♪ ♪ (theme music plays) RUBENSTEIN: Hello, I'm David Rubinstein and today I'm gonna be in conversation with Tracy Campbell, who is the author of The Year of Peril: America in 1942.
Tracy Campbell is a professor of history at the University of Kentucky.
Thank you very much for coming to talk to us today.
CAMPBELL: Thanks for having me, David.
RUBENSTEIN: So, what prompted you to write a book about 1942?
There are a lot of books about 1941, 1945.
I've never seen a book on 1942.
So, what prompted you to write a book about that?
CAMPBELL: Uh, what prompted me was really the 2008 financial crisis and feeling, you know, the... As an American historian knowing how bad it could possible get if went to Great Depression 2.0, I was struggling to try and understand what a society went through in a moment of crisis.
And so, World War II is kinda tricky 'cause we know how it turns out.
We tend to give a sense of inevitability throughout most of it and instead I just started looking at the weeks and the months right after Pearl Harbor to try and see was there this sense of collective trauma and angst that we were feeling in 2008 and 2009.
RUBENSTEIN: What I took out of the book, I should say is that I thought I knew a lot about that era, but I didn't realize how weak we were in getting ready to pre, to fight World War II and how weak our economy was and so many other things that you go through.
So that's what I'd like to talk about.
RUBENSTEIN: But before we get into 1942, 1942 is kind of, uh, uh, made necessary because of what happened in 1941 to some extent, Pearl Harbor, December 7th 1941.
RUBENSTEIN: Uh, there are many rumors over the last several decades that Franklin Delano Roosevelt actually knew there was gonna be a bombing, but he didn't want to tip off anybody because he wanted to go into the war and he was gonna use that as an excuse.
Is there any evidence at all for that?
There's no evidence, but that leads me to another area I wasn't expecting to get into with this book, and that is the notion of rumor and misinformation, and the things people were telling each other.
That was out there a little bit in 1942 and subsequent historians and various ideologies have, uh, tried to pin that on and that would of course be maybe the most treasonous act in American history if there were any evidence about it.
But there's, there's no evidence whatsoever that Franklin Roosevelt knew of this.
RUBENSTEIN: But he did know, I think you point out in your book there was some suspicion that there would be a Japanese attack somewhere, we didn't know where... CAMPBELL: Right.
RUBENSTEIN: And we didn't know exactly when, is that correct?
Well the war clouds were brewing but I guess in the same way like 9/11, we knew that there were threats out there but did we know specifically on that particular day where those threats would be?
Uh... Pearl Harbor is one of those traumatic moments, maybe one of the most traumatizing moments in American history, and it's not just because of the military impact, it was the notion... Abraham Lincoln said that, "The most powerful armies of Europe can never come over here, even if they were led by Napoleon because of these great oceans."
So it would be 1,000 years before we'd ever have to worry about that.
Pearl Harbor changed all that.
We now had to worry about things coming from the sky, and it wasn't... Like 9/11, the immediate fear wasn't about what had happened at Pearl Harbor, the immediate fear was what's next?
RUBENSTEIN: So in 1942, um, Franklin Roosevelt in December the 8th I guess goes to Congress, gets a, Declaration of War.
Did we actually have a lot of, uh, military men and women ready to go?
Or how big was our army then?
CAMPBELL: It was better than it was when the war started in 1939, our army was smaller than, uh, Portugal's, and we were still training with riffles from 1903.
And so, Roosevelt kind of quietly began the whole idea of preparing us for something in 1940 and 1941.
And starting a, a peacetime draft to get us into some kinda situation to possibly deal with this kind of an emergency.
We were starting to build more planes, starting to build more tanks, but we were still very much behind the eight ball.
What about the economy?
Um, how was the economy when the war started, and was there a worry that the economy would collapse as all the, uh, the resource of the country went into fighting the war?
CAMPBELL: Beginning in the 1940s, the economy was starting to improve but unemployment was still in the double digits in early 1942.
When Roosevelt went to Congress on December 8th, as you mentioned, that's a very famous speech.
It's the next month when he went to give his State of the Union address that I think is really historically more important 'cause he lays out what's gonna happen.
He lays out the fact we're gonna build 60,000 planes in a year and that we're going to spend $59 billion in the next fiscal year, which today that doesn't impress people, especially from a, a national standpoint.
In 1940, Roosevelt had talked about raising the Defense budget by 300 million and there were lot of people in Congress saying, "That's an outrageous figure.
We can't come up with $300 million."
And then in 1942 he's discussing spending $59 billion, which was really just a drop in the bucket.
The fear of course David, was inflation and that if you flood the country with this kind of massive spending that you'll have runaway inflation like we've seen in previous wars, which could make the whole thing just go completely out of kilter.
RUBENSTEIN: So let's talk about the, how we paid for the war.
There are two ways you can presumably pay for a war, you can borrow money or you can increase, uh, taxes and pay for it that way.
So, which way did, uh, Roosevelt wanna proceed?
There, there was a figure in the middle of the year that was about to...
The amount of money spent on contracts that had been let from 1940 through the fiscal year of '42, and it came out to $205 billion.
And I remember Time Magazine said, "That's a figure greater than all the money spent since George Washington took office to Pearl Harbor."
So, yes, we're gonna raise taxes, we're gonna raise taxes, as Roosevelt said, "I'm sure no one will have any problem with the privilege of paying for this effort," he's probably the last president to say something like that.
And borrowing through bonds, or through deficit spending.
I mean, Roosevelt was not concerned with whether we were balancing the budget in 1942 throughout the war, he was interested in winning the war.
RUBENSTEIN: Well, the legislation to impose, uh, taxes and other things that he wanted wasn't going so quickly, uh, didn't rush Congress the way the war resolution did, and as I gather from your book, he basically said, "Look, if you don't pay us by a certain date I'm gonna do it anyway."
So what happened?
CAMPBELL: Well, Congress relented.
I mean, he had majorities of Democrats in both houses.
A, and keep in mind 1942 is an off-year election a, and a number of senators and members of Congress are all obviously up for election, and re-election and they weren't exactly crazy about raising taxes.
And so the bill kind of slogged through month after month and you're right, Roosevelt in the fall said, "I'm giving you 'til October 1st and I will take emergency action."
It's interesting David, I, I, remember coming across a speech by former president Hoover.
Hoover and Roosevelt hated each other, but yet in April of '42, uh, Hoover said, in his speech in New York, "We ought to give Franklin Roosevelt dictatorial economic powers while the war is underway.
Now after the war we'll take them back."
But that's how extraordinary this year is to hear people like that saying things like that.
RUBENSTEIN: Now you also pointed out there were shortages of certain things that were very important.
One of the things that was very important was rubber.
Why was there a shortage of rubber in the United States?
Why didn't we have synthetic rubber?
And why was rubber so important?
CAMPBELL: Well, rubber was actually the scientific crisis of the, of 1942.
Manhattan Project was underway but what you're seeing in say in Roosevelt's papers and in the papers of his, uh, aides, without rubber you can't build an Arsenal Democracy, you can't build the planes and tanks and, you know, a, and all the war machinery.
One of the real impacts of Pearl Harbor was that the rubber supplies in the, in the Indies were all cut off from the United States and we did not have that synthetic rubber capacity, we were gonna run out and in internal documents are saying, "If we can't correct that, we're not going to win the war."
Roosevelt, went on the radio and said, "We're gonna talk about rubber, and I mean rubber," and he gave everyone a job to find rubber.
Old rubber in their attics, or in their garage, take it to a local collection agency, take it to a filling station as he called them, you get a, a penny per pound and it gave everybody something to do.
Why we did not have synthetic rubber was a good question.
Some within the administration like Herald Ickes, were pointing the finger at Jesse Jones and some other figures saying that they were too interested in oil and were turning down Russian efforts to help us build synthetic rubber.
RUBENSTEIN: Now what about rationing?
What were the things that were typically rationed?
People had rationing of food... Of clothing, other things.
What was the biggest hardship for many Americans in terms of rationing?
CAMPBELL: Well, gas.
And the reason gas was rationed wasn't because we didn't have enough gas, it was because of rubber and we didn't want people using up too much rubber in their tires.
So we would give people, uh, these cards to put into their, the windshields that would, say how much gas they would be rationed per week.
And what this did was produce a real divide between rural and urban people.
People who may not have needed more than three gallons a week, whereas rural people, people who lived on farms who, depended on their livelihood to drive long distances thought, "Why in the world are we rationing gas when there's plenty of it?"
RUBENSTEIN: Now, one of the proposals that Roosevelt made that didn't actually get done was he wanted to limit income to $25,000 a year, in fact his own salary I think was $75,000, you pointed out that he lowered it to $25,000 I believe.
So why did he not get that through, and were there that many people making over 25,000?
CAMPBELL: Well it was $25,000 after taxes, so the IRS did a study and figured that was probably around 65, $67,000 depending on where you lived.
During World War I, uh, there were studies done, there were lots of investigations that war munitions makers had made a great deal of money, made a lot of profits off the war.
Roosevelt wanted to make sure that no one felt like that.
And so tax rates, the upper tax brackets were raised in 1942 to 88, 89% for the top brackets.
Roosevelt, even after the election, even after not, you know, having Democrats lose a lot of seats, loved the idea of limiting incomes to $25,000 after taxes, and let's be clear, taxing everything after that at 100%, which is what he called "Equality of Sacrifice."
And public opinion polls showed that that was actually popular among large numbers of people because the average wage earner, the average wage in 1942 was around $1,500 per year.
They still paid, if they were married, 0 in federal taxes.
RUBENSTEIN: So let's talk about something.
I read in your book that I was really surprised about.
I didn't, hadn't focused on it.
I'd always grown up thought that, "At least in World War II all the fighting was pretty much elsewhere after Pearl Harbor," but you point out that Germans actually had a submarine launched nearby the United States and some people came off that boat and tried to do things to the United States.
And the Japanese at one point bombed, uh, I think some place in Alaska and were...
There was great fear that the bombings were gonna occur throughout the United States.
Can you go through whether those fears were justified and what actually happened?
What did the Germans and the Japanese do in the United States?
CAMPBELL: Well, whether the fear were justified they were there.
And we had something called the, "War Damage Corporation," which people could buy insurance policies to protect their property against invasion or, or enemy efforts, and people in Chicago, or Kansas City were buying up those policies.
Um, the one you're, referring to a, are the German spies.
Eight of them in total came off of submarines, four around Jacksonville, Florida, four around the Long Island.
They were to meet up in Cincinnati where they had a lot of cash, they had fake IDs, and they were just gonna commit acts of terrorism to try and reduce American morale.
Blow up bridges, you know, burn, uh, buildings, and churches, and synagogues and water supply plants, I mean, whatever kinds of espionage they could.
RUBENSTEIN: Now what about the bombing on the west coast, there was fear that the Japanese were gonna bomb throughout California or any place in the west coast.
What actually happened?
CAMPBELL: Well, the fear was so palpable that that's really I think the motivating fear behind the internment camps that we're so susceptible.
Hawaii's been hit, we're next, places like LA, and San Francisco are sure to be hit and so, uh, there was something called the "Battle of Los Angeles" actually in March where they were suspected planes flying over and... Like something like 1,500 rounds of anti-aircraft, uh, uh, weapons were, were, were fired into the air.
One Japanese plane was able to take off from a submarine and bomb an area outside of Mount Emily, Oregon.
In retrospect, the fear was overdone.
The biggest fear of course, the biggest attack would occur in Pearl Harbor but the fear nonetheless was because we felt vulnerable for the first time really that the ocean would no longer protect us and that things could come from the air that could do us great harm.
RUBENSTEIN: Let's talk about the internment camps.
Uh, you pointed out in your book that there were three types of people who we were afraid of in the United States, uh, as being internal potential spies.
Ones were people who were Japanese-American descent, another was people of Italian-American descent... CAMPBELL: Mm-hmm.
RUBENSTEIN: And third was German-American descent.
RUBENSTEIN: So, what happened to the Japanese?
And then how did the Italians and Germans kinda manage to get not involved with internment camps?
CAMPBELL: Well, over 100,000 Japanese-Americans were interned... Mostly in the Southwest.
It was a lot more difficult for German-Americans and Italian-Americans specifically 'cause of sheer numbers.
And to be quite, you know, frank because of the election and that a number of people were fearful of retribution if they came out and, and supported this.
And so, uh, those efforts against German and Italian Americans were dropped.
RUBENSTEIN: Well some people might say, "Well, the German and Italian Americans were Caucasian..." CAMPBELL: Yeah.
RUBENSTEIN: "And the Japanese were not and maybe there was a racist element there," which raises the question of racism in the United States.
You point out in your book how many African-Americans were saying to themselves, "What am I going over there to fight for when I have this terrible situation here?"
Was it hard to persuade African-Americans to go fight in, in the war?
CAMPBELL: Well, they had a case.
I mean, I, I point out that... We often think of, of, government is dysfunctional now, why can't it be more like it was back then when it was functional?
And I think it would be surprising to a lot of people to know that in the same month that troops landed in North Africa, that we have filibuster that brings the Senate to a halt for an entire week because of a poll tax bill that would have given ultimately maybe 11 million southern Blacks the right to vote and the Southern Bloc led by people like Theodore Bilbo, and Richard Russell, and Wall Doxey kill that bill to make sure that it never happened.
Um, for African-Americans there was the, what we call the Double V, for Victory that we should not only just have victory abroad but we should also have democracy at home.
And it was in rather short supply if non-existent throughout most of the year.
And so a number of Black leaders like Adam Clayton Powell in his newspaper would make the case that, "We can't have democracy anywhere if we don't start at home."
RUBENSTEIN: Well, uh, in the army in those days, it was not integrated.
So Blacks who did go in the military and volunteer or drafted, um, they had to be in all Black army units.
Is that right?
CAMPBELL: That's right.
Not that but also the blood supplies were segregated.
The Red Cross kept the, the blood supply segregated to make sure that, that white soldiers wouldn't get, you know, the blood of inferior people.
RUBENSTEIN: Now, there was a big push you pointed out in your book, uh, for retribution against the Japanese.
Uh, were we in a position in 1942 to actually bomb Japan?
And what actually happened in that area?
CAMPBELL: Well, we didn't think we were.
Until April, the shock of all shocks was that Tokyo reports that American planes are flying over, uh, not doing much damage in terms of military bombing but this was of course Jimmy Doolittle's Raid which was every bit of a, as much as shock I guess to the Japanese as 9/11 had to been to us.
I mean, there might have been talk about, "How can we get these big lumbering planes to fly these vast distances, not have the Japanese detect it and, and bomb these various sites throughout, uh, uh, Japan?"
It was a...
Both Pearl Harbor and Doolittle's Raid had the kind of psychological impact that's just every bit as important sometimes as the war itself.
RUBENSTEIN: But, how did those bombing occur?
I mean, the planes were, they couldn't, uh, return because they weren't, didn't have enough fuel.
So, the pilots of those planes led by Jimmy Doolittle, um, had to basically parachute out and hopefully get back to the US base somewhere.
CAMPBELL: They took off from aircraft carriers, obviously couldn't land.
So the notion was they would, uh, parachute to safety, maybe in some place over Russia, which by the way was our ally, uh, even though most polls show that people don't realize that now.
And, and it, it was almost...
It wasn't quite a suicidal raid, but it was certainly a daring raid all to pull off the notion that we are capable of this.
You know, some people call it a stunt, and if it had failed I'm sure Roosevelt and the military leadership would have gotten a great deal of criticism for, but as it happened, it was, it was the first real victory.
I mean, it was like five months after Pearl Harbor, the real notion that we can finally strike back.
That was one of the frustrating things I think for a lot of Americans in 1942 was that day after day, week after week, nothing had happened, we're still prep, preparing.
When are we gonna open up?
When are we gonna let them have it?
Doo, Doolittle's Raid gave us that first kind of hint that what would actually start happening by November.
RUBENSTEIN: Now, um, Stalin is fighting the Germans, and he's, he keeps saying to Churchill and Roosevelt, "You should open up a front in Western Europe, the Germans will have to fight you and me and therefore they'll be divided."
Why didn't Roosevelt and Churchill say, "Yes, let's go do that.
Let's open a front in western Europe"?
CAMPBELL: Well we eventually did in 1944.
Throughout '42, uh, Churchill made the point that American troops weren't ready and that the last thing he want is to open up a front that fails then what have you got?
One of the things, David, was that why are we worried about Europe?
The Japanese attacked us.
We need to focus on the Pacific.
Roosevelt said, "We need to focus on Europe.
When we can defeat Hitler, when we defeat that sense of fascism, we can then focus on the Pacific."
Churchill said, "What we need to do is have kind of what we might call a soft underbelly to go in through, to attack first in North Africa, to get the sense of what war is like as, as the Mediterranean open, opens up and by hopefully '43 we can then start thinking about a cross-channel attack."
But that obviously didn't happen until June of 1944.
RUBENSTEIN: Now, uh, Roosevelt had put together a whole new social construct in his administration to kind of, uh, get the United States economy back again and, uh, what happened to that effort to revitalize the domestic economy?
A lot of the social programs that Roosevelt had put in place, did he kind of abandon them after the 1941?
CAMPBELL: Well, there's this notion that Dr. New Deal died and Dr.
Win the War was born.
But I think it's a lot more complex than that.
The War itself whether it's taking 12 million GIs and sending them elsewhere the, the, the massive war industries, by the end of 1942, the unemployment rate is a, a little over 2.8% and it actually got below 1% by 1944.
So, we approach full employment because of the war.
The real fear was what would happen after the War.
If we win it, and we go back to a peacetime setting are we gonna go straight back to a depression?
And Roosevelt was worried about that, and that's why even in that speech that he gave in January and talked about how much money needs to spend for the war, he increases spending for what he calls old age pensions, he increases spending on medical care.
He said this war was about four freedoms including freedom of the press, and freedom of religion, but he also said it was the freedom, freedom from fear and freedom from want.
And so, throughout 1942 and you can certainly see it in '43, there are opportunities, people are discussing a new way of approaching what would be, what Fortune Magazine would be calling a, a, "New Democratic Capitalism," to try and protect people from the worst ravages of the Depression if it returned, like universal healthcare, like having a guaranteed job.
Public opinion poll taken in the summer of '42, 75% of Americans wanted some kind of government-sponsored healthcare.
If I got my numbers right, two thirds wanted a, some kind of government job in case unemployment goes a...
Above a certain level, and over a third wanted a l, what you might wanna call a maximum wage to make sure that people did not make too much money.
RUBENSTEIN: Now can you explain, um, what happened to women in society?
Because men are overseas fighting, uh, who's doing the jobs?
Women are filling a lot of the jobs.
How did that change society and was it difficult for women to make those adjustments and for men to make the adjustments, the fact that women were doing jobs that men had previously done?
CAMPBELL: Well, they were, you know, they wielded heavy, uh, machinery, they, they ran shipyards, they did everything that other people said they couldn't do, fine.
What happened though, and, and this came through in a number of letters, from the troops abroad saying, "I've heard that you've started a job.
What am I gonna tell my buddies when they find out about this?"
So the l, the layers of, of, of gender equity and the and the layers of how people were feeling toward women entering the workplace you could see kind of exposed at that moment.
And some of the most pro, progressive war industries in the country like this plant called JACO outside of Cleveland, in which women were, were given the same kind of jobs as men.
The management made it clear that after the war, we're going right back because when the men come back, they had to have their jobs and you need to go back to where you belong.
So it was... You can see the seeds of, of that kind of frustration already being born in, in the early 1940s.
RUBENSTEIN: Now as 1942 is ending, what is the attitude in the United States?
Is it that, "Okay now we're getting ready.
We're gonna win this war without doubt", or it was, "Hey, maybe we might not win this war."
What was the attitude at the end of 1942?
CAMPBELL: Polls show that we felt like we were more likely to win it but we knew the invasion of North Africa hadn't gone as easily as we thought.
If a second front opens, it's probably gonna be much more difficult we thought, and the Pacific still looks wide open.
So '43 is gonna be a bloody, bloody year but, you know, Roosevelt started out the year saying, "We're gonna build 60,000 planes," we built about 47,000.
We fell short of the mark but still, it was an unbelievable achievement that by the end the war we've built I think over 300,000.
So the, the mood in the country I think is, is sobered, it, it's not kind of the collective trauma that we had felt right after Pearl Harbor.
We're used to it now, we're a year into it, we know that this is gonna be a long slog, but, the, the, the tide is beginning to turn.
But the notion of this being inevitable or feeling like, you know... People didn't have the, the hindsight to that say, "Well with this fast industrial machinery we're gonna win the war."
Uh, my dad had just been drafted, I guarantee he wasn't thinking about that.
He was thinking about how hard Italy's gonna be where he would find himself not long after this.
RUBENSTEIN: I learned a lot from reading the book and I wanna thank you for writing it, I wanna thank you for our conversation today.
CAMPBELL: Thanks for having me.
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