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Stephen Ambrose on 1943 and America’s Nazi/Soviet Conundrum

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
February 1, 2023 3:00 am

Stephen Ambrose on 1943 and America’s Nazi/Soviet Conundrum

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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February 1, 2023 3:00 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, Stephen Ambrose shares a WWII story beginning in January of 1943 with the Soviet victory over the Nazis at Stalingrad and ending with the Allied resolution of Unconditional Surrender.

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With an injection once every two or three months, you have like a 50% chance of being completely clear and probably a 90% chance of being nearly completely clear. Listen to Health Discovered on the iHeartRadio app or wherever you get your podcasts. This is Lee Habib and this is Our American Stories, the show where America is the star and the American people. And we love hearing stories from you, our listeners. Send them to That's

They're some of our favorites. Stephen Ambrose was one of America's leading biographers and historians. At the core of Ambrose's phenomenal success is his simple and straightforward belief that history is biography. History is about people, he would always say.

Ambrose passed in 2002, but his epic storytelling accounts can now be heard here at Our American Stories, thanks to those who run his estate. Today, we will be hearing the story from early 1943 during World War II. Let's jump right in with the Soviet victory over the Nazis at the Battle of Stalingrad. 1943 got off to a great start for the Allied cause because at the end of January, General von Paulus surrendered at Stalingrad. The Red Army took a bag of 250,000 prisoners and probably killed and wounded another half million German soldiers in this titanic struggle at Stalingrad and had lost themselves, the Red Army, a million men.

But of course, the Red Army could make up those manpower losses in a way that the Germans could not. So Stalingrad was the pivot point of the war. After Stalingrad, there really was not much of any question as to who was going to win this war.

The questions now were how long is it going to take? What price is going to have to be paid? And increasingly among the Allies, Britain and the United States and the Soviet Union in this very strange alliance, who's going to get what at the end of the war? And Stalingrad for the military side in the Second World War was the great battle and the decisive battle. After Stalingrad, the Germans never again took the offensive on the Eastern Front. Having said all that, and adding to that, Americans need to remember always that eight out of every ten Wehrmacht soldiers killed in the Second World War were killed by the Red Army. That doesn't mean by any stretch that the Red Army won the war by itself. But it does mean that they made a contribution without which Britain and America could never have won the war. Indeed, the truth of the Second World War is that no two of the three great allies were sufficiently strong to defeat Germany. Britain and the Soviet Union together couldn't have done it. The United States and the Soviet Union without Britain couldn't have done it.

It took all three. January 1943 also saw the great wartime conference, the second of them. The first had been the Arcadia Conference at the end of 1941. At the beginning of 1943, the second great conference between the Western Allies took place at Casablanca in Morocco. Roosevelt and his staff met with Churchill and his staff to plan operations for 1943. At these meetings, the first thing the Americans said to the British was, Well, of course you understand that having mounted torch and put all of this strength that we have into North Africa to round up the 1943 invasion of France is definitely off.

We don't have the resources to do that. Churchill was astonished, or said he was, to hear this. Whether he was telling the truth or not can't be said. The announcement to Stalin that there was not going to be a second front in 1943 left the Soviet dictator just shaking with rage. He had been demanding a second front ever since Hitler invaded the Soviet Union in June of 1941. Now, you meet Russians today who talk about why was there this terrible long delay before the second front was mounted. And of course we won the war, the Russians will tell you.

And more or less by ourselves. And you guys didn't even dare come in until we had utterly defeated the Wehrmacht and there was just a shell of the force that Hitler bragged was an army such as the world has never seen by the time you guys came into the real war in 1944. But here, I can't forbear saying that it really came hard to hear Stalin begging for a second front in 1942 and 1943. The French could have said, well, where the hell was the second front in 1940? When Hitler was overrunning France, what were you guys doing? That's when the second front should have been launched.

You should have been attacking the Germans instead of cooperating with them, instead of entering into an alliance with them. Well, leaving that aside, Stalin obviously wasn't going to be embarrassed by his past actions. Stalin was in a desperate situation. The Soviet Union was taking horrendous casualties. The Germans had occupied very large parts of the Soviet empire and Stalin desperately needed to have the pressure taken off him. He was fighting up to 200 German and allied divisions on the eastern front.

And so, naturally, he demanded the opening of a second front. Churchill had tried to persuade Stalin that the campaign in North Africa was a genuine opening of a second front. But to Stalin, that was utterly unacceptable. The Germans never had more than three divisions in North Africa. North Africa was clearly not going to be a decisive theater in this war. Russia very much still had her back against the wall. Even after the victory at Stalingrad, the Soviet Union was no longer on its last legs.

But the price of taking on the Wehrmacht by themselves was going to be very high and he was desperate to get a, Stalin was, to get a second front opened in France to force the Germans to transfer divisions from their eastern front over to France to take the pressure off the Russians. And you're listening to Stephen Ambrose tell the story of a year, 1943, a critical year in World War II. When we come back, more of Stephen Ambrose here on Our American Stories. Lee Habib here, the host of Our American Stories. Every day on this show, we're bringing inspiring stories from across this great country.

Stories from our big cities and small towns. But we truly can't do the show without you. Our stories are free to listen to, but they're not free to make. If you love what you hear, go to and click the donate button. Give a little, give a lot.

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Once again, that's 855-933-5252. And we continue with our American stories. And we last left off with President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill meeting for a second time during the war in January of 1943 in Casablanca in Morocco to plan operations for that year.

Let's pick up where we last left off with Stephen Ambrose. Now, a combination of things came together here at this Casablanca meeting. First of all, the decision we're not going to have a second front 1943. And somebody's got to explain this to Stalin.

And I pause there to make this point. When I say I had to explain it to Stalin, what I mean is the great fear on the part of the Western allies in World War II was always that Stalin would make a separate peace. And you would go back to the situation that prevailed before June of 1941. That is, to all practical purposes, Germany and the Soviet Union would be allies.

If that happened, there wasn't a chance in the world that the United States and Britain could invade France against all of Hitler's strength. And there were some fears came out from Berlin in the fall of 1942 as the Stalingrad battle was beginning. And they continued through the winter of 1942-43 of the Germans wondering if Stalin would be interested in a separate peace.

And it had a certain appeal to Stalin, especially if he felt, as he was beginning to feel or increasingly was feeling, that the Western allies were willing to sell the Soviet Union down the river. Or more precisely, if the Western allies were perfectly happy to watch Nazis killing communists and communists killing Nazis. And he was right to feel that way because an awful lot of people in the Western world did think exactly that. Not, however, the leaders, especially not the military leaders, all of whom realized that if you tried to play that game, the Nazis would very likely win the war. And if they did, they would then take over the world. And if they didn't, the communists were going to win the war. And they would end up with all of the resources, especially the human resources, of Western Europe under their control.

And that wouldn't be a world that we would want to live in either. But as between the two dangers, a Nazi-dominated Europe or a communist-dominated Europe, Roosevelt and Churchill and Marshall and Allenbrooke and Eisenhower and all of the leaders of the great alliance of Britain and the United States were in agreement that a Nazi victory would be worse. I think in retrospect that time has proven them right. We now reach the point in world history in which both of those isms are in the ax can of history. Naziism has been gone since 1945. And now communism is gone. If World War II had turned out the other way, with the Nazis victorious in Europe, I don't know how we ever got rid of the Nazis. I don't think that they would have withered on the vine in the way that the communists did or that their own people would have turned against them.

Well, that's a lot of speculation. Anyway, Stalin in 1943 wanted a second front and he wasn't going to get one. And this was a tough one to explain to him. And that fear that he would make a separate peace was very real. Oh, and I should add that Stalin also had complaints about the Darlan deal. His attitude was the first time the Americans go to the offensive in this war, within a day of the attack, they've cut a deal with a fascist general or in this case, Admiral, Admiral Darlan. And Stalin wondered aloud to the American ambassador, what does this mean that when you get into Germany, you're going to cut a deal with Germany's generals?

I don't like the smell of this at all. To reassure Stalin, both as to America's determination to stay in this war to the end and America's commitment to the Soviet Union as an ally and more specifically to guarantee to Stalin that there would be no more Darlan deals, that we would not get into a cooperative mode with the German generals, urging them to overthrow Hitler and then we'll deal with you. Roosevelt came up with a wholly new concept in war. That decision and that concept also came from, it had many, many parents that also came out of avoiding the mistake the allies and particularly Woodrow Wilson made in 1918.

Roosevelt wanted to make certain that the Germans would never again be able to claim that they were stabbed in the back. He wanted the Germans to understand that they had been beaten. And he came up with the formula called unconditional surrender. From Casablanca, he issued a pronouncement seconded by Churchill, calling on the or setting as the objective for the allies in the Second World War, the unconditional surrender of the Axis powers, Italy, Germany and Japan. Now what this meant, nobody knew. Nobody had ever asked for an unconditional surrender before.

And it raised a lot of questions. Well, who's going to be running Germany after she surrenders? Where's the government going to come from?

What kind of a system do you intend to impose on her? And of course, the strange alliance, it could be that the Russians would get a part of Germany. And this unconditional surrender from Germany would mean that the Russians could impose on the Germans, or at least that part of Germany that they occupied, their system. Presumably the Americans and the British would impose their system on the other part of Germany.

How could that ever work out? Well, nobody had an answer to that at the time. Unconditional surrender has received a lot of criticism because of its vagueness, and because of the argument that it forced the Germans and the Japanese to fight on when the fight was hopeless. So that it cost a lot of American and British lives. That had a formula for a surrender been worked out, you could have had a much earlier surrender and to save a great deal of the destruction of the Second World War. And the problem with that argument is, how can anyone imagine a scenario in which the German generals managed to get rid of Hitler?

So long as Hitler was around, there was no possibility of dealing with him. And in fact, Roosevelt, in the unconditional surrender announcement, made it clear that he, or something else that Wilson hadn't done, that we were going to put war criminals on trial. There was going to be punishment for the guilty Nazis. Now that, of course, made the guilty Nazis fight all that much harder. And it made all Germans fight that much harder because unconditional surrender gave the Goebbels, the propaganda minister, an ideal tool with which to whip up sentiment within Germany for to get the old men to tuck their beards into their shirts and pick up a rifle and go out and fight and to get the young boys to do the same because there was a lot of loose talk in the United States. There were a couple of senators who were talking about we ought to castrate all German males. And Goebbels was able to pick up on that and tell the German people that's what unconditional surrender is going to mean.

Well, that sure makes a man fight when he hears something like that. The other side of it, though, is unconditional surrender had a clearness to it, wiping the slate clean so that when it was all over, you could start to rebuild a new Germany, whether on the Russian model or on the American model, you could start to build a new Germany. And it also had a positive effect on morale within the United States. But most of all, the audience for unconditional surrender wasn't the American people. And it wasn't even so much policy towards the German people as it was a reassurance to Stalin.

We're not going to deal with any more fascist. And we're in this to the to the bitter end. And a great job editing that piece by Greg Hengler and a special thanks to the Ambrose estate for allowing us to use the audio of their father. And he died in 2002. But we at our American stories want to keep his voice alive. It is such an important voice. By the way, the World War Two Museum, Stephen Ambrose helped start that it's in New Orleans, pay a visit, go online, listen to the stories. It is hands down the best museum in this country.

Stephen Ambrose, the story of 1943 and unconditional surrender terms fashioned by Roosevelt, the pros and the cons here on our American stories. This February, Xfinity Flex is unlocking premium entertainment for you to try every single week, no strings attached. Celebrate during Black History Month with shows like Unsung the Decades. Snuggle up during Valentine's Day with a Lifetime Movie Club pick like Harry and Meghan, A Royal Romance. Or crank up the action with Godfather of Harlem from MGM Plus. Get down and funky with the classic soul playlist from I Heart Radio. Easily discover new free content each week across the best streaming app.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2023-02-01 04:14:46 / 2023-02-01 04:23:04 / 8

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