The "Good War" Myth
of World War II
July 22, 2004
My book, The People As Enemy: The Leaders' Hidden Agenda in World War II, is the basis of the article below.
The "Good War" story of World War II is a Big Lie, used today by the likes of George W. Bush and John F. Kerry to create a mind set in which America's rulers are the good guys who, despite all of their faults and foibles, are saving the world from the really really bad guys.
FDR told Americans that the war was about fighting fascism and tyranny. But FDR lied about his real war objectives, just as Hitler lied to the Germans, and Japanese militarists lied to the Japanese people to get them to fight the bloodiest war in history.
War: An Instrument Of Social Control
Franklin Roosevelt, Adolf Hitler and the Japanese militarists all faced the same problem in the years leading up to the war. Their own working class populations were growing increasingly revolutionary. The elite rulers of these nations were terrified that they were losing control. In the United States the governors of numerous states were forced to call out the National Guard and Federal troops, including infantry and machine gun units, to put down enormous strikes (in some cases general strikes) by textile workers, steel workers, auto workers, coal miners, and a host of others.
When a longshoremen=s strike in 1934 led to a general strike in San Francisco of 130,000 workers, which spread to Oakland and then up the Pacific Coast, the Los Angeles Times wrote: "The situation in San Francisco is not correctly described by the phrase 'general strike.' What is actually in progress there is an insurrection, a Communist-inspired and led revolt against organized government. There is but one thing to be done B put down the revolt with any force necessary." FDR's National Recovery Administration chief, General Hugh S. Johnson, went to San Francisco and declared the general strike a "menace to the government" and a "civil war."
In the same year 325,000 textile workers, many of them women, used "flying squadrons" to spread their strike throughout the South from mill to mill, often battling guards, entering the mills, unbelting machinery and fighting non-strikers. So alarmed was The New York Times that it warned, "The grave danger of the situation is that it will get completely out of the hands of the leaders...The growing mass character of the picketing operations is rapidly assuming the appearance of military efficiency and precision and is something entirely new in the history of American labor struggles. Observers...declared that if the mass drive continued to gain momentum at the speed at which it was moving today, it will be well nigh impossible to stop it without a similarly organized opposition with all the implications such an attempt would entail." Declaring martial law, South Carolina= s governor said that a "state of insurrection" existed. When the strike spread to New England, Governor Green, of Rhode Island, declared that, "there is a Communist uprising and not a textile strike in Rhode Island," and then declared a state of insurrection.  Georgia Governor Eugene Talmadge declared martial law. National Guardsmen began mass arrests of flying squadrons and held them without charge in a concentration camp where Germans had been held during WWI..." By September 19 the death toll in the South had reached thirteen." 
Events like these hit all parts of the nation, and this was just the warm up to the wave of sit-down strikes in 1936-7 during which 10,000 workers occupied GM's Flint, Michigan plant with help from thousands of workers who traveled hundreds of miles to join them. Following that strike, Chrysler faced 6,000 sit-downers with 50,000 picketers outside its plants and the New York Times felt obliged to warn business and government leaders, "It is generally feared that an attempt to evict the strikers with special deputies would lead to an inevitable large amount of bloodshed and the state of armed insurrection." 
Big business was even afraid that the electoral system, which was supposed to ensure that Americans would forsake mass direct action for reliance on tame and trusted politicians, was about to fail in this purpose. Louisiana's governor, Huey Long, had seven million followers who wanted a dramatic redistribution of wealth and viewed FDR as an obstacle. Most alarmingly, the Democratic Party in California was captured in 1934 by a radical mass movement which wanted the state to seize land and factories so that unemployed people could operate them in a moneyless network of production for need, not profit. Their leader, Upton Sinclair, a long-time socialist, swept away his opponents and won the Democratic Party primary, making him its candidate for Governor. He was only defeated in the gubernatorial election by an unprecedented smear campaign launched jointly by liberal and conservative California newspapers. But the handwriting was on the wall.
FDR tried to control the rebellion with New Deal promises. But it didn't work. His famous Wagner Act of 1935, for example, tried to pacify workers by making unions legal. The Act also locked unions into an elaborate system of government regulations designed to ensure that conservative labor leaders would be able to control their unruly rank-and-file. But workers developed the sit-down tactic in the next two years precisely to keep control in their own hands.
Ruling elites have known for centuries that when revolution threatens at home desperate measures are required, and the most effective one is to go to war. For example, on the eve of the Russo-Japanese War in 1904 the Russian Czar's interior minister, Vyacheslav Plehve, declared, A What this country needs is a short victorious war to stem the tide of revolution.@  This is the only way to understand the little-known truth about how FDR's advisors reacted to the news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Secretary of War Stimson's diary entry at 2pm December 7, written after learning from the President about the attack on Pearl Harbor, reads: "Now the Japs have solved the whole thing by attacking us directly in Hawaii...My first feeling was of relief that the indecision was over and that a crisis had come in a way which would unite all our people." Not shock, but relief. Relief that war would finally force American workers to unite with instead of rebel against America's rulers.
People like FDR and Stimson fully appreciated that the best way to rein in the growing insurrection they faced was to somehow get the United States into a war that would be perceived by Americans as a fight to the death between the entire population of the United States and the entire population of enemy foreign nations driven by satanically evil fanaticism. This way, American workers could be put on the defensive ideologically, by the assertion that it was unpatriotic for them to fight over class grievances or to pursue class aspirations when the country needed to unite (with its capitalist leaders) against the common enemy. For sophisticated upper class politicians like Roosevelt, this was simply Social Control 101.
Pretending to Fight Fascism
Roosevelt needed an enemy and fascism was the logical best choice. FDR certainly had no genuine desire to defeat fascism, however, or else he would have helped the Spanish working class in its fight to defend the Spanish Republic in the Spanish Civil War against the fascist coup attempt by General Franco in 1936. When FDR used a "moral embargo" and then got legislation passed to prevent American arms from getting to the Spanish workers in their fight against fascism, it was as clear as daylight that when the choice was between working class people or fascists coming to power, FDR was on the side of the fascists.
But fascism was an excellent pretend-enemy. Except for one problem. Workers and peasants in Germany and Japan opposed their fascist rulers. A real fight against fascism would have meant an alliance between the American working class and the German and Japanese working classes against all of their upper class rulers. After all, the rulers of all three nations shared the same anti-working class aims even if they didn't all use exactly the same methods of subjugating workers and peasants. (Indeed, many American bankers and industrialists, most famously Henry Ford and Joseph Kennedy, but others as well, were actually pro-Nazi and some even aided the Nazis substantially during the war. Roosevelt placed many of these individuals in high government positions during the war. He made Joseph Kennedy Ambassador to London. And he made GM President William S. Knudsen head of the powerful Office of Production Management (OPM) formed in 1941 even though Knudsen had told reporters that "Germany was the miracle of the twentieth century" when he returned from a meeting in October of 1933 with top Nazi Hermann Göring to establish friendly business ties with the regime which had by then imprisoned all of Germany's labor leaders and political opponents. If fighting fascism had been FDR's real aim this would be paradoxical. But the paradox disappears when we understand that the "Good War" was based on a Big Lie. Since controlling the American working class was the true aim, it was a matter of little account to FDR how somebody like Joseph Kennedy or William Knudsen felt about the Nazis as long as their class loyalty was unquestioned.)
To solve this problem (of so many Germans and Japanese being anti-fascist), FDR made sure that Americans were never informed about the truth of the anti-fascist stance of German and Japanese workers and peasants, or the extreme measures used by their governments to control them, such as the "Thought Police" in Japan and the 165 miniature concentration camps set up next to German factories for workers guilty of "only a minor infraction, a lateness, an unjustified absence or an angry word." 
Another problem for FDR was that Americans were overwhelmingly opposed to getting into another war after seeing how horrible the First World War was, and how it mainly enriched arms dealers and war profiteers at the expense of ordinary people. Franklin ("Day of Infamy") Roosevelt's solution to this problem was to secretly scheme to get the Japanese to attack the United States. FDR embargoed U.S. oil for Japan and at the same time made it clear to the Japanese government that if they tried to take oil from the only other source B British or Dutch Asian colonies B the U.S. would consider it an act of war against itself. This had the intended effect of making the Japanese attack the United States. Far from being a shocking surprise, Pearl Harbor was the long awaited and eagerly sought solution to the elite's most pressing problem B the American working class. This is why Secretary of War Stimson felt so much "relief" when Japan finally attacked. Pearl Harbor got the U.S. into the war. But how would FDR fight it?
FDR's wartime strategy was not geared to defeating fascism; it was aimed at 1) ensuring that Americans would believe they faced entire populations of Germans and Japanese who, from the lowliest peasant to the Chancellor or Emperor, were fanatical fascists and 2) making sure that workers and peasants in Asia or Europe would never succeed in overthrowing their upper class rulers.
FDR's strange Pacific strategy
In the Pacific, FDR had to choose between a strategy of fighting the Japanese in China in order to secure China as a staging area for an attack on Japan, or one of abandoning China to the Japanese occupying army and instead fighting the Japanese in bloody battles for islands like Iwo Jima and Guadalcanal to use them as a staging area instead. FDR's choice of strategy reveals his true war objectives, but at the time it simply perplexed his military advisors who thought the object of the war was to defeat fascism.
Not only was China closer to Japan and more suited as a staging area, but it would have been infinitely easier to defeat the Japanese army in China than on the isolated Pacific Islands. In China there was a full fledged peasant revolution in progress with Chinese Communist Party leadership. The Japanese army was made up of peasants who hated their viciously anti-peasant Samurai officers. Japanese peasant soldiers felt more sympathy for revolutionary Chinese peasants like themselves than they did for their officers or the Emperor whom they reviled. Many Japanese soldiers after being captured by the Chinese engaged in efforts to persuade their fellows to switch their loyalty. The Japanese government was well aware of this. As reported in the August 13, 2003 issue of The Japan Times, "The army's staff headquarters was considering pulling troops out [of China] around this time due to the decline in their will to fight." On the little isolated Pacific Islands occupied by the Japanese, however, there was no peasant revolution happening and the Japanese soldiers knew that they would be killed by their own officers if they didn't fight to the death against the Americans.
So what did FDR do? In China he backed Chiang Kai-shek, the chief enemy of the peasants. Chiang Kai-shek had an army of horribly mistreated conscripts which he used only to fight the Communists and never the Japanese. U.S. military leaders wanted to back the Communists, who had an army with extremely high morale and popular support that was fighting the Japanese very successfully. But FDR refused. He insisted on fighting the Japanese on islands like Iwo Jima where there would be no chance of international working class solidarity ideas infecting American troops and getting back to the home front, and where the bloodthirsty fighting would give American newspapers and Hollywood all they needed to whip up the flames of racism and nationalism, which (for those very few in the know) was a central purpose of the war. No matter that thousands of Americans would die unnecessarily in this way and that the war would be greatly extended in duration. (The excuse that FDR didn't want to help the peasants because he opposed communist dictatorships doesn't hold water, since FDR allied with and indeed publicly praised Stalin who was by this time well known to be a ruthless dictator. Stalin also backed Chiang Kai-shek and never helped the Chinese Communists for the same reasons that motivated FDR.)
FDR's strange European strategy
In Europe FDR did the same thing. An organization of 7,000 people secretly opposed to fascism and still in positions of some responsibility in Germany had made several assassination attempts on Hitler. A high-ranking German intelligence officer, Admiral Canaris, was part of this resistance. He "leaked vital intelligence to the British and Americans, including the German army's order of battle, an invaluable insight into the Wehrmacht's intentions." And he offered "the support of General Rommel for a bloodless conquest of the western front if the Anglo-Americans would give the slightest sign of a disposition for an armistice...The British reply: there was no alternative to unconditional surrender." 
Unconditional surrender was FDR's way of ensuring that Americans would perceive the war in Europe as a fight-to-the-death war against the entire German population, and that the war would drag out for a longer time than necessary. American military leaders were as baffled by FDR's unconditional surrender strategy as they were by his Pacific strategy. When Roosevelt made unconditional surrender Allied policy, the reaction of military leaders was universally negative because they knew it was disastrous from a military point of view. General Eisenhower thought it would do nothing but cost American lives, and said, "If you were given two choices, one to mount a scaffold, the other to charge twenty bayonets, you might as well charge twenty bayonets." Major General Ira C. Eaker, commander of the U.S. Eighth Air Force wrote: "Everybody I knew at the time when they heard this [unconditional surrender] said: 'How stupid can you be?' All the soldiers and the airmen who were fighting this war wanted the Germans to quit tomorrow. A child knew once you said this to the Germans, they were going to fight to the last man. There wasn't a man who was actually fighting in the war whom I ever met who didn't think this was about as stupid an operation as you could find." 
In all of Europe the Allies's main concern was to prevent the popular Resistance movements of workers and peasants from coming to power. Americans arrested and disarmed the Italian resistance (Partisans) when they took Rome, and even made a radio broadcast for Nazi ears saying that they would not aid the resistance forces in the north of Italy, who were the only ones directly fighting the Nazis. The result, as expected, was that the Nazis used this information to attack and wipe out the Italian resistance force in the North.
In Greece the same story played out when, in 1944, the Greek Resistance organization, EAM, whose labor organization "controlled the entire [Greek] working class and helped lead strikes in the occupied territories throughout the war," announced a general strike for December 4th. On December 5, Churchill sent General Scobie these instructions:
A Do not hesitate to fire at any armed male in Athens who assails the British authority... It would be well of course if your commands were reinforced by the authority of some Greek Government...Do not however hesitate to act as if you were in a conquered city where a local rebellion is in progress.@ 
On December 13, Roosevelt wired Churchill that "I regard my role in this matter as that of a loyal friend and ally whose one desire is to be of any help possible in the circumstances." 
From the beginning of the war until 1944 Roosevelt officially backed the French Nazi collaborationist Vichy government led by Marshal Henri Petain, a government that worked hand-in-glove with the Nazis, enforcing the anti-Semitic laws, rounding up Jews for the Nazi death camps and executing members of the French Resistance as directed by the Nazis. Roosevelt= s top advisors were far more afraid of the French people than they were of the Nazis or their puppet Vichy government. In May, 1943, Secretary of State Hull voiced the problem he had with supporting the Resistance leader, Charles DeGaulle: "The issue at stake is not only the success of our future military operations, but the very future of France itself. DeGaulle has permitted to come under his umbrella all the most radical elements in France."  Even A as late as February 1944, [FDR's Chief of Staff Admiral] Leahy advocated leaving [Vichy's Marshall] Petain as head of France after D-Day."
And in Yugoslavia the U.S. backed the Chetniks. The Chetniks were led by King Peter's strongman and Minister of War, General Draza Mihailovic. They were discredited as "Resistance" fighters for "supplying information on the Partisans [Communist Resistance fighters led by Josip Broz Tito] to the Germans" and because they "were preoccupied with fighting and containing Tito's growing power."  Tito's resistance fighters were the only ones who fought the Nazis, but the U.S. went out of its way to prevent them from getting arms.
The Allies Bombed Civilians to Destroy International Working Class Solidarity
Many people have wondered why FDR, and later Truman, committed mass murder of German and Japanese civilians by using conventional bombs and later atomic bombs to deliberately create firestorms to kill tens of thousands of people when there was no particular military purpose. That there was no military rationale has become far less controversial among those who have seriously studied the question. All of the military leaders in a position to know have weighed in on the atom bomb question and said very clearly that there was no need to drop those weapons whatsoever. This includes Major General Curtis LeMay, commander of the Twenty-First Bomber Command responsible for destroying Japan's military targets; Admiral William Leahy; General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in the South West Pacific Area (including Japan) during the war; and Dwight Eisenhower. For example, General MacArthur stated in a press conference in 1963: "We did not need the atomic bomb against Japan."  MacArthur later wrote that by June 1945: "My staff was unanimous in believing Japan was on the point of collapse and surrender. I even directed that plans be drawn 'for a possible peaceful occupation' [of Japan] without further military operations." 
Not even the "Cold War" excuse for using the atom bombs holds up. According to this theory it was necessary to drop the atom bombs in order to get a fast Japanese surrender so that the Soviets wouldn't have time to get a foothold in Japan. But if a fast Japanese surrender had been the object, then the U.S. would have made it clear from the beginning that the Japanese Emperor would be allowed to remain on the throne, since this was the only issue delaying the Japanese decision to surrender. But, despite warnings about the significance of the point, Truman deliberately rejected advice to reassure the Japanese that their emperor would remain on the throne, even though that was the plan all along.
The "Good War" story of the war makes it impossible to understand why civilians were targeted so deliberately. But if we keep in mind the true upper class objectives of the war, it becomes much more clear. The mass murder of Germans and Japanese was an attempt to make Americans cheer the killing of ordinary people just like themselves but living in a foreign country. It was an attempt to completely destroy the very notion of international working class solidarity.
The "War On Terror" Really Is Like WWII
The warmongers of today need the "Good War" mythology to remain firmly in people's minds so they can embed their "War on Terror" into its powerful story line that confers so much legitimacy on American rulers and their motivations. That's why they keep producing movies and TV shows about the Second World War. We can turn this strategy around by using the truth of World War II to expose the reality of the "War on Terror."
The "War on Terror" really is like World War II, just as George W. Bush and John Kerry keep telling us. Like World War II the "War on Terror" is based on a Big Lie. Like WWII it is an attempt by elite rulers to frighten and control people and manipulate them into cheering for the mass murder of innocent people in foreign lands. And like WWII it is being used to prevent us from making a more equal and democratic world.
John Spritzler is a co-editor of and the author of The People As Enemy: The Leaders' Hidden Agenda in World War II, on which this article is based, and which also discusses more fully events in Germany, Japan and the Soviet Union.
1. Jeremy Brecher, Strike, South End Press, Boston, Massachusetts, 1997, p. 174., pp. 169-74
2. Ibid., pp. 188-90
3. Ibid., pp. 188-90
4. Ibid., pp. 190-92
5. NYT, March 19, 1937, cited in Brecher, p. 227
6. Lebow, R.N., Between Peace and War, 1981, Baltimore: John= s Hopkins University Press
7. Charles A. Beard, President Roosevelt and the Coming Of The War: 1941, New Haven, Yale University Press 1948, p. 419
8. Charles Higham, Trading With The Enemy, Dell Publishing Co., New York, 1983, p. 184
9. Sergio Bologna, Nazism and the Working Class B 1933-93, [paper presented at the Milan Camera del Lavoro, 3 June 1993], p. 49
10. Thomas Fleming, The New Dealers' War: Franklin D. Roosevelt and The War Within World War II, Basic Books (Perseus Books Group), New York, 2001, pp. 373-4
11. Ibid., pp. 175
12. Gabriel Kolko, The Politics of War: The World and United States Foreign Policy, 1943-1945, Pantheon Books, New York, 1968, 1990.., p. 173
13. Ibid., p. 188
14. Ibid., p. 190
15. Ibid., p. 70
16. Ibid., p. 68-9
17. Ibid., p. 131
18. New York Times, 21 August, 1963, p. 30
19. Douglas MacArthur, Reminiscences, McGraw Hill Book Company, New York, 1964, p.260