Military history

STUDS TERKEL

The Good War

The tide of the Second World War turned against Hitler when Japan, Germany’s ally under the terms of the Tripartite Pact (the third member being Italy), decided to attack the United States by a surprise raid on the American Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. The Pact bound Germany to come to Japan’s assistance only in the case of hostile action by a third power, exactly the opposite of the circumstances the Pearl Harbor raid had produced. Hitler, against the protestations of his Foreign Minister, Ribbentrop, nevertheless decided to make common cause with Japan in its war against America and himself declared war on the United States on 11 December.

It was the most disastrous decision of his leadership, condemning his country to a defeat that was inevitable once the power of the American economy, the largest in the world, was engaged against him. Studs Terkel, the pioneer of oral history, records, through an interview with Paul Edwards, how American economic power was mobilized for the Second World War. The world depression of the 1930s had hit the United States hard, throwing 12 million Americans out of work at its depth. Between 1941 and 1945, unemployment disappeared, the nation’s gross product doubled and the American economy was, at the war’s end, equal in size to that of the rest of the world combined. The Second World War made the United States the most powerful country on the globe, a status it retains to the present day.

056

Paul Edwards

I was living in Winner, a little South Dakota cowtown, a rootin‘, tootin’ cowtown (laughs) west of the Missouri River. We’d just spent Saturday night in a pretty rugged fashion, drinking and carousing a bit. So I got up late Sunday. I had a headache. A friend came in and said, ‘Turn on the radio. The Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor.’

That fall I had been named head of the Junior Red Cross for the county. On December 8, I went down to St Louis and signed up as a field director for the American Red Cross. I was immediately sent to Fort Riley, Kansas, with the assimilated rank of lieutenant. The Eighth and Ninth Cavalry were stationed there, totally black. The officers were all white. They had been for years a showpiece for parades. They were great horsemen. They were great drill. They were a lot of old-time sergeants with hash marks [service stripes] from here to there, up their arms. They had built a morale of their own. They had pride. Boy, you put those old sergeants out in front of a troop of guys on black horses or bays, you put them on parade grounds, it gave you a thrill. It gave them a thrill.

They had been drafted out of the poorest families of the Midwest. Most of them sent fifteen of their twenty-one dollars a month to their families back home on welfare. They used to pay twenty-one silver dollars. There was this big husky black leanin’ up against the wall. He’d drop the silver dollars like a gambler and they’d go clink, clink, clink. He said, ‘Man, I’m well off. Hear that money clinkin’ in my pocket?’ He never had that much money.

Most of the draft boards were composed of men from Main Street across America. They were quite punitive towards the welfare crowd. Volunteerism was not yet in effect. This was before December 7. Most of these kids expected to be let out after a year of the draft. A lot of ’em had plans. All of a sudden they were thrown up against the reality of total war. We had a problem with suicides. Guards were put out at night. They would not issue ammunition. I watched the transition from peace to war.

The role of the Red Cross was peculiar. You were neither man, beast, nor fowl. You were with the army but not of it. You were under military control, but you didn’t enjoy the privileges of being an officer among officers. Your assignment often put you up against the army with regard to the individual man. The command didn’t like a challenge to their control. You bunked with ‘em, you ate with ’em, so this tension made the job difficult.

Things moved fast with the expansion of the army. I wound up at Fort Meade in Sturgis, South Dakota, near home. That’s the old Seventh Cavalry headquarters. Custer’s. Thousands and thousands of horses were raised at these remount stations, Nebraska, elsewhere. All of a sudden, they weren’t needed: the transition to the jeep, the scout cars. The romanticism of the cavalry was still very strong. Officers hated giving it up. I remember old Colonel Hooker at the Nebraska remount station. He pounded the table when the Japanese had sunk two British warships [the battleshipsRepulse and Prince of Wales] off the coast of Singapore: ‘I know that country down there. Goddamn it, they’ll never take a square foot of it until they get our men down there on horses and donkeys.’ (Laughs.) There was a lot of resentment as we moved from one era into another, from horse to motor.

All of a sudden, I was sent down to Camp Barkley, Texas. The needs of the soldiers were rooted in the Depression. You jerk a young man out of his family. Next thing you know his father dies. Who’ll support the family? He’s just been married, his wife dies, he’s left with a child. You had the business of AWOL and family circumstances. A black kid at Fort Riley came to me with a telegram. It said, ‘Daddy died last night. Come home at once. Bring an overcoat.’ The simple need: bring an overcoat.

It was segregated army at that time. There were hundreds of labor battalions that were totally black, still under white officers. They were an abysmal shame to the nation, if the facts were known. They were held to a work schedule, a seven-day week. They were almost imprisoned. It was cold, it was mud, it rained. Here they were pouring concrete bases for the Eighth Air Force. It was hell to pour concrete runways in the downpours. And no leave, no nothing. At that time, there wasn’t one black field director of the Red Cross.

Camp Barkley was just outside Abilene. It was a righteous Baptist town, still had prohibition. We had forty thousand troops around this little town of thirty thousand. That made for prejudice against the soldiers. They were patriotic towns, but my God, look at our restaurants, we don’t get in. Look at our girls, they’re bein’ insulted. It was hard to get quarters off the base. Once I rented a converted chicken coop. Yet the town drowned in money.

There was an alliance between the Baptists and the taxi drivers that kept the town dry. The hotel keepers wanted to open it up, but you’d find a lot of Baptist money and cabdrivers boostin’ prohibition. ’Cause the drivers were sellin’ us booze at five dollars a pint. (Laughs.) The righteous and the unclean. (Laughs.) Of course, they weren’t crazy about blacks. I remember a little black singer who came out to entertain the troops. Here were about ten thousand guys, and this little girl worked that show like you wouldn’t believe. She ended gettin’ them all to clap and sing in a state of ecstasy, almost. She couldn’t get a room in a hotel that night. We had to find her quarters.

Out of nowhere, I get a call to Dallas. They need a supervisor in Great Britain immediately. To a country boy from South Dakota, that’s reachin’ for the moon.

I left for the UK on December 7, 1942, the anniversary of Pearl Harbor. We were all rounded up and put on the Queen Mary. A whole division. There must’ve been fifteen thousand people on that ship. This was a time of high secrecy. How the hell you keep the movements of the Queen Marysecret is a good trick. (Laughs.) But you still went around and played spook.

We had a violent crossing. The Queen Mary tipped to forty-two degrees and she was supposed only capable of leaning to forty degrees. A big wave hit us and brought us back up. We hotbedded, half down and half up, during the night and day. We had two meals a day, largely of boiled English fish. Everybody was so sick, it didn’t make any difference.

We had a remarkable storm one awful night. The portholes were smashed and the sea was coming in on us. There was almost a riot as people rushed for the gangway and the MPs [military police] stood there with pistols: ‘Get back down! Get back down!’ The lifeboats had broken loose from their moorings and they came in against the side of the boat. The crash had broken the portholes. We made it to Glasgow.

The Red Cross has a split personality. When the war broke out, the leadership was extremely conservative. It depended on rich donors. The orientation was very upper-class, snobbish. There was a marked difference between these volunteers and the staff. Eventually the pro staff took over because of the dimensions of our chores.

You’ll hear those who damn and those who praise the Red Cross. The leadership was loaded with prejudice — to blacks, to Jews. When I first went in, there were hardly any Jews. A gentlemen’s agreement. You didn’t talk about it. I remember when the first Jewish field directors arrived. Odd, when you think we were fighting Hitler.

Until we were well into the war, they segregated the blood plasma of the blacks from the whites. I must say the Red Cross was the mover and shaker and changer, because not only was there no scientific sense to it, the economics was bad. There was always that double dilemma. There were no black field directors. Many towns were off-limits to black troops. They wouldn’t let whites go into others. We had black and white towns. Many racial incidents developed and the Red Cross found itself in the middle. Historically, we came down on the right side.

I’ll never forget the first black guy I got as a field director in England. He’s an All-American end [national football player], about six foot four, a prince of a man. I went down to set him in command. And I just caught Billy-all-hell from the commanding officers. Whaddaya mean sending this nigger down here? I said, ‘You’ll take him or none.’ They took him. In six weeks, the man was a hero. Even these officers — he just did a job, a heroic one, with the morale of the black soldiers.

We developed these on-site clubs for the Eighth Air Force. I like to think I had a hand in it. When a soldier got a pass in the city, his recreation problem was pretty well solved. But it was while he was on the base, and his buddies were getting shot down, and the mud and the cold, and you’re with those guys and the next night they’re on a mission — and the next day they’re gone. It would tear you up.

I arrived there on the fourteenth of December, 1942, and I stayed until March of ’44.

When the first contingent was moved to North Africa, they left behind a lot of pregnant girls, commitments to marry. Remember, the Americans were dashing and daring and had money in their pockets. The factory girls came from little provincial towns. I tried to arrange marriages by proxy. We did it over the telephone. I tried to get the Church of England — I went down to see the old bishop. Couldn’t we get an exemption so we could have these proxy marriages? The old man was about ninety with a secretary about eighty-five. He had one of these old-fashioned trumpets. I yelled into the thing, but he turned me down.

I went to see Churchill’s [younger] brother [Jack], who lived in the south. I told him about this disappointment. He said, ‘Nonsense, son, don’t worry about it. All those soldiers from your country are in good physical condition, aren’t they? They’re all inspected and examined?’ I said yes. He said, ‘Why, we’ll just tell the girls to go ahead and have the babies and we’ll adopt them and call them the King’s children and raise them. They’ll be good for the blood and bone of the country. We lost lots of our best men in this war.’ Sounded like a stud farm in a way (laughs), but it was quite sensible. He was less bombastic than Churchill, but a real character.

I was called one day to the Command in Grosvenor Square [Eisenhower’s London headquarters]. An officer of General Jake Devers’ staff cornered me: ‘I want you to see this light lieutenant-] colonel. He has a problem. We cannot deal with him.’ The guy in trouble was an oceanographer. He studied the tides and coasts for alanding. A terribly important guy. I went to his appartment, knocked a number of times. Finally, a guy came to the door. He looked haggard, terrible, messy: ‘I don’t want to talk to you.’ I said, ‘I was interested in your name, because when I was in high school I played football against a small town in Oregon and there was a guy playin’ there -’ He started to cry. He was the guy. We played tackle against each other at a football game back in the twenties.

Well, the story is he had an affair with an Englishwoman, who suddenly turns up and tells him she’s pregnant. She’s threatening to write his wife. He has two nice kids and is scared to death. I said, ‘Let me talk to the woman.’ She was demanding a thousand pounds, clear out of his reach. She was a cockney and kind of garrulous. I thought, This doesn’t quite ring true. She said, ‘Make it five hundred and I’ll go down to Bournemouth and have the baby.’ I made an appointment with her, but also with our chief nurse and a policewoman. In the meantime, I had her investigated by Scotland Yard. Turns out she’s a well-known hustler. She comes to see me and I have our nurse ready and ask for a physical inspection. And there she was with a padded blanket inside her clothes. So we blew that out of the water.

I go tell the light colonel the facts. He thanks me profusely, he weeps and says, God, he’ll never forget me. Two weeks later, I run into him down at the Grosvenor; he looks right at me and looks away and never speaks a word. I never felt too bad about it. The guy had to forget.

In spring of ’44, we were staffing for the Normandy invasion. What were our responsibilities? Should we have side arms? Do we go in with the landing? Yeah, we lost four men in the landings. We had very high losses later.

When you were hired by the Red Cross, you were draft-exempt. They took men who were overage or had infirmities. I tried many things to get in the service, but I had this football injury. We had teachers, coaches, this, that, and the other. Most of us were family men. We had a two-thousand dollar insurance policy, that’s all.

Meantime, I’d been sent back to the US to make a cross-country speaking tour. Fund raising, that sort of thing. That’s when I heard about the four guys we lost. In Minnesota and Iowa, I ran into the wives of two of these guys. Each had been a teacher. Each left a wife and two kids and a policy of two thousand dollars. I went back to Washington and asked: What about raising the insurance? They go in with the army, why can’t we put them under the G I insurance provision, ten thousand dollars?

I got Senator Chan Gurney to introduce the bill. It would have gone through Congress like that. (Snaps fingers.) I thought I’d cut a fat hog. I went back to headquarters and reported to my bosses. And, by golly, they turned it down. It just made me madder than hell. There was no reason for it. We were back to that snob approach. They said, ‘Well, we were afraid we would lose too much control of our people to the army.’ That was b.s. [bullshit], because you can’t control a dead man, right?

I was so angry — I was still in uniform — I got my cap and said to my wife, ‘I’m leavin’ this.’ I drove out to South Dakota and went hunting — with Bob Feller, Rollie Hemsley, old baseball players. And I did too much drinking. I got a phone call to come back. I did and ran into the same attitude. So when I got a job with UNRRA, I quit.

My old boss said, ‘Are you going with that worldwide WPA [Works Progress Administration — social services agency]?’ We were back to that contemptuous attitude toward welfare. The word that’s been used to beat poor people over the head ever since Roosevelt’s time.

UNRRA — the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration — was chartered in unknown circumstances to help the war-torn areas of the world. To people used to established ways, this kind of venture is a threat to their values. It was chartered in a conference in Atlantic City in 1943 by nations fighting fascism. Its purpose was to rehabilitate nations devastated by war.

I was one of the early employees, about fifty, sixty of us. My first assignment was to go to the Middle East and run the refugee camps. There were thousands of Yugoslavs, fifty thousand, sixty thousand. We brought in something like fifty thousand Greeks, who’d come off the islands through Turkey. I had a Greek camp at Gaza [in what was then Palestine]. That was my base. My territory ran clear north to the Turkish border. The Turkish army would take them over, knock out their gold teeth, jerk the gold rings out of their ears, and push ’em over the border into Syria. We had camps along the Suez Canal, camps in Egypt. Palestine was full of refugees.

In Palestine we had Royalist Yugoslavs, and down in the Suez we had thirty-eight thousand Red Star Yugoslavs. Tito’s crowd. We had to separate them. They were deadly enemies.

We had areas for tuberculars. We had typhoid, we had typhus, we had scarlatina. They were in terrible condition, starved, dying. Every evening we would have a mass burial in a big ditch.

I had great admiration for the Jugs [Yugoslavs]. They were tough, resilient. One time an airplane crashed nearby. They took the scrap metal and made cooking utensils. They took the tires and made rubber-soled shoes.

I sometimes worked in cooperation with the Joint Distribution Committee, a Jewish agency. When the Germans captured Greece, they shipped a lot of Jews to one of the extermination camps. The J DC and others intervened with Franco, who intervened with Hitler, and they were released on the promise that Americans would take them off his hands. They brought them down in boxcars to Spain. The Americans picked them up and took them to Casablanca. We brought them over by boat to Alexandria, put ’em on a train, and brought them up to my camp, six miles south of Gaza.

We had a ninety-year-old man there. His wife was eighty-eight. Their daughter and son-in-law came in, from up near Tel Aviv, in a little car. They had escaped out through Rumania and Turkey, right? Would I consider releasing the old couple to their care in their home? As soon as they could get some space. Space was very dear at the time. We got an exemption to bring them to [British-controlled] Palestine. The English had barred the advent of any Jews there, right? But I said yes. I never had much regard for stupid regulations. So they left, elated. Would you believe that six miles north of Gaza, there was a sudden storm and a wall of water swept that young couple to the sea? Tell me about fate, friend. How do you break this news to the old couple?

UNRRA soon came under attack in Congress. Because the Soviet Union was part of it. Herbert Lehman was my boss. He had no more personality than a musk ox, but he was always on the side of the angels. It was a fight, always. I sent my last group back home to Greece in the fall of ’45.

I was sent to Czechoslovakia as deputy director for UNRRA, under a Russian chief of mission, General Peter Alexander Alexeyev’s industrial rehabilitation. We brought the first cotton up the Danube. We got textiles in so their mills could get back to work. We got repairs for the machinery, which was exhausted ’cause the Germans had worked it to death. We helped start the forest industries again. And agriculture.

I was director of Slovakia. It was odd. Slovakia had been collaborationist under Father Tiso. I attended his hanging. God, I hated Hitler and all his flunkies from day one. I started in South Dakota. There was strong sympathy for him in the Lutheran Church. They weren’t bad people but the German culture was strong. The president of my college, just come back from Germany, spoke at our assembly: ‘I’ve seen a nation that had such poverty and hardship pull off an economic miracle. Everybody has a job. And this at a time when millions in our country don’t.’ Oh boy. As for Russia, the streak of hostility was always just beneath the surface. The Russian alliance was never a thing of the heart. It was a calculated stratagem to defeat Hitler, with the help of American technology. I’ve had Russian generals tell me what won the war for them was that old Studebaker six-wheel truck. That thing was a genius of transport. It was tough, it was wiry. When the evacuation of Austria came about in ’45, ’46, I saw a stream of these American trucks coming out of there, older than hell, rusted and spoutin’ steam and smoke. But they were still movin’.

In my experience, dealing with the Russians was like when I was a kid ridin’ on freight trains. Once in a while you get in a boxcar that had a flat wheel. The wheel goes around in perfect circles, it’s fine. All of a sudden — bump. When I left Czechoslovakia to go to Germany to direct the DP [displaced persons] operation, the Czechs gave a big dinner. Alexeyev came up and put his arms around me — (Suddenly cries angrily) Goddamn it, we missed something. This is one of the tragedies of the death of Roosevelt. There was a blind spot. We’re on the threshold of destruction because it didn’t work.

I’m not nor never was a communist. Matter of fact, I lost my standing in the international community by helping people escape from the communists after they took over Czechoslovakia. I was there when they took over. Czechoslovakia needed a communist revolution like it needed a hole in the head. Several of my friends were put under house arrest and persecuted. So I took my passports and got seventeen people over the border, including two cabinet members. I had a system: a false stamp which was like a Czech approval for going in and out. I lost my wife’s passport in no man’s land between the Czech and German borders. It was picked up by a German farmer and sent to the American embassy. They called me in. They said I abused my American passport. I had to resign, and I left in October ’48, I went home in disgrace. I was helping people escape what they supposedly hated. It was one of the ironies of our time. Later on, in the McCarthy era, it came to haunt my professional life. I was marked unreliable.

This is just another small fallout of the Cold War. I feel to this day it didn’t have to be this way. I’ve been to Russia a number of times. They’re so bloody fearful of us, you can’t believe it. To talk about Russian superiority is to be totally unaware of the dysfunctioning of Russian machinery, shortage of skills, inefficiency. Twenty million people killed in World War Two. If you know these things, you get furious.

When I come back to the US, here was [the leading American journalist] Walter Winchell, the dean of boobality. He had the American people in a state of total fright. I listened to the stuff, I couldn’t believe it. I was living in Czechoslovakia at the time. I remember driving from Prague to Berlin up through the Russian zone. I saw a lieutenant-colonel in a buggy behind a horse and a cow. The scarcity of supplies, the thinness — it sickens me to remember the distortions on which this Russophobia is built.

We ran into it in Greece, when we started to repatriate these people. Churchill insisted on putting King George back on the throne, and the Greeks didn’t want the son of a bitch. These were just people who resented what was being done to them. The English forced him back there, and they created a communist revolution. The more you fed it, the more it became like a fire.

Fiorello LaGuardia succeeded Lehman as UNRRA boss. One of his men asked me to go to Germany to run the DP operation in the American zone. There were about six million DPs there at the time. I really didn’t want to go. You had responsibility without authority. The army ran things. A command decision could just wipe you out. And they did.

This was December ’46. We still had about four-and-a-half million in the American zone: Poles, Russians, Ukrainians, Lithuanians, Estonians, Latvians. And some Jews; there only were about 280,000 of them left. While I was still in Czechoslovakia, we moved quite a few Jews out of Russia. They came across Poland and down the border across Slovakia to Vienna and then up into the US zone ... We diverted food and medicine, what have you, from the Czech mission. It was too pitiable.

I went underground for three weeks before I began to run the office. I’d get in my car and stop in at camps, see who was running them, what spirit prevailed, who was running whom. And I came back to Heidelberg, our headquarters. It was an undestroyed town. We had a staff of fourteen thousand. It involved millions of people and everything from care of infants, to food, to shelter, to clothing, to transport, to death. Some of the social workers tried to work from textbooks. It didn’t work. I went to the basics: shelter, food, sickness. That was it, right?

By this time, the warriors had gone home. The whole attitude toward the Germans had changed. The Cold War had set in. General Lucius Clay was made head of the US zone. It was his mission - as he told me once — ‘to get those damn Jews out of here because my job is to rehabilitate the German economy and these people are eatin’ up our groceries.’ The thing was to build up Germany as a counter-force to the Russians, and the DPs were a drag on the economy.

Of course, you had an anti-Russian factor at work among the DPs. A lot of Latvians, Lithuanians, and Estonians had elected to join the Third Reich. And don’t think they were coerced. They wanted to go. They killed their own Jews. They didn’t need any help. They were a bunch of bastards.

The Estonians and the Latvians, especially, are a beautiful people, and the Germans loved ’em. Blue eyes, blond hair. Almost every officer, if he had a rank of colonel, had one of these women in his bed. They were choice women, right? They were the dancers, the entertainers, what have you. And they had infiltrated our command. We had a G-5 section that had to do with the displaced persons and prisoners of war. It was wildly anti-Russian. It had largely to do with who you’re sleeping with. I can’t tell you what the influence of the bedroom is on military and political policy, my friend. When I went to Prague, the Pankratz Prison was run by an S S group from Latvia.

They told their horror stories, which were probably true. The Soviets weren’t pasties, believe me. They were ruthless, especially when they saw them as German collaborators. I know the Russians were trying to repatriate people. They had persuasion teams. We did no forced returning. The army did, but we didn’t. About three million out of the four-and-a-half million went home within a year and a half.

[Terkel:] Were the DPs screened by us?

One of the first things I did was put through a Fragebogen.It was a questionnaire. Where were you on such a such a date? What work were you doing? I wanted to screen ’em out. The army objected. They raised Billy-all-hell. They called me up to Frankfurt and read the riot act to me. I had a press conference. It hit the old Paris [i.e. the International] Herald-Trib and the NewYork Times. From then on, I was anathema to the army. It was war between us now.

By this time, the combat troops had gone home and the second echelon had moved in. They were all in bed with the Germans and they particularly turned on the Jewish DPs like you wouldn’t believe. It fell just short of persecution.

[Terkel:] Who’s they?

The US Army. You had the sycophants, most of whom had been collaborators, right? The Jew came out of the ovens and he said, Screw you, Jack. He’s lost his fear of death, life, hell and fire and damnation, because he’s been there, right? All of a sudden the war was over and he thought he was on the winning side. I remember incidents that would kill you.

We were in this camp and a little redheaded guy — a pock-marked, tough little wiry Jew, who’s survived the ovens — they were asking him, ‘Do you think you want to go to Israel?’ He said, ‘I don’t think, I’m goin’ there.’ He used good uncouth GI language he’d picked up on the way. They said, ‘Suppose we don’t let you?’ He said, ‘You keep me from goin’? How the hell you gonna keep me from goin’?’ He broke down and wept when we came outside.

His story: he’d come out of the ovens weighing somethin’ like sixty-five pounds. He’d built himself back, he’d married, had a baby. He and another guy had been walking through the camp, through the streets of the town [Landsberg] where Hitler wrote Mein Kampf [in prison, 1923 — 4]. Two GIs, half loaded, with some German girls, went by, and one of the girls called him Judensau — you Jewish pig — ‘cause they didn’t get off the sidewalk. The GIs started pushin’ ’em around and these little guys gave it back at ‘em and there was a fight and the MPs came and they arrested ’em and they sent this guy to prison for a year. So he was full of this anger when I talked to him.

He joined the Haganah [Zionist military organization in Palestine], moved there down through Italy. His wife and son were left in camp. War broke out with the Arabs. I didn’t know he’d gone. One morning at Heidelberg, at seven in the morning, a woman came to see me. This guy’s wife. She had a letter. Her husband was killed down by Gaza. I put her on the first legal movement, to go to Israel. We moved people illegally by the thousands down through France and Italy.

What more is there to say? After I was canned for my Czechoslovakian adventure, I ran a ski lodge in Vermont. I was called back as director of information for the islands and possessions of the United States. In those days, Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico, and the Canal Zone, right? One morning I found everything off my desk. The security department called me in and told me, No problem, Mr Edwards. We just decided we didn’t want you. Questions had arisen. It took me four years to find out what the charges were. It was cleared up, and I came back to the United Nations with top clearance. It’s a chronicle of a well-used life. And how nutty the Cold War makes us.

To many people, the war brought about a realization that there ain’t no hidin’ place down here. That the world is unified in pain as well as opportunity. We had twenty, twenty-five years of greatness in our country, when we reached out to the rest of the world with help. Some of it was foolish, some of it was misspent, some was in error. Many follies. But we had a great reaching out. We took fifteen, eighteen million men overseas. For the first time they saw pain and poverty in dimensions they had never known before. At heart, Americans had a period of unbelievable generosity toward the rest of the world, of which they knew little. It was an act of such faith.

Now we’re being pinched back into the meanness of the soul that had grabbed a new middle class that came out of poverty as did I. We squeezed our soul dry of pity. If it were just pity, that’d be one thing. But reason itself denies this. You can’t repeal the speed of sound. You can’t repeal the speed of communication. You can’t repeal the interlinking of social orders around the world. It’s impossible.

While the rest of the world came out bruised and scarred and nearly destroyed, we came out with the most unbelievable machinery, tools, manpower, money. The war was fun for America — if you’ll pardon my bitterness. I’m not talking about the poor souls who lost sons and daughters in the war. But for the rest of us, the war was a hell of a good time. Farmers in South Dakota that I administered relief to, and gave ’em bully beef and four dollars a week to feed their families, when I came home were worth a quarter-million dollars, right? What was true there was true all over America. New gratifications they’d never known in their lives. Mass travel, mass vacations, everything else came out of it. And the rest of the world was bleeding and in pain. But it’s forgotten now.

World War Two? It’s a war I still would go to.

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