8 8 th YEAR OF CONTINUOUS PUBLICATION
by EDWARD WEEKS
Editor, The Atlantic Monthly
I WANT to speak about what has been done. You see people shaking their heads. You know what they are thinking: “The muck and the rain of North Italy. Now this fanatical defense of the Rhine. Our casualties. . . . Then the long pull across the Pacific. A stubborn, bloody landing on the mainland. Will Russia be with us? The Japs will fight like rats. Who said the end is in sight!”
You hear them lambasting the Administration: “Waste. Duplication. Inefficiency. High taxes and a higher deficit. Why give labor every break! Sure the Army and Navy are all right. But, hell, we could have done the thing so much better.”
I begin to wonder. Not at the exasperation. That is the way Americans always feel when they are up to something big. I wonder if any civilian can possibly imagine how big a job we have done. Leave politics out of it. I mean as an aroused, infuriated people.
Take Task Force 58. It is the largest, most powerful combat fleet in history. Virtually every one of its several hundred ships was launched after Pearl Harbor. The whole force can travel at a higher speed than a cruiser of 1930. It can put more planes in the air than our combined Army and Navy could launch in 1938. It can outshoot, outrange, outrun any fleet afloat. No Jap fortification, be it eight feet of concrete under fifteen feet of sand, can stand up to the guns.
It is one task force, one unit of our Navy.
A young officer from Task Force 58, home on leave, was attempting to describe its hitting power to his wife. “The firepower,” he said, “it’s all done by a machine. You just feed the twenty-odd elements of the firing problem into the machine, push the button, and down goes the Jap battleship.”
“Just like a Bendix,” she responded thoughtfully.
Task Force 58 operates with the motto, “Ten thousand Japs for every Doolittle flyer killed.” The motto is based on reasonable expectations. In the two months of September and October, 1944, the force knocked out 200 Jap airfields, destroyed 2344 Jap planes, destroyed or damaged 889 ships —all in addition to shore installations.
On one day the force shot down so many Jap planes that escaping enemy aviators thought the smoke and fire could only mean the sinking of the American ships. Radio Tokyo reported our fleet destroyed, and the report brought out a sizable fleet to administer the coup de grâce. But when its aerial scouts saw the size of our fleet, the enemy battle force stole quietly away without firing a shot. It was then that Admiral Halsey sent his classic message: “Ships which the Japs have sunk on the radio have been salvaged and are retreating in the direction of the enemy.”
That fleet was the result of calamity. The newsreels of the blazing hulks and the bombed planes of Pearl Harbor have been scorched into our memories. We who listened to the broadcast that Sunday afternoon will never forget those shocking reports which kept interrupting the football game. But historians who cannot feel our casualties will say that at Pearl Harbor we ran out of gas right in front of a gasoline station. Our ships were sunk at anchor, men were lost — but 130 million Americans were united.
Copyright 1944, by The Atlantic Monthly Company, Boston, Mass. All rights reserved.
TAKE the Liberation of France. That was the second war aim our Army had seen in the flesh. Not in North Africa, not in Sicily, not in Italy, had our tanks, our infantry, our ground forces heard anything like that “Merci! Merci!” which burst from the French. Not till then did we hear the eagle scream. It made a difference.
Beginning on D Day and continuing ever since, we have had to keep our Army rolling. Without adequate harbors. Daily we had to land more groceries, more men, more guns than the whole port of New’ York, with all its cranes, could unload. We sent as much matériel across the water in two months as was sent to Pershing in the entire World War I.
We had to keep a cover over our men. Before the armistice of World War I, a total of 1213 American planes had reached France and 417 of them had actually flown at the front. By November 18, 1944, American aviators had flown 1,127,723 missions against the Germans since Pearl Harbor. We learn.
The French railroads wore shot up; the British were showing wear and tear. We ferried 1000 locomotives to England, and 22,000 railway cars, complete with sponsored battalions from the Southern Pacific, New York Central, Pennsylvania, right down the line.
History was in the making and we wanted to see and remember it. From D Day to October 1, cameramen in the Signal Corps shot 670,000 feet of film in France.
Moving up behind the tanks, sound units of the Psychological Warfare Division recorded what members of the FFI had to report, what the women and children of the villages had been through, what the old priest wanted us never to forget. These records, when rebroadcast by BBC, swept ahead of the advancing armies like a ray of hope. And with each American Army went technicians of the Armed Forces Radio with their portable transmitters (seven suitcases carry it all), short-wave stations that called out of the battle ether the World Series, GI Jive, Hymns from Home, and Command Performance, — Lana Turner frying a steak, or two taxicab drivers razzing each other at Times Square, or Sport, the old sick bullpup at home, barking. That’s what they asked to hear — and they did.
The letters tell this story — or as much of it as the men have time to write, 70 million V-Mail letters a month crossing the water.
TAKE the Doctors. Our men, they tell me, are an inch taller than the doughboys of 1917, and ten pounds heavier on the average. Better fed, better trained, better cared for. The mortality rate on belly wounds has been reduced more than half. I asked Surgeon General Kirk about head cases. “We have twelve Harvey Cushings in this war,” he said. “The skin grafting you have to see to believe.” It’s a miracle. In 1918, 8 per cent of our losses were from shock and hemorrhage — now the figure is down to 3 per cent. Why? Because of plasma (and blood; 1000 pints of it flown across every day); because of the courage of the medical aid and the speed with which casualties are brought back; because of the surgery and the nursing; because of sulfa drugs and penicillin.
You have heard of the malaria and dysentery on New Guinea. A month ago I heard General Bliss, our Assistant Surgeon General, tell of his visit last summer to fifteen islands in the Southwest Pacific, Guam, Saipan, Peleliu, Guadalcanal, Eniwetok — the new names in our history. In one section he didn’t see a fly or a mosquito.
“What killed the bugs?” I asked.
“D.D.T., the new insecticide, invented by a German but perfected by us since the war. We use it in ditching and draining, we spray it by jeep and by plane. It will wipe out half the mosquito population in twenty-four hours, the whole lot in fortyeight. We spray the screens of our barracks and hospitals: if a fly lands there thirty days later it will stagger and die. What do you think that means to our incidence of malaria, dengue fever, and dysentery?” I like to think of that. And of what D.D.T. will mean to New Jersey — or even Massachusetts — mosquitoes when civilians can get it.
TAKE the Duck — a truck, mounted on a 2 1/2-ton frame, propelling itself in water like a self-bailing whaleboat.
A fractional part of one assault convoy went into the beach carrying 144 Ducks. They had all been loaded in advance of operations; 100 of them carrying 3 tons of ammunition each, and 16 of them carrying 105 mm. howitzers. Punctual and imperturbable, they waddled through the surf, delivered their cargoes under fire, and then swam back to the mother transport for more supplies. An SOS ordered nine of them to rush “ammo” inland some twenty miles because the other vehicles couldn’t get through the sandhills.
The Ducks have desert-type tires which can be individually deflated from the dashboard to meet changing conditions. These nine plunged inland and delivered their stuff. On their return they found others of the flock towing the 105 mm. howitzers into position, up the sandhills, some of them 100 feet high. The day of a Duck. Who ever dreamed it out? A civilian, of course. But he never told his neighbor, and the neighbor never knew.
And so on a commuters’ train, where good grousing and humor predominate, one day last summer I heard some bitter remarks about butter. There had been no butter in Beverly Farms for a week. The OPA was obviously hoarding it for the Army. That happened to be the morning when the liberation of France began. But the news hadn’t yet reached our headlines and all we could see was butter plates without butter.
I hear wistful talk about what we could do if we had more gas. The only ones who have the gas to go where they want today are our sons in uniform. In one day’s fighting a heavy tank consumes 500 gallons. By that standard, an A card is fair enough.
Do we really measure our strength by our ability to do without butter, gasoline, cigarettes, and steak? I think not.
I write not to boast. This is an unpopular war, a war without parades or bugles. We wanted no part of it. We hate it now. We are gunning for no empire. We have been free to do what we have done because we have not been bombed like the British or laid waste like the Russians. Or imprisoned like the French.
“Let’s get the g— d— job over with and get home!” GI’s are saying the world over. Because we are an impatient, unmilitary, war-detesting people, we keep thinking it might have been done faster, better. Personally I doubt it.