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Heather -

I commend you for your approach to learning about World War Two. I hope the following is of some help
to you.
First I should tell you that WW2 is my favorite period of history, that I have read at least 150 books on it,
and still own about 50. Also, I’m in the process of writing my own book of memoirs about my years in Wash-
ington during that war.
I will try very hard here to give you only my personal view without relying on the millions of words I
have read on the subject. Here are my brief answers to the nine numbered questions you asked.
1. During all of WW2 I lived in Washington D.C. I was a 16-year-old high-school graduate when the war
began (I had skipped two grades in gradeschool), served in the Navy during 1943-44, , and when the war ended
in 1945 was a full-time engineering student.
2. I was drafted the month I turned 18, served 17 months in the Navy as an enlisted man, nearly all that
time in Washington D.C., and got a medical discharge in 1944. That fall I entered engineering school.
3 and 4. Prior to 1938, my acquaintances viewed Hitler like most Americans did: he was a famous, force-
ful German leader who was accomplishing wonderful things in Germany. He was once Time Magazine’s Man of
the Year, and was lauded admiringly by many Americans, including some in high places. After his Austria
takeover in 1938, some Americans began to view Hitler with suspicion, but few felt there was anything to be
alarmed about. After Chamberlain gave away Sudaten Czechoslovakia in 1938 in return for Hitler’s sworn prom-
ise that he had no other territorial demands, I and most of my acquaintances breathed easily, since it looked very
much like peace in Europe had been achieved. (Chamberlain was then hailed world-wide as a brilliant hero, but
two years later was seen as a foolish appeaser whose actions had encouraged Hitler to go to war.) Two of my
history teachers in high school, however, were excep- tions: they were convinced that Hitler had the conquest of
Europe on his mind, and they accurately pre- dicted a sad future for Europe. Only when Hitler grabbed the rest
of Czechoslovakia in the spring of 1939 did almost everyone finally realize what a lying, conniving devil he was,
but even then, few of us sup- posed that he might have visions of conquering all of Europe. (Nor is it clear that
he had them at that time.)
I remember that between the spring of 1939 and 1 September 1939, when war began, there was a news
blackout here. All American reporters had been kicked out of Germany and we had very little credible news on
Hitler. We watched England get ready for war, but our conviction was that we should not and would not get in-
volved “in a foreign war.”
You must realize that there was no TV, very little transcontinental radio news, and essentially no
transcontinental-telephone communication. Our daily news came mostly from newspapers, magazines, and radio
and there was also Movietone News, about ten minutes of motion-picture news shown weekly in every movie
theater. Like many of today’s TV watchers, there were millions of Americans who read nothing and who got
most of their news during their weekly trip to the theater. The trouble was that dur- ing the war, Movietone
News, like all other news, was heavily censored. No violence, no blood, no disap- pointing statistics, no hint that
we were losing on any war front, and no statistics on losses. Even before the war, Movietone News was so san-
itized to offend no one that I never recall ever hearing a decidedly negative comment about Hitler, for example,
until after he declared war on us.
When did I and most Americans finally come to realize Hitler’s plans for total conquest of Europe? I think
it was when to everyone’s surprise he marched into Russia in May 1941.
5. I was taking a Sunday afternoon ride with my mother and a friend in suburban Washington when the
car radio announced the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Thereafter shocking events were re- ported so thick
and fast that I did not seem to have time to contemplate the future. Within a few hours the radio said the Japan-
ese had bombed the Philippines, then several other British stations in the far east, among them Singapore, I
think. I guess my immature mind was closed to the possibility that one day soon, American troops, I among
them, might be fighting Japanese on sea and land all other the Pacific. I just didn’t give it any thought.

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No, no one of my acquaintance had the slightest thought that Pearl Harbor might happen. We had been
led to believe that Japan was a backward, non-industrial country that made the toy in the Cracker- jack, which
quickly broke when you played with it. Whatever conjecture there had been in the press that Japan might start
shooting anywhere was given a very low profile on the back pages and no one guessed Hawaii. There was abso-
lutely no clue ever shown on Movietone News.
The U.S. Congress declared war on Japan the next day after Pearl Harbor Sunday, and then Ger- many, in-
credibly, declared war on us later that same week. Immediately Roosevelt implemented full cen- sorship of all
news media, and as a consequence it was more than a year later that we learned that more than 3,000 were
killed in Hawaii on 7 December and that most of our Pacific Fleet was sunk!
You must realize how thorough war-time censorship was. Not only did we not get valid, unbiased, up-to-
date news on the war, all negative commentary about the war was censored, or it was never gener- ated for fear
of prosecution as a traitor. During the entire was we never saw more than a few, far-away pictures of dead sol-
diers or civilians among the millions who were dying around the world. All casualty numbers_troops slain, air-
planes, submarines, and ships lost, positions overrun, etc._were omitted or carefully “cooked” to make our war
activities look as good as possible. At no time during the war did we on the home front ever get a realistic view
of the progress of the war. I never had even a wild, unsubstan- tiated guess as to how many deaths our armed
forces or our allies’ forces had suffered to date or how many bombers over Europe had gone done in flames.
During 1942 and 1943 German submarines sunk several hundred (!) American and British ships off the eastern
coast of the U.S., but not one was currently reported in the press.
6. When thousands of Japanese and Japanese-Americans in California were interned in 1942, that news
was managed carefully to give it minimal, usually back-page coverage, and there simply was no criticism of it at
the time. Movietone News had a very brief report on it, all in carefully worded, neutral terms to make it sound
routine. The decision seemed logical to me at the time, in view of the shelling of a California town by a Japan-
ese submarine and the reported later found to be mistaken Japanese bomb- ing of Los Angeles, all of this togeth-
er with reported espionage by Japanese nationals at Hawaii prior to the attack. I can honestly say I never had
any revengeful feelings toward any Japanese Americans over the conduct of the Japanese naval forces at Pearl
Harbor. Revenge never crossed my mind. It might have, conceivably, had I known at the time the scope and
depth of the surprise slaughter of Americans at Pearl Harbor, the Bataan Death March in 1942, the horrible at-
rocities committed on Allied prisoners during the war, etc. We knew none of these horrible things in detail dur-
ing the war.
I now see the 1942 internment as a terrible miscarriage of justice, a great part of which was depriv- ing
hundreds of totally innocent Japanese Californians of their livelihoods after the war. Many lives were ruined
without any physical maltreatment by simply reducing the folks to the poverty level, I have read.
7. “Patriotism” is a tricky word that means different things to different people. In war time to many
people it means willingness to fight an enemy and/or otherwise support the war. By that definition many Amer-
icans were patriots during WW2. Within hours after American declared war, I saw hundreds of young men lined
up at the military recruiting stations. It is easy to suppose that they were all patriotic, because when asked, that
is what most of them would tell reporters was their motivation for enlisting. But it is more likely that most of
them actually had other practical reasons, such as an opportunity to leave home or a boring or underpaid job, to
get out of a bad marriage or love affair, to terminate a bad relation- ship with parents, to get out of the reach of
the law, or to leave the country and add some excitement to one’s life. In any event, each enlistee did in fact risk
his life by enlistee, and thousands of enlistees lost it. (Total American deaths in WW2 were about 410,000.)
I, on the other hand, had no motivation to enlist, and I tried hard but unsuccessfully to get a draft defer-
ment. Unlike the Viet Nam War, there were no college deferments in WW2. The Vietnam-era theory that Amer-
ica’s college students ought to be among the last to go to fight was not in vogue during WW2. As a college stu-
dent I was drafted just days after I turned 18, and chose the Navy. I spent nearly a year in a navy school in Wash-
ington. I had no desire to get into combat and considered myself very fortunate to get a medical discharge just as
I was about to be assigned to sea duty.

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As you know, WW2 was a very “popular” war, and during the war I don’t recall ever reading or hearing a
word against our being involved in it. But, as I have said, any such public utterance would have risked prosecu-
tion as a traitor, totally unlike the situation in our wars since then. There were, by the way, a few conscientious
objectors who avoided draft induction, but that was unreported and generally un- known_in marked contrast to
the thousands of Viet Nam objectors.
8. My wife and I, who both lived, before marriage, in Washington all during the war, agree that wartime
Washington was a very pleasant, often thrilling place to be, that we did not suffer at all, and that the numerous
war-time rationing and other constraints had negligible effects on our lives. Like all our friends, we owned no
cars and did only limited cooking, so the gas, tires, meat, and sugar rationing was of little consequence to us.
The censored war news did not make us morose, as it might well have had it been uncensored. Despite the night-
time blackout, there were plenty of dances, theaters, restaurants, and bars running full-scale, and a good street-
car system to get around town. Salaries were generally inflated, and layoffs were unheard of. Washingtonians
were well fed and housed and enjoyed the war. Only a gourmet could complain about the shortages of steak,
sugar, etc.
Things were quite different in other parts of the country, where the three-gallon-per-week gasoline limit
made daily transportation a nightmare for millions, for example, but you have asked me for my personal experi-
ence only.
9. Our personal wartime “sacrifices” were so trivial things like not being able to buy a radio or nylon
stockings that I am not going to discuss them. It would be a misuse of the word “sacrifice,” knowing, as I do
now, that tens of millions of people around the world were being killed during those years, more than 400,000 of
them Americans, and that hundreds of American bodies were being shipped home each week from overseas
theaters of war. That was the real sacrifice.
One last comment. Since WW2 America has decided to let its citizens see the wars its men and women
fight, up close, with all the blood and gore and corpses and body bags, filmed by reporters right up at the front,
and instantly shown in our living rooms. You ask “What was it REALLY like to be aware of this [WW2] huge
conflict our country was involved in?” My answer is that during that war we never were more than superficially
aware of the conflict. Our war news was so carefully filtered, scoured, dehumanized, and delayed, with heavily
added pro-allies hype and bias, that our understanding of the war differed enormously from reality. I have been
studying it for 50 years to get a valid understanding of it.
I hope this helps your efforts. Let me know if it does. RBabin

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