The World Since 1914
Part 4—1940-1943 Nations in Anguish, Driven by Fear
HIS words were enough to evoke fear in the bravest of persons. “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat,” newly appointed prime minister Winston Churchill told members of the British House of Commons. Stressing the seriousness of the situation, he declared: “Victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory however long and hard the road may be; for without victory there is no survival.”
Yes, on that day, May 13, 1940, the British had every reason to be fearful. During the next six months, the German Luftwaffe, in preparation for an invasion, would send hundreds of its planes to rain down tons of bombs upon both military and nonmilitary targets. This later became known as the Battle of Britain, and it was designed to break Britain’s air power and to destroy the morale of its people. But for the Luftwaffe the battle went badly. Hitler hesitated, and in October—at least for the moment—invasion plans were canceled.
Freedom From Fear?
In the United States, sympathy for the British continued to grow, eroding the official American policy of neutrality. Making his intentions clear, President Roosevelt said in 1940: “We have furnished the British great material support and we will furnish far more in the future.”
On January 6, 1941, he went one step further. In an address to Congress, he spoke of what he called Four Freedoms. To help achieve one of them—freedom from fear—he proposed a global “reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor—anywhere in the world.” This, in reality, was an indirect declaration of war on the policies and goals of the Axis powers.
Two months later the U.S. Congress authorized a program known as lend-lease. This allowed the president to supply war materials, such as tanks and airplanes, as well as food and services, to any nation the defense of which he felt vital to U.S. interests.* Despite lingering domestic opposition, it was obvious that the United States was getting more and more involved in Europe’s war.
Meanwhile, encouraged by the success of its European allies, Japan felt it could now move into Southeast Asia without excessive fear of British or Dutch interference. When it invaded Indochina in September 1940, Washington protested sharply. And when Japan moved into the southern part of the country, action followed. Japanese assets under United States control were frozen, and an embargo was placed upon oil shipments to Japan. With their vital interests threatened, the Japanese now felt compelled to eliminate the danger of any further United States intervention.
Military leaders argued that U.S. retaliatory capabilities could be measurably reduced by winning a decisive victory over U.S. naval forces, which exceeded those of Japan in strength by some 30 percent. Then by capturing American, British, and Dutch territories, Japan would have land bases from which to defend itself should it later be counterattacked. The start, it was decided, was to be made at Wai Momi.
This means “pearl waters,” and it is what Hawaiians once called the Pearl River estuary because of the pearl oysters that once grew there. It is located a few miles west of downtown Honolulu. But on Sunday morning, December 7, 1941, the waters of Wai Momi were not filled with pearls but with the sunken carcasses of wrecked ships and the mangled bodies of their crews. Japanese warplanes attacking the main Pacific U.S. naval base located there inflicted severe losses.
The Pearl Harbor attack practically neutralized American naval forces in the Pacific, except for the aircraft carriers. Within hours, other U.S. air bases were bombed, and this left over 50 percent of the Far East U.S. Army aircraft in shambles. Three days later, Japan invaded the Philippines, captured Manila less than a month later, and took control of all the Philippine Islands by the middle of May. Quickly, one after the other, Hong Kong, Burma, Java, Singapore, Thailand, Indochina, British Malaya, Sumatra, Borneo, parts of New Guinea, Netherlands East Indies, as well as scores of Pacific islands, fell into Japanese hands. The Asiatic blitzkrieg was not one whit behind its European counterpart.
As 1942 drew to a close, freedom from fear was hardly descriptive of the world situation. More accurate were Jesus’ prophetic words: “On the earth anguish of nations, . . . while men become faint out of fear and expectation of the things coming upon the inhabited earth.”—Luke 21:25, 26.
German Lightning Fizzles
Meanwhile, Germany and Italy were expanding their control over the Balkans. Hitler sent his troops goose-stepping into Yugoslavia and Greece on April 6, 1941. In less than two weeks, Yugoslavia fell, followed before the middle of May by Greece.
Hitler’s next move was motivated by several desires. He was possibly still intent upon influencing England into suing for peace. He also wanted to take pressure off the Japanese, who were fighting the Soviets in China, so that they in turn could keep the Americans at bay. Thus Hitler readied his troops for a thrust against the Soviet Union, his ally in the Polish campaign.
Encouraged by previous successes, Hitler’s generals felt that if they invaded in June, European Russia and the Ukraine could be theirs before the onset of winter. So on June 22, 1941, they struck. They moved with lightning speed from victory to victory. On two occasions they encircled large groups of Soviet troops and took over half a million prisoners each time. Leningrad seemed ready to fall, and by early December, German troops were pushing into the outskirts of Moscow.
Winter, however, was near, and for once Hitler’s troops were behind schedule. Leningrad and Moscow held firm. Soviet troops, now recovered from their initial shock and better equipped for winter warfare than their German counterparts, brought the German juggernaut to a halt. In fact, they even forced it into retreat.
The next summer the Germans rebounded. Their all-out attack on Stalingrad (now Volgograd), however, led to their undoing. Early in 1943 the Soviets surrounded tens of thousands of troops poised to take the city and forced them into surrendering. John Pimlott, senior lecturer at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, comments: “It was a stunning blow to German morale and the turning point in the war on the Eastern Front. Before Stalingrad the Russians had enjoyed no unqualified victories; after it they were to suffer few defeats.”
By the end of 1943, nearly two thirds of the vast territory seized by the Germans in the preceding two years had been recaptured. German lightning had fizzled.
“Monty” Chases the “Desert Fox”
In 1912 Cyrenaica and Tripolitania (now part of the North African country of Libya) were ceded to Italy. The some 300,000 Italian soldiers stationed there at the end of 1940 posed a severe threat to the much smaller garrison of British troops in Egypt guarding the approaches to the strategic Suez Canal. To ward off this danger, the British decided to strike first. They achieved one of the first decisive Allied victories, taking tens of thousands of prisoners and sending the Italians into full-scale retreat. The victory might have been even greater had not Greece just at that time accepted the offer of British help in its unsuccessful struggle against the invading Axis powers. For the moment, the North African campaign was put on hold. This allowed the Axis powers time to reorganize.
German troops under the command of Erwin Rommel, who later became known as the Desert Fox, succeeded in turning the tide of battle and in making substantial gains. His greatest success came in 1942, when at the beginning of July his troops advanced to Alamein, within 60 miles (100 km) of Alexandria. Africa’s blitzkrieg was now poised to capture Egypt and to gain control of the Suez Canal. But after British troops, under the leadership of General Bernard Law Montgomery, launched an infantry attack on October 23, Rommel was forced into a gradual withdrawal that soon turned into a rout. Then in November 1942 the Allies successfully landed in Morocco and Algeria. By the following May, Axis troops, now caught between enemy forces advancing from east and west, had lost their bid to control North Africa.
Hopscotching Across the South Pacific
In the spring of 1942 Japan could boast of an empire grown to its greatest extent. But the Allied plan was to recover this territory from the Japanese, to hopscotch its troops across the Pacific from island to island until they finally reached the Japanese mainland. A long series of ferocious naval battles followed. Little-known Pacific islands like Saipan, Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa were invaded at horrendous cost to both sides. Childhood daydreams of island paradises gave way to the stark reality and nightmare of mutilated corpses on bloody beaches. Defeat was bitter, but even victory was tinged with fear, the fear of what was yet to come.
Plans for the Future
Even in the midst of war, plans were already being made for peace. By mid-1942, for example, over 30 U.S. government agencies were said to be engaged in postwar planning—not entirely without fear or apprehension, however. As Churchill so pertinently remarked: “The problems of victory are more agreeable than those of defeat, but they are no less difficult.”
No doubt one of the most difficult of these problems of victory would be the finding of a replacement for the defunct League of Nations. Even though some people may have been doubtful, Jehovah’s Witnesses were certain that such a replacement would be found. In a discourse delivered at their 1942 convention in Cleveland, Ohio, the speaker said: “Before Armageddon comes, the Scriptures show, a peace must come. . . . Those of a democratic mind hope for a United States of the world, a ‘family of nations,’ a ‘world association’ based on the United Nations.” Referring to the prophecy of Revelation 17:8, he stated unequivocally: “The association of worldly nations will rise again.”
But would it bring a lasting peace? “God’s definite answer is, No!” replied the speaker. Even so, despite its temporary nature, the coming period of peace would be most welcome. With no fear of the future, Jehovah’s Witnesses began making plans to expand their preaching work once the war was over. In 1942 they established a missionary school to train Christian ministers for service in other lands. The following year a program for training public speakers was introduced to make possible an expanded public-meeting campaign.
As 1943 closed, the nations were still in anguish, still driven by fear. But people on both sides of the conflict, weary of war, were beginning to look forward to the promised relief that the postwar world offered. Would it bring the “freedom from fear” about which Roosevelt spoke? On the contrary, global fear would shortly spiral to new levels! And the main culprit, ironically enough, would be the very instrument hailed by some as a godsend in finally bringing to an end the agonizing years of war. Read “World War II—Its Fierce and Fiery End” in our next issue.
Chiefly meant were Great Britain and Commonwealth nations, although in April of that year, help was also extended to China and in September to the Soviets. By war’s end, some 50 billion dollars in aid had been given to 38 different nations.
[Box on page 19]
Other Items That Made the News
1941—The German Catholic bishops’ conference announces its
support for war against the Soviet Union
First mass gassings in Auschwitz concentration camp
1942—Bombay, India, hit by cyclone and flood; 40,000 deaths
First nuclear chain-reaction produced at University of
Conference at Wannsee adopts liquidation as Nazi “final
solution” to Jewish problem
1943—Turkish earthquake kills 1,800 persons
Over one million die in famine in Bengal
U.S. Supreme Court, in reversal of 1940 decision, rules that
compulsory flag salute in public schools is
Race riots in major U.S. cities; in Detroit 35 die and 1,000
[Diagram/Map on page 18]
(For fully formatted text, see publication)
The extent of Japan’s conquests by 1942
Netherlands New Guinea
North-East New Guinea
[Pictures on page 17]
Nations in the throes of war
U.S. Army photos