Memorial Day: History or Propaganda?

Black soldiers at Normandy: The Forgotten Ones

 On War, Racism and American Exceptionalism

Almost everything Americans know about the history of US wars is what they learn from the movies and media cheer leaders who serve up heroic stories designed to promote patriotism in the populace.  Hence it is in the nature of things that the average citizen’s views on this question are shaped far more by propaganda – which attempts to selectively arrange the facts to show America in a positive light – than the work of historians who are committed to showing the good, the bad and the ugly.  Hence it is no accident that World War II films are dominating the movie schedules on television.

This was the last war in which the US won a clear victory and the objectives were understood by the majority of Americans – albiet the Rusians played a more decisive role in the Nazi defeat and paid a far greater price: 20 million dead!  The wars that followed were based on ambiguous objectives and the outcomes were unclear.  We are still officially at war in Korea over a half century after the fighting stopped. Vietnam was by any measure a disaster.  And while Operation Desert Storm, directed by Colin Powell, was successful in its objectives it was not a full scaled war like Iraq and Afghanistan, and we seemed destined to leave these lands much as we left Vietnam.

It is no wonder that the nation concentrates so heavily on World War II in our search for serviceable war memories.  In the war against the racist genocidal Nazi’s there is no ambiguity about who the good guys were; the same is true of the Japanese fanatics and the Italian Fascist.  This contrast is most clear in the minds of the rah-rah America crowd, the American Exceptionalists, who argue that the US is the polar opposite of Nazi Germany in every respect.

However the facts are quite different.  Hitler got his basic racial theories from the American Eugenics movement, specifically the writings of Madison Grant in his 1917 tome “The Passing of the Great Race.” In his book, “Defending the Master Race,” historian Jonathan Spiro tells us:  “Grant was also the leader of the eugenics movement in the United States. He popularized the infamous notions that the blond-haired, blue-eyed Nordics were the “master race” and that the state should eliminate members of inferior races who were of no value to the community. Grant’s behind-the-scenes machinations convinced Congress to enact the immigration restriction legislation of the 1920s, and his influence led many states to ban interracial marriage and sterilize thousands of ‘unworthy citizens.’”

Madison Grant


 Hitler’s Tutor

 It is no wonder that a letter from Hitler turned up in Grant’ papers, where Der Fhurer gushes: “Your book is my bible!”  The Nazi racial laws, as well as their ideas about sterilization and euthanasia were made in America!   Ironically, white Americans were discriminating against its own Afro-American soldiers under “master race” dogma while fighting against such ideas in Germany – even forcing black soldiers guarding German prisoners of war to do their toilet in the bushes, while allowing their white German enemies to use the same bathrooms as them.  Black soldiers sent for training in the South couldn’t use their army issued meal tickets to have a meal, they were refused while in uniform while fascist POW’s from the German and Italian armies were readily served.  Black soldiers who protested this racist treatment were jailed and sometimes lynched -which means murder by public crucifixtion.

The late Afro-American historian John Hope Franklin personally witnessed this discrimination against black soldiers in North Carolina.  He recalls a humiliating incident in his autobiography,  where he was packed into an overcrowded segregated train car with black soldiers, while German prisoners rode in comfort in a “Whites Only” car while pointing at them and laughing at the absurdity of their predicament.

There are many such instances of white Americans favoring German Prisoners of war over black American soldiers detailed in the 2004 book “Icons of Insult: German and Italian Prisoners of War in African American Letters during World War II, by the German scholar Matthias Reiss.  Added to these humiliations the US government often dishonored the service of Afro-American soldiers by refusing to acknowlege indisputable acts of heroism.

The treatment of the now famous “Tuskeegee Airman” is a national disgrace.  The all black fighter pilots of the 99th Pursuit Squadron, commanded by Colonel Benjamin Davis Jr., whose father was an army General, NEVER lost a single bomber on missions over Nazi Germany; where they repeated engaged and defeated the crack fighter pilots of German air force.  American Exceptionalism indeed!

As a Black American veteran who comes from a long line of family members who served honorably in the US military, I am especially offended by the attempt to cover up the nation’s betrayal of these black soldiers.  My grandfather, Walter “Big Nang” Bellamy,lies buried in a gleaming white grave in the beautifully manicured lawn of the National Cemetary beside the seawall on the bank of the Matanzas Bay.  His tombstone reads “Master Sargent Walter Bellamy.

I believe if his skin were white he would have been a General: he certainly had all the right stuff!  Uncle Jimmy, who was a generation behind grandad, who fought in World War I, went into the army during World War II.   He went in as a private but after he got a good look at the white officers decided while still in basic training that he was going to become an officer.  He took the examination, scored very high, and did indeed become an officer.  He was assigned to serve with an Australian unit and became perhaps the first black combat officer in the pacific theater of operations.  At the wars end he was honorably discharged as a captian with BATTLE DECORATIONS!

My uncles Buddy and Bill served as drivers of big trucks ferrying weapons and ammunition through the Alps, often driving at night with no lights to avoid detection.  Uncle Walter served with the black armoured division that served with General George Patton in the Italian campaign.  My cousin Charles served in Vietnam and is still suffering from the affects of that misbegotten American War.

I served in the United States Strategic Air Command, on a nuclear strike base whose mission was the nuclear destruction of Russia.  And although I escaped the fate of several of my schoolmates who were killed or injured in Vietnam, my experience in SAC left me with the uncomfortable knowlege that the world can be destroyed in a hour should there ever be a nuclear war between the US and Russia.

Like few other Americans, I understood how close we came to nuclear catastrophe during the Cuban Missle Crisis of 1962.  Those who still don’t recognise that the human species barely escaped anhilation in that US/Russian confrontation should see, “The Fog of War,” a documentary film by Robert McNamara, who was US Secretary of Defense at the time.

When I was in SAC there were black men all throughout the ranks, including bomber pilots.  Yet you never see them portrayed in films about SAC, and few Americans know that at the height of the Cold War in the mid-twentieth an Afro-American Four Star air-force General, Daniel “Chappie” James, a former “Tuskegee Airman” was the Commander of NORAD – North American Air Defense Command – had the power to launch a nuclear attack on Russia WITHOUT consulting the President if a certain scenario developed!  Hence it is impossible for any objective observer viewing American Memorial Day Ceremonies, in light of these ignored facts, not to conclude that they are far more propaganda than history!

Firing Artillery at Japanese Troops

Black men fought in the Atlantic and the Pacific Theaters



Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

May 29, 2012

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