On the term of surrender in war … and the costs for the road to peace

10 04 2011

Just read the study by Perlman on the attitudes towards surrender conditions in the war against the Japanese in WWII. He digs into what the term “unconditional surrender” might mean, and reports that it meant different things to different [US] stakeholders.


His report — “Unconditional Surrender, Demobilization, and the Atomic Bomb” — provides some information that one should keep in mind when looking at the government’s decisions in our days about engaging and getting out of ware-like involvements. Perlman’s focus is on what happened in the policy-making arenas, when the objectives for the war against Japan was made more concrete, and when the rules for ending hostilities were formulated.

Winner takes all … responsibility for management

One interesting insight is that even a major country on the winning side in hostilities has limits on what it can engage upon after shooting ends. Perlman states that decision made by the allies was that for Germany, they as winner would take on the entire management of the German homeland. This means that they had to create a huge administrative apparatus, populate it with suitably skilled persons, and then run this foreign country for an unstated number of years. The main burden of this work lay on the military branch, specifically the army.

It was apparently obvious that the military arms of the US did not want to be involved in a similar complete take-over of Japan. At least one reason was that it was difficult to find persons to populate such a completely covering bureaucracy. Some important factors (though they are not stated by Perlman) may be language and culture. But also a feeling that maybe it would be better to rule “by proxy”. So instead of taking over Japan, which would imply a massive amount of occupation forces, it would be much more advantageous to get the Japanese to do the administration, but along the lines of a political and policy framework drawn up by the US.

Surrender … on what terms?

Looking at the military situation in the period late 1944 until summer 1945, there was on the horizon a dreaded invasion of Japan mainland. From a military-political point of view, the optimal outcome would be for the Tokyo to surrender unconditionally before an American invasion was launched. This would preserve some order in the administrative  system of Japan, and by command from top, that administration could then be the instrument for persistent pacification of Japan.

An alternative scenario was that no surrender was announced, the American invasion of Japan mainland would be launched, huge number of casualties would be seen, the American forces would have to fight for every yard of land, and at the end there would be nothing left of a useful societal administrative structure, and that would force the American Army to take complete responsibility for managing Japan.

This was a dilemma, that partly influenced the way “unconditional surrender” was explicated. Different parties took different stances here. Some were pragmatic, and said that “unconditional” meant “there will be conditions, but these will not be negotiable”; while others said that “unconditional” meant that the Japanese would have to surrender and have guarantees at all concerning what would happen.

This is where speaking with different voices was both a blessing and curse. A blessing because one could target different messages to different audiences, and thereby try to satisfy everybody, despite the fact that there was no consistently fully explicated policy about terms and conditions for surrender.

It was a curse, because some Japanese factions could — and did — interpret what they heard as a step-back from the kind of strict “unconditional surrender” that Germany had to accept. And that such a step-back was caused by lack of American determination, and a war weariness on the part of the American citizens. Hence, by not accepting “unconditional surrender”, the Japanese could at the end of the day get a better deal by emphasizing that they could only accept a cease-fire that would guarantee that some part of what they regarded as their empire would remain in their hands.

Johnny … wants to go home

Another complication was that when Germany surrendered, the American citizens in general experienced a general relief … the war was won, we can finally be at peace. The military branches were of course fully aware of the fact that hostilities were not over. In the Pacific theatre the Japanese were as yet undefeated.

But signing a cease-fire with Germany caused a general feeling of elation. In November 1918, a similar story unfolded. Immediately the mothers and fathers of the US raised their voices that their sons must come home. This despite the fact that the German Army was not fundamentally beaten, and there was still some uncertainty about what would happen in Germany. And the Congress raised the same demands.

Now much the same happened. To appease the citizenry and Congress, there started a program of sending home soldiers from Europe. This caused some of the units– that were designated to transfer to the Pacific arena — to effectively lose their ability to perform as a combat-proven unit. Many of the veteran soldiers were released and sent home. This had a bad impact on the resource plans for the invasion of Japan. Planned date had to be moved forward, in order to leave time for extensive training of new recruits.

A GI soldier often sees a different kind of war, compared what professional long-term high-ranking staff sees. A General typically has nothing to “go back to” after the war — the war is what makes sense to such a person. But GI Joe thinks otherwise — to be in uniform should only be for a short period, and then go “back home”.

Morale, an essential ingredient, was virtually spent in ETO [European Theater of Operations] divisions, including the elite airborne. General Maxwell Taylor tried “to stir up enthusiasm for new worlds  to conquer” in the 101st, one of only two Army divisions to have won a Presidential Unit Citation. “We’ve licked the best that Hitler had in France and Holland and Germany. Now where do we want to go?” The heroes of Bastogne and Normandy all screamed: “Home.”

(Perlman, p. 19, quoting from Maxwell Taylor, Swords and Plowshares: A Memoir (New York: Norton, 1972), p. 110)

Soldiers on the shores of Japan … or dropping the Bomb?

This sensitivity of the home front to small positive signs is what ultimately may turn out to create a storm in Washington. And the politicians have to take this into account, and devise their policies and decision-making accordingly.

So this may be an additional reason for the decision to drop the atomic bomb on Japan.

If the American citizens were tired, they might object to surrender conditions that would put more American boys at danger in the field. I.e., they could — through their direct or indirect pressure on Washington — create a situation that would bring advantages to Japan.

So this is another argument that the war objectives for the Pacific might have left the Bomb as the only viable alternative left, for a president that wanted to be really elected for president (Truman was voted in as vice president, and only became president when Roosevelt died during his last term in the White House).

What does it mean? For us here and now?

The “home front” is important. And that is also what the American military arms have understood. So nowadays — in the era of Iraq and Afghanistan — they downplay the costs, and exaggerate the effects of their missions.

We do see how several European countries have started revising their plans for getting out of these UN/Nato controlled campaigns, based on eroding expectations about lasting positive effects of their work, and on concrete individual losses.

And this is also something that the other side has learnt. if they can cause casualties and deaths, then the countries from which these soldiers come from may ultimately pull out. Then it does not matter if the individual soldiers are kind of even non-combatants. The only important criterion is that persons from country X will be killed in the filed, in these far-away battlefields. Then ultimately these soldiers will be pulled out. And that will make it more difficult for the countries that still have their soldiers there.


Dr. Michael D. Pearlman has worked at the Combined Arms Center, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, since 1986 and has taught history for the Combat Studies Institute since 1989. He has a doctorate in history from the University of Illinois and a master’s degree from the University of Chicago. Aside from CSI, he has taught at the Universities of Illinois, Wisconsin, and Nebraska. His first book, To Make Democracy Safe for America, was published in 1984. This present study on World War II is part of a manuscript on policy in American wars from the colonial period to Desert Storm that Pearlman has just completed.

(from the back cover of the report)


Michael D. Perlman: “Unconditional Surrender, Demobilization, and the Atomic Bomb“. Report, Combat Studies Institute, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, US. 1996.
On the Web at DTIC.mil (PDF) (visited April 10, 2011)

This Page: https://whenthenightcomesfallingfromthesky.wordpress.com/2011/04/10/on-the-term-of-surrender-in-war-and-the-costs-for-the-road-to-peace/

Book: “Hiroshima – The World’s Bomb” — the atomic bomb and everbody’s concern

5 12 2010

This is yet another book about the nuclear bomb, its origin and the evolution of its use in war and in politics. It has no revolutionary revelations to offer, but it succeeds as a good overview of a number of themes about the motivations and policies related to the development of the bomb and its later use as a tool in the cold war.

"Hiroshima - The World's Bomb" -- -front

"Hiroshima - The World's Bomb" -- -front


The general history of the famous Bomb and the Manhattan Project that created it, that history is fairly well-known. So why write yet another book on this topic? In this case, the author Andrew J. Rotter tries to broaden the perspective, arguing that we should not understand the Bomb as just a particular phenomenon that emerged within Project Manhattan, but that the Bomb is something that concerns all of the world. Hence the subtitle of the book — “The World’s Bomb“. Does Rotter deliver on his implicit promises? Yes, he does, but there are certain perspectives relevant to his aim that he surprisingly does not cover.

The Bomb

When we talk about the Bomb (with a capital B) we most often mean the first nuclear  bomb that was exploded with intent to kill and destroy … the Hiroshima atomic bomb. A few days later, yet another bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, but that bomb, and its victims, have never received the kind of attention that was accorded to the Hiroshima bomb and the Hiroshiman victims. As is often said: winner takes all.

Since then, an enormous amounts of nuclear bombs have been produced, but they have so far only been used as threats, not used as weapons in some conflict. During the Cold War, the terror balance between the east and the west rested very much on the possibility of mutual annihilation using nuclear bombs. During that era, a significant part of the world was worried about the risk for a nuclear war. When the cold war ended, there was some relief, but nuclear powered explosive devices became a fresh cause for alarm: some smaller countries got the bomb (e.g., North Korea), or there was serious suspicions that they had embarked on a project to develop a bomb (e.g., Iran). And then there were these terrorist organisations that might get the idea to acquire a nuclear device of some sort.

Therefore, it may be reasonable to talk about it as “the world’s bomb”.

The Book

Rotter lays out the groundwork for his story by describing two other weapon technologies that in a sense brings moral issues to the front. The first is the use of gas in battle, which was heavily used in World War I. Sophisticated gases are treacherous, as they do not create a clear signal that something is going to happen (no smell), and that there may be no safe protection from it (gases can get in everywhere). Morally speaking, should gas be allowed as a weapon?

The second weapon technology is airborne bombing. It is difficult to distinguish military personnel from civilians when you are flying at a high altitude, so bombing from planes tends to be indiscriminate. There has in modern times been an understanding (and, to a certain extent, agreed upon through some international conventions) that civilians should not be harmed by military actions. Morally speaking, should we allow a weapon that makes it practically impossible to avoid harming civilians?

As Rotter argues, gas was only seriously used in WWI, but later never really deployed. Notable exceptions are: in some colonial military actions between the wars; during WWII, the US produced and transported mustard gas to Europe to be used in case the Germans started to use such weapons;  By the Japanese during WWII; during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s; etc. Use of gas as a weapon was regulated trough international agreement in the Geneva Protocol of 1929, to some extent based on moral judgements, even though purely military reasons were the main underlying rationale.

But Rotter also reminds us that air bombing has become an ever more used method in various kinds of war and war-like situations. So there we cast moral judgements aside.

And this brings in one dimension in Rotter’s story about nuclear bombs: did the persons engaged in developing nuclear bombs think about ethical and moral issues regarding the effects  this development was aiming at?

The book describes how scientists started to think about the possibility of a nuclear chain reaction that could release an enormous amount of energy. Scientists from several countries were familiar with the idea, and there was some international collaborations on related issues in the science of nuclear physics. The military got interested and involved, but initially in a hesitating way. Then the Manhattan project was started as a strategic US effort, enrolling scientists that originated from many different countries. The bomb was developed, and then the bombings Hiroshima and Nagasaki happened.

The moral issue

Rotter presents the science of  physics as the common knowledge base upon which physics scientists created the applied science and technology that resulted in the bomb. One idealistic view of science is that science (and scientists) only has solidarity towards science itself and to the international community of scientists — “The Republic of Science”. According to that thinking, scientists should not engage in something that is of advantage to one country and disadvantage to another country. The progress of science itself — progress of pure science — is the collective effect of all international scientists.  Real scientific progress critically depends on knowledge to be open, so scientists can build upon the results of other scientists. As Newton famously said: “If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.”

Rotter gives a line of argument that most scientists adhered to the general idea of a “Republic of Science”, but the situation they were in (WWII, and possible risk that Germany could develop a nuclear fission bomb, which would place a unique weapon in the hands of the Nazi regime) made it morally permissible — perhaps even morally obligatory — to engage in a crash program to develop a bomb.

Some scientists were never fully convinced that such a  weapon should be deployed. Other scientists thought that it should be used as an explicit threat to the enemy. Yet others thought that when it was finally available in a usable form, then this super weapon was no longer critically needed. And finally some thought that it should definitely be used, even if only as a demonstration of its cataclysmic effects.

The political rationale for dropping the bombs.

Ultimately it was a presidential decision that was the cause of the droppings of the bombs. There has been some debate about whether it was necessary to drop the bombs (and get the devastating effects on generations of Japanese subjected to nuclear fall-out). There are many lines of reasoning. One of the most convincing, practically speaking, is that this would save American soldiers from having to invade the Japanese mainland, which could entail a terrible cost in casualties. Another politically more subtle argument was that dropping these bombs  should make the war end before the Soviet Union could invade core Japanese land, and thereby claim that the Soviet Union should be party of the peace-making process for Japan. USA wanted to have complete command and control of the Japanese surrender and terms and conditions for post-war Japan. The bomb would hopefully terminate the war so early that the Soviet union would be out of the picture.

Another motivation was to make a strong impression on the Soviet Union, so that they would be more willing to negotiate about post war international relations. As an effect of the strong Soviet performance in the last years of WWII, they regarded themselves as strong enough to dictate conditions to the other allied partners, at least in the context of eastern and central Europe. An American Bomb would make Stalin behave with some restraint in the negotiations.

Rotter also brings up another kind of argument, that is surprising, but also revealing about certain aspects of a democratic society. A reason that the White House understands is that if the bomb was not dropped (on Japan), the White House would have some potentially difficult explaining to do about the huge hidden funds used to finance the Manhattan Project. A Congressional investigation had come upon the funds that was used, and started to ask questions about the highly secret use of these funds. Not having anything concrete to show as the result of the huge amount of money spent could be devastating for the president. So better have some results to point to, and then a destroyed Japanese town would be a strong argument that would silence the political opponents.

Nuclear explosions

Even though only two atom bombs were used in actual warfare (the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs), more that 2000 nuclear bombs have been exploded by 8 countries — officially as testing of nuclear bombs.

A pedagogical visualisation of the time line of all these test explosions has been created by Isao Hashimoto. Watching it is both interesting and a bit scary. One can perhaps feel some comfort in the fact that we are not in these days seeing such intensive testing as was happening in the 1960s and 1970s. But we have seen that some countries have acquired nuclear explosive technology during the recent decades, so in a sense there are more heads of states that could make a decision to deploy a nuclear bomb against what is perceived as an enemy.

What is missing?

To present the story about “The World’s Bomb”, and not mention the popular anti-bomb movements, that is strange. One of the much publicized popular movements of the 1950s was the demonstrations, agitations, and debating about the danger of a “nuclear autumn”, which engaged a lot of citizens in Europe.  An example is the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (1957 – ), where for instance Bertrand Russell was a widely known spokesperson for the anti-nuclear movement. This grass-root  movement, and others like it, are not mentioned by Rotter.

Rotter does mention the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (1945 – ), but does not emphasize the role of the Bulletin (and of the group of scientists behind it) as a voice expressing the perils of uncontrolled proliferation of nuclear weapons. A core aim of the Bulletin was educational — to explicate the relationship between scientific and technical advances in the area and the politics concerning nuclear armaments.

The Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs (1957 – ) is another effort that tried to raise public awareness about the arms race in general and nuclear weapons in particular.

So, in the context of the Bomb being a global concern, Rotter’s way of describing the grass-root efforts highlighting a fear of possible nuclear catastrophic scenarios, this is surprisingly more or less ignored.

Andrew J. Rotter

Andrew J. Rotter

The Author

Andrew J. Rotter is (2008) Charles A. Dana Professor of History at Colgate University. He specializes in US diplomatic history, recent US history, and the Vietnam War, and has written extensively on US-Asian relations during the twentieth century, including the books The Path to Vietnam and Comrades at Odds: India and the United States.

(from publisher’s  author presentation)

More info at Rotter’s professional home page (at  Colgate University)


Despite the way the author overlooks the public opinion concerning perils of nuclear weapons, the book is clear and thought-provoking. And well worth reading in these days where nuclear threats may originate in unexpected parts of the world.


Andrew J. Rotter: “Hiroshima – The World’s Bomb” (Oxford University Press, 2008), 357 pages; ISBN 10:     0192804375; ISBN 13: 9780192804372 (book at openlibrary.org)

This page: https://whenthenightcomesfallingfromthesky.wordpress.com/2010/12/05/book-hiroshima-the-worlds-bomb-the-atomic-bomb-and-everbodys-concern/

Book: “Fleeing Hitler – France 1940” — why people run away in war

3 12 2010

In June 1940, when the German armed forces were approaching Paris, the Parisians began to move out of the city, towards the south, where they believed they would be safe from the war. This exodus lasted for some people a few days or weeks, for others a few months, and some would never return to the city where they had lived. In Hanna Diamond’s book, we are told what this exodus meant for the persons involved, what their thoughts and feelings were, and about the military-political background.

"Fleeing Hitler" -- front

"Fleeing Hitler" -- front


The second world war (WWII) started in September 1939, when Germany and the Soviet Union attacked Poland. Britain and France declared war some days later, and these two countries were then at war with Germany. But on the western front, everything was quiet. It was called the “phoney war”, as no shots were fired, and everybody just waited. In May 1940, the German army advanced into Holland, Belgium and the Netherlands, and a real war had arrived in Western Europe.

The German forced advanced rapidly — the “Blitzkrieg” — and suddenly the people of Paris started to become worried. The French and British forces could not stop the Germans, and irresistibly the Germans moved toward the west — the Channel coast — and towards the south — threatening Paris.

The inhabitants of Paris had for some weeks seen refugees passing by, refugees from Holland and Belgium, fleeing towards the south. The Parisians were worried about what would happen. Then a few day into June 1940, the inhabitants started to flee toward the south. They made a hasty leave, and mostly had to resort to their own ideas about how to flee. Some made it by train, but an enormous number of persons started to leave by road, using cars, or bikes or on foot.

On June 22, armistice was made between Germany and the Vichy regime of France, and hostilities came to an end. The two weeks of fleeing came to an end, but for the refugees, the ordeal was not over. Some — the ones who were late to leave — managed to get back to Paris quickly. Others were stranded in the Unoccupied zone of France, and it took weeks or months to get back. And still other never returned. Either because they knew that returning to the Occupied part of France would place them in danger from persecution (Jews, refugees originally from Germany and other Central-European countries, foreigners that were just visiting France) or they decided that they had nothing to return to and preferred to stay in the south of France.

"Fleeing Hitler": Leaving Paris by train

"Fleeing Hitler": Leaving Paris by train

The stories of the refugees have not been much explored. Diamond here gives us a good representation of what was on the minds of the refugees; before the exodus, during the exodus, and after. The sources used are written texts, like books published later and contemporary and later newspaper articles.

Main insights

The first insight gained is that the chaotic nature of this exodus was, to a large extent, the effect of lack of organised evacuation plans. There are several reasons for this lack, the main ones are

  • no need for detailed plans — “our impregnable wall, the Maginot line, will stop the Germans, and they will never even see Paris at a distance”.
  • no need for detailed plans, as even if the Germans entered the north of France, they would be stopped outside the gates of Paris — “we will stop them just like in WWI” (the battle of the Marne)
  • planning for this eventuality sends the wrong message to the enemy — “we might not be able to defend Paris”.
  • planning for this eventuality sends the wrong message to our citizens — “is our glorious Army incapable of defending the heart of France?”

The practical effect was that the citizens of Paris did not get a clear message about who should evacuate, and when. Certain categories were addressed specifically, like children, but for the grown-ups no clear directives were available. And the officials at the municipal, city and regional level did not provide any enlightening information.

"Fleeing Hitler": Leaving Paris by roads

"Fleeing Hitler": Leaving Paris by roads

This is why the evacuation was largely seen as an anarchic endeavour.  People had to fend for themselves.

There was also the conflict — sometimes potential and sometimes real — of interference between the streams of refugees clogging the roads, and the army  that needed to relocate in order to create some kind of meaningful opposition to the Germans. Sharing the same roads did cause logistical problems for all.

When the tide slowed to a stop, at the armistice, people could often be put up in local families or in hastily organized refugee centres. Some monetary contributions were handed out to the refugees, that they could use to acquire foods and other stuff necessary for life.

Some time after the armistice, repatriation started. Not all could be returned home. But many Parisians did return, and thanks to Paris being declared an “open city” before the Germans had come close to the suburbs, there had been no damage to the city in itself. So people could try to restore the kind of life they had had before evacuation. But life was not as good as before. Now they were exposed to food rationing, and not all workplaces could re-hire personnel.

Some numbers

In the beginning of  July 1940, official estimates said that there were eight million refugees in France — 6.2 million internal French refugees; 1.8 million Belgians; 150,000 from Holland and Luxembourg.  Of the 6+ million French, Parisians were about two million, and 800,000 were from Alsace-Lorraine


When people experience troubled times, they do not want to take on any responsibility for that. There must be somebody else that is the cause of these troubles. This is also what was noticed among the refugees.

Leon Werth was struck by the number of people he came across who needed to find someone to blame. ‘They shouted and cried expressions along the lines of “We have been sold out! We have been betrayed!” This popular accusation, that I have heard several times on the road, seemed to suffice in itself. I was never able to get a reply to the question “By whom?”‘ Those passing by in their expensive cars were assumed to be Jews. ‘The Jews sold us out!’ people cried. As refugees struggled, their anti-semitism grew. Such feelings laid the way for people to  be sympathetic to Vichy’s later anti-Jewish statutes.

(Diamond, p 78)

That anti-Semitism could be noticed should not surprise us. In Germany anti-Semitism had been legally sanctioned for more than five years. In France there was a tradition of animosity towards the French Jews — cf. the Dreyfus affair. Having a lot of persons feeling desperate and on the run from their home, this provided an environment where latent anti-Semitism could become open anti-Semitism.

Did you notice the exodus?

Many persons have actually seen a glimpse of the exodus, or should we say a glimpse of a recreation of the evacuation of Paris. At the end of the well-known movie Casablanca (1942, directed by Michael Curtis; starring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid), we hear:



Bogart/Rick: If that plane leaves the ground and you’re not with him, you’ll regret it. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life.

Bergman/Ilsa:  But what about us?

Bogart/Rick:  We’ll always have Paris.

Then we remember an earlier flashback scene, when these two have met in Paris and fallen in love. The Germans are approaching Paris. Bogart and Bergman were to escape together. Bogart waited vainly for Bergman at the railway station. Those scenes are from a timing point of view located at the peak of the exodus, when people were desperately trying to get out of the city, and succeeded, failed, or lost each other.

Even though the power of the movie Casablanca rests on what happens in the city of Casablanca, it can be enlightening to realize that the exodus from Paris was the setting for a critical part of the history preceding the main action in Morocco.

Peoples’ thoughts about Pétain

Maréchal Pétain was at the critical point in time entrusted with the governing of France. He, the hero of WWI, was now quickly taking steps to terminate hostilities between the French and the Germans. A cease-fire was agreed, and the French-German armistice was signed in Compiègne. Despite the fact that Pétain now was Head of State of a defeated France, he tried to recreate a national feeling of nationalism and “back to the roots” — in effect trying to eradicate modernism and return to a mindset of nationalism coupled with a devotion of the French soil.

In my family there is tremendous fervour for Marshal Pétain and I share these sentiments. His past, his prestige, and his age are all guarantees of his courage and the rectitude of his behaviour at the head of the French state which, without being aware of it, has just been substituted for the Republic- ‘Pétain’, my mother says,’is a father for France’ and this is just how he appears to us.

(Diamond, p 190)

Perhaps it was because the modern France had been defeated, and there were no other persons of the same stature as Pétain, that the Marshal had a surprisingly large and devoted following among the French.

Jean Monnet appears

In the history of the European Union, Jean Monnet has a special position as the originator of the idea of a European Union. He architected the first “trial version” of it,  in the form of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC).

Monnet is also mentioned here, as a strong supporter for the proposed Anglo-French Union of 1940 — an initiative that would prevent France from renouncing their promises to keep fighting alongside Britain. This union proposal was raised in the midst of the period that we are talking about here, but this proposal was quickly dropped, and France did ask for a separate armistice agreement with Germany.

But still, it is an intriguing thought that this Anglo-French union acted as a seed that would later grow up to be the ECSC, and a couple of decades later would result in the European Union.

Hanna Diamond

Hanna Diamond

The author

Hanna Diamond is Senior Lecturer in French History at the University of Bath. She lived and taught in Paris for many years and has spent her career researching the lives of the French people during the twentieth century.

(from publisher author presentation)


This was an interesting book, mainly because its topic has not been treated to this extent before. The reader gets a fair amount of political background, and of the main military actions taken. But the emphasis is on the people concerned — either as direct refugees themselves, or as French citizens in the south of France, citizens that did their best to host the refugees from Paris.

For obvious reasons, the main sources have been existing documentation in text, either printed or as manuscripts in the national archives. We would have preferred that this story had been treated forty years earlier, when lots of people were still alive, and had vivid memories of those weeks and months in 1940. Presumably we would have gotten a more diversified tapestry of experiences and opinions. Nevertheless, we have to acknowledge the the picture painted in this book seems like a solid account of those events and of the mindset of those times.

What is the relevance of this book? On the one hand it is another component in the story-telling of what happened during WWII, and in that respect a component with clear added value.

But we can also read this kind of book as a background when we try to understand what we see happening in our times. Even in Europe we have during the last thirty years seen refugees fleeing from their homes, and sometimes never to return. The kinds of thoughts that were in the minds of the Parisians in 1940 should to some extent correspond to thoughts in the heads of people fleeing from Srebrenica. There are lessons to learn from history, and we had better make good use of that kind of history, if we are to take some kind of control of our future.


Hanna Diamond: “Fleeing Hitler — France 1940” (Oxford University Press, 2008) 255 pages, ISBN 13: 9780199532599 (book at openlibrary.org)

This page: https://whenthenightcomesfallingfromthesky.wordpress.com/2010/12/03/book-fleeing-hitler-france-1940-why-people-run-away-in-war/


Bok: “Operation Sepals: Hemliga baser i Sverige 1944-45” – lite svensk-norsk krigshistoria

24 08 2010

Trots svensk neutralitet under andra världskriget, så var vi inte helt isolerade från vad som skedde i vår omvärld. I den här boken återges några perspektiv på hur Sverige fungerade som bas för partisaninstser på norska sidan av vår gemensamma gräns. Texten ger inte ett brett perspektiv på hur Sverige — officiellt och inofficiellt — förhöll sig till Norge under krigsåren, utan fungerar mest som en mosaik av personliga upplevelser av de som tog del i dessa speciella insatser.

"SEPALS" -- framsida

"SEPALS" -- framsida


Under 1944 och 1945 genomfördes operation SEPALS, till en del på svenskt territorium. Det var en organisation och verksamhet som drevs av de allierade, främst Norge, USA och Storbritannien. Målet var att etablera ett nätverk i norra delen av gränsområdet mellan Sverige och Norge — Abisko till Treriksröset. Det handlade om små grupper av norrmän som var utplacerade på en handfull platser, s.k. SEPALS-baser. De bedrev insamling och avrapportering av information med potentiellt intresse för krigsledningen i väster. Regelbundna väderrapporter sändes, för att bidra till att flygoperationer från England, Skottland och Shetlandsöarna kunde planeras. Information om tyska truppstyrkor och trupprörelser insamlades och sändes med radio till Storbritannien. Dessutom skulle dessa norska grupper förbereda sig för stridsoperationer och maktövertagande när det tyska trupper förväntades dra sig tillbaka i krigets slutskede.

Att norrmän fanns i SEPALS-grupperna är uppenbart. Inga svenska var formellt enrollerade i SEPALS, men lokalbefolkning — svenska och samer — gav stöd till SEPALS-grupperna i form av transporttjänster och viss annan försörjning. Det fanns dessutom i SEPALS-organisationen några förbindelseansvariga från USA och England.

"SEPALS": en av baserna

"SEPALS": en av baserna

Inom ramen för SEPALS skedde inte så mycket i form av direkta insatser. Huvuddelen av det som gjordes var spaning och informationsinsamling, samt insatser för att hjälpa flyktingar som begav sig över gränsen från Norge till Sverige. Den viktigaste orsaken till att det inte blev några riktiga stridsinsatser på norska sidan var att den tyska krigsmakten i Norge kapitulerade i all stillhet, och det norska organisationer och grupper kunde i lugn och god ordning ta över styrning och ledning av samhället. Det hade kunnat bli annorlunda om tyska trupper i Norge (och i Danmark) hade forsatt striden till det bittra slutet. I så fall skulle det kunna ha skett att  tyskarna under sin retirering skulle göra som under deras reträtt i Finland … bedriva brända jordens taktik. Det var bl.a. för sådana fall som SEPALS-styrkorna skulle kunna bidraga med spetsoperationer. Men, som sagt, det kom inte att behövas.


Roger Albrigtsen (født 18. januar 1971) er en norsk  forfatter  av krigshistorie. Han kommer fra Evenes kommune i Nordland.

Roger Albrigtsen

Roger Albrigtsen

Albrigtsen er barnebarn av kurér, grenselos og XU-agent Magne Lindgren fra Skjomen.

Albrigtsen er også frilanser og har skrevet en rekke krigshistoriske artikler for norske aviser og tidsskrifter.

Han var våren 2008 debutant med boken: Ukjent norsk krigshistorie – Sepals – Hemmelige baser på svensk jord 1944-1945.

Våren 2009 kom boken i ny utgave via Orion Forlag og Forlaget Kristiansen i serien Orion Dokumentar. Våren 2010 kommer boken i svensk utgave via Sivart Förlag.

Om Roger Albrigtsen på  Norska Wikipedia


Boken är en översättning av ett norskt original, publicerat 2008. Eftersom SEPALS inte blev involverat i några uppmärksammade  operationer (förutom att SEPALS hade bidragit med väderinformation inför det slutliga Tirpitz-anfallet), har det förblivit en okänd del av norsk krigshistoria. Därav den norska boktiteln: ” … ukjent norsk krigshistorie … ”

"SEPALS": gränsvarning sett från norska sidan

"SEPALS": gränsvarning sett från norska sidan

Rent praktiskt har en stor del av författarens bakgrundsarbete bestått av insamling av personliga hågkomster från de norrmän som på något sätt var knutna till SEPALS. Det har nu gått mer än 60 år, så självklart är det inte så många kvar i livet. Men återberättelser och nedskrivna minnen, kompletterat med diverse offentligt arkivmaterial har bildat basen för boken.

Bokens styrka är att vi får (fragment av) personliga berättelser från inblandade, vilket ger en handfast förankring i vad de gjorde och hur de upplevde sammanhanget (t.ex. att vara förlagd ute på kalfjället under krigsvinter.) De många samtida fotografierna visar dessutom att det fanns informella avkopplande inslag i vistelsen inom SEPALS. Det kan handla om jakt och slakt och fiske, om vilostunder i solbestrålad snö, om träffar med lokalbefolkning, etc. Och de fåtal gånger när det blev något intermezzo med tyska patruller.

Men boken har även sina brister. Speciellt för en läsare  som inte är grundligt bevandrad i norska krigsinsatser fram till krigsslutet. Och det är att  läsaren inte får ett sammanhang belyst, det sammanhang som visar hur SEPALS platsar in i den totala krigsinsatsen i denna del av Europa. Detta var dock endast en del av det som skedde i Sverige och som hade med Norge att göra.

För det första handlar SEPALS endast om det som skedde i det nordligaste gränsområdet. Vi får inget veta om det som skedde i gränsområdet mot Sydnorge.

För det andra var det trots allt en omfattande trafik över gränsen, rörande sådant som stärkte den norska motståndsrörelsen och som hjälpte norska flyktingar.

Dessutom genomfördes planering för två möjliga storskaliga insatser av svenska stridskrafter, de s.k. “Operation Rädda Danmark” och Operation Rädda Norge” (se t.ex.  Dansk Militærhistorisk Selskab – Chakoten / Operation Rädda Danmark ; Per-Anders Lundström: “Per Albin Hansson och den svenska D-dagen” ).

"SEPALS": vinddriven el-generator för radio

"SEPALS": vinddriven el-generator för radio

Så var i detta bredare spektrum platsar SEPALS-insatserna? Vi får inte se den typ av större blid av svenskbaserade stödinsatser, så läsaren finner sig ha lite tunt på fötterna  för att förstå vilken typ av kugghjul  SEPALS egentligen var, och hur angränsade kugghjul såg ut.


Boken har sina brister, speciellt i att vi inte får en översiktlig bild av hur det svenska samhället engagerade sig i Norgefrågan. Ett avslutande kort kapitel ger några svepande uttalanden om permittenttrafik och liknande, men det känns inte tillräckligt. Bokens värde är snarare att den tillgängliggör information, kunskap och intryck från dessa småskaliga insatser i vårt gränsland. Så läs den för att få veta att detta skedde, men glöm inte att det fanns mycket annat svenskbaserat stöd som stärkte det norska motståndet. Rent språkligt flyter inte texten så väl som man skulle önska. Det är dock inte lätt att veta om det beror på språkliga brister i den norska orginalutgåvan, eller om det är översättningen till svenska som snubblat.


Roger Albrigtsen: “Operation Sepals — Hemliga Baser i Sverige 1944-45” (Sivart Förlag, 2010) 152 sid; ISBN 13: 9789185705337 (book at openlibrary.org)

This pagehttps://whenthenightcomesfallingfromthesky.wordpress.com/2010/08/24/bok-operation-sepals-hemliga-baser-i-sverige-1944-45-lite-svensk-norsk-krigshistoria/

Movie: “Crossfire” – suspense and antisemitism

3 08 2010

From the latter half of the 1940s, “Crossfire”  is a movie that can be seen as a murder and detective movie. But it can also be seen as comment on civilian life after the horrors of World War II, where people attack other people for what they are, not for what they do. In this case, it is about antisemitism as a trigger for murder. A solid movie that delivers well.

"Crossfire" -- poster

"Crossfire" -- poster

Short résumé

We see someone murdered in a room, but we do not see who the murderer (or murderers) are. An unassuming Army Cpl. Arthur Mitchell (George Cooper) quickly becomes suspected by the police. A buddy of Mitchell, Sgt. Peter Keeley (Robert Mitchum) cannot believe this, and sets out to get in contact with Mitchell. Mitchell’s commanding officer, Montgomery (Robert Ryan) also expresses doubts, but starts to behave strangely. A buddy of Montgomery is later found murdered. The investigating detective, Capt. Finlay (Robert Young), suspects Montgomery, and sets up a trap. Finally the perpetrator receives his punishment.


Richard Brooks write the novel “The Brick Foxhole” (1945) about how a group of soldiers murder a homosexual man. That book was the basis of the script for “Crossfire“, but it was transformed from being about homophobia to being about antisemitism.

Presumably, homosexuality was in the 1940s still a no-no topic, not suitable for Hollywood. Antisemitism, on the other hand, was well suited, as the American society had in the years before become aware of what antisemitism could lead to in the Third Reich. There were other movies in that era that addressed the same topic, e.g. “Gentleman’s Agreement” (1947).  It could be interesting to explore that sub-area of Hollywood movies, what caused it to emerge, and when it disappeared. But that is for some other day.

"Crossfire": Robert Ryan and Robert Mitchum

"Crossfire": Robert Ryan and Robert Mitchum

This is a night-time movie, and an urban movie. Only a few short scenes show daylight. Otherwise it is all in the artificial light of the metropolis. A city where strangers encounter each others. The persons we encounter are either visitors to the city or city residents offering services to others — mainly visitors. No-one is really happy. We see the rootless service-men that have just come back from the war abroad, and have not succeeded in connecting to a the civilian society at home. Ginny Tremaine (Gloria Grahame) is working as a hostess in a bar, and is completely disgusted with her life … a life where she sees no future. The investigating police detective is tried and worn-out, and only now and then has enough energy to get proactive.

It seems that the only two persons who take decisive and immediate action are Keeley and Montgomery. Such targeted behaviour is most likely due to their experiences in combat, where they had to make decisions quickly and get others to follow them in some goal-driven action. In that role — in action — they were probably both effective and appreciated and behaved in similar ways towards the enemy. But now —  in a civilian context — their differ in terms of what they believe they have a right to do, and why they have that right (or not).

Therefore, we can surely call this a film noir, as it has several of the ingredients associated with that film genre.

"Crossfire": Robert Ryan, Robert Mitchum, and Robert Young

"Crossfire": Robert Ryan, Robert Mitchum, and Robert Young

Plot-wise, the movie keeps the audience in suspense, as it takes some time to understand who we should not suspect, and who we should suspect. There are no extended action sequences, so the suspense in the movie is based on the context and the uncertainties and options that remain until the very end.

Hollywood movies typically has to end in a happy or morally acceptable manner. Here, the culprit gets punished. But we get reminded that there is a fine line between those that actually commit some immoral act and those that are capable of doing so but have not yet crossed that line.


This a a suspenseful film, but action-wise quite low-key. It expresses the suspense of the police investigation and the way various soldiers get involved in this investigation. But at the same time it constantly reminds us about the antisemitic basis for this specific murder, and also illustrates that intolerance is a basic reason for much inter-personal violence in our society. It is worth seeing as an example of a Hollywood movie with a conscience.


Crossfire”  (1947).  Directed by: Edward Dmytryk;  written by: John Paxton (screenplay), Richard Brooks (story); starring: Robert Young, Robert Mitchum, Robert Ryan, Gloria Grahame; length: 86 min; (Movie at imdb).

This Page: https://whenthenightcomesfallingfromthesky.wordpress.com/2010/08/03/movie-crossfire-suspense-and-antisemitism/

Movie: “Australia” (2008) — picture postcard from down-under

18 07 2010

An attempt to produce an epic movie, containing both total romantic adventures and a sprinkling of social criticism. But it just a set of clichés, never succeeding in giving us a believable story.

"Australia" -- poster

"Australia" -- poster


Short résumé

Aristocratic lady arrives to her cattle-raising land in Australia, is tempted to give it all up and return home to England. But she and a motley crew of men, women and children drive a big heard of cattle to the army shipping site in Darwin, and she saves her farm. Other obstacles appear, making life dangerous. Especially the approaching Japanese and their February 1942 attack on Darwin. A child nearly disappears, but is heroically rescued. The male and female lead reunite with the child, and they leave happily, to take up a quiet rural life in Australia.

What kind of movie is this really?

This movie gives the impression of being created as a publicity stunt, to create a positive impression on potential tourists. Nice views of a majestic landscape … aborigines doing mystical rituals … radically different kinds of experiences in dry season vs. wet season … interesting history …

And the story is predictable. Good persons and bad persons are immediately recognised as such. Nothing surprising is discovered in the persons that we encounter in the movie … as schematic as paper dolls. And the good people are few, but, oh, so good. And really evil people get punished severely … in Australia bad persons ultimately have to pay for their bad deeds … and often pay with their life. Hooray for Australia, the fantastic continent that is very much to the south on an ordinary world map.

It is a romantic story. Most movies get a romantic main storyline or at least a romantic sub-plot. In “Australia“, the romantic plot is the core of the movie, but then it is embedded in a context with external events that are dramatic, and that creates problems and opportunities for the romantic couple.  It is easy to imagine that the producers of the movie said: “Let’s make a Gone With the Wind, but not in and around Atlanta, Georgia during the American Civil War, but in and around Darwin, Australia during the Second World War. This will be a great movie, if we just mix romance, drama, and history in some specific proportions”.

That kind of mixing they did, but the effect is a failure compared to Gone With the Wind. It is so well-meaning, but as it also aimed to be a family movie, to attract that kind of audience, everything is so simplified and explicit, so that we end up hoping the movie should end soon, so we can go do something useful instead.

The social criticism

In an attempt to be understood as an important film, it has to talk about some societal topic that we can agree is important. A not surprising decision is to start talking about the Australian efforts to “assist in the extinction of the aborigines”, for instance by separating children from their parents (the so called  “stolen generation“). So this is introduced into the movie as an additional  sub-plot.

Yes, we have to admit that there are a few sentences spoken in the movie “Australia” that deal with this black part of Australian history. And those sentences are intended to be highly critical of those initiatives and actions, and the underlying rationale. But very quickly the movie moves on, and we can now forget about those potentially disturbing thoughts about what civilized “western” societies did to people of other origin. The movie in total covers the period from September 1939 to February 1942, and when the movie reaches its end we are left with a feeling that “these brave Australian soldiers are supported by the equally brave Australian citizens, so the evil forces will of course lose.” But in a nice twist of the screenplay, if we earlier thought that evil was the child-hunting officers of civilian society, then at the end, the evil is personified by the threatening Japanese. So the movie implicitly makes us believe that custody-taking of children ended in the first years of the 1940s, while it in reality continued until some years into the 1970s.

If you want to get a better representation of that issue, take a look at Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002) (directed by Phillip Noyce).  It is a much more convincing movie about those official initiatives to take aboriginal children into special care, with an engaging story about two small girls that make a run for home … a journey covering 2400 km!


Not worth seeing. Too long, and not enough value for that length. And it is not an important statement about official relations to the aborigine population in Australia. What we are left with is a too extended love story with very predictable progress.


Australia”  (2008).  Directed by: Baz Luhrmann; written by: Baz Luhrmann, Ronald Harwood, Stuart Beattie, Richard Flanagan; starring: Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman, David Wenham; length: 165 min; (Movie at imdb)

This Page: https://whenthenightcomesfallingfromthesky.wordpress.com/2010/07/18/movie-australia-2008-picture-postcard-from-down-under/

Book: “Inside Hitler’s Bunker” — the fall of Berlin in 1945

25 02 2010

During the two last weeks of April 1945, Berlin was attacked, surrounded, and invaded by the Red Army. Adolf Hitler spent these last days of his life in the bunker beneath the Reich Chancellery. This book tells the story of what happened there, based on the stories told by surviving participants and eye-witnesses.

Though all know that Adolf Hitler’s death happened in Berlin, and that it marked the real end of the war in Europe, there are still questions about why Hitler did not leave Berlin and take refuge in one of the German areas that were still in the hands of the German Wehrmacht. And one could also ask why the war did not end earlier, say in 1944, when the defeat of the German forces became obvious. Compare this to the German capitulation in WWI (1918), which happened while all front-lines were still outside Germany proper. The end of WWII brought with it the practical destruction of the German Heimat … what was the reason for pushing it that far? what was the objective?

Cover of "Inside ..."

Cover of "Inside ..."

Joachim Fest (1926-2006) — the author of “Inside Hitler’s Bunker” — is not an academic historian. He has become well-known for a number of well-researched and well-written books about the Third Reich, and first got large attention with his “Hitler. Eine Biographie” (1973).

In the book “Inside …” he presents a reconstruction of the last days of Hitler, trying to balance the different conflicting stories so far published about these last days in Berlin. Those days were chaotic, most people who had some presence in the Bunker only got partial views into what happened, many of those who survived wanted to protect themselves by telling stories that put them in better light, etc. All details of what happened can no longer be determined completely, but it is reasonable to say that the remaining uncertainties do not matter that much.

The German army was at this time just a shadow of its former strength. It had for two years been retreating from the east, constantly being hit by superior Soviet forces. When the last Soviet assault on Berlin started, there was not much energy or capability left in the German Army. Ammunition was running low; armies and divisions did not have much manpower available for defense operations. Nevertheless, Hitler ordered counter-attacks, to “destroy the Soviet army at the gates of Berlin”, to turn the tide and “make the soviet state collapse”. But such major attacks were impossible, and, even when tried, they failed. The Red Army pushed on. Building by building, block by block, street by street, the Russians fought their way towards the center of Berlin.

Berlin in May 1945

Berlin in May 1945

At one point in time, certain German army commanders started to ignore the commands sent out from Hitler’s bunker. These commanders understood that it was all hopeless, and instead of pushing their troops into suicide missions against the Red Army, they wanted to minimize losses and keep their divisions and battalions in some adequate order, stay put if possible, otherwise retreat in some semblance of order, and wait for the inevitable end of hostilities. But such disregard of Hitler’s commands were few, and only now being seen, in these last days of the Third Reich. All through from autumn 1939 to beginning of 1945, the Wehrmacht had always been an obedient tool, going forward when ordered so, and staying put when ordered so. Why? one might ask. Why was there so little realism voiced about the state of the war? Why had nobody dared to object to Hitler’s strategic and tactical decisions? Most (all?) higher military officers in the German Army knew that the war was lost, and that the strategic choice was  between an early truce that would avoid further losses, or a fight until all was lost. Why should entire generations of young men be sacrificed for no real purpose.

Hitler welcoming boy soldiers during the battle for Berlin.

Hitler meeting with boy soldiers during the battle for Berlin

Fest describes in this book how Hitler, up until the very end, was able to dominate the persons around him. He could talk endlessly, shout and scream, insult persons, make decisions about strategic issues as well as detailed low-level tactical issues, etc, and nobody dared raise their  object. The commanders mentioned above, that disregarded orders, they actually tried to keep away from the bunker, in order not to be overwhelmed by Hitler.

This personality perspective is one of the most interesting threads of the book. It happened there in Berlin, in the center of Europe, a little more than 50 years ago. One person completely dominated whatever issues and topics he chose to get involved in. And other persons, who we should have expected to have some self-respect, and act responsibly in their roles, they more or less resigned from that moral responsibility. If it could happen then, can it happen again? What are the preconditions for a repeat? Was Hitler such a unique person that we will never see another one with that kind of will-power? Or are there such persons around, just waiting to rise when the right preconditions are fulfilled?


This book succeeds in its aim to give a popular account of the last two weeks in Hitler’s bunker. In addition, even if it was not a main purpose of the book, it does offer perspectives on how Hitler managed to stay in control — of the Wehrmacht and most other critical sectors of the German Reich — right up until the very end. It does not, though, give a full picture of the general military, political, and social climate of those days.


Joachim Fest: “Inside Hitler’s Bunker — The Last Days of the Third Reich” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004), ISBN 0374135770 (book at openlibrary.org). Translation of German original “Der Untergang” (Alexander Fest Verlag, Berlin 2002).