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American War Strategy

The United States entered the Second World War with a Germany-first strategy. In November 1942, the Allies landed in North Africa. By May 1943, the British and Americans had cleared the Germans from North Africa.

Both officers and men were psychologically unprepared for war. All ranks were not yet imbued with the spirit that made them willing to die rather than fail in any assigned mission. With notable exceptions, the prevailing attitude among American troops was that the North African operations was just another maneuver with live ammunition. The enemy was regarded as the visiting team and this not a major game. Even units suffering heavy casualties did not evince hatred of the enemy; there had been no recognizable effort by the high command to evoke a fighting spirit.

A survey group from the Inspector General's office reported from North Africa that Ordnance officers were unanimous in declaring that basically the American soldier was extremely wasteful and undisciplined where maintenance was concerned. He seemed inherently extravagant and irresponsible. If an American driver had trouble with his carburetor he immediately demanded a new one, even though the only trouble was the malfunction of one small part. Vehicles left along the roadside unguarded were cannibalized by almost every passer-by.

By 1943, American forces were on the offensive against both Germany and Japan. American military planners did not agree about the best way to launch such a counterattack. Admiral Nimitz of the navy wanted to capture the small groups of Japanese-held islands in the Pacific, then seize Taiwan, and finally attack Japan itself. But General Douglas MacArthur of the Army thought it best to attack through New Guinea and the Philippines.

From February 1942 until July 1944, a war of attrition was fought by the air forces of the United States, Australia and Japan in Papua, New Guinea, the Bismarck Archipelago and the Solomon Islands. Although this period comprises more than half the length of the war in the Pacific, somehow more attention seems to be paid in popular histories to other aspects of that war, such as the actions of the carrier fleets of Japan and the United States. The air campaign in the South Pacific, however, was of extreme importance, not just to the persons of all sides who fought there, but to the outcome of the war. This is because it was in, over and around the island of New Guinea that the Japanese Army and Navy, and their air forces, were first stopped, worn down and finally pushed back.

The American leaders finally decided to launch both attacks at once. Plans to launch an offensive against the Japanese in the islands of the Pacific were initiated in 1943 at the Quadrant Conference held in Quebec. The American counter-offensive advanced along two axes, one forthe Army, the other for the US Marine Corps. American Army forces under General Douglas MacArthur or Admiral William Halsey advanced along a southern route towards the Philippines. Meanwhile, US Marine Corps forces under Admirals Chester Nimitz and Raymond Spruance moved toward the Gilbert Islands, then the Marshalls, followed by Wake, the Eastern Carolines, and finally the Marianas.

Both Nimitz and MacArthur succeeded. Allied military leaders found a way to defeat the Japanese, by avoiding the islands where the Japanese were strong. But sometimes the allies could not avoid battle, as they had to land on some islands to seize airfields for American bombers.

While Unconditional Surrender was sold to the American public (and to generations of school textbook writers). this policy undoubtedly lengthened the war, and caused hundred of thousands of Allied casualties. Roosevelt clung with grim tenacity to his 'unconditional surrender' formula, despite anguished pleas from his military commanders, Winston Churchill, the anti-Hitler German resistance, and even the Pope that all he was doing was fueling the Nazis' propaganda machine, undermining any hope of an effective resistance, and guaranteeing additional casualties.

One driving force behind the policy was the New Deal vision of a world order, which could live with a Soviet empire, but not the British Empire, or a democratic industrialized Germany. The New Deal plan []the Morgenthau Plan] was to divide Germany into seven little demilitarized agrarian states, in a Carthigian eternal subjugation. That was just fine with Stalin, but Truman became president before this could take place. But lots of people died for this policy before Truman nixed it - including, Fleming shows, a bevy of German Resistance leaders.

The war termination strategies adopted by the United States remain controversial despite the passage of more than fifty years. Germany and Japan were determined and resourceful adversaries. Bringing about their complete defeat, while holding down American casualties and managing the United States' relationships with allies, posed difficult strategic choices for American decision-makers. Nothing better illustrates these difficulties than the decision to use nuclear weapons to force Japan's surrender.

Suddenly, sooner than expected, the war ended. On 2 September 1945 World War II ended when representatives of Japan signed the instruments of surrender aboard the battleship USS Missouri (BB 63) in Tokyo Bay. More than twenty-five-million soldiers and civilians had died during the six years of fighting. Germany and Japan were defeated. The Soviet Union was strong in much of Eastern Europe. And the United States found it had become the world's strongest military, economic, and political power. World War II was a watershed in the history of the Uinted States. Wartime developments in science and technology provided new tools for the solution of prewar problems that had been put aside and new ones created by the exigencies of the war. The contribution of science to the security and prosperity of the Nation was more widely recognized than ever before.

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Page last modified: 21-01-2019 18:48:07 ZULU