The first chapter of the video documentary series can be viewed here. The series can also be viewed in its entirety on Netflix, or purchased directly at untoldhistory.com. Below is our transcribed text, written by Peter Kuznick, Matt Graham and Oliver Stone. narrated by Oliver Stone...
Hello I'm Oliver Stone. When I was a young boy growing up in New York City I thought I received a good eduction. I studied history, extensively, especially American history. It made sense, we were the centre of the world, there was a Manifest Destiny, we were the good guys. Well, I've traveled the world now; I've continued my education as an infantryman in Vietnam; I've made a lot of movies, some of them about history; and I've learned a lot more than I once knew.
And when I heard from my children what they were learning in school I was perturbed to hear that they were not really getting a more honest view of the world than I did. We live much of our lives in a fog, all of us. But I would like my children to have access to something that looks beyond what I would call 'the tyranny of now'. We watch the media and everyone talks about that thing, the news of the day, and all the subconscious, really important stuff that's going on is being neglected.
Unless we remind ourselves of the good we have lost, its not easy to imagine a better future.
Napoleon once said that history is a pack of lies agreed upon. Well, I'm not sure I agree. I believe history does have a meaning, does have a purpose, and there is a pattern to be found. And I wanted, with my colleagues, rather than make another feature film, to tell the American story in a way that has never been told before. There are many questions that you may not find answered here, but you will find questions raised that I hope will help make you more conscious.
We are going to propose, among other things, a forgotten set of heroes, people who suffered for their beliefs and have been lost to history because they did not conform. And we are going to debunk some of those heroes you believe in, not with malice, but by restating the facts. Unless we remind ourselves of the good we have lost its not easy to imagine a better future.
By showing you the patterns of behaviour that have come to be that you perhaps have not noticed before, we will try to bring you back to the meaning of this country, and what so radically changed after World War II.
There have been some profound mistakes. But we still have a chance, I strongly believe, to correct them...
The Untold History of the United States
The Sangre di Cristo, or, Blood of Christ, mountain range is one of the United States' most remote and primitive landscapes. In an isolated ranch house, the world's top scientists - many of them European - gathered nervously in the chill morning air. Nearby in the darkness something hangs atop a steel tower - a bomb. Today they will test it. The test is codenamed "Trinity" - the inspiration, Jean Dam, Robert Oppenheimer's favourite poet.
This terrifying weapon would launch the United States on a journey, turning the refuge of the Founding Fathers into a militarized state.
One of the premier scientists of his age, Oppenheimer loved literature in the desert of the Southwest. He was a peaceful man, who just happened to have created and coordinated the most destructive weapon in all history. Only a few miles away the project's military commander, Brigadier General Leslie Groves, is the man responsible for building the War Department's gigantic new headquarters in Virginia, known as The Pentagon. He doesn't like relying on unreliable civilian scientists. His career is on the line.
In the last few minutes, general silence is observed as the countdown begins. At five twenty-nine and forty-five seconds the bomb detonates. The light is brighter than the sun. Observing the explosion, Oppenheimer recalls a line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita - "Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds."
This terrifying weapon would launch the United States on a journey, turning the refuge of the Founding Fathers into a militarized state...
World War II
Generations of Americans have been taught that the United States reluctantly dropped atomic bombs at the end of World War II to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of young men poised to die in an invasion of Japan. But the story is really more complicated, more interesting, and much more disturbing.
Many Americans view World War II nostalgically as the good war in which the United States and its allies triumphed over German Naziism, Italian Fascism and Japanese militarism. Others, not so blessed, remember World War II as the bloodiest war in human history. By the time it was over 60 to 65 million people lay dead, including an estimated 27 million Soviets, between 10 and 20 million Chinese, 6 million Jews, over 6 million Germans, 3 million non-Jewish Poles, 2.5 million Japanese, and 1.5 million Yugoslavs. Austria, Britain, France, Italy, Hungary, Romania and the United States each counted between a quarter million and a half million dead.
Unlike Word War I, World War II began slowly and incrementally. The opening shots were fired in 1931 when Japan, rapidly industrializing, launched its Kwantung Army in Manchuria, overwhelming Chinese forces. In Europe, Germany under Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, seeking to avenge its own devastating defeat in World War I, was building up the German war machine. His ally, Italian fascist leader Benito Mussolini, invaded Ethiopia in October 1935. But the United States, Britain and France did little to protest and, as a result, Hitler concluded that the Allies had no real stomach for war.
In March 1936 German troops occupied the de-militarized Rhineland. It was Hitler's biggest gamble to date, and it worked.
"The 48 hours after the march were the most nerve-wracking in my life. The military resources at our disposal would have been wholly inadequate for even a moderate resistance. If the French had marched into the Rhineland we would have had to withdraw with our tails between our legs."
The feeble international response to the Spanish Civil War was even more disheartening. Fighting erupted in July 1936 when General Francisco Franco's forces set out to topple the elected Spanish Republic and establish a fascist regime. The Republic had made enemies among U.S. officials and corporate leaders with its progressive policies of tight regulation of business. Many American Catholics rallied to Franco's support, as did Hitler and Mussolini who sent abundant aid and thousands of troops. Hitler supplied his feared Condor Legion, whose bombing of Guernica was depicted by Pablo Piccaso in his famous mural.
Soviet leader Joseph Stalin sent arms and advisors to assist the loyalists, but neither France, England or the United States did anything to help. The U.S., under Franklin Delano Roosevelt, banned shipments of weapons to either side, which weakened the outgunned government forces. But Ford, General Motors, Firestone and other U.S. businesses provided the fascists with trucks, tires and machine tools. Texaco Oil Company, headed by a pro-fascist (Torkild Rieber) promised Franco all the oil he needed on credit. Roosevelt was furious and threatened an oil embargo and slapped Texaco with a fine. But Texaco persisted undeterred, and also supplied oil to Hitler.
For years the Soviets had implored the West to united against Hitler and Mussolini. Their pleas were repeatedly ignored.
The fighting went on for three years. Some 2,800 brave Americans snuck into Spain to battle the fascists, mostly in the communist-backed Abraham Lincoln Brigade. Almost one thousand did not return.
"Its not only Spain fighting here, is it. Its Germany and Italy on one side and Russia on the other, and the Spanish people right in the middle of it all. The Nazis and the Fascists are just as much against democracy as they are agains the communists. And they're using your country as a proving ground for their new war machinery, their tanks and dive-bombers, so they can get the jump on the democracies and knock off England, France and my country before we get armed and ready to fight." From the 1943 movie For Whom the Bell Tolls, based on Hemingway's novel of 1940.
But Franco triumphed and the Republic fell in the spring of 1939, burying with it not only one hundred thousand Republican soldiers and five thousand foreign volunteers, but the hopes and dreams of many progressives.
By 1939 Roosevelt told his Cabinet that his policies in Spain had been a grave mistake and warned that they all would soon pay the price. But that policy convinced Stalin that the Western powers had no real interest in a collective action to slow the Nazi advance. For years the Soviet dictator had implored the West to unite against Hitler and Mussolini, even joining The League of Nations in 1934. But Soviet pleas were repeatedly ignored.
And then in 1937 full scale war erupted in China as the powerful Japanese army captured city after city. For Jiang Jieshi's nationalist forces fleeing in retreat, Japanese soldiers brutalized citizens of the city of Nanjing in December of 1937, killing two to three hundred thousand civilians and raping tens of thousands of women. Japan soon controlled the east coast of China, with its population of two hundred million.
The international situation deteriorated further in 1938 with German annexation of Austria and the Allies' capitulation to Hitler at Munich, dismembering Czechoslovakia and giving Germany the Czech Sudetenland. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberland infamously proclaimed that the settlement had brought "peace in our time". Nor did the U.S. and its allies officially do much to help Germany's desperate Jewish community when in late 1938 an orgy of violence was let loose on Kristallnacht; rape and murder of the ancient Jewish population escalated. As in Europe, the U.S. did little to help, only admitting approximately two hundred thousand Jews between 1933 and 1945.
Emboldened, Hitler struck again in March of 1939, breaking his promise and invading the rest of Czechoslovakia. Stalin recognized the truth - his country was facing its most deadly enemy alone. He needed to buy time and, fearing a German/Polish alliance to attack the USSR, he shocked the West when he signed a non-aggression pact with Hitler, dividing Eastern Europe between them.
Stalin's primary concern was the security of his own nation. In fact, the Soviet dictator had proposed the same alliance with Britain and France but neither would accept Stalin's demand to place Soviet troops on Polish soil as a way of blocking the Germans. Less than two weeks after the pact was signed, Hitler invaded Poland from the west. Britain and France, allied with Poland, finally stood up to Hitler and declared war. Two weeks later, on September 17, Stalin also invaded Poland. The Soviets soon thereafter asserted control over the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, and invaded Finland. The world was at war once again.
In rapid succession, the invincible German army conquered Denmark, Norway, Holland and Belgium. The great French army of World War I, its younger generation decimated in that slaughter, collapsed after only six weeks of fighting in June 1940. The bulk of its ruling class, conservative and anti-semitic to the core, decided on collaboration.
Hitler now turned his attention to England, and launched a punishing air assault as a precursor to a cross-channel invasion. But a new war leader, Winston Churchill, rallied the nation behind him. And in what seemed a miracle, the battered airforce held the Germans at bay in the historic Battle of Britain - Churchill called it "their finest hour". Leading the British people, Churchill became a living legend.
Although most Americans wanted Britain and France to win the war, according to a Gallup poll in October '39, 95% wanted the U.S. to stay out, fearing, essentially, that Britain was again, as in 1917, drawing the U.S. into a futile world war. Roosevelt promised in the 1940 election that "no American boys would go to a foreign war", yet he now believed that Hitler was intent on word domination. And, with neutrality legislation on the books, and military preparedness at a low level, Roosevelt nonetheless made several bold moves. Bending the rules, he unilaterally sent 50 old destroyers to Britain and, in order to drive Japan out of China, he imposed select embargoes on the flow of vital raw materials critical to the Japanese war machine.
In September 1940, Japan retaliated and established with Germany and Italy and others the Tripartite Pact. With war clouds growing darker, Roosevelt now made his boldest move yet. Breaking the famous president of George Washington he declared for a third term in 1940.
The stakes had rarely been higher in a presidential election and Roosevelt, in this spirit, now chose his controversial Secretary of Agriculture, Henry A. Wallace, as his running mate. Wallace had been at the nerve centre of Roosevelt's successes in stalling off perils of the Great Depression, easing the way with government subsidies for farmers to stay in business by cutting back on production. For the urban poor, Wallace had provided food stamps and school lunches. He instituted programs for land-use planning and soil conservation. Considered the scientific community's best ally, Wallace spoke out strongly against the building up of false racial theories in rebuke of the Hitler policies in Germany:
"George Carver, born into slavery, now a chemist at Tuskegee University specializing in botany, first introduced me into the mysteries of plant fertilization. I spent a good many years breeding corn because this scientist deepened my appreciation of plants in a way I could never forget. Superior ability is not the exclusive possession of one race, or any one class, provided men are given the right opportunities."
Democratic party bosses feared Wallace's views, and it looked like the Wallace nomination would go up in flames when Roosevelt, angry and frustrated, wrote a remarkable letter to the assembled delegates, in which he flatly turned down the presidential nomination:
"The Democratic Party has failed when it has fallen to the control of those who think and terms of dollars instead of human values. Until the Democratic Party shakes off all the shackles of control fastened upon it by the forces of conservatism, reaction and appeasement, it will not continue its march to victory. The Party cannot face in both directions at the same time. Therefore, I decline the honour of the nomination for the presidency."
His wife, Eleanor Roosevelt, saved the day. The first president's wife ever to address a convention, she told disgruntled delegates that "we face now a grave situation":
"You cannot treat it as you would treat an ordinary nomination in an ordinary time."
The Party bosses buckled, and put Wallace on the ticket. They would, however, come back for their vengeance.
The crisis over Wallace never went away. The previous Vice President, "Cactus" Jack Garner, an affable, outgoing Texan had said: "This job ain't worth a barrel of warm piss." Nonetheless, Wallace stuck out like a sore thumb on Capital Hill. He was a spiritual man, fascinated by Navaho tribal religion; he studied Buddhism & Zoroastrianism. The Washington scene, with its cocktails dives and smokey members' clubs didn't suit him, he didn't drink or smoke. He preferred to play tennis and box. He liked to spend evenings reading or throwing boomerangs on the Potomac. In a sign of his great confidence, Roosevelt made Wallace Chairman of the Board of Economic Warfare in charge of the national economy. Wallace was at the height of his influence in Washington.
1941 would be a year of epic change. The Fuhrer of Germany had fulfilled his promise to the German people and reversed the shame of World War I. The Germans were now at their height - foodstuffs from France, Holland, Denmark, Norway; luxury goods; industries thriving - the thousand year reich of the future looked like it might come true after all. But, as history repeatedly shows, the fatal flaw arises, not from without, but from within. And Hitler, at the zenith of his arrogance, attacked the Soviet Union.
The concept of "lebensraum", or living space, was described first by him in his 1925/6 two volume autobiography Mein Kampf - my fight. He stated that the future of the German peoples lay in the East and would need to be carved out of the USSR.
"When we speak of new territory, we must think of Russia. Destiny itself points the way there." Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf.
And it was going to be the Slavic and Jewish peoples who were going to be eliminated to make room for the ascendant German race.
The clash between Germans and Slavs over Eastern Europe dated back to the Baltic Crusades of the 13th century in which German knights had fought the Russians, and later intensified with the rise of nation-states. Now Hitler was prepared to finish the job, believing racially pure Germany was destined to vanquish the decadent, racially mixed Slavs.
Racial mixing, he reasoned, caused the collapse of civilization. He had witnessed it first-hand in his native country in the multi-national city of Vienna before the first world war, and now saw it also occurring in a decadent Britain and the United States.
With England no longer a treat in the West, Hitler was now ready to go after the biggest prize of all. Less than two years after he had signed the peace pact with Stalin, he attacked. [Operation Barbarossa, June 1941] Three million men he sent in a blitzkrieg movement cutting deep into Soviet territory along a two thousand mile front, from the Arctic all the way down to the Black Sea. The Germans quickly destroyed two-thirds of the Soviet airforce. With the added loss of tanks and artillery, Stalin's massive post-1939 buildup had been useless. Fearing that Britain was planting disinformation to incite war between Germany and the USSR, Stalin disbelieved his own intelligence reports about the imminence of the invasion.
The battle for Kiev cost half a million Soviet lives.
In the 1930s purges, Stalin had killed or imprisoned most of the Soviet high command, some 43,000 officers, because of their alleged loyalty to the Red Army founder Leon Trotsky whom Stalin had had assassinated the year before in his exile in Mexico City. Stalin was equally paranoid - and rightly so - about the loyalty of local Soviet populations which he'd brutalized in the pre-war years. But Hitler, instead of seeking the alliance of this restive population, was even more ruthless than Stalin, intending the annihilation of the Soviets on a scale far larger than his war in the West, or even against the Jews.
Ukraine fell in the summer of 1941, and the battle for Kiev, the oldest major city in the Soviet Union, cost half a million Soviet lives. Civilians were either executed or condemned to slave-labor ranks, and with the fall of Ukraine came the loss of the Soviet industrial heartland - the coal, the steel the gas, and the mineral ores of the Soviet Union were stolen by the Germans who were moving towards Moscow in the fall of 1941.
American and British military leaders estimated the USSR would hold on for no more than three months, and might even fold in four weeks. They feared that Stalin would conclude a separate peace. Prospects were so devastating that Churchill swallowed his long-standing loathing of communism and pledged support for the Soviet Union.
Stalin begged Britain for military materiel, and to land immediately in Europe and engage Hitler on a second front. And, for the West, it was now crucial to keep the Soviet Union in the war to absorb the main thrust of the Nazi war machine. In August, Roosevelt ordered delivery of the first 100 fighter planes to the USSR but American military leaders, intent upon building up U.S. defences, impeded Roosevelt's efforts. And the British, reinforcing Stalin's mistrust, also objected to diversion of their supplies.
There were still many in the West who, frankly, were glad to the Soviet Union finally on her knees. Missouri Senator Harry Truman declared from the floor of the Senate in 1941:
"If we see that Germany is winning we ought to help Russia, and if Russia is winning we ought to help Germany. That way, let them kill as many as possible."
Ignoring such advice, Roosevelt in November of 1941, announced that the U.S. would extend aid to the Soviets. In March of that year Roosevelt had managed to get a Lend-Lease Act through a reluctant Congress. He then sent the first $7 billion of what would eventually become $32 billion to Britain. The Soviets, in the end, would receive $11 billion.
In August 1941, Roosevelt met secretly with Churchill in Newfoundland. The Prime Minister had come solely to convince the United States to join the war, now. Elliot Roosevelt, one of Franklin's sons, who was there as a military attache, described in his book a late-night encounter where Churchill made a naked appeal:
"It's your only chance. You've got to come in beside us."
Elliot later helped his father on his leg braces walk to his cabin:
"A real old Tory, isn't he. He's a perfect wartime prime minister. His one big job is to see Britain survives this war. But Winston Churchill leading them after the war? It would never work. We've got to make clear to the British from the very outset that we don't intend simply to be a good-time-Charlie who can be used to help the British Empire out of a tight spot and then be forgotten forever. The British Empire is at stake here. Its something that is not generally known, but British bankers and German bankers have had world trade pretty well sewn up in their pockets for a long time."
That night Roosevelt began to spell out his vision for a new world:
"I think I speak as America's President when I say that America won't help England to continue to ride roughshod over colonial peoples."
At the heart of Roosevelt's vision was that political freedom meant economic freedom, which was in sharp contrast to the British Empire's rationale that kept the colonies poor and dependant on London. Roosevelt's global new deal would create a financial credit system that would allow the colonies to develop. Roosevelt reminded Churchill of the U.S.'s colonial relationship with the Philippines was to be terminated in 1946, and urged the British to do the same with their empire which offended so many American sensibilities. Churchill realized there were limits to Roosevelt's generosity and that the price of American aid would be the world after the peace:
"We look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression everywhere in the world. The second is freedom of every person to worship god in his own way everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want everywhere in the world. The fourth is freedom from fear, anywhere in the world."
These were big words, but the Atlantic Charter was a truly visionary document that later became the guiding manifesto of the United Nations - a universal statement not heard since the French or Russian revolution on the rights of men and women everywhere. Fearing Roosevelt's proposed wording, Churchill added a clause stipulating that equal access to international wealth would be guaranteed only with due respect for existing obligations. But, as Elliot Roosevelt wrote:
"Gradually, very gradually, and very quietly, the mantle of leadership was slipping from British shoulders to American."
The next day the Prince of Wales headed back to the wars, the two statesmen parting ways for now. Churchill later told his Cabinet that Roosevelt said he would wage war but not declare it. Everything was to be done to force an incident. Neither man would have then predicted this path to war would lead through Japan, not Germany.
Japan had avoided the Nazi war against their old Russian antagonists, and in fact had been alienated from Berlin by the Soviet-German alliance of 1939. In his arrogance Hitler, who considered the Japanese racially inferior, had made no attempt to confide his Soviet plans to them, or offer any new territory for their support in the Far East. In hindsight this had enormous consequences for the fate of the world. If the Japanese had entered the war against Stalin, it is almost certain the Soviet Union would have been crushed.
But Japan wanted, like Britain, Germany and Italy, a colonial empire of its own and, taking advantage of the vacuum created by the German conquest of France and Holland, and the neutralization of British power, it drove south into Indo-China in July of 1941, seeking resources and military bases.
The United States, which now produced half of the oil supplies of the world, responded by completely embargoing all trade to Japan, including oil. It's supplies dwindling fast, Japan determined to secure its oil from the Dutch East Indies, but the American fleet at Pearl Harbour could significantly interfere with those plans:
"December 7, 1941, a date which will live in infamy."
Thus the Japanese launched an all-out surprise attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbour, Hawaii, leaving almost 2,500 dead and disabling much of the American fleet. The Americans knew an attack was coming but thought it would be in the Philippines.
The next day the U.S. and Britain declared war on Japan. Although he had not even been told about Pearl Harbour by his Japanese allies, Hitler now unnecessarily declared war on the United States, a mistake nearly equivalent to invading the Soviet Union. Roosevelt could declare a popular war on Japan, but was now relieved of the enormous burden of breaking his word to the American electorate. He could finally declare war on Germany. The chaos was now global.
The U.S. strategy was to build up and advance gradually in the Pacific while focussing its major effort against the Germans. Defeating Japan, Roosevelt argued, would not defeat Germany, but the defeat of Germany would mean the defeat of Japan.
And with the U.S. focused in Europe, the Japanese conquest preceded largely unimpeded. They captured one sixth of the Earth's surface in only six months - Tailand, Malaya, Java, Borneo, The Philippines, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Burma. Citizens of those countries often greeted the Japanese as liberators from European colonial oppression, a judgment that would prove short-lived. President Roosevelt said privately:
"Don't think for a minute that Americans would be dying in the Pacific if it hadn't been for the short-sighted greed of the French and the British and the Dutch."
In another great blow to the Allied cause, Japan stunned the British Empire at Singapore in early 1942. The British had more troops defending Singapore than England itself - 80 thousand Commonwealth soldiers, many of them Australian were taken prisoner. But in a sign of the true feelings of colonized peoples, of the 55 thousand British Indian troops taken prisoner by the Japanese, 40 thousand changed sides to fight for the Japanese. If the Japanese had attacked Eastern India, and coordinated it with the German advances in the Middle East before their invasion of the Soviet Union, the British Empire would have been severely threatened in India, but Japan and Germany throughout the war never behaved as if close allies.
Japan crucially failed to deliver the knock-out blow at Pearl Harbour. The Allies began a counter-offensive led by General Douglas MacArthur and Admiral Chester Nimitz. And in June, 1942, U.S. forces defeated the Japanese navy at Midway, and began an island-hopping strategy that would continue for more than 3 years. The Japanese would fight fiercely, ensuring that victory would come at a great cost to American soldiers.
But by 1943, the U.S. was churning out almost one hundred thousand planes a year, dwarfing the seventy thousand Japan produced for the entire war. By the summer of '44 the U.S. had deployed almost 100 aircraft carriers in the Pacific, far more than Japan's total of 25.
Allied science figured prominently on ever front. Development of radar and the proximity fuse contributed to victory, but it was the atomic bomb that would change the course of history. In December 1938 two German physicists stunned the scientific world, splitting the Uranium atom, making the development of the atomic bomb a theoretical possibility. Those in the U.S. most alarmed by this development were the scientists who had escaped from Nazi occupied Europe, many of the Jewish, who feared the consequences should Hitler get his hands on such a weapon. The emigre scientists had tried but failed to arouse interest on the part of American authorities. Desperate, in July of 1939, Leo Szilard solicited the help of Albert Einstein who agreed to write to President Roosevelt urging him to authorize a U.S. atomic research program. Einstein later said:
"I made one great mistake in my life, when I sent the letter to President Roosevelt recommending that the atom bombs be made."
At first the project was small, but in September 1942 the Manhattan Project was turned over to the military. General Groves was told by his superiors to get results. Vice President Wallace, who tracked scientific development closely had a low opinion of Groves, believing him a "slightly pathological, anti-semitic, Roosevelt-hater and outright fascist." Amazingly, to head up the project's Los Alamos lab, the man Groves chose, Robert Oppenheimer, was an unapologetic leftist, who admitted to being a member of every communist party front organization on the West Coast, at one point giving ten percent of his monthly salary to support the Republican forces in Spain.
Though completely opposite in temperament, Groves with Oppenheimer's help, assembled an incredible coterie of international scientists including Enrico Fermi and Leo Szilard, who achieved the first nuclear chain reaction in an atomic pile, constructed in a University of Chicago squash court. Scientists worked long hours in the desert, fearing a last minute German victory in the atomic race. But the truth came out in late 1944 that Germany had actually abandoned the bomb research in '42, opting instead to throw their top scientists and resources into developing V1 and V2 rocketry. But, America's scientists continued on.
"The Russian armies are killing more Axis personnel than all the other 25 united nations put together."
In the East, the Soviet Union lay on the bring of catastrophe, the Nazi's about to take Moscow. In September '41 Stalin pleaded with Britain to send 25 to 30 Divisions to the Motherland, and once again pressed for a second front in Northern France. The following May Roosevelt acknowledged that "the Russian armies are killing more Axis personnel and destroying more Axis materiel than all the other 25 united nations put together." He publicly announced the U.S. would open a second front in Europe by the end of 1942, and Army Chief of State George Marshall instructed his European Commander, General Dwight Eisenhower, to draw up plans for an invasion of Europe in the Spring of '43 at the latest. The Soviets were elated.
But Churchill was facing a huge crisis in North Africa - thirty thousand British troops had just surrendered humiliatingly to a Nazi force half their size. Fearing a bloodbath on the shores of France he said the British could not muster enough ships to transport invading forces across the Channel, and convinced Roosevelt to postpone the second front and instead mount an invasion of North Africa. When the U.S. agreed to this, Eisenhower predicted "this would be the blackest day in history". He had said previously, "we should not forget that the prize we seek is to keep 8 million Russians in the war."
To George Marshall, who dismissed the invasion of Africa as "periphery pecking", it appeared the British, unlike the Soviets, were afraid to take on the Germans. The shadows of World War I still hung too heavily over the imagination of Churchill's government. But the British had a different strategy. Relying on sea power and attacking Hitler's softer southern front in Italy, Churchill wanted to avoid directly taking on the German war machine, instead seeking to secure North Africa and the Mediterranean around Gibraltar, and then the Middle East in order to hold on to their oil reserves, as well as maintaining access to India and the rest of their eastern empire through the Suez Canal.
The resulting paranoia of the Soviets cannot be underestimated. Britain and Russia had been rivals since the 19th century. Stalin mistrusted especially the British, but also the Americans because of their intervention against the Communists 20 years earlier in the Russian Civil War. Churchill had then promised to "strangle Bolshevism in its cradle", and up until his non-aggression pact with Hitler, Stalin even harboured the fear that Churchill and the British Empire might ally with Nazi Germany and launch a grand crusade against the Soviet Union.
Yet, against all odds, and to the shock of much of the world, it was to be the Red Army itself that would reverse the course of the war. You would need a Tolstoy to describe the heroic endurance of Soviet men and women who made this possible. Few saw its meaning then, but as it happened to Napoleon in the winter of 1812 at Moscow, the crack German war machine was, for the very first time, stopped. But because the Japanese had marched south, Stalin was able to bring back Marshall Zhukov's 40 Siberian divisions to Moscow. Zhukov made the difference - German losses that winter were around four hundred thousand.
The Germans never took Leningrad. Soviet losses were over a million.
Meanwhile, at the capital of Leningrad, once called St. Petersburg, the Germans besieged the city over 900 consecutive days that included the two winters of '41 and '42. The population of the city in 1941 was 2.5 million people. One out of three would die - bombs, the cold, starvation, eating soups made of glue from wallpaper, or rats, or fellow human beings. This went on in far greater proportion than has ever been officially admitted. Such was their pride that many civilians refused to evacuate the city when given the chance. Composer Dmitry Shostakovich wrote his great 7th Symphony in honour of this sacrifice.
The Germans never took Leningrad. Soviet losses were over a million. Much of the art collection from the famous Hermitage was shipped to the Ural Mountains. The Soviets were salvaging what they could - much was burned to deny the Germans anything. Not relying on the West to open a second front or to send much more in aid, Stalin now began the greatest forced migration in known human history, evacuating some 10 million people to the east of the Ural Mountains in central Asia and Siberia, and to the south to Kazakstan to rebuild the USSR in a second industrial revolution that matched that of the 1920s and 30s.
To fight the German war machine almost two thousand new factories were built. Housing followed. The transfer of the greatest part of the Soviet economy was accomplished in two incredible years, and by 1943 the USSR was the equal of any industrial power in Europe. It was now able to outproduce Germany itself; forty thousand T-34 tanks, superior to the German Panzers, were built; 50 thousand IL2 planes were superior in fact to the German Luftwaffe. The steel, wheat and ores that were lost in Ukraine in 1941 were gradually replaced. An entire society made up mostly of women and children laboured 12 to 18 hour shifts to survive - all was for Mother Russia.
The patriotism of the people was extraordinary. They gave their personal treasures to finance the war - heirlooms, jewelry, anything. An entire society facing extermination from Hitler had no choice but to fight with every last drop of blood for their own lives and for their country.
No one knows how many, but estimates range from 4 to 8 million Ukrainians killed in the war.
By late 1942, the United States was, despite early setbacks, coming through with Lend-Lease. Almost 2 million tons of supplies, approximately four hundred thousand trucks, fifty-two thousand jeeps, seven thousand tanks, artillery, combat vehicles, fifteen thousand aircraft, eighteen thousand anti-aircraft guns, and eight thousand railway cars - and food.
Behind Germans lines, Russian, Ukrainian and Belorussian partisans were attacking from forests and caves, blowing up trains and interfering with transportation, and in anyway possible tampering with the German war machine and engaging up to ten percent of the German occupation forces. The partisans became an indispensable factor in the ultimate victory of the Soviet troops. But the consequences were devastating, the Germans behaving with more and more terrorism, hanging partisans and innocents alike. No one knows how many, but estimates range from 4 to 8 million Ukrainians killed in the war, and it is estimated that Belorussia lost a quarter of its population, at least two and a half million dead. Approximately two hundred cities and nine thousand villages were burned to the ground. It is estimated that at least one hundred thousand partisans were killed or missing.
At Stalingrad, the single greatest battle in history, the Soviets lost more men than the British or Americans in the entire war.
Hitler's generals warned him that a longer war of attrition was now a reality. The Soviets seemed able to withstand huge losses. The only victory for Hitler lay not in wiping out the slavic peoples, but in now acquiring the resources of the Soviet Union. Thus, the Germans, under General Friedrich Paulus, now drove south toward the oil rich port of Baku. The Soviets, under Marshal Georgy Zhukov, were determined to stop them at all costs. Without oil the Soviet army would not be able to fight. The loss of Baku would force Stalin to surrender.
One city barred the road to Baku - Stalingrad - and in the winter of 1942, the German army finally met its match. In the single greatest battle in history, the Soviets lost more men than the British or Americans in the entire war. An estimated half a million men were killed. The Germans lost at least two hundred thousand of their best troops, but likely far more. The civilian dead, unknown. The Germans could destroy Stalingrad, but they could never take it.
Under Stalin's strict orders, anyone retreating or surrendering was to be treated as a traitor, his family subject to imprisonment. It was his feared "not one step back" policy. At Stalingrad, more than thirteen thousand Soviet soldiers were shot by their own side. During the course of the war one hundred and thirty-five thousand were killed in this manner. Four hundred thousand served in "punishment battalions". In that year, there were still four million prisoners in the Gulag. Nonetheless, with motives ranging from patriotism to terror, Soviet soldiers, with their backs against the Volga River, fought from street corner to street corner in that cruelest of winters.
By January 1943 the end finally came when General von Paulus surrendered the remainder of his 6th Army. He had started with three hundred thousand men - ninety-one thousand now surrendered, of whom approximately nine thousand returned alive after the war to Germany. Hitler is said to have lamented:
"The God of War has gone to the other side."
With their resources now kicking in - new aircraft, new artillery - the Soviets now took the offensive. At Kursk, the greatest tank battle in history, they beat the Germans again - seventy thousand German dead, and several times that number Soviet dead. After their colossal defeat the German army began a full-scale retreat on the Eastern Front.
Throughout these pivotal years, the Soviets were regularly battling more than 200 German divisions. In contrast, the American and the British, fighting in the Mediterranean, rarely confronted more than ten German divisions. Germany lost over six million men fighting the Soviets, and approximately one million fighting on the Western Front.
Though the myth lives on that the United States won World War II, serious historians agree that it was the Soviet Union and its entire society - including its brutal dictator, Joseph Stalin - who, through sheer desperation and incredibly stoic heroism, forged the great narrative of World War II, the defeat of the monster German war machine. Next, Chapter 2: Roosevelt, Truman and Wallace