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Military History - May 2012 - Letters From Readers

Originally published on HistoryNet.com. Published Online: March 01, 2012 
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War as Population Control
I agree with everything Charles Stanish says in the [March] Interview about "War and the Earliest States," but I would add one big underlying pressure that has caused wars, for the most part, all the way up till the present: Overpopulation. It is a biological fact that when a species overextends the resources available to support its population, one of three things happens: 1) It expands or explores to find new sources of what it needs to survive (colonize); 2) There is internal conflict, in which the burgeoning population is thinned out from within (civil war); 3) There is a conflict with neighboring communities/states, in which it takes the needed resources from them, and in the process a large percentage of the population is killed (world wars). In each case the end result is that the population is pared down to a level that the resources necessary for them to survive is gained.

Major Douglas W. Roberts
U.S Army (Ret.)
Pagosa Springs, Colo.

War Re-examined
Your January 2012 issue was, as usual, excellent, and I always learn something new from your columns and materials. Unfortunately, the interview with Andrew Roberts was not one of them. His conclusion—stated at the end of the interview—was that "when it came to killing Germans on the ground, the Russians were far and away more effective [than the British and Americans]."

As a matter of fact, they were not. As John Mosier far more accurately points out in his recent book, Hitler vs. Stalin, the Germans maintained a Russian-to-German kill ratio of nearly 5-to-1, and this continued consistently throughout the war. The British and Americans on the other hand maintained a slight upper hand on the Germans with a kill ratio better than 1-to-1.

Scott Tips
Torrance, Calif.

Andrew Roberts responds: As I think was very clear from the interview, and the statistic that I gave about how four out of every five Germans killed on battlefields died on the Eastern Front, I was talking about absolute numbers rather than pro rata. The Russians killed four times more Germans than the Western Allies did and thus were "more effective"; that is the only point I was trying to make, and it stands.

Andrew Roberts selected Georgy Zhukov as the most effective Russian general in World War II. He ignored Semyon Timoshenko, who really was the most effective.

During the Winter War the tiny Finnish army was destroying Soviet units wholesale, [in part due to] earlier [Soviet] purges of officers and the fact that political commissars were allowed to countermand the orders of tactical commanders. Frustrated, [Soviet Premier] Joseph Stalin gave Timoshenko a free hand in making the Soviet army effective. His first move was to eliminate the political commissars. Had not Timoshenko reformed the army, Zhukov would have had a political commissar at his elbow, countermanding his decisions, thus making him a less effective general.

Lt. Col. Wells B. Lange
U.S. Army (Ret.)
Lafayette, Colo.

Race Relations
Thank you for the overdue story of black citizens fighting for their country ["Crossing the Great Divide," January]. My mother, Genevieve Boland, was a lieutenant on General Dwight D. Eisenhower's staff at Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) during World War II in England, Paris and Berlin. She was a translator and was at Nuremburg, reading through captured German papers.

During the Civil Rights struggles of the '60s she had a number of things to say about how black GIs were treated during the war. Mom said the black soldiers were asked to do every dangerous, dirty and demeaning job in the Army, but they did them well. From clearing minefields and unexploded ordinance to moving the wounded and the dead, they worked long hours in terrible conditions in castoff uniforms and got fed after everyone else. During the Battle of the Bulge they worked long days in horrible weather for weeks to keep supplies moving. She said many other things about the war, and I used to ask her to write all of this down, but she said it was too painful to remember.

Lord bless each and every combat veteran.

Richard M. Chasm
Dillard, Ore.

On P. 65 is the note, "The flight-training program at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama produced hundreds of qualified pilots, many of whom served in Europe." That is a little misleading. Black U.S. military pilots received only their civilian and primary flight training at Tuskegee Institute. They then transferred to Tuskegee Army Air Field—an Army Air Forces facility, not part of Tuskegee Institute—for their basic, advanced and transition pilot training.

On P. 66, under March 24, 1945, is a note that Captain Roscoe C. Brown Jr. was the first black pilot to shoot down a jet fighter, and that two other black pilots also shot down enemy jets that day. There is a probability that although Brown was the leader of the flight, one of the other two pilots actually shot down an enemy jet before Brown did. This is from a study by Frank Olynyk of the American Fighter Aces Association.

Daniel L. Haulman
Chief, Organizational History Branch
Air Force Historical Research Agency
Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala.

The article "Crossing the Great Divide" presents a timeline describing "the long, troubled history of race relations in the U.S. military." It was well written but ignores the damage to such relations that occurred under the administration of President Woodrow Wilson. In 1913 Wilson imposed segregation in the federal civil service. This spread to the armed forces, and while he issued no formal executive order and no laws were enacted, segregation was encouraged and widely practiced. Wilson employed strong segregationists in his cabinet, including Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels. Blacks were barred from the Marine Corps and the Army Air Corps, and in the Navy they were assigned only menial jobs. Of the 367,000 black Americans drafted, most went to the Army. The results were manifested in various ways until President Harry Truman issued Executive Order 9981, ending segregation in the military and requiring equality of treatment and opportunity for its members.

Colonel Frederick A. Hanna
U.S. Army Reserve (Ret.)
Ridgeland, Miss.

Pearl Strategy
[Re. "The Mystery of Pearl Harbor," by Jeffrey Record, January:] As a student in the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College–Intermediate Level Education (CGSC–ILE) course, I found Record's discussion about Japan's strategic thought and planning that led up to the attack on Pearl Harbor very interesting. A sizeable portion of the CGSC–ILE curriculum deals with the analysis and implementation of national and military strategy. It seems that while Japan correctly ascertained the U.S. operational center of gravity as the Pacific Fleet (specifically the aircraft carriers), it made a folly of believing the U.S. strategic center of gravity was the will of its people. One of the aims of the attack at Pearl Harbor was to shock and demoralize the U.S. population so that it would sue for an early peace. "Shock and awe" worked as well then as it does today. The true strategic center of gravity for the United States was its industrial capability. By attacking Pearl Harbor, Japan started a war with no ways or means to affect it. And while they certainly shocked and demoralized the United States with the destruction of the Pacific Fleet, the overall effect was the opposite of what was intended. The U.S. population was enraged and would settle for nothing less than absolute and total destruction of the Japanese empire.

While conflict with the United States was likely inevitable by 1941, attacking Pearl Harbor was a strategic blunder. It did not realistically address the long-term issue of the United States' vast superiority in men and materiel. It essentially traded a stunning tactical and operational victory for strategic defeat and, ultimately, the near destruction of Japan itself.

Major Paul R. Labrador
CGSC–ILE, Staff Group 30A
U.S. Army
Fort Belvoir, Va.

Great Escapes
Re. The "Escape from Laos" section of "10 Great POW Escapes" [by Stephan Wilkinson, November]: When I got to the part reading, "Those in charge of approving such a multiplane mission said they had no record of a downed U.S. airman in the area," I felt I had to write and [share] my involvement in that mission.

When I received the call that morning of July 20, 1966, the pilot asked me if we had reports of any pilots that went down. I replied, "No, but I'll check with the duty officer." The duty officer said there were no reports of any pilots down. I relayed that message back to the pilot, and he told me there was an individual on the ground, wearing a flight suit and waving a white flag. I relayed the info back to the duty officer, and he decided to scramble the "Jolly Greens" . I found out later that evening the pilot rescued had escaped from a Laotian POW camp.

When I talked to Dieter Dengler in 1997, he told me he thought the Air Force had given up on him.

Tech. Sgt. Renaldo Browne
U.S. Air Force (Ret.)
Richmond, Va.

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