MIA: History: ETOL: Newspapers & Periodicals: International Socialist Review: Issue 10

International Socialist Review, Winter 2000

Ashley Smith

World War II: The Good War?

From International Socialist Review, Issue 10, Winter 2000.
Downloaded with thanks from the ISR Archive.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the ETOL.

MOST PEOPLE think of the Second World War as “the good war” – a war against fascism and for democracy. This idea has been reinforced many times over through books, movies and TV shows. Saving Private Ryan is only the latest version of the establishment’s story of America’s heroic fight to stop the Nazis.

So untouchable is this image of the Second World War that our rulers surround almost all of their new military adventures with its glowing halo. But if you look seriously behind the myth at what really happened in the Second World War, it becomes clear that the U.S. has nothing to boast about.

The U.S. and its allies fought to defend or build their own empires. In the process, the U.S. abandoned the Jews, ran roughshod over democracy, whipped up a race war against Japan and rehabilitated Nazi war criminals to use as American spies after the war. By winning the Second World War, the U.S. established itself as the world’s biggest and most dangerous superpower.

A war for the world’s redivision

The Second World War engulfed every corner of the globe, pitting the world’s biggest military powers against each other: Germany, Japan and Italy against Stalinist Russia, Britain and the U.S. More civilians died in this war than did military personnel. Fifty-five million people lost their lives, and civilian casualties were six times higher than in the First World War.

The Second World War had its roots in the capitalist crisis of the 1930s. World industrial production collapsed by 50 percent between 1928 and 1932 and trade plummeted by a third over the same period. [1] The capitalists of all nations forced their workers to pay for the crisis through mass layoffs and wage cuts. At the same time, the crisis drove the ruling classes to build protectionist blocs to defend their weakened economies. Britain built its Sterling Bloc, while the U.S. passed the Smoot-Hawley bill to wall off the U.S. economy from competition. Inevitably, economic competition burst into open warfare to grab markets and territory from rival states.

The causes of the Second World War were the very same causes of the First World War. Leon Trotsky put it this way: “The struggle is going on between the imperialist slave holders of different camps for a new division of the world ... The present war is a direct prolongation of the previous war.” [2] Britain and France, victors of the First World War but economically weaker than before, sought desperately to cling to their empires. They were therefore able to pass themselves off as “reasonable” countries that sought to avoid war. Germany and Japan were struggling against the greater powers’ stranglehold. And the U.S. and Stalin’s Russia were angling to take advantage of the conflicts to build their own empires. As Trotsky wrote:

The present war – the second imperialist war – is not an accident; it does not result from the will of this or that dictator. It was predicted long ago. It derived its origin inexorably from the contradiction of international capitalist interests ... The immediate cause of the present war is the rivalry between the old wealthy empires, Great Britain and France, and belated imperialist plunderers, Germany and Italy ... U.S. capitalism is up against the same problems that pushed Germany in 1914 on the path of war. The world is divided? It must be redivided. For Germany it was a question of ‘organizing Europe.’ The United States must ‘organize’ the world. History is bringing humanity face to face with the volcanic eruption of American Imperialism.” [3]

President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his cabinet were explicit about their plans for world domination. The president argued:

Foreign markets must be regained if America’s producers are to rebuild a full and enduring domestic prosperity for our people. There is no other way if we would avoid painful economic dislocations, social readjustments, and unemployment. [4]

Secretary of State Cordell Hull declared:

Leadership toward a new system of international relationships in trade and other economic affairs will devolve largely upon the United States because of our great economic strength. We should assume leadership and the responsibility that goes with it, primarily for reasons of pure self-interest. [5]

Roosevelt’s Vice President Henry Wallace boasted that “the American businessman of tomorrow” would understand that “the new frontier extends from Minneapolis ... all the way to Central Asia.” [6] Under their “open door” policy, the ruling class wanted to break into the other imperialists’ colonial markets, smash protectionist barriers and establish their control of the world capitalist system.

The combatants developed military strategies that would secure their hegemony at the conclusion of the conflict. As Germany collapsed, the Allies raced to conquer as much of Europe as possible. Russia swallowed up the Balkans and the rest of Eastern Europe, while the U.S. and its lesser partners fought for control of Western Europe. Then they sat down at Yalta to ratify their military conquests. In his memoirs, Churchill describes a meeting with Stalin to divide the continent:

The moment was apt for business, so I said, “Let us settle our affairs in the Balkans. Your armies are in Rumania and Bulgaria. We have interests, missions and agents there. Don’t let us get at cross-purposes in small ways. So far as Britain is concerned, how would it do for you to have 90 percent predominance in Rumania, for us to have 90 percent of the say in Greece, and go 50–50 about Yugoslavia?” While this was being translated I wrote on half a sheet of paper:

Rumania: Russia 90% – The others 10%

Greece: Great Britain 90% – Russia 10%

Yugoslavia 50 – 50%

Hungary 50 – 50%

Bulgaria: Russia 75% – The others 25%

I pushed this across to Stalin, who had by then heard the translation. There was a slight pause. Then he took his pencil and made a large tick upon it, and passed it back to us. It was all settled in no more time than it takes to set down ... After this there was a long silence. The pencilled paper lay on the center of the table. At length I said, “Might it not be thought rather cynical if it seemed we had disposed of these issues, so fateful to millions of people, in such an off-hand manner? Let us burn the paper.” “No, you keep it,” said Stalin. [7]

Dropping the atom bomb to show who’s boss

After the defeat of Germany, the Allies then scrambled for control of Asia. Once it became clear that the U.S. would crush Japan, President Harry Truman’s main concern was to ensure that no other power would encroach on U.S. dominion. The U.S. dropped the atomic bomb to establish itself as the dominant power in Asia and to back Russia off, instantly incinerating two Japanese cities.

Truman claimed that if he didn’t use the bomb, he would have to order a large-scale invasion of Japan, risking two million American casualties. He was lying. In reality, Japan was on the verge of collapse. The economic blockade had choked off its supplies. The country already had been bombed to pieces. Secretary of War Henry Stimson told Truman, “I was a little fearful that before we could get ready, the air force might have Japan so thoroughly bombed out that the new weapon would not have a fair background to show its strength.” Truman responded to this statement by laughing and saying that “he understood.” [8]

Before the U.S. dropped the bomb, the Japanese had actually offered terms of surrender. Naval Admiral William Leahy even admitted after the war in 1946:

Use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender because of the effective sea blockade and the successful bombing with conventional weapons ... My own feeling is that in being the first to use it, we had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages. [9]

For the same reasons, General Dwight D. Eisenhower later said “it wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing.” [10] The official U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey concluded after the war that

certainly prior to 31 December 1945, and in all probability prior to 1 November 1945, Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated. [11]

The U.S. government’s real fear was not a protracted war with Japan, but rather that Russia would gain massive territories in Asia. The Russians had entered the war in the East reluctantly and only after the defeat of Germany. Stalin then realized that he could extend his empire eastward and began an aggressive march through China and Korea. Truman’s Secretary of State Designate James Byrne stated, “The atomic bomb might well put us in a position to dictate our terms at the end of the war.” It would make Russia, in his phrase, “more manageable.” [12] Truman himself told his advisors, “If this thing explodes, we’ll have a hammer on those boys” – and by “boys,” he meant not the Japanese but the Russians. [13]

On August 6, 1945, Truman dropped the bomb without warning on Hiroshima, destroying the entire city and killing 100,000 civilians. He then bombed Nagasaki three days later, leveling it and killing 70,000 people. Japan surrendered to the U.S. five days after the bombing of Nagasaki under the very same terms they had discussed with the U.S. before the bombs were dropped. With the impact of radiation poisoning, the U.S. murdered nearly half a million civilians for the sake of empire.

A war for democracy?

While the ruling classes aimed for empire, they could not simply tell their working classes to go off and die for the sake of profit. Workers bitterly remembered “the war profiteers” and “merchants of death” who had sent them to die in the trenches of the First World War. So, the U.S. and its allies sold their imperialist war by claiming that the fight was to defend democracy.

They systematically covered up their real motives. The Council on Foreign Relations, an organization that worked closely with the State Department, issued a series of studies to help define U.S. war aims. A history of the council cites one study warning that “formulation of statement of war aims for propaganda purposes is very different from formulation of one defining the true national interest.” Another study stated:

If war aims are stated which seem to be concerned solely with Anglo-American imperialism, they would offer little to the people in the rest of the world and will be vulnerable to Nazi counter-promises. Such aims would also strengthen the most reactionary elements in the United States and the British Empire. The interests of other people should be stressed, not only those of Europe, but also of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. This would have a better propaganda effect. [14]

Following this lead, Roosevelt announced that the U.S. was the “arsenal of democracy” fighting to defend the “Four Freedoms” – freedom of religion and speech, freedom from fear and want. But this was hot air. As Trotsky argued:

No less a lie is the slogan of a war for democracy against fascism ... The imperialist democracies are in reality the greatest aristocracies in history. England, France, Holland, Belgium rest on enslavement of colonial peoples. The democracy of the United States rests upon seizure of the entire continent. All the efforts of these “democracies” are directed toward the preservation of their privileged position. [15]

In reality, the Allies – referred to by Roosevelt as “the four policemen” – cared little about democracy. The oldest cop, England, ruled undemocratic colonies with brute force throughout the war. Indeed, the sun never set on England’s violation of democracy. Its army jailed Nehru and Gandhi and bombed their followers in the Quit Now movement for the crime of fighting for India’s independence. Without ever allowing Indians to vote whether or not to join the war, the British regime committed Indian troops to battle.

Stalin’s Russia was clearly no democracy; it was a police state. Western rulers had a problem with this during the war, so their propaganda offices dressed Stalin up as an honorary democrat. They churned out a book and movie called Mission to Moscow that presented Stalin in the best possible light. Life magazine went so far as to write that Russians “look like Americans, dress like Americans, and think like Americans.” [16]

The other cop among the allies was China’s Chiang Kai-Shek. They couldn’t disguise this thug as a democrat. American officials commonly referred to Chiang as a “gangster.” [17]

The rookie cop, the U.S., was no more committed to democracy than anyone else on the force was. Truman even proclaimed, “Our government is not a democracy, thank God. It’s a republic. We elect men to use their best judgment for the public interest.” [18]

The U.S. actually suppressed democracy at home and abroad. Eager to catch up with other colonial powers, the U.S. had carved out its own unique form of empire in Latin America and the Caribbean, and stretched its hands out even to the Philippines. The U.S. ruled the area through puppet regimes backed by the threat of invasion. And the U.S. didn’t hesitate to invade. Between 1900 and 1937, the U.S. attacked Cuba six times, Panama six times, Honduras seven times, Nicaragua twice and Guatemala once. When it invaded the Philippines in 1900, the U.S. military killed one million Filipinos in order to extend the American empire.

American rulers’ commitment to democracy at home was little better. They denied basic political rights to Blacks in the South, enforcing Jim Crow segregation through poll taxes, literacy tests and Klan terror. As a result, Blacks lost their right to vote and suffered vicious repression.

Not surprisingly, the ruling class extended this racism to Blacks inside the U.S. military. The American military maintained segregated units and systematically denied promotion to Blacks during the Second World War. Secretary of War Stimson justified his denial of field commands to Blacks by saying, “Leadership is not embedded in the Negro race yet; trying to make them into combat officers would be a disaster.” [19] As a result, the 700,000 Blacks who fought in the Second World War were restricted to the worst jobs with the lowest pay.

The ruling class also took advantage of the war to suppress the democratic rights of the entire working class. They forced workers to produce machinery for the war at a relentless pace but denied them the right to strike. While the bosses convinced union bureaucracies to sign the no-strike pledge, rank-and-file workers went ahead and struck anyway. In fact, more than half of the United Auto Workers went on strike in 1944. To halt these strikes, rulers passed the Smith-Connally War Labor Disputes Act in 1943, which gave the government the power to take over strike-bound plants, make it a crime to advocate striking and forbid unions from making contributions to political campaigns.

Roosevelt even suspended the right to political dissent. In 1940, the U.S. government passed the Smith Act, which made it illegal to protest the war, print antiwar materials or advocate the overthrow of the government. Roosevelt’s government arrested and jailed 18 American Trotskyists under the Smith Act.

But by far the most outrageous U.S. violation of its own democratic rhetoric was its internment of 120,000 Japanese Americans in concentration camps during the war. Right after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the FBI rounded up and jailed 1,375 Japanese Americans on the West Coast for the crime of being Japanese. [20] General John Dewitt, who organized the arrests, stooped to the vilest racism to justify denying Japanese Americans every civil liberty on the books. He fumed that “the Japanese race is an enemy race. It makes no difference whether he is American or not.” [21] A congressman said, “I’m for catching every Japanese in America, Alaska and Hawaii now and putting them in concentration camps.” [22]

In the midst of this racist hysteria, Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 eight weeks after Pearl Harbor, giving the green light for the roundup and internment of Japanese Americans. Most of the Japanese lost their property, jobs and houses. One Japanese American jailed at the Manzanar camp in California described the experience:

I was born in Hawaii. I worked most of my life on the West Coast. I have never been to Japan. We would have done anything to show our loyalty. All we wanted to do was to be left alone on the coast ... My wife and I lost $10,000 in that evacuation ... What kind of Americanism do you call that? That’s not democracy. [23]

U.S. bosses cared little for democracy, and when they believed that civil rights stood in the way of their imperialist objectives, they suppressed them.

A war against fascism?

The Allies were no more concerned about fighting fascism than they were about defending democracy. In fact, the ruling classes initially welcomed Hitler and Mussolini as strong leaders who could defeat the workers’ movement in Germany and Italy. They only declared war on the fascists when it became clear that Germany’s military conquests would interfere with their own global empires.

In Europe, the ruling class supported the fascists as counterweight to communism and the workers’ movement. Some explicitly lined up with the Nazis. British Lord Halifax praised Nazi Germany as the “bulwark against Bolshevism.” [24] The Duke of Windsor, the former King of England, openly sided with the Nazis. Churchill himself told the fascist press in Italy in 1927:

If I had been Italian, I am sure I should have been wholeheartedly with you from the start to finish in your triumphant struggle against the bestial appetites and passions of Leninism. [25]

The French ruling class practically invited the Nazis to invade France in order to crush Leon Blum’s reform socialist government and head off the possibility of a workers’ revolution.

The U.S. ruling class also supported the fascists’ attack on the working class. Roosevelt himself called Mussolini “that admirable Italian gentleman” and wrote that he was “deeply impressed by what [Mussolini] has accomplished and by his evidenced honest purpose of restoring Italy and seeking to prevent general European trouble.” [26] In 1933, the American Consul General in Hamburg claimed that the press was exaggerating the attacks on Jews and argued,

It must be admitted that the National Socialist organization before it came into power, and since then the Nazi Nationalist Government, have rendered invaluable services to the world at large in crushing communism in Germany, which may have a salutary effect in other countries insofar as the eradication of the communist plague is concerned. [27]

Even when Nazi atrocities against Jews became common knowledge, U.S. corporations like DuPont and Standard Oil sought out contracts with Germany. In the mid-1930s, GM and Ford actually helped Germany remilitarize by building its army’s tanks. [28]

The U.S. and its future allies proved their preference for fascism over workers’ revolution during the Spanish Civil War. When the Spanish fascists rebelled against the democratically elected government of Spain, the so-called democratic powers stood by and let the democracy go down in blood and flames. Churchill expressed sympathy with Franco. Roosevelt called himself a “sincere friend” of Franco in a letter that promised American troops would not attack the fascists in North Africa. [29] And Stalin, eager not to offend his allies in the West, limited his support of the Republic and advocated the arrest of working-class revolutionaries. With the Allies’ tacit approval, Franco crushed democracy in Spain.

Thus, the capitalist ruling classes supported the fascists’ attack on the working classes of Italy, Germany and Spain. And even after the fascists threatened their empires with expansionary war, the Allies’ first reaction was to appease Germany and Italy. They hoped to avoid fighting Hitler and thought they could buy him off by offering him pieces of Europe. The ruling classes celebrated British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s 1938 Munich Pact with Hitler, which surrendered democratic Czechoslovakia to Nazi Germany. When Chamberlain famously came back to England announcing that he had secured “peace in our time,” Roosevelt applauded Chamberlain as a “good man.” [30]

When Mussolini invaded Ethiopia, Roosevelt hemmed and hawed but soon increased oil deals with Italy. Stalin signed a non-aggression pact with Hitler in 1939, handing Germany Finland and dividing Poland between Germany and Russia. The Stalin-Hitler Pact made Stalin the protector of Hitler’s eastern and northern fronts, thus freeing Hitler’s hand for conquest in Western Europe. The future Allies thought that cutting a deal would be the best way to maintain their empires. Trotsky wrote, “The old colonial powers, having nothing to win but much to lose, were frightened of armed conflict. Chamberlain would give away all the democracies of the world – and not many are left – for one-tenth of India.” [31]

Churchill and others who rallied the Allies to confront Hitler argued that if they wanted to save their empires they would have to confront the Nazi blitzkrieg. But both appeasers and aggressors agreed on saving the empire; they merely disagreed on how to do it.

The Soviet Union, seeking to expand its hold over Eastern Europe, cared as little about fighting fascism as its Western allies. For example, Stalin deliberately prevented the Red Army from aiding the Warsaw Uprising because he did not want to support armed insurrection that would make his own plans of conquest more difficult. So he held his troops and air force outside the city while the Nazis killed 166,000 rebels. [32]

The abandonment of the Jews

But the clinching proof that the Allies were not committed to fighting fascism is the abandonment of six million Jews to the Nazi genocide. [33] In his brilliant book, While Six Million Died, Arthur Morse writes that the Allies,

by a combination of political expediency, diplomatic evasion, indifference and raw bigotry ... played directly into the hands of Adolph Hitler even as he set in motion the final plans for the greatest mass murder in history. [34]

The Allies did not care about Jews; not only did they not lift a finger to stop the genocide, they actually obstructed attempts to save Jews.

First, Washington was fully aware of the escalating atrocities the Nazis committed against Jews in Germany. From 1933 on, the New York Times carried stories of Nazi attacks on the Jews that ranged from descriptions of petty harassment to mass firings, murders and even the construction of concentration camps.

Yet Roosevelt and Secretary of State Cordell Hull blocked every attempt to let in Jewish refugees, refusing to open U.S. borders to desperate Jews who lined up in the tens of thousands at American embassies throughout Europe. They even appointed a known anti-Semite, Breckinridge Long, to take charge of refugees. Suffering from paranoid delusions, he suspected Jewish immigrants of being either communists or spies for Hitler! Long used all sorts of legalistic tricks to deny admission to thousands of Jews.

Even after the horrors of Kristallnacht in 1938, when the Nazis rounded up 20,000 Jews and sent them to concentration camps such as Dachau and Buchenwald, Roosevelt did nothing. He didn’t change his immigration policy or even respond to the terror. In 1939, Roosevelt failed to support a bill that would have saved 10,000 Jewish children because he feared it would offend the anti-immigrant forces in Congress who might then block his budget for naval contracts. Again in 1939, the president turned back the St. Louis, a ship carrying 936 Jews fleeing persecution. Most of the passengers had already qualified for asylum – but even after they sent Roosevelt a telegram directly asking him to save them, he ignored their plight. They were forced to return to Europe where many of them died in Hitler’s gas chambers.

The U.S. government did nothing to stop or even impede Hitler’s “final solution.” Yet America’s rulers knew Hitler’s plans down to minute detail. Reports were coming in as early as 1941 about the mass extermination of Jews on the eastern front. In August 1942, a prominent German industrialist contacted Dr. Gerhart Reigner, the president of the World Jewish Congress in Geneva, and warned of Hitler’s plans for the “final solution.” Reigner then cabled Hitler’s plan to the U.S. At first, the State Department suppressed the cable; then, as more information came pouring in, they delayed any response until January 1944. Finally, under mass pressure and after more than four million Jews had already been killed, Roosevelt approved an underfunded, understaffed War Refugee Board.

Even then, the U.S. hardly did anything to stop the genocide. The U.S. refused to bomb the tracks to Auschwitz or its crematorium – even though Allied bombers flew over Auschwitz to bomb its factories. The Czech underground supplied the U.S. military with information detailing key bombing locations, train routes and even schedules. But Assistant Secretary of Defense John McCloy said that such bombing was impracticable and that he would not divert planes from military targets.

Private groups and individuals like former Swedish diplomat Raul Wallenberg did far more to save Jews than any Allied government ever did.

Race war against Japan

Instead of saving Jews and fighting racism, U.S. rulers themselves waged a race war against the Japanese. The U.S. government actually spent the bulk of its propaganda not celebrating democracy and denouncing fascism, but whipping up anti-Japanese racism.

Every level of the U.S. government participated, and their proposals came close to genocide. Mississippi Representative John Rankin declared on the floor of the Congress:

This is a race war ... The white man’s civilization has come into conflict with Japanese barbarism ... I say it is of vital importance that we get rid of every Japanese, whether in Hawaii or on the mainland ... Damn them; let’s get rid of them now. [35]

The head of the U.S. Navy, Admiral William Halsey, told his troops, “Kill Japs; Kill Japs; Kill more Japs.” [36] The military erected billboards with racist slogans throughout the Pacific Islands that they captured. One of these told soldiers, “Kill Japs; Kill more Japs; you will be doing your part if you help kill those yellow bastards.” [37] Roosevelt’s son and confidant, Elliott Roosevelt, argued that the U.S. should bomb Japan “until we have destroyed about half the Japanese civilian population.” [38] Paul McNutt, chairman of the War Manpower Commission, favored “the extermination of the Japanese in toto.” [39]

The American media happily stoked the fires of racism. Historian John Dower writes:

The Hearst newspapers declared the war in Asia totally different from that in Europe, for Japan was a “racial menace” as well as a cultural and religious one, and if it proved victorious in the Pacific there would be “perpetual war between Oriental ideals and Occidental.” Popular writers described the war against Japan as “a holy war, a racial war of greater significance than any the world has heretofore seen.” [40]

Time magazine ranted that “the ordinary unreasoning Jap is ignorant. Perhaps he is human. Nothing ... indicates it.” [41]

The racist anti-Japanese campaign largely succeeded. Paul Fussell argues:

To most American soldiers and sailors, the United States, at least, was pursuing the war solely to defend itself from the monsters who had bombed Pearl Harbor without warning ... Writing a friend from Chanute Field, Illinois, in July, 1943, Randall Jarrell says: “99 of 100 people in the army haven’t the faintest idea what the war’s about. The two strongest motives are (a) nationalism ... and (b) race prejudice – they dislike Japanese in the same way, though not as much, they dislike Niggers.” [42]

The ruler’s race war drove U.S. soldiers to wild extremes encouraging or tolerating obscene practices such as collecting Japanese ears and skulls as trophies. Life magazine ran pictures of GIs holding strings of Japanese ears. They even printed a full-page photograph of a bride-to-be posing with a Japanese skull sent from her fiancé fighting in the Pacific. [43]

Pax Americana

The U.S. ruling class scrambled to secure its dominance worldwide after defeating Germany and Japan. They quickly moved to put down the massive postwar rebellion of workers and independence struggles in Europe’s colonies. Simultaneously, they launched the Cold War against their competitor in the race for empire, Stalin’s Russia. The U.S. enlisted the help of former fascists, installed dictators who were friendly to American aims and sent troops to enforce its rule in countries all around the world.

As the historian Gabriel Kolko put it:

The former ruling classes of Europe appealed to the United States and England to save them from Bolshevism, and in doing so they appealed to the West’s self-interest, their hatred and fear of Bolshevism. Where the Anglo-Americans could impose occupation governments they resolved to preserve the outlines of the pre-war order, perhaps modestly reformed, by force of arms if necessary. [44]

Postwar stability was also in the Soviet bureaucracy’s interest. Stalin and his loyal parties throughout the world helped demobilize the struggle against capitalism. Kolko argues that “only Russian conservatism stood between the Old Order and revolution.” [45] In exchange for his own sphere of influence in Eastern Europe, Stalin ordered the Communist Parties to accept American rule in Western Europe and elsewhere. Thus, although they battled over who would rule the world, the two powers united to defuse and crush the postwar rebellion.

From one end of Europe to the other, the collapse of fascism produced a temporary power vacuum. Fascism had collapsed, but what kind of society would rise up in its place was for a very brief moment an open question.

Millions of people challenged the old order that had produced such horrors as they rose up to blot out the remnants of fascism. In Italy, a mass resistance movement – propelled by mass strikes – helped bring down Mussolini’s regime and defeat the Nazi occupiers. The strikes, combined with armed resistance, made areas of Italy such as Turin and Milan no-go areas for fascists and Germans. In France, mass liberation committees sprang up after the fall of Philippe Petain’s government, and they acted as an alternative government in some localities. In Germany, Antifas (antifascist committees) sprang up all over the country – 38 in Leipzig alone. Many Antifas were organized in workplaces. As Tony Cliff writes:

There was an awareness that only by the workers doing the job themselves could Nazism really be banished for good. The Prince Regent mine in Bochum called for a political general strike and issued the slogan, “Long live the Red Army,” not in reference to the Soviet forces but to the insurrectionary force of the 1918–1923 German Revolution. The view was advanced that “in the future state there will be no more employers as previously. We must all arrange it and work as if the enterprise is ours!” In some places workers took over factories and management fled. Antifas set up their own factory militias and replaced police chiefs and mayors with their own nominees. The situation in Stuttgart and Hanover was described as one of “dual power,” the Antifas having set up their own police force, taken over a raft of powerful local positions and begun to run vital services like food provisioning. [46]

But everywhere, the Western powers – with help from the Stalinists – quickly disarmed the resistance movements and restored the old order.

The U.S. and its allies used former Nazis, fascists and their collaborators to restore the rotting structures of the old Europe that had produced fascist horrors in the first place.

In Germany, the U.S. handed the denazification program over to the Germans after much of the top echelon of Nazi leaders was tried and executed. Thousands of bureaucrats, politicians and intelligence figures from the Nazi-era regime crawled back into power under the American occupation. According to one historian,

John J. McCloy, U.S. high commissioner of the Federal Republic of Germany, acknowledged in an August 1949 radio address that “some thirty percent” of the positions in government and industry were already occupied by ex-Nazis. [47]

Nazis were admitted into the government if they renounced their Nazi allegiances and swore allegiance to the Western alliance.

The conservative Konrad Adenauer, the first elected West German Chancellor after the war, appointed Theodor Oberlander, veteran of the SS Nightingale Battalion, as his minister for refugees. His interior minister, Gerhard Schröder was a former Hitler storm trooper. Schröder proceeded to employ numerous former SS and Gestapo officers for the West German police apparatus. Hans Globke, the director of the Office of Jewish Affairs under Hitler who worked closely with SS Colonel Adolph Eichmann in the deportation and liquidation of Macedonia’s Jews, became Adenauer’s State Secretary. Globke used his position in 1951 to engineer the return of thousands of Hitler-era civil servants to their former jobs.

State Department diplomat George F. Kennan explained why the U.S. was not interested in purging Nazis from German government and industry:

Whether we like it or not, nine-tenths of what is strong, able and respected in Germany has been poured into those very categories which we have in mind ... [the] more than nominal members of the Nazi Party.

Rather than remove “the present ruling class of Germany,” Kennan remarked it would be better to “hold it strictly to its task and teach it the lessons we wish it to learn.” [48] In Italy, the CIA funneled large sums of money to the Vatican to help it conduct anticommunist propaganda in Italian elections. A substantial portion of the money for this operation came from “captured Nazi German assets, including money and gold that the Nazis had looted from the Jews.” [49]

The U.S. employed notorious Nazis such as Gestapo leader Klaus Barbie and Nazi intelligence officer Reinhard Gehlen to recruit thousands of Nazi agents to spy on Russia in Eastern Europe. [50] “He’s on our side,” CIA director Allen Dulles said of Gehlen. “That’s all that matters.” [51] One of Gehlen’s recruits was Franz Six, a man who led mobile killing squads on the eastern front, was considered a protégé of SS chief Heinrich Himmler and carried out under Adolph Eichmann some of the first efforts of the Holocaust as commander of the “ideological combat” section of the security service. The CIA also recruited Alois Brunner, who under the Nazi regime specialized in rounding up Jews and deporting them to concentration camps, into their spy ring. Adolf Eichmann praised Brunner as “one of my best men.” Brunner made himself famous among the fascists for sending Jewish children to their deaths because he believed them to be “future terrorists.” The Simon Wiesenthal Center estimates that Brunner was personally responsible for the murder of 128,500 people. [52] Dozens of other notorious Nazis were protected by the United States and placed on the CIA’s payroll.

Justifying their use of Nazis, a representative of the precursor to the CIA argued,

They say, “Why did you use Nazis?” That is a stupid question. It would have been impossible for us to operate in southern Germany without using Nazis ... [W]ho knew Germany better than anyone else? Who were most organized? Who were the most anticommunist? Former Nazis. Not to use them would mean complete emasculation. And we used them, the British used them, and the French used them, and the Russians used them. [53]

In Greece, the U.S. and Britain declared war on the popular antifascist rebellion. The British Ambassador said, “What is happening here among the Greeks is nothing less than a revolution.” [54] Accordingly, the British and the U.S. backed a pro-fascist regime in the civil war in order to put down the Greek working class, which had liberated the country. In his famous Truman Doctrine speech that launched the Cold War, President Truman requested and got $400 million from Congress to back up the Greek regime as a bulwark against communism. In 1947, this regime jailed 30,000 political activists, relocated 700,000 people and killed 158,000 Greek antifascists – nearly 2 percent of the country’s population. [55]

In order to establish its rule in Asia, the U.S. had to crush mass nationalist movements against colonialism. Japan had destroyed much of the old colonial order; with its defeat, the U.S. feared a power vacuum that could be filled by local nationalists and workers. So Truman issued General Order No. 1, which dictated that the Japanese could surrender only to the U.S. or its specified allies. Under no circumstances, the Order stated, should the Japanese give over their arms to the local resistance movements. [56]

From rookie to globocop

The U.S. entered the Second World War without access to the world’s markets and without military bases to enforce its will. It emerged with troops in 56 countries stationed at more than 400 military bases. The U.S. economy, rejuvenated by the war, accounted for 75 percent of invested capital in the world. [57]

The U.S. immediately solidified this new power. It rebuilt European capitalism through the Marshall Plan and set up NATO to enforce its rule over the continental powers. After defeating Japan, the U.S. laid claim to political and economic rule in Asia. It first assisted and later replaced the French in Indochina. It partitioned Korea with Russia, and later engaged in a proxy war with Russia and China over the partition – a war that claimed more than two million lives.

The U.S. dispossessed England of its empire and replaced it as the main power in the Middle East where the U.S. (with the help of its regional watchdog, Israel) secured control of the oil reserves. The U.S. then set up the United Nations to solidify its political rule and established the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and GATT to police its free-market economic policies.

The U.S. built its empire out of the rubble of Europe’s colonies. But instead of building colonial regimes, it backed dictators such as the Shah of Iran, Suharto in Indonesia, and Mobutu in Zaire who would obey U.S. economic and political orders. Where it did intervene directly, in Vietnam, the U.S. murdered two million people in order to prevent the country from achieving independence. The United States beat back anti-imperialist movements and workers’ rebellions all around the world in the name of fighting communism. The U.S. thereby made itself into the globocop of world capitalism, the greatest foe of workers’ power at home and abroad.

* * *


1. Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of Great Powers (New York: Random House, 1987), pp. 282–83.

2. Leon Trotsky, Writings of Leon Trotsky, 1939–1940 (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1977), p. 85.

3. Quoted in Tony Cliff, The Darker the Night the Brighter the Star (London: Bookmarks, 1993), pp. 368–69.

4. Kent Arimura (live presentation), World War II: Should Socialists Take Sides? Socialist Summer School (Chicago: June 1997).

5. Quoted in Gabriel Kolko, The Politics of War (New York: Pantheon Books, 1968), p. 251.

6. Quoted in Kolko, p. 253.

7. Quoted in Chris Harman, Class Struggles in Eastern Europe, 1945–1983 (London: Bookmarks, 1988), pp. 15–16.

8. Kolko, p. 540.

9. Gar Alperovitz, Atomic Diplomacy (London: Pluto, 1994), p. 14.

10. Stephen Brier, ed., Who Built America, vol. 2 (New York: Pantheon, 1992), p. 467.

11. Alperovitz, pp. 10–11.

12. Alperovitz, p. 43.

13. Quoted in Arimura.

14. Laurence H. Shoup and William Minter, The Imperial Brain Trust: The Council on Foreign Relations and the United States Foreign Policy (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1977), pp. 162–63. The Council on Foreign Relations was a private think tank on foreign policy that was funded by major corporations and staffed by major figures on Wall Street. It was closely allied with the State Department in determining postwar U.S. policy. The Atlantic Charter of 1941, the public statement of U.S. foreign policy, was based on recommendations by members of the CFR.

15. Quoted in Cliff, p. 369.

16. Quoted in Kennedy, p. 371.

17. Kolko, p. 229.

18. Richard J. Barnet, The Rockets’ Red Glare: When America Goes to War: The Presidents and the People (Simon and Schuster, New York, 1990), p. 253–54.

19. Quoted in Brier, p. 442.

20. Page Smith, Democracy on Trial (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995), p. 95.

21. Quoted in Brier, p. 448.

22. Quoted in Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States (New York: Harper Perennial, 1995), p. 407.

23. Quoted in Brier, p. 450.

24. Quoted in A.J.P. Taylor, The Origins of the Second World War (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1961), p. 137.

25. Quoted in Chris Bambery, Was the Second World War a War for Democracy? International Socialism 67, Summer 1995: p. 42.

26. Quoted in David Schmitz, Thank God They’re on Our Side (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999), p. 90.

27. Quoted in Arthur Morse, While Six Million Died (New York: Overlook Press, 1998), p. 112.

28. Barnet, p. 199.

29. Bambery, p. 43.

30. Taylor, p. 191.

31. Quoted in Isaac Deutscher, The Prophet Outcast: Trotsky, 1929–1949 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1963), p. 457.

32. Kolko, pp. 115–19.

33. For a more thorough analysis see Annie Levin, While Six Million Died, International Socialist Review 7, Spring 1999: pp. 32–34.

34. Morse, p. 99.

35. Smith, p. 120.

36. Barnet, p. 230.

37. Brier, p. 440.

38. John Dower, War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War (New York: Pantheon, 1986), p. 55.

39. Barnet, p. 230.

40. Dower, p. 7.

41. Quoted in Zinn, p. 412.

42. Paul Fussell, Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), p. 137.

43. Dower, p. 65.

44. Kolko, p. 445.

45. Kolko, p. 450.

46. Tony Cliff, Trotskyism After Trotsky (London: Bookmarks, 1999), p. 76.

47. Martin A. Lee, The Beast Reawakens (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 1987), p. 48.

48. Christopher Simpson, Blowback: America’s Recruitment of Nazis and Its Effects on the Cold War (New York: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1998), p. 88.

49. Simpson, p. 91.

50. Simpson, pp. 281–82.

51. Simpson, p. 53.

52. Simpson, pp. 248–49.

53. Simpson, p. 70.

54. Quoted in Kolko, p. 179.

55. Gabriel Kolko, Century of War (New York: The New Press, 1994), p. 379.

56. Kolko, pp. 601–02.

57. Peter Morgan, Testing to Destruction, Socialist Review 230, May 1999: p. 8.

Last updated on 27 0ctober 2021