U.S.S. Reuben James sunk October 31, 1941


October 31 hosts several famous anniversaries.  It is the anniversary of Nevada’s statehood (an October surprise by Lincoln for the 1864 campaign?).  It is the anniversary of the cleaving of western, catholic Christianity, as the anniversary of Martin Luther’s tacking his 95 theses to the door of the church in Wittenburg, Germany in 1517, the formal start of the Reformation.  Maybe the original Christian trick or treat.

U.S.S. Reuben James sinking, October 31, 1941 - National Archives photo

U.S.S. Reuben James sinking, October 31, 1941 - National Archives photo

October 31 is also the anniversary of the sinking of the World War I era Clemson-class, four-stack destroyer, U.S.S. Reuben James, by a German U-boat. Woody Guthrie memorialized the sad event in the song, Reuben James, recorded by the Almanac Singers with Pete Seeger (see also here, and here), and later a hit for the Kingston Trio.  The Reuben James was sunk on October 31, 1941 — over a month before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Details via Wikipedia (just to make you school librarians nervous):

USS Reuben James (DD-245), a post-World War I four-stack Clemson-class destroyer, was the first United States Navy ship sunk by hostile action in World War II and the first named for Boatswain’s Mate Reuben James (c.1776–1838), who distinguished himself fighting in the Barbary Wars.

This history figures into the current presidential campaign in a small way:  One of the internet hoax letters complaining about Barack Obama claims that the U.S. entered World War II against Germany although the Germans had not fired a single round against the U.S.  The 115 dead from the crew of 160 aboard the James testify to the inaccuracy of that claim, wholly apart from the treaty of mutual defense Germany and Japan were parties to, which required encouraged Germany to declare war upon any nation that went to war with Japan (see comments from Rocky, below).  After the U.S. declaration of war on Japan, Germany declared war on the U.S., creating a state of war with Germany.

This history also reminds us that many Americans were loathe to enter World War II at all.  By October 1941, Japan had been occupying parts of China for ten years, and the Rape of Nanking was four years old.  The Battle of the Atlantic was in full swing, and the Battle of Britain was a year in the past, after a year of almost-nightly bombardment of England by Germany.  Despite these assaults on friends and allies of the U.S., and the losses of U.S. ships and merchant marines, the U.S. had remained officially neutral.

Many Americans on the left thought the sinking of the Reuben James to be the sort of wake-up call that would push Germany-favoring Americans to reconsider, and people undecided to side with Britain.  The political use of the incident didn’t have much time to work.  Five weeks later Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, and by the end of 1941, the U.S. was at war with the Axis Powers.

Letter to the U.S. Navy asking the fate of friends aboard the U.S.S. Reuben James, November, 1941

Letter to the U.S. Navy asking the fate of friends aboard the U.S.S. Reuben James, November, 1941

Telegram informing his family of the death of Gene Guy Evans, of Norfolk, Virginia, lost in the torpedoing of the U.S.S. Reuben James

Telegram informing his family of the death of Gene Guy Evans, of Norfolk, Virginia, lost in the torpedoing of the U.S.S. Reuben James

The Kingston Trio sings, as the names of the dead scroll:

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34 Responses to U.S.S. Reuben James sunk October 31, 1941

  1. [...] is mostly an encore post from 2008. Brad DeLong at Berkeley is “live blogging” World War II, and referred to the [...]

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  2. Black Flag® says:

    Jim

    I am finding some points of agreement and some of disagreement here, but history is more fun than a barrel of monkeys anyway so let’s keep this rolling.

    Yeah, history is like that.

    It isn’t a science like physics or chemistry.

    It is a science of human action, and humans resist being pegged into predictable little boxes.

    We only know what “is” – what may have happened by other decisions…. not so much – its all speculation.

    The only thing we can really say is “It would have turned out different”

    You say… Soviets did, right? Spain threw off their Fascist, right?
    What’s your hurry? When the people have had enough of their government, they will change it.

    They did, indeed. But from 1918 to 1991, how many millions died in the Gulags? From 1936 to 1975 (I think that’s when Franco died), how many hundreds of thousands were disappeared?

    Lots.

    But killing millions of others solves this? Nope.

    There are other, better, ways to cure a tyrant then using tyranny yourself.

    I concede that your hard and fast answer is logically consistent.

    And I concede that watching humans suffer tyrants is soul-crushing.

    Therefore, I say – if you, as the individual -wish to engage such a tyrant yourself, you have that right.

    But forcing others to follow you in such a cause by threatening these others with the same tyranny you wish to attack is…..evil.

    This did not give her the right to rape Nanking

    Nope.

    or bomb Pearl Harbor.

    ….well, that is another story….

    It was horrifically wrong and a huge mistake on Japan’s part, but the US purposely forced Japan’s hand to cause a shooting war.

    The US embargo on Japan was in fact an act of war – Japan merely turned a “de jure” war with the USA into a “de facto” war with the USA – which was the goal of FDR.

    If national sovereignty and non-interventionism is important, why didn’t the Bohemian Corporal stay out of Mussolini’s adventures in Greece and Egypt?

    Same reason the US attacked Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Pakistan, Iraq, Vietnam, Korea, …so on and so forth.

    It is what governments do….

    At some point, didn’t someone have to stop Hitler?

    Eventually, Hitler would have gone either the way of “Mubarak”, or the way of “Gaddafi”.

    The German people were the most cultured, advanced society in the world.

    Their circumstance and conclusion is a warning to all of us – no one, not even America, is immune to the confluences that lead to the rise of great terror.

    However, they would have returned to their great society … eventually.

    But, at that time, they were a great people under great pain and duress – and to expect a whole nation to be as Gandhi …. not even the deepest dreamers in a fantasy would believe that…..

    And when someone declares war on you and takes military action against you — even on the high seas — haven’t you the obligation to respond in defense of your citizenry?

    If such actions have been manipulated for this to occur?
    Do you still demand that I must fight for your cause, when you created the underlying circumstances for it to occur?
    That you lied to me about it?

    Nope.

    You opine — Germany couldn’t even cross 15 miles of water…. you think they can cross 3,000 of ocean???

    There were German U-boats off the coast of the US, and not a few. For years. They sank American ships, and not just those laden with military hardware sailing for England or the USSR.

    U-boats are not an invasion.
    And, they were hardly “immune”.

    Of the U-boat sailors of Germany, 78% of their entire force was KIA – the worst loss percentage of any part of their armed forces.

    Being in a U-boat was as a death sentence.

    But this is a false proposition on your part. If the Japanese or Al Qaeda for that matter proved anything, it is that one needed physically occupy a country to kill its citizens or destroy a part of its infrastructure. Hitler was deadly serious about his plans for “The Amerikabomber” and had the Allies not frustrated his plans, he’d have used it.

    Could a hostile nation cause damage? Sure – you can cause damage all by yourself, too!

    But a “super-bomber”, against the US?

    I laugh.

    For example, the US was building more ships per month then the entire fleet floated by the Japanese in the entire war. Every single ship the Japanese built, floating and sunk, since 1940 to 1945 – was merely a month’s construction of the USA.

    The USA was producing more planes and tanks then all other belligerent nations combined.

    A nation wanting war with the US, then and now, is utter folly.

    That his surface vessels could not venture out more than 15 miles after 1942 is true — you are correct. Why? Because of Allied resistance. Had Britain remained passive and had she not been supported by the US, the Kriegsmarine might easily have ruled the seas.

    Nah.

    Germany’s surface fleet was designed and built to operate within the North Sea arena, in range of air support.
    .
    It was never planned to “dominate” the Atlantic nor engage in fleet battles, but to prey on surface merchant ships.

    Germany had no air craft carriers.
    Germany had 4 battleships.
    Germany had 2 pocket-battle ships.
    Germany had 3 ww1 dreadnaughts.
    Germany had 6 heavy cruisers.

    ….this is about the size of a 1/3 of the US navy in Pearl alone – not counting the US carriers.

    Nah.

    History beams the early victories of the German fleet because of the huge loss of the HMS Hood – which was really just a lucky shot.

    From that shock, German surface navy was magnified to be some “super navy” – and her earlier land successes appeared to confirm the fear.

    But the German was not that impressive, and after the loss of the Bismark, Hitler pulled them all back – because he knew the truth – there was no way he could compete with the British, Canadian and American navies on the surface.

    I weep for the people

    You are unique then, which is a good thing.

    And what assurances would we have that, if he had been taken out, he wouldn’t be replaced by another pig like Streicher, Himmler or Goebbels?

    None.

    That is the human condition.

    Most people believe the best way to end tyranny is to replace it with a tyrant of their own making.

    It is no surprise that nothing really changes.

    Germany and Italy declared war after more than a year of sinking US shipping of all kinds.

    The US had been sinking German boats since 1940 … the declaration by Germany merely moved the de jure war into de facto war.

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  3. Jim says:

    Howdy Flag…

    I am finding some points of agreement and some of disagreement here, but history is more fun than a barrel of monkeys anyway so let’s keep this rolling.

    You say… Soviets did, right? Spain threw off their Fascist, right?
    What’s your hurry? When the people have had enough of their government, they will change it.

    They did, indeed. But from 1918 to 1991, how many millions died in the Gulags? From 1936 to 1975 (I think that’s when Franco died), how many hundreds of thousands were disappeared?

    Now, truth be told — I am closer to your view than you might think. I don’t support willy-nilly interventionism and I completely agree that such behavior is often (but not always) a means of empire building. That it is not always easy to quantify when and where (or how) to intervene is clear and I concede that your hard and fast answer is logically consistent.

    I also recognize that whatever causes — going back to the truly awful Treaty of Versailles or even farther — led up to an event, now is now and what has been done cannot be undone. Japan had perfectly just and logical grievances with the United States over how she was treated after the Great War. This did not give her the right to rape Nanking or bomb Pearl Harbor. No, it didn’t. Germany’s mistreatment in the interwar period was wrong. This did not give that nation the right to invade Poland (and by the way, Polish “aggression” toward Germany was a function of “Operation Canned Goods” — it was all trumped up by the brilliant propaganda machine of Josef Goebbels) or Denmark, Norway, the 3 Low Countries, the Balkans, etc. If national sovereignty and non-interventionism is important, why didn’t the Bohemian Corporal stay out of Mussolini’s adventures in Greece and Egypt?

    At some point, didn’t someone have to stop Hitler? And when someone declares war on you and takes military action against you — even on the high seas — haven’t you the obligation to respond in defense of your citizenry?

    You opine — Germany couldn’t even cross 15 miles of water…. you think they can cross 3,000 of ocean???

    There were German U-boats off the coast of the US, and not a few. For years. They sank American ships, and not just those laden with military hardware sailing for England or the USSR.

    You continue — You think America can be conquered? Nah… America is unconquerable … no nation could physically occupy a resistant America.

    Here, we agree a thousand percent. Large, populous nations with mostly unwilling citizens are unconquerable. Germany, Italy and Japan — and all their vassal states — didn’t have enough boots on the ground to make it happen. They couldn’t have in a hundred years.

    But this is a false proposition on your part. If the Japanese or Al Qaeda for that matter proved anything, it is that one needed physically occupy a country to kill its citizens or destroy a part of its infrastructure. Hitler was deadly serious about his plans for “The Amerikabomber” and had the Allies not frustrated his plans, he’d have used it. That his surface vessels could not venture out more than 15 miles after 1942 is true — you are correct. Why? Because of Allied resistance. Had Britain remained passive and had she not been supported by the US, the Kriegsmarine might easily have ruled the seas.

    You offer — As in all wars, there is rarely a clear cut “good guy/bad guy” – each has their own reasons to escalate to conflict, and WW2 is no different…Millions of Germans were murdered by the victorious allies too … do you cry for them?
    Probably not.

    I’m actually offended that you would make that presumption. I do, and more often than you might think. I weep for the people of Dresden and all the cities leveled by American (and Allied) bombers. The firebombing of Dresden was, IMO, an outright war crime…worse than the nuclear bombings in Japan…because at least the latter could be arguably defended on the basis of saving lives. (Operations Cornet and Olympic would have cost 500 thousand U.S. lives and at least three million Japanense lives…to say nothing of the Allies who might participate in a follow-on capacity.) But I digress — I do cry for innocent Germans caught in the meat grinder. So did my uncle, who served in the 79th Infantry Division. But he sure as hell shot the ones who shot at him.

    We also cry for the six million Jews, the millions of Romany, homosexuals, communists, mentally retarded or otherwise “disabled”, socialists, Africans and Pacifists who died in Hitler’s death mill. If I understand your argument, you would have allowed this murder to continue unabated until such time as the German people themselves revolted and ended the Nazi scourge?

    Flag, if a tinpot martinet with a pisspoor military machine like Franco could hang on until his death in 1975…how long do you think Uncle Adolph would have survived? And what assurances would we have that, if he had been taken out, he wouldn’t be replaced by another pig like Streicher, Himmler or Goebbels?

    The notion that Hitler and the Nazis would have eventually gone away — perhaps around 1980 or 2000 or so; the idea that slavery would have been eventually rejected by the south — when — 1870? 1890? 1930? — that’s damn cold comfort to the last European Jew being gassed in 1947 or the last slave to be lashed or hobbled by Massa in 1901. We do what we can do to end injustice when it occurs…we don’t wait for it to end…someday.

    That we cannot always do it militarily, as with the horrific regime of Stalin and his successors…or Mao and his heirs…is sad. We do what we can. Perhaps we can and should do more. But as you point out, some countries cannot be conquered…even without a bristling nuclear arsenal. But WITH such weapons, a war of liberation against the USSR or China — however noble — would have been defeated.

    Germany and Italy and Japan COULD be conquered. They were. The Confederacy could be and was. And in each case, the United States did not fire the first shot. Germany and Italy declared war after more than a year of sinking US shipping of all kinds. Japan attacked us. The Confederacy attacked a federal installation, attempting to kill U.S. citizens inside it. And the attack on Fort Sumter came after a number of northern troops were killed at various federal arsenals seized across the south. No, the war was not ONLY about slavery. It was about rebellion, southern military aggression and states’ rights. For example, the right of states to allow one set of human beings to own, maim and kill another set of human beings.

    You are right in noting that England, Holland, France and Spain ended their trafficking in human beings without bloodshed. Praise God. That’s not an indictment of northern aggression. It’s only an indictment against southern stupidity. The Europeans figured it out, the north figured it out, the south didn’t.

    Jim

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  4. Black Flag® says:

    Alan

    So you think FDR supporting Stalin was the right thing to do?

    Of course not.
    He attacked Poland, Romania, Hungry, Baltic States, Finland, China — and give a high-five by FDR.

    “The enemy of my enemy is not my friend – and lying beside evil, supporting evil, feeding evil – allows evil.

    Until Hitler was defeated nothing else mattered.

    Oh, really?

    Then please explain why the US didn’t attack Stalin, if he was far worse than Hitler? Or Mao, or all the other tyrants since then – if by your “strange” philosophy “bad men” need a killin’.

    I may be wrong on this, I think Stalin tried to put together an alliance with the west before he split Poland with Germany but the west rejected him.

    You jest!

    His goal -which has been the Russian goal for the last 300 years – was a port on the Atlantic – “The Great Game” of Europe has been to deny Russia such a port.

    I doubt Stalin was thinking he could just “buying” such a port……

    The pact splitting Poland was to give him time to rebuild his military. If the west had allied with Stalin earlier, they would have saved millions from death

    .

    Nah.
    Socialists and Communists cut from the same cloth, but like in almost every sphere of humanity, the greatest hatred for one’s fellow man is of the man who believes just “slightly” differently then one’s self.

    The greatest wars are always between “almost like minds” – example, Protestants and Catholics, (the Reformation Wars) – I mean, what is their difference…. merely who a man they call the Pope…

    Same with Socialists and Communists – essentially the same, except one uses private property for social means and the other demands full ownership of property for social means. They hate each other.

    After WW2 was a new universe. To say the allies should have let Hitler win to prevent what happened later is wrong.

    Who claims Hitler would have won?

    And without full cooperation with Russia during the war , Russia would have been knocked out and we would all be speaking German, instead of American .

    Utter nonsense.

    It is very doubtful Germans could have maintained control over Europe – too few Germans, too many everyone else.

    The most they could have done was install puppets, like Spain, but Hitlerite Germany really had no plans at all other than reunification of the German Empire as it was before WW1.

    They were as surprised by the war’s expansion, and their early victories as much as their enemies.

    Re; Speaking “American”
    Germans lost the war and they aren’t speaking “Russian”
    Japan lost the war and they aren’t speaking Chinese.

    To believe a European power, who was wholly incapable of crossing 15 miles of water to attack an enemy and barely capable of invading via land an area of the earth no bigger than twice the State of Texas …. would cross 3,000 miles of water and invade and take over America, whose industrial capacity was greater then the rest of the world combined, whose resource base was greater than the rest of the world combined, who had no enemies on any land border, whose population was one of the largest of that time

    ….. is utterly naive.

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  5. Alan Scott says:

    Black Flag,

    ” Stalin slaughter millions and invaded Poland, oppressed the Eastern Bloc after the war.

    So you think FDR supporting Stalin was the right thing to do? I wonder what those who suffered by such moral equivalence would say to you…. ”

    But of course. In all things you have priorities. For Hitler to be defeated was the overwhelming priority. Stalin was killing millions of Hitler’s soldiers. Until Hitler was defeated nothing else mattered.

    I may be wrong on this, I think Stalin tried to put together an alliance with the west before he split Poland with Germany but the west rejected him. The pact splitting Poland was to give him time to rebuild his military. If the west had allied with Stalin earlier, they would have saved millions from death .

    After WW2 was a new universe. To say the allies should have let Hitler win to prevent what happened later is wrong. And without full cooperation with Russia during the war , Russia would have been knocked out and we would all be speaking German, instead of American .

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  6. Black Flag® says:

    Jim

    And, PS, the War between the States had nothing to do with slavery, but whether or not States or the Federal government was the sovereign of the nation.

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  7. Black Flag® says:

    Yo Jim!

    You’re busy on the blog tonight!

    Your argument is that Fascism and Nazism would have eventually collapsed under the weight of their own oppression, right?

    Soviets did, right?
    Spain threw off their Fascist, right?

    What’s your hurry?

    When the people have had enough of their government, they will change it.

    U.S. involvement was unwarranted and the German and Italian declarations of war on us were merely a matter of the Axis forces defending themselves against Anglo-American aggression. Correct?

    Oh hell no.

    How far back do you want to go for the linkage of cause/effect? …. We can go all the way back to the rise of Napoleon if you’d like…..

    But what Europe did or did not was Europe’s problem, not Americas.

    It was a desire of America to become a “power” in the world, and as all Empires start, they started intervening in areas of the worlds where they had no business … all under the guise of “Defending something”.

    I was watching a series of BBC videos on the Roman Empire. They noted something interesting…. every war Roman embarked on was justified as a “…defensive measure to protect Rome…” even if there were no threats.

    No different then today, they did not want to appear the aggressors, so they merely made up stories to cover their expansions.

    So if the U.S. had not supported Britain and the Commonwealth, Germany and Italy would not have sunk our ships or declared war on the US. If I am not following you correctly, let me know.

    Probably not – they were not stupid.

    I mean, Germany couldn’t even cross 15 miles of water…. you think they can cross 3,000 of ocean???

    You think America can be conquered? Nah… America is unconquerable … no nation could physically occupy a resistant America.

    Hell, the US can’t even do that in Iraq … the world’s greatest military power has a problem with a 5th rate country that refuses to surrender…. imagine America….

    More, am I hearing you argue that Britain and the Commonwealth, along with France, should not have declared war on Germany in 39?

    If they did or did not, why should it matter to the USA?

    What do you think the Poles ought to have done?

    Poland was a country that did not exist until 1918.

    It was cut out of a defeated Russia and a defeated Austria, and its existence, and the manner of its creation, and the actions of its government, really pissed off the Germans and Russians.

    The Poles were hostile to the German population in the Corridor and began to frustrate their commitment that the Treaty that created their nation, that is, allow access of Germans to East Prussia and the Danzig corridor. (article 89, Versailles Treaty – “….Poland will allow persons, goods, vessels, carriages, wagons, and mail ……”)

    Hitler spent 10 years negotiating with Poland – even signing an alliance with them – even offering to trade land – to no avail.

    Poland even told the US ambassador that Poland would invade if Germany continue to provoke East Prussia reunification.

    As in all wars, there is rarely a clear cut “good guy/bad guy” – each has their own reasons to escalate to conflict, and WW2 is no different.

    At least two million Poles were murdered by the Nazis,

    Millions of Germans were murdered by the victorious allies too … do you cry for them?

    Probably not.

    Just wait for it to collapse under its own weight?

    It worked against the Iron Curtain.

    This is the same thing I hear from White Supremacists and Confederate Revisionists who believe human slavery in the southern US would have eventually died out.

    With no doubt, it would have.

    No other nation needed a war to end slavery – even Holland eventually ended her slave trade all by herself, as did England and France before.

    Slavery is the lowest form of economic activity possible – the South would have been driven by economic necessity to end it, merely to maintain its competition with the world in goods and services.

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  8. Jim says:

    Hi Flag!

    Your argument is that Fascism and Nazism would have eventually collapsed under the weight of their own oppression, right? U.S. involvement was unwarranted and the German and Italian declarations of war on us were merely a matter of the Axis forces defending themselves against Anglo-American aggression. Correct?

    So if the U.S. had not supported Britain and the Commonwealth, Germany and Italy would not have sunk our ships or declared war on the US. If I am not following you correctly, let me know.

    More, am I hearing you argue that Britain and the Commonwealth, along with France, should not have declared war on Germany in 39?

    What do you think the Poles ought to have done? I presume you believe a nation has the right to defend itself militarily, so I’ll go forward under the assumption that you feel Poland was wronged by Nazi Germany (Operation Canned Good notwithstanding) and was right to protect her borders.

    Poland fell.

    At least two million Poles were murdered by the Nazis, despite heroic Polish resistance. Some Poles, tragically, collaborated with the Nazis. But regardless, are you saying that if a weak nation is conquered — no matter the horror visited upon her — it is not the obligation of her neighbors to come to her defense?

    So then Denmark, Norway, Luxembourg, Holland, Belgium, Yugoslavia, Greece…too bad, so sad. No help from Paris or London. No help from Washington or Moscow. This is your moral response to Nazism? Just wait for it to collapse under its own weight?

    This is the same thing I hear from White Supremacists and Confederate Revisionists who believe human slavery in the southern US would have eventually died out. There was no need for war or for a heavy handed federal government telling the states how to treat their own property. After all, they bought the slaved with their own hard-earned money.

    Am I understanding you? As you have pointed out, clarity is not my strong suit…

    Cheers!

    Jim

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  9. Black Flag® says:

    Alan

    How does history prove FDR right? I think there is a lot of historical revisionism – because the US went to war, revisionists need to find a reason for it after the fact

    Stalin slaughter millions and invaded Poland, oppressed the Eastern Bloc after the war.

    So you think FDR supporting Stalin was the right thing to do? I wonder what those who suffered by such moral equivalence would say to you….

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  10. Alan Scott says:

    Ed Darrell,

    I personally agree with what FDR did. History proves it was right. My only point is that we did break all kinds of international laws and standards . Those on the left should remember that when they jump all over what Bush did in Iraq and Afghanistan .

    In fact if everything that FDR did before Pearl Harbor had come out, he likely would have been impeached. The British stopped an American leaker in Britain from disclosing publicly some of it.

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  11. Black Flag® says:

    Ed,
    Meant to say
    No argument from me on this

    Didn’t mean to infer “you didn’t have an argument”

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  12. Black Flag® says:

    Ed,

    It’s not like Germany honored any declaration of neutrality;

    No argument.

    Neither did Russia, nor Poland – that’s right, Poland… they entered Czechoslovakia and seized territory from the Czechs when Hitler marched in…and then complained when Hitler did the same to the Poles.

    But because one nation acts against international law, does that grant other nation’s respite when they act in the same way?


    Art. 6. The supply, in any manner, directly or indirectly, by a neutral Power to a belligerent Power, of war-ships, ammunition, or war material of any kind whatever, is forbidden.

    The above is pretty clear to me.

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  13. Ed Darrell says:

    But, BF, if you had bothered to read to the next point on that site you failed to cite, you’d have seen this:

    Karl Doenitz, Memoirs, Ten Years And Twenty Days, DaCapo Press (Annapolis, 1997) at 183.
    In May of 1939, when Hitler made his irrevocable decision to attack Poland, and foresaw the possibility at least of a war with England and France—in consequence, he told his military commanders:

    “Dutch and Belgian air bases must be occupied…. Declarations of neutrality must be ignored.”

    On August 22nd in the same year, he told his military commanders that England and France, in his opinion, would not “violate the neutrality of these countries.” At the same time he assured Belgium and Holland and Luxemburg that he would respect their neutrality; and on the 6th October, 1939, after the Polish campaign, he repeated this assurance. On the 7th October General von Brauchitsch directed Army Group B to prepare “for the immediate invasion of Dutch and Belgian territory, if the political situation so demands.” In a series of orders, which were signed by the defendants Keitel and Jodl, the attack was fixed for the 10th November, 1939, but it was postponed from time to time until May of 1940 on account of weather conditions and transport problems.

    At the conference on the 23rd November, 1939, Hitler said:

    “We have an Achilles heel: The Ruhr. The progress of the war depends on the possession of the Ruhr. If England and France push through Belgium and Holland into the Ruhr, we shall be in the greatest danger…. Certainly England and France will assume the offensive against Germany when they are armed. England and France have means of pressure to bring Belgium and Holland to request English and French help. In Belgium and Holland the sympathies are all for France and England…. If the French Army marches into Belgium in order to attack us, it will be too late for us. We must anticipate them…. We shall sow the English coast with mines which cannot be cleared. This mine warfare with the Luftwaffe demands a different starting point. England cannot live without its imports. We can feed ourselves. The permanent sowing of mines on the English coasts will bring England to her knees. However, this can only occur if we have occupied Belgium and Holland . . . My decision is unchangeable; I shall attack France and England at the most favourable and quickest moment. Breach of the neutrality of Belgium and Holland is meaningless. No one will question that when we have won. We shall not bring about the breach of neutrality as idiotically as it was in 1914. If we do not break the neutrality, then England and France will. Without attack, the war is not to be ended victoriously.”

    On the 10th May, 1940, the German forces invaded the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxemburg. On the same day the German Ambassadors handed to the Netherlands and Belgian Governments a memorandum alleging that the British and French armies, with the consent of Belgium and Holland, were planning to march through those countries to attack the Ruhr, and justifying the invasion on these grounds.

    It’s not like Germany honored any declaration of neutrality; nor is Lauterpacht’s view to be regarded as a clear statement on international law on neutrality, especially in the face of the Hague Conventions the duties of Neutral Powers in Naval War:

    Article 1. Belligerents are bound to respect the sovereign rights of neutral Powers and to abstain, in neutral territory or neutral waters, from any act which would, if knowingly permitted by any Power, constitute a violation of neutrality.

    Art. 2. Any act of hostility, including capture and the exercise of the right of search, committed by belligerent war-ships in the territorial waters of a neutral Power, constitutes a violation of neutrality and is strictly forbidden.

    Art. 3. When a ship has been captured in the territorial waters of a neutral Power, this Power must employ, if the prize is still within its jurisdiction, the means at its disposal to release the prize with its officers and crew, and to intern the prize crew.
    If the prize is not in the jurisdiction of the neutral Power, the captor Government, on the demand of that Power, must liberate the prize with its officers and crew.

    Art. 4. A prize court cannot be set up by a belligerent on neutral territory or on a vessel in neutral waters.

    Art. 5. Belligerents are forbidden to use neutral ports and waters as a base of naval operations against their adversaries, and in particular to erect wireless telegraphy stations or any apparatus for the purpose of communicating with the belligerent forces on land or sea.

    Art. 6. The supply, in any manner, directly or indirectly, by a neutral Power to a belligerent Power, of war-ships, ammunition, or war material of any kind whatever, is forbidden.

    Art. 7. A neutral Power is not bound to prevent the export or transit, for the use of either belligerent, of arms, ammunition, or, in general, of anything which could be of use to an army or fleet.

    Surely Germany regarded U.S. actions as non-neutral. I don’t think Germany’s obviously biased views should be granted a great deal of credibility on this point.

    Like

  14. Black Flag® says:

    Ed,

    Who was sending troops to Europe? I think that’s not correct.

    That small little country that no one in the US can ever name…..

    Canada.

    Like

  15. Ed Darrell says:
    The ships were guarding U.S. merchant ships carrying goods to Europe.

    No, they were guarding munition ships and troop carriers.

    Who was sending troops to Europe? I think that’s not correct.

    Like

  16. Black Flag® says:

    Ed

    What principle of international law says a nation may not trade with whom it chooses? Nothing even from so far back as Grotius suggests what you claim

    Hersch Lauterpacht, Oppenheim’s International Law, Vol. 2. pp.661-663 (7th Ed., 1952)

    …Although they had not declared war against us and were, therefore, from the point of view of international law, still in a state of neutrality, the United States had begun, very shortly after the start of the war, to give Britain an ever-increasing measure of support and assistance. American naval forces had been actively engaged in helping the British. The whole vast resources of American armament production and industry had been placed at the disposal of the opponents of the Axis Powers…. The American attitude, which was completely contrary to every tenet of international law, was of the utmost military, material and moral benefit to Britain…
    .

    There’s a good case to be made that Germany could have won World War I had the U.S. not intervened when it did.

    I do not agree.

    The European powers were bled white by 1917, and the last German offensive (1918 Spring Offensive) prior to the American arrival failed – and totally exhausted the German Armed Forces – a quarter of a million casualties in first few week – amounts that could not be sustained.

    By July, the Germans lost over a million men in the offensive.

    Had the Americans not entered the war, the European Powers would have fallen into a stalemate and armistice – probably with the outcome being a return to pre-war borders.

    I don’t think there’s a good case to be made that it would have ended in a stalemate, particularly once Germany repositioned the troops from the Eastern Front after the Bolsheviks pulled Russia out of the war.

    Ed, she had already done that – 500,000 extra troops that came from the Eastern Front were used in the Spring Offensive of 1918

    http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/german_spring_offensive_of_1918.htm

    The “Allies” were equally in no position to beat the Germans.

    The last offensive of the Allies before the Aug 1918 push was on 3 May 1917, during the Nivelle Offensive – where the French troops mutinied – after which all Allied offensive action was suspended (until the arrival of the Americans)

    I would argue that without a Marshall Plan type of program to unite Europe into peacetime industrial production, World War II may have been inevitable in any case.

    Of course, all speculation – however, I do not believe so.

    WW1 was the worst war in history to that time – and, had the US not intervened, the armistice terms would have set conditions upon the Europeans themselves to seek peace – much like what happened in Europe after the Reformation Wars.

    I’ve never heard anyone before argue that the U.S.’s aid to the Allies was a cause of the rise of Naziism, and I think it is an argument not grounded in history and ultimately unsupportable.

    Ed, your reading list needs desperate expansion.

    It is arguable that the victory of the Allied Powers was the first step in the beginning of the end of Western Civilization.

    That victory heralded Communist Russia, Stalin, Hitler, WW2, the Nuclear Bomb, the re-drawing of borders not only in Europe but Africa, Middle East and Asia, the birth of American exceptionalism – all of which, today, the world still suffers the consequences of such mindless Empire realignments.

    The ships were guarding U.S. merchant ships carrying goods to Europe.

    No, they were guarding munition ships and troop carriers.

    I think it does matter a whit. Do you regard U.S. trade as a right?

    Certainly – however, consequences of trade with powers at war tends to lead the nation into war.

    Do you regard U.S. trade in defense of freedom a good thing?

    I do not believe you, nor the USA, is capable of defining freedom for other people.

    Do you regard U.S. trade in opposition to tyranny as a good thing?

    When a nation engages in tyranny under the guise of opposing it, the only victor is tyranny.

    Like

  17. Ed Darrell says:

    BF said:

    The US broke international law by declaring neutrality but involving itself with one side of the belligerency.

    What principle of international law says a nation may not trade with whom it chooses? Nothing even from so far back as Grotius suggests what you claim.

    The WW2 was a consequence of WW1 and the involvement of the US there – had the US not involved itself in a foreign entanglement, WW1 would have ended in a stalemate, Germany probably would not have given rise to Hitler, and WW2 may not have happened.

    There’s a good case to be made that Germany could have won World War I had the U.S. not intervened when it did. I don’t think there’s a good case to be made that it would have ended in a stalemate, particularly once Germany repositioned the troops from the Eastern Front after the Bolsheviks pulled Russia out of the war.

    However, in retrospect it is quite clear that, at least on the points of dealing with Germany, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson was right in those part of his 14 Points that urged no reparations be required, and that Germany be reassimilated into the family of European nations. It was the brutal nature of the Treaty of Versailles that pushed Germany into economic straits more than the Allied Victory, and it was from those straits that the Germans elected Hitler in the first place.

    I would argue that without a Marshall Plan type of program to unite Europe into peacetime industrial production, World War II may have been inevitable in any case.

    I’ve never heard anyone before argue that the U.S.’s aid to the Allies was a cause of the rise of Naziism, and I think it is an argument not grounded in history and ultimately unsupportable.

    Because these “neutral” ships were guarding transports of armed men and weapons in a war effort – hence, not neutral at all.

    The ships were guarding U.S. merchant ships carrying goods to Europe. That is not an act of war — they were guarding against acts of war. Surely trade is not a justification for the attack the Germans made on the merchant ships and navy of a neutral nation.

    Regardless the cargo, Germany’s attack was illegal under international law, and an act of war.

    It matters not one wit if I did or did not.

    I think it does matter a whit. Do you regard U.S. trade as a right? Do you regard U.S. trade in defense of freedom a good thing? Do you regard U.S. trade in opposition to tyranny as a good thing?

    Under the rules you’re proposing above, the Barbary Pirates were wholly justified in attacking U.S. ships, too — you might benefit from some reading of history. Jefferson, Wilson, and both Roosevelts, disagree with your position. A wise man would figure out why, and ponder whether they are not correct.

    Like

  18. Black Flag® says:

    Ed,

    So you agree we should have just caved to the Nazis, BF.

    Who is this “we” you refer to?

    The US broke international law by declaring neutrality but involving itself with one side of the belligerency.

    I think there’s a good case to be made for the U.S. having a strategic and tactical, and long term interest in Britain’s welfare and standing up to Germany.

    I do not.

    The WW2 was a consequence of WW1 and the involvement of the US there – had the US not involved itself in a foreign entanglement, WW1 would have ended in a stalemate, Germany probably would not have given rise to Hitler, and WW2 may not have happened.

    In any case, why would a nation like Germany sink ships of a nation officially neutral?

    Because these “neutral” ships were guarding transports of armed men and weapons in a war effort – hence, not neutral at all.

    Obviously, unlike most Americans, you had no friends on the good Reuben James. So it goes.

    It matters not one wit if I did or did not.

    Send a ship to war against another nation who is not at war with you is an act of war.

    The point you failed to make: Germany shot first at USA.
    The truth: USA “shoot” first at Germany.

    Like

  19. Ed Darrell says:

    So you agree we should have just caved to the Nazis, BF.

    I think there’s a good case to be made for the U.S. having a strategic and tactical, and long term interest in Britain’s welfare and standing up to Germany. In any case, why would a nation like Germany sink ships of a nation officially neutral?

    Obviously, unlike most Americans, you had no friends on the good Reuben James. So it goes.

    Like

  20. Black Flag® says:

    Alan,

    Yep, it did.

    But at the time, no one cared.

    Like

  21. Alan Scott says:

    Black Flag,

    I know we were violating our neutrality with our anti submarine campaign, but what about the lend lease of 50 destroyers? I know it violated American Law.

    Like

  22. Black Flag® says:

    Ellie,

    Thanks for helping me find my way thru the bubbles in Ed’s bath tube.

    Like

  23. Ellie says:

    Your post is still there…under the new blog posting rather than this one, the old posting.

    http://timpanogos.wordpress.com/2011/10/31/we-remember-reuben-james-sunk-october-31-1941/#comment-165440

    Like

  24. Black Flag® says:

    Ed,
    Did you delete my post?

    No, America “shot first” by escorting British ships in contradiction to the Neutrality Acts of International Law.

    Like

  25. Larry Kart says:

    About Woody Guthrie and the “Reuben James” song, please! Guthrie, being a loyal American CPUSA figure in this respect, wrote (and recorded in May 1941) the fiercely isolationist anti-war song “Plow Under”:

    http://www.woodyguthrie.de/plow.html

    this when the Hitler-Stalin Pact was still in effect, and CPUSA policy was thus anti-war as far as US involvement was concerned. When “circumstances” changed with the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in late-June 1941, it was “Reuben James”/now we must got to war time. Quite cynical.

    Like

  26. [...] U.S.S. Reuben James sunk October 31, 1941 « Millard Fillmore's Bathtub: [...]

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  27. [...] is mostly an encore post from 2008. Brad DeLong at Berkeley is “live blogging” World War II, and referred to the [...]

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  28. Rocky, I am not sure Hitler only made one greatest error. 1. Too many fronts – three! 2. He did not have a Navy of appreciable size that could threaten his adversaries, other than to attack merchant shipping. 3. Failed to have enough discipline and resources to win the air war over Britain. Thus establishing air supremacy over Europe. 4. Failure to understand the importance on Germany when the US came into the war. 5. Planning and conducting an aggressive war. In short, he took too many risks with his strategy, military forces & resources without have his proverbial flanks protected.

    Like

  29. supratall says:

    Thank you.

    I like to read everything I can find on U.S.S. Reuben James, DD245. You see, my uncle was MMC Leonard Alva Keever. My mother keeps all the old clippings on the sinking, and there’s a stone for him in the family plot in Little River, Ks.

    Like

  30. P Hemcher says:

    Thank you for this. My husband is proudly serving in the Navy , and no one had ever heard of this. No one in todays Navy knows that my grandmothers brother, Harold Beasley, gave his life. No one knows the Beasley family in a small town in West Virginia was it’s first Gold Star Family. God Bless all our military past, present, and future this Memorial Day 2010.

    Like

  31. Ed Griffith says:

    Thank you.

    I like to read everything I can find on U.S.S. Reuben James, DD245. You see, my uncle was MMC Leonard Alva Keever. My mother keeps all the old clippings on the sinking, and there’s a stone for him in the family plot in Little River, Ks.

    Like

  32. Ed Darrell says:

    Thank you, R. G. Shackleton. Please drop in often, and tell us what you remember.

    Like

  33. RGSHACKLETON says:

    HERBERT BURRELL WAS A CLASSMATE OF MINE AT CLEVELAND WEST HIGH IN THE LATE 30S AND EARLY 40S. HE LEFT SCHOOL EARLY TO JOIN THE NAVY IN 1941,AND WAS, I BELIEVE, THE FIRST CLEVELAND OHIO MAN TO DIE IN THE RUN-UP TO WORLD WAR II HOSTILIES. HE WAS A BRIGHT CHEERFUL TEENAGER, THE KIND OF LAD THAT ANY PARENT WOULD BE PROUD TO HAVE. I HAVE NEVER FORGOTTEN HERB AND I DEEPLY APPRECIATE THIS CHANCE TO CONTRIBUTE A NOTE IN HIS MEMORY, AND HIS SHIPMATES. THEY DID THEIR DUTY.

    Like

  34. Rocky says:

    Actually, Article 3 of the Tripartite Pact required the parties to render assistance in the event that one of the signatories was ATTACKED by a “Power at present not involved…” (i.e. the U.S.). Technically, Germany had an out since it was Japan that attacked the U.S., an out the Japanese used to justify not getting involved after Germany’s attack on the Soviet Union.

    This was possibly Hitler’s greatest error. He handed the European war to pro-British in America on a silver platter when he really did not have to.

    Like

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