Island at War

Island at War: Puerto Rico in the Crucible of the Second World War

Jorge Rodríguez Beruff
José L. Bolívar Fresneda
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Island at War
    Book Description:

    Despite Puerto Rico being the hub of the United States' naval response to the German blockade of the Caribbean, there is very little published scholarship on the island's heavy involvement in the global conflict of World War II. Recently, a new generation of scholars has been compiling interdisciplinary research with fresh insights about the profound wartime changes, which in turn generated conditions for the rapid economic, social, and political development of postwar Puerto Rico. The island's subsequent transformation cannot be adequately grasped without tracing its roots to the war years.

    Island at Warbrings together outstanding new research on Puerto Rico and makes it accessible in English. It covers ten distinct topics written by nine distinguished scholars from the Caribbean and beyond. Contributors include experts in the fields of history, political science, sociology, literature, journalism, communications, and engineering.

    Topics include US strategic debate and war planning for the Caribbean on the eve of World War II, Puerto Rico as the headquarters of the Caribbean Sea frontier, war and political transition in Puerto Rico, the war economy of Puerto Rico, the German blockade of the Caribbean in 1942, and the story of a Puerto Rican officer in the Second World War and Korea. With these essays and others,Island at Warrepresents the cutting edge of scholarship on the role of Puerto Rico and the Caribbean in World War II and its aftermath.

    eISBN: 978-1-62674-567-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xi-2)

    The Caribbean played an important military and strategic role during the Second World War that has not been sufficiently acknowledged in the countless studies of that global conflict. Such studies generally focus on the major theaters of combat, namely Europe and the Asia-Pacific region.¹ US strategic debate and war planning in the pre-1941 period underscored the importance of the entire Caribbean region to protect the continental United States from an attack from the south and to defend the Panama Canal. Thus, military preparations in the late thirties and early forties placed great emphasis on this vital geostrategic space. Puerto Rico...

  5. Rediscovering Puerto Rico and the Caribbean: US Strategic Debate and War Planning on the Eve of the Second World War
    (pp. 3-28)
    Jorge Rodríguez Beruff

    During the period 1938 to 1941, an intense strategic debate took place in civilian and military circles regarding the defense policies the United States should adopt in view of impending (and, later, actual) war in Europe and Japanese expansionism in the Asia-Pacific region. This debate was, to a large extent, conducted in public. It signified the gradual waning of the pacifist and neutralist consensus of the pre-1938 period, during which intellectual and political critics of US participation in World War I had been extremely influential.¹ Opposition to war, a large military establishment, and “foreign entanglements” had brought together, since the...

  6. Puerto Rico: Headquarters of the Caribbean Sea Frontier, 1940–1945
    (pp. 29-60)
    Fitzroy André Baptiste

    These are ominous days—days whose swift and shocking developments force every neutral nation to look to its defenses in the light of new factors. The brutal force of modern offensive war has been loosed in all its horror.…

    The element of surprise which has ever been an important tactic in warfare has become the more dangerous because of the amazing speed with which modern equipment can reach and attack the enemy’s country.…

    The Atlantic and Pacific Oceans were reasonably adequate defensive barriers when fleets under sail could move at an average speed of five miles an hour.… Later, the...

  7. War and Political Transition in Puerto Rico, 1939–1940
    (pp. 61-81)
    Jorge Rodríguez Beruff

    Robert Hayes Gore was Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first nominee for governor of Puerto Rico. Gore was a successful Florida newspaperman who had devised an ingenious fund-raising scheme named Shareholders in America, which promoted small contributions to FDR’s 1932 presidential campaign and also provided the candidate with valuable publicity. Gore thus financed FDR’s campaign in Florida and the US Virgin Islands. After the election, he actively sought the post of commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service. It seems, however, that he disqualified himself by making a controversial and embarrassing statement during a social event in Havana in January 1933 that elicited...

  8. The Wartime Quartet: Muñoz Marín, Tugwell, Ickes, and FDR
    (pp. 82-110)
    Michael Janeway

    The relationship that took hold in 1941 between newly elected Senate president Luis Muñoz Marín and Rexford Guy Tugwell, the last continental-appointed governor of Puerto Rico, has by now drawn around itself a wreath of conventional wisdom, affording only a limited measure of objectivity.¹

    This wartime linkup was a timely but sometimes bumpy alliance between Muñoz Marín, having just led his new Partido Popular Democrático (PPD) to a narrow margin of control over the Puerto Rican legislature, and Rex Tugwell, the only inspired appointment as governor of the island the United States ever made. A brilliant academic economist, leading light...

  9. The War Economy of Puerto Rico, 1939–1945
    (pp. 111-138)
    José L. Bolívar Fresneda

    The Second World War brought about major changes in the Puerto Rican economy, hitherto mainly dependent on sugar exports and federal welfare expenditures. Three income streams provided Puerto Rico, an island with a population of roughly 1.9 million in 1940,¹ with almost $1.2 billion dollars between 1939 and 1947.² On a per capita basis, this is a much larger amount than what the United States invested in Europe through the Marshall Plan.³ The US military invested $709.6 million (see table 2), rum tax receipts returned to the government of Puerto Rico totaled $190.3 million (see table 3), and we estimate...

  10. The German Blockade of the Caribbean in 1942 and Its Effects in Puerto Rico
    (pp. 139-168)
    Ligia T. Domenech

    The United States officially became involved in World War II on the side of the Allies on December 7, 1941. This decision was a result of the devastating Japanese attack on the naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Although the Americans were aware of them, German submarines were not a major worry in the United States or in the Caribbean because, at that time, the common belief was that they couldn’t operate so far away from the French coast without refueling or recharging batteries, in a land whose possession the Germans still had not secured.¹ The most expected method of...

  11. Vieques: The Impact of the Second World War
    (pp. 169-187)
    César J. Ayala Casás and José L. Bolívar Fresneda

    The historical development of the island of Vieques was different from that of the main island of Puerto Rico. Whereas Puerto Rico was first settled by the Spanish in 1508, the island of Vieques was not permanently settled until the 1830s. When it was settled, it was French sugar planters who took on the task, bringing with them their slave populations and establishing a pure plantation economy along the lines of the French sugar islands. Thus, in spite of being connected historically to Puerto Rico, Vieques maintained its own sui generis history and social structure. Its inhabitants had a sense...

  12. The Anglo-American Caribbean Commission: A Socioeconomic Strategy Designed for Military Security, 1942–1946
    (pp. 188-217)
    Mayra Rosario Urrutia

    During the tumultuous decade of the 1930s, colonial possessions in the Caribbean posed political, economic, and military demands on the United States and Great Britain. The responses formulated by both metropolitan governments regarding these needs were shaped by their colonial policies, the effects of the Great Depression, the newly configured strategic and military importance of the Caribbean during the Second World War, and the grievances voiced throughout the islands in the form of uprisings and public protests.

    One of the steps the United States and Great Britain took to attend to the situation was the creation, in 1942, of the...

  13. Geopolitics and Telecommunications Policy in Puerto Rico: ITT and the Porto Rico Telephone Company, 1942–1948
    (pp. 218-244)
    Luis Rosario Albert

    In 1945, during the final months of the Second World War, Paul Porter, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, expressed that during the first decades of the twentieth century the US communications industry had experienced accelerated development all over the world.

    According to Porter:

    [O]ur present situation [is such that] the managements of international communications companies are in a position to shape our international communications policy through their ability to negotiate and make arrangements with the representatives of foreign governments. Indeed, management of communications companies may at times be in the position of serving interests other than their own national...

  14. What Did You Do in the War, Daddy? A Story of a Puerto Rican in the Second World War and Korea: Captain Harry Chabrán Acevedo, 1925–1986
    (pp. 245-260)
    Rafael Chabrán

    “The Warrior’s knowledge as expressed in memories, novels, poems and plays by soldiers, together with reports by oral historians and essay journalists posits a lifetime about war that contradicts the war-monger at virtually every level.”² The contradictions and the questions have always been there. The earliest memories I have of him are those of him in his uniform: a young, sharp second lieutenant. I knew all of his friends since my childhood. They were all Puerto Ricans in California, far from the island. They were part of the Puerto Rican diaspora.³ And yet, they all looked so strange to me...

  15. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 261-264)
  16. Index
    (pp. 265-272)