Part 16: World War II

Part Sixteen: World War II

"While the United States had turned aside from the main currents of world affairs to enjoy the prosperity of the 1920's and to struggle against the adversity of the 1930's, the makers of national policy both in Europe and in Asia had pursued courses that could lead only to war. Russian Communism, Italian Fascism, German Nazism, and Japan Stateism all had their predatory sides; each planned to expand its system and interest at its neighbors expense."

"With the defeat of France, the control of the Atlantic was imperiled, while in Asia Japanese conquests at the expense of China, and the will for other conquests elsewhere, made the Americans realized the danger to their Pacific outpost."


In the interval between World War I and World War II, India's determined opposition to British rule increased under the leadership of Ghandi, who sought to substitute peaceful non-co-operation for war. The answer was the massacre of Amristar. In America organized industry rose in its might to realize fantastic profits through domination of world industry. It fought labor unions and tried to nullify democracy by the power of wealth and capital. In the very midst of this, the magnificent structure of capitalistic industry collapsed in every part of the world. Make no mistake, war did not cause the Great Depression; it was the reasons behind the depression that caused war and will cause it again.

…Faced by the threat of Russian Communism, Italy, which with Spain was the most poverty-stricken country in Western Europe, seized control of the nation and of industry… Hitler followed, opposing the Socialist state of Weimar, with its unemployment and political chaos, with a new state and a new nationalism. The industrial leaders surrendered their power into his hands; the army followed suit; unemployment disappeared, and Hitler diverted the nation with visions of vengeance to be achieved through a new state ruled by German supermen. Simultaneously, Japan, having been rebuffed by England and America in her plea for racial equality before the League of Nations, saw an opportunity in this new order go displace Europe in the control of Asia.

Then came rumblings of World War II. The Axis [countries aligned against the Allies, i.e. Germany, Italy, and Japan] wooed first England and France and then Russia. Britain made every offer of appeasement. Ethiopia was thrown to the dogs of a new Italian imperialism in Africa. Everything was offered to Hitler but the balance of power in Europe and the surrender of colonies. America, hesitating, was ready to fight for private industry against Nazism and to defend Anglo-American investment in colonies and quasi-colonial areas.

Hitler would not be appeased. So war began. Hell broke loose. Six million Jews were murdered in Germany through a propaganda which tied the small shopkeepers back of Hitler and placed unreasoning race prejudice back of war. France feared to trust colonial Africa. DeGaulle [French Prime Minister] and the Black Governor Eboué, with co-operation from England and France, could have established a new Black France in Africa and shortened the war; but France yielded to Germany. England resisted doggedly. Russia yielded and joined hands with Germany, but not for long.

The real battle then began; the battle of the Nazi-Fascist oligarchy against the dictatorship of the proletariat. Germany determined first to crush Russia and then with Russian resources to destroy the British Empire. Japan aroused Asia, and by attacking America thus furnished the one reason, based on race prejudice, which brought America immediately into the war. …

The Surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941, vaulted the United States into the war. As the Americans, whose indignation had been raised, plunged head on into the war "a group of Negro leaders urged the War Department to create at least one non-segregated volunteer division; but the suggestion was turned down. The only area in which the Army would give in on its policy of segregation was in the training of Negro officers."

"A total of 1,154,720 Negroes were inducted or drafted into the armed services." At first the approximate one hundred thousand who saw duty in the navy had to contend with the old policy of "messmen only," but after considerable agitation the Black enlistees were used for general services.

The Air Corps (then part of the army) maintained strictly segregated units. However, they did train Black pilots, and the all Black squadron trained at Tuskegee (who became known as the "red Tails") compiled "an exceptional total of 'kills'." The other Black squadrons, organized later, also established impressive records.

"Most Negro troops in Europe were in the Quartermaster Corps, as they had been in World War I. And in the task of servicing the fighting fronts, Negro Units performed prodigies of stevedoring, trucking, wire-laying, beach-clearing, and evacuation of the wounded. Some forty thousand Negroes were the majority of the men who formed the amazing 'Red Ball Express', a truck supply route in Europe that ran from the ports and beaches right up to the front lines. Bumper to bumper, in any weather, under strafing and shelling, the Red Ball trucks went through night and day. Disabled trucks were pushed off the road (which was five times as long as the famed Burma Road), but the Red Ball Express kept moving—a feat that amazed the military commanders of all nations and a vital, if not the vital, key to Allied victories in Europe. On top of this, when the Red Ball men delivered their supplies, they often picked up rifles and fought. At Bastogne, Belgium, during the Battle of the Bulge, the Red Ball Express rolled into the beleaguered American pocket as German forces closed in behind them. After distributing their supplies, the truck drivers grabbed weapons and helped the 101st Airborne Division make its legendary stand against the last German offensive of the war."

"Negro combat units were to be found in every branch of the Army." They were with General John Patton when he entered Germany. "Badly needing infantry replacements in Europe in the winter of1945, the Army was forced to organize Negro platoons to serve in white regiments. The experiment was an immense success. White officers, questioned later about the performance of the mixed units, were unanimous in their praise."

In spite of all of this, "injustices continued in the form of Jim Crow regiments and harrassments from white officers. The popular image of the Negro serviceman was one of a jitterbugging and crapshooting individual who was unreliable in combat."

"With the usual touch of irony so common in the Negro's history, while Negro soldiers and sailors and airmen were piling up impressive records on the various fighting fronts of the world, Negroes in the United States were finding that this war, like all previous wars, was heightening racial tensions. Negro soldiers at Army camps in the South were the special targets of race hatred. There were race riots at Fort Oswego, Camp Davis, Fort Huachuca and Fort Bragg. … And lynchings continued. …While Nazi saboteurs and spies were given, fair, and prolonged trials, Negro were dragged from jails in Mississippi and hung from bridges."

"Tensions in northern cities erupted into race riots on several occasions. As in World War I, the demand for labor in northern industry had brought about another wave of Negro migration from the South to the already overcrowded Negro ghettos of the North. About 330,000 Negroes moved north or to the Pacific Coast during the War. Riots occurred in New York, Los Angeles, and Detroit, during the week of June 20, 1943. Twenty-five Negroes and nine whites were killed, scores were injured, and property damage ran to $2,000,000." ("A young lawyer for the NAACP, Thurgood Marshall, investigated the Detroit riot and concluded that the police contributed to the violence by encouraging the white mob and by refusing to protect Negro citizens and their property. In the future, others would repeat the charge that police bear a share of the blame for civil disorders.")

"As in the past, competition for housing and better jobs and the influx of many poor white southerners as well as Negroes accounted for the explosions. A new factor was the bitterness felt by some whites because of the tremendous economic advances made by Negroes during the war years. Between 1940 and 1944, for example, the number of Negroes employed in government service jumped from sixty thousand to three hundred thousand, the ratio of skilled to non-skilled Negro workers doubled, and the number of Negro women employed in industry quadrupled."

"When victory in World War II came in 1945, Negro Americans could look back with pride on their contribution to the war effort—a contribution made despite continuous opposition and discrimination."


Bennett, Lerone, Jr.— Before the Mayflower
Chambers, Bradford — Chronicles of Black Protest
DuBois, W. E. B. — The World and Africa
Hicks, John D. — The American Nation
Resh, Richard — Black America
All quotations are from the above references.