LosingTheWar.doc

Whole armies before it with its terrifyingly brutal

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whole armies before it with its terrifyingly brutal new style of tank attack (the European press called it “blitzkrieg,” and the name stuck), and rumors immediately began circulating of appalling crimes committed in the occupied territories — wholesale deportations and systematic massacres, like a vast mechanized replay of the Mongol invasions. A story solemnly made the rounds of the world’s newspapers that storks migrating from Holland to South Africa had been found with messages taped to their legs that read, “Help us! The Nazis are killing us all!” It was in September 1939, in the wake of the German invasion of Poland, that the phrase “the Second World War” began turning up in newspapers and government speeches. The name was a kind of despairing admission that nobody knew how long the war would go on or how far the fighting would spread. Over the next two years the news arrived almost daily that battles had broken out in places that only weeks before had seemed like safe havens. By the time of Pearl Harbor the war had erupted in Norway and Mongolia, on Crete and in the Dutch East Indies; the Italian Army had marched on Egypt, and the German army was pushing into the outskirts of Moscow; there had been savage fighting in Finland north of the Arctic Circle and sea battles off the coast of Argentina. The United States was one of the last secluded places left on earth. But the depths of that seclusion were still profound. This is one of the things about America in those days that’s hardest for us to imagine now: how impossibly far away people thought the problems of the world were. It’s not just that there was no TV, and thus no live satellite feed from the current crisis zone. America didn’t even have a decent road system back then. Any long trip across the country was a fearsomely ambitious undertaking — and foreign travel was as fanciful as an opium dream. People grew up with the assumption that anything not immediately within reach was inconceivably far away. It wasn’t unusual for them to spend every moment of their lives within walking distance of the place where they were born — and to die thinking they hadn’t missed a thing. They weren’t wholly oblivious. But the news they got of the outside world came in through newspapers and radio — which is to say, through words, not images. This imposed even more distance on events that were already as remote as the dust storms of Mars. Their sense of heedlessness wasn’t helped by the style of journalism reporters practiced in those days, which was heavy on local color and very light on analysis. The war as it appeared in the American press was a gorgeous tapestry of romance and swashbuckling adventure — frenzied Nazi rallies, weird religious rites in Japan, hairbreadth escapes on
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overcrowded trains teetering along mountain ravines, nights sleeping in haystacks in the backcountry of France after the fall of Paris, journeys in remotest Yugoslavia where the
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