war on americans

‘As we neared a crossroad the shells were falling so thick that we had to pull up and wait for an opportunity to dash by. It soon came. Ahead of us was another sharp turn leading down into a little valley at the other end of which was the post. Suddenly a car appeared, running towards us like mad. As it approached we recognized Bud Riley, his eyes bulging out of his head as he leaned over the steering wheel watching the road. He never even glanced at us. His car was full of wounded. As we passed he yelled: “God be good to you fellows! You are going into Hell!”

On receiving this news we let up on the speed a bit, because, if we were going where Eddie said, we’d rather take our time…’

September 1917, near Verdun, American ambulance driver’s diary – Ambulancing on the French Front – Photo: September 18 1917, running like mad, near Verdun.

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February 19th 1942: Japanese internment begins

On this day in 1942, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed executive order 9066 which allowed the military to relocate Japanese-Americans to internment camps. A climate of paranoia descended on the US following the attack on the naval base at Pearl Harbor by the Empire of Japan, which prompted the US to join the Second World War. Americans of Japanese ancestry became targets for persecution, as there were fears that they would collude with Japan and pose a national security threat. This came to a head with FDR’s executive order, which led to 120,000 Japanese-Americans being rounded up and held in camps. The constitutionality of the controversial measure was upheld by the Supreme Court in Korematsu v. United States (1944). Interned Americans suffered great material and personal hardship, with most people losing their property and some losing their lives to illness or the violence of camp sentries. The victims of internment and their families eventually received an official government apology in 1988 and reparations began in the 1990s. This dark episode of American history is often forgotten in the narrative of US involvement in the Second World War, but Japanese internment poses a stark reminder of the dangers of paranoia and scapegoating.

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The Forgotten American Hero Of The Great War

Meet Alvin C. York, one of the most decorated American soldiers during the First World War. He received the Medal of Honor for one spectacular attack during the Battle of the Argonne. He was put in a group of 17 Americans soldiers who were ordered to infiltrate the German lines and take out one machine gun position. They were able to capture a number of German soldiers, but then small arms fire killed six and wounded three. Suddenly, York was the highest ranking remaining soldier.

He took command, and immediately ordered his men to guard the prisoners while he – by himself– went to attack that one machine gun position they had been ordered to take out. He attacked the German machine gun nest – again, by himself! – with just his rifle and his pistol. That’s right: he took a rifle to a machine gun fight. York ended up taking 35 machine guns, killing at least 25 enemy soldiers, and capturing 132 enemy soldiers.

York was lionized for decades, although he has largely been forgotten by newer generations. A 1941 film about him, Sergeant York, was that year’s highest-grossing film. And the man who played York, Gary Cooper, won the Academy Award for Best Actor that year.