Season 3: U.S. History

US History Ep. 15: WWII or, “Tom Hanks’ War”

OK. Buckle your seatbelts. We’ve made it to the only event in American history that really matters… WORLD! WAR! TWO!

I’m just kidding. But it’s amazing how many people come up to me at parties and tell me they’re a history buff only to find out that they’ve just read thirty books on D-Day. Now, I’m not knocking D-Day. Big fan. And I’m not knocking people who are into WWII (i.e. dads and uncles everywhere.) But there is a genre of people that I meet who find out I’m a history teacher and then proceed to mansplain “history” to me, and by history they mean one of two things: the Civil War or World War Two. And they seem disappointed in me because I didn’t know the name of Stonewall Johnson’s second lieutenant at Appomattox or whatever. (And if you’re yelling in your car right now that it was Stonewall JACKSON and he wasn’t at Appomattox because he had already died – that was for you.) 

Hopefully by now you’ve seen that there are so many important moments that define the United States. So am I going to go into troop movements at Guadalcanal? No. Just watch The Pacific on HBO. Seriously it’s amazing. As always, what I’m going to focus on are the big picture questions: Why did we get involved in World War Two? And how did it change our country?

Today we’re talking about World War Two or, “Tom Hanks’s War.” This is Anti-Social Studies, I’m Emily Glankler, settle in and let’s go back in time…

Act 1: US Entry

Dr. Seuss / Public domain

So, Hitler effectively came to power in 1933; he became extra aggressive in 1936 and the war in Europe started in 1939. If you want more detail than that, go check out Episode 12 from Season 1 which is all about the war from a world history perspective. 

Also relevant to our conversation today is the rise of Japan. In the late 19th century Japan had reinvented itself as a nationalist/capitalist state looking to become the major power in the Pacific. But hey! We were becoming a nationalist/capitalist state looking to become the major power in the Pacific! We took the Philippines fair and square!

But things started ramping up when Japan became extra aggressive in 1937 with the invasion of China. Again, for more detail, go check out my Season 1 episode on the war. What I want to focus on today is: Why did we enter World War Two? Or, more accurately, why didn’t we enter the war earlier?

Since George advised us against “entangling alliances” in Europe, we had been a mostly isolationist country. To be clear, we got involved in the Western Hemisphere – thanks Monroe Doctrine! – but we tried to stay out of European infighting as much as we could. And, just a few years earlier, we had gotten dragged into a European World War and it wasn’t fun. Like, what did we get for our trouble? A global depression, disenchanted young people, and race riots. Sure, we also got flappers but I’d say it’s a net negative. 

Our isolationism was only strengthened by the Depression. We need to focus on ourselves for a while – show a little self care – before we can go out and fix other places. Because you can’t love someone else if you don’t love yourself, am I right ladies? 

This makes sense. But it also is going to lead to some… unfortunate decisions in hindsight. You know, like denying entry to Jewish refugees trying to flee Nazi Germany. 

The most extreme of the isolationists was an organization called the “America First Committee.” Future presidents JFK and Gerald Ford were both members. It was founded by a law school student who was also the son of the Quaker Oats guy. Not the guy on the box. But his dad was one of the co-founders. But I do like to imagine that they both looked like the guy on the box. Anyway.

The most famous voice of the “America First” isolationist movement was pilot Charles Lindbergh – you remember – the guy who flew solo across the Atlantic and was a handsome hero whose baby was kidnapped and murdered all within the span of about five years. Wow. Well, sorry to break it to you but… he was… complicated. 

In his speeches arguing that the US should stay out of European affairs as Nazi Germany was rising, he often made reference to White supremacist ideologies that sounded pretty similar to the kind of stuff Hitler was saying. To be fair, he also declared that, “No person with a sense of the dignity of mankind can condone the persecution the Jewish race suffered in Germany.” But, in this statement he very clearly is talking in past tense – the Jewish people have suffered in the past – but not currently. But then he also said that Jewish Americans were a “great danger to this country [because of] their large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio, and our government.”

And he also has way more quotes that sound something like this, “Our bond with Europe is one of race and not of political ideology,” or this, “We can have peace and security only so long as we band together to preserve that most priceless possession, our inheritance of European blood, only so long as we guard ourselves against attack by foreign armies and dilution by foreign races.” Oh yeah, and he was beloved in Nazi Germany and was invited to see the buildup of the German air force, the Luftwaffe, in 1937. Meaning, he was invited to see the result of Hitler directly violating the Treaty of Versailles as he was in the middle of conquering land in Europe, also in direct violation of the Treaty of Versailles. But you know, he sure was handsome!

So there were some real concerns that isolationist groups, especially the America First Committee, had actually been infiltrated by real Nazis. It would make sense – they weren’t super worried about France and Britain unless the US got involved. There was another American pilot – a lady! – named Laura Ingalls (not the woman who wrote Little House on the Prairie.) She used her plane to drop anti-intervention pamphlets over D.C. in 1939, just after the Nazis invaded Poland. In 1940, after Hitler had conquered France, she reached out to the Head of the Gestapo asking how she could help the cause. His response? Stay in the US and keep working with the America First Committee. Oof. 

(Side note: this is why a lot of historians were… surprised… when Trump announced his slogan of “America First.”)

OK. But the reason why the US stayed out of the war wasn’t mostly because of handsome pilots or Nazi spies, although all of that would make a great movie. We don’t have enough movies about WWII. I’ve always said that. 

But there were other reasons we didn’t want to get into a war that were less anti-Semitic. For one, a Senator named Gerald Nye published a report finding that American arms factories had made a ton of money off World War One. This may not be a surprise to us today but it was to a lot of Americans who all of a sudden wondered, “Wait. Did we send our men to go fight in a muddy trench because rich dudes back at home wanted to make more money?” (Can you imagine how those people are going to feel about Vietnam?)

So Congress began passing Neutrality Acts that made it illegal to support countries at war. At first, in 1935 we couldn’t sell arms to countries at war (including our allies) but as the threat of Nazi Germany and Japan grew, we built in a few loopholes. In 1937, we established that if a nation at war wanted to buy nonmilitary supplies from us, it had to be on a “cash and carry” basis. You have to send your own ships to pick it up and pay us in cash. It’s like when you list a couch on Craigslist and the buyer asks you to deliver it to their house. Um, no. The entire reason I listed it on Craigslist is just so that I wouldn’t have to figure out how to get it out of my house. The reason we insisted on cash was because, well, our banks weren’t super trusting of loaning foreign countries a bunch of money in 1937… in the middle of an economic depression. That seems reasonable.  

By 1937 public sentiment was slowly putting its toes in the water of intervening in Europe. For one, fascist dictator Francisco Franco won the Spanish Civil War and people were like, “Oh shoot. I think Fascism is just as scary as Communism?” It also should be noted that even though most of the country and Congress was isolationist, our president FDR was all for intervening. He basically believed that we were going to get dragged into war at some point anyway so we might as well get out in front of it. 

And FDR did get out in front of it… potential in violation of the Neutrality Acts? Remember last episode when I proposed that FDR was a super nice, non-dictator totalitarian leader? Well, he continued selling weapons to China as they were fighting the Japanese invasion (to be clear: he’s supporting the Nationalist government that is also fighting Maos’ Communists in China at the same time. So it was kind of a “kill two birds with one stone” kind of move.) And he even secretly authorized US pilots to formally resign from the US military so they could create a 1st American Volunteer Group to go help the Chinese military. They became known as the “Flying Tigers” and their job was to bomb Japan and defend China. Now, ironically, some delays meant that they didn’t actually see action until after Pearl Harbor and our declaration of war – so people were probably just really impressed. Like, “Wow! How did they get over there so fast?” And FDR is just shrugging, pretending that he’s just a really efficient Commander-in-Chief. 

So, back to 1939, war begins in Europe and the US quickly decides that we will sell weapons to Britain and France – but it’s still a cash-carry agreement. But again, FDR finds a loophole: Britain had asked the US for warships. FDR was like, “Well, I’m not technically allowed to sell you warships… but we could trade them for use of British bases in the Atlantic Ocean?” Ah… tricky tricky FDR. This is known as the “Destroyers for Bases” deal and the big deal here is that the public was mostly supportive – showing that we were starting to come around to the idea that we should maybe help our allies fight Hitler. 

Even so, we are still particularly wary about fully opening ourselves up to the chaos in Europe. In one of the darker moments in our history, in 1939, the SS St. Louis arrives in Havana carrying 930 Jewish refugees. The ship is now allowed to dock in Havana (which is, essentially, a US territory at this point) and they circle for days waiting for a US port to agree to accept them. No one ever does and they are sent back to Europe. The captain of the St. Louis  is an unsung hero in this story. He himself was a German Jew and he went above and beyond trying to save the Jews on his ship. He considered purposefully running aground in the US so that the Jews could escape, but the US Coast Guard began “protecting” the ship to prevent that from happening. When Canada refused to accept them either, he negotiated that he would only return across the Atlantic if the US helped find places for them to go that were not Germany. Eventually almost a third of them were accepted in Britain, where they mostly survived the war. The other two-thirds went back to continental Europe were about half of them, 254 people, were eventually killed in the Holocaust. 

We get even more lenient in 1940 after we see pictures of Hitler in front of the Eiffel Tower. We pass the Lend-Lease Act that allows the US to loan or lease out military supplies to the Allies, with the understanding that they will either return them or pay for them after the war is over. Just call 1-800-Rent-A-Tank now and claim your super special installment plan! We also start allowing the US navy to protect ships carrying supplies to England and France in the convoy system. All of these moves are us inching closer and closer to outright war. 

As usual, FDR was about 10 steps ahead of the country. He and Winston Churchill had been talking and becoming War BFFs even before the US was at war. In August of 1941, they signed the Atlantic Charter which established that both nations were committed to building a postwar world of democracy, nonaggression, free trade, and freedom of the seas. (Oh hey! Some of Wilson’s Fourteen Points finally made it somewhere!) Apparently, at this meeting FDR also implied that he was looking for some “incident” that could justify him joining the war. We even had a standoff with a German submarine where they claimed that US ships sent bombs at the sub to provoke an attack. It seems that the German subs did ultimately fire first, but it’s also clear that US ships were being extra aggressive in the Atlantic – seeking out German submarines instead of just protecting unarmed American ships. So even though German U-boats were firing upon, and sometimes sinking, US ships in the Atlantic, FDR waited. He needed a more clearcut event that would bring public support completely behind him in the war effort. Be careful what you wish for, Franklin. 

While the public was watching Nazi Germany parade around continental Europe and invade Soviet Russia, Japan was also expanding throughout the Pacific. As Japan had taken control of more and more land in the region, starting with its invasion of Manchuria in 1932. In response, throughout the 1930s the US tightened economic restrictions on the island nation. We refused to sell them “strategic materials” like iron, airplane fuel, etc. Ironically, this only increased their need to expand to find new sources of those materials but oh well. 

As the war with China developed and it became clear that the US was backing the Chinese government, Japan signed an alliance with Germany and Italy in response. In July of 1941, Japan made a big move and invaded southern Indochina, taking control of British and French colonies in Southeast Asia. In response, FDR froze all Japanese assets in the US, reduced oil shipments, and sent General Douglas MacArthur (remember – the Bonus Army guy who sent in tanks to clear a camp of homeless war veterans?) to the Philippines to start building up American defenses. At this point, it was clear to those in power on either side that war was most likely inevitable. The question was who would make the first move.  

As the two nations were negotiating in DC, US intelligence was decoding messages that Japan was preparing for war. To be clear, that wasn’t much of a surprise to the US military. In late November, the naval base at Pearl Harbor received a “general war warning” but there was no specific mention of Hawaii as a potential target. Basically, the military was like, “Hey, we’re probably going to have to fight Japan at some point. Just a heads up!” And the leadership at Pearl Harbor figured that the obvious targets were places way closer to Japan – the Philippines, Guam, etc. 

And they weren’t wrong. Because on December 7, 1941 Japan did attack the Philippines, Guam, etc. But they also attacked Pearl Harbor, direct US soil. As a result of the “surprise” attacks, 8 battleships, 3 cruisers, 3 destroyers, and 4 other vessels were sunk or seriously damaged. Over 180 aircraft were destroyed and, most importantly, 2,403 Americans were killed with over a thousand more injured. This would be the worst attack on the United States in its history until September 11. 

Now, I want to clarify what I mean when I saw “surprise” attack. You can’t see me right now but just know that I’m using air quotes when I say “surprise.” Because it is true that the attack on Pearl Harbor was a surprise. There is a conspiracy theory that the US government knew and let it happen anyway to justify going to war but that conspiracy theory was first circulated by a guy named John Flynn who was a co-founder of… drumroll… the America First Committee! Most historians reject the idea that the US had actual knowledge of the attack beforehand.

So the attack itself was a surprise and it was a shock to the American people who had mostly been focusing on Hitler. Keep in mind that the US has really never been attacked on its oil soil – at least not since the War of 1812. But historically, the attack wasn’t quite as surprising. I say this because many Americans are presented with the idea that the US as just hanging out in Hawaii minding its own business when Japan attacked us out of the blue. That’s obviously not true. Tension between the US and Japan had been brewing really ever since Matthew Perry showed up in Tokyo with gunboats in the 1850s. The question was not whether or not we would go to war with Japan but really, when. And on December 7 FDR got his clear justification for war. The next day, he asked Congress to declare war on Japan. Congress voted 470 to 1 in favor of war. 

Wait. Who was the one person who voted against going to war? Jeanette Rankin? I know her! She’s the first woman elected to Congress! And she voted against World War I too because she was a Pacifist. Well, I gotta respect a woman who sticks to her values. 

Germany and Italy honored their alliance with Japan and declared war on the US. They hoped that this would be mostly symbolic, thinking that the US would now have to spend most of its time fighting in the Pacific which would allow Hitler and Mussolini free reign in Europe. They also figured they were going to need Japan’s help fighting Russia at some point. But what they didn’t account for was just how… motivational… World War Two would prove to be for the United States military. Because we weren’t just going to fight Japan in Asia. We were effectively going to build up enough strength to fight (and supply) two militaries – one in Europe and one in the Pacific. Cue: patriotic American music…

Act 2: The Home Front

So, I want to make sure we’re clear on this. The military buildup that happened at the beginning of World War Two was nothing short of amazing. The US military started out the war with 190,000 soldiers. By the end of the war, we had 8 million. 

And yes, the military was still segregated. Black units were commanded by white officers and often assigned to noncombat roles like construction or supply units. We’re going to talk way more about the Black experience in WWII next episode. 

But the military was also way more inclusive than it ever had been before, partly out of necessity and partly thanks to Eleanor Roosevelt pushing her husband into the 20th century. For the first time, women were allowed to enlist in the military, although only in noncombat roles. They mostly worked in office jobs, but that freed up men to be able to go fight (and it gives women administrative experience for the first time. Again, more on the female experience during the War next episode.) But 68,000 female nurses worked in war zones and there were 300 female service pilots supporting the military. Get it, ladies!

World War Two is the single most important event for the development of the modern American economy. Period. No debate. Keep in mind that because of the Great Depression, we were kind of building up our economy again from scratch. And we did that amidst the largest military conflict in human history. We’re going to talk a lot about the military-industrial complex later on, but it’s important to acknowledge that the war effort was the thing that got us out of our economic collapse. And our economy has been tied to the military industry ever since. (That’s why when you look at US spending, an exorbitant amount is on the military. The $718 billion we spent in 2019 isn’t just going to pay soldiers, it’s also going to buy planes, which means that it’s going to factories that manufacture parts and mining companies that get the raw materials, etc. etc. I’m not making a judgement on this – you can feel however you want about US military spending, just know that it’s basically the thing keeping a big part of our industrial economy afloat.) 

One of the reasons this happened is because the US government implemented the cost-plus system. Basically, the government agreed to pay businesses whatever it would cost to produce war materials plus a guaranteed percentage profit. This was a great deal, so tons of businesses shifted away from making consumer goods and into making materials for the military. For example, Ford’s assembly line stopped making cars and starting cranking out tanks and planes. Ford’s Detroit factory alone produced 8,600 aircraft. The auto industry was critical to the war effort. Over ⅓ of all military equipment was produced by car manufacturers – so say what you will about Henry Ford (and I’ve said what I will in previous episodes), but those auto assembly lines were pretty helpful.

The building of tanks, planes, ships, etc. created 19 million new jobs. And since young white men were mostly off fighting, those jobs went to previously underrepresented groups like women and African Americans. The average American family’s income doubled and the role of the working class was elevated and celebrated as American heroes. 

But all of this also came with a cost. And I don’t mean the obvious cost of, you know, world war, but also the fact that workers had way less say during the war. Families moved wherever the jobs were, often being housed in substandard conditions. Workers earned more money but that was because they were working longer hours. And the increased tension of war plus new faces in the working environment led to prejudice and sometimes strikes and race riots. 

While African American men entered the factories, the US government recruited and brought over 200,000 Mexican farmworkers to help harvest crops and build and maintain railroads while American men were away fighting. It’s important to recognize that this is the moment when migrant workers become a critical part of the Southwestern economy, and it was encouraged and initiated by the US government in their Bracero Program.

So, since had been attacked in Hawaii by Japan, there was real fear over another attack. (And, there were other attacks – most of them were just hidden from the public to not cause panic. For example, Japanese submarines bombarded coastal targets near Santa Barbara and the Japanese sent bombs over in weather balloons that were timed to explode when they reached the US mainland. These incendiary devices were intended to start forest fires along the West Coast. A few reached Oregon, killing a woman and five children.)

Anway, FDR allowed the War Department to declare most of the West Coast a military zone, giving the US military additional control over the region and its inhabitants. Out of fear of spies or mixed loyalties, most people of Japanese ancestry were forced from their homes and moved to internment camps for the duration of the war. Most families received 48 hours notice to pack up and leave their homes. Over six months in 1942, 112,000 people were rounded up and sent to “relocation centers.” Over half of them were American citizens. Since there was no official charge or legal reason why they were being moved, there also was no recourse for them to appeal the loss of their property or personal liberty. They were basically just imprisoned, without charge, for three years. They were mostly sent to desolate locations where they lived in military barracks. Although they were allowed freedom of movement within the camps and kids were allowed to attend school on the premises, much of their traditional culture and institutions were disrupted. And anyone who resisted was sent to a special camp in California that forced them to work as laborers alongside Italian and German prisoners of war. 

On this note, German and Italian Americans were also treated with suspicion during the war. They were not allowed to travel and, in some places, personal property and businesses were seized. Over 5,000 German and Italian-Americans were arrested and sent to internment camps on suspicion of disloyalty. 

So not everything was rosy on the Home Front. But for the most part, World War Two was a unifying event. Most Americans felt, in some way, connected to the troops overseas and believed they were part of the war. Not just because they were, technically, potential targets of attacks, but also because the government did a really good job convincing Americans that everything they did at home had a direct impact on “the boys” overseas.

Most products were rationed so that all necessary materials were available for military use. Houses picked up rationing coupons each month for items like meat, sugar, coffee, shoes, and gasoline. My grandma comes and talks to my US History class every year and the two stories that stick with kids the most are about rationing. In one, a friend of hers just got a new pair of shoes for the year when they all went out with friends and had a bonfire. Two boys in her class took one of her shoes and began playing keepaway, throwing it over the fire. Man. Pre-teen boys are the worst. The shoe fell in, obviously, and the girl was devastated. But – moms to the rescue! – when the boys’ moms found out about it they both had to give the girl their shoe ration for the year so she could buy two new pairs. Success! My grandma also describes the moment after the war was over when a boy at her school came running down the hallway announcing to everyone that the store across the street finally had chocolate bars again. Kids basically just ran out of class to get in line and Mamma still remembers eating a Milky Way, her first taste of chocolate in years. 

The other way regular people could support the effort was by funding it. Individuals and businesses were encouraged to buy war bonds – basically loaning money to the federal government for the war. Once we won (because, obviously, we were going to win), the government would repay the loan with interest as a thanks! And the ad campaign and catchy songs worked! Individual American citizens bought $50 billion worth of war bonds while banks and other financial institutions bought $100 billion. And the government needed all the help they could get because the federal government spent $300 billion during World War II. That is more money than the federal government had spent total from George Washington’s first term through FDR’s second term in office. Whoa.

The last piece of the puzzle motivating Americans at home to do their part was Hollywood. In 1942 the Office of War Information was established to improve communication to the American public about the war (i.e. just some light censorship and propaganda.) They sent guidelines to Hollywood filmmakers asking, “Will this picture help win the war?” and hired people like Dr. Seuss and Disney animators to make cartoons, videos, and war bond ads. 

My personal favorite is a Disney cartoon called Der Fuhrer’s Face in which Donald Duck is a Nazi. The short film was fairly controversial considering Donald Duck says “Heil Hitler,” like 75 times in 15 minutes. I don’t want to spoil it for you – go watch it on YouTube. And the song will be stuck in your head forever. 

Dr. Seuss also helped write a series of informational videos for the troops following a dumb soldier called Private Snafu. (Snafu is a military acronym that stands for Situation Normal, All F**ked Up.) Troops would watch Private Snafu bumble his way through the war doing all the things they shouldn’t do – neglecting mosquito repellant, accidentally leaking information, and risking STDs by sleeping with foreign women. These cartoons weren’t intended for public consumption so they’re pretty racy for the 1940s – go watch them on YouTube, too.

Act 3: Fighting in Two Theaters

OK. And now I would like to cover all of the fighting in World War Two by American soldiers in 15 minutes or less. We’ll start with the overall strategies.

In Europe, by 1942 the Allies had been effectively kicked out of mainland Europe and it was only Soviet Russia keeping Germany from controlling the entire continent. So American troops are working with the Allies to move our way closer to be able to invade the continent (and, it should be noted, that our dear friend Stalin felt like we were moving a little too slowly considering millions of his men were dying while we inched our way along.) This meant we were doing a lot of fighting in North Africa and then up through Italy for the first year or two of US involvement. 

In the Pacific, the strategy was relatively simple: we had to get close enough to the island of Japan to be able to bomb it. The closest large landmass that was safe-ish for our troops was Australia and so we basically had to hopscotch around the Pacific taking tiny islands, building airstrips and refueling bases, the moving on to the next set of islands. It’s like when you played “The Floor is Lava” as a kid and you had two couch cushions to use. You put one down in front of you to step on, pick up the other one from behind you and move it forward. It was slow but effective. This “island-hopping” campaign is going to be brutal on the troops on the ground and it’s also going to rely heavily on the Navy – on the sea and in the air – for support. 

One note: you might be remembering that at the beginning of this story we controlled the Philippines. Why couldn’t we just use that as our base which was way closer to Japan? Well, the Japanese thought of that. That’s why the Philippine Islands were invaded just ten hours after the Pearl Harbor attack began. General MacArthur, who was basically the head of the Army in the Pacific, retreated with his men to Bataan Peninsula where they held out for three months as they ran out of food, supplies, and medicine to combat disease. Controversially, MacArthur evacuated Bataan to head to safety in Australia. Now, he was ordered to do so by FDR but… MacArthur has a history (and a future) of ignoring orders. Just saying. He could have stayed if he really wanted to. But when he left he told his troops “I came through and I shall return.” After the defenses at Bataan fell, the remaining troops were forced to surrender and 78,000 American prisoners of war were marched 65 miles to Japanese prison camps. 10,000 troops died on the trip which became known as the Bataan Death March. 

This event is important for understand MacArthur’s motivations later in the war. Basically, there is a debate over strategy in the Pacific. MacArthur wants to use the Army to secure larger landmasses – liberating places like the Philippines on the way to Japan. Head of the Navy, Chester A. Nimitz wants to just bypass those larger islands, seeing them as a trap, and instead focus on getting to Japan as quickly as possible to end the war. In the end, they kind of do both and *spoiler alert* the effort to retake the Philippines is going to be enormously costly, not least for the Filipino people who, if you’ll remember, hadn’t necessarily wanted to be an American territory all this time. Many historians now see the campaign to retake the Philippines as somewhat of a vanity mission by MacArthur to come through on his promise to his troops. And he does spend a lot of time in front of the camera giving speeches even while his men are still fighting the Japanese to fully take back the islands – something they really only do at the very end of the war. 

In general, Nimitz’s “island hopping” campaign was the most effective and the one that allowed his Navy to shine, no coincidence I’m sure. But it wasn’t easy. Essentially every island had to be taken by storming the beaches into a jungle filled with Japanese soldiers. We’ll talk more about D-Day soon but if you know anything about it, just imagine that basically every island “hop” required a mini-D Day invasion of its own. 

One of the aspects of fighting in the Pacific that is especially fascinating is the role that code-breaking played. If you’ve seen the Imitation Game then you know that this was important in Europe, too. But in the Pacific there are a few key battles that the Americans win clearly thanks to the work of US coders. Most notably, the Navajo “Code Talkers.” American soldier Philip Johnston had grown up on a Navajo reservation and began to recognize how valuable their language could be to the military. He presented his idea to the Marines who recruited hundreds of Navajo men to man the radios and communicate in their native language. Interestingly, Hitler had been fascinated by indigenous American languages leading up to the war, seeing them as an opportunity for covert communication. He even sent Nazi spies to the US in the 1930s to try to decipher the languages but they were unable to bring back anything very useful – in part because there are so many different native languages and also because they are so complex. Good work, Native Americans! Your insistence on maintaining your cultural heritage in the face of years of war and forced assimilation by the federal government helped us defeat Hitler! Code-breaking will be especially instrumental in the turning point in the Pacific: Midway. 


Now, I was naive to thinkt hat I could cover all of World War Two in one episode and I see that now. So for today, we’re going to leave on a cliffhanger: American troops are struggling there way up through North Africa and Italy, trying to figure out how to claw their way back toward Germany. Meanwhile, Americans are wading through tides taking insignificant islands from Japanese troops, trying to make their way close enough to be able to directly attack Japan. And MacArthur is in Australia doing… something? Fixing his hair for his return to Manila? I don’t know. 

Next time: Who will win the epic battle between good and evil?! And what will happen when Americans return home to find that *gasp* women and people of color were capable of doing white men’s work this whole time?! 

To be continued.