Years of Living Dangerously

January 1934

I have what may be a first edition. The book was printed in 1941, immediately following the events of the final chapter. I have no idea how it came into possession by my family, but following a division of assets it wound up on my bookshelf. I have read my copy through at least three times, and earlier this year I acquired a Kindle edition, which vastly facilitates searching, highlighting, and copying interesting passages. It’s Berlin Diary, and it’s by journalist and war correspondent William L. Shirer.

The full title is Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent, 1934–1941, and you can guess this is going to be about the early days of Nazi Germany. Besides that, it is the tale of a remarkable life. Shirer was born in 1904, and by 1925 he was in Europe, having worked his passage on a cattle boat. He intended to knock around for the summer but remained abroad for 15 years, returning only for brief intervals. As a news correspondent he traveled and associated broadly, including a close acquaintance with Mohandas K. Gandhi, and subsequently came to meet the key players in the lead up to war in Europe. In Europe he met and married photographer Theresa Stiberitz, from Vienna. Comfortable in French and German, he observed the widespread unrest in Europe and the spreading influence of Germany’s Nazi regime. He collaborated with Edward R. Murrow covering the early months of the war, being forced to leave in December 1940 as the danger became unbearable. Already noted for his war coverage, he achieved fame with the publication of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.

If you ever thought your life has been dull, you may not realize how dull until you read this book. It begins after Shirer lost the sight in one  eye in a skying accident. First entries relate the couple’s year off in southern Spain, Shirer recuperating and the two living off their savings.

The plan for this series is to cover diary entries on a daily basis on each 80th anniversary. I will crowd in an initial burst of postings to catch up, since the book starts in 1934. The tale is best told by shamelessly reprinting great sections of text from the book and adding my analysis. This is, after all, Skeptical Analysis. The opening entry is 11 January 1934:

LLORET DE MAR, SPAIN, January 11, 1934

Our money is gone. Day after tomorrow I must go back to work. We had not thought much about it. A wire came. An offer. A bad offer from the Paris Herald. But it will keep the wolf away until I can get something better.

Thus ends the best, the happiest, the most uneventful year we have ever lived. It has been our “year off,” our sabbatical year, and we have lived it in this little Spanish fishing village exactly as we dreamed and planned, beautifully independent of the rest of the world, of events, of men, bosses, publishers, editors, relatives, and friends. It couldn’t have gone on for ever. We wouldn’t have wanted it to, though if the thousand dollars we had saved for it had not been suddenly reduced to six hundred by the fall of the dollar, we might have stretched the year until a better job turned up. It was a good time to lay off, I think. I’ve regained the health I lost in India and Afghanistan in 1930– 1 from malaria and dysentery. I’ve recovered from the shock of the skiing accident in the Alps in the spring of 1932, which for a time threatened me with a total blindness but which, happily, in the end, robbed me of the sight of only one eye.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 44-53). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

This is just north of Barcelona, peaceful as the tale begins, but soon to become a focal point of the vicious Spanish Civil War. Spain at the time seemed safe, compared to what was going on in Germany:

Hitler and the Nazis have lasted out a whole year in Germany and our friends in Vienna write that fascism, both of a local clerical brand and of the Berlin type, is rapidly gaining ground in Austria. Here in Spain the revolution has gone sour and the Right government of Gil Robles and Alexander Lerroux seems bent on either restoring the monarchy or setting up a fascist state on the model of Italy— perhaps both.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 55-58). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Those not familiar with the history, the Nazis came to power in January 1933 and immediately, with calculated brutality, muscled their way to complete control. At the time he wrote this, neither Shirer nor anybody else realized the level of viciousness that was about to ensue.

He tells of renting a furnished house for $60 a month—good fortune even at that time in that place:

Myself: some history, some philosophy, and Spengler’s Decline of the West; Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution; War and Peace; Céline’s Voyage au bout de la nuit, the most original French novel since the war; and most or all of Wells, Shaw, Ellis, Beard, Hemingway, Dos Passos, and Dreiser. A few friends came and stayed: the Jay Allens, Russell and Pat Strauss, and Luis Quintanilla, one of the most promising of the younger Spanish painters and a red-hot republican. Andres Segovia lived next door and came over in the evening to talk or to play Bach or Albeniz on his guitar.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 69-74). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Already a reader is coming to realize the waste he has made of his own life. The closest I came was when Dos Passos lived on a street in Austin I passed through going to and from the University.

The idyll ends here. After this it’s Paris and the brutal reality of European politics of the 1930s.

Turning Point


From Wikipedia

In 1898 the United States entered the world stage, replacing Spain as a major power following a decisive victory. A hundred years ago today an event occurred that forever ensured this country’s participation in world affairs. On 3 March 1917 German Foreign Secretary Arthur Zimmermann acknowledged the German Empire was conspiring to bring Mexico into war with the United States. The item of the hour was the Zimmermann Telegram. A prior post recounts the details from Herbert Yardley’s book:

A famous code breaking case of the time, and one that had historical implications, was one that never came the way of the Black Chamber. This was the famous Zimmerman cable message. At the time, Mexico was still smarting from General Pershing’s punitive raid into Mexican territory, and General Carranza, the President of Mexico decided to throw in his lot with the Germans:

The reader will recall the sensational Zimmermann-Carranza note which the President read before Congress just before we entered the war, the note in which Zimmermann, German Minister for Foreign Affairs, promised Mexico financial aid and the states of New Mexico, Texas and Arizona if she declared war against the United States. This telegram was deciphered by the British Cryptographic Bureau early in 1917, just before we entered the war.

Yardley, Herbert O.. The American Black Chamber (Bluejacket Books) (Kindle Locations 1606-1609). Naval Institute Press. Kindle Edition.

The United States declared war on  Germany in April 1917, and subsequently sent approximately two million troops to France, resulting in “about 320,000 casualties: 53,402 battle deaths.” Twenty-four years later the United States entered World War Two, an almost unavoidable consequence of the earlier war. The consequences of the Zimmermann telegram shape the American landscape to this day.

The Ever-Diminishing List of Those Who Cannot Obtain Life Insurance at any Price

One of a continuing series


Lets try this, with apologies to Sonny and Cher fans:

The beat goes on, the beat goes on
Drums keep pounding
A rhythm to the brain
La de da de de, la de da de da

“La de da de da,” indeed. So what’s the latest?

Washington (CNN) — The US Special Operations head said Tuesday that the US and its allies had eliminated more than 60,000 ISIS fighters.

“We have killed over 60,000,” Gen. Raymond “Tony” Thomas, commander of US Special Operations command, told a symposium Maryland.
Thomas oversees America’s elite Special Operations troops, including Navy SEALs and Army Green Berets, which have played a large role in combating the terror organization, including raids against key leaders.

60,000? That’s out of a corps of how many?

The number of fighters in the Islamic State’s army largely “remains the same” as it did a year ago, a U.S. official briefed on the latest intelligence estimate tells Fox News.

Officially, ISIS is estimated to have between 20,000 and 25,000 fighters based on the new intelligence estimate, as first reported by USA Today. A year ago, ISIS was estimated to have between 19,000 and 31,000 fighters.

So the report is, allied forces have killed more than there are. And their troop strength remains the same. It’s the magic of counting coup. Allow me to reprint something I posted last February. It’s a back and forth from the Stanley Kubrick movie Full Metal  Jacket:

Lockhart: Joker, where’s the wienie?

Joker: Sir?

Lockhart: The kill, Joker, the kill. I mean, all that fire power, the grunts must have hit something.

Joker: Didn’t see ’em.

Lockhart: Joker, I’ve told you we run two basic stories here—grunts who give half their pay to buy gooks toothbrushes and deodorant—winning of hearts and minds. Okay? And combat action that results in a kill—winning the war. Now you must have seen blood trails, drag marks?

Joker: It was raining…, sir.

Lockhart: That’s why God passed  the law of probability. Now rewrite it and give it a happy ending. Say, uh, one kill. Make it a sapper, or an officer… which.

Joker: Whichever you say.

Lockhart: Grunts like reading about dead officers.

Joker: Okay, an officer. How about a general?

Yes, that was the subject of body count from the Vietnam unpleasantness 50 years ago. The story from CNN goes on to quote

Multiple American officials have told CNN in the past that the Pentagon does not officially tally body counts.
Carter’s predecessor, Chuck Hagel, said that the practice of counting the number of enemies killed wasn’t a particularly useful one.
“My policy has always been, don’t release that kind of thing,” Hagel told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in December.
Hagel, a veteran of the Vietnam War where the American military’s enemy body count statistics were disparaged for being overly optimistic, criticized releasing the figures.
“Body counts. I mean, come on, did we learn anything from Vietnam?” he asked. “Body counts make no sense.”

Yes, body counts do not make sense, unless you are an insurance underwriter. It’s possible none of this matters. It’s possible none of the 60,000 had life insurance.

And the beat goes on.

The Ever-Diminishing List of Those Who Cannot Obtain Life Insurance at any Price

One of a continuing series


Suddenly, OK maybe slowly, it’s beginning to look like not so fun a game anymore. This is what it’s like to play in the big leagues:

Irbil (CNN) — Iraqi security and coalition forces have killed 97 ISIS militants in eastern and southern Mosul on Sunday, Iraq’s Joint Military Command said, as the group continues to defend its Iraqi bastion with suicide attacks and artillery.

The militants were killed in three separate incidents, the Iraqi military said in a statement.

Yeah, guys. It’s the NFL. The story from CNN relates how the 97 unknowns came face to face with eternity. 21 JV fighters were benched when Iraqi soldiers set off two explosive charges in separate vehicles. Another 51 lost out in an attack on Iraqi troops. Coalition airstrikes counted for a further 25.

But wait. What does all this remind me of? There is an image I’m looking for. Ah! Here it is.


Yes, this is the one. It’s a scene from Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket. That’s Lieutenant Lockhart (John Terry), a Marine Corps public affairs officer, lining up assignments for Marine journalists at the height of the Vietnam War. He’s explaining to Sergeant James T. “Joker” Davis (Matthew Modine) the importance of having an enemy body count when reporting action against the NVA. He picks apart a story by Joker concerning a firefight that interrupted a meal some grunts were having in the out lands.

Lockhart: Joker, where’s the wienie?

Joker: Sir?

Lockhart: The kill, Joker, the kill. I mean, all that fire power, the grunts must have hit something.

Joker: Didn’t see ’em.

Lockhart: Joker, I’ve told you we run two basic stories here—grunts who give half their pay to buy gooks toothbrushes and deodorant—winning of hearts and minds. Okay? And combat action that results in a kill—winning the war. Now you must have seen blood trails, drag marks?

Joker: It was raining…, sir.

Lockhart: That’s why God passed  the law of probability. Now rewrite it and give it a happy ending. Say, uh, one kill. Make it a sapper, or an officer… which.

Joker: Whichever you say.

Lockhart: Grunts like reading about dead officers.

Joker: Okay, an officer. How about a general?

By the time the Vietnam combat got intense I already had my DD-214 get out of jail card, and I was watching the action on TV. A big weekly item was the casualty report. Starting in 1967 these started to get ominous. The number rose with the level of action. For weeks every report was over 800 dead. Those were American troops. It peaked at over 1000. This was beginning to look like Operation Overlord.

Then there was the enemy body count, and there was a lot of talk about the numbers being fudged. It’s not as though these numbers needed to be weighted:

According to the Vietnamese government, there were 1,100,000 North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong military personnel deaths during the Vietnam War (including the missing). Rummel reviewed the many casualty data sets, and this number is in keeping with his mid-level estimate of 1,011,000 North Vietnamese combatant deaths. The official US Department of Defense figure was 950,765 communist forces killed in Vietnam from 1965 to 1974. Defense Department officials believed that these body count figures need to be deflated by 30 percent. In addition, Guenter Lewy assumes that one-third of the reported “enemy” killed may have been civilians, concluding that the actual number of deaths of communist military forces was probably closer to 444,000.

Even considering a North Vietnamese population ranging from 15 million to 23 million between 1960 and 1974, these kinds of losses were not sufficient to blunt the enemy’s will. It was the United States that withdrew from the combat zone without completing its objective of maintaining a South Vietnam independent of the North.

Sometimes made, regarding Daesh, is a comparison with the Vietnam conflict. It dies not work. President Obama drew some heat when he referred to Daesh as the JV (junior varsity) team. At the time I disagreed with the President’s detractors,  and I still do. I will reiterate something I pointed out previously. Daesh is deficient in critical areas needed to play in the big leagues. By these measures they don’t stack up to the North Vietnamese of 50 years ago:

  • No firm control over defined geography
  • No significant industrial base
  • Completely dependent on external clients for financial support
  • Fluid or weak bureaucracy
  • Ill-defined legal structure
  • Weak technological and intellectual resources

This aside, Daesh has gained control of significant geography in Syria and Iraq. The action in Mosul cited above is in response to Daesh taking the city over two years ago. In Syria Daesh remains entrenched amid a conflict among disparate parties.

The prognosis is that Daesh will be defeated militarily in Iraq. The Syrian conclusion is not as easy to project, but none of the possible outcomes includes a region controlled by Daesh.

Will Daesh prevail militarily anywhere in  the world? No.

Will Daesh continue to be a threat in the foreseeable future. 100% for sure.

We can continue to expect fatal attacks with varying degrees of success by Daesh in  the civilized world. While Daesh can be eliminated as an organized movement, as an ideology it has gained the base needed to perpetuate itself at a subterranean level for decades. As a deadly ideology Daesh is shoulders above what the Weather Underground, the Red Brigades, and Shining Path ever amounted to. A better comparison would be the Irish Republican Army, responsible for terrorists attacks, particularly in Ireland and Great Britain for decades.

A key element of Daesh, missing from the above mentioned, is a willingness to die. Modern police methods do not work against the employee who shows up for work one day with a weapon and no backup plan. This is the kind of person who keeps insurance underwriters awake nights.


The Ever-Diminishing List of Those Who Cannot Obtain Life Insurance at any Price

One of a continuing series


President Obama has previously been criticized for calling Daesh a junior varsity (JV) team. My take is, if the shoe fits, wear it. Just ask your local Met Life agent:

(CNN) — At least 75% of ISIS fighters have been killed during the campaign of US-led airstrikes, according to US officials.

The US anti-ISIS envoy said the campaign has winnowed ISIS’ ranks to between 12,000 and 15,000 “battle ready” fighters, a top US official said on Tuesday.
The figures mean the US and its coalition partners have taken out vastly more ISIS fighters in Iraq and Syria than currently remain on the battlefield, two years since the bombing campaign began. Last week a US official said the coalition had killed 50,000 militants since 2014.

Ow! That has got to  hurt. This gives a whole new meaning to , “See Syria and die.” I’m wondering what effect it’s having on recruitment world wide. One can surmise.

There seem to be three kinds of Daesh recruits:

  • Those who join Daesh (ISIS), go to Syria, and die.
  • Those who go to Syria, join Daesh, come back to the U.S., Belgium, Paris, etc., and die.
  • Those who stay in the U.S. Belgium, Paris, etc., join Daesh, and die.

Longevity is not in the lexicon. Neither, apparently, is life insurance.

The Ever-Diminishing List of Those Who Cannot Obtain Life Insurance at any Price

One of a continuing series

This is disturbing. I wonder if Obamacare would have helped:

Irbil, Iraq (CNN) — A senior ISIS commander has been killed in the battle for Mosul, the terror group’s last major stronghold in Iraq, Iraqi military intelligence sources tell CNN.

Mahmoud Shukri al Nuaimi, a senior figure in the militant setup who also is known as Sheikh Faris, was killed Tuesday in an Iraqi-led coalition airstrike in western Mosul, the sources said.
ISIS confirmed his death in a video montage, referring to him as “the martyr of the battle.”

Wow! “Martyr of the battle.” What an honor. Years of dedicated service and sacrifice, and you wind up with “martyr of the battle.” Life insurance? Not so fast.

Master of Aggression


On critical anniversaries of World War Two I am posting various historical notes and reviews. Along those lines I obtained Kindle editions of biographies of Heinrich Himmler, Joseph Goebbels and Hermann Goering by Roger Manvell and Heinrich Fraenkel. This book is Goering: The Rise and Fall of the Notorious Nazi Leader. In discussing the book I’m going to deal a lot with the life and doings of Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering, the leader of the German Luftwaffe during World War Two. I’m posting this on the 70th anniversary of the death of Hermann Goering.

The authors published their trilogy 15 years after the end of the war, and this was a critical time. The collapse of the Third Reich and the Nazi Party was so complete and so cataclysmic that comprehensive documentation was not immediately available. Important records were presented as evidence in the war crimes trials of 1946 and subsequently. In the mean time the Soviets had overrun the major institutions of Nazi power, and they were initially slow to disclose their holdings. Manvell and Fraenkel were able, by 1960, to obtain access to records not available to early writers.

This and the others of the trilogy offer detailed accounts of the lives of these top Nazis. Problems I have encountered with other legacy Kindle books plague these, as well. The use of OCR technology can result in unwarranted character substitution, leaving it to the reader to make the correction mentally. For example:

As the guards in the prison at the Palace of Justice peered through the trap door of cell number 5, they saw Goering poring over the document which summarized the record of the Nazi regime under the four headings which constituted the charges against him: the common plan or conspiracy, crimes against peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. It had been signed in October in Berlin by the chief prosecutors and had become the official indictment of a great international assembly of nations, since by then eighteen countries had adhered to the charter setting up the tribunal. The defendants were accused not only individually under these four main charges, but also as key members of one or more of the organizations through which the Nazi regime had operated: the Reich Cabinet, the Leadership Corps of the Nazi Party, the S.S. and the S.D., the Gestapo, the S.A., the High Command of the Army (O.K.H.) and the High Command of the Armed Forces (Q.K.W.). These organizations were themselves placed on trial as criminal groups.

Fraenkel, Heinrick; Manvell, Roger (2011-03-02). Goering: The Rise and Fall of the Notorious Nazi Leader (Kindle Locations 5817-5824). Frontline. Kindle Edition.

[Emphasis added]

Obviously the authors wrote “O.K.W.,” not “Q.K.W.” O.K.W stands for Oberkommando [der] Wehrmact. It’s a small error, but representative of a number of glitches in this and many legacy ebooks.

Of all the Nazi villains, Goering may be the most curious. To track the trajectory of his life you will have to wonder, how did the son of an Imperial German consular official rise to the heights of war hero before plunging to the depths of depravity, only to rise again to the peaks of power in one of the most depraved military and political powers of the 20th century. You start by knowing he was not always destined for glory. He was once a problem child possibly headed nowhere.

By the time Hermann was conceived, Franziska, who needed all the toughness of her Austrian and Bavarian blood to lead this life of constant movement and rough, violent living, had already borne three children, Karl, Olga and Paula. Shortly before the birth of this fourth child she left Haiti and traveled home alone. When she returned to Haiti she left the six-week-old baby in Fürth, Bavaria, in the hands of a friend of the family, Frau Graf, whose daughters became his playmates and remember him today as a handsome, headstrong boy.

When the child was three years old his father returned to Germany to face retirement. Hermann Goering’s earliest recollection was of expressing his resentment toward his mother by hitting her in the face with his fists when she tried to embrace him after her prolonged absence. She was deeply upset.

Fraenkel, Heinrick; Manvell, Roger (2011-03-02). Goering: The Rise and Fall of the Notorious Nazi Leader (Kindle Locations 186-192). Frontline. Kindle Edition.

Heinrich Goering looked forward to maintaining his family on his meager pension. Salvation came in the person of  his friend, Dr. Hermann Epenstein. Epenstein was a Jew, a bachelor and quite wealthy. He purchased a Mautern-dorf Castle in Austria and established himself there. He also purchased the Veldenstein Castle near Nuremberg in Germany. The Goering family was allowed to stay here. Part of the arrangement involved Frau Goering sharing a bed with Epenstein. This arrangement was subsequently to become a source of embarrassment to the Nazi Hermann Goering.

The irascible Hermann found his outlet in playing military, and at the age of 12 he was sent off to military school. Here he found comfort inn the rigid discipline and thrived. In 1912 he obtained a commission in the Prinz Wilhelm Regiment of the 112th Infantry. When war broke out in 1914 he proved to be an aggressive, if impetuous, fighter, almost leading his reconnoiter platoon to destruction in an early encounter with the French.

Early adventure succumbed to the horrors of trench warfare, and he was invalided back to the rear. A visit from life-long friend Bruno Loerzer, in training at a flight school, got Goering out of the trenches and into the air. There he found his true calling and quickly made a name for himself:

By 1917 , Goering’s reputation as a fighter pilot was fully established. In addition to the Iron Cross, he was to be awarded the Zaehring Lion with swords, the Karl Friedrich Order and the Hohenzollern Medal with swords, third class, all prior to his final award, Pour le Mérite. In May he was put in command of Squadron 27, which needed an improvement in morale. Goering was now responsible for both administration and strategy; he had to show inspiring leadership. He set about the immediate strengthening of the squadron, working day and night to ensure efficiency first on the ground and then in the air. In the summer the two squadrons , 26 and 27, were operating alongside each other, flying from the same airdrome on the Flanders front— at Iseghem, near Ypres. The air attacks on the Allies were now built up into a major offensive ; Goering’s squadron in particular had to help in the protection of the other planes, attracting enemy fire away from them. The Allies , meanwhile, were redoubling their efforts in the air, and the Germans countered by forming specially large composite squadrons, called Jagdgeschwader (pursuit squadrons), equaling four of the others; the first of these was commanded by Manfred von Richthofen. Goering and Loerzer were among those whose squadrons were merged to create the third of these major formations.

Fraenkel, Heinrick; Manvell, Roger (2011-03-02). Goering: The Rise and Fall of the Notorious Nazi Leader (Kindle Locations 371-380). Frontline. Kindle Edition.

When Richthofen, the “Red Baron,” was killed in April 1918, Goering took his place leading the famous “Flying Circus” squadron. It may be that was the true high point of Herman Goering’s life. He was then headed toward the lowest of the low from which few ever recover. Germany’s defeat and the Armistice in November 1911 dismantled his life of glory and set him on a course that would lead to his ultimate destruction:

Goering was demobilized, with the honorary rank of captain, in the old Bavarian town of Aschaffenburg, some thirty miles from Frankfurt There, it seems, he stayed, at the villa of the managing director of the Buntpapier A.G., a firm of paper manufacturers, and the actual disbanding of the Geschwader took place in the courtyard of the firm’s premises where the officers’ luggage was stowed before being sent on to their homes. Goering and his officers spent most of their time in the Stiftskeller, the best restaurant and drinking place in the town. They were determined to keep together as long as they could. On November 19 Goering finally said goodbye, and he discovered his gifts as a speaker in a speech he made at the Stiftskeller. He spoke of the history and the achievements of the famous Richthofen squadron, of the bitter times that Germany must now endure , and of the disgraceful behavior of the German people in their attitude to those who had, as officers, sacrificed themselves for their country. He was outraged by the revolt of soldiers against authority , and by the support the soldiers’ councils were receiving in many parts of Germany. “The new fight for freedom, principles, morals and the Fatherland has begun,” he said. “We have a long and difficult way to go, but the truth will be our light. We must be proud of this truth and of what we have done.

We must think of this. Our time will come again.” He gave the toast to the Richthofen Geschwader. solemnly they drank, then smashed their glasses.

Outside, crowds of civilians and ex-soldiers gathered in the streets to insult the officers, who, they were now led to think, had betrayed Germany and sacrificed the lives of their men in order to win for themselves decorations of the kind the Emperor had bestowed on Goering. The story goes that Goering was set on in the street and that with difficulty he prevented the mob from stripping the medals from his breast. He stayed in Aschaffenburg until early December, and then, without gratuity or pension, he went to Munich, where his mother was living. It was plain to him that he must make his own way in the world.

Fraenkel, Heinrick; Manvell, Roger (2011-03-02). Goering: The Rise and Fall of the Notorious Nazi Leader (Kindle Locations 450-466). Frontline. Kindle Edition.

Germany’s military failure produced a deep and lasting social rift. Civilians had suffered immense deprivations under the war, and they perceived the military had squandered German society in a vainglorious quest for valor. Many in the military, particularly in the officer corps, saw the revolution that overthrew the government during the last days as a betrayal of their blood sacrifice. Goering drifted into the morass of militarist coalitions seeking redress and a restoration of German honor. As Germany sank into economic, social and political chaos, Goering found himself among a group of former officers and soldiers that included Ernst Udet, another former fighter ace, and also General Erich Ludendorff and Adolph Hitler.

At a critical time, at a critical place, Goering found his voice in the advocacy of continued and renewed German militarism.

During these immediate postwar weeks, Goering found himself in a new and alien world. He was a Prussian officer whose only background was his military training and the sense of caste inspired by his father, and the traditions represented by his early life in the castles of the south. Now he was an unemployed man of twenty-five in search of work. Politically Germany had collapsed into a form of mob rule, owing to the weakness of the hastily established government set up to formulate some kind of peace treaty. In Munich the throne of Bavaria had collapsed and a republic had been proclaimed on November 8, a few days before the armistice. Wilhelm II, the Emperor of Germany, had fled to Holland, and General Ludendorff, Chief of the General Staff, had also disappeared. The German working class had turned on the men they felt to be responsible for the war, and the soldiers who remained in uniform regarded their officers as traitors. A Socialist revolution had been proclaimed officially in Berlin and in a number of other German cities.

The officers, meanwhile, banded themselves together to defend their caste. They organized the so-called Freikorps—“free corps” of volunteers— in an effort to keep the German Army in being. In December Goering attended an officers’ rally in the Berlin Philharmonic Hall at which the new Prussian Minister of War, General Walter Reinhardt, spoke, urging the packed audience to support the new government and obey its order that officers should discard the traditional insignia of their rank and replace their epaulets with stripes on their jacket sleeves. The General himself wore his three stripes; his epaulets and his medals were gone.

As Reinhardt was about to dismiss the meeting, Goering stood up in the body of the hall. He was wearing his full uniform, with his silver epaulets and the stars of his new rank of captain, and with the Pour le Mérite prominent among his medals and decorations. He stepped onto the platform, saying, “I beg your pardon, sir.” The large gathering of officers fell silent. Goering had discovered his ability as a speaker in Aschaffenburg; now, as one of the more famous of Germany’s young officers, he was forced to say what he felt. He began:

I had guessed, sir, that you, as Minister of War, would put in an appearance here today. But I had hoped to see a black band on your sleeve that would symbolize your deep regret for the outrage you are proposing to inflict on us. Instead of that black band you are wearing blue stripes on your arm. I think, sir, it would have been more appropriate for you to wear red stripes!

The officers broke into applause, but Goering held up his hand for silence and went on speaking.

We officers did our duty for four long years … and we risked our bodies for the Fatherland. Now we come home— and how do they treat us ? They spit on us and deprive us of what we gloried in wearing. And this I can tell you, that the people are not to blame for such conduct . The people were our comrades— the comrades of each of us, irrespective of social conditions, for four weary years of war … Those alone are to blame who have goaded on the people— those men who stabbed our glorious Army in the back and who thought of nothing but of attaining power and of enriching themselves at the expense of the people. And therefore I implore you to cherish hatrcd-a profound, abiding hatred of those animals who have outraged the German people . … But the day will come when we will drive them away out of our Germany. Prepare for that day. Arm yourselves for that day. Work for that day. 6

Then Goering left the hall,

Fraenkel, Heinrick; Manvell, Roger (2011-03-02). Goering: The Rise and Fall of the Notorious Nazi Leader (Kindle Locations 475-503). Frontline. Kindle Edition.

Good fortune came to Goering as his military contacts and his flying experience brought him financial success in the emerging aircraft industries in Germany and elsewhere. His return to Germany from Sweden soon led to him to Adolph Hitler.

One day , on a Sunday in November or October of 1922, the demand for the extradition of our military leaders was again placed in the foreground on the occasion of a protest demonstration in Munich. I went to this protest demonstration as a spectator, without having any connection with it. Various speakers from parties and organizations spoke there. At the end Hitler too was called for. I had heard his name briefly mentioned once before and wanted to hear what he had to say. He declined to speak, and it was pure coincidence that I stood nearby and heard the reasons for his refusal … He considered it senseless to launch protests with no weight behind them. This made a deep impression on me; I was of the same opinion.

I inquired and found that … he held a meeting every Monday evening. I went there, and Hitler spoke about that demonstration, about Versailles … and the repudiation of that treaty. He said that … a protest is successful only if backed by power to give it weight. As long as Germany had not become strong, this kind of thing was to no purpose. The conviction was spoken word for word as if from my own soul.

On one of the following days I went to the business office of the N.S.D.A.J.P. … I just wanted to speak to him at first to see if I could assist him in any way. He received me at once and after I had introduced myself he said it was an extraordinary turn of fate that we should meet. We spoke at once about the things which were close to our hearts— the defeat of our Fatherland …, Versailles. I told him that I myself, to the fullest extent, and all I was and possessed were completely at his disposal for this, in my opinion, most essential and decisive matter: the fight against the Treaty of Versailles.

Hitler spoke at length about his program and then offered Goering a position in the Nazi Party.

He had long been on the lookout for a leader who had distinguished himself in some way in the last war … so that he would have the necessary authority. … Now it seemed to him a stroke of luck that I in particular, the last commander of the Richthofen squadron, should place myself at his disposal I told him that it would not be so very pleasant for me to have a leading office from the very beginning, since it might appear that I had come merely because of this position. We finally reached an agreement: For one or two months I was to remain officially in the background, and take over the leadership only after that, but actually I was to make my influence felt immediately. I agreed to this, and in that way I joined forces with Adolf Hitler.

So Goering , well pleased with himself, joined the Nazi Party and at the age of twenty-nine assumed once more what he most desired, the command of men.

Fraenkel, Heinrick; Manvell, Roger (2011-03-02). Goering: The Rise and Fall of the Notorious Nazi Leader (Kindle Locations 592-613). Frontline. Kindle Edition.

Working against Goering’s new found success was the deepening decline in German society. Saddled with a weak government and burdened by the onerous terms of the Versailles Treaty, the German economy collapsed almost completely. Into the political vacuum of those years rose varied movements offering solutions and seeking real power. In addition to the ex-military groups prowling the streets of Germany  a strong Communist element made itself felt. The clash between the militarists and the Communists was to be pivotal.

Communists march in Berlin (Wikipedia)

Communists march in Berlin (Wikipedia)

The various factions often clashed in the streets, violently. Confrontations rose from harassment to beatings to outright murder. Pitched gun battles erupted. The government was powerless to keep the peace.


From Google Images

Goering’s lurch to the brink came 9 November 1923 as he found himself alongside Hitler, facing armed police, in Hitler’s attempted coup d’etat. When the police opened fire Goering was wounded but escaped, just barely. A hunted man, he fled first to Austria and ultimately to Italy. His recovery was long, perilous and painful. The morphine that slaked his pain remained a life-long burden. He could have died, he could have settled into oblivion, or he could have rebounded as a remake of his former glory. The road to prominence and ultimately doom was through Hitler.

Adolph Hitler stood trial for his part in the Beer Hall Putsch, and used it as a sounding board for his political outlook. Hitler received a five-year sentence for treason, but served less than a year. Once out of prison he began to reform the National Socialist Party, which had been dismantled by the government. He now determined to obtain power without violent revolution, and he began to gather his previous followers.

Exile and addiction had left Goering at rock bottom, including confinement in a strait jacket at the Institute for the Cure of Nervous Diseases of Langbro, Sweden. When Hindenburg was elected German president in 1927 he proclaimed political amnesty, allowing Goering to return to Germany and to seek re-employment in the Nazi Party. Hitler and others were at first reluctant to accept Goering back. The Party was short on money to pay new workers, and Party principals, including Hitler, were unsure of Goering’s worth.

Even though money was scarce, Hitler was by no means impoverished. The Nazi press was gaining ground. There were steady profits coming in from the innumerable mass meetings, to which a small entrance fee was always charged. There were gifts from wealthy sympathizers . Hitler had an income; his tax records survive and prove that he was learning how to argue about expenses with the tax inspectors.

Goering gradually established himself during the winter months as a business agent in the aircraft industry. He was in touch with Erhard Milch, a senior executive in Lufthansa, which enjoyed a monopoly in German civil aviation. He acted as an agent in Berlin for the Bavarian Motor Works, which made aviation engines, and for the firm of Heinkel. He was also agent for the Swedish Tornblad parachute, and he worked from a small office in the Gaisbergstrasse, which he shared with Victor Siebel, who was later to become an aircraft manufacturer. 1 Heiden claims that the Bavarian Motor Works had been bought by Camillo Castiglioni, an Italian Jew from Trieste, who paid Goering generously to act as his representative, but that Goering achieved little for him. Heiden describes Goering as tireless in work and in the social round, turning night into day, working by candlelight in his flat, in front of him a picture of Napoleon, behind him a medieval sword. 2

In Berlin he was joined by Paul Koerner, another ex-officer, who became his partner. He began also to work upon his old social contacts, such as Bruno Loerzer and Prince Philipp von Hessen.

Early in 1928 Goering apparently decided to put pressure on Hitler. The elections were approaching in the spring, and he went to Munich to fight for the recognition he felt that he deserved. Together with Hanfstaengl, he walked in the snow to Hitler’s flat in the Thierschstrasse. Goering did not want to go in alone, but Hanfstaengl refused to accompany him. Later he gathered that Goering had lost his temper, but won his point; Hitler consented that he should be regarded as a Nazi candidate for the Reichstag. 3 Hanfstaengl says that he often heard Hitler express fears that Goering would fail to be of any use to the party; however, he copied Hitler’s style and delivery on the platform with remarkable effect.

Fraenkel, Heinrick; Manvell, Roger (2011-03-02). Goering: The Rise and Fall of the Notorious Nazi Leader (Kindle Locations 923-940). Frontline. Kindle Edition.

Acceptance back into the party and election to a seat in the Reichstag lifted Goering out of poverty and enabled him to bring his new wife from Sweden. The chain of events that followed compels the conviction that his return to prosperity fueled Goering with a driving lust for more. The remainder of his life, right up to the final few days, is the story of a relentless accumulation of wealth. Increased power brought increased opportunity.

When Goering became Premier of Prussia in April 1933, he was entitled to another official residence in addition to that of president of the Reichstag . But, like most men tasting the first fruits of power, he was dissatisfied with the stale palaces of a dead regime; he wanted to express himself through something new. While Goebbels, who had been appointed Minister of Propaganda and Public Enlightenment in March 1933, was tearing down the stucco and changing the interior decoration of the Leopoldpalast on the Wilhelmplatz (“ I cannot work in the twilight,” he said), Goering decided to clear a site on the corner of Prinz Albrechtstrasse and Stresemannstrasse, the name of which he had had changed by the local authority to Hermann Goeringstrasse. Here he built himself a town house at the taxpayers’ expense next door to the new headquarters of the Gestapo, for whose activities Diels had commandeered the premises of the Berlin Folklore Museum. The new palace was completed early in 1934[.]

From this period, Goering’s financial status was inextricably entangled with the perquisites and prizes of office. His officially declared salaries were relatively small: president of the Reichstag, 7,200 marks a year; Cabinet minister, 12,000 marks; Air Commissioner, 3,000 marks; president of the Prussian State Council, 12,000 marks. Some of these offices carried expense allowances or exemptions from taxation. Hitler was always prepared to enable Goering to entertain lavishly when it was necessary. In addition, Goering began, by virtue of his powerful positon, to gather substantial business interests in the form of shares, and the influential newspaper, the Nationalzeitung of Essen, became his particular mouthpiece.

Fraenkel, Heinrick; Manvell, Roger (2011-03-02). Goering: The Rise and Fall of the Notorious Nazi Leader (Kindle Locations 1787-1799). Frontline. Kindle Edition.

Goering milked the cow of political power to a far greater extent than any other of his Nazi cohorts. In the years ahead he was to become the face of self-aggrandizement in the new order. As his position improved his grasp for wealth seemed to expand without bound. Eventually he was demonstrated to be an administrative hack, administrator of the German economy and commander of the German Luftwaffe in name only by 1943. That he retained position and nominal power right to the final fall can possibly be attributed to his decisive actions and tactical success in the final stages of the Nazis’ climb to power. The period leading into the first weeks of 1933 saw Goering’s supreme triumph. Franz von Papen was one of the last chancellors of the Weimar Republic and the final obstacle to Nazi power.

The next round of elections was announced for November 6, Meanwhile Papen continued in office by presidential decree. The Nazis had to some extent overplayed their hand. They lost over two million votes at the elections and the number of their deputies dropped from 230 to 196. Many people had ceased altogether to trust them, and they were short of money. Their tactics during the past few months and their attitude to both the President and his Chancellor did not please the industrialists on whom they still had mainly to rely for financial support. Also, the number of unemployed, on whose discontent the Nazis depended for their votes, had appreciably decreased ; it can be said that the genuine peak of the Nazi vote in Germany was attained when the unemployment figure was at its height, in July 1932. Time was running out.

The battle between Hindenburg and Hitler and the conspiracy behind it began immediately after the elections and lasted throughout the final tragic weeks of Germany’s tortured freedom. The decadent form of German democracy gradually petered out of existence, although Hitler was now supported by only 33.1 per cent of the total electorate, a fall of 4.2 per cent since the elections in July, The éminence grise behind Hindenburg was still Schleicher. On November 17 Papen resigned on his advice. According to Heiden, Goering was in Rome, sitting beside Mussolini at a banquet given in honor of the guests attending the European Congress of the Academy of Science, when news was brought to him of Papen’s defeat. Having assured Mussolini that fascism was now about to triumph in Germany, he flew back to Berlin in time to make the necessary arrangements with the President’s State Secretary, Otto Meissner, for a meeting between Hitler and Hindenburg. On November 19 Hitler met the President, and again on the twenty-first. Nothing came of it. Hitler was determined to be Chancellor, and Hindenburg would not allow this unless he could secure majority support in the Reichstag, which was now impossible.

The next stage came when Schleicher secured the chancellorship for himself. The Nazi leaders were divided as to whether they should or should not co-operate with him. They met on December 1 at Weimar, and again on December 5 at the Kaiserhof, to discuss the matter; Gregor Strasser, never really Hitler’s man, had been in direct touch with Schleicher and was, in fact, secretly ready to lead a faction of the party deputies into Schleichef’s trap in exchange for receiving the office of Vice-Chancellor. Goering, Goebbels and Hitler were utterly opposed to any compromise. Goering was left, aided possibly by Roehm and Frick, to negotiate with Schleicher along the line determined at the final conference. According to Heiden . Goering had already been instructed to approach Schleicher on December 3 to ask for the office of Premier of Prussia and had been told there was support among the center parties only for Strasser to become State Premier.

When the new Reichstag met on December 6, Goering was reelected president. He did all he could to bring the assembly into ridicule, and he told it bluntly that its life would be a short one. When he had sat down, the Reichstag continued with its business while Goering stared at the deputies through binoculars, comparing the faces that he did not know with a file of photographs on his desk. In particular, he stared at the men he suspected of complicity with Strasser, and at Strasser himself. Two days later Strasser quarreled violently with Hitler and then wrote him a celebrated letter of recrimination, resigned from the party and left for the south. Hitler, aware his future was in the balance, threatened to shoot himself if the party deserted him, while Goering threatened to break the neck of every follower of Strasser.

Fraenkel, Heinrick; Manvell, Roger (2011-03-02). Goering: The Rise and Fall of the Notorious Nazi Leader (Kindle Locations 1322-1349). Frontline. Kindle Edition.

Hard to reconcile with his professional life, which existed in contradiction to basic humanity, was Goering’s family life. He married a divorced woman, Carin von Kantzow in 1923, and following her death from tuberculosis in 1931 Goering continued to aid and assist her son, Thomas von Kantzow. After brief dalliances with other women, Goering married German actress Emma Sonnemann. They had a daughter, Edda, who is alive at the time of this writing. Considering all the excesses of the Nazi regime and its principals, no demonstration of marital infidelity regarding Goering has emerged. He was completely devoted to both of his wives. With his new wealth he constructed a magnificent home near Berlin and named it Karinhall. Goering made it into a shrine for his first wife, continuing expansion and embellishments to the property almost to the day he had it dynamited in 1945 as the Soviet Army approached. Goering built another home which was referred to as Emmyhall.

Nobody studying Goering’s career has credited him with the level of anti-Jewish sentiment expressed by his compatriots. However, nothing in this lack of enthusiasm thwarted his participation in the murder of European Jewry. He was equally callous with the scripted destruction of millions of lives in the conquered countries.

During May, June and July Goering authorized directives for his Economic Staff East which were so ruthless in their exploitation that they became some of the principal documents quoted by the prosecution in the Nuremberg trial. He gave detailed instructions for plundering Russia in the spirit of a memorandum issued on May 2, which opened: “The war can be continued only if all the armed forces are fed by Russia in the third year of the war. There is no doubt that as a result many millions of people will be starved to death if we take out of the country the things we need.” 27 These directives came to be known as the Green File or Portfolio.

A top-secret report for the staff on May 23 contained this statement:

The German Administration in these territories may well attempt to mitigate the consequences of the famine which undoubtedly will take place and accelerate the return to primitive conditions … However, these measures will not avert famine . Many tens of millions of people in this area will become [redundant] and will either die or have to emigrate to Siberia, Any attempts to save the population there from death by starvation by importing surpluses from the black-soil zone would be at the expense of supplies to Europe. It would reduce Germany’s staying power in the war, and would undermine Germany’s and Europe’s power to resist the blockade. This must be clearly and absolutely understood. 28

Fraenkel, Heinrick; Manvell, Roger (2011-03-02). Goering: The Rise and Fall of the Notorious Nazi Leader (Kindle Locations 4384-4395). Frontline. Kindle Edition.

So much for Goering’s good points.

The Allies can attribute an earlier victory over their enemies to Goering, himself. In a notorious case, Goering’s vanity severely challenged any shred of military judgment he may have possessed. When, in 1940, the Wehrmact had British and French troops penned against the English Channel, Goering convinced Hitler to allow his Luftwaffe to finish off the enemy (and capture the glory). While General Heinz Guderian’s tanks waited patiently a British fleet evacuated English and French troops across the Channel.

Additionally, Goering’s lack in vision resulted in an early concentration on production of short-range bombers of limited payload. Finally, when the German air war switched from one of offense to one of defense, Goering’s weakness of character rendered him unable to convince Hitler to shift emphasis to the production of fighters. Hitler insisted the production of fighters would be an admission of defeat.

The debacle continued, and by the time the end came Goering was a figurehead Reichsmarschall, though nominally second in command to Hitler. In the final hours of the Third Reich even this facade collapsed. Hitler’s control of power relied upon dilution of power among potential rivals. He kept underlings in competition with each other, and Nazi leadership was continually plagued by division of purpose and focus. A key enemy of Goering’s was Martin Bormann, Hitler’s secretary. With Hitler trapped in a bunker as Soviet Forces closed in, Goering sent off a message to inquire whether he should invoke a previous directive that he take over in such a situation. Bormann relayed the message as an attempt to usurp power, and Hitler ordered that Goering be arrested and executed. Before any such thing could happen Hitler killed himself (30 April 1945), and Bormann ended up dead in a Berlin street (2 May 1945).

In his deathless vanity, Goering imagined he could arrange reconciliation with Allied powers and place himself in power in a reconstructed Germany, and he surrendered himself to American forces in Austria. The troops who took him into custody at first basked in the celebrity of their acquisition, but news of this special treatment struck a sour note with people who mattered, and Goering was quickly relegated to the status of a P.O.W., albeit a valuable one. The rope to hang Goering was already in somebody’s supply depot.

Paul Roland’s book (see below) gets more into the attitude of the victors toward these Nazi survivors. (Besides Hitler, Goebbels and Himmler had already killed themselves.) The Brits, including Prime Minister Churchill, voted for summary execution. Surprisingly the Soviets were in favor of a trial. The trial began in November 1945, and in October the following year those convicted and sentenced to death were hanged. Some received only prison sentences, and a few, including von Papen, were acquitted and set free.

The hangman never got to Hermann Goering. Although the prisoners awaiting execution at the Palace of Justice in Nuremberg were not told in advance of the execution date, Goering may have sensed that the final hour had come. He was scheduled to be the first taken by the hangman, but two hours before his time he took poison and died in his cell.

Goering’s death did not interrupt the proceedings. Ten convicted Nazis went to the gallows in a period of less than two hours beginning at 1 a.m. on 16 October 1946. Following the executions Goering’s body was brought from his cell to the gallows room and formally identified for the death certificate. Writer Paul Roland relates the final journey of Hermann Goering.

Just before dawn the bodies were taken away in two trucks under heavy guard and driven to Dachau concentration camp, a short distance northwest of Munich, where the ovens had been relit for their cremation. The ashes were scattered in a nearby river.

There was no sense of triumph among the victors, only relief that this tragic and violent era had finally come to an end.

Roland, Paul (2012-06-26). The Nuremberg Trials: The Nazis and Their Crimes Against Humanity (Kindle Locations 2648-2651). Arcturus Publishing. Kindle Edition.

A Grim Reminder


It’s been a hundred years, and the story is compelling, as it was at the time Erich Maria Remarque wrote it, ten years after the end of what was supposed to be The War to End All Wars. It’s All Quiet on the Western Front, and it tells the story of a German soldier in World War One.

I avoided this book for decades, picking it up only recently. I was aware of the movie as a primitive early sound production and was unaware the book existed. What a present surprise was in store when I began to read, and grim, as well. Few works depict the reality and brutality of modern conflict to the degree this does.

My initial reaction to the book was based on seeing the opening scenes of the film. It’s apparent the film is not the book. Remarque served in the war, on the Western Front. That is, in the Belgium-France fighting. His personal story only loosely parallels the book’s protagonist, Paul Bäumer, a private conscripted into the army at the age of 18. His tale appears to begin in 1916, two years following the start of the war, at which time he is 20.

A critical parallel with the film is the character of the school master, Kantorek, who harangues his young students about their obligation to enlist and fight for their country.

Kantorek had been our schoolmaster, a stern little man in a grey tail-coat, with a face like a shrew mouse. He was about the same size as Corporal Himmelstoss, the “terror of Klosterberg.” It is very queer that the unhappiness of the world is so often brought on by small men. They are so much more energetic and uncompromising than the big fellows. I have always taken good care to keep out of sections with small company commanders. They are mostly confounded little martinets.

During drill-time Kantorek gave us long lectures until the whole of our class went, under his shepherding, to the District Commandant and volunteered. I can see him now, as he used to glare at us through his spectacles and say in a moving voice: “Won’t you join up, Comrades?”

These teachers always carry their feelings ready in their waistcoat pockets, and trot them out by the hour. But we didn’t think of that then.

Remarque, Erich Maria. All Quiet on the Western Front: A Novel (pp. 10-11). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

A consequence is that some of  Bäumer’s classmates become his comrades in arms, and he endures having to watch them die.

There was, indeed, one of us who hesitated and did not want to fall into line. That was Joseph Behm, a plump, homely fellow. But he did allow himself to be persuaded, otherwise he would have been ostracized. And perhaps more of us thought as he did, but no one could very well stand out, because at that time even one’s parents were ready with the word “coward”; no one had the vaguest idea what we were in for. The wisest were just the poor and simple people. They knew the war to be a misfortune, whereas those who were better off, and should have been able to see more clearly what the consequences would be, were beside themselves with joy.

Katczinsky said that was a result of their upbringing. It made them stupid. And what Kat said, he had thought about.

Strange to say, Behm was one of the first to fall. He got hit in the eye during an attack, and we left him lying for dead. We couldn’t bring him with us, because we had to come back helter-skelter. In the afternoon suddenly we heard him call, and saw him crawling about in No Man’s Land. He had only been knocked unconscious. Because he could not see, and was mad with pain, he failed to keep under cover, and so was shot down before anyone could go and fetch him in.

Naturally we couldn’t blame Kantorek for this. Where would the world be if one brought every man to book? There were thousands of Kantoreks, all of whom were convinced that they were acting for the best— in a way that cost them nothing. And that is why they let us down so badly.

Remarque, Erich Maria. All Quiet on the Western Front: A Novel (pp. 11-12). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Readers will recall from history that in the first few weeks the Germans advanced into Belgium and France, and the Western Front quickly stagnated along a line running from the Swiss Border, north of Paris, and to the Channel coast. This is where the war in the west was fought until the fall of 1918. All action takes place here, at military detachment centers in Germany, and Paul Bäumer’s home town. As the tale progresses the scene at the front wilts with German fortunes. Germany was then, and was in the following war, very much locked away from the rest of the world by unfriendly powers. England, France, and Italy in the beginning, and later the United States, employed this isolation to strangle Germany’s ability to wage war. The effect is seen in the progressive decay of the German front and the desperate plight of civilians in Germany.

As an aside, an Allied observer noted a difference between the opposing powers. Whereas the French and English trenches had an air of impermanence, a German trench, overrun, gave the appearance the Germans intended to stay awhile. The English and the French worked constantly to push toward Germany. The Germans were satisfied to let the situation stagnate. It was ultimately Germany’s ruin.

Remarque graphically brings alive the savagery of the fighting, highlighted by intense and sustained shelling, sniper fire, and hand-to-hand fighting.

But the shelling is stronger than everything. It wipes out the sensibilities, I merely crawl still farther under the coffin, it shall protect me, though Death himself lies in it.

Before me gapes the shell-hole. I grasp it with my eyes as with fists. With one leap I must be in it. There, I get a smack in the face, a hand clamps onto my shoulder—has the dead man waked up?—The hand shakes me, I turn my head, in the second of light I stare into the face of Katczin, he has his mouth wide open and is yelling. I hear nothing, he rattles me, comes nearer, in a momentary lull his voice reaches me: “Gas—Gaas—Gaaas—Pass it on.”

I grab for my gas-mask. Some distance from me there lies someone. I think of nothing but this: That fellow there must know: Gaaas—Gaaas——

I call, I lean toward him, I swipe at him with the satchel, he doesn’t see—once again, again—he merely ducks—it’s a recruit—I look at Kat desperately, he has his mask on—I pull out mine, too, my helmet falls to one side, it slips over my face, I reach the man, his satchel is on the side nearest me, I seize the mask, pull it over his head, he understands, I let go and with a jump drop into the shell-hole.

The dull thud of the gas-shells mingles with the crashes of the light explosives. A bell sounds between the explosions, gongs, and metal clappers warning everyone—Gas—Gas—Gaas.

Remarque, Erich Maria. All Quiet on the Western Front: A Novel (pp. 67-68). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Remarque was a master story teller, and his language flows, leading the mind into the plight of the German soldiers. He writes not just graphically but evocatively.

But I do not want to think of that, I sweep it away. The room shall speak, it must catch me up and hold me, I want to feel that I belong here, I want to hearken and know when I go back to the front that the war will sink down, he drowned utterly in the great home-coming tide, know that it will then be past forever, and not gnaw us continually, that it will have none but an outward power over us.

The backs of the books stand in rows. I know them all still, I remember arranging them in order. I implore them with my eyes: Speak to me—take me up—take me, Life of my Youth—you who are care-free, beautiful—receive me again—

I wait, I wait.

Images float through my mind, but they do not grip me, they are mere shadows and memories.


My disquietude grows.

Remarque, Erich Maria. All Quiet on the Western Front: A Novel (p. 172). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

It is that kind of story. One by one his fellows are killed or taken away by ruinous wounds. He is the last to go, in the closing days of the war. And therein is the catch line that gives the title:

He fell in October 1981, on a day that was so quiet and still on the whole front; that the army report confined itself to the single sentence: All quiet on the Western Front.

Remarque, Erich Maria. All Quiet on the Western Front: A Novel (p. 295). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

The book came out near the height of German resentment over the confines  of the Treaty of Versailles, during the rise of the Nazi Party. The story is decidedly unpatriotic, and when the Nazis gained power Remarque was an immediate target. His books were burned. He fled to Switzerland. Unable to vent on Remarque, the Nazis turned to available targets:

In 1943, the government arrested his youngest sister, Elfriede Scholz, who had stayed behind in Germany with her husband and two children. After a trial in the “Volksgerichtshof” (Hitler’s extra-constitutional “People’s Court”), she was found guilty of “undermining morale” for stating that she considered the war lost. Court President Roland Freisler declared, “Ihr Bruder ist uns leider entwischt—Sie aber werden uns nicht entwischen” (“Your brother is unfortunately beyond our reach—you, however, will not escape us”). Scholz was beheaded on 16 December 1943, and the cost of her prosecution, imprisonment and execution—495.80 Reichsmark—was billed to her sister Erna. In exile Remarque was unaware of his relatives’ fate until after the war, and would dedicate his 1952 novel Spark of Life (Der Funke Leben) to his late sister, but the dedication was omitted in the German version of the book, reportedly because he was still seen as a traitor by some Germans.

It is obvious Remarque was an excellent writer, but a translation such as this hangs desperately on the quality of the translator, in this case A.W. Wheen, a contemporary of Remarque’s. There is much we owe to Wheen for choosing the proper English words to impart the author’s intent and feeling.

Even so, I am guessing do not translate. Germany was a metric country, and Wheen translates all metric measures into English (American). For example, in order to get removed from a hospital train and into a Catholic hospital, Bäumer deliberately drives his thermometer reading to 101.6, fatal in Celsius, but merely cautious in Fahrenheit. [Editor’s note: Fahrenheit was German.] Also, food quantities are given in pounds instead of kilograms. One can only wonder what else got translated.

As mentioned, the movie is primitive, but highly rated, getting an Academy Award for Best Production in the 1929-1930 season. A review will come either next month or else on the 100th anniversary of the Armistice.

The Ever-Diminishing List of Those Who Cannot Obtain Life Insurance at any Price

One of a continuing series

Full disclosure. I have not been able to find this available from a reliable source. The New York Post is the best I could find, so take this for what it is:

A sharpshooter killed a top ISIS executioner and three other jihadists with a single bullet from nearly a mile away — just seconds before the fiend was set to burn 12 hostages alive with a flamethrower, according to a new report.

The British Special Air Service marksman turned one of the most hated terrorists in Syria into a fireball by using a Barrett .50-caliber rifle to strike a fuel tank affixed to the jihadi’s back, the UK’s Daily Starreported Sunday.

The pack exploded, killing the sadistic terrorist and three of his flunkies, who were supposed to film the execution, last month, the paper said.

Ow! That has got to hurt. Provided this is true, it is poetic justice of the most delicious kind. A group of four sub-humans prepared to inflict the maximum suffering on a group of people while they killed them. Instead, from seemingly out of nowhere, came—almost literally—a bolt from the blue. In a flash the tables were savagely turned, and the miscreants met the same fate they had, seconds before, planned to inflict. How many different ways are there to shout, “Bye-bye! I hope your life insurance policy is paid up.”

American Thriller


I chuckled at the naiveté of Edward Snowden. It was while I was watching a documentary on Amazon Prime Video titled Breaking The Codes, I came across this title. It’s The American Black Chamber, and it’s by Herbert O. Yardley, widely considered the father of modern American cryptology. I have the Kindle edition.

Yardley’s history is startling, if not unique. He began work as telegraph operator at the Department of State at the age of 24 in 1913, and three years later he submitted a proposal that would shake world affairs and set him on an amazing career that was to last only 13 more years. It came about this way.

His job involved processing highly sensitive messages between the United States government and its agents abroad. It was a new era. Radio telegraphy had come into universal use, and sensitive material was being thrown into the atmosphere for everybody to read. Codes and ciphers were a must to maintain security. The casual atmosphere of the Department code room alarmed Yardley, and he formulated a plan for a special office that would bring the best of intellect and technology to bear. His proposal, which was accepted, was a department that deciphered military and diplomatic transmissions from foreign countries. Thus was formed the American Black Chamber, named after a comparable British institution. Yardley was inducted into the Army as an officer and was put in charge. Funding was mostly from the Department of State, but there was also Justice Department and War Department funding, a factor that was subsequently to prove problematic. For reasons of discretion, the facility was moved to New York City, completely severed from public association with the United States government. Plausible deniability was the aim.

It was not just radio transmissions that were handled by the Black Chamber. The government had no compunction regarding pilfering cable correspondence from foreign sources. The Black Chamber also acquired outstanding capability in the processing of secret writing, including techniques for opening sealed dispatches that had been pilfered secretly. They developed the fine art of forging post marks and diplomatic seals. Spies were also employed:

“I’ve got a job for you, Captain. I____”

“What for?”

“I’m not going to tell you what for. I want a Washington society girl who—”

“I don’t deal in society girls.”

“You ought to. This girl must speak Spanish like a native. She must have not only culture and charm, but also brains. She must be a conversationalist. She must have as her background the nationalistic traditions of the Navy, or the Army, or the diplomatic corps. Her age must be close to thirty. All these requirements she absolutely must have. As for beauty— I’ll let you be the judge. But I want to see her here to-morrow afternoon.”

He hesitated a moment before replying. Then, “If you would tell me what it is all about it would help.”

“I can’t tell you.”

“All right. I’ll go see Mrs. Blakeslee.* She rules the society roster in Washington. I’ll give you a buzz when your lady friend shows up.”

Yardley, Herbert O.. The American Black Chamber (Bluejacket Books) (Kindle Locations 2181-2191). Naval Institute Press. Kindle Edition.

The lady was, indeed, striking, and she cozied up to the right people and the following day delivered the name of the Spanish diplomatic secretary in charge of their code books. That is all that was required. No hanky-panky. She got friendly with one of the staff at the Spanish embassy, and eventually the name dropped out. It was Gomez.

1916 was a touchy year in American politics. Europeans had been killing each other in a World War for two years, and the United States was finding it difficult to stay out. Telegraphy between the American and European continents had been first established in 1866, and 50 years later communication was routine and reliable. The problem was that cable traffic between the United States and England was not secure. A German submarine could lay out a length of cable adjacent to the telegraph cable and pick up the dots and dashes. Conversely, one of the first things England did at the start of the war was to sever all German trans-Atlantic links, which of necessity passed through the British Isles. The Brits were not then, and perhaps not now, so keen on the 4th Amendment. In fact, they possibly never had one. Cable companies were required to copy the government on all pertinent communications.

A distressing observation of Yardley’s was that none of the Allies, neither the British nor the French were willing to give an inch in sharing their methods. He traveled to England and France during the War and received the cold shoulder from intelligence agencies in both countries. In France he did hook up with Captain Georges Painvin and immediately recognized him as the foremost cryptanalyst of the day.

Tragically, Yardley observed that, while the Black Chamber was demonstrating its ability to crack every code and cipher that came its way from foreign sources, American cryptologists made no use of the obvious. Yardley’s team was able to crack all the American codes without benefit of inside knowledge. That meant the Germans, no slouch in the field, were reading all American battle plans sent over the air. For the duration of the Black Chamber, American codes and ciphers never approached any measure of security.

A famous code breaking case of the time, and one that had historical implications, was one that never came the way of the Black Chamber. This was the famous Zimmerman cable message. At the time, Mexico was still smarting from General Pershing’s punitive raid into Mexican territory, and General Carranza, the President of Mexico decided to throw in his lot with the Germans:

The reader will recall the sensational Zimmermann-Carranza note which the President read before Congress just before we entered the war, the note in which Zimmermann, German Minister for Foreign Affairs, promised Mexico financial aid and the states of New Mexico, Texas and Arizona if she declared war against the United States. This telegram was deciphered by the British Cryptographic Bureau early in 1917, just before we entered the war.

Yardley, Herbert O.. The American Black Chamber (Bluejacket Books) (Kindle Locations 1606-1609). Naval Institute Press. Kindle Edition.

Throughout the War the Black Chamber was heavily invested in deciphering German-Mexican communications.

Yardley employed 165 people in the Black Chamber at the height of its existence, all funded, salaries, rents, equipment, expenses, in secret. It paid for itself in one magnificent effort up to and during the First Armament Conference of 1921 – 1922. The United States was determined to challenge Japanese naval strength in the Pacific, holding Japan to six tons of warship to every American ten. The Americans needed to crack the Japanese codes to gain what bargaining advantage was possible. To this end Yardley had to obtain a loyal American, fluent in both verbal and written Japanese, the two being widely divergent. American missionaries were reluctant, because they rightly figured the first missionary cooperating with the American government would be the last to be allowed into the country. A retired fellow, very agreeable and a pleasure to work with, volunteered. He was assigned the job of teaching the Japanese language to one Charles Mundy in two years. After six months, the elderly missionary chanced to translate a message implying grave consequences, and his conscience would not allow him to continue in the spy business. Fortunately, Yardley had chosen well in Mundy, for that chap had mastered Japanese in those six months and subsequently proved to be a linguistic magician. The cracking of the Japanese codes proceeded:

I shall not of course attempt to give all the details of the decipherment of the Japanese codes, for these would be of interest only to the cryptographer, but when I tell the reader that the Black Chamber sent to Washington, during the Washington Armament Conference held two years later, some five thousand deciphered Japanese messages which contained the secret instructions of the Japanese Delegates, I am sure he will wish to know how it was possible for the Black Chamber to take such an important part in the making of history. Let the reader therefore, for the moment at least, put aside his natural desire to listen to the whisperings of foreign diplomats as they lean closer together to reveal their secrets, and I shall try to tell a few of the tremendous discouragements that I had to overcome in the decipherment of this code, written in the most difficult of all languages, Japanese.

Yardley, Herbert O.. The American Black Chamber (Bluejacket Books) (Kindle Locations 3103-3109). Naval Institute Press. Kindle Edition.

The consequence of this success was the Americans learned the Japanese were in collusion with America’s allies, France and England, who were willing to be soft on Japanese naval parity. The Americans also learned the Japanese negotiator in Washington was told to give in to the 6:10 parity if bluffing failed against the Americans. America prevailed in this first armament conference, and the Japanese felt stymied. Later, when the cracking of their codes became public, Japanese pride was challenged, and the Empire redoubled its aggressive stance. This latter occurred after the closure of the Black Chamber in 1939 and is not included in the book.

Not all intrigues were completely foreign:

“Now, Yardley, I have a most unusual story to tell you. Yesterday morning, a few moments after this message arrived, the Secretary took it over to show it to the President. The President glanced at your decipherment, then, handing it back to the Secretary, said, ‘Yes, the Attorney-General showed that to me a few moments ago. He just left.’”

He paused and eyed me furtively. He waited for some comment. I made none, for I knew now what was coming.

At last he said very slowly and deliberately: “Now, tell me if you can, how did the Attorney-General get a copy of this message?” He said this as if he were exploding a bomb.

Some one, perhaps the Secretary, had tramped on his toes, for he was very angry by now.

“That’s easily explained,” I answered, “though you may not yourself appreciate the explanation. You see, during the war the department that I organized was the central Code and Cipher and Secret-Ink Bureau for the War, Navy, State and Justice Departments. At that time the Department of Justice had on their pay-roll an agent who had dabbled in ciphers. The Department of Justice contributed his services when we asked for him. He became expert. So after the war, when we moved to New York and organized as a civilian bureau on secret pay-roll, though we severed relations with the Navy Department, we took him with us. But he remained on the Justice Department pay-roll. Your predecessor knew of this and concurred. Am I clear?”

“Yes. Go on.”

“Now, he must have an excuse for being on their pay-roll. So now and then I permit him to send to the Attorney-General a message that____”

“But of all messages, why this one?” he demanded.

“Well,” I said, “in the first place I happened to turn this particular message over to him for decipherment. In the second place this looked to me like a Justice Department case.”

“A Justice Department case!” he exclaimed. “The activity of an Ambassador is never a Department of Justice case.”

Yardley, Herbert O.. The American Black Chamber (Bluejacket Books) (Kindle Locations 4371-4390). Naval Institute Press. Kindle Edition.

What went on in Washington 90 years ago is pretty much what goes on in Washington today.

Toward the end of the Black Chamber, Yardley was called down to Washington and allowed to give a frank appraisal of American codes and ciphers. The news was grim. When presented with evidence of a weakness, the cryptologists’ response was simply to fix the weakness and not scratch around for additional weaknesses, of which there always were many. We can only assume the Nazis and the Japanese read American transmissions well into the commencement of hostilities.

The Black Chamber came to an abrupt end with a change in administration:

In 1929, the State Department withdrew its share of the funding, the Army declined to bear the entire load, and the Black Chamber closed down. New Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson made this decision, and years later in his memoirs made the oft-quoted comment: “Gentlemen do not read each other’s mail.” Stimson’s ethical reservations about cryptanalysis focused on the targeting of diplomats from America’s close allies, not on spying in general. Once he became Secretary of War during World War II, he and the entire US command structure relied heavily on decrypted enemy communications.

Cracking secret messages was grueling, and it took its toll on Yardley and others. Yardley describes the agony of pulling the innards out of the Japanese code:

The reader must not get the impression that I had given up all hope of deciphering the Japanese codes without aid. I had not. Nor were any of my plans fulfilled, for as we shall soon see I had no need of them. But I was preparing myself for failure. I might need assistance.

By now I had worked so long with these code telegrams that every telegram, every line, even every code word was indelibly printed in my brain. I could lie awake in bed and in the darkness make my investigations— trial and error, trial and error, over and over again.

Finally one night I wakened at midnight, for I had retired early, and out of the darkness came the conviction that a certain series of two-letter code words absolutely must equal Airurando (Ireland). Then other words danced before me in rapid succession: dokuritsu (independence), Doitsu (Germany), owari (stop). At last the great discovery! My heart stood still, and I dared not move. Was I dreaming? Was I awake? Was I losing my mind? A solution? At last— and after all these months!

I slipped out of bed and in my eagerness, for I knew I was awake now, I almost fell down the stairs. With trembling fingers I spun the dial and opened the safe. I grabbed my file of papers and rapidly began to make notes.

Yardley, Herbert O.. The American Black Chamber (Bluejacket Books) (Kindle Locations 3287-3297). Naval Institute Press. Kindle Edition.

After weeks of intense effort Yardley had unfolded the origami:


The impossible had been accomplished! I felt a terrible mental let-down. I was very tired.

I finally placed my papers in the safe, locked it and leaned back in my chair, checking up my blunders, and at the same time wondering what this would mean to the United States Government. What secrets did these messages hold? Churchill would want to know of my accomplishment. Should I telephone him at this hour? No, I would wait and dictate a letter.

I was unbelievably tired, and wearily climbed the stairs. My wife was awake.

“What’s the matter?” she asked.

“I’ve done it,” I replied.

“I knew you would.”

“Yes, I suppose so.”

“You look dead.”

“I am. Get on your rags. Let’s go get drunk. We haven’t been out of this prison in months.”

Yardley, Herbert O.. The American Black Chamber (Bluejacket Books) (Kindle Locations 3316-3325). Naval Institute Press. Kindle Edition.

Yardley was nearly broken by the effort. He had to take a month off in Arizona for his health. Others were equally spent or more so. Some never recovered. Many put survival at a premium and quit the service.

The Black Chamber was dismantled almost overnight. Two years later Yardley wrote this book, a periscope into some of the darkest workings of the United States government. Snowden would have been distressed. Howls of protest rattled the Internet three years ago when it was revealed, after nearly 100 years, that our government read other countries’ mail. As mentioned, I was but amused. I wondered in what world these people had grown up. That tale is told elsewhere.

A game I play when reviewing Kindle books is picking out transcription errors. Obviously this book came out 40 years before the advent of computerized word processing. Missteps between hard and soft copy typically come from OCR failures. Here are some odd constructions I picked out:

but he was visibly anxious arid asked me repeatedly when I was leaving Paris.

Yardley, Herbert O.. The American Black Chamber (Bluejacket Books) (Kindle Location 2825). Naval Institute Press. Kindle Edition.

after my cable, thif new code was in my hands.

Yardley, Herbert O.. The American Black Chamber (Bluejacket Books) (Kindle Location 2887). Naval Institute Press. Kindle Edition.

This edition, as with many Kindle editions, lacks page numbers. This is particularly troubling when the text references a page number, such as here:

The illustration facing page 313 also shows a thoroughly mixed code in use by the British Foreign Office during the Washington Armament Conference.

Yardley, Herbert O.. The American Black Chamber (Bluejacket Books) (Kindle Locations 4309-4310). Naval Institute Press. Kindle Edition.

A casual reader will detect Yardley wrote this from a lingering fit of pique. Although he identifies co-workers and superiors of admirable character and capability, many references are to individuals and methods beyond redemption. In any event, he had the last word. He lived until 1980, about which time the Data Encryption Standard was well established, the Diffie-Hellman paper had been published four years previous, and Pretty Good Privacy was eleven years in the future. These days we conduct video conferences incorporating both video and audio being transmitted live with “secure” encryption. America’s entry began with a telegraph operator working in Washington, D.C. 100 years ago.