Cindy Sheehan, Bill Broyles and the Lessons of the Pacific War

In response to my post asking folks to e-mail me if they know of any cases in which a family member of someone killed in World War II protested against FDR comes the following reply from the former editor-in-chief of Newsweek and screenwriter Bill Broyles (who also is a Marine Vietnam combat veteran).

This happens to be the only email I so far have received that provides actual information about World War II-era war protests, though plenty have written to lecture me, saying Cindy Sheehan has a right to protest the present war (a point I have never disputed).

Mr. Broyles’s letter, in full:

First, there were many protests. After the battle of Tarawa anguished families called the Marine Corps “the greatest instrument for the slaughter of young Americans ever invented.” See James Bradley’s fine book, “Flags of our Fathers.”

Second, FDR didn’t invent reasons to send those Americans off to war. As you may or may not recall, Japan attacked us. Count the number of Iraqis involved in September 11, please; and also perhaps list the number of nuclear weapons or any weapons of mass destruction found there.

Third, how many of YOUR relatives are in Iraq right now? Or are you one of those elitist right-wing jerks who loves the war so long as other people’s sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives are fighting it?

And BTW, my son is in Iraq on his third tour right now.

So before you go making snide remarks about a mother whose son made the ultimate sacrifice for his country, why don’t you yourself sign up and go over there, you love the war so much.

Bill Broyles

Response:Thanks to Mr. Broyles for the information on protests regarding Tarawa. I checked the recommended book. The edition I have does not contain the quote referenced (perhaps another edition does), but it does refer to newspaper editorials condemning the loss of life on Tarawa (“This Must Not Happen Again”) and says “one mother wrote a commander, ‘You killed my son on Tarawa.'”

It continues:

[Time War] Correspondent [Robert] Sherrod worried that Americans would not have the stomach for the sacrifices the Marines would have to make to conquer the Pacific. To him it was obvious that the Japanese strategy was to dig in on every island in the Central Pacific to inflict horrendous losses in the hope that America would give up and negotiate a peace. The Japanese were counting on civilians to blanch at the human cost of advancing on Japan and for the Marines to falter in the face of fanatical Japanese defenses. Yet, howevermuch civilian support may have been in doubt, [Marine General Holland ‘Howlin’ Mad’] Smith had no doubts about the bravery and determination of his Marines.

The parallel to the present situation is obvious.

I have not, at least yet, made any serious effort to find the editorials referenced in Bradley’s “Faith of our Fathers,” but if anyone who reads this is familiar with them, I would be interested to know if the editorials questioned the way the battle (or Pacific War) was being fought or if any influential newspapers or media commentators of the time, citing U.S. casualties, called upon FDR to withdraw U.S. troops from the Pacific.

As for Bill Broyles’ second point: While the notion that President George W. Bush invented reasons for going in to Iraq is debatable, it is not debatable that FDR had options. FDR did not have to propose that Congress declare war on both Germany and Japan after Pearl Harbor (Yes, Mr. Broyles, I have heard of Pearl Harbor); FDR and his successor had the option, too, of seeking something less than unconditional surrender from our Axis enemies.

I wonder: Did any of FDR’s contemporary critics ever refer to FDR “inventing” reasons to attack Germany (Germany had no ability to seriously attack the U.S. mainland, after all — the contemporary equivalent of having no WMDs)?

If so, perhaps FDR’s defenders noted approvingly that President Roosevelt wanted to plant a stable democracy in central Europe and bring safety, human rights, prosperity and hope to millions. Perhaps, FDR’s defenders said, Roosevelt was right to decide the U.S. should finish a war against a nation the U.S. had fought not long before — in a war the U.S. and its many allies won in combat, but without winning a full, just and lasting peace?

As to the personal, Mr. Broyles: Two members of my extended family are presently of an age to be eligible for military service. Of the two, one has served two tours in Iraq with a combat unit. I myself at 45 am too old to enlist and was too young for Vietnam. I did seriously consider a military career when entering college, but abandoned the notion as women were then ineligible for combat and I could not pass the vision test (I checked). We were at peace at the time anyway. Birthdate-wise, the war our family had folks eligible for was World War II. Everyone in our family who was eligible joined up for that one, including the women. We do our part.

Addendum and Mea Culpa, 8/17: An e-mail correspondent has kindly reminded me that, in World War II, Germany declared war on the U.S. before the U.S. declared war on Germany. He’s quite right.

Addendum, 9/26: Steven Gay of Bank of America apparently finds the addendum above, and my mea culpa of 8/17, inadequate. Mr. Gay writes on September 26:

Regarding the statement, “FDR did not have to propose that Congress declare war on both Germany and Japan after Pearl Harbor.” Get it straight. FDR did NOT declare war on both Germany and Japan. He declared war on Japan only, on December 8. On December 11, Germany declared war on the United States. FDR, that same day, informed Congress, and asked Congress to “recognize” that a state of war existed between Germany and the United States.

Okay, mea culpa again, if that helps. I hadn’t realized America’s leading financial institution, as it calls itself, was so touchy about our entry into World War II.

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