apathy.
How did this happen?
Most of those who fought in World War II are gone. Many did not share their experiences and memories with their children and grandchildren, perhaps because their experiences were so horrific. Consequently, most people today have no first-hand (or even second-hand) knowledge of what global war really means—and that makes us complacent.
In our lifetimes, we’ve had some involvement with battle, in places like Iran and Afghanistan (and earlier, Korea and Viet Nam). But those were localized conflicts. Global war is one fought, simultaneously, in a vast arena involving a multitude of countries and cultures. Most of us don’t have a clue what that really means. As with the U.S. before Pearl Harbor, we are unprepared.
This book serves as both a reminder and a warning. Through first-person accounts, letters, interviews, and memoirs, we share the hopes, frustrations, and undaunted patriotism of the incredibly brave warriors who, collectively, won the deadliest war in history. We are reminded of what went before and could happen again if we aren’t mindful. We are warned that should we ever face such a deadly situation again, we need to stand together, rather than squabble among ourselves. It is up to us to preserve and protect the freedoms that are the foundation of our society, our economy, and our country and all that it provides for our safe and comfortable existence. We need to tune in, not tune out; Tappan opens that poignantly informative window to the past to help us do just that.
If we do find ourselves at war again, and I hope we never do, could—would—we be able to step up and defend it like these people did?
Kathryn R. Burke,
Editor and Publisher