Unlikely Hero

Yesterday I posted a review of Sergeant York, a movie from 1941 based on the life and war exploits of American soldier Alvin York. The battle action of that film is based on events of 8 October 1918, in the closing days of World War One. During the same week another drama of courage under battle was playing out, and the episode became know as the story of The Lost Battalion. A 2001 TV movie based on this story recounts the events of that horrific week. This is being posted on the 100th anniversary of these events.

The movie played on The History Channel a few years back, where I obtained these screen shots. Details are from Wikipedia.

Opening scenes show battalion commander Major Charles White Whittlesey (Rick Schroder), a former New York lawyer now turned soldier. And he is every bit the picture of a New York lawyer. A more stiff and up-tight prig you might never expect to see in the trenches of the Great War. Here is inspecting his troops on the front lines, determination etched in his face. Above ground the war is taking lives. A soldier arriving from no man’s land, wounded and apparently blinded, is shot by a sniper as he steps to the edge of the trench. He falls dead at Whittlesey’s feet. The Major orders others to attend to the body, and he resumes his inspection. He is the picture of unflappability.

Major Whittlesey’s battalion comprises nine companies of the 77th Division, approximately 554 men. They are ordered to advance into the Argonne Forest against unseen German forces. They are supported on the right by two units of the 92nd Infantry Division and on the left by a contingent of French troops. The advance encounters German resistance, and shortly the French and those from the 92nd withdraw, leaving Whittlesey’s men isolated in the woods. Due to lack of communication with the command structure it is some time before Whittlesey finds out they are alone in the woods and completely surrounded by German forces.

His men may have originally been dismissive of Whittlesey, for all his bookish ways, but that presumption quickly vanishes as he remains calm and in complete control throughout the five-day ordeal that is to ensue. Whittlesey and his men engage the Germans and prevent them from taking this critical area in the center.

The Germans are stymied and a bit confused. They cannot figure out why this isolated group of American soldiers does not recognize the inevitable and surrender. They know they must dislodge Whittlesey’s troops or else lose this section of the front.

Attempts to establish communications are unsuccessful. Messengers sent back to the rear are captured or killed by the Germans. Whittlesey’s men are pinned down on an uphill slope facing the Germans. The Germans enjoy the advantage of grazing fire, meaning their guns are able to fire flat from protected positions. Anything a distance above the ground will catch a bullet.

Attempts to obtain water from a stream only result in soldiers getting killed. From time to time the Germans assault Whittlesey’s position, and there is close-quarter fighting. American artillery fire falls on the American position, and the Americans send a critical plea by carrier pigeon telling them to stop firing.

The Germans capture two American soldiers. The German major entices Lieutenant Leak with offers of food and water. The Lieutenant lies to his face, claiming he has no need of such. There was plenty of food and water where he just came from. The German expresses puzzlement at the Americans’ resistance. Leak tells the German what he is dealing with. “What you’re up against, Major, is a bunch of Mick, Dago, Polack and Jew-boy gangsters from New York city: They’ll never surrender.” The German major is left in amazement. His troops are not up against soldiers they are accustomed to fighting. They are up against New York City gangsters.

The American command is unable to locate Whittlesey’s position, and they send a scout plane out to search the woods. The Germans don’t fire on the plane at first, because they don’t want to signal the battle situation to the American command. Whittlesey’s men catch the attention of the pilot, who circles their position on his map. The Germans realize he has located the American troops, so they open fire on the plane. The pilot lands and dies, but his map shows Whittlesey’s location.

The Germans attempt a final assault, using flame throwers. We see close quarter combat as Whittlesey fires his pistol into the face of a German soldier.

After five days the Lost Battalion is relieved with only 194 remaining. The others have been killed or else captured by the Germans. Offered a ride back, Whittlesey declines. He is furious at the lack of support his battalion received, and he responds, “That’s not acceptable, sir. I’ll stay with my men.”

Whittlesey and Captain Nelson M. Holderman were subsequently awarded the Medal of Honor. However, the lingering effects of the ordeal never left Whittlesey. Three years after the ordeal he disappeared and was presumed lost on a ship from New York to Havana.

The line about New York gangsters plays out in another film about another war. In Casablanca Major Heinrich Strasser asks Rick Blaine how he would feel to see German troops in New York. Rick reminds him there are parts of New York City he would not recommend the Germans attempt to invade.

All was for naught. Days after these events the Germans capitulated and the insanity that was the Great War came to an end. It was 100 years ago.

Sergeant York

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I’m posting this on the 100th anniversary of the critical events. On 8 October 1918 Corporal (later Sergeant) Alvin York’s heroic actions and spectacular feats of arms earned him the highest military awards of any American soldier in what is now called World War One. Alvin York never wrote a book, but 22 years later consented to having his story made into a film:

The film was based on the diary of Sergeant Alvin York, as edited by Tom Skeyhill, and adapted by Harry Chandlee, Abem Finkel, John Huston, Howard Koch, and Sam Cowan (uncredited). York refused, several times, to authorize a film version of his life story, but finally yielded to persistent efforts in order to finance the creation of an interdenominational Bible school. The story that York insisted on Gary Cooper for the title role derives from the fact that producer Jesse L. Lasky recruited Cooper by writing a plea that he accept the role and then signed York’s name to the telegram.

Cooper went on to win the Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal. The film also won for Best Film Editing and was nominated in nine other categories, including Best Picture, Director (Hawks), Supporting Actor (Walter Brennan), and Supporting Actress (Margaret Wycherly). The American Film Institute ranked the film 57th in the its 100 most inspirational American movies. It also rated Alvin York 35th in its list of the top 50 heroes in American cinema.

And the only parts of the story that closely match reality are the battle scenes.

If it’s local color you want, this picture has it. Alvin York was a true hill billy, living in the back woods of Tennessee. We see him first as a hell raising bachelor, riding hard on moonshine and shooting up the countryside. He is nearly 30 years as the movie begins and war comes to the United States. Here we see the mail carrier arriving at Rosier Pile’s country store on a mule singing this:

Froggie went to see the mouse,
Timma ring ting bottom and a ky-mo.
From the well into the house.
Timma ring ting bottom and a ky-mo.

Chorus: Ky-mo nee-ro captain kee-ro bom-a-nishy ky-mo,
Semma nicka bomma nicka flata bony rig
Domma rig tum clatta bona ky-mo.

He took Miss Mousie on his knee,
Timma ring ting bottom and a ky-mo,
And says, “Miss Mouse, will you marry me?”
Timma ring ting bottom and a ky-mo.

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It’s a great rendition. The character’s name is Luke, but I can’t find any credits for him in the movie.

He brings the mail and also the newspaper. There’s a war in Europe, and American is about to get in it.

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The movie shows Alvin York’s path to redemption that begins here at a local target shoot, where he scores spectacularly to win the main prize of a “beef critter.” We see everybody shooting muzzle loading rifles. They also melt the lead and pour their own bullets.

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When a local land owner reneges on a deal York gets drunk and rides through a storm, armed and with murder on his mind. A lightening bolt knocks him down without killing him, and he wanders into a church meeting, where his friend Rosier Pile (Brennan) is the pastor. He makes a religious conversion and adopts strict non-violence.

Non-violence comes into conflict when York is drafted. Pile helps York apply for conscientious exemption status, but the draft board does not recognize York’s status, and he is inducted into the Army. Then the fun begins.

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But first there’s the scene where Alvin York rides off to the induction center on a mule, along with his brother, George (Dickie Moore), leaving his mother (Wycherly) and sister (June Lockhart) behind, wondering what it’s all about.

Sister: Ma, what are they a-fightin’ fer?

Mother York: I don’t rightly know, child.

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And neither does anybody else. The Great War was started for no good reason and grew disproportionately for the worth of those involved.

We see Alvin York saying before he rides off, “I’ll be comin’ back.” If you didn’t already know the outcome of the story, you would be wondering at this time.

We see the Army suspicious of York as a new recruit. His record shows his application for conscientious objector status. They figure him for a weak sister.

Things change when the recruits are issued their rifles. York is a crack shot with a muzzle loader, but the Army doesn’t know this. He marvels at the repeating rifle (likely an Enfield M1917). First time out on the firing range all the recruits are getting their first target practice. His buddy “Pusher” Ross (George Tobias) misses completely with his first shot. Then York takes his first shot, as his instructor looks on with skepticism.

The target markers call York’s shot a miss, as well. York expresses great surprise. The instructor requests a remark. the markers examine the target again and notice a hole in the black circle. The instructor gives York a full clip and York puts the remaining shots close to the center of the ball.

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York attains considerable respect and is employed assisting the other recruits in rifle training. He’s offered a promotion to corporal, but he declines. His captain offers him a week’s leave to reconsider his religious opposition to the war. He takes that and returns with a commitment to fight when necessary. He accepts promotion to corporal, and then he goes to war.

The movie shows little of Yorks early weeks in the war zone (France). We do see the new recruits coming to terms with trench warfare. A buddy, Bert Thomas (David Bruce), is killed by a shell fragment.

Comes the crucial day, 8 October 1918. The Germans will be conceding defeat in 34 days, but they don’t know it yet. On that day his unit goes “over the top,” out of their trenches to attack German positions near “Hill 223.” It’s the classic World War One charge across no-man’s land. American troops are advancing through shell holes and among broken trees. German machine guns are chugging relentlessly. German shells are falling around the advancing American. Men are dying right and left.

Ultimately the charging Americans reach a crisis. Their advance is stopped. They are pinned down among the shell craters. York’s sergeant is ordered to take his platoon and work their way up and knock out the machine gun positions.

The Americans infiltrate into a German trench and kill enemy soldiers in hand-to-hand fighting. Bayonets and hand grenades are the weapons of choice. They realize they have not advanced far enough, and they continue until they are behind the enemy positions. Two German soldiers discover the Americans and alert the others on the front line. It’s too late. By then the Americans are above and behind the German firing positions. They have the drop on a large group of Germans and force them to surrender, including their commander, a major.

After the Americans occupy the German line with their prisoners they are detected by German machine gunners farther up the hill. The machine gunners open up, killing many of the Americans and pinning the rest down. With York’s sergeant badly wounded York becomes the lead NCO. He tells the remaining Americans to guard the prisoners, and he works his way, under fire from the machine guns, to a point where he can out flank the enemy positions.

It’s at this point that York’s marksmanship comes into play. Whenever he can see a German he kills him with a well-placed shot. A scene that is right out of York’s diary shows him taking out a squad of charging Germans with only a pistol. He fires six times and kills all of them.

There’s a small bit of artistic license here. The movie shows York using a captured Luger. Actually he used an Army issue .45 Colt. The problem is the Colt could not handle blank ammunition, but the Luger could. Using rifles and captured pistols, York lays waste to the German positions.

In one instance he positions himself in line with a German trench position and kills them one after the other as each falls in front of him. After many of them have been killed, the Germans lie low while a sharpshooter attempts to get a shot at York. York kills the sharpshooter. They all give up.

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York leads the remainder of the German detachment down the hill to join the other prisoners. He and eight others are the only Americans left standing. Then a German prisoner pulls a grenade and kills “Pusher” Ross. The Americans gun down the prisoner and march the survivors back toward American lines.

Along the way they spot more Germans along a ridge line, and York orders the German major to command them to surrender. He has a pistol pointed at the major. The major tells his bugler to sound the retreat call, and all the Germans on the ridge throw down their weapons and join the parade back to American lines.

I’ve tried to figure out the Germans’ willingness to surrender in this kind of situation, but a look at the back side of the war during this time shows a considerable dip in morale among German troops about this time. They have mostly had their fill of this war. By 11 November it will all be over, and those still alive will be able to go back home.

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Back behind American lines with 132 prisoners, York and his men are greeted with amazement. Eight men bringing in a full company of combat infantry. The word begins to get around. York becomes the talk of the war zone.

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We see General John Pershing awarding now Sergeant York the Medal of Honor. Sergeant York has picked up a number of other awards along the way.

Back home he gets a hero’s welcome and prepares to marry his sweetheart, Gracie Williams (Joan Leslie). Gracie was by then 19 years old. Joan Leslie was 16 years old when she played the part, making her about the age as Gracie at the start of the movie. York insisted the part of Gracie be played by a non-smoking, non-drinking girl, and pickings for this profile were scarce in Hollywood.

Contrary to the movie, Alvin York did not come to religion from an epiphany along a mountain trail. Rather, his conversion began years before the first scenes.

The movie also features Ward BondNoah Beery Jr. and Gig Young as an uncredited marching soldier. Margaret Wycherly started in movies in 1915 and would eight years later play the villainous Ma Jarrett with James Cagney in White Heat. Walter Brennan actually fought in World War One. A gas attack left him with a scratchy voice, and he played codgers of various stripes throughout his acting career. He finished up with how own TV show, a codger to the end.

At the same time Alvin York was involved in the action that earned him the Medal of Honor, Major Charles White Whittlesey, Captain George G. McMurtry, and Captain Nelson M. Holderman were concluding the siege of The Lost Battalion. A TV movie of this World War One drama depicts the five-day ordeal. Today I’m also posting a review of this movie and a recount of this critical battle in the Argonne Forest.

Years of Living Dangerously

Continuing review of William Shirer’s Berlin Diary

William Shirer published Berlin Diary in 1941, the year following his departure as a correspondent from Berlin. While the book derives largely from contemporaneous notes, it is not the transcript of a daily ledger. There was difficulty getting his notes out of Germany, considerable danger being attached should they be discovered at the border. At the least, such inflammatory material would have been confiscated. A consequence is that Shirer composed the bulk of the book once safely outside Nazi Germany. This is one of a series reviewing the book. Posts follow by 80 years the time line of events.

From August to October 1938 Hitler’s demands on Czechoslovakia became increasingly bellicose. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain gave the appearance of willing to commit to any of Hitler’s demands in order to stave off another European war. Hitler read the tea leaves correctly, and he played the Allied Powers as dupes to his designs. Excerpts from Shirer’s diary during this period give insight into the developing events.

PRAGUE, August 4

Lord Runciman arrived today to gum up the works and sell the Czechs short if he can. He and his Lady and staff, with piles of baggage, proceeded to the town’s swankiest hotel, the Alcron, where they have almost a whole floor. Later Runciman, a taciturn thin-lipped little man with a bald head so round it looks like a mis-shapen egg, received us— about three hundred Czech and foreign reporters— in the reception hall. I thought he went out of his way to thank the Sudeten leaders, who, along with Czech Cabinet members, turned out to meet him at the station, for their presence.

Runciman’s whole mission smells. He says he has come here to mediate between the Czech government and the Sudeten party of Konrad Henlein. But Henlein is not a free agent. He cannot negotiate. He is completely under the orders of Hitler. The dispute is between Prague and Berlin. The Czechs know that Chamberlain personally wants Czechoslovakia to give in to Hitler’s wishes. These wishes we know: incorporation of all Germans within the Greater Reich. Someone tonight— Walter Kerr, I think, of the Herald Tribune, produced a clipping from his paper of a dispatch written by its London correspondent, Joseph Driscoll, after he had participated in a luncheon with Chamberlain given by Lady Astor. It dates back to last May, but makes it clear that the Tory government goes so far as to favour Czecho ceding the Sudetenland outright to Germany. Before the Czechs do this,

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 120-121). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The involvement of Walter Runciman, 1st Viscount Runciman of Doxford is recounted in an item posted to Wikipedia:

Runciman returned to public life when, at the beginning of August 1938, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain sent him on a mission to Czechoslovakia to mediate in a dispute between the Government of Czechoslovakia and the Sudeten German Party (SdP), the latter representing the ethnic German population of the border regions, known as the Sudetenland. Unknown to Runciman, the SdP, although it was ostensibly calling for autonomy for the Sudetenland, had instructions from Nazi Germany not to reach any agreement on the matter and so attempts at mediation failed. With international tension rising in Central Europe, Runciman was recalled to London on 16 September 1938.

His controversial report provided support for British policy towards Czechoslovakia, which culminated in the dismembering of the country under the terms of the Munich Agreement.

Further controversy arose from Runciman’s use of his leisure time in Czechoslovakia spent mostly in the company of Hitler’s Jewish spy and erstwhile lover of Lord Rothermere, Princess Stephanie von Hohenlohe, and the pro-SdP aristocracy. Maria Dowling claims that Runciman spent most of his time in Czechoslovakia being entertained by German aristocrats and listening to complaints from Germans that had suffered from the 1920s land reform.

It is clear that Shirer’s assessment of Runciman’s mission is spot-on. With people such as Runciman dealing for Britain, there would be scant chance that Czechoslovakia’s interests would be protected. As close to the events as he was, Shirer often misread the action.

BERLIN, August 25

Some of the American correspondents, more friendly than others to the Nazis, laughed at me at the Taverne tonight when I maintained the Czechs would fight.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 123). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

In the end, the Czechs did not fight. Shirer saw, as did most others, the threat of war was real.

GENEVA, September 9

One last fleeting visit with the family before the war clouds break. In Berlin the best opinion is that Hitler has made up his mind for war if it is necessary to get back his Sudetens. I doubt it for two reasons: first, the German army is not ready; secondly, the people are dead against war. The radio has been saying all day that Great Britain has told Germany she will fight if Czecho is invaded. Perhaps so, but you cannot forget the Times leader of three days ago inviting the Czechs to become a more “homogeneous state” by handing the Sudetens over to Hitler.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 124). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Shirer put down his musings at the time.

PRAGUE, September 10

All Europe waiting for Hitler’s final word to be pronounced at the wind-up of the Nazi Party rally at Nuremberg day after tomorrow. In the meantime we had two speeches today, one by President Beneš here; the other by Göring at Nuremberg, where all week the Nazis have been thundering threats against Czechoslovakia. Beneš, who spoke from the studio of the Czech Broadcasting System, was calm and reasonable—reasonable— too much so, I thought, though he was obviously trying to please the British. He said: “I firmly believe that nothing other than moral force, goodwill, and mutual trust will be needed…. Should we, in peace, solve our nationality affairs… our country will be one of the most beautiful, best administered, worthiest, and most equitable countries in the world….

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 125). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

That same day the Nazis were playing their propaganda game to the hilt

The other speech, Göring’s, as given out by Reuter’s here: “A petty segment of Europe is harassing human beings…. This miserable pygmy race [the Czechs] without culture— no one knows where it came from— is oppressing a cultured people and behind it is Moscow and the eternal mask of the Jew devil….”

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 126). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

This day shows Hitler at his most Hitler:

PRAGUE, September 12

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 126). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

I have never heard the Adolf quite so full of hate, his audience quite so on the borders of bedlam. What poison in his voice when at the beginning of his long recital of alleged wrongs to the Sudeteners he paused: “Ich spreche von der Czechoslovakei!” His words, his tone, dripping with venom.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 127). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Shirer reports as events follow a pattern that was to become familiar.

PRAGUE, September 13– 14 (3 a.m.)

War very near, and since midnight we’ve been waiting for the German bombers, but so far no sign. Much shooting up in the Sudetenland, at Eger, Elbogen, Falkenau, Habersbirk. A few Sudeteners and Czechs killed and the Germans have been plundering Czech and Jewish shops.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 128). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Runciman’s swan song.

PRAGUE, September 16

LATER.— Hoorah! Heard New York perfectly on the feedback tonight and they heard me equally well. After four days of being blotted out, and these four days! Runciman has left for London, skipping out very quietly, unloved, unhonoured, unsung.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 133). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Here is what a government can do when it controls the press and suppresses opposing speech.

BERLIN, September 19

The Nazis, and quite rightly too, are jubilant over what they consider Hitler’s greatest triumph up to date. “And without bloodshed, like all the others,” they kept rubbing it in to me today. As for the good people in the street, they’re immensely relieved. They do not want war. The Nazi press full of hysterical headlines. All lies. Some examples: WOMEN AND CHILDREN MOWED DOWN BY CZECH ARMOURED CARS, or BLOODY REGIME— NEW CZECH MURDERS OF GERMANS. The Börsen Zeitung takes the prize: POISON-GAS ATTACK ON AUSSIG? The Hamburger Zeitung is pretty good: EXTORTION, PLUNDERING, SHOOTING— CZECH TERROR IN SUDETEN GERMAN LAND GROWS WORSE FROM DAY TO DAY!

[Emphasis in the original]

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 134-135). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Czechoslovakia’s neighbors were eager to join the feast, not realizing they were next on the menu.

ON THE TRAIN, BERLIN– GODESBERG, September 20

But there were no American correspondents. The platform was empty. At ten I started to chat away ad lib. The only news I had was that the Hungarians and the Poles had been down to Berchtesgaden during the day to demand, like jackals, their share of the Czech spoils.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 136). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Nazi fervor reaches a crescendo.

BERLIN, September 26

Hitler has finally burned his last bridges. Shouting and shrieking in the worst state of excitement I’ve ever seen him in, he stated in the Sportpalast tonight that he would have his Sudetenland by October 1— next Saturday, today being Monday. If Beneš doesn’t hand it over to him he will go to war, this Saturday. Curious audience, the fifteen thousand party Bonzen packed into the hall. They applauded his words with the usual enthusiasm. Yet there was no war fever. The crowd was good-natured, as if it didn’t realize what his words meant. The old man full of more venom than even he has ever shown, hurling personal insults at Beneš. Twice Hitler screamed that this is absolutely his last territorial demand in Europe.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 141). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

And more from the same day.

I broadcast the scene from a seat in the balcony just above Hitler. He’s still got that nervous tic. All during his speech he kept cocking his shoulder, and the opposite leg from the knee down would bounce up. Audience couldn’t see it, but I could. As a matter of fact, for the first time in all the years I’ve observed him he seemed tonight to have completely lost control of himself. When he sat down after his talk, Goebbels sprang up and shouted: “One thing is sure: 1918 will never be repeated!” Hitler looked up to him, a wild, eager expression in his eyes, as if those were the words which he had been searching for all evening and hadn’t quite found. He leaped to his feet and with a fanatical fire in his eyes that I shall never forget brought his right hand, after a grand sweep, pounding down on the table and yelled with all the power in his mighty lungs: “Ja!” Then he slumped into his chair exhausted.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 142). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

There are rumblings of war, but there would be no war for another year.

BERLIN, September 27 A motorized division rolled through the city’s streets just at dusk this evening in the direction of the Czech frontier. I went out to the corner of the Linden where the column was turning down the Wilhelmstrasse, expecting to see a tremendous demonstration. I pictured the scenes I had read of in 1914 when the cheering throngs on this same street tossed flowers at the marching soldiers, and the girls ran up and kissed them. The hour was undoubtedly chosen today to catch the hundreds of thousands of Berliners pouring out of their offices at the end of the day’s work. But they ducked into the subways, refused to look on, and the handful that did stood at the curb in utter silence unable to find a word of cheer for the flower of their youth going away to the glorious war. It has been the most striking demonstration against war I’ve ever seen. Hitler himself reported furious. I had not been standing long at the corner when a policeman came up the Wilhelmstrasse from the direction of the Chancellery and shouted to the few of us standing at the curb that the Führer was on his balcony reviewing the troops. Few moved. I went down to have a look. Hitler stood there, and there weren’t two hundred people in the street or the great square of the Wilhelmsplatz. Hitler looked grim, then angry, and soon went inside, leaving his troops to parade by unreviewed. What I’ve seen tonight almost rekindles a little faith in the German people. They are dead set against war.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 142-143). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The Allied Powers ended up selling out Czechoslovakia for false promises of peace. Notably, Winston Churchill stood alone against the tide.

MUNICH, September 30

Only Winston Churchill, a voice in the wilderness all these years, will say, addressing the Commons: “We have sustained a total, unmitigated defeat…. Do not let us blind ourselves. We must expect that all the countries of central and eastern Europe will make the best terms they can with the triumphant Nazi power…. The road down the Danube… the road to the Black Sea and Turkey, has been broken. It seems to me that all the countries of Mittel Europa and the Danube Valley, one after the other, will be drawn into the vast system of Nazi politics, not only power military politics, but power economic

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 147-148). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Czechoslovakia was sacrificed, ultimately for nothing. At Hitler’s direction, Europe slid relentlessly toward war during the following 11 months.

Odd Ball Conservatives Say the Darndest Things

Number 6 in a Series

They do, dear readers. Yes they do:

Fox & Friends” host Pete Hegseth trashed the “failing New York Times” on Friday for supposedly not reporting on the recent capture of five ISIS leaders, apparently unaware the paper beat Fox News to the story.

“I looked for the five ISIS leaders captured in the failing New York Times,” Hegseth said, flipping through the newspaper. “And in the print edition today, I have not seen it yet.”

I am thinking this is what is called fake news.

Years of Living Dangerously

Continuing review of Berlin Diary

William Shirer published Berlin Diary in 1941, the year following his departure as a correspondent from Berlin. While the book derives largely from contemporaneous notes, it is not the transcript of a daily ledger. There was difficulty getting his notes out of Germany, considerable danger being attached should they be discovered at the border. At the least, such inflammatory material would have been confiscated. A consequence is that Shirer composed the bulk of the book once safely outside Nazi Germany. This is one of a series reviewing the book.

In 1938 Adolf Hitler began in earnest to solidify control of the Nazi state. His first outward thrust was the annexation of neighboring Austria, a German nation to the south. Nazis there had been gaining strength all during the rise of Nazism in Germany, and they worked to facilitate Hitler’s tactic of intimidation and subterfuge. During this time Shirer was in Vienna, having relocated to what he considered a safe zone. His wife Tess was preparing to give birth, which event happened during the time of the takeover and was associated with great personal peril.

VIENNA, February 5, 1938

Doings in Berlin. Today’s papers say Blomberg and Fritsch, the two men who have built up the German army, are out. Hitler himself becomes a sort of “Supreme War-Lord,” assuming the powers of the Minister of Defence. Two new generals appear: Wilhelm Keitel as chief of the High Command, and Walther von Brauchitsch as commander-in-chief of the army in place of Fritsch. Neurath is out as Foreign Minister, replaced by Ribbentrop. Schacht is out, replaced by Walther Funk. Göring— strange!— is made a field-marshal. What’s back of all this? The meeting of the Reichstag which had been set for January 30 and then postponed is now to be held February 20, when we shall probably know.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 91). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Events move to Austria.

VIENNA, February 7

Fodor tells me a strange tale. He says Austrian police raided Nazi headquarters in the Teinfaltstrasse the other day and found a plan initialled by Rudolph Hess, Hitler’s deputy, for a new Putsch. Idea was, says Fodor, to organize a riot in front of the German Embassy in the Metternichstrasse, have someone shoot Papen and the German military attaché, and thus give Hitler an excuse to march in.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 91). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Fodor is Marcel Fodor, a writer for various newspapers.

Hitler feels he was now in a position to employ threats in his scheme to annex Austria. Nazi allies in the Austrian government, such as Arthur Seyss-Inquart, work to engineer the collapse of the government of Kurt Schuschnigg. Seyss-Inquart served as Austrian chancellor for two days following the Anschluss and went on to serve the Nazis as Reichskommissar in the Netherlands during German occupation. Taken prisoner after the war, he was executed in October 1946 along with a bevy of other top Nazis. Schlussnigg was imprisoned by the Nazis but survived the war. Advancing Allied troops liberated him and his family from a prison camp in the final days of the war.

VIENNA, February 16

A terrible thing has happened. We learned day before yesterday about Berchtesgaden. Hitler took Schuschnigg for a ride, demanded he appoint several Nazis led by Seyss-Inquart to the Cabinet, amnesty all Nazi prisoners, and restore the political rights of the Nazi Party— or invasion by the Reichswehr. President Miklas seems to have balked at this. Then yesterday Hitler dispatched an ultimatum: Either carry out the terms of the Berchtesgaden “agreement,” or the Reichswehr marches.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 92). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

On February 20 Hitler issues a stern ultimatum, signaling the coming end of an independent Austria.

“There must be no doubt about one thing. Political separation from the Reich may not lead to deprivation of rights— that is, the general rights of self-determination. In the long run it is unbearable for a world power to know there are racial comrades at its side who are constantly being afflicted with the severest suffering for their sympathy or unity with the whole nation, its destiny, and its Weltanschauung. To the interests of the German Reich belong the protection of those German peoples who are not in a position to secure along our frontiers their political and spiritual freedom by their own efforts.”

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 93). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Shirer goes on to write that British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden resigned on this day, possibly due to Hitler’s dissatisfaction. In truth, the Brits were beginning to tire of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s weak foreign policy dealings.

Also on this day Shirer notes Hitler’s public grumblings concerning ethnic Germans living in Czechoslovakia. Czechoslovakia was to be his next target after he digested Austria.

It is during these tense times the Shirer’s baby is born.

VIENNA, February 26

When I stepped off the train at four p.m., Ed Taylor was on the platform and I could tell by his face it had happened.

“Congratulations!” he said, but I could see he was forcing his smile.

“And Tess?”

He hesitated, swallowed. “She had a bit of a hard time, I’m afraid. Caesarean. But she’s better now.”

I told the taxi-driver to hurry to the hospital. “Aren’t you going to ask the sex?” Ed said.

“What is it?”

“A girl,” he said.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 93-94). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Then comes the event that shook the world—a prelude to the carnage that was to last until 1945.

VIENNA, March 11– 12 (4 a.m.)

The worst has happened! Schuschnigg is out. The Nazis are in. The Reichswehr is invading Austria. Hitler has broken a dozen solemn promises, pledges, treaties. And Austria is finished.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 95). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Schuschnigg wanted a plebiscite to give the people an opportunity to rebuff Hitler’s entreaties.  That same day:

“Plebiscite.”

“What plebiscite?”

“The one Schuschnigg ordered.” He did not trust me and would say no more.

I climbed the stairs to our apartment puzzled. I asked the maid. She handed me a stack of newspapers for the last three days. Over breakfast I caught up on the news. On Wednesday night (March 9) Schuschnigg, speaking at Innsbruck, had suddenly ordered a plebiscite. For this Sunday. The question: “Are you for an independent, social, Christian, German, united Austria? Ja oder Nein.”

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 96). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Austrians were to be given the choice to vote yes or no. As will be noted later, not much of a choice was ever given.

While the political landscape is unraveling, Shirer’s personal life is in turmoil.

Breakfast over, I hurried to the hospital. Tess was not so good. Fever, and the doctor afraid of phlebitis in the left leg. A blood clot. A hell of a thing, after the other. I stayed with her for two hours until she dozed off. About eleven a.m. I took a taxi into town and went to the Schwarzenberg Café on the Schwarzenbergplatz to see what was up. Fodor and Taylor and some Austrian newspapermen were there.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 96). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Same day. The Nazis are coming into the open.

Shortly before four p.m. I set out for the hospital to see if Tess was any better. Crossing the Karlsplatz to catch a subway train I was stopped by a crowd of about a thousand people. They were Nazis and it was a bit comical. One lone policeman was yelling and gesticulating at them. And they were giving ground! “If that’s all the guts the Nazis have, Schuschnigg will win, hands down,” I mused. “And he’s arming the workers. That’ll take care of the Nazi toughs.” I hurried along to my train.

About six o’clock, returning from the hospital, I emerged from the subway to the Karlsplatz. What had happened? Something! Before I knew it I was being swept along in a shouting, hysterical Nazi mob, past the Ring, past the Opera, up the Kärntnerstrasse to the offices of the German “Tourist” Bureau, which, with its immense flower-draped portrait of Hitler, has been a Nazi shrine for months. The faces! I had seen these before at Nuremberg— the fanatical eyes, the gaping mouths, the hysteria. And now they were shouting like Holy Rollers: “Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil! Heil Hitler! Heil Hitler! Heil Hitler! Hang Schuschnigg! Hang Schuschnigg! Hang Schuschnigg! Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer!” And the police! They were looking on, grinning. What had happened? I was still in the dark. I shouted my question into the ears of three or four jammed against me. No response. Couldn’t hear. Finally a middle-aged woman seemed to get me. “The plebiscite!” she yelled. “Called off!”

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 97-98). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

What is happening begins to sink in.

There was no need to learn more. That was the end of Austria. I extricated myself from the swirling dervishes and made my way down the Ring to the Hotel Bristol. Taylor was there. He introduced me to his wife, Vreni, pretty, brunette, intelligent-looking, who had just arrived. He confirmed the news. It had been announced an hour before on the radio, he said. We took a taxi to the American Legation. John Wiley was standing before his desk, clutching his invariable long cigarette-holder, a queer smile on his face— the smile of someone who has just been defeated and knows it.

“It’s all over,” he said quietly. There had been an ultimatum from Berlin. No plebiscite, or the German army marches. Schuschnigg had capitulated.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 98). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The upending of a nation continues to unfold.

We sprint over to the Ballhausplatz, Metternich’s Ballhausplatz… Congress of Vienna…. Twenty storm troopers are standing on one another before the building, forming a human pyramid. A little fellow scampers to the top of the heap, clutching a huge Swastika flag. He pulls himself up to the balcony, the same balcony where four years ago Major Fey, held prisoner by the Nazis after Dollfuss was shot, parleyed with the Schuschnigg people. He unfurls the flag from the balcony and the Platz rings with cheers.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 100-101). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Nazis continue to come out of the woodwork.

Emil Maass, my former assistant, an Austro-American, who has long posed as an anti-Nazi, struts in, stops before the table. “Well, meine Damen und Herren,” he smirks, “it was about time.” And he turns over his coat lapel, unpins his hidden Swastika button, and repins it on the outside over the buttonhole. Two or three women shriek: “Shame!” at him. Major Goldschmidt, Legitimist, Catholic, but half Jewish, who has been sitting quietly at the table, rises. “I will go home and get my revolver,” he says. Someone rushes in. Seyss-Inquart is forming a Nazi government. It is a little after eleven p.m. Time to go over to Broadcasting House. Five p.m. in New York.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 101). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The new order begins to become manifest.

In the Johannesgasse, before the Ravag building, men in field-grey uniforms stand guard with fixed bayonets. I explain who I am. After a long wait they let me in. The vestibule and corridor are full of young men in army uniforms, in S.S. and S.A. uniforms, brandishing revolvers, playing with bayonets. Two or three stop me, but taking my courage in my hand I bark at them and make my way into the main hall, around which are the studios. Czeja, the General-Direktor of Ravag, and Erich Kunsti, program director, old friends, stand in the middle of the room, surrounded by excited, chattering Nazi boys. One glance. They are prisoners. I manage to get in a word with Kunsti.

“How soon can I go on the air?” I say.

He shrugs his shoulders. “I’ve ceased to exist around here,” he laughs. He beckons towards a scar-faced chap who seems to be the boss, for the moment anyway.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 101-102). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

To get the story out, Shirer must abandon his wife and baby and fly to London by way of Prague, Dresden, and Berlin. There is difficulty getting out of Vienna, as flights are booked solid by fleeing Jews. From Berlin:

More luck. A seat on a Dutch plane straight through to London. I had an hour for lunch. I bought the morning Berlin newspapers. Amazing! Goebbels at his best, or worst! Hitler’s own newspaper, the Völkische Beobachter, on my lap here. Its screaming banner-line across page one: GERMAN-AUSTRIA SAVED FROM CHAOS. And an incredible story out of Goebbels’s evil but fertile brain describing violent Red disorders in the main streets of Vienna yesterday, fighting, shooting, pillaging. It is a complete lie. But how will the German people know it’s a lie? The DNB also has a story today that sounds phony. It claims Seyss-Inquart last night telegraphed to Hitler to send troops to protect Austria from armed Socialists and Communists. Since there were no “armed Socialists and Communists” in Vienna last night, this obviously is also a lie. But interesting to note Hitler’s technique. The same which was used to justify the June 30 purge. Any lie will do. Croydon now just ahead of us.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 103-104). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Shirer comments on the news dispatches going out.

Hitler, say the dispatches, entered Vienna in triumph this afternoon. Nobody fired. Chamberlain has just spoken in the House. He is not going to do anything. “The hard fact is,” he says, “that nothing could have arrested what has actually happened— unless this country and other countries had been prepared to use force.” There will be no war. Britain and France have retreated one step more before the rising Nazi power.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 107-108). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Later Shirer describes Hitler’s review of the takeover and also an encounter with Churchill.

LONDON, March 15

Hitler, speaking in Vienna from the balcony of the Hofburg, palace of the once mighty Habsburgs, today proclaimed the incorporation of Austria in the German Reich. Still another promise broken. He could not even wait for the plebiscite, scheduled for April 10. Talked with Winston Churchill on the phone this morning. He will do a fifteen-minute broadcast, but wants five hundred dollars.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 108). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The dominoes continue to fall.

LONDON, March 16

Ed [Murrow] telephoned from Vienna. He said Major Emil Fey has committed suicide after putting bullets through his wife and nineteen-year-old son. He was a sinister man. Undoubtedly he feared the Nazis would murder him for having double-crossed them in 1934 when Dollfuss was shot. I return to Vienna day after tomorrow. The crisis is over. I think we’ve found something, though, for radio with these round-ups.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 108). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The true nature of the Nazis continues to become manifest.

VIENNA, March 19

“I live here,” I said, suddenly angry.

“Makes no difference. You can’t go in,” one of the guards countered.

“I said I lived here!”

“Sorry. Strict orders. No one can enter or leave.” He was an Austrian lad, his accent showed, and polite, and my anger subsided.

“Where can I find your commandant?” I asked.

“In the Rothschild palace.”

He gave us a towering S.S. man, who escorted us into the gardener’s house which adjoined our building and where Rothschild had actually resided the last year. As we entered we almost collided with some S.S. officers who were carting up silver and other loot from the basement. One had a gold-framed picture under his arm. One was the commandant. His arms were loaded with silver knives and forks, but he was not embarrassed. I explained my business and our nationality. He chuckled and told the guard to escort us to my door.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 109). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The ugliness of their new life under the Nazis begins to sink in.

We stayed until after dinner. Then wishing to go downtown we crept down the stairs, waited until our guard had paced several steps away from the door, and sneaked out on tiptoe in the darkness. We found a quiet bar off the Kärntnerstrasse for a talk. Ed was a little nervous.

“Let’s go to another place,” he suggested.

“Why?”

“I was here last night about this time,” he said. “A Jewish-looking fellow was standing at that bar. After a while he took an old-fashioned razor from his pocket and slashed his throat.”

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 109-110). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The gloom and the grim reality deepens.

VIENNA, March 22

Tess’s condition still critical. And the atmosphere in the hospital has not helped. First, Tess says, there was a Jewish lady whose brother-in-law committed suicide the day Hitler entered town. She screamed all the first night. Today she left in black mourning clothes and veil, clutching her baby. There was a second Jewish lady. No one in her family was murdered, but the S.A., after taking over her husband’s business, proceeded to their home and looted it. She fears her husband will be killed or arrested, and weeps all night long.

On the streets today gangs of Jews, with jeering storm troopers standing over them and taunting crowds around them, on their hands and knees scrubbing the Schuschnigg signs off the sidewalks. Many Jews killing themselves. All sorts of reports of Nazi sadism, and from the Austrians it surprises me. Jewish men and women made to clean latrines. Hundreds of them just picked at random off the streets to clean the toilets of the Nazi boys. The lucky ones get off with merely cleaning cars— the thousands of automobiles which have been stolen from the Jews and “enemies” of the regime. The wife of a diplomat, a Jewess, told me today she dared not leave her home for fear of being picked up and put to “scrubbing things.”

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 110-111). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The oppressiveness of the new order:

VIENNA, March 25

Went with Gillie to see the synagogue in the Seitenstättengasse, which was also the headquarters of the Jewish Kultusgemeinde. We had been told that the Jews had been made to scrub out toilets with the sacred praying-bands, the Tefillin. But the S.S. guards wouldn’t let us in. Inside we could see the guards lolling about smoking pipes. On our way to lunch in a little Italian restaurant back of the Cathedral, Gillie had a run-in with some storm troopers who took him for a Jew though he is the purest of Scots. Very annoying and we drowned our feelings in Chianti. Knick here, and Agnes, though Knick will depart shortly as he is barred from Germany and is not supposed to be here. Huss here trying to get the local INS correspondent, Alfred Tyrnauer, out of jail. His wife most frantic when I talked with her on the phone. The Fodors have gone to Bratislava, taken there on the initiative of John Wiley, who sent them out in a Legation car. Schuschnigg under arrest, and the story is that the Nazis torture him by keeping the radio in his room on night and day.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 111). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Shirer describes the real  nature of the Nazi-ordered plebiscite:

VIENNA, April 10 (Palm Sunday)

The “plebiscite” passed off today in a weird sort of holiday atmosphere. The Austrians, according to Goebbels’s count, have voted ninety-nine per cent Ja. Maybe so. It took a brave Austrian to vote No, as everyone felt the Nazis had some way of checking up on how they voted. This afternoon I visited a polling station in the Hofburg. The room, I imagine, had once been occupied by the Emperor’s guard. I went inside one of the booths. Pasted on the wall in front of you was a sample ballot showing you how to mark yours with a Yes. There was also a wide slit in the corner of the booth which gave the election committee sitting a few feet away a pretty good view of how you voted!

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 112). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Quoted without comment:

VIENNA, April 14

Czechoslovakia will certainly be next on Hitler’s list.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 113). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Czechoslovakia will certainly be next:

PRAGUE, April 16

Put on President Beneš and Miss Alice Masaryk in a broadcast to America tonight. Yesterday I expressed the hope that Dr. Beneš would say something about the German question, though their theme tonight was ostensibly the Red Cross. Dr. Beneš obliged me beautifully, though his language was moderate and reasonable. Strange, then, that when he got to the German question he was badly faded out. Unfortunately New York booked the show via the German short-wave station at Zeesen instead of through Geneva as I had asked. I suspect the Germans faded out Beneš on purpose, though Berlin denied it when I spoke with the people there on the phone after the broadcast. They said the fault was here in Prague. The Czechs deny it. I had a long talk tonight with Svoboda, chief engineer of the Czech Broadcasting System, urging him to rush work on his new short-wave transmitter, explaining that if the Germans got tough, that would be Prague’s only outlet. Promised our co-operation in making transatlantic tests. A good-natured fellow, he does not think the Germans will do anything until they’ve digested Austria, which he thinks will take years. But he promised to get along with the new Sender.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 113). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition. [Emphasis added]

Coming up next, the Nazis exert their power, exposing the cruelty and the criminality for which they will soon become world famous. Shirer will find it necessary, under extraordinary circumstances, to ferret his family out from under the Nazi thumb.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

I watched this stream on Netflix last year, but I did not have a copy for review. It is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video, where I obtained these screen shots. Details are from Wikipedia. It’s Eye in the Sky from 2016 out of Entertainment One and Raindog Films. It’s about drone warfare, and it wants you to think through the morality of remote control combat. We shall see.

The war is in Nairobi in Kenya, where some terrorists are making plans to carry out a suicide bomb attack within the city. We see a dusty neighborhood where life struggles for normality despite a desperate tension barely beneath the surface. Here we see a father, Musa Mo’Allim (Armaan Haggio), prepare a hula hoop for his daughter Alia (Aisha Takow). Due to her unquestioned innocence, she is  to be the plot’s central theme, the collateral sacrifice in the pursuit of a higher goals.

It is  morning, and a Reaper (Predator) drone is overhead, monitoring the activities of a terrorist group in Alia’s neighborhood, a poor section of this major city

Thousands of miles away in England the sun is just coming up, and a woman prepares for a day at work. She is “Colonel Katherine Powell, a UK military intelligence officer” (Helen Mirren). This scene is pivotal in portraying an aspect of modern war. Increasingly war is not up close and personal.

The Reaper relentlessly flies its mission, possibly unnoticed by those on the ground.

The center of attention is a particular room in a particular building in Alia’s neighborhood. Inside the room combatants in an unsymmetrical war are preparing to strike at their enemy, which is assumed to be Western style civilization. A man sits for a martyr’s video, which will be dispensed after he has completed his deadly mission.

Outside in the adjacent streets, counter forces are quietly marshaled. Jama Farah (Barkhad Abdi) is an undercover Kenyan NIS agent monitoring events close up. Not explained is why Kenyan government forces cannot move in and neutralized the growing threat. We see Jama constantly in danger of being comprised by the gang of insurgents who permeate the area.

Tiny drones with audio and video capability penetrate the terrorists’ complex and obtain information that turns the mission from the capture of two operatives to interdiction with prejudice of the suicide bombing.

The film emphasizes the dispersion of command and control and also the attached bureaucracy involved. Disparate locations involved in the operation include an American base in Nevada and various other points on the globe where official approval must come from traveling officials. The need to observe strict niceties of killing produces a mad scramble to cross all the ‘t’s and to dot all the ‘i’s before an innocent girl’s life is put in jeopardy.

Tension builds as Alia takes loaves of bread her mother has baked and sells them in the street adjacent to the drone target. When Jama attempts to resolve the situation by purchasing her remaining loaves, it only encourages Alia, who brings more bread from home.

The final scenes show the targeting reticle centered on the bomber’s room as Alia completes her last sale and prepares to depart. The Hellfire missile strikes the building, flinging parts into the air and upending the white car. Alia’s small body is crushed by the debris, and she dies shortly after in a hospital. The bomber thread has been neutralized, hundreds of innocent Kenyan citizens have been saved, and modern warfare has done its job.

The obvious theme is the impersonality of modern warfare, and underlying that is the perception of drone attacks as somehow unsporting. In olden days fighting men faced each other with clubs and axes. Then smarter men figured that placing a point on the end of a long stick allowed them to kill the enemy while remaining beyond the swing of the ax. Spears and then arrows proved even better. Then came the gun, fired from the hand or the shoulder or launching deadly projectiles from miles away. Aircraft introduced an entirely new dimension to remote killing. First came bombs dropped from airships, then attacks with guns and bombs from airplanes. The atomic bomb, later coupled with the guided missile, today disconnects the assailant completely from his target. Modern missiles mean there is no more “going downtown.” Still the drone is viewed by some as a criminal instrument of war. The movie wants to remind us of that.

Beyond that, the movie takes some liberties, the destruction of the terrorists’ hideout being one of them. The drone fires a Hellfire missile into the house. The Hellfire has at most an 18-pound warhead. Yet we see a car parked outside the house being flipped in the air. No. Just no.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

This came out last year and depicts a historical event. It’s Dunkirk, “written, directed, and produced by Christopher Nolan.” Of course, it’s the story of the evacuation of the defeated English and French armies from the coastal town of Dunkirk. It was produced by Syncopy, Inc., and distributed by Warner Brothers. These screen shots are from the DVD, and details are from Wikipedia.

Following a complete military collapse in May 1940, the Allied armies in northern France retreated to the Channel Coast, and the Germans closed in. The evacuation of some 338,000 soldiers occurred from 26 May to 4 June. All military equipment carried by Allied troops, including even most small arms, was abandoned. The Germans took the surviving troops prisoner, about one-seventh of the number evacuated.

The movie is beautifully photographed, and directing was masterful—reflecting the grim reality of the enterprise. However, the movie has little success at encompassing the magnitude of the event, and time compression destroys continuity. Here is a brief look at the flow of the plot.

British soldiers are seen being bombarded with leaflets from German planes, explaining the hopeless of the Allied position, and urging immediate surrender.

Immediately following, these troops come under attack from Germans, who have overtaken them. With no opportunity to establish a line of defense, the British troops race for safety as one after another is gunned down. Only one escapes.

In the meantime the RAF is providing cover for the evacuation, taking on German fighters and bombers plus some German surface units.

The British soldier who survived the attack in the Dunkirk street arrives at the beach to confront interminably long lines of troops waiting to  board rescue vessels.

Small boats from England make ready and cross the Channel to aid in the rescue. One, a teenage boy (Tom Glynn-Carney), joins his father, who has already lost a son in the war. The boy will not return alive.

The crew of the small boat rescues a British survivor from an overturned ship. The survivor is mad from battle fatigue, and he subsequently kills the teenage boy in a fit of rage.

Ships at dock-side and ships at sea are attacked and sunk. We see trapped soldiers attempting to escape their sinking vessels.

An RAF pilot crashes into the sea and barely escapes his sinking fighter.

The end draws near, and survivors board trains in England to rejoin their units. At a stop they purchase newspapers headlining their exploits.

An RAF pilot uses his remaining fuel to ward off a Luftwaffe attack and lands on the French beach. He fires his Very pistol to destroy his plane before surrendering to approaching German troops.

The story of Dunkirk is over, and a new chapter in the war is about to begin. We know what those at the time did not know—that the Germans would press their attack on the island nation and would lose the Battle of Britain, a major turning point in the war.

The movie received numerous Academy Award nominations and other accolades. It won for film editing, sound editing, and sound mixing.

Uncle Bye-Bye

Yes, it is a continuing series.

We are reminded daily you can never get too close to DPRK Supreme Exalted Leader for Life Kim Jong-un. Nor too far away, for that matter. This from Fox News:

A key member of Kim Jong Un’s inner circle touted as a powerful military figure mysteriously vanished from public life recently, sparking rumors he was executed by a North Korean death squad after allegations of bribery, recent reports indicated.

Hwang Pyong-so, a vice marshal who held the most senior position in North Korea’s military, hasn’t been seen in public since Oct. 13, sparking rumors of his death.

Rest comfortably, America. Kim is not going to do anything with those nuclear-tipped missiles until things get settled in the DPRK at the top. Just thinking.

Schlemiel-in-Chief

Number 26 in a series

Having lunch with Barbara Jean today. Sitting in the restaurant, talking across the table. Noticed the reflection in the glass. The TV screen on the wall behind me was covering a news flash. I’m no language expert, but even backwards it translated to “Terrorist Attack in London.” I turned around and gave it a hard look. Yes, it was going down. That was bad:

What happened: An improvised explosive device was detonated on a London Underground train, injuring 29 people during rush hour Friday morning. A security source told CNN there was a timer found on the device, a sign that the intent was to cause greater damage.

The investigation: A manhunt is underway and police are treating the explosion at Parsons Green station on the District Line as terrorism.

The drama continues to play out. But fortunately we have a President who’s on top of matters:

Another attack in London by a loser terrorist.These are sick and demented people who were in the sights of Scotland Yard. Must be proactive!

There is more, but I’m not going to bother my readers with it. I’m only going to repeat what President Trump tweeted earlier today:

Another attack in London by a loser terrorist.These are sick and demented people who were in the sights of Scotland Yard. Must be proactive!

Just let that soak in. And may Jesus have mercy on our souls.

The Junior Varsity Team

A rehash, number 4

Recapitulating from before:

To be sure, the President caught much flak over that remark, and to additional surprise I defended the remark. I considered ISIS, also known as Daesh, to be a JV team. I since explained my logic:

If ISIS is not JV, then who is? Here are the facts about ISIS:

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

That was President Obama catching flak for calling Daesh a JV team, and that was me explaining why they did not make the varsity. Also, that was years ago, back when Daesh was taking weapons and vehicles away from the Iraqi army and occupying territory like ants on a wedding cake. In the meantime the Iraqis have begun to take civil defense seriously, and American forces have agreed to move into Syria seriously. The civilized world has been running up the score against the JV team for months now, and it’s beginning to look like Europe in April 1945. That would include a flood of rats deserting a decaying corpse:

US citizen fighting for ISIS captured in Syria

(CNN) — The US military has detained a US citizen who had been fighting with ISIS in Syria, a Pentagon spokesman confirmed to CNN Thursday.

“Syrian Democratic Forces turned over to US forces an American citizen who surrendered to the SDF on or around September 12,” US Marine Corps Major Adrian Rankine-Galloway told CNN, referring to the US-backed Kurdish led group fighting ISIS in Syria.

The news item from CNN further relates there has been an increase in Daesh fighters giving up, essentially saying that joining a JV team to take on the civilized world turned out not to be such a good idea. Apparently one of those calling it quits was a local commander, who surrendered to SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) within the past week. Apparently losing is a real turn-off and does not come close to the adrenaline rush of cutting off people’s heads, selling young girls into slavery, and demolishing thousands of years of human history.

CNN further notes that Daesh has proven to be less a draw in the United States than in various Western European countries. Piling on, a relentless string of defeats has emphasized its JV status, making Daesh a less appealing outlet for people dissatisfied with modern civilization.

The Washington Post has reported on the conviction in an American court of a man who went to Syria to fight for the second stringers:

A Virginia man, Mohamad Khweis, was convicted in federal court in June of supporting terrorism after he surrendered in early 2016 to Kurdish forces in Iraq who turned him over to the American military there.

Khweis, due to be sentenced next month, said he had traveled undetected from Fairfax County to join the Islamic State in Syria but at the time of his capture had deserted the militants and was trying to make his way home.

Yes, realizing that you made a big mistake and then attempting to unwind past misdeeds does not bring you back into the good graces of society. Once you have shown your true colors and stepped across the line into barbarism, you have—or you should have—lost the confidence of the the mentally stable world.

This story is going to have life for years to come. The disintegration of Daesh as a force on the battlefield is not going to end religious numb-skullery as an appeal to our darker nature. People are going to continue to invoke illusionary thinking to justify obnoxious behavior. Daesh presents one such outlet, and the meme will continue to draw disaffected souls long after all Daesh territory has been expunged of their presence. We are about to see what outlets JV team aspirants turn to over the coming years. The view of a cop standing watch with an automatic weapon is going to be with us for a while.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

I put off watching this on Hulu a few weeks back when I took a peek and figured it was a spoof or somewhat. Of course, there was Tina Fey in the lead role, being more famous for her spoofs of former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. Then there was the title, which I will get into once I figure out WTF it stands for. But, the pressure of time—I’m taking a few days off—and the better production quality, drew me in, and I watched it through. By the time I was finished watching it was hard to get another movie, Up Close And Personal, out of my mind. This is Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, out of Paramount Pictures last  year. Here’s a walk through:

Tina Fey is real-life Kim Baker, a TV journalist based in New York, but the opening scene shows her and a gang of journalist in Kabul covering the ongoing story in Afghanistan. It’s 2006, and all the westerners are holed up in the Kabul bubble, enjoying a rave party. Than there is a terrific rumble, and everybody understands that a massive bomb has gone off in the street close by. They are all out immediately to cover the aftermath.

Roll back the clock three years, and it’s 2003. Kim is in her New York offices, where she is producer of News Division 1. The organization needs volunteers to cover Afghanistan, since all the first stringers have been shifted to the new story in Iraq. Kim goes, and in doing so meets her boyfriend passing through the airport in the opposite direction.

In Kabul it’s a different life. She teams with Fahim Ahmadzai (Christopher Abbott), driver, translator, protector.

Inside the bubble, she meets the other journalists and is informed that here is a place where anything goes, and everything does. She becomes friends with Tanya Vanderpoel (Margot Robbie), who discusses with Kim her plan to divvy up the available men between them. There are many.

Kim soon gets her legs and embeds with some Marines. When the patrol comes under attack from some Taliban in a technical, Kim hauls out of her ride, camera in hand, and charges to the forward line of defense, catching the scene as a Javelin missile destroys the truck.

This is an amusing episode. The Marine general (Billy Bob Thornton) in charge chews out the Marine for wasting an $80,000 Javelin on a 1989 pickup.

Kim’s romance back home gets strained by the separation and finally broken when a Skype video call reveals another woman in the background. She hooks up with photojournalist Iain MacKelpie (Martin Freeman), who saves her groceries when she gets stranded alone on the streets of Kabul at night, not a healthy place for a European woman, or any woman, alone.

Years go by, and Tanya undertakes a meeting with a Taliban group, which goes horribly wrong. At the same time the American military is tracking the Taliban vehicle and launches a Hellfire missile on it. Nothing was going to turn out well, anyhow. Just before the missile strikes, the Taliban fighters open up with their weapons on the journalists. People are killed. Tanya is hospitalized.

Called back to New York, Kim learns that Tanya has been groomed to take over her job there. Iain is taken by the Taliban and sold to others, who hold him for ransom. Kim returns to Afghanistan and blackmails the Attorney General of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan into revealing the whereabouts of Ian. Kim convinces Marine General Hollanek  it would be worthwhile for his men to stage a rescue mission, covered by Kim’s cameraman. She comes back with the story, and the movie ends with the possibility of Kim and Iain meeting in New York.

There is intrigue and battle action in  this movie, but it draws out as a single-threaded narrative. It’s one episode after another, and then it ends. The movie didn’t make back its $35 million budget.

Wikipedia points out some items I noticed. The character of Marine General Hollanek seems out of place (he starts out as a colonel). What’s an officer of flag rank doing observing combat with the enemy at pistol range?

Hollanek  mentions the cost of a Javelin. I found that curious. This weapon was developed by Texas Instruments Defense Systems and Electronics Group in Lewisville and Denton, Texas in the late 1980s and early 1990s. I worked the program off and on and remember the target cost was pegged a lot lower. Surprise! The Wikipedia entry lists a unit cost of $246,000. Inflation?

Another surprise is seeing a Javelin fired at such close range. It was designed to engage tanks at long distance, using two-stage launch and leave. A booster kicks it out of the launch tube, and the main motor fires when the missile is well clear, to avoid roasting the gunner. One requirement is to be able to fire out the window of a small room. So watching the movie I was surprised to see the Javelin fired in this mode, and then I recalled one feature is the direct-fire mode. You just point and shoot.

The movie is based on Kim Baker’s memoir, The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It might be worth reading. A Kindle edition is available for about $6. There could be a review in the future. It’s always interesting to see how Hollywood renders an author’s original work.

The Junior Varsity Team

A rehash

Posted on Facebook

The history goes a few years back, so I’m going to need to recap some points. Begin nearly three years ago. Back then I was comparing the newly-emerged ISIS (Islamic State In Syria) to a bunch of frat boys with Kalashnikov rifles. I said this:

All right then. We have all seen the videos. We have all studied the news reports of atrocious behavior. The threat “We will raise the flag of Allah in the White House,” has caught our attention. What then to make of this new face of religious fundamentalism?

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel lightly put it “This is beyond anything that we’ve seen. So we must prepare for everything.” He is speaking of ISIS, Islamic State in Syria, which can most generously described as a bunch of frat boys with Kalashnikov rifles.

My observation then was the so-called Islamic State had a motivated base and some conventional weapons, but not much depth. But they had accomplished much. They controlled territory in Syria and they had captured key cities in  Iraq, including Ramadi, Fallujah, and most importantly, Mosul, with a population of about 1.8 million people. This latter accomplishment was surprisingly swift, considering the size of the attacking force and their available weaponry. The truth is the defending Iraqi army units threw down their weapons and fled, leaving the civilian population to fend for themselves and also leaving behind large stocks of modern, American-supplied materials of war. And President Obama called them a junior varsity team, meaning second stringers.

To be sure, the President caught much flak over that remark, and to additional surprise I defended the remark. I considered ISIS, also known as Daesh, to be a JV team. I since explained my logic:

If ISIS is not JV, then who is? Here are the facts about ISIS:

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

Nothing much changed since then, with a significant exception. With its captured territory Daesh acquired a considerable financial resource. It was able to broker captured petroleum resources for cash and arms. To be sure, Daesh in Syria and Iraq still did not have the industrial base required to sustain protracted conflict, and it was geographically cut off from any such base. Weapons still flowed in, but the supply lines were not secure. When the United States military rejoined the fight at the request of Iraq, a key tactic became to maintain a strangle hold on Daesh-controlled territory and starve them out. With the United States and Iraq in firm control of regional airspace, this approach began to have an effect.

In the meantime Daesh flexed its fundamental strength—its ideology. Still intellectually connected with the outside world, Daesh struck at the heart of its nemesis, Western civilization. Their minions attacked soft targets, especially in the United States and Europe, killing hundreds of noncombatants. It was terrorism in its purest form. It was and still is Daesh’s key chip in its conflict with the modern world. And it’s soon to be their only chip. Daesh, the Islamic State, is about to become a state without territory:

In Syria, American-backed militias have surrounded Raqqa, the group’s capital, and breached its historic walls. Across the border, Iraqi forces have seized the remains of the Mosul mosque where Mr. Baghdadi appeared and besieged the remaining jihadists in a shrinking number of city blocks.

That’s the good news, but I omitted the headline, which reads:

ISIS, Despite Heavy Losses, Still Inspires Global Attacks

Yeah, those guys are not through, but some comparisons are helpful.

Nazi Germany hung to the end upon a nail driven into a wall, and that nail was Adolf Hitler. Never was power so pyramidal than under his rule. He stood at the very top, controlling an increasingly reluctant second tier of command, and on down to the very last farm boy who was executed by the Gestapo in the final days because he refused to volunteer with some repair work. When Hitler shot himself within the sound of Soviet guns, the fabric began to unravel, and total capitulation was complete eight days later.

The death of Joseph Stalin in 1953 started the Soviet Union on the road to decline as pragmatism gradually replaced idealism. The Soviet Union was disbanded nearly 30 years ago, although communistic fervor is still ripe in the Russian Federation.

The death of Francisco Franco in 1975 brought an end to Spanish fascism after nearly 40 years of oppression.

Following the capture of Abimael Guzmán the Shining Path movement has declined to insignificance.

The death of Mao helped usher in the rise of a capitalistic PRC but not the end of communist oppression.

The Irish Republican Army (IRA) eventually made peace with the British government after decades of carrying out attacks of mass murder.

On a much smaller stage idealistic terror groups such as the Symbionese Liberation Army lacked any base of support and folded after a single, disastrous, confrontation with armed police.

It’s worth noting that a cadre of Nazi die-hards, known as the Werewolves, hung on past the capitulation of May 1945, and they did do some killing. Nazi ideology persists, not only in the modern German state, but also in this country, and extreme elements do dabble in terror. Timothy McVeigh was not strictly a Nazi, but his right-wing ideology skirted Nazism. The less destructive, in magnitude only, Dylan Roof is a prime example of the damage lingering Nazism can wreak.

We can look forward to decades of hearing from Daesh (calling themselves ISIS) in much the form inflicted by the IRA in years past. The difference is it’s not going to be like the skinheads marching with their swastikas and throwing stiff-arm salutes, and it’s not even going to be Daesh patriots gathering in encampments and darkened houses as the IRA might do. Such activities are much too vulnerable to modern police capabilities. A saying dating back to the Russian Revolution goes, “When three people sit around a table to make revolution, two of them are fools, and the other is a police spy.”

The Daesh revolutionary is going to be a loner, gaining inspiration through a thin wire connected to his computer. He will get inspiration but no material support. His attack is going to be unexpected, swift, deadly, and final. There will be no trial by jury, and there will be no confessions. To be sure, even if the attacker lives, he will have nothing to confess that the police do not already know.

The defeat of Daesh will be ideological. It has to be. It has to be demonstrated that the ideological basis for Daesh is unfounded. Islam is not a target for destruction or subjugation. And that will be a difficult ticket to sell, owing to hard line Christianity’s antipathy for other belief systems. Something fundamental is going to have to change. There’s more.

It could be truly righteous people in Western democracies need to be willing to stand by and observe without interference what we consider assaults on humanity. We will have to overlook suppression of women, institutional  slavery, religious oppression, summary executions. Something besides overt intervention will need  to be employed to salve our consciences, which thing we are already doing, as in  the case of our relationship with Saudi Arabia and other global partners of convenience. It will be a difficult course for this nation to undertake, considering we just spent the past 70 years in a war on communism.

I will post again on the topic as matters shake out. Keep reading.

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

Number 24 in a series

“Days are numbered?” Make that “Days have been counted.” Those devilish Russians may have cashed in on one of the world’s most expensive insurance policies. From Reuters via the Huffington Post:

Russia’s Military Says It May Have Killed ISIS Leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

The airstrike targeted a meeting of ISIS leaders and was carried out on May 28.

Reuters Dmitry Solovyov and Ahmed Rasheed

MOSCOW/BAGHDAD, June 16 (Reuters) – Moscow said on Friday its forces may have killed Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in an air strike in Syria last month, but Washington said it could not corroborate the death and Western and Iraqi officials were skeptical.

The secretive Islamic State leader has frequently been reported killed or wounded since he declared a caliphate to rule over all Muslims from a mosque in Mosul in 2014, after leading his fighters on a sweep through northern Iraq.

If the report does prove true, it would be one of the biggest blows yet to Islamic State, which is trying to defend its shrinking territory against an array of forces backed by regional and global powers in both Syria and Iraq.

Yes, if the report does prove true, then somewhere there is an insurance underwriter standing on the window ledge of a tall building.

President Obama once called Daesh (ISIS) a JV team (junior varsity, second stringer). I have always agreed.

He got a lot of push back from that. So did I when I cast my vote for that sentiment. One person compared Daesh to the Viet Cong of 50 years ago. It was pointed out that we failed to defeat the VC. I begged to differ:

  • The VC were effectively finished in 1968. We fought the NVA from that point on.
  • The NVA  was not a JV team. They had SAMs and jet fighters. North Vietnam was a client state of the Soviet Union. Even though, like Daesh, North Vietnam did not produce its own weapons of war, it received a steady supply, apparently gratis.
  • To the contrary, Daesh does not have territory of its own. It currently occupies territory claimed by two well-armed nations, Syria and Iraq. One, Syria, is unable to combat Daesh effectively. The other, Iraq, appears unwilling.
  • Additionally, Daesh, unlike North Vietnam, does not produce anything on its own. Everything must be imported.

If Daesh does not qualify as a JV team, who does?

And as I mentioned when I posted this a year and a half ago, the death of al-Baghdadi and his minions does not mean it is safe to go in the water again. There are points still in play:

  • The idea—that modern, industrial, states dominate the world to the detriment of developing countries—tugs powerfully at the minds of a broad base for recruitment. Lack of a geographical base (Syria and Iraq) will not slacken this pull.
  • Syria—Iraq is no long in play in this respect— will cease to be a base for training and arming of international combatants. The dirty work can continue without this base. In prior times recognized states, Libya for example, served this purpose. There is still Iran, no friend of the world elite and inclined to assert its presence in whatever means are available.
  • Daesh is ideologically driven and in modern times can operate in the info-sphere. Militants who never meet can inspire, organize,  motivate, direct. On any given day a thoroughly indoctrinated actor can leave his rundown apartment with blood on his brain and a weapon—gun, car keys—in his hand, with no plans for the following  day.

The ultimate root of the matter is an institutional and cultural divide and not religion. As such it cannot pulled out without first addressing the divide. Doing that is above my pay grade. There will be more on this later. Keep reading.

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

history-zimmermanncable

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

war-isisleaderdaysnumbered

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

war-daeshfighters-01

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.

war-fullmetaljacket-01

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

war-daeshconvoydestroyedir

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

GoeringBook-01

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.

spartacists1

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.