Tag Archives: FDR

How did Americans Respond to the Great Depression

Simply, there is no easy answer.  Every American experienced pleasure or pain during those troubled years, and formed bonds with their loved ones or destroyed them unlike anything comparable before in America save modern day.

“There is no longer I, There is We, the day of the individual is over,” Dorthy Parker said.

That quote is the easiest way to describe the response Americans responded to the Great DEpression.  Of course modern day can look at those events and say, well why didn’t you do this or that, but hindsight is 20/20.  To have lived during the turmoil would give those who nay-say a ,different perspective of the world.  “What is going to become of us?  You can’t sleep, you know, You wake up at 2 a.m. and you lie and think” (America’s History, p737).  The depression only one-sided, affecting onyl one culture in America, Whites and Blacks , and everything in between, felt the crisis.  Some prospered but most suffered.

With life nearly impossible in the “Dust Bowl,” as well, many people fled the country and headed into the cities, where poor housing and disease ran unchecked.  Also, with the Riot of 1935 in Harlem, NY, desperate events finally led to extreme measures.  For example, something as simple as a boy stealing a penknife, and then arrested and set free, escalated with rumors that the cops killed the boy.  Riots ensued shortly after, resulting in 125 arrests, 100 injured, and three dead.  This is to show how stressed and harrassed people were that they would set fire to their own homes, but this is also a common act by those living in poor communities as well.

Another response to the depression was President Roosevelt launching his New Desal program his first term.  Roosevelt, who relied heavily on his “Brain Trust” of professors from Columbia and Harvard, promised “Act Now”, and in his first months he participated in a legislative session known as the “Hundred Days,” where Congress enacted fifteen bills enacting multiple social reforms.  Also, after his inauguration FDR declared a national “bank holiday,” and then called Congress to pass the Energency Banking Act.  This permitted banks to re-open if the Treasury Department inspection showed they had sufficient funds. (America’s History, p739)

There are many different outlooks to pursue: economic, social, labor, gender, race, culture, religion, penal, philosophical, environmental.  These are just some of the responses of the Great Depression, do you have your own story, personal or familial?


Opposition to the Dropping of the Atomic Bombs

“From what we read in the general media, it seems like almost everyone felt the atomic bombings of Japan were necessary.  Aren’t the people who disagree with those actions just trying to find fault with America?” (Hiroshima Who Didn’t Agree with the Atomic Bombing, 1945).

How is someone supposed to argue against this statement, against the collective acceptance of a nation?  How is someone supposed to change the mind of a madman with their hand on the button?  By looking at the words and deeds of those involved with the project and decision, other possible alternate solutions to ending World War II can be formulated.

Lone Rakassan standing after atomic blast
Lone Rakassan standing after atomic blast

Dwight Eisenhower stated in a 1945 edition of Newsweek that he, the General of the European Theater and later President of the United States, “gave misgivings on why he believed the bombs should not be dropped.”  First was because it was his belief that Japan was already beaten an it was completely unnecessary.  Secondly, because America should avoid shocking the world’s opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives (Mandate for Change, p380).

Also, Chief of Staff to President Franklin Roosevelt, Admiral Leahy, stated that this barbarous weapon should not have been used and that he was not taught to make was in that fashion (I Was There, p441).  Leahy also stated that the Japanese were looking for a way out, a way to keep their honor.

Even one of the designers of the bomb stressed not to make it.  After Germany surrendered, Leo Szilard tried to meet with President Harry Truman, but he sent Secretary of State to be, James Byrnes, instead.  Also, Szilard urged the bomb not being used, stating in the Franck Report, “We believe that these considerations make the use of nuclear bombs for an early, unannounced attack against Japan inadvisable.  If the U.S. Would be the first to release this new means of indiscriminate destruction upon mankind, she would sacrifice public support throughout the world, precipitate the race of armaments, and prejudice the possibility of reaching an international agreement on the future control of such weapons.”  Another interesting comment in the Franck Report states, “It will be very difficult to persuade the world, as indiscriminate as the rocket bomb (German blockbuster) and a thousand times more destructive is, to be trusted in its proclaimed desire of having such weapons abolished by international agreement” (Political and Social Problems, Manhattan Engineer District Records, Harrison-Bundy Files, Folder # 76, National Archives).

Fat Man
Fat Man

The luxury of hindsight cannot stop the bombs from being dropped, atomic or otherwise, but a look at the alternate solutions in the minds of the time is an interesting addition on why President Truman made his decision.   The first solution came from General Spaatz, in charge of Air Force operations in the Pacific, who came up with announcing to the Japanese that no ground assault would take place and that constant bombing would continue on military sites until Japanese surrender (Herbert Feis Papers).

Ralph Bard, a member of the Interim Committee, gave a couple of alternatives in a memorandum to President Truman; 1) wait for Russia to put pressure on Japan by occupying Manchuria and furthering the blockade of materials to mainland Japan, 2) A possible notice of 2-3 days so minimal human life would be taken (Harrison-Bundy Files), 3) Douglas McArthur states to this biographer that he does not understand why America asked for Japan’s unconditional surrender when Japan already agreed to surrender if the continuation of the imperial reign could continue.  America declined the offer, dropped the bombs, then let the continuation of the imperial reign anyway (William Manchester).

The aftermath includes many interesting perspectives because the global stage is set to think, “OK, what now?!?!”  What better to start off the after math than the pilots own words wondering what they just did.  “A bright light filled the plane,” wrote Col. Paul Tibbets, pilot of the Enola Gay, “We turned back to look at Hiroshima.  The city was hidden by that awful cloud, boiling up, mushrooming.  For a moment, no one spoke.  Then everyone was talking.” “Look, Look, Look at that,” said the co-pilot, Robert Lewis. Lewis said he could taste atomic fission and it tasted like lead.  THen he turned away to write in his journal, “My God, he asked himself, What have we just done?” (Special Report, “Hiroshima: August 6, 1945”).

Industrial Japan after the dropping of the atomic bomb
Industrial Japan after the dropping of the atomic bomb

General Eisenhower also comment end as well in a 1963 Newsweek interview, “The Japanese were ready to surrender and it wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing” (Ike on Ike).

But Szilard may have said it best, in 1945, “We might start an arms race between America and Russia which might end with the destruction of both countries” (Leo Szilard, His Version of the Facts, p184).

With the conclusion of the aftermath, many students, soldiers, and Koreans working in factories, died, an estimated 200,000 in Hiroshima and 70,000 in Nagasaki, lower numbers because the terrain dispersed the explosion.  But how many does it take to be an acceptable loss? An acceptable win?

Enola Gay banks away after dropping atomic bomb on Hiroshima
Enola Gay banks away after dropping atomic bomb on Hiroshima

There seems to be a puzzle in determining if there could have been another way than dropping a bomb that destroyed an entire city, started an arms race, killed thousands, and weaponized the future.  The greater good occurred, well, for whom?  The victor places their view in more accurate terms, even thinks their actions were provoked and necessary.  In reading the words of some of the people in charge of the decision to drop the atomic bombs, one can notice that most supported an alternate solution to the bombing, and only backed the dropping due to political and administrative pressures.

Hindsight is a comfort in a situation like this.

One final unanswerable, but debatable, question: Why didn’t they blow up an atomic bomb off the coast so the Japanese could witness they destructive power, a prior notification of wanton destruction, instead of on a population center?   Perhaps history will tell.