January 7, 2019

1945. Downs Writes Home from Postwar Asia

Letters from Asia After the Japanese Surrender
Bill Downs' Noncombatant's Certificate of Identity issued on July 17, 1945
Bill Downs wrote these letters home to his family in Kansas City, Kansas while touring across Asia in mid to late 1945 with an airborne press corps led by Tex McCrary.
October 3, 1945
(Over the China Sea en route from Singapore to Manila)

Dear Folks,

The past two weeks I have been completely out of touch, but now we are rounding up this tour of the Far East and I should be able to get this letter in the mail at Manila. It has been a damned interesting trip. We covered something like 8,000 miles in a couple of weeks...had the required number of adventures and got shot at a few times. This part of the world is not going to be peaceful for a long time.

When we left Tokyo we got caught in a monsoon in Okinawa that grounded us for two days...really a terrific wind that had everything but Dorothy Lamour...then we flew on in to Hong Kong. The city is very little damaged and the British are making the surrendered Japs work like hell...a good thing too.

From Hong Kong we really went into the tropics and landed at Rangoon in Burma. Not much of a story there, but one of the most fantastic pagodas in the world. Colorful and dirty. Then over to Bangkok in Siam where we had our first taste of a revolution. There is some shooting in the streets but not too much. Also had my first bona fide Chinese meal there. It consisted of 14 courses including shark fin soup, bird's nest soup, roasted sparrows, octopus and lotus seeds. Really terrific.

From Bangkok, where we were the guests of the government, we went to Saigon in Indochina. Jim McGlincy and I got into trouble there. You must have read his story and I hope CBS used mine so you probably know the details. The colonel that was killed was a hell of a nice guy...it was all very unfortunate. Thank God we were able to turn up a bottle of whiskey. It sure helps the courage.

I was damn glad to get out of Saigon and on to Singapore. There we met Lord Louis Mountbatten, stayed a day seeing the sights and went on to Batavia in Java where they are working up another revolution. There it is the Indonesians, a nice quiet little people who're ready to start shooting any minute. They don't want the Dutch colonists back, but I'm afraid they're going to get them anyway. There wasn't any shooting in the capital and we had a quiet time. Found a full-fledged night club going complete with a native boogie-woogie pianist.

However, the most fantastic thing about the trip are the Japs. Their behavior has been perfect. Where they are still armed, such as in Indochina and Java, they are helping the Allies to preserve peace. In most places they outnumber our troops by a hundred to one, and if they wanted to turn on us it would be slaughter. But thus far they have been exemplary in their behavior. You would never have known they had been fighting us.

We are heading back to Tokyo now. I don't know what the future plans are. I would like to return to New York with this junket, as I think there will be another attempt made to fly direct to New York from Tokyo. However we are getting short-staffed out here with people going on vacations and it looks like I will stay around this part of the world for a while.

I'll let you know what my plans will be as soon as I find out myself. I undoubtedly have mail from you waiting for me in Tokyo. I have come through this thing so far in good health, even losing some weight. But that happens all the time in the tropics. They can have the equator...it's simply too damn hot.

Take care of yourselves and let me know the news.



October 12, 1945

Dear Folks,

Back in Tokyo and working like hell again...and glad to get out of an airplane for a while even if it is a B-17. Have been having typhoons all over the place that have been keeping us well dampened, including the rice crops that have been flooded pretty well into the sea. It's going to make a great difference in the food situation here this winter...and some estimates are that already one million people are due to die in this country from starvation.

I hope I get transferred to China...will be more pleasant there. Incidentally pardon this typewriter but it's a Jap job and the only thing available. My typewriter and files and checkbook and even my passport were stolen out of our plane in Manila. Now I'm back starting from scratch again.

Have been feeling pretty low lately for some reason. Don't like this part of the world mainly and have been feeling sorry for myself. But I'm over it now and feeling better again.

Incidentally, I heard the other day that Chris Cunningham, who now is in China, will be heading up Tokyo way. Bill Dickinson should be back in the States now. He said he would give you a ring when he passed through KC.

I hope to do an article for Collier's if they want it. The proposition is still in the air.

Right now we are living in a big office building...the Tokyo Electric building. We sleep in the accounting office on army cots...not very comfortable but better than a tent. Hope to get lined out in a hotel soon.

I have been out several times to Japanese dinners. They do their cooking over charcoal braziers right in the dining room. I am getting stiff legs from the floors and am running out of clean socks from walking around without any shoes on. All very interesting, but sukiyaki will never replace beefsteak. There is plenty of Jap whiskey around...not very palatable but the beer is not bad. The national drink, sake, is hard to get as all rice is needed for food, but served hot with a meal it is pretty good stuff. The country has to make its bread out of rice flour which is not very successful.

But the army messes here are exceptionally good. They are always around headquarters outfits. I have been trying to pick up some souvenirs worth keeping or sending to you but there is very little of value to be had. We burned too many places and the artisans haven't gotten around to making much of any worth yet. Will keep my eyes open.

Glad to hear that Glen is back. Keep me filled in on how they are doing and if they need any help.

Take care of yourselves and keep writing. The damn typhoons have stopped all our mail for the past couple of weeks...no planes can get through, but it looks like clearing now so should be hearing from you.



January 4, 2019

1943. Ten Years of Hitler

The New York Times on the Third Reich's Tenth Anniversary
Adolf Hitler and Paul von Hindenburg at the memorial parade in Tannenberg, August 27, 1933 (source)
This article is part of a series of posts on how newspapers covered the rise and fall of fascism in Europe. In January 1943 the New York Times editorial board published a piece marking the tenth anniversary of Adolf Hitler's rise to power.

From The New York Times, January 30, 1943:

A tortured humanity writhing under the scourge of the most extensive and the most savage war in history will contemplate this day with mingled fury and regret, but also with a sense of triumph and a new dedication to final victory over the powers of darkness. Ten years ago today a demoniacal demagogue named Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany and thereby unleashed forces which are now drenching the world with blood. There will be increased fury over the war itself, but also over the savagery and brutishness with which the unspeakable Nazis and their allies are waging a campaign of extermination against helpless conquered populations. There will be regret over our own past mistakes which permitted these forces to get out of hand. There will be, above all, elation over the fact that these forces have been met and stopped, and a new resolve to crush them and wipe them from the face of the earth so that they will never rise again.

But ten years of fevered history have also demonstrated that if Hitler was the mainspring of events the forces which he was able to mobilize are greater than any individual—that, in other words, Hitlerism is a far greater menace than Hitler himself, and that, therefore, the problems we face go deeper than the mere elimination of Hitler and his regime. These forces are both peculiarly German and worldwide, and this anniversary is a good time to impress them on our minds for future reference.

Within the German orbit Hitlerism is primarily the heir of Prussian militarism serving as the instrument of German industrialism. Both kept Hitler in his days of penury and brought him to power to carry through German rearmament after the pathetic failures of their first choices, the tricky but frivolous Junker Papen and the wily but politically inexperienced General Schleicher, who proposed to rearm Germany with the cooperation of the German labor unions. But their final choice fell on Hitler only because he had already rallied behind himself a large popular following by appeals to all the worst elements and instincts of the Germans and, above all, had gathered around himself a fanatical crew of hoodlums and adventurers with whom he promised to terrorize the rest of the Germans into line. This he did, and out of all these elements he was able to forge a military machine with which he could overrun Europe, and to build up a regime that derives its motive force from racial hatred, lust of conquest and domination, and a cold savagery that sets aside all the cultural and moral progress of the last 2,000 years and proposes to clear a Lebensraum for the German master race by exterminating the "inferior" races already living there as a preliminary to world conquest.

From a world-wide standpoint, Hitlerism represents both the drift toward totalitarian government first exemplified in Soviet Russia and touted in this country as the "wave of the future," and also a middle-class counter-revolution against the "proletarian" revolution of the Bolshevists. In this dual role it won the support of many Germans attracted by its totalitarian features or scared by the Communist menace, though the final support that put it over the top came from Communists jumping on the bandwagon. And it also attracted sympathies in other lands which, facing similar issues, were split in two, like France, or considered nazism a good bulwark against bolshevism, as did some elements in England.

Now nazism has fully unmasked itself and the whole decent world is up in arms against it. Today, on its tenth anniversary, it stands at bay like a hunted criminal on which the avengers are closing in from all sides, and the thousand years of Hitler prophesied for his Third Reich are running out fast. The Nazis have proclaimed this war is an Armageddon in which the vanquished will be forever eliminated from the stage of history. So be it. Today we know that it is not our side which will be eliminated, and the ultimatum at Casablanca is the guarantee that there will be no compromise with Hitler or his works.