Sanctions Didn’t Stop Germany from Roaring Back After WWI

A 1939 political cartoon by Charles Werner (1909-1997) for Time magazine comments on the worldwide mood 20 years after the Treaty of Versailles. The original art sold for $836 at a February 2006 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

From 1939 to the winter of 1941, the German military won a series of battles rarely equaled in the history of warfare. In rapid succession, Poland, Norway, France, Belgium, Holland, Yugoslavia, Denmark and Greece all fell victim to the armed forces of the Third Reich. In the summer and fall of 1941, the USSR came close to total defeat at the hands of the Wehrmacht, losing millions of soldiers on the battlefield and witnessing the occupation of a large portion of Russia and the Ukraine. The German air force, the Luftwaffe, played a central role in this remarkable string of victories.

It was even more startling to those countries that had participated in WWI and taken draconian anti-war measures when it ended. This was simply something that was NEVER supposed to happen again, much less a mere 20 years later. How was it even possible?

The Allied powers had been so impressed with the combat efficiency of the German Luftwaffe in WWI that they made a concerted effort to eliminate Germany’s capability to wage war in the air. Then they crippled their civilian aviation capability just to be certain. The Allies demanded the immediate surrender of 2,000 aircraft and rapid demobilization of the Luftwaffe. Then in May 1919, the Germans were forced to surrender vast quantities of aviation material, including 17,000 more aircraft and engines. Germany was permanently forbidden from maintaining a military or naval air force.

No aircraft or parts were to be imported, and in a final twist of the knife, Germany was not allowed to control their own airspace. Allied aircraft were granted free passage over Germany and unlimited landing rights. On May 8, 1920, the Luftwaffe was officially disbanded.

Other provisions of the Versailles Treaty dealt with the limits of the army and navy, which were denied tanks, artillery, poison gas, submarines and other modern weapons. Germany was to be effectively disarmed and rendered militarily helpless. An Inter-Allied Control Commission was given broad authority to inspect military and industrial installations throughout Germany to ensure compliance with all restrictions.

However, one critical aspect got overlooked in the zeal to impose such a broad set of sanctions. They left unsupervised one of the most influential military thinkers of the 20th century … former commander-in-chief of the German Army Hans von Seeckt. He was the only one who correctly analyzed the operational lessons of the war, and accurately predicted the direction that future wars would take. Allied generals clung to outdated principles like using overwhelming force to overcome defensive positions, while Von Seeckt saw that maneuvers and mobility would be the primary means for the future. Mass armies would become cannon fodder and trench warfare would not be repeated.

The story of the transformation of the Luftwaffe is a fascinating one. Faced with total aerial disarmament in 1919, it was reborn only 20 years later as the most combat-effective air force in the world. Concepts of future air war along with training and equipment totally trumped the opposition, which was looking backward … always fighting the last war.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

G.I. Bill Crucial to Creation of our ‘Greatest Generation’

Illustrator Mort Künstler’s depiction of D-Day, which began the liberation of German-occupied northwestern Europe, went to auction in May 2017.

By Jim O’Neal

By 1944, it was clear that World War II would end the following year and America had a difficult question to answer: What to do with the 16.35 million men and women serving in the armed forces when they came home from the war?

One estimate from the Department of Labor was that up to 15 million of them would be unemployed since the economy (which was winding down) would not be able to absorb them, especially in an orderly fashion. A similar post-war situation of lower production and a bulge of returning veterans had resulted in a sharp depression after WWI, from 1921 to 1923. To further complicate things, the world was in worse economic shape following the devastation the war had produced. The government had tried a cash bonus program and it failed so miserably that many Americans were angry for the next decade.

President Franklin Roosevelt was well aware of the potential implications and determined to avoid a repeat performance. He proactively took to the nation’s airwaves, proposing a series of benefits for all the men and women who had sacrificed so much for the country. The veterans’ self-appointed lobby, the American Legion, grabbed onto the proposal with both hands – as did Hearst newspapers. Legion publicist Jack Cejnar came up with the term the “G.I. Bill of Rights,” officially passed as the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944.

Returning veterans could borrow up to $2,000 to buy a house, start a business or start a farm. They would receive $20 a week for 52 weeks, until they found a job. There would be lifelong medical assistance, improved services for those disabled in action, and a de facto bonus of $1,300 in discharge benefits.

The effect of the program was substantial and immediate. By 1955, 4.3 million home loans worth $33 billion had been granted. Veterans were responsible for 20 percent of all new homes built after the end of the war. Instead of another depression, the country enjoyed unparalleled prosperity for a generation.

However, few veterans bothered to collect their $20-a-week unemployment checks. Instead, they used the money for the most significant benefits of all: education and vocational training. Altogether, 7.8 million vets received education and training benefits. Some 2.3 million went to college, receiving $500 a year for books and tuition, plus $50 a month in living expenses. The effect was to transform American education and help create a middle class.

College was sheer bliss to men used to trenches and K-rations. By 1946, over half the college enrollments in the country were vets, who bonded into close, supportive communities within the wider campuses. Countless G.I. Bill graduates would go on to occupy the highest ranks of business, government and the professions, and even win Nobel Prizes.

The number of degrees awarded by U.S. colleges and universities more than doubled between 1940 and 1950 and the percentage of Americans with bachelor degrees or more rose from 4.6 percent in 1945 to 25 percent a half century later. Joseph C. Goulden writes in The Best Years, 1945-1950 that the G.I. Bill “marked the popularization of higher education in America.” After the 1940s, a college degree was considered an essential passport for entrance into much of the business and professional world.

Thanks to the G.I Bill, a successful entrance into that world was created for the millions of men and women who kept our world free and assured its future. Along the way, they also helped rebuild a world that had been ravaged.

I offer you the Greatest Generation!

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Bataan Death March a Cruel Episode of an Already-Brutal War

The 1945 film Back to Bataan starring John Wayne tells the story of the U.S. Army Ranger raid at the Cabanatuan prisoner-of-war camp.

By Jim O’Neal

Last month marked the 75th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (Dec. 7, 1941) that resulted in the United States entry into World War II.

The Japanese war plan assumed that a quick strike that disabled American naval forces would deter the United States from interfering with their strategic objective of conquering Asia and acquiring rich natural resources.

They predicted a surprise victory would preclude a declaration of war and keep us focused on Europe, where Nazi Germany was on a rampage. The primary target was the Pacific Fleet, which included aircraft, battleships and aircraft carriers. They intentionally ignored the fuel depots and maintenance facilities since they would become superfluous (wrong!).

Ironically, U.S. plans included a proviso “to avoid charging across the Pacific” … in stark contrast to the core Japanese rationale. Further, the three aircraft carriers (Enterprise, Lexington and Saratoga) were at sea and escaped damage. So, quite perversely, these assets, three aircraft carriers, airplanes and all the supporting infrastructure, were precisely what we used to respond. “Remember Pearl Harbor” was the rallying cry that gave Congress the cover to declare war, something the American public opposed.

Six hours later, in a less-familiar situation, the Japanese also started bombing the U.S. Protectorates in the Philippines and Guam. General Douglas MacArthur was in Manila the day the bombing started – in his cozy suite at the Manila Hotel – and inexplicably failed to pass on the warning he had received hours before. He then relocated to the island of Corregidor in the mouth of Manila Bay and was there from December until March 1942, when FDR ordered him to Australia for his safety.

Bataan is a peninsula in the Philippines between Manila Bay and the South China Sea. It is a mountainous, hot, densely jungled place. It is also the location of one of the worst American defeats in WWII. On April 9, 1942, U.S. and Filipino forces on Bataan surrendered unconditionally to the Japanese after months of bombing and an invasion.

What followed was the infamous Bataan Death March.

More than 70,000 already-weakened Allied POWs were forced to walk over 60 miles to Japanese prison camps; many were sent to the Cabanatuan prison camp on the coast of Luzon. Thousands died en route of sickness, dehydration and murderous acts inflicted by their Japanese captors. Conditions at the camp are almost too gruesome to repeat.

In addition to the ordinary conditions of malaria, dysentery, scurvy, pellagra, beriberi and rickets, the long-term effects of vitamin and mineral deprivation exposed an abyss of human physiology. When the last phantom residues burned away, prisoners lost their voices, hair, eyes, teeth and hearing. Even their skin fell off. It was a pseudo-human medical freak show.

Finally, after nearly three years of tortuous living conditions, in January 1945, 121 hand-selected troops from the elite U.S. Army 6th Ranger Battalion slipped behind enemy lines and rescued the 513 American and British POWs that were still alive at Cabanatuan. It was a long three years for these survivors and it is almost miraculous that any made it.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Concerns Over Harry Truman Vanished as New President Exerted His Leadership

1945-white-house-press-release
A 1945 White House press release signed by Harry S. Truman as president announcing the bombing of Hiroshima realized $77,675 at an October 2010 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

In February 1945, Franklin Delano Roosevelt traveled to Yalta in southeastern Russia to discuss plans for peace with Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin. He reported to Congress that plans had been arranged for an organization meeting of the United Nations on April 25, 1945. He said, “There, we all hope, and confidently expect, to execute a definite charter of organization under which the peace of the world will be preserved and the forces of aggression permanently outlawed.”

Upon his return, he looked tired and older than his 63 years. Late in March, he went to Warm Springs, Ga., for an overdue rest. On April 12, 1945, he was working at his desk as an artist painted his portrait when he suddenly complained of “a terrible headache.” A few hours later, at 4:45 p.m., he died of a cerebral hemorrhage. The last words he had written were “The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today. Let us move forward with strong and active faith.”

harry-s-truman
Truman

His successor, the first president to take office in the midst of a war, Harry S. Truman, said he felt “like the moon, the stars and all the planets had fallen on me.” The nation and world wondered if he was capable of taking Roosevelt’s place. His background and even his appearance added to the nervous uncertainty. He was the first president in 50 years without a college education. He spoke the language of a Missouri dirt farmer and World War I artilleryman – both of which he had been. Instead of talking like a statesman, he looked like a bank clerk or haberdasher – both of which he had been. And worst of all, everyone knew that for more than 20 years he had been a lieutenant of Tom Pendergast, one of the most corrupt political bosses in the country.

What most people didn’t know was that he was scrupulously honest, knew his own mind and was one of the most knowledgeable students of history ever to enter the White House. Importantly, he understood the powers of the president, and knew why some men had been strong chief executives and others had been weak leaders.

When he learned about the atomic bomb, there was no soul-searching or handwringing debates. He ordered it dropped on Japan because he was sure it would save American lives and quickly end World War II. It did not bother him in the least that years later, intellectuals would question whether one man should have made such an awesome decision alone. He knew in his heart that he was right … period.

Two of his well-known sayings capture the essence of Give’m Hell Harry Truman: The Buck Stops Here (a sign on his desk) and my favorite … If you can’t stand the heat, stay the hell out of the kitchen!

Leaders get paid to make tough decisions.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Siege of Leningrad was Devastating for Russian People

nicolai-fechin-russian-girl
Nicolai Fechin’s Russian Girl, an oil on canvas laid on masonite, sold for $109,375 at a November 2015 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

The suffering brought on by World War II was enormous, but when the total picture is considered there is little doubt that the greatest pain was borne by the people who lived within the grasp of the century’s most vicious tyrants: Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler.

While Americans were busy managing the factories that made them the “Arsenal of Democracy” and focusing on Japan, the people of Central Europe and Western Russia were in a life-and-death struggle fought on the very streets of their cities.

Throughout the winter of 1941-42 and onward for 900 days, the people of Leningrad were suffering dramatically. Concerned that his German army might encounter enormous losses if they launched an all-out assault, Hitler ordered a blockade of the city. By starving its 3 million people, he hoped to break Russian morale and force them to surrender.

Since Leningrad was closed on the west by the Baltic Sea, to the east by the 80-mile-wide Lake Ladoga and to the north by the Finnish army, the Wehrmacht only needed to seal the southern flank to isolate the city. But even as the Germans closed ranks around them and started bombing warehouses and supply routes, the hearty citizens showed they would not be so easily defeated. Volunteers built thousands of air-raid shelters and pillboxes, and cut down trees to block the Germans’ path.

By late December 1941, Leningrad was down to two days’ supply of flour and people had to make bread from cellulose, sawdust and floor sweepings of flour. Animal feed became human food, weeds were boiled to create soup and the dead were hidden so families could continue receiving their daily rations. 53,000 perished that month, and by February another 200,000 would join them.

Somehow the city hung on.

Then came a breakthrough. Scientists discovered Lake Ladoga had frozen so deeply that it could support truck traffic. They cautiously started sending convoys across the “Road of Life.” In the first seven days, 40 trucks sunk to the bottom, but dozens of others made it and returned with precious food. Then women and children were evacuated and the city limped along in darkness and silence since there was no oil to light the lamps and even the birds were dead. In fact, every creature – living or dead, including the human corpses in the gutters – had been picked over by the hungry hordes.

Leningrad Radio broadcast from the generator of a ship frozen in a river and aired the sound of a metronome between programs to let listeners know the city was not dead, yet. By the time Leningrad was liberated in January 1944, nearly 1 million people had died.

There were more civilians dead than in any city, in any war, in the history of mankind.

During this siege, Hitler became obsessed with conquering Stalingrad and that proved to be a fatal mistake that cost him the war. The little colonel from Bavaria proved to be a poor general.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

For a Moment, It Seemed Warfare as We Know it Was in Its Final Days

An original 1991 Desert Storm editorial cartoon by Bill Mauldin for the Chicago Sun Times realized $418.25 in a November 2014 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

When it comes to naming military campaigns, few compare with “Desert Storm.” Besides its obvious evocations of sand-blown landscapes, the name could also work as the title of a pulp novel or B movie, even a video game. In early 1991, more than two dozen allied nations began an assault on Iraq in an attempt to drive its forces from neighboring Kuwait.

It was a classic military rout.

In just over 40 days of American air attacks, followed by fewer than 100 hours of ground fighting, thousands of high-tech bombs (precision-guided munitions) rained down on Iraqi positions. Enemy troops were driven back to Baghdad and into international humiliation.

For the United States, the war was the first since the debacle in Vietnam, and the American public entered into an anguished debate as President George H.W. Bush had pushed for congressional approval. Who could know if Iraq would become to the ’90s what Vietnam had been to the ’60s and ’70s?

Still, there was no denying these were different times. Among the allies standing with the U.S. against Saddam Hussein’s seizure of oil-rich Kuwaiti sands was the Soviet Union, the first instance since World War II in which Americans and Soviets fought on the same side. It also positioned the allied nations as a quasi-international police force stopping acts of raw aggression.

World War I had advanced combat into the sphere of mechanized warfare. World War II had taken technology even further and made civilians targets. Now, in Iraq, computer technology advanced both the tools and the strategy until it resembled science fiction. Beginning with the launch of a Tomahawk missile from the deck of the USS Wisconsin on Jan. 17, 1991, Baghdad became the site of one of the most devastating air raids in history.

There was now no doubt that warfare had entered a new epoch. With satellites mapping the globe it seemed possible war would soon become as simple as deleting a computer file – scanning a battlefield, identifying a target and systematically destroying it.

It was a clean war, precise and efficient, fought so fast it hardly demanded attention. There were few American losses (148 dead vs. 200,000 Iraqis) and undeniable results … Iraq out of Kuwait. Plus, we could tune in to CNN to get the latest update during an occasional coffee break.

The world was finally coming to its senses and if someone committed an act of aggression, it would only take a few coordinated responses to restore harmony. Finally, we could channel our energy and resources to eliminating disease, world hunger and a thorough cleansing of the air and oceans.

War was such a dumb idea. Why did it take us so long to recognize what a waste it was? The new millennium was impatiently waiting for us to get a fresh start.

Sigh.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

American Hero Led Nation’s Response to Pearl Harbor

Even before his World War II mission, Jimmy Doolittle and his aviation exploits made him an American hero. He was featured on this 1933 Goudey Sport Kings card, which sold for $1,553.50 in May 2015.

By Jim O’Neal

Spencer Tracy was the first actor to win back-to-back Oscars for Best Actor – in 1937 for Captains Courageous and 1938 for Boys Town. In 1944, he played the role of Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle in the movie Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, based on the true story of the Doolittle Raid.

The Doolittle Raid occurred on April 18, 1942, four months after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. This precipitated the United States’ formal declaration of war against Japan and led to the nation’s entry into World War II. Sixteen U.S. Army Air Force B25B Mitchell bombers (named in honor of Major General William “Billy” Mitchell) took off from the decks of the USS Hornet. They were loaded with bombs to be dropped on Tokyo, Kobe, Yokohama, Osaka and Nagoya on Honshu Island in Japan.

They were launched from deep in the western Pacific Ocean, beyond fighter escort range, to demonstrate that the Japanese homeland was vulnerable to American air attacks and cast doubt on claims that Japan’s leaders could defend their home islands.

Doolittle would later write: “There was a second and equally important psychological reason for this attack … Americans badly needed a morale boost.”

Doolittle led the raid and his remarkable flying career included being the first person to be awarded the Medal of Honor and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s two highest honors. Other commendations included two Distinguished Service Medals, the Silver Star, three Distinguished Flying Crosses, the Bronze Star, and four Air Medals. Other honors poured in from Great Britain, France, Belgium, Poland and Ecuador.

In 1989, he was in the inaugural group of inductees to the Motorsports Museum & Hall of Fame for his exploits in air racing.

Since the Doolittle Raid bombers were unable to return and land on the Hornet, the plan was for the pilots and crews to land in mainland China, however, they were forced to bail out. Luckily, Doolittle and his crew were guided to safety by John Birch, the 27-year-old missionary turned intelligence officer. His name was appropriated by Robert Welsh when he founded the ultra-right wing conservative John Birch Society. Birch had become a symbolic hero after being shot by the Chinese Red Army.

Welsh had made a fortune selling candy and his company originated the famous Sugar Daddy sucker that me and my boyhood friends enjoyed (they are now made by Tootsie Roll Industries). Using the “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” theory, I guess we weren’t too separated from our hero Jimmy Doolittle.

Small world.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

German Prisoners in U.S. Were Dismayed When War Ended

This illustration for a 1959 Cavalcade magazine cover realized $2,375 at an October 2012 auction.

By Jim O’Neal

“When I was captured, I weighed 128 pounds. After two years as an American POW, I weighed 185 pounds. I had gotten so fat you could no longer see my eyes.”  – German POW in WW II

And so it was for many World War II Germans who were lucky enough to be shipped from Europe to the United States. Their living conditions as prisoners were far better than as civilians in cold-water flats in Germany.

The prisoners were provided with art supplies, musical instruments, woodworking tools and writing materials. Plus, they were allowed to correspond with their families in The Fatherland.

Ah, but it was the food that made it so unique.

All prisoners were provided with the same rations as American soldiers, as required by Geneva Convention rules. General Officers received wine with their meals and everyone got special meals at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

At first, some prisoners burned their leftovers for fear that their rations might be reduced. “No need, eat all you want. There seems to be an unlimited supply. It is like a miracle!”

And then, of course, there were the cigarettes.

Everyone received two packs each day and some even got meat. Since both were being rationed to American citizens, it quickly became quite easy to bribe guards for all sorts of extra things … use your imagination.

One small irony was that some prisoners actually formally complained to the International Red Cross about the lousy American white bread and coffee. Why not?

A trickier issue was the beer. Prisoners only received a single beer coupon daily, hardly enough to get a mild buzz. Some started pooling their coupons so they could get enough for a full six-pack. (Voila! Problem solved.)

Entertainment was never an issue.

Frequent theatrical or musical performances were allowed that included guards and the Red Cross by the hundreds … at a minimum. Movies were shown three to four times a week, and if a camp didn’t have a projector, the prisoners just pooled their money and bought one.

Money was no problem since they could work on local farms and factories … just not anywhere military things were involved. There was a big labor shortage everywhere since the United States had sent millions overseas to fight in the war. So they were able to earn almost as much as a regular soldier, and their rent and food were free!

All of this started because of a housing shortage in Great Britain and they asked for help in housing captured prisoners. The Liberty ships carrying arms to Europe were returning empty, so it was easy to fill them with the surplus prisoners on the way back.

All told, 425,000 German prisoners were shipped to the United States and sent to 700-plus camps spread over 46 states.

Many of the German POWs were dismayed by the end of the war. They did not relish the prospect of being sent back to a war-torn, bombed-out homeland. Some were able to delay the return by two years.

Not all actually left. Would you?

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].