The New York Times Living History: World War II: The Axis Assault, 1939-1942

The New York Times Living History: World War II: The Axis Assault, 1939-1942

by Douglas Brinkley, David Rubel

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Introducing a new series where history comes alive in riveting documents and images of great events as they occurred

We have long relied on historians to sift through the debris of history and piece together narratives to shape our understanding of events. But it is in the letters, diaries, speeches, song lyrics, newspaper articles, and government papers that history comes alive. The New York Times Living History books reinvigorate history by presenting the actual documents and images of the day.

For the volume World War II: The Axis Assault, 1939-1942 eminent historian Douglas Brinkley has carefully chosen fifty critical documents that chart the Axis's grip over Europe and the Pacific--such as Churchill's Blood and Toil speech and the text of the Atlantic Charter. Readers will find FDR's cables to Japan in the hours before Pearl Harbor, Edward R. Murrow's broadcast during the Blitz, an American G.I.'s last message from Corregidor, and a Dutch boy's diary recounting Germany's invasion.

Each primary document is accompanied by New York Times reporting or commentary from the period and original text illuminating their historical significance. News photos and other images add a strong visual component to this vivid re-creation of history.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781466869820
Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 04/29/2014
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 368
File size: 10 MB

About the Author

Douglas Brinkley is the director of the Eisenhower Center for American Studies at the University of New Orleans, where he is a distinguished professor and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He is the author and editor of numerous books of U. S. history, including a Penguin Lives biography of Rosa Parks. He lives in New Orleans, Louisiana.

David Rubel is a nationally-recognized author, speaker, and historian. He has written more than twenty books and edited a dozen more, most of which focus on making American history accessible to a broad audience.

Douglas G. Brinkley is the director of the Theodore Roosevelt Center for American Civilization and Professor of History at Tulane University. He authored the New York Times bestsellers: Tour of Duty: John Kerry and the Vietnam War and Voices of Valor: D-Day; June 6, 1944. He is the official historian for NBC News. Dr. Brinkley is contributing editor for the Los Angeles Times Book Review and American Heritage and a contributor to the New York Times and The New Yorker.

Read an Excerpt


The Axis Assault, 1939-1942

Henry Holt and Company

Copyright © 2003 The New York Times Company and Agincourt Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-8050-7246-2

Chapter One

Initial Response to Aggression October 1937

In October 1937, America was a nation sharply divided between isolationists and interventionists. World War I had been a great disappointment. Pres. Woodrow Wilson had promised in April 1917 that American entry into the war would bring about lasting world peace. Yet the onerous terms of the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, never ratified by the United States, made another European war more, rather than less, likely.

American disillusionment intensified during the mid-1930s, when Sen. Gerald P. Nye of North Dakota sponsored a series of congressional hearings to investigate World War I munition sales. President Wilson had declared that the war was being fought to make the world "safe for democracy," yet Nye showed that the war had also been fought, at least in part, to safeguard U.S.-backed international loans and enrich American war profiteers. Arms manufacturers were Nye's favorite target because, as he revealed, these so-called merchants of death had made huge fortunes before 1917 selling exorbitantly priced munitions to both sides.

The resulting public outrage moved Congress to pass a series of four increasingly restrictive neutrality acts that shackled U.S. foreign policy during the years leading up to World War II. The first of these laws, passed in August 1935, forbade all arms sales to belligerent nations once the president had determined that a state of war existed among them. Because the law made no distinction between victim and aggressor, there was little the president or his interventionist cabinet could do to counter the expansionism then being practiced by Germany, Italy, and Japan. In fact, in July 1937, when Japan instigated a war with China, the president chose not to acknowledge the conflict formally because doing so would have forced him to bar all weapons sales to our Chinese allies.

Instead, Roosevelt made another sort of public statement. Motivated by Japan's aggression in China (as well as German and Italian adventurism in Spain and elsewhere), the president decided to take on the isolationists directly in his famous "quarantine" speech. It's often forgotten that, when immediate public reaction proved somewhat negative, Roosevelt quickly backed off the strong words he spoke that day in October 1937. Yet the Quarantine Speech nevertheless proved prophetic, expressing thoughts and attitudes that would only grow stronger in Roosevelt's mind as the international situation worsened and war drew near.


* * *

President Hits Out; Methods of Undeclared War Menace World, He Says at Chicago

* * *


CHICAGO, Oct. 5-President Roosevelt today pledged his Administration to a "concerted effort" with other peace-loving nations to "quarantine" aggressor nations.

In a speech studded with warnings that America is menaced by "the present reign of terror and international lawlessness" which has "reached a stage where the very foundations of civilization are threatened," Mr. Roosevelt said that the 90 per cent of the world which wants peace "can and must find some way to make their will prevail."

A new foreign policy for the Administration was presaged with these words at the very close of the last major speech of the President's Western tour:

"America hates war. America hopes for peace. Therefore America actively engages in the search for peace."

No nation was mentioned by name as he indicated that the hands-off policy of the last four years would be reversed and served notice that the United States would join against aggressors and treaty-breakers. But it seemed clear that the speech was aimed at Japan for her attack on China, and Italy and Germany for their activities in Spain. White House attachés said such an interpretation was valid.

It also seemed significant that when Mr. Roosevelt charged violations of the Covenant of the League of Nations, the Kellogg-Briand pact and the Nine-power treaty, he interpolated a reminder that we were signers of the latter two.

The crowd listened intently, remaining silent most of the time, but applauding his demands for world peace. It was evident from comments made in the crowd afterward that the tenor of the address was a surprise, but general approval was heard.

Chicago gave the President a hearty reception, throngs cheering him as he drove through the streets at the head of a parade to dedicate the city's new Outer Drive Bridge, and, later, on his way to luncheon with George Cardinal Mundelein.

The President declared in his address at the bridge ceremonies that "without a declaration of war and without warning or justification of any kind, civilians, including women and children, are being ruthlessly murdered with bombs from the air."

"In times of so-called peace ships are being attacked and sunk by submarines without cause or notice," he continued. "Nations are fomenting and taking sides in civil warfare in nations that have never done them any harm. Nations claiming freedom for themselves deny it to others.

"Innocent peoples and nations are being cruelly sacrificed to a greed for power and supremacy which is devoid of all sense of justice and humane consideration."

While the occasion of the speech was the dedication of the Outer Drive Bridge built with PWA funds, Mr. Roosevelt gave the bridge and the PWA only a scant half-minute before his face set hard, and, speaking very slowly, he went into the major points of the address, every sentence of which showed worry and a determination to take action "against a state of international anarchy and instability from which there is no escape through mere isolation or neutrality."

There was no specific indication as to any steps that might be taken. But Mr. Roosevelt, with an interpolated "mark you well," spoke with even greater seriousness as he said:

"When an epidemic of physical disease starts to spread, the community approves and joins in a quarantine of the patients in order to protect the health of the community against the spread of the disease."

White House attachés said the President was canvassing every possible method of putting the speech into effect, including the possibility of an international conference. They also said that no foreign government had been consulted before the speech was made.

Although pledging himself to every effort to maintain neutrality and keep the nation out of war, Mr. Roosevelt warned that "we cannot have complete protection in a world of disorder in which our confidence and security have broken down."

"If civilization is to survive, the principles of the Prince of Peace must be restored," he said. "Shattered trust between nations must be revived."

Waving farewell to the West at Chicago's La Salle Street Station, the President started for Hyde Park at 2 P.M. (Central standard time) after a triumphal tour which took him through the Pacific Northwest. He will arrive at Hyde Park tomorrow morning at 9:30 o'clock (Eastern standard time).

Mr. Roosevelt's progress through the streets of Chicago was made through a cloud of ticker tape and sheets torn from telephone directories, which rained down on the parade from the time he left Union Station, where his train arrived, until he had passed through the Loop district. Three thousand city and park policemen kept back the crowds.

Later several thousand persons waited patiently outside Cardinal Mundelein's residence at State Street and North Avenue to catch another glimpse of the President as he was escorted by the red-robed Cardinal down a long, enclosed ramp to his automobile.

Their luncheon was private, but newspaper men and a few others were made welcome at a buffet luncheon. The Cardinal and the President posed together for a picture.

The public's generous reception to the President began when the train arrived from St. Paul at 9:30 A.M. He was met at the station by Mayor Edward J. Kelly, Senator William H. Dieterich and Secretary Harold L. Ickes, with hordes of lesser political figures. Many of them were received by Mr. Roosevelt in the hour before the parade started.

At the bridge ceremonies Mayor Kelly and Secretary Ickes paid tribute to Mr. Roosevelt's leadership in pulling the country out of the depression.

Afterward the parade proceeded along the Outer Drive toward the Cardinal's residence.

"The epidemic of world lawlessness is spreading."

The Quarantine Speech of Franklin D. Roosevelt

Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered his Quarantine Speech on October 5, 1937, in Chicago, where he had traveled to celebrate the opening of an important federally sponsored public works project. FDR's choice of Chicago as a venue for his speech defending interventionism was bold because the Midwest was well known as the heartland of isolationism. "By speaking in Chicago," historian David M. Kennedy has written, "Roosevelt was apparently bearding the isolationist lion in his den."

I am glad to come once again to Chicago and especially to have the opportunity of taking part in the dedication of this important project of civic betterment.

On my trip across the continent and back, I have been shown many evidences of the result of common-sense cooperation between municipalities and the federal government, and I have been greeted by tens of thousands of Americans who have told me in every look and word that their material and spiritual well-being has made great strides forward in the past few years.

And yet, as I have seen with my own eyes the prosperous farms, the thriving factories, and the busy railroads-as I have seen the happiness and security and peace which covers our wide land-almost inevitably I have been compelled to contrast our peace with very different scenes being enacted in other parts of the world.

It is because the people of the United States under modern conditions must, for the sake of their own future, give thought to the rest of the world, that I, as the responsible executive head of the nation, have chosen this great inland city and this gala occasion to speak to you on a subject of definite national importance.

The political situation in the world, which of late has been growing progressively worse, is such as to cause grave concern and anxiety to all the peoples and nations who wish to live in peace and amity with their neighbors.

Some fifteen years ago, the hopes of mankind for a continuing era of international peace were raised to great heights when more than sixty nations solemnly pledged themselves not to resort to arms in furtherance of their national aims and policies. The high aspirations expressed in the Briand-Kellogg Peace Pact and the hopes for peace thus raised have of late given way to a haunting fear of calamity. The present reign of terror and international lawlessness began a few years ago.

It began through unjustified interference in the internal affairs of other nations or the invasion of alien territory in violation of treaties; and has now reached a stage where the very foundations of civilization are seriously threatened. The landmarks and traditions which have marked the progress of civilization toward a condition of law, order, and justice are being wiped away.

Without a declaration of war and without warning or justification of any kind, civilians, including vast numbers of women and children, are being ruthlessly murdered with bombs from the air. In times of so-called peace, ships are being attacked and sunk by submarines without cause or notice. Nations are fomenting and taking sides in civil warfare in nations that have never done them any harm. Nations claiming freedom for themselves deny it to others.

Innocent peoples, innocent nations, are being cruelly sacrificed to a greed for power and supremacy which is devoid of all sense of justice and humane considerations.

To paraphrase a recent author, "perhaps we foresee a time when men, exultant in the technique of homicide, will rage so hotly over the world that every precious thing will be in danger, every book and picture and harmony, every treasure garnered through two millenniums, the small, the delicate, the defenseless-all will be lost or wrecked or utterly destroyed."

If those things come to pass in other parts of the world, let no one imagine that America will escape, that America may expect mercy, that this Western Hemisphere will not be attacked, and that it will continue tranquilly and peacefully to carry on the ethics and the arts of civilization.

If those days come, "there will be no safety by arms, no help from authority, no answer in science. The storm will rage till every flower of culture is trampled, and all human beings are leveled in a vast chaos."

If those days are not to come to pass-if we are to have a world in which we can breathe freely and live in amity without fear-the peace-loving nations must make a concerted effort to uphold laws and principles on which alone peace can rest secure.

The peace-loving nations must make a concerted effort in opposition to those violations of treaties and those ignorings of humane instincts which today are creating a state of international anarchy and instability from which there is no escape through mere isolation or neutrality.

Those who cherish their freedom and recognize and respect the equal right of their neighbors to be free and live in peace must work together for the triumph of law and moral principles in order that peace, justice, and confidence may prevail in the world. There must be a return to a belief in the pledged word, in the value of a signed treaty. There must be recognition of the fact that national morality is as vital as private morality.

A bishop wrote me the other day: "It seems to me that something greatly needs to be said in behalf of ordinary humanity against the present practice of carrying the horrors of war to helpless civilians, especially women and children. It may be that such a protest might be regarded by many, who claim to be realists, as futile, but may it not be that the heart of mankind is so filled with horror at the present needless suffering that force could be mobilized in sufficient volume to lessen such cruelty in the days ahead. Even though it may take twenty years, which God forbid, for civilization to make effective its corporate protest against this barbarism, surely strong voices may hasten the day."


Excerpted from WORLD WAR II Copyright © 2003 by The New York Times Company and Agincourt Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
Copyright Notice,
Introduction by Douglas Brinkley,
1. Initial Response to Aggression, October 1937,
2. German Preparations for War, November 1937,
3. The Rape of Nanking, December 1937,
4. The Anschluss, March 1938,
5. The Munich Conference, September 1938,
6. Kristallnacht, November 1938,
7. The Pact of Steel, May 1939,
8. Atomic Possibilities, August 1939,
9. The Nazi-Soviet Nonaggression Pact, August 1939,
10. The Invasion of Poland, September 1939,
11. Britain and France Declare War, September 1939,
12. The Phony War, September 1939–May 1940,
13. The Neutrality Act of 1939, November 1939,
14. The Winter War, November 1939–March 1940,
15. The German Invasion of Denmark and Norway, April 1940,
16. Germany Invades the West, May 1940,
17. Churchill Takes Office, May 1940,
18. The Dunkirk Evacuation, May–June 1940,
19. The Fall of Paris, June 1940,
20. The Battle of Britain, August–September 1940,
21. The Blitz, September 1940–May 1941,
22. The Tripartite Pact, September 1940,
23. The Arsenal of Democracy, December 1940,
24. Lend-Lease, March 1941,
25. Fortress America, September 1940–December 1941,
26. Operation Barbarossa, June 1941,
27. Roosevelt Embargoes Japan, July 1941,
28. The Atlantic Charter, August 1941,
29. The Siege of Leningrad, August 1941–January 1944,
30. The Sinking of the Reuben James, October 1941,
31. The Night and Fog Decree, December 1941,
32. The Attack on Pearl Harbor, December 1941,
33. War Declared on Japan, December 1941,
34. Germany and Italy Declare War, December 1941,
35. The Internment of Japanese Americans, February 1942,
36. The Surrender of Bataan, April 1942,
37. The Doolittle Raid, April 1942,
38. The Imposition of Price Controls, April 1942,
39. The Fall of Corregidor, May 1942,
40. The Battle of the Coral Sea, May 1942,
41. The Enlistment of Women, May 1942,
42. The First Thousand-Plane Raid, May 1942,
Illustration Credits,
About the Editors,

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