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Perspectives From the Beginnings of World War II

by Nov 17, 2019

As the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II approaches, it may be useful to consider perspectives from the beginning, from the period just prior to the start of our world’s most devastating war.

Among donated publications in our collections, is a copy of the Navy Times, published 80 years ago this month, in May 1939, donated by former USS Missouri crewmember FN Robert R. Oelrich, of R Division.

The publication includes the following insightful editorial comments and quotes:

“In the years to come the student may find difficulty comprehending events of our time.”

“Because of their informality, wars in Asia, Europe and Africa may puzzle him. The German and Italian conquests may be difficult for him to understand.”

“As in 1917, we are living in a world of propaganda. The definition of propaganda, as we understand it, is telling an untruth as often and as loudly as possible. The louder it is told, and the more often, the more successful it is in its purpose.”

“It will be remembered that Germany wasted no live ammunition in Austria, or elsewhere in her recent conquests. The pen is truly more powerful than the sword. The propaganda mill is grinding today and grinding exceedingly fine.”

Reporter Ray Tucker, of the San Diego Evening Tribune, is quoted, providing President Roosevelt’s responses to his questions about the prospects of war:

“Mr. Roosevelt predicted that the prospects of a European war were 50-50. From his diplomatic and military reports, he drew the conclusion that the chances of victory as between the dictatorial and democratic powers were 50-50. As to American involvement meaning the shipment of an army to Europe, he also figured that the equation was 50-50. But – and this is big news – he swore that no American would be sent to fight on foreign soil if he could prevent it.”

Four months after this editorial was written, on September 1, 1939, German forces invaded Poland in a coordinated air-and-land attack, or “blitzkrieg”; the recognized formal beginning of World War II.

Invading German troops march into Warsaw, September 1939