Friday Funny

Number 223 of a series

This series has been running images of comedians world-wide mocking President Donald Trump. I’m taking a break from that for this special image. President Trump’s niece has penned a scandalous book, disclosing devastating information about the character of president number 45. One juicy item, which nobody has seen fit to dispute, is young Donald Trump paid a friend to take the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) for him.

Anyhow, the photo.

Reporter: Any reactions to the book, Mr. President.

President and Press Secretary: Turn their backs and walk out of the room.

Now that is funny, provided you have a certain perverse sense of humor.


Prince of Dreadful, Part 22

This just in. Mary Trump’s book about the private life of her Uncle Donald Trump will be on sale Tuesday next week. I will get a copy and do a short review.

In the meantime the president’s sister, Maryanne Trump Barry is quoted in the book. “He’s a clown.”

Call me a bleeding-heart liberal if you want, but I take issue with that statement. Maryanne Trump Barry should not be saying things like that about her brother. That’s my job.

Stay in your own lane Mrs. Prissy Pants Maryanne. I’ve got this one.

The Deplorables

Episode 44 In The Further Adventures Of An American Crime Family

Definitely an amazing brain being wasted on the presidency.

As a high school student in Queens, Ms. Trump writes, Donald Trump paid someone to take a precollegiate test, the SAT, on his behalf. The high score the proxy earned for him, Ms. Trump adds, helped the young Mr. Trump to later gain admittance as an undergraduate to the University of Pennsylvania’s prestigious Wharton business school.

Details next week.

Years of Living Dangerously

Continuing a review of William Shirer’s Berlin Diary

William Shirer’s book recounts his experiences and observations from close up during the years prior to the war and concluding when Adolf Hitler’s government expelled him in 1940. In May 1940 the fate of France was sealed, as German forces swept French troops and the British Expeditionary Force before them. Hopes the situation could be salvaged evaporated, as the Germans surrounded Allied armies and pinned them against the Channel coast. By the barest of margins the British were able to evacuate most of their troops, but a large contingent of French were not rescued, and were taken prisoner. As the month of June began the rescue operation, code named “Typhoon,” was entering is final four days. Shirer would also leave Berlin in June and travel to France, where he would witness and report the capitulation of the French republic to Germany.

Here he takes note of how German news reported the situation in France.

Berlin, June 1


Shirer must follow the situation through second-hand reports, which are the basis of this analysis.

General Weygand has now had ten days to organize his armies along this line, but the fact that he has not felt himself strong enough to attempt an offensive northward from the Somme against the fairly thin German line—a move which if pushed home would have saved the Franco-British-Belgian armies in Flanders—has convinced the German generals, if they needed convincing, that they can crack his forces fairly easily and quickly break through to Paris and to the Norman and Breton ports.

Shirer shows little sympathy for the failures of French general Maxime Weygand.

No mention of the German ail losses, so I assume they were larger than the British—otherwise Göring would have mentioned them. The Junker-87 dive-bomber is a set-up for any British fighter.

A further analysis of the sentiment of the German populaiton.

Berlin, June 2

Despite the lack of popular enthusiasm for this colossal German victory in Flanders, I gather quite a few Germans are beginning to feel that the deprivations which Hitler has forced on them for five years have not been without reason. Said my room waiter this morning: “Perhaps the English and French now wish they had had less butter and more cannon.”

It would be several weeks before the RAF would begin air strikes on Berlin. The German people are certainly becoming edgy by now.

One reason for this peculiar state of things, I suppose, is that the war has not been brought home to the people of Berlin. They read about it, or on the radio even hear the pounding of the big guns. But that’s all. Paris and London may feel in danger. Berlin doesn’t. The last air-raid alarm I can recall here was early last September. And then nothing happened.

Berlin, June 3

BBC just announced that the Germans bombed Paris this afternoon. Maybe the Allies will drop a few on Berlin tonight.

This was the final day of the Dunkirk evacuation. By then about 100,000 French troops had been evacuated to England, but they were repatriated to their homeland to carry on the fight. They would soon become prisoners of war. The Allies would not return to Dunkirk until 9 May 1945.

Berlin, June 4

The great battle of Flanders and Artois is over. The German army today entered Dunkirk and the remaining Allied troops—about forty thousand—surrendered. The German High Command in an omcial communiqué says the battle will go down in history “as the greatest battle of destruction of all time.” German losses for the western offensive, as given out tonight, are said to be: dead—IO,252; missing—8,467; planes lost—432. All of which is very surprising. Only three days ago the military people tipped us that the losses would soon be given out, and that they were approximately 35,000 to 40,000 dead; 150,000 to 160,000 wounded. But most Germans will believe any figures they are given.

The Washington was an American passenger ship, clearly neutral, and in previous days there were reports it might be sunk by a German submarine in a scheme to blame the Allies. In the end the U-boat stopped the ship before allowing it to continue to the United States. Shirer’s wife and child had been booked on the passage.

I’m worried about Tess and Baby. She called this afternoon, said she’d at last got passage on the Washington, but that it would not call at Genoa. She must get it at Bordeaux. But she’s advised not to cross France with the French in their present panicky mood. The railroad near Lyon which she must take has been bombed twice this week by the Germans. And she would still prefer to stay on.

This was also the day Winston Churchill gave one of his most inspiring speeches.

Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and if, which I do not for a moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.

He reports the dire situation of the people of the conquered Belgium nation.

Berlin, June 7

Our Ambassador to Belgium, Cudahy, arrived here today. He confirms what I was told a few days ago, that the Belgians have food for not more than fifty days.

Having wrapped up the Battle of Dunkirk, the German army continues its sweep of the country.

Berlin, June 9

The Germans also announce: “This morning on a further part of the front in France a new offensive has started.” Weygand reveals it’s on a front from Reims to the Argonne. The Germans are now hurling themselves forward on a two-hundred-mile front from the sea to the Argonne. No drive in World War I was on this scale.

Mussolini had been Hitler’s inspiration. Nazism was modeled after the Italian dictator’s Fascism. This was to prove an unholy coupling that would drag down German fortunes as the situation matured. But for now, Mussolini was taking heart from Hitler’s success, and he was sure his own empire would benefit by joining forces.

Berlin, June 10

Italy is in the war.

She has stabbed France in the back at the moment when the Germans are at the gates of Paris, and France appears to be down.

The Italian army attacked through the common border with France, forcing the French to fight on two fronts. It was an intractable situation.

Nazi propagandists shifted into gear, feeding their public what they thought would be the most inspiring.

At the six p.m. press conference we were given another dose of the weekly German news-reel. Again the ruined towns, the dead humans, the putrefying horses’ carcasses. One shot showed the charred remains of a British pilot amid the wreckage of his burnt plane. Most Germans there seemed to get a sadistic pleasure from these pictures of death and destruction. A few I know, however, didn’t A few react still like human beings.

United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt had long urged American participation on the side of the Allies, as 20 years before. However, powerful isolationist forces in this country thwarted his efforts to come to the aid of friendly countries. 1940 was an election year, and Roosevelt would be running for an unprecedented third term. Even so, he chose this moment to make promises he would find difficult to keep, until December the following year.

Berlin, June 10

Roosevelt came through very clearly on the radio last night. He promised immediate material help for the Allies. Scorched Mussolini for his treachery. Not a word about the speech in press or radio here.

The Wilhelmstrasse keeps making the point that American aid will come too late. A man just back from seeing Hitler tells me the Fuhrer is sure that France will be finished by June 15—that is, in four days—and Great Britain by August 15 at the latest! He says Hitler is acting as if he had the world at his feet, but that some of the generals, although highly pleased with the military successes, are a little apprehensive of the future under such a wild and fanatical man.

The news from France is grim.

Word here is that the French government has left Paris. The Germans tonight are roughly about as near Paris as they were on September 1, 1914. This led the High Command to point out to us today that the German position is much better than it was then. First, because their right wing is stronger, and has maintained its advance west of Paris, whereas in 1914 it wheeled east of Paris. Second, there is no real British army to help the French. Third, there is no eastern front, so that, not asin 1914, the entire German army can now be hurled against Paris. (In 1914, two army corps were hurriedly withdrawn from France to stop the Russians in the east How Paris and London are now paying for their short-sighted anti-Russian policy! Before Munich, even after Munich, even a year ago this June, they could have lined up the Russians against Germany.)

This is the time of a famous scene from the movie Casablanca, the day the Germans entered Paris, and Sam and Richard Blaine had to flee the country.

Berlin, June 14

Paris has fallen. The hooked-cross flag of Hitler flutters from the Eiffel Tower there by the Seine in that Paris which I knew so intimately and loved.

Like Rick and Ilsa, Shirer mourns for Paris.

Poor Paris! I weep for her. For so many years it was my home—and I loved it as you love a woman. Said the Völkische Beobachter this morning: “Paris was a city of frivolity and corruption, of democracy and capitalism, where Jews had entry to the court, and nig#rs to the salons. That Paris will never rise again.” But the High Command promises that its soldiers will behave—will be “as different as night is from day, compared to the conduct of the French soldiers in the Rhine and Ruhr.”

Berlin, June 15 Shirer left for Paris.


Spending the night in a hostelry along the Autobahn. Very good and modern, and better food than in Berlin. Our car broke down six miles out of Berlin on the way to Potsdam. This held us up two hours waiting for a new car. I fear we shall not get to Paris tomorrow. At ten pm. in the restaurant of the road-house we heard the news. Verdun taken! The Verdun that cost the Germans six hundred thousand dead the last time they tried to take it. And this time they take it in one day. Granted that the French army is in a fix; that the fall of Paris has demoralized it still further. Still you ask: What has happened to the French? Germans also claim Maginot Line broken through

In France he views additional destruction from the battles.

Maubuege, June 16

This house one’s life, such as it is. Then boom! The Stukas. The shells. And that life, like the houses all around, blown to bits; the solidity, the respectability, the hopes, gone in a jiffy

Next begins the path that will lead to a death sentence for Pétain, a French hero from the first World War.

Paris, June 18

Marshal Pétain has asked for an armistice! The Parisians, already dazed by all that has happened, can scarcely believe it. Nor can the rest of us. That the French army must give up is clear. But most of us expected it to surrender, as did the Dutch and Belgian armies, with the government going, as Reynaud had boasted it would, to Africa, where France, with its navy and African armies, can hold out for a long time.

A fellow journalist reports the invasion of the Germans in Paris.

The German army moved into Bess’s hotel yesterday, but they valiantly held on to their floor.

The end of the French republic is nigh. The Germans prepare to make the most of the occasion. Hitler will salve the German people’s humiliation of 20 years before.

Paris, June 19

The armistice is to be signed at Compiégne! In the same wagon-lit coach of Marshal Foch that witnessed the signing of that other armistice on November 11, 1918 in Compiægne Forest. The French don’t know it yet. The Germans are keeping it secret. But through somebody’s mistake I found out today.

He continues to describe the destruction war wreaks on the civilian population.

This has been a war of machines down the main highways, and the French do not appear to have been ready for it, to have understood it, or to have had anything ready to stop it. This is incredible.

General Glaise von Horstenau (an Austrian who betrayed Schuschnigg shamelessly and has now been named by Hitler one of the chief official historians of this war) put it another way last night. His idea is that Germany caught the Allies at one of the rare moments in military history when, for a few weeks or months or years, offensive weapons are superior to those of defence. He explains that this fantastic campaign probably could have taken place only in this summer of 1940. Had it been delayed until next year, the Allies would have had the defensive weapons—anti-tank guns, anti-aircraft guns, and fighter airplanes—to have offset the offensive arms of Germany. There then would have ensued, he thinks, the kind of stalemate which developed on the western front from 1914 to 1918, when the powers of offence and defence were about equal.

Another thing: I do not think the losses on either side have been large. You see so few graves.

More grim news of civilian hardship.

Paris, June 20

Bullitt estimates there are seven million refugees between here and Bordeaux. Almost all face starvation unless something is done at good his word.

The harsh reality of the French capitulation plays out in slow motion. Shirer has gained a ring side seat at the event.

Paris, June 21

The humiliation of France, ofthe French, was complete. And yet in the preamble to the armistice terms Hitler told the French that he had not chosen this spot at Compiégne out of revenge; merely to right an old wrong. From the demeanour of the French delegates I gathered that they did not appreciate the difference.

He describes Hitler’s relish at the French humiliation.

Through my glasses I saw the Fuhrer stop, glance at the monument, observe the Reich flags with their big Swastikas in the centre. Then he strode slowly towards us, towards the little clearing in the woods. I observed his face. It was grave, solemn, yet brimming with revenge. There was also in it, as in his springy step, a note of the triumphant conqueror, the defier of the world. There was something else, difficult to describe, in his expression, a sort of scornful, inner joy at being present at this great reversal of fate—a reversal he himself had wrought.

Hitler does not realize it, nor does anybody else, but this is to be the peak of his power.

He glances back at it, contemptuous, angry—angry, you almost feel, because he cannot wipe out the awful, provoking lettering with one sweep of his high Prussian boot. He glances slowly around the clearing, and now, as his eyes meet ours, you grasp the depth of his hatred. But there is triumph there too—revengeful, triumphant h ate. Suddenly,as though his face were not giving quite complete expression to his feelings, he throws his whole body into harmony with his mood. He swiftly snaps his hands on his hips, arches his shoulders, plants his feet wide apart. It is a magnificent gesture of defiance, of burning contempt for this place now and all that it has stood for in the twenty-two years since it witnessed the humbling of the German Empire.

The charade churns forward.

They walk stiffly to the car, where they are met by two German officers, Lieutenant General Tippelskirch, Quartermaster General, and Colonel Thomas, chief of the Fuhrers headquarters. The Germans salute. The French salute. The atmosphere is what Europeans call “correct.” There are salutes, but no handshakes.

So much ceremony. Soon it will wrap up in a matter of seconds.

The reading of the preamble lasts but a few minutes. Hitler, we soon observe, has no intention of remaining very long, of listening to the reading of the armistice terms themselves. At three forty-two p.m., twelve minutes after the French arrive, we see Hitler stand up, salute stiffly, and then stride out of the drawing-room, followed by Goring, Brauchitsch, Raeder, Hess, and Ribbentrop. The French, like figures of stone, remain at the green-topped table. General Keitel remains with them. He starts to read them the detailed conditions of the armistice.

Hitler and his aides stride down the avenue towards the Alsace-Lorraine monument, where their cars are waiting. As they pass the guard of honour, the German band strikes up the two national anthems, Deutschland, Deutschland über Alles and the Horst Wessel song. The whole ceremony in which Hitler has reached a new pinnacle in his meteoric career and Germany avenged the 1918 defeat is over in a quarter of an hour.

He recounts the events of the signing.

Paris, June 22 (midnight)

As soon as the French and Italians sign, the news will be flashed to the Germans. They will immediately inform the French government at Bordeaux. And then, six hours after this, the fighting stops, the guns cease fire, the airplanes come down, the blood-letting of war is at an end. That is, between Germany and Italy on the one hand, and France on the other. The war with Britain, of course, goes on…


“And then came the big moment. At six fifty p.m. the gentlemen in the car started affixing their signatures to Germany’s armistice conditions. General Keitel signed for Germany; General Huntziger for France.

“It was all over in a few moments.”

And now to depart from my broadcast to set down a scene which I gave to Kerker for his part of the transmission. I know that the Germans have hidden microphones in the armistice car. I seek out a sound-truck in the woods. No one stops me and so I pause to listen. It is just before the armistice is signed. I hear General Huntziger’s voice, strained, quivering. I note down his exact words in French. They come out slowly, with great effort, one at a time. He says: “I declare the French government has ordered me to sign these terms of armistice. I desire to read a personal declaration. Forced by the fate of arms to cease the struggle in which we were engaged on the side of the Allies, France sees imposed on her very hard conditions. France has the right to expect in the future negotiations that Germany show a spirit which will permit the two great neighbouring countries to live and work peacefully.”

Hitler leaves France. He will return briefly in October en route to meet with Franco of Spain and will never visit the country again.

As I finished speaking into the microphone, a drop of rain fell on my forehead. Down the road, through the woods, I could see the refugees, slowly, tiredly, filing by —on weary feet, on bicycles, on carts, a few on trucks, an endless line. They were exhausted and dazed, those walking were footsore, and they did not know yet that an armistice had been signed and that the fighting would be over very soon now. I walked out to the clearing. The sky was overcast and rain was coming on. An army of German engineers, shouting lustily, had already started to move the armistice car.

“Where to?” I asked.

“To Berlin,” they said.

And now Shirer is back in Berlin.

Berlin, June 26

Returned from Paris. We left there at seven a.m. and drove through the “battlefields” (more accurately, the destroyed towns where what fighting there was in this war took place) to Brussels.

A further assessment of the battle-ravaged countries.

En route to Brussels we passed through CompiEgne, Noyon, Valenciennes, and Mons—all well smashed up. But except in the towns I could see no evidence of any serious fighting. Abandoned Allies’ tanks and trucks here and there, but no sign along the roads that the French had offered serious resistance. The French and Belgians in the towns still seemed numbed, but not particularly resentful, as one might have expected. As elsewhere, they acted extremely civil to the German troops.

He wraps up.

Berlin, June 27

To sum up:

Make some reservations. That it is too early to know all. That you didn’t see all, by  any means. And all that.

But from what I’ve seen in Belgium and France and from talks I’ve had with Germans and French in both countries, and with French, Belgian, and British prisoners along the roads, it seems fairly clear to me that:

France did not fight.

If she did, there is little evidence of it. Not only I, but several of my friends have driven from the German border to Paris and back, along all the main roads. None of us saw any evidence of serious fighting.

Shirer’s assessment is a view I have come to accept. I worked here with a number of French, and I gave them my interpretation. The Nazis from their inception were antithetical to communism. Before coming to power in 1933 they fought communists in street battles, and after that communists were among those thrown into concentration camps.

However, Hitler knew the Soviet Union was his greatest danger. Stalin would have crushed him had not Stalin decapitated his own military, rendering it unable. Hitler figured the time table until Stalin would be ready to strike, so he entered into a pact with the Soviet Union prior to invading Poland.

Now the communists and the Nazis were comrades in arms, and French communists in the ranks were reluctant to resist a common cause. Here is what Shirer observed.

D. B. in Paris, having seen the war from the other side, concludes that there was treachery in the French army from top to bottom—the fascists at the top, the Communists at the bottom. And from German and French sources alike I heard many stories of how the Communists had received their orders from their party not to fight, and didn’t..

Many French prisoners say they never saw a battle. When one seemed imminent, orders came to retreat. It was this constant order to retreat before a battle had been joined, or at least before it had been fought out, that broke the Belgian resistance.


One German tank officer I talked to in Compiègne said: “French tanks in some ways were superior to ours. They had heavier armour. And at times—for a few hours, say—the French tank corps fought bravely and well. But soon we got a definite feeling that their heart wasn’t in it. When we learned that, and acted on the belief, it was all over.” A month before, I would have thought such talk rank Nazi propaganda. Now I believe it.

Another mystery: After the Germans broke through the Franco-Belgian border from Maubeuge to Sedan, they tell that they continued right on across northern France to the sea hardly firing a shot. When they got to the sea, Boulogne and Calais were defended mostly by the British. The whole French army seemed paralysed, unable to provide the least action, the slightest counter-thrust.


The most deadly work of the German air force was at Dunkirk, where the British stopped the Germans dead for ten days.


There was a complete collapse of French society and of the French soul. Secondly, there was either treachery or criminal negligence in the High Command and among the high omcers in the field. Among large masses of troops Communist propaganda had won the day. And its message was: “Don’t fight.” Never were the masses so betrayed.


The latter strike you as civilized, intellectual, frail, ailing old men who stopped thinking new thoughts twenty years ago and have taken no physical exercise in the last ten years. The German generals are a complete contrast. More than one not yet forty, most of them in the forties, a few at the very top in their fifties. And they have the characteristics of youth—dash, daring, imagination, initiative, and physical prowess. General von Reichenau, commander of a whole army in Poland, was first to cross the Vistula River. He swam it. The commander of the few hundred German parachutists at Rotterdam w as a general, who took his chances with the lieutenants and privates, and was in fact severely wounded. All the big German tank attacks were led in person by commanding generals. They did not sit in the safety of a dugout ten miles behind the lines and direct by radio. They sat in their tanks in the thick of the fray and directed by radio and signalling from where they could see how the battle was going.

He finishes the apocalyptic month of June with some noted abuses of the Geneva Conventions.

Berlin, June 28

A word about something the Germans will shoot me for if the Gestapo or the Military Intelligence ever find these notes. (I hide them about my hotel room here, but even an amateur detective could find them easily enough.)

I have been shocked at the way the German army in Belgium and France has been abusing the Red Cross sign.

Beginning in July the British would continue to fight the Germans alone. They would go on alone until December 1941.

The Deplorables

Episode 34 In The Further Adventures Of An American Crime Family

When you live your whole life as a criminal it is difficult to adjust to a world that expects something higher. Just ask President Donald Trump.

Donald J. Trump @realDonaldTrump Jun 12

How do you think China, Russia, Japan or others would do with him in a negotiation? We would have no Country left!!!

I’m guessing Xi Jinping’s boy toy is referring to presidential candidate Joe Biden, who appears to be on the road to beating Mr. Trump like the proverbial drum. Let me know if you want to make America even greater.

Full disclosure: I pre-ordered the book. I will have excerpts next week.

The Deplorables

Episode 33 In The Further Adventures Of An American Crime Family

The Lord daily showers his blessings upon me. Here is one recent. <>Unsubscribe

Tue, Jun 16 at 7:35 PM


Why is the mainstream media’s opinion any more important than yours?

You have just as much of a right to your beliefs about America as they do, and it’s time for the Coastal Elites in the media to accept that.

Assuming this really is from Donald J. Trump, I have little regard for the opinion of the mainstream media. They have their thoughts; I have mine. I form my thoughts by watching your actions. Today I am especially enjoying the word from your former national security advisor that you finagled with PRC President Xi Jinping for help with your 2020 campaign. Baby Cheeks, the mainstream media could not invent anything as deplorable as this. It had to come from your innermost being.

And may Jesus have mercy on our souls.

Years of Living Dangerously

Continuing a review of William Shirer’s Berlin Diary

William Shirer’s book recounts his experiences and observations from close up during the years prior to the war and concluding when Adolf Hitler’s government expelled him in 1940. Eighty years ago the war went full scale as the Wehrmacht attacked through Holland, Belgium, and Luxembourg. The Month of May 1940 would mark the near downfall of the Western Alliance.

Shirer, in Berlin, notices something is up. He is not aware of what is about to happen, but in retrospect it will become obvious.

Berlin, May 1

Is gas getting short? In Berlin 300 out of 1,600 taxis stopped running today and some twenty-five per cent of the private cars and trucks still allowed to circulate have been suddenly ordered to cease circulating.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 323). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Shirer did not know at the time, but most likely fuel reserves were being stockpiled for the attack to the west. Later that day.

So this May Day turns out to be a day of victory for the Germans. Hitler, for the first time since he came to power, did not speak or make a public appearance. His deputy, Rudolf Hess, spoke in his place—from the Krupp munition works at Essen. He kept referring to Mr. Hambro as “that Jew, Mr. Hamburger.”

Judging from the looks of the good burghers who thronged the Tiergarten today, the one wish in their hearts is for peace, and to hell with the victories. Still, I suppose this triumph in Norway will buck up morale, after the terrible winter. S., a veteran correspondent here, thinks every man, woman, and child in this country is a natural-born killer. Perhaps so. But today I noticed in the Tiergarten many of them feeding the squirrels and ducks—with their rationed bread.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 324). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

British prime minister Neville Chamberlain, who had consistently gotten the situation wrong, was in his last days as prime minister. In fact he would be dead before the end of the year.

Berlin, May 2

Chamberlain boasted that as a result of the partial destruction of the German fleet the Allies had been able to strengthen their naval forces in the Mediterranean. Mussolini’s bluff that he might hop into the war behind Hitler thus was taken seriously by the old man. It certainly wasn’t here. It seems incredible to us here that Britain would withdraw the naval forces which would have enabled it to take Trondheim and thus defeat Hitler in Norway in order to strengthen its position against the tin-pot strength of Italy in the Mediterranean.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 325). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

In fact, it was ultimately in the Mediterranean where Britain would prevail. Following the conquest of France in June, the Italians would enter the war alongside Germany. The Italians in North Africa would fail so miserably they would suck German military strength attempting to bail them out. The following year Germany would make war on its part-time ally the Soviet Union, and in 1942 American and British forces would begin their domination of North Africa. Germany would find itself faced with hostile forces on three sides.

Shirer makes a telling observation concerning air power. It is a lesson the Allies will be slow to learn.

Berlin, May 4

Is it that air power has shown in this short Norwegian campaign that it has superseded naval power? At least, within flying distance of your land bases? In 1914–18 such a German thrust as has now taken place would have been unthinkable. But with the Luftwaffe holding the flying fields in Denmark and Norway, the Allied fleet not only did not venture into the Kattegat to stop the German shipment of arms and men to Oslo, but has not even attempted action at Trondheim, Bergen, or Stavanger, with the exception of one eighty-minute shelling of the Stavanger airfield the first week of the war. The Germans now boast that air power has demonstrated its superiority over naval power.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 326). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Later that day.

In other words, they revolutionized war in and around the North Sea.

I talked to my policeman friend today. He thinks the war will develop in a few weeks into bombing the big towns, and even gas. I agree. Hitler wants to finish the war this summer if he can. If he can’t, despite all the German victories, he’s probably lost.

A decree today explains that while there are plenty of oil supplies, consumption must be further reduced. Many cars and trucks still operating are to be taken out of circulation. Two questions pop up: (1) Supplies are not so big? (2) Available oil will be needed for further military action on a big scale now that the British have pulled out of Namsos and the Germans have won the war in Norway?

The German papers today are full of accusations that Britain now intends to “spread the war.” In the Mediterranean or Balkans or somewhere else, by which I take it they mean Holland.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 327). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Holland is an obvious next goal. In fact, at the time the Dutch government was desperately seeking assurances its neutrality would be respected. Hitler had other ideas.

The fact is, if any of the neighboring countries showed signs of strengthening their defenses, Hitler would interpret this (deliberately) as a hostile act. Nothing short of a welcomed airborne invasion of Holland and Belgium would forestall their doom. And neither country was open to the risk. They had but six days left.

As Hitler’s forces prepared to attack, the bluster rose to a crescendo.

Berlin, May 6

Bernhard Rust, Nazi Minister of Education, in a broadcast to schoolchildren today, sums up pretty well the German mentality in this year of 1940. He says: “God created the world as a place for work and battle. Whoever doesn’t understand the laws of life’s battles will be counted out, as in the boxing ring. All the good things on this earth are trophy cups. The strong win them. The weak lose them…. The German people under Hitler did not take to arms to break into foreign lands and make other people serve them. They were forced to take arms by states which blocked their way to bread and union.”

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 328). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Four days to go. Nazi propaganda turns on the taps in preparation.

Berlin, May 7

For three or four days now the German newspapers have been carrying on a terrific campaign to convince somebody that the Allies, having failed in Norway, are about to become “aggressors” in some other part of Europe. Six weeks ago we had a similar campaign to convince somebody that the Allies were about to become the “aggressors” in Scandinavia. Then Germany, using the alleged Allied intention of aggression as an excuse, went in herself.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 328-329). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Shirer can see it coming. Three days to go.

Berlin, May 8

Could not help noticing a feeling of tension in the Wilhelmstrasse today. Something is up, but we don’t know what. Ralph Barnes, just in from Amsterdam, says the guards on his train pulled down the window-blinds for the first twenty-five miles of the journey from the Dutch-German frontier towards Berlin. I hear the Dutch and Belgians are nervous. I hope they are. They ought to be. I cabled New York today to keep Edwin Hartrich in Amsterdam for the time being. They wanted to send him off to Scandinavia, where the war is over.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 329). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Later in the day.

LATER.—My censors were quite decent today. They let me hint very broadly that the next German blow would fall in the west,—Holland, Belgium, the Maginot Line, Switzerland. Tonight the town is full of rumours. The Wilhelmstrasse is especially angry at an A.P. report that two German armies, one from Bremen, the other from Düsseldorf, are moving towards the Dutch frontier.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 330). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Shirer writes in his column what is now obvious to all. Ordinarily such commentary would not get past the censors, but at this stage in the game it no longer matters. One day to go.

Berlin, May 9

All of which moved me to say in my broadcast tonight. “Regardless of who spreads it, there seems little doubt that it will spread. And it may well be, as many people over here think that the war will be fought and decided before the summer is over. People somehow seem to feel that the Whitsuntide holidays this week-end will be the last holidays Europe will observe for some time.”

My censors didn’t like the paragraph, but after some argument they let it pass. Their line was that there was no question of Germany spreading the war.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 331). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

And the ax falls

Berlin, May 10

The blow in the west has fallen. At dawn today the Germans marched into Holland, Belgium, Luxemburg. It is Hitler’s bid for victory now or never. Apparently it was true that Germany could not outlast the economic war. So he struck while his army still had supplies and his air force a lead over the Allies’. He seems to realize he is risking all. In an order of the day to the troops he begins: “The hour of the decisive battle for the future of the German nation has come.” And he concludes: “The battle beginning today will decide the future of the German nation for the next thousand years.” If he loses, it certainly will.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 331-332). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

There was likely nobody who didn’t see this coming. Even so, the Dutch and the Belgians were no match. There forces were steadfast and determined, but they were no match for the Wehrmacht, which had been training for war since 1933. The German forces had the troops, the machines, and they had the superior command structure. Their tactics were impeccable, honed from a wealth of Prussian military tradition. Even so, their success in the weeks to follow was stunning.

Additional comment later in the day.

LATER.—The people in Berlin, I must say, have taken the news of the battle which Hitler says is going to decide the future of their nation for the next thousand years with their usual calm. None of them gathered before the Chancellery as usually happens when big events occur. Few bothered to buy the noon papers which carried the news. For some reason Goebbels forbade extras. The German memorandum “justifying” this latest aggression of Hitler’s was handed to the ministers of Holland and Belgium at six a.m., about an hour and a half after German troops had violated their neutral soil. It sets up a new record, I think, for cynicism and downright impudence—even for Hitler. It requests the two governments to issue orders that no resistance be made to German troops. “Should the German forces encounter resistance in Belgium or Holland,” it goes on, “it will be crushed with every means. The Belgian and Dutch governments alone would bear the responsibility for the consequences and for the bloodshed which would then become unavoidable.”

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 333). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

May 10 was also Chamberlain’s last day as prime minister. King George approved the elevation of Winston Churchill to prime minister. Three days later he would address Parliament with these words.

I say to the House as I said to ministers who have joined this government, I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many months of struggle and suffering.

What is so interesting about this is eighty years later I hear from my own countrymen, “I really cannot go six weeks without a haircut.”

The German people were taking the unfolding events with some amazement. In fact, events had long since passed beyond their control.

Berlin, May 11

Strange, the apathy of the people in the face of this decisive turn in the war. Most Germans I’ve seen, outside of the officials, are sunk deep in depression at the news. The question is: How many Germans support this final, desperate gamble that Hitler has taken? Discussing it at the Adlon today, most of the correspondents agreed: many, many. And yet I can’t find any Germans who actually believe Hitler’s excuse that he went into the neutral countries, whose integrity he had guaranteed, to counter a similar move which the Allies were about to begin. Even for a German, it’s an obvious lie.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 336). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Shirer mentions the Allied bombing of Freiburg, which did not make a lot of sense.

Goebbels’s propaganda machine, shifting into high gear, discovers today, twenty-four hours after the official announcement that twenty-four persons had been killed by the bombing at Freiburg, that thirteen of the twenty-four were children who were peacefully frolicking on the municipal playground. What were a lot of children doing on a playground in the midst of an air-raid? This particular Goebbels fake is probably produced to justify German killings of civilians on the other side.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 336). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

It’s close to the border with France, something like 50 miles from Strasbourg. I was there last year and looked it up.

Freiburg was heavily bombed during World War II. In May 1940, aircraft of the Luftwaffe mistakenly dropped approximately 60 bombs on Freiburg near the railway station, killing 57 people. On 27 November 1944, a raid by more than 300 bombers of RAF Bomber Command (Operation Tigerfish) destroyed a large portion of the city centre, with the notable exception of the Münster, which was only lightly damaged. After the war, the city was rebuilt on its medieval plan.

I do not know how much the Nazi government was paying Dr. Goebbels, but he was worth every pfennig.

More from the same day.

The Nazis locked up in the Kaiserhof yesterday all the Dutch journalists who were not Nazis, including Harry Masdyck, who did not quite believe it would come when it did. A Dutch woman reporter for the Nazi Dutch paper has been sitting at the Rundfunk since dawn yesterday broadcasting false news to the Dutch people in their own language. A sort of Lady Haw-Haw.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 336-337). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The reference is in association with Lord Haw-Haw. He was a British expat who propagandized for the Nazis until almost the last day. The Brits captured him in the post war ruins and hanged him in 1946.

Ominously the Nazis appear to be prepared to suspend the rules of war, such that they were in those days.

Berlin, May 13

Last night Premier Reynaud of France announced that German parachutists found behind the lines in anything but a German uniform would be shot on sight. Tonight the Wilhelmstrasse told us it was informing the Allied governments that for every German parachutist shot, the Germans would execute ten French prisoners! Nice pleasant people, the Germans. That takes us back a thousand or two years. But keep in mind that this is merely a part of Hitler’s new technique of terror.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 339). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Four days in, and the Dutch were finished. Essentially, Hitler threatened total annihilation if they did not capitulate, and he had demonstrated his ability and his willingness to carry out the threat.

Berlin, May 14

We’re all a little dazed tonight by the news.

The Dutch army has capitulated—after only five days of fighting. What happened to its great water lines, which were supposed to be impassable? To its army of over half a million men?

An hour before we learned this from a special communiqué, we were told of Rotterdam’s fall. “Under the tremendous impression of the attacks of German dive-bombers and the imminent attack of German tanks, the city of Rotterdam has capitulated and thus saved itself from destruction,” read the German announcement. It was the first news we had that Rotterdam was being bombed and was at the point of being destroyed. How many civilians were killed there, I wonder, in this war which Adolf Hitler “promised” would not be carried out against civilians? Was the whole city, the half million or so people in it, a military objective so that it had to be destroyed?

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 339-340). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Shirer continues to explore the likelihood Mussolini will come in on Hitler’s side. In fact, that did not happen until the following month, after France was approaching defeat.

Berlin, May 15

There was increasing talk from Rome today that Italy, now that the Germans appear to be winning, may jump into the war this week-end. Tess phoned this morning from Geneva to give me this news. Again I urged her to leave with the child, and at last she seems willing. She and Mrs. V., with her two youngsters, will strike out across France for Spain. From Lisbon they can get the Clipper to New York. Worried all day about this. If Italy attacks France, going across to Spain from Geneva will be unpleasant, if not impossible.

It seems the reason the Dutch gave up yesterday was that the Germans bombed the hell out of Rotterdam, and threatened to do the same to Utrecht and Amsterdam. Hitler’s technique of helping his armies by threatening terror or meting it out is as masterful as it is diabolical.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 341). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

At this point there is a misprint in the Kindle edition. It shows this as May 15. The original from 1942 has the correct date.

Berlin, May 16

TI just saw two uncensored news-reels at our press conference in the Propaganda Ministry. Pictures of the German army smashing through Belgium and Holland. Some of the more destructive work of German bombs and shells was shown. Towns laid waste, dead soldiers and horses lying around, and the earth and mortar flying when a shell or bomb hit. Yelled the German announcer: “And thus do we deal death and destruction on our enemies!” The film, in a way, summed up the German people to me.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 342). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The same day, President Roosevelt weighs in concerning the prospect of American participation. Here is the first mention of the “50,000 planes.” It would turn out to be 100,000 planes.

Picked up on the shortwave Roosevelt reading a special message to Congress. He came through very clearly. In great form, I thought. He proposed we build 50,000 (!) planes a year and deliver Allied orders immediately. He said Germany now had 20,000 planes to the Allies’ 10,000 and was still building them faster. This is a truth obvious to all of us here, but when we used to report it we were accused of making Nazi propaganda. Roosevelt received the greatest ovation I’ve ever heard in a broadcast from Congress. It makes you feel good that they’re waking up at home at last.

How long before we’re in this war, as at least a mighty supplier to the Allies—if there’s still time? The Germans say we’re too late. The Herald Tribune came out today, according to the BBC, for a declaration of war on Germany. This led some of the American correspondents at dinner tonight to speculate as to what chances we who are stationed here would have of getting out, were diplomatic relations to be severed. The majority thought we would be interned. No one liked the prospect.

We’re on the eve tonight of a great battle, perhaps the decisive battle of the war, on a front stretching for 125 miles from Antwerp through Namur to a point south of Sedan. It looks as though the Germans were going to throw in everything they have, which is plenty. Their drive through Belgium appears to have been halted yesterday on the Meuse River and the Dyle Line farther north. But it is only a pause before the great final attack. Hitler must win it, and all the battles in the next weeks or months, or he’s finished. His chances look very good. But great decisive battles in history have not always been won by the favourites.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 343-344). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The speed of the German advance is breathtaking. This was a preview of 20th century war. The problem was, the Allies, especially the French, were fighting the First World War.

Berlin, May 17

Today the High Command states its armies have broken through the Belgian Dyle defence line south of Wavre and have taken the “northeast front” of the fortress of Namur. More important still—it claims its forces have broken through the Maginot Line on a one-hundred-kilometre front (!) stretching from Maubeuge to Carignan, southeast of Sedan. This indeed looks bad for the Allies. And it begins to look too as if the help—especially in badly needed planes (for the Germans are winning this campaign largely through effective use of a superior airforce), which Roosevelt offered to the Allies yesterday—will come too late. Unless the Germans are immediately slowed down, and then stopped. That they haven’t been yet, the BBC admitted this evening. It spoke of fighting going on at Rethel, which is half-way to Reims from Sedan. We here had no idea the Germans had broken through that far. At the Rundfunk tonight I noticed the military people for the first time spoke of a “French rout.”

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 344-345). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

It is at this point Shirer decides it’s time to take action for the protection of his family.

Berlin, May 18

Worried about Tess. Phoned her this noon and urged her to get off today over France towards Spain with the baby. Now, tonight, I hope she hasn’t done it, especially as the French are making them go way north to Paris first, in order to get to Bordeaux. Paris is no place to get into now, after today’s news. The Germans may beat her there. Annoyed because I couldn’t get through to her again on the phone tonight, which makes me think she already has left for France. Think best thing for her to do is to take refuge in a Swiss mountain village. Perhaps Hitler won’t bomb a small Swiss mountain village.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 345-346). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

That same day, Shirer embarks on an expedition to cover the fighting from the German side. This is going to be a hazardous undertaking, as the battle lines are rapidly advancing, and there is no stable forward line of defense defining the two sides.

I hesitated about going for fear the decision might come in France while I was away and that the story in that case would really be here and I’d miss it. Also they’ve given us so many dud trips since this war started last September that it’s highly possible we shan’t see anything of real interest.

I finally decided to take the chance. We leave at ten a.m. tomorrow, and will first drive to Aachen. Nine in the party: four Americanos, three Italians, a Spaniard, and a Jap.

Antwerp fell today. And while the German army is rolling back the Allied forces in Belgium towards the sea, the southern army, which broke through the Maginot Line between Maubeuge and Sedan, is driving rapidly towards Paris. A piece in the well-informed (on military matters) Börsen Zeitung tonight hints that the German armies now converging on Paris from the northeast may not try to take Paris immediately, as they did in 1914, but strike northwest for the Channel ports in an effort to cut off England from France. A second force, it hints, may strike in the opposite direction and try to take the Maginot Line in the east from behind.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 346-347). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Aachen was the jumping off point of the German army, where it departed Germany and crossed into the Dutch frontier. Over four years later it would be the place where Allied troops first returned to the German frontier.

Aachen, Hotel International, May 19 (midnight)

Most amazing thing about this Ruhr district, the industrial heart of Germany, which Allied planes were to have (and could have, we thought) knocked out in a few days, is that, so far as I can see, the night bombings of the British have done very little damage. I thought the night bombings of western Germany, the deadly effects of which the BBC has been boasting since the big offensive began, would have affected the morale of the people. But all afternoon, driving through the Ruhr, we saw them—especially the womenfolk—standing on the bridges over the main roads cheering the troops setting off for Belgium and France. We drove through many of the Ruhr centres which the Allies were supposed to have bombed so heavily the last few nights. We naturally couldn’t see all the factories and bridges and railroad junctions in the Ruhr, but we saw several, and nothing had happened to them. The great networks of railroad tracks and bridges around Essen and Duisburg, where British night bombings had been reported from London, were intact. The Rhine bridges at Cologne were up. The factories throughout the Ruhr were smoking away as usual. Just east of Hannover there had been a night raid by the British a few hours before we arrived. Local inhabitants told us twenty civilians, all in one house, had been killed. Fifteen miles east of Hannover we spotted a big Handley-Page bomber lying smashed in a field two hundred yards off the Autobahn. Gendarmes told us it had been brought down by anti-aircraft fire. The crew of five escaped in parachutes. Four had given themselves up to the village burgomaster in the town nearby; one was still at large and the peasants and the gendarmes were scouring the countryside for him. We inspected the machine. Gunner’s rear cockpit very small, and he had no protection. Front engines and pilot’s cabin badly smashed and burned. Funny: the glass in the rear cockpit had not been broken. German air-force mechanics were busy removing the instruments and valuable metal. The Germans need all they can find. Hundreds of peasants stood by, looking at the debris. They didn’t seem at all unnerved.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 347-348). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

He describes the destruction of war.

Aachen, May 19 (midnight)

This has been a day in my life. To have seen the destruction of war, what guns and bombs do to houses and people in them, to towns, cities, bridges, railroad stations and tracks and trains, to universities and ancient noble buildings, to enemy soldiers, trucks, tanks, and horses caught along the way.

It is not pretty. No, it is not beautiful. Take Louvain, that lovely old university town, burned in 1914 by the Germans in their fury and rebuilt—partly by American aid. A good part of it is a shambles. The great library of the university, rebuilt by the donations of hundreds of American schools and colleges, is completely gutted. I asked a German officer what happened to the books.

“Burned,” he said.

I must have looked a little shocked as I watched the desolation and contemplated this one little blow to learning and culture and much that is decent in European life. The officer added: “Too bad. A pity. But, my friend, that’s war. Look at it.”

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 350-351). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Later, Shirer notes a difference. Holland caved into Hitler’s threats and capitulated. Belgium fought on.

You were immediately struck by the difference between Holland and Belgium. As soon as we crossed into Belgium, we started running into blocks of pulverized houses along the road. Obviously the Belgians were of a different metal from the Dutch. At the outset they fought like lions. From house to house.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 353). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

And more…

9.15. Louvain.—This ancient university city, burnt by the Germans in a burst of fury in 1914, is now again—to a considerable extent—destroyed. That’s the first impression and somehow it hits me between the eyes. Block upon block upon block of houses an utter shambles. Still smouldering. For the town was only taken two or three days ago.

We drive through the ruins to the university, to the university library. It too was burned by the Germans in 1914, and rebuilt (rebooked too?) by donations from hundreds of American institutions of learning.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 355). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

It’s never to late to make a bad impression.

Before we left Berlin a certain officer in the German army had come down to the Wilhelmplatz to tell us: “Gentlemen, we have just had word. From Louvain. The British have plundered that fine old town. Plundered it in the most shameful manner.”

We spend the morning in Louvain, looking over the ruins, snooping into some of the buildings that still stand, talking with the first returning inhabitants and with priests and nuns, some of whom have lived out the three-day battle huddling in the cellar of a nearby convent and monastery. We do not see or hear one shred of evidence that the British plundered the town. Nor—it is only fair to say—do any of the regular army officers suggest it

When we enter the town at nine fifteen a.m., the battered streets are deserted. Not a civilian about; only a few troops and Arbeitsdienst men in Czech uniforms (are there not enough German uniforms to go around?) or Organisation Todt men in nondescript working clothes and yellow arm-bands.

Forty-one thousand people lived in Louvain until the morning Hitler moved west. A week later, when the Nazi army poured into the town, not a one of them was there. How many civilians were killed we could not find out. Probably very few. Perhaps none. What happened was that the population, gripped by fear of the Nazi hordes and remembering no doubt how the last time the Germans came, in 1914, two hundred of the leading citizens, held as hostages, had been shot in reprisal for alleged sniping, fled the city before the Germans arrived.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 357-358). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Something about the attitude of the German command brings to mind a 21st century American administration.

When we leave the City Hall, filing out through the large reception room I notice that a great bronze plaque standing against the back wall has been tampered with, and one half ripped away and removed.

“How about it?” I ask an officer.

He puffs out something about the honour of the German armed forces, and that this plaque commemorated the martyrs of Louvain—the two hundred civilians who were shot as hostages by the German army in 1914, and that, as the whole world knew, those two hundred leading citizens had only been shot as a result of the Belgians’ sniping at German soldiers,22 and that the plaque said something about the barbarity of the German soldiers, and that there was the honour of the German army to uphold, and that as a consequence the half of the plaque which told of the “heroic martyrs and the barbaric Germans” had been removed, but that the other half, commemorating the heroic deeds of the Belgian army in 1914 in defence of the land, had been left because the Germans had nothing against that—just the opposite.

In the shambles of the square by the railroad station a massive monument in stone around which Germans and British fought this time for three days still stands. It also commemorates the good burghers who were shot in 1914. It even lists their names. So far the Germans have not dynamited it.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 359-360). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The truth is a fungible thing. Survivors in Louvain attempt to recapitulate their observatons.

“How could I see anything?” one old man protests, glaring bitterly at the Germans. A Belgian priest is just as cagey. “I was in the cellar of the monastery,” he says. “I prayed for my flock.” A German nun tells how she and fifty-six children huddled in the cellar of the convent for three days. She does remember that the bombs started falling Friday morning, the 10th. That there was no warning. The bombs were not expected. Belgium was not in the war. Belgium had done nothing to anybody…. She pauses and notices the German officers eyeing her.

“You’re German, aren’t you?” one of them says.

“Ja.” Then she puts in hurriedly, in a frightened voice: “Of course, as a German, I was glad when it was all over and the German troops arrived.”

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 360). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The disparity between life in the Third Reich and outside gets laid bare.

Some of our party buy out the restaurant’s stock of American tobacco in a few minutes. I take three packages of Luckies myself. I cannot resist after a year of smoking “rope” in Germany.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 364). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Additional insight into the realities of the situation.

A couple of German soldiers sauntered in and bought half a dozen packages of American cigarettes each. In Germany the most they would have been allowed to buy would have been ten bad German cigarettes. When they had gone, she said:

“I keep the store open. But for how long? Our stocks came from England and America. And my child. Where the milk? I’ve got canned milk for about two months. But after that—”

She paused. Finally she got it out:

“In the end, how will it be? I mean, do you think Belgium will ever be like before—independent, and with our King?”

“Well, of course, if the Allies win, it will be like the last time….” We gave the obvious reply.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 365). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Additional observations, pointing out the curious circumstance. America is not yet at war. It will be eighteen months before the lines of conflict are fully defined.

Stray items about Brussels: Street-cars running, but no private motor traffic permitted. Germans had seized most of the private cars. No telephone service permitted. Movies closed; their posters still advertising French and American films. The army had forbidden the population to listen to foreign broadcasts. Signs were up everywhere, with an appeal of the burgomaster, written in French and Flemish, asking the population to remain calm and dignified in regard to the German troops. American offices had a notice written on the stationery of the American Embassy, stating: “This is American property under the protection of the U. S. Government.”

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 366-367). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Shirer comments on the disparity between the British and German troops. The neglect of the British youth is glaringly apparent.

Footnote to May 20.—Returning from Brussels to Aachen, we ran across a batch of British prisoners. It was somewhere in the Dutch province of Limburg, a suburb, I think, of Maastricht. They were herded together in the brick-paved yard of a disused factory. We stopped and went over and talked to them. They were a sad sight. Prisoners always are, especially right after a battle. Some obviously shell-shocked, some wounded, all dead tired. But what impressed me most about them was their physique. They were hollow-chested and skinny and round-shouldered. About a third of them had bad eyes and wore glasses. Typical, I concluded, of the youth that England neglected so criminally in the twenty-two post-war years when Germany, despite its defeat and the inflation and six million unemployed, was raising its youth in the open air and the sun. I asked the boys where they were from and what they did at home. About half of them were from offices in Liverpool; the rest from London offices. Their military training had begun nine months before, they said, when the war started. But it had not, as you could see, made up for the bad diet, the lack of fresh air and sun and physical training, of the post-war years. Thirty yards away German infantry were marching up the road towards the front. I could not help comparing them with these British lads. The Germans, bronzed, clean-cut physically, healthy-looking as lions, chests developed and all. It was part of the unequal fight.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 367-368). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Shirer takes not of modern day (80 years ago) war.

Aachen, May 21

Heading southwest from Brussels, we drove along the road to Tournai, still in Allied hands. At Tubize, a few miles southwest of Waterloo, the familiar signs of recent fighting—the houses along the streets demolished, half-burnt debris everywhere. So far, I thought, this war has been fought along the roads—by two armies operating on wheels. Almost every town wholly or partially destroyed. But the nearby fields untouched. Returning peasants already tilling them.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 369-370). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

He describes an interview with German General von Reichenau.

“Despite the German successes up to date, Reichenau emphasized to us that the fighting so far had been only an enveloping movement, and that the decisive battle had yet to take place.

“‘When and where?’ I asked him.

“‘Where,’ he laughed, ‘depends partly on what the enemy does. When, and how long it will last, I leave to the future. It can be short or long. Remember, the preliminary fighting at Waterloo lasted several days. The decisive battle at Waterloo was decided in eight hours.’

“Reichenau admitted that ‘possibly our progress will now be slowed up if Weygand decides to make a grand stand. We started this battle absolutely confident. But we have no illusions. We know we still have a big battle ahead of us.’

“Reichenau said the German losses were comparatively small, so far, averaging about one tenth of the number of prisoners taken. Last official counting of prisoners was 110,000, not counting the half-million Dutch who surrendered.

“Someone asked how the German infantry got across the rivers and canals so fast, seeing that the Allies destroyed the bridges pretty well.

“‘Mostly in rubber boats,’ he said.”

Some further quotations from Reichenau I noted down roughly:

“Hitler is actually directing the German army from his headquarters. Most of the blowing up of bridges and roads in Belgium carried out by French specialists…. I ride 150 miles a day along the front and I haven’t seen an air-fight yet. We’ve certainly been surprised that the Allies didn’t try at least to bomb our bridges over the Maas River and the Albert Canal. The British tried it only once in the day-time. We shot down eighteen of them. But there seems to be no doubt that the English are holding back with their air force. At least that’s the impression I get.”

And I got the impression that this rather bothered him!

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 370-371). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The British were, in fact holding back their air force. As events of the summer were to play out, Air Chief Marshal Hugh Dowding would harbor his air defenses while bleeding the Luftwaffe dry in the Battle of Britain. Reichenau had cause to be concerned, as Dowding’s tactic would, in the final analysis, spell doom to the the Third Reich. Reichenau would not see the demise of the Third Reich. In less than two years he would be dead of a combination of events not related to the war.

Shirer takes note of another deficiency of the Allies’ tactics.

I note that over the front all afternoon hover two or three reconnaissance planes, German, obviously directing artillery fire. They cruise above the battlefield unmolested. But there are no planes directing Allied artillery fire, which seems to be aimed exclusively against the German forward positions, at no time against German artillery, which is strange. The lack of observation planes alone puts the Allies in a hole. In fact we do not see an Allied plane all day long. Once or twice we get an alarm, but no planes show up. How England and France are paying now for the criminal neglect of their aviation!

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 376). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

He brings the reality of the war to his radio listeners.

Too late to broadcast, so I write a story to be phoned to Berlin, cabled to New York, and there read over the air. I’ve hardly sat down to write when the British come over Aachen. I leave my room, which is on the next to the top floor (having moved out of the attic), and write my piece in the dining-room on the ground floor. The anti-aircraft of all calibres keeps thundering away. Now and then you feel the concussion of a bomb and hear it exploding. Our little hotel is a hundred yards from the station. The British are obviously trying to get the station and the railroad yards. You hear the roar of their big planes; occasionally the whirr of German night chasers…. My call comes through about one twenty a.m. I can hardly make myself heard for the sound of the guns and the bombs. While writing my story, I keep notes on the air-raid.

12.20 a.m. Sound of anti-aircraft.

12.40 Air-raid sirens sound off.

12.45 Big anti-aircraft gun nearby thunders suddenly.

12.50 Sound of cannon from German chasers.

1.00 Light anti-aircraft around station blazes away.

1.15 Still going on.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 377-378). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Three days later Shirer is back from the fighting front, and he pens a recapitulation of the past two weeks in hid diary. The world has been rent asunder in a handful of days.

Berlin, May 24

Two weeks ago today Hitler unloosed his Blitzkrieg in the west. Since then this has happened: Holland overrun; four fifths of Belgium occupied; the French army hurled back towards Paris; and an Allied army believed to number a million men, and including the élite of the Franco-British forces, trapped and encircled on the Channel.

You have to see the German army in action to believe it. Here are some of the things, so far as I could see, that make it good:

It has absolute air superiority. It seems incredible, but at the front I did not see a single Allied plane during the day-time. Stuka dive-bombers are softening the Allied defence positions, making them ripe for an easy attack.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 378). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

He describes the professionalism of the German army, a quality sadly lacking in their opponents.

 Absolutely no excitement, no tension. An officer directing artillery fire stops for half an hour to explain to you what he is up to. General von Reichenau, directing a huge army in a crucial battle, halts for an hour to explain to amateurs his particular job.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 379). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The disaster that is about to befall the Allied forces is apparent for all to see.

BERLIN, May 25

German military circles here tonight put it flatly. They said the fate of the great allied army bottled up in Flanders is sealed.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 380). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

General Heinz Guderian’s tactics were impeccable and ruthless. He quickly took advantage of disorganization in the Allied forces and cinched their fate.

BERLIN, May 26

Calais has fallen. Britain is now cut off from the Continent.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 380). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

During the first six months of 1940, Hitler’s target nation fell like dominoes. They would eventually leave England alone to face the continental foe.

BERLIN, May 28

King Leopold has quit on the Allies. At dawn the Belgian army, which with the British and French has been caught in an ever narrowing pocket for a week in Flanders and Artois, laid down its arms. Leopold during the night had sent an emissary to the German lines asking for an armistice. The Germans demanded unconditional surrender. Leopold accepted. This leaves the British and French in a nice hole. High Command says it makes their position “hopeless.” Picked up a broadcast by Reynaud this morning accusing Leopold of having betrayed the Allies. Churchill, according to BBC, was more careful. Said, in a short statement to Commons, he would not pass judgment.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 380). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Shirer describes the aggrandizement of blatant military aggression. At the time the Nazis thought such bluster would give them a pass for what the world considered to be a crime against humanity. These words would, six years later, offer no viable defense, as guilty parties were brought to the gallows.

For the first time, communiqués today kept pouring out of the “Fuhrer’s Headquarters.” All of them sounded as if they’d been dictated by Hitler himself. For example this typical attempt to sound generous: “DNB. Fuhrer’s Headquarters, May 28. The Fuhrer has ordered that the King ofthe Belgians and his army be given treatment worthy ofthe brave, fighting soldiers which they proved to be. As the King of the Belgians expressed no personal wishes for himself, he will be given a castle in Belgium until his final living-place is decided upon.”

Decided upon by whom?

Nazi propaganda is doing its best to show that Leopold did the decent, sensible thing. Thus the wording of a special communiqué which the German radio tells its listeners will “fill the German nation with pride and joy”:

“From the headquarters of the Fuhrer it is announced: Impressed by the destructive effect of the German army, the King of the Belgians has decided to put an end to further senseless resistance and to ask for an armistice. He has met the German demands for unconditional capitulation. The Belgian army has today laid down its arms and therewith ceased to exist. In this hour we think of our brave soldiers.. The entire German nation looks with a feeling of deep gratitude and unbounded pride upon the troops… which forced this capitulation…. The King of the Belgians, in order to put an end to the further shedding of blood and to the completely pointless devastation of his country, reached his decision to lay down arms, against the wishes of the majority of his Cabinet. This Cabinet, which is mainly responsible for the catastrophe which has broken over Belgium, seems to be willing even now to continue to follow its English and French employers.”

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 381-382). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The Belgian king is hailed as a hero of the people by their conqueror, and holdouts in the Belgian government are characterized as “employees” of the Allies.

Here is an interesting look at masterful aggrandizement, as perfected by Dr. Joseph Goebbels. It is interesting to compare it to the craft as it is practiced by an American president..

The headlines tonight” “CHURCHILL AND REYNAUD INSULT KING LEOPOLD!—THE COWARDS IN LONDON AND PARIS ORDER THE CONTINUATION OF THE SUICIDE IN FLANDERS.” The German radio said tonight: “Leopold acted like a soldier and a human being.”

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 382). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Shirer was never a trained historian, so his interpretations regarding motives and sympathies are not to be considered absolutely reliable. He observed events from too close up to obtain the complete picture. However, his view of the treatment of Belgium may not be that far afield. Reading, one gets the impression the Germans punished Belgium for resisting, an echo from 26 years before.

I saw at the front last week the terrible punishment the Belgian army was taking; saw all of Belgium, outside of Brussels, laid waste by the German artillery and Stukas. You can sympathize with Leopold in a sense for wanting to quit. But the French and British say he did it without consulting them, thus betraying them and leaving them in a terrible situation, with no chance of extricating their armies from the trap. The three armies together had a small chance of fighting their way out. With half a
million excellent Belgian troops out of the picture, the fate of the French and British armies, it would seem, is sealed.

A nice, civilized war, this. Göring announces tonight that as a result of information reaching him that the French are mistreating captured German airmen, all French flyers captured by the Germans will be immediately put in chains. Further, Goring proclaims that if he hears of a German flyer being shot by the French, he will order five French prisoners shot. Further still, if he hears of a German flyer being shot “while parachuting,” he will order fifty French prisoners shot.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 382). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

He discusses the Germans’ use of terror as a weapon of war.

Allies, as far as we know, are shooting parachutists who fail to surrender, because these boys were largely responsible for the fall of Holland and play hell behind the lines. Probably ordinary German flyers parachuting from shot-down planes have been mistaken for the dreaded parachutists. Görings order, however, is obviously part of Hitler’s technique of conquering by sowing terror. B., who was in Rotterdam last week, says the town was largely destroyed after it had surrendered. German excuse is that surrender came after the Stukas had left the ground and they could not be recalled in time! This sounds flimsy, as they all carry radios and are in constant touch with the ground. Goring added that the above rule of shooting five to one or fifty to one would not apply to the English, “as they have not as yet given grounds for such reprisals.”

Twenty-first century readers may not realize most this war newsreel footage was shot without sound, which had to be dubbed in.

The Propaganda Ministry tonight showed us a full-length news-reel, with sound effects, of the destruction in Belgium and France. Town after town, city after city, going up in flames. Close-ups ofthe crackling flames devouring the houses, shooting out of the windows, roofs and walls tumbling in, where a few days ago men and women were leading peaceful, if not too happy, lives.

The German commentator’s enthusiasm for the destruction seemed to grow as one burning town after another was shown. He had a cruel, rasping voice and by the end seemed to be talking in a whirl of sadism. “Look at the destruction, the houses going up in flames,” he cried. “This is what happens to those who oppose Germany ‘s might!”

And is Europe soon to be ruled and dominated by such a people—by such sadism?

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 382-383). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Shirer contemplates the looming threat to the British Isles. If the Germans are successful in this continental venture, then a cross-channel invasion will come next, much like the Norman invasion of 900 years before.

BERLIN, May 29

What next, then, if the British and French armies either surrender or are annihilated, as the Germans say they will be in their two pockets? The first invasion of England since 1066? England’s bases on the Continent, barring a last-minute miracle, are gone. The lowlands, just across the Channel and the narrow southern part of the North Sea, which it has always been a cardinal part of British policy to defend, are in enemy hands. And the French Channel ports which linked Britain with its French ally are lost.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 382-383). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The war strikes at the remnants of German aristocracy.

Prince Wilhelm of Prussia, killed in action on the western front, was buried with military honours in Potsdam today. If things had gone smoothly for Germany after 1914, he probably would have been the German emperor. Present at the funeral were the Crown Prince and Princess, Mackensen and a lot of World War officers in their quaint spike helmets. The former Kaiser sent a wreath.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 384-386). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Shirer gives a preview of what is to come. Withing a few weeks, during the Battle of Britain, this policy will prove the undoing of the Luftwaffe.

More on the nerve war: An official statement tonight says that for every German
civilian killed and every stone damaged in Germany during the night raids of the
British, revenge will be taken many times over.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 384-386). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

An American holiday rolls around, one commemorating lives lost in previous wars. The irony is striking.

BERLIN, May 30

Our Memorial Day. I remembered it when one of the consuls phoned and reminded me of a month-old golfing date. How many killed in the Civil War?

A German dropped in today. He said: “How many years will the war last?” The question surprised me in the light of the news. Last week three Germans in the Wilhelmstrasse bet me the Germans would be in London in three weeks—that is, two weeks from now.

This German also mentioned a matter thats been bothering me: German losses and the effect on the people of not being allowed to know by Hitler what the losses are and who is killed. (Hitler will not permit the publication of casualty lists.) He said people are comparing that situation with the one in 1914—18, when every day the papers published the names of those lost, and every few months, he said, a résumé of the total casualties up to date in killed and wounded. But today no German has the slightest idea of what the western offensive has cost in German lives.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 386). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

All the while Shirer was taking note of these events he was unaware of the one of the greatest dramas of the war unfolding on the west coast of France. Beginning 26 June an operation involving hundreds of major vessels down to small river craft was engaged in extracting British and French troops trapped on the coast near Dunkirk. Obviously the German command was aware of all this, but apparently they were not making it known to the population. There was no secret about it in England at the time, but one would have to guess the Brits were not hailing the operation, the intent being obvious they had no intention of providing any information to the Germans. Operation Dynamo was to cintinue through the end of May and up to 4 June. Its ultimate effect was to salvage the fate of England.

For some reason when Shirer describes the words and actions of the German Chancellor I cannot help thinking about the current President of the United States. There is the bluster, the threats, the slander. The semblance is eerie.

Much talk here that Hitler is getting ready to bomb the hell out of London and Paris. A press and radio campaign to prepare his own people for it is already under way. Today the attack was mostly against the French. The Völkische Beobachter called them “bastardized, negroized, decadent,” and accused them of torturing German airmen whom they’ve captured. It said that soon the French will be made to pay for all of this. The papers are full of talk of revenge for this and that.

The German Ambassador to Belgium gave us a harangue at the press conference today on how he was mistreated by the French on his way out to Switzerland. As a German told me afterwards, the Germans seem incapable of apprehending that the hate against them in France and Belgium is due to the fact that Germany invaded these countries—Belgium without the slightest excuse or justification—and laid waste their towns and cities, and killed thousands of civilians with their bombings and bombardments. Just another example of that supreme German characteristic
of being unable to see for a second the other fellow’s point of view. Same with the wrath here at the way their airmen are treated. The other side is tough with airmen coming down in parachutes because it knows Hitler has conquered Holland by landing parachutists behind the lines. But the Germans think that the other side should not defend itself against these men dropping from the skies. If it does, if it shoots them, then Germany will massacre prisoners already in her hands.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 387-388). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Shirer rounds out the month of May with an assessment. For the first time he mentions the Dunkirk evacuation, and he gets into Mussolini’s interest in joining the feeding frenzy on neighboring countries.

It’s a big round #1 for Germany, and it sets the stage for round #2, the Battle of Britain.

BERLIN, May 31

Italy seems to be drawing near to the day of decision—to go in on Germany’s side. Today Alfieri, the Italian Ambassador, saw Hitler at his headquarters.

It was three weeks ago today that Hitler hurled his armies into Holland, Belgium, Luxemburg, and France in a desperate effort to knock out the Allies in one blow. So far, after three weeks, he has had nothing but success. What it has cost him in lives and material, we do not know yet. This is what he’s accomplished in three weeks:

1. Overrun Holland; forced Dutch army to surrender.
2. Overrun Belgium; forced Belgian army to surrender.
3. Advanced far south of the extension of the Maginot Line on a front extending over two hundred miles from Montmédy to Dunkirk.
4. Knocked out the 1st, 7th, and 9th French Armies, which were cut off when one German army broke through to the sea.
5. Knocked out the BEF, which also is surrounded. Some of the men, at least, of the BEF, are getting away on ships from Dunkirk. But as an army it’s finished. It cannot take away its guns and supplies and tanks.
6. Obtained the Dutch, Belgian, and French Channel coasts as a jumping-off place for an invasion of England.
7. Occupied the important coal mines and industrial centres of Belgium and northern France.

I said in my broadcast tonight: “The Germans have certainly won a terrific first round. But there has been no knockout blow—yet. The fight goes on.”

Some of my friends thought that was being a bit optimistic—from the Allied point of view. Maybe. But I’m not so sure.

First American ambulance driver to be captured by the Germans is one Mr. Garibaldi Hill. The Germans have offered to release him at once. Only they can’t find him.

Word from our people in Brussels today that there is food in Belgium for only fifty

Ran into one of our consuls from Hamburg. He says the British have been bombing it at night severely. Trying to hit, for one thing, the oil tanks. He claims they’re dry. It seems that the Germans took all the anti-aircraft guns from Hamburg for use at the front. Hence the British came over without trouble and were able to fly low enough to do some accurate bombing. The population got so jittery that the authorities had to bring some of the guns back.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 388-389). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

June will see the capitulation of France and the defiance of Churchill. Pieces will fall into place for the Battle of Britain, starting in summer. Keep reading.

Abusing Science

Number 69 of a series

Philip Kitcher published Abusing Science: The Case Against Creationism in 1983. It was one of the things that got me looking into the modern creationist movement about 30 years ago. Back then creationism was a gaggle of table-thumping preachers and some disaffected scientists advocating for biblical literalism. When that ended in disaster following a number of legal challenges the creationists went modern. Law professor Phillip Johnson wrote Darwin on Trial, inspiring a resurgence of the Intelligent Design movement. This movement involved real scientists with real academic credentials, and the notion about the God of Abraham being the creator of everything was covered by a screen of pseudo research aimed at demonstrating the deficiency of natural processes. Intelligent Design did not mandate biblical literalism.

The primary advocate for Intelligent Design is the Discovery Institute, out of Seattle, Washington. Here is their latest.

Darwinists often point to the whale fossil record as one of the best examples of an evolutionary transition. But is it?

Charles Darwin wrote in The Origin of Species: “I can see no difficulty in a race of bears being rendered, by natural selection, more and more aquatic in their structure and habits, with larger and larger mouths, till a creature was produced as monstrous as a whale.”

Bears turning into whales? Scientists today disagree, instead claiming that other land animals were the real precursors to today’s whales.

And there is a video. Follow the link and watch the video. I will illustrate with pertinent screen shots. Here’s for starters.

We all know bears can’t parallel park. The cartoon video illustrates what would happen if a bear attempted this. It is humorous, but there is not a lot of real science being wasted.

But Charles Darwin thought bears could do much more than parallel park. They could turn into whales.

Look, he stated so in his first edition of The Origin of Species.

Actually, and this is the point a few seconds in when this narrative begins to come off the rails. The cartoon illustrates Darwin’s text as appearing in the first edition of his book. A bit of perusing Amazon’s library, and I obtained a copy of that edition.

In North America the black bear turned into seen by way of Hearne swimming for hours with broadly open mouth, hence catching, like a whale, bugs in the water. Even in so extreme a case as this, if the supply of insects were constant, and if better tailored competition did not already exist inside the United States of America, I can see no difficulty in a race of bears being rendered, by way of herbal selection, increasingly aquatic of their shape and conduct, with larger and larger mouths, till a creature changed into produced as titanic as a whale.

Charles Darwin. On the origin of species . Kindle Edition.

Charles Darwin never wrote that bears could turn into whales, and the video tells us Darwin deleted this assertion in later editions.  Evolution does not work that way, but accuracy requires a lot of explaining. What is claimed—and what certainly happened—is the whales we have today have ancestors that lived on land. But the video asserts Darwin thought bears could turn into whales, so we will go with that.

Next we learn what modern scientists wrongly think, and what they think is whale ancestors were not bears, but something else. Hint: genetic analysis points to the hippopotamus as the whale’s closest living land animal.

The video introduces whale evolution as depicted by Jerry Coyne in his book Why Evolution is True. They show the following, which seems to have been assembled from page 49.

Here is the illustration from that page.

This shows the cladogram related to modern whales. The common ancestor is not known, but Coyne provides the details.

There is no need to describe this transition in detail, as the drawings clearly speak—if not shout—of how a land-living animal took to the water. The sequence begins with a recently discovered fossil of a close relative of whales, a raccoon-sized animal called Indohyus. Living 48 million years ago, Indohyus was, as predicted, an artiodactyl. It is clearly closely related to whales because it has special features of the ears and teeth seen only in modern whales and their aquatic ancestors. Although Indohyus appears slightly later than the largely aquatic ancestors of whales, it is probably very close to what the whale ancestor looked like. And it was at least partially aquatic. We know this because its bones were denser than those of fully terrestrial mammals, which kept the creature from bobbing about in the water, and because the isotopes extracted from its teeth show that it absorbed a lot of oxygen from water. It probably waded in shallow streams or lakes to graze on vegetation or escape from its enemies, much like a similar animal, the African water chevrotain, does today. This part-time life in water probably put the ancestor of whales on the road to becoming fully aquatic.

Coyne, Jerry A.. Why Evolution Is True (p. 49). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. [Emphasis added]

I emphasized a critical piece of the text, because this will come up later.

They quote from the book:

Whales happen to have an excellent fossil record, courtesy of their aquatic habits and robust, easily fossilized bones.

Coyne, Jerry A.. Why Evolution Is True (p. 48). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

But they want you to know the proposed ancestry of whales is anachronistic, and they illustrate with a geological cross-section to show so-called ancestral fossils higher in the fossil record than their descendants.

The video employs mockery in place of rational argument to make their point. Here we show a man with a baby, and he announces the baby is his grandfather. This is the definition of anachronism.

They display the abstract of a paper by Rick Durrett and Deena Schmidt, both with the Department of Mathematics at Cornell University. And they highlight the text they want you to consider.

For your reading pleasure, here is the complete abstract.

Results of Nowak and collaborators concerning the onset of cancer due to the inactivation of tumor suppressor genes give the distribution of the time until some individual in a population has experienced two prespecified mutations and the time until this mutant phenotype becomes fixed in the population. In this article we apply these results to obtain insights into regulatory sequence evolution in Drosophila and humans. In particular, we examine the waiting time for a pair of mutations, the first of which inactivates an existing transcription factor binding site and the second of which creates a new one. Consistent with recent experimental observations for Drosophila, we find that a few million years is sufficient, but for humans with a much smaller effective population size, this type of change would take >100 million years. In addition, we use these results to expose flaws in some of Michael Behe’s arguments concerning mathematical limits to Darwinian evolution.

The paper is “Waiting for Two Mutations: With Applications to Regulatory Sequence Evolution and the Limits of Darwinian Evolution,” and you can follow the link to read the entire paper.

The video wants you to be aware of the millions of years required to produce a single beneficial mutation. That way you will have good reason to doubt Darwinian evolution. Beyond this point I am unable to follow, because the subject matter is way above my pay grade. For example:

Yes, I will spare you. What I will not spare you is something the video does not seem worth emphasizing. From the abstract, “In addition, we use these results to expose flaws in some of Michael Behe’s arguments concerning mathematical limits to Darwinian evolution.” Michael Behe is a major proponent of Intelligent Design, and the authors believe they have poked holes in some of Behe’s mathematical arguments.

The video gets into the matter of the giraffe’s neck. Compare the giraffe to a similar animal—one with a shorter neck—the okapi. They show an excerpt from a paper in Nature Communications.

Here is additional detail.

Published: 17 May 2016

Giraffe genome sequence reveals clues to its unique morphology and physiology

Nature Communications volume 7, Article number: 11519 (2016)


The origins of giraffe’s imposing stature and associated cardiovascular adaptations are unknown. Okapi, which lacks these unique features, is giraffe’s closest relative and provides a useful comparison, to identify genetic variation underlying giraffe’s long neck and cardiovascular system. The genomes of giraffe and okapi were sequenced, and through comparative analyses genes and pathways were identified that exhibit unique genetic changes and likely contribute to giraffe’s unique features. Some of these genes are in the HOX, NOTCH and FGF signalling pathways, which regulate both skeletal and cardiovascular development, suggesting that giraffe’s stature and cardiovascular adaptations evolved in parallel through changes in a small number of genes. Mitochondrial metabolism and volatile fatty acids transport genes are also evolutionarily diverged in giraffe and may be related to its unusual diet that includes toxic plants. Unexpectedly, substantial evolutionary changes have occurred in giraffe and okapi in double-strand break repair and centrosome functions.

The video emphasizes the number of mutations that separate the giraffe and the okapi. Having previously demonstrated—by their way of thinking—the enormous time required for a fortunate mutation, we are supposed to question whether such evolution occurred.

Also the creationists want to be sure you know those whale fossils are anachronistic. The video exploits a popular misunderstanding, which routinely gets amplified in the creationist community. Specifically, one species does not change into another. A new species branches off from its ancestral lineage, and the two branches go their separate ways. Sometimes both branches are prolonged to the present day. Sometimes one branch will terminate, while the other survives. Sometimes both terminate. The result is you can find a fossil from one branch that is much younger than a fossil that retained features of the branch point. A rude example is this. When I was quite young I escaped an episode involving an explosive detonating device. If I had not escaped, my fossil would have predated that of my grandfather, who survived another ten years.

Here is how the video depicts fossils it considers out of sequence.

The video concludes with a scathing dig at the science of evolution. It’s a “glossy, one-sided story.”

There is considerable irony piled on here. An aspect of Intelligent Design was supposed to be the creationist no longer deny evolution happened. They promise they will demonstrate a transcendental entity has been behind it all along. They initially refused to acknowledge this entity was the God of Abraham, but many have ceased to conceal their real intent. At a conference at SMU in 1992 Jon Buell and Phillip Johnson were present. Buell heads up the Foundation for Thought and Ethics, which produced Of Pandas and People, the notorious book promoting Intelligent Design and aimed at public school science curricula. Both these creationists acknowledged in a private conversation the Earth is billions of years old, and current life forms have common ancestry.

Phillip Johnson addressed the evolution of land animals to whales in an interview many years back. Here are his pertinent comments:

You can imagine this in the sense that—suppose that you got a set of mutations which in themselves might be capable of turning a mouse into a whale. That’s essentially what is deemed to have happened according to the Darwinian theory. Not literally because it’s not literally a mouse, but something like that, a tiny four-legged creature must have changed step by tiny step into a whale. But if you imagine that starting to happen it’s counterfactual because you have to imagine the mutations coming and there’s no evidence that they exist. You can see that somewhere there the mouse started to develop flippers and a big tail and gear for breathing underwater it would become awfully unsatisfactory as a mouse and helpless and it would get eaten or would be unable to survive. But natural selection would weed it out.

What Johnson is saying is, for example, the mutations that would produce a whale species from a mouse species would necessarily involve intermediates that are non-viable. He was likely not thinking deeply on the matter, because chains of viable intermediates easily come to mind, although not real evolutionary chains. Here is one that does not involve a mouse:

  1. ·         Bear
  2. ·         Badger or wolverine
  3. ·         Otter
  4. ·         Sea otter
  5. ·         Sea lion
  6. ·         Seal
  7. ·         Whale

But back to the video. It is easy to conclude this is aimed at a juvenile audience, given the spattering of lame jokes that punctuate the narrative. For example, there is a fossil named Ambulocetus. The term means “walking whale,” but the video makes a joke of the name, showing a cartoon ambulance. What is most frightening is the likelihood adults are viewing this and are gaining the confirmation they have been looking for.

Carl Zimmer’s excellent book At the Water’s Edge provides a comprehensive narrative on whale evolution. The book describes life in the sea and the development of land animals. Then he follows the development of sea creatures—seals, sea lions, porpoises, and whales. Here is an excerpt discussing Ambulocetus:

Thewissen’s creature, which he called Ambulocetus (“walking whale”), was the closer of the two to the origin of whales. Its four-hundred-pound body—an enormous crocodilelike head, a wide chest, and a long tail—sat on squat legs. It still had the tall projections rising from its neck vertebrae that mesonychids had used to hold up their heavy heads. The width of its chest pushed its hands out to either side like seal flippers, and the giant feet on its crouched hind legs slapped awkwardly on the ground. Ambulocetus could shamble on land if it had to, but the shape of its spine told Thewissen where its gifts lay. It had lost the locking tabs that kept mesonychid spines rigid, and its general geometry was closer to an otter’s than any other animal’s. Although Thewissen did not find Ambulocetus’s hips, the spine strongly suggests that Ambulocetus could have arched its back as it pushed out its giant hind legs and driven the force of its kick out to the end of its tail.

Zimmer, Carl. At the Water’s Edge: Fish with Fingers, Whales with Legs, and How Life Came Ashore but Then Went Back to Sea (pp. 194-196). Atria Books. Kindle Edition.

In April 2002 the Atheist Alliance International Convention hosted a debate with creationist Don Patton. Don is one of the old-school, Bible-thumping creationists, and he got to choose the debate topic: “The fossil record is more compatible with the model of creation than the model of evolution.” The topic of whale evolution came up.

For my part, I assured everybody whales had evolved from land animals. Don insisted they had not. The matter of vestigial legs came up. Whales have forelegs that serve as flippers, but they have no discernible hind legs. However, whale skeletons sometimes show leg bones where hind legs might be expected. Don pointed out these were not leg bones. They served no leg purpose. They were not even attached to the rest of the skeleton. There was a picture showing the bones, and I had to ask, “Then why are they shaped like feet?”

Despite everything the Discovery Institute has poured into this video, the fact remains. Whales descended from land animals.

This seems to be one of a collection produced by the Discovery Institute. Deconstructing these videos is tedious, but this weeks-long lockdown has emptied my excuse bucket. Look for additional reviews to come.

Abusing Science

Number 67 of a series

I receive emails. Here is from another by Perry Marshall, author of Evolution 2.0.

But it’s not just cancer research. My Evolution 2.0 journey has made it abundantly clear to me that the system underlying virtually all science research is tragically flawed.

Now, if you’re thinking, “Why do I care about science being sold out to the highest bidder?” You can just look around you right now.

It’s an invitation to his podcast:

Science for Sale
Ken McCarthy & Perry Marshall
Wednesday April 22, 2:00 PM Eastern

Besides his Wikipedia entry, what I know of Perry Marshall is from his book. An excerpt provides some insight.

This is a science book, provoked by my burning question: If blind evolutionary forces can produce eyes and hands and ears and millions of species, then why don’t engineers use Darwinian evolution to design cars or write software? Why don’t they teach Darwinism in engineering school? Evolution and natural selection, after all, were heralded as all-powerful, to the point of having godlike qualities. If nature needs no engineers, a little evolution knowledge would surely be useful to us engineers who are stuck in cubicles designing cell phones.

Marshall, Perry. Evolution 2.0: Breaking the Deadlock Between Darwin and Design . BenBella Books, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

This is from a section with the title “What You Can Expect from This Book,” so it’s not part of the meat. It does give clue to the intent.

What Marshall wants you to understand is “blind evolutionary forces” are not sufficient. Else, engineers would use them to produce novel designs. I get from this he invokes purpose in seeking to make his case, which is what he intends to prove. Reading selections from the book will reveal Marshall is seeking to sell God. He wants to demonstrate a world created by God, as only a being of some sort can provide purpose.

Engineers developing a novel design do so with a purpose in mind. They want something that flies, so they are sure not to make it too heavy. Engineers would never invoke random choices to create a new and improved design.

Except sometimes they do.

Hybrid Genetic Algorithm and Linear Programming for Bulldozer Emissions and Fuel-Consumption Management Using Continuously Variable Transmission

This paper develops a hybrid optimization approach combining genetic algorithm (GA) and integer linear programming (ILP) to solve the nonlinear optimization problem of managing the fuel consumption and emissions of a tracked bulldozer. Furthermore, the authors propose that a continuously variable transmission (CVT) can better exploit the efficient zones of the engine maps. The original transmission system of the Caterpillar D6T bulldozer consists of a five-gear transmission, whereas the gear ratios of the proposed CVT are continuous and can be assigned according to transmission design. The fuel consumption and three emission items of the engine, unburned hydrocarbons (HC), carbon monoxide (CO), and nitrogen oxides (NOx), are studied. Vehicle-terrain interactions are formulated and the excavation program is characterized by excavation depth and speed. The target of the multiobjective optimization problem is a combination of fuel rate and three emission items. Results show that, for digging depths less than the bulldozer blade maximum digging depth, the target can be improved by more than 31% using CVT incorporated with GA compared to the conventional transmission, obtained by shifting engine operating points from low efficiency zones to optimum points. Finally, integer linear programming is used in a hybrid manner with GA to solve for the optimum combination of excavation steps in tasks of specified digging depths more than the maximum digging depth of the bulldozer blade. Results show that the proposed method can improve the target value up to 18% with the same digging time, and can improve the target value up to 32% using the hybrid optimization approach without time constraint.

The paper describes the development of an improved transmission design. The development employed genetic algorithms toward achieving an optimum design.

Genetic algorithms employ stochastic variation on workable designs to generate new designs, and then they select for those that perform better. To be sure, purpose is invoked here. Nature does not make use of purpose. What engineers achieve in short order using significant computer power, for a natural organism nature requires centuries and longer to instill “improvement.”  And remember, what nature ends up with may not be what we would prefer. The wild horses people domesticated thousands of years ago are the ones produced by nature. What people want, and what they have now, are horses artificially bred for our purposes.

I have no plan to view the pod cast, but readers are invited to search it out and sign up. There may be something significant relating to real abuse of science. The past few weeks have seen egregious abuse of science for political gain, as serious scientists are sometimes mocked (one receiving death threats). We can only hope real science will be taken more seriously when the current crisis is over.

Years of Living Dangerously

Continuing a review of William Shirer’s Berlin Diary

William Shirer’s book recounts his experiences and observations from close up during the years prior to the war and concluding when Adolf Hitler’s government expelled him in 1940. Eighty years ago a new year opened with the war ramping up. In April the war entered a critical stage as Hitler advanced his adventures toward the west. England and France did not enter the ground war until a crisis developed in Norway and Denmark.

Events are about to unfold that will shake the world.

Berlin, April 2

I broadcast tonight: “Germany is now waiting to see what the Allies intend to do in stopping shipments of Swedish iron ore down the Norwegian coast to the Reich. It’s accepted here as a foregone conclusion that the British will go into Scandinavian territorial waters in order to halt this traffic. It’s also accepted as a foregone conclusion here that the Germans will react…. Germany imports ten million tons of Swedish iron a year. Germany cannot afford to see these shipments of iron stopped without fighting to prevent it.” But how? S. whispers about Nazi troops being concentrated at the Baltic ports. But what can Germany do against the British navy?

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 309). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

What Shirer did not know at the time was that Hitler was preparing to invade Norway and Denmark. The terrible truth was that Sweden was German’s only viable source of iron ore, and those supplies would be absolutely crucial to the Nazi regime, especially to support war production. However, the Swedish ore was shipped overland to ports on the Norwegian west shore, thence along the Norwegian coast, through the narrow straits separating Denmark and Sweden. The Brits were preparing to interdict these shipments, foremost by mining the Norwegian sea routes and secondly by attacking the shipments. The only way Hitler could forestall the British action was to seize control of Norway and Denmark.


Berlin, April 7

The V.B. today: “Germany is ready. Eighty million pairs of eyes are turned upon the Führer…”

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 309). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

It is a quote from the Völkischer Beobachter, the Nazi Party newspaper.

BERLIN, April 8

The British announce they have mined Norwegian territorial waters in order to stop the German iron ships coming down from Narvik. The Wilhelmstrasse says: “Germany will know how to react.” But how? There are two rumours afloat tonight, but we can confirm nothing. One, that the German fleet has sailed into the Kattegat, north of Denmark, west of Sweden and south of Norway, and is heading for the Skagerrak. Two, that a German expeditionary force is forming at the Baltic ports and that dozens of passenger ships have been hurriedly collected to transport it to Scandinavia.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 310). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

And now the ax falls. Two more countries will soon come under German control. Shirer provides more detail for this day’s events than nearly any other day.

Denmark was subjugated forthwith by German troops, who hid out in cargo ships and sprang upon the Danish government in a swift action. The German navy’s approach to Norway was not as subtle. To their misfortune they used a frontal attack, sailing warships directly into the Norwegian fjords, where shore guns made hash of several of the warships. As is to be seen, the end product was a successful conquest of Norway, with British and French forces being driven away in humiliation, totally unprepared to fight a mid-twentieth-century war.

BERLIN, April 9

Hitler this spring day has occupied a couple more countries. At dawn Nazi forces invaded the two neutral states of Denmark and Norway in order, as an official statement piously puts it, “to protect their freedom and independence.” After twelve swift hours it seems all but over. Denmark, with whom Hitler signed a ten-year non-aggression pact only a year ago, has been completely overrun, and all important military points in Norway, including the capital, are now in Nazi hands. The news is stupefying. Copenhagen occupied this morning, Oslo this afternoon, Kristiansand this evening. All the great Norwegian ports, Narvik, Trondheim, Bergen, Stavanger, captured. How the Nazis got there—under the teeth of the British navy—is a complete mystery. Obviously the action was long prepared and longer planned and certainly put into operation before the British mined Norwegian territorial waters day before yesterday. To get to Narvik from German bases would have taken at least three days.

At ten twenty this morning we were urgently convoked to a special press conference at the Foreign Office to begin at ten thirty. We waited a half-hour. At eleven a.m. Ribbentrop strutted in, dressed in his flashy field-grey Foreign Office uniform and looking as if he owned the earth. Schmidt, his press chief, announced the news and read the text of the memorandum addressed in the early hours of this morning to Norway and Denmark, calling on them to be “protected” and warning that “all resistance would be broken by every available means by the German armed forces and would therefore only lead to utterly useless bloodshed.”

“The Reich government,” Schmidt, a fat, lumpy young man, droned on, “therefore expects the Norwegian government and the Norwegian people to have full understanding for Germany’s procedure and not to resist in any way…. In the spirit of the good German-Norwegian relations which have existed so long, the Reich

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 310-311). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

government declares to the Royal Norwegian government that Germany has no intention now or in the future of touching upon the territorial integrity and political independence of the Kingdom of Norway.”

Ribbentrop sprang up, snake-like, and said: “Gentlemen, yesterday’s Allied invasion of Norwegian territorial waters represents the most flagrant violation of the rights of a neutral country. It compares with the British bombardment of Copenhagen in 1807. However”—showing his teeth in a smug grin—“it did not take Germany by surprise…. It was the British intention to create a base in Scandinavia from which Germany’s flank could be attacked. We are in possession, gentlemen, of incontestable proof. The plan included the occupation of all Scandinavia—Denmark, Norway, Sweden. The German government has the proofs that French and British General Staff officers were already on Scandinavian soil, preparing the way for an Allied landing.

“The whole world can now see,” he went on, somehow reminding you of a worm, “the cynicism and brutality with which the Allies tried to create a new theatre of war. A new international law has now been proclaimed which gives one belligerent the right to take unlawful action in answer to the unlawful action of the other belligerent. Germany has availed itself of that right. The Führer has given his answer…. Germany has occupied Danish and Norwegian soil in order to protect those countries from the Allies, and will defend their true neutrality until the end of the war. Thus an honoured part of Europe has been saved from certain downfall.”

The little man, the once successful champagne salesman who had married the boss’s daughter, who had curried Hitler’s favour in the most abject fashion, who had stolen a castle near Salzburg by having the rightful owner sent to a concentration camp, stopped. Glancing over the room, he essayed another grin—inane, vapid.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 311-312). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

“Gentlemen,” he shouted, “I thank you again and wish you a good-morning.” Followed by his uniformed lackeys, he strode out.

I was stunned. I shouldn’t have been—after so many years in Hitlerland—but I was. I walked up the Wilhelmstrasse and then through the Tiergarten to cool off. At noon I drove out to the Rundfunk to do my regular broadcast. The people in the streets, I noticed, were taking the news calmly. Few even bothered to buy the extras which the newsboys were beginning to shout. From a score of rooms at the RRG, Goebbels’s unpleasant voice came roaring out over the loud-speakers. He was reading the various memorandums, proclamations, news bulletins—all the lies—with customary vehemence. I noticed for the first time a swarm of censors. They warned me to “be careful.” I glanced over the late German dispatches. A special communiqué of the High Command said Copenhagen had been completely occupied by eight a.m. The German forces, it said, had been transported in ships from Baltic ports during the night, landed at Copenhagen at dawn, and had first occupied the citadel and the radio station.19 It was clear that the Danes had offered no resistance whatsoever. The Norwegians, it appeared, had, though the Germans were confident it would cease by nightfall. I phoned a couple of friends. The Danish Minister here had protested in the Wilhelmstrasse early this morning, but had added quickly that Denmark was not in a position to fight Germany. The Norwegian Minister—a man notorious in Berlin for his pro-Nazi sympathies, I recalled—had also protested, but had added that Norway would fight. I wrote my sad little piece, and spoke it.

LATER.—Apparently something has gone wrong with the Norwegian part of the affair. The Norwegians were not supposed to fight, but apparently did—at least at one or two places. There are reports of German naval losses, but the Admiralty

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 312-313). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

keeps mum. All the Danish and Norwegian correspondents were fished out of their beds at dawn this morning and locked up at the Kaiserhof. It was the first they knew that their countries had been protected.

The Nazi press has some rare bits tonight: The Angriff: “The young German army has hoisted new glory to its banners…. It is one of the most brilliant feats of all time.” A feat it is, of course. The Börsen Zeitung: “England goes coldbloodedly over the dead bodies of the small peoples. Germany protects the weak states from the English highway robbers…. Norway ought to see the righteousness of Germany’s action, which was taken to ensure the freedom of the Norwegian people.”

Tomorrow the Völkische Beobachter, Hitler’s own pride (and money-maker) will bannerline in red ink: “GERMANY SAVES SCANDINAVIA!” The exclamation point is not mine. Broadcast for a third time at two a.m., and now, sick in the stomach from nothing I’ve eaten, to bed.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 310-314). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The Germans acknowledge setbacks in the Norwegian campaign.

BERLIN, April 10

It is plain from what I have heard today that Hitler and the High Command expected Norway to give up without a scrap. Now that it hasn’t, the complete confidence of yesterday is evaporating. An inspired statement today warned the populace that “yesterday was only the beginning of a daring enterprise. Allied counter-action is still to be reckoned with.” As a matter of fact, I get an impression in army and navy circles that if the British go in with their navy and back it up with strong landing-forces, Germany will have a much bigger fight on her hands than she bargained for. The German weak spot is its lack of a navy. The garrisons in the western Norwegian ports can only be supplied by sea. Also there are no suitable airfields north of Stavanger.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 314). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Geographically situated, Sweden is in a delicate position.

BERLIN, April 11

As far as I can learn the Swedes are scared stiff, will not come to the aid of their Norwegian brethren, and will take their medicine later. Strange how these little nations prefer to be swallowed by Hitler one at a time.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 315-316). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

If you follow the trajectory of the war up to 1942 you can be excused for believing Hitler would have proceeded to absorb Sweden plus Switzerland, Spain, and Portugal.


BERLIN, April 14

I’ve at last found out how the Germans, without an adequate navy, occupied the chief Norwegian ports along a thousand-mile coastline under the very nose of the British fleet. German troops with guns and supplies were transported to their destinations in cargo boats which ostensibly were on their way to Narvik to fetch Swedish iron. These freighters, as they’ve been doing since the beginning of the war, sailed within the Norwegian three-mile limit and thus escaped discovery by the British navy. Ironically!—they were even escorted to their goals by Norwegian warships which had orders to protect them from the British!

But that does not explain how the British let half the striking power of the German fleet—seven destroyers, one heavy cruiser, and one battleship—get all the way up the Norwegian coast unobserved.

German naval circles admit that their seven destroyers were wiped out by a superior British attacking force at Narvik yesterday, but say they hold the town. Tomorrow’s papers however will say: “GREAT BRITISH ATTACK ON NARVIK REPULSED.” When I showed an early edition of one of the papers to a naval captain tonight, he blushed and cursed Goebbels.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 316-317). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

More news of the war in western Europe. The blow will not come until the following month, but it’s time to ramp up the rhetoric.

BERLIN, April 17

The German press and radio turned its big guns on Holland today. Said an inspired statement from the Foreign Office: “In contrast to Germany, the Allies do not wish to prevent the little states from being drawn into the war”!

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 317). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Sometimes you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

BERLIN, April 18

Joe [Harsch] back from Copenhagen with a nice tale. He reports that on the evening of April 8 the Danish King, somewhat disturbed over that day’s reports, summoned the German Minister and asked him for assurances. The Minister swore to His Majesty that Hitler had no intention of marching into Denmark and that the day’s silly rumours were merely “Allied lies.” Actually at that moment, as the German Minister knew, several German coal ships were tied up in Copenhagen harbour, where they had arrived two days previously. Under the hatches, as he also knew, were German troops.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 318). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

More from the same day. Germany has now occupied a foreign country and is unable to ensure the livelihood of its inhabitants. The Danes will suffer along with the conquering naiton.

Note that the Danes have been ruined by the German occupation. Denmark’s three million cows, three million pigs and twenty-five million laying hens live on imported fodder, mostly from North and South America and Manchukuo. Those supplies are now cut off. Denmark must slaughter most of its livestock, one of its main sources of existence.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 319). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Happy birthday to Adolf Hitler. He will have five more.

BERLIN, April 19

Hitler’s fifty-first birthday tomorrow, and the people have been asked to fly their flags. Said Dr. Goebbels in a broadcast tonight: “The German people have found in the Führer the incarnation of their strength and the most brilliant exponent of their national aims.” When I passed the Chancellery tonight, I noticed some seventy-five people waiting outside for a glimpse of the leader. In other years on the eve of his birthday there were ten thousand.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 320). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The Brits and the French are resisting the German advance in Norway. They will fail, and Allied forces will not re-enter Norway until May 1945.

BERLIN, April 19 [80 years ago today]

The secrecy of the Allies about where their troops have landed in Norway was lifted by the High Command today. They have landed at Namsos and Aandalsnes, the two railheads north and south respectively of Trondheim, the key port half-way up the Norwegian coast occupied by the Germans. A friend of mine on the High Command tells me that the whole issue in Norway now hangs on the outcome of the battle for Trondheim. If the Allies take it, they have saved Norway, or at least the northern half. If the Germans, pushing northward up the two railway lines from Oslo, get there first, then the British must evacuate. The Germans today occupied Lillehammer, eighty miles north of Oslo, but they still have a hundred and fifty miles to go. What the Germans fear most, I gather, is that the British navy will go into Trondheim Fjord and wipe out the German garrison in the city before the Nazi forces from Oslo can possibly get there. If it does, the German gamble is lost.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 320). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The month of May is to see disaster for the British and the French. Shirer’s view will be from the back side of the battle front.

Abusing Science

Number 66 of a series

As promised, I purchased a Kindle edition of Perry Marshall’s Evolution 2.0, and now I will post a few installments of this series based on the book. Glancing through the table of contents, one thing that struck me was a 375-page book ended on page 280. Following are 66 pages of appendices. I had a look.

  • Appendix 1:​All About Randomness
  • Appendix 2:​Genesis 2.0
  • Appendix 3:​Recommended Books
  • Appendix 4:​The Origin of Information: How to Solve It and Win the Evolution 2.0 Prize

I found Appendix 2: Genesis 2.0 most interesting, so I went there first. The core of the book may be revealed here.

We are stardust, billion-year-old carbon,
We are golden, caught in the devil’s bargain,
And we’ve got to get ourselves
Back to the garden —JONI MITCHELL

Marshall, Perry. Evolution 2.0: Breaking the Deadlock Between Darwin and Design (p. 307). BenBella Books, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

That’s the intro to the appendix. In case you miss the point, all we know from science brings us back to the Garden of Eden. In Appendix 2 Marshall is going to demonstrate what we know from modern science reconciles perfectly with Genesis in the Bible. He recounts a conversation with a very tech guy, a person of obvious intellect, and successful in business.

Paul said to me, “My conviction is that the Bible teaches a young Earth. I believe the Earth is 6,000 years old. I take this position because I feel it is necessary for me to be intellectually honest as a Christian.” He leaned back in his chair and continued, with a perplexed look on his face. “But Perry, I will readily admit to you that I cannot defend that with empirical science; I’ve never been able to see any way to work it out.”

Marshall, Perry. Evolution 2.0: Breaking the Deadlock Between Darwin and Design (p. 307). BenBella Books, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Marshall proceeds to inform Paul the Earth really is something like 4.5 billion years old, but that’s OK. Genesis tells the true story, if you squint like this. Another excerpt:

I prefer the reading of Genesis 1 and 2 that follows, because it matches modern cosmology, geology, and the fossil record nicely. In this chapter, I’m going to share with you what I said to my friend Paul, the chemical engineer turned high-tech company president.

As we read Genesis together, let’s make two assumptions:

1.​The writer is describing events as they appear from the surface of the Earth starting with verse 2, which establishes the point of view for the remainder of the chapter.

2.​“Day” is a period of time, not 24 hours. The Hebrew word for day (yom) has a variety of meanings in Genesis. A day can be a moment, an era, or a thousand or even a billion years (949). In Genesis 2:4, for example, the word day is used to refer to the entire Creation sequence!*

Marshall, Perry. Evolution 2.0: Breaking the Deadlock Between Darwin and Design (p. 310). BenBella Books, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

And there you have it. If “day” is interpreted to mean “billions of years,” then Genesis is spot on. By extension, if “created” is interpreted as meaning “imagined by some people in a Bronze Age tribe living in the Eastern Mediterranean about 3000 years ago, then the God of Abraham is real, and he is a man (not a woman), and he really is his own son, and really did (not) die by crucifixion and later ascend into the outer reaches of space so he can watch over all of us in the minutest of detail, and we can all do as we please while alive—committing any number of heinous acts—but if we accept Jesus as our savior, then when we die we will live happily ever after, along with the innocent children we have raped and murdered.” Also if your grandmother had knobs and an antenna she would be a 1950s TV set, but now I am allowing my mind to wander aimlessly.

This is science from a religious point of view. You don’t want to buy the book—$9.99 plus tax for the Kindle edition—but you want to see more, shoot me an email, and I will send you a few pages.

And may Jesus have mercy on our souls.

Years of Living Dangerously

Continuing a review of William Shirer’s Berlin Diary

William Shirer’s book recounts his experiences and observations from close up during the years prior to the war and concluding when Adolf Hitler’s government expelled him in 1940. Eighty years ago a new year opened with the war ramping up. The Kriegsmarine suffered its first major defeat with the loss of the Graf Spee. Hitler suspected the Allies were casting an eye on Scandinavia, and he was right. Holland and Belgium blithely acted on the presumption they could stay out of the war. This post will cover excerpts from February and March 1940.

In February Shirer made another trip to Switzerland. In his diary he recounts three items of interest, the first of which I excerpt here. A hallmark of a corrupt society is to exercise control over all information.


Three stories I must put down:

1. In Germany it is a serious penal offence to listen to a foreign radio station. The other day the mother of a German airman received word from the Luftwaffe that her son was missing and must be presumed dead. A couple of days later the BBC in London, which broadcasts weekly a list of German prisoners, announced that her son had been captured. Next day she received eight letters from friends and acquaintances telling her they had heard her son was safe as a prisoner in England. Then the story takes a nasty turn. The mother denounced all eight to the police for listening to an English broadcast, and they were arrested.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 288). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

He describes the hazards of traveling in a war zone.

Berlin, February 23

My birthday. Thought of being thirty-six now, and nothing accomplished, and how fast the middle years fleet by. Disagreeable experience at the Swiss border yesterday: the Swiss relieved me of all my provisions—chocolate, soap, canned food, coffee, and a bottle of whisky which Winant had given me. I see their point. They are cut off from the outside world and want to keep what they have and not let it get into the hands of the Germans. But I was sore. On the German side the Gestapo stripped two thirds of the passengers, including all the women. For some reason, possibly because I was the last to get my passport okayed and the train was late, they let me off. Arrived here this morning (Friday) to find it a meatless day. The food is abominable. Because of the cold spell, no fish. Even at the Adlon I could get only potatoes and some canned vegetables, and my friends said I was lucky because for several days there had not been even potatoes, the city’s supply having been spoiled by freezing. The newspapers seem inane after the Swiss. But the Germans swallow the fare, the lies. After this terrible winter their morale is lower, but they seem to be in the same cow-like mood. It’s hard to see the limit of what they will take. Much talk here of the spring offensive. But where?

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 290-291). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Shirer recounts a tale which turned out to be profoundly prophetic.

Berlin, February 25

X told me a fantastic story today. He claims a plan is afoot to hide S.S. shock troops in the bottom of a lot of freighters, have them put in at ports in Scandinavia, Belgium, and Africa, and seize the places. I don’t get the point. Even if they got into the ports, which is doubtful, how could they hold them? I suspect this story is a plant and that the Nazis would like us to put it out as part of their nerve war. I shan’t.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 291). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

In April German ships with troops secreted inside docked in Copenhagen. At the prescribed time they emerged and captured the city.

A sorry fact of the World War II mess.

Berlin, February 27

Though the quota of Germans allowed entrance into America annually is 27,000, Marvin found a waiting-list of 248,000 names at the American consulate. Ninety-eight per cent were Jews—or about half the Jewish population left in Germany.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 292). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Failure of other countries to take in Europe’s Jewish population meant death to millions.

He recounts the logistics of getting a broadcast out of Nazi Germany in wartime.

Berlin, March 4

My pockets are stuffed full of passes. If I cannot find the right one I must wait in the vestibule on arriving at the station and fill out a paper permitting me to enter. Finally arrived, I go to an office and write my script. Two offices down I can hear Lord Haw-Haw attacking his typewriter with gusto or shouting in his nasal voice against “that plutocrat Chamberlain.” A half-hour before my broadcast I must have my script in the hands of the censors. Follows a half-hour battle with them.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 294). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

An iteration of the dire position of wartime Germany with respect to its supply of iron.

Berlin, March 8

Diplomatic circles buzzing with talk of a secret peace parley in Stockholm to end the Russo-Finnish war. A decree today orders all persons and firms who possess old metal or scrap iron to deliver it to the state. Lack of iron may lose Germany the war.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 295). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Wartime in Germany. Memorial Day in Germany.

Berlin, March 10

Today is Memorial Day in Germany, a day to remember the dead who’ve been slain in all the wars. In former years the Germans remembered the two million men slaughtered between 1914 and 1918. Today the Nazis ask the people not to think too much of the World War dead, but to concentrate their thoughts on those who have been done to death or will die in this war. How perverse human beings can be! A front-page editorial in the Lokal Anzeiger says: “This is no time for being sentimental. Men are dying for Germany day and night. One’s personal fate now is unimportant. There is no asking why if one falls or is broken.”

That’s the trouble. If the Germans asked why, the flower of their youth might not always be condemned to be butchered on the battlefield. General von Rundstedt, one of the leading military figures in the conquest of Poland, writes in the Völkische Beobachter: “Memorial Day—1940: Certainly we think earnestly of the dead, but we do not mourn.” And this paper bannerlines in red ink across Page one: “OVER THE GRAVES FORWARD!”

Hitler spoke today in a courtyard in the Zeughaus, the War Museum. There amidst the museum pieces—the arms and weapons Europeans have used to kill one another in all the wars of the past, he orated. His voice was full of hatred, which he might have been expected to avoid on Memorial Day. Has the man no other emotion? He promised his people that the end of this war would give Germany the most glorious military triumph in history. He thinks only of arms. Does he understand the economic role in this war? Ribbentrop off to Rome to make sure what Mussolini will do when the German offensive starts and also to see the Pope. Talk of a new concordat. Monsignor Cesare Orsenigo, the Papal Nuncio, has been quietly paying visits to the Wilhelmstrasse for weeks. Germany didn’t observe the last concordat, persecuting the church whenever it pleased. But they will probably sign a new one. It will mean prestige for Hitler at home and abroad. All Germans I talk to afraid hell will break loose this month.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 295-296). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Six months into the war, and Germany is not yet committed 100%. It is, however, girding its loins, so to speak, for a massive slug-fest.

Berlin, March 11

A ralk today with General von Schell, a wizard who is responsible for oil and automobiles. He claimed he would have enough oil for a ten-year war. He said his factories were now producing only 20 types of trucks as compared with 120 last year. Beginning April 20, all German youths between ten and eighteen will be compelled to join the Hitler Youth. Conscription of youth was laid down in a law dated 1936, but only goes into effect now. Boys between seventeen and eighteen will receive preliminary military training.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 297). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The future of Finland is now beyond its control. It will eventually be forced to ally with Germany and in the end be treated as one of the defeated nations at the end of the war.

Berlin, March 13

In Moscow last night peace was made between Russia and Finland. It is a very hard peace for Finland and in Helsinki today, according to the BBC, the flags are at half-mast. Berlin, however, is delighted. For two reasons: (1) It releases Russia from the strain of war, so that she now may be able to furnish some badly needed raw materials to the Reich. (2) It removes the danger of Germany having to fight a war on a long northern front, which she would have had to supply by sea and which would have dispersed her military forces now concentrating in the west for the decisive blow, which may begin any day now.

I think in the end Norway and Sweden will pay for their refusal to allow Allied troops across their territories to help Finland. To be sure, they were not in a pleasant spot. Baron von Stumm of the F.O. confirmed to me today that Hitler had informed both Oslo and Stockholm that had Allied troops set foot in Scandinavia, Germany immediately would have invaded the north to cut them off. The trouble with the Scandinavians is that a hundred years of peace have made them soft, peace-at-any-pricers. And they have not had the courage to look into the future. By the time they make up their minds to take sides, it will be too late, as it was with Poland. Sandler, Sweden’s Foreign Minister, alone seems to have seen the situation correctly, and he has been forced to resign.

Finland now is at the mercy of Russia. On any fake pretext the Soviets can henceforth overrun the country, since the Finns must now give up their fortifications, as the Czechs had to do after Munich. (Czecho lasted five and a half months after that.) Have we not reached a stage in history where no small nation is safe any longer, where they all must live on sufferance from the dictators? Gone are those pleasant nineteenth-century days when a country could remain neutral and at peace .

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 297-298). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Political turmoil in England brings forth a fountain of propaganda from Dr. Goebbels. The Nazis exhibit total appreciation for irony. The iron hand tightens its grip on the people.

Berlin, March 14

In London last night, one Mohamed Singh Azad shot and killed Sir Michael O’Dwyer. Not Gandhi, but most of the other Indians I know, will feel this is divine retribution. O’Dwyer was once Lieutenant-Governor of the Punjab and bore a share of responsibility in the 1919 Amritsar massacre, in which General Dyer shot fifteen hundred Indians in cold blood. When I was at Amritsar eleven years after, in 1930, the bitterness still stuck in the people there. Goebbels makes the most of the assassination. Nachtausgabe headline tonight: “THE DEED OF AN INDIAN FIGHTER FOR FREEDOM—SHOTS AGAINST THE OPPRESSOR.” This from Germans who are carrying out mass murders in Bohemia and Poland.

ITEMS: Two more Germans beheaded today for “damaging the people’s interests.” A third sentenced to death; same charge…. The Germans boast that prices here have not risen. Today in the Adlon I paid a dollar for a dish of boiled carrots…. Göring today decrees that the people must give up their copper, bronze, brass, tin, lead, and nickel. How can Germany fight a long war lacking these? In 1938 Germany imported from abroad nearly a million tons of copper, 200,000 tons of lead, 18,000 tons of tin, and 4,000 tons of nickel.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 298-299). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Prices are remarkably stable. Don’t believe your eyes, the facts are right there in print. In a few years hence George Orwell will enjoy rehashing this.

As short a time ago as February, the Ministry of Plenty had issued a promise (a “categorical pledge” were the official words) that there would be no reduction of the chocolate ration during 1984. Actually, as Winston was aware, the chocolate ration was to be reduced from thirty grams to twenty at the end of the present week. All that was needed was to substitute for the original promise a warning that it would probably be necessary to reduce the ration at some time in April.

Orwell, George. 1984 (p. 25). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

Hitler demands adulation from those dependent on him. The resemblance to a modern American president is uncanny.

Berlin, March 15

Today Hitler forces Hacha to send him a “congratulatory” telegram, praising him for having destroyed Czechoslovakia and wishing him victory in this war. Hitler’s cynicism is of rich quality, but millions of Germans believe that today’s exchange of telegrams is perfectly sincere. Hitler replies that he is “deeply moved” by Hacha’s wire and adds: “Germany has no intention of threatening the national existence of the Czechs.” When he has already destroyed it! Neurath, a typical example of the German aristocrats who sacrificed their souls (they had no minds) to Hitler, sends him a slavish telegram thanking him for his “historic deed” and pledging the “unbreakable loyalty of Bohemia and Moravia.” In an interview with the German press Neurath says the Czechs are content with their lot, all except “a few intellectuals and those elements of disturbance which were put down in a manner the sharpness of which was not misunderstood.” He refers to the mass shooting of Czech students last fall.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 299-300). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The warring countries at last bring the war to each other’s shores, and there is the first mention of America’s untapped menace.

Berlin, March 17

Much excitement on this Palm Sunday in official quarters over a war communiqué claiming that the Luftwaffe hit and damaged three British battleships in Scapa Flow last night. More important to me was that for the first time the Germans admitted that during the raid their planes also bombed British air bases at Stromness and Kirkwall. In this half-hearted war this is the first time that one side has purposely dropped bombs on the land of the other. It heralds, I suppose, the spring opening of the war in earnest. Editor Kircher of the Frankfurter Zeitung attempts to answer a question this morning that has bothered neutral military minds for a long time. Why haven’t the Germans used their acknowledged air superiority over the Allies? Why are they waiting while the Allies, with American help, catch up? Kircher’s answer is that the Allies have not been catching up, that Germany’s relative superiority has been greatly increased in the last seven months.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 300-301). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Hitler begins to bring Italy into the Axis block. It will prove fateful. As with the Habsburg Empire of the previous war, Mussolini’s Italy will become a millstone around the German neck.

Berlin, March 18

For two and a half hours this morning while a snowstorm raged, Hitler and Mussolini conferred at the Brenner. We opine Hitler wanted to make sure of the Duce before embarking on his spring plans, whatever they are. The Wilhelmstrasse plan tonight was that Hitler had won over Musso to the idea of joining a tripartite bloc with Germany and Soviet Russia which will establish a new order in Europe. Maybe so.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 301). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.


Another section that needs to be totally incorporated.

Berlin, March 19

John Chapman, whom I have not seen since high-school days in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, called. He is foreign editor of Business Week, and has just come up from the Balkans and Italy. He had some good dope. He doubts that Italy will go into the war. So do I. Italy can be blockaded. John said he noticed a lessening of the drive in Fascism. People are more relaxed. Il Duce does not push them so hard. He’s aging, growing fat, and spends much time with his youthful blonde mistress, by whom—John was told in Rome—he has just had a child. John said he saw Pétain in Madrid. The old man said: “I pray that the Germans try to break through the Maginot Line. It can be broken through—at a cost. But let them infiltrate through. I’d like to be in command of the Allied army then.” I called on Major X of the X Embassy this afternoon. He sees three possibilities open to Germany now:

  1. Germany can make peace. He thinks Hitler wants peace. And that he could afford to offer a peace which would sound pretty fair and might be acceptable to all but the English, and which would still consolidate most of his gains. Such a peace, he argued, would be equivalent to a great German victory.
  2. Germany can continue as at present, keeping Scandinavia and Italy neutral and co-operative economically, and developing southeastern Europe and especially Russia. This would take time, at least three years, but once developed, it would make the Allied blockade comparatively ineffective. The major pointed out that no nation which lost control of the seas had ever in all history won a major war. But he thinks it might be accomplished this time if Germany keeps her northern, southern, and southeastern doors open and develops Russia sufficiently. He regards the Russian tie-up as Hitler’s master stroke, but says it was forced upon him by the German General Staff, which simply told him that war with the West was impossible if Russia joined the Allies, or even remained strictly neutral, but unfriendly to Germany.
  3. Germany can try to force the issue on the western front. This he regards as improbable. The German General Staff, he says, has a great respect for the Maginot Line and the French army. He admits the Maginot Line might be pierced—at great cost—but that this would not necessarily win the war.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 301-303). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The Brits bomb a German base in Sylt, and bombs hit (then) neutral Denmark. Lacking all sense of irony, Goebbels’ propaganda mill makes the most of it.

Berlin, March 20

Headline in the 12-Uhr Blatt today over its report of Chamberlain’s speech in the House last night: “HOLIDAY OF LIES IN LOWER HOUSE.—THE PIRATES CONFESS THEIR CRIME AGAINST THE NEUTRALS!”

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 303-304). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

In a few days German troops will overrun neutral Denmark.

The Nazis gained great notice for their tremendous inflation of the death penalty. No surprise by now. On 30 June in 1934 the party carried out mass slayings, disposing of those they considered threatening or merely a nuisance.

Berlin, March 21

Three more Poles sentenced to death at Posen today for allegedly slaying a German during the war. I hear sixteen Polish women are in a Berlin jail waiting to have their heads lopped off, all of them having been sentenced to death.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 304). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Oops! Wartime exigencies become increasingly manifest.

Berlin, March 23

It is announced today that all church bells made of bronze are to come down and be melted up for cannon.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 305). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Germany is preparing to expand the war into Norway and Denmark. Shirer senses something is afoot.

Berlin, March 24

Comparatively few soldiers in the street. Few leaves granted? Meaning? Offensive soon?

I was surprised to notice how shabby the Kaiser’s Palace at the end of the Linden is. The plaster falling off all over the place. Very dilapidated. The stone railing of the balcony on which Wilhelm II made his famous appearance in 1914 to announce to the delirious mob at his feet the coming of war appeared to be falling to pieces. Well, they were not delirious before Hitler’s balcony when this war started.

I tried to read in the faces of the thousands what was in their minds this Easter day. But their faces looked blank. Obviously they do not like the war, but they will do what they’re told. Die, for instance.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 306). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Shirer suspects a Scandinavian adventure is in the works, and he tests this thought, along with the Nazi censors’ tolerance.

Berlin, March 28

Germany cannot stay in the war unless she continues to receive Swedish iron, most of which is shipped from the Norwegian port of Narvik on German vessels which evade the blockade by feeling their way down the Norwegian coast and keeping within the three-mile limit, where they are safe from the British navy. Some of us have wondered why Churchill has never done anything about this. Now it begins to look as if he may. The Wilhelmstrasse says it will watch him. For Germany this is a life-and-death matter. X assures me that if British destroyers go into Norwegian territorial waters Germany will act. But how is not clear. The German navy is no match for the British.

I hope I didn’t put myself out on a limb, but from what I’ve heard this week I wrote tonight in my broadcast: “Some people here believe the war may spread to Scandinavia yet. It was reported in Berlin today that last week a squadron of at least nine British destroyers was concentrated off the Norwegian coast and that in several instances German freighters carrying iron received warning shots…. From here it looks as if the neutrals, especially the Scandinavians, may be drawn into the conflict after all.”

I often write a paragraph like that to see how the military censor will react. He made no objection, which is interesting.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 307). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The Nazis are acutely aware of the need to keep the United States out of the war. In this country they have many allies. The anti-war and isolationist movements are teeming, and their ranks include many of great note. Apparently Joseph Kennedy, father of a future president, was not one of the Nazi favorites.

Berlin, March 30 [80 years ago today]

The Nazis launched last night what they thought would be a bombshell in America. Today it looks more like a boomerang. And a fine example of clumsy German diplomatic blundering.

The Foreign Office released a new White Book containing what is purported to be sixteen documents discovered by the Germans in the Warsaw Foreign Office. Ribbentrop says they are secret reports of various Polish envoys. The most important are from the Polish ambassadors in London, Paris, and Washington. They “implicate” American ambassadors Kennedy, Bullitt, and Biddle, and the point of them is that these diplomats, backed by Roosevelt, were leading conspirators in forcing this war on Germany!

Though it seems incredible that even the Germans could be so stupid, my friends in the Foreign Office say that Ribbentrop actually thought these “revelations” would make Roosevelt’s position so untenable that his defeat in the next election—or the defeat of his candidate, should he not run—would be assured. Having got wind of the strong sentiment in America to stay out of war, Ribbentrop thought these “documents” would greatly strengthen the hand of the American isolationists by convincing the American people that Roosevelt and his personally appointed ambassadors had not only had a hand in starting the war but had done everything to get us in. Happily, first American reactions are good and the New York press is suggesting the documents are fakes. They may not be faked; probably only doctored.

LATER.—One of the most amusing Nazi fakes I’ve seen in a long time appears in the evening press. It tells the German people that the publication of the Polish “documents” has hit America like a bombshell. The implication is that Roosevelt has been dealt a staggering blow. Secretary Hull issues an official denial of the allegations in the “documents.” The DNB twists it around and heads it: “HULL DISAVOWS USA AMBASSADORS!” A crude piece of faking!

The only trouble is that men like Ham Fish and Senator Rush Holt may snatch at Nazi propaganda such as this to help fight Roosevelt. The DNB cables flatly that Senator Holt “agrees with the German White Book.”

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 308-309). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

That was Shirer’s final entry for March of 1940. The following month the war began its inexorable expansion, a necessity for Hitler and also the thing that would bring him down.

Years of Living Dangerously

Continuing a review of William Shirer’s Berlin Diary

William Shirer’s book recounts his experiences and observations from close up during the years prior to the war and concluding when Adolf Hitler’s government expelled him in 1940. Eighty years ago a new year opened with the war ramping up. The Kriegsmarine suffered its first major defeat with the loss of the Graf Spee. Hitler suspected the Allies were casting an eye on Scandinavia, and he was right. Holland and Belgium blithely acted on the presumption they could stay out of the war. This post will cover excerpts from January 1940.

Winter in Berlin.

Berlin, January 1, 1940

What will this year bring? The decision, as Hitler boasted yesterday? I haven’t met a German yet who isn’t absolutely certain. Certain it is that this phony kind of war cannot continue long. Hitler has got to go forward to new victories or his kind of system cracks.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 271-272). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Same day, a nearly hilarious incident involving more people than sanity allows attempting to use a lone taxi. A little girl upsets this awful arrangement.

She too cried to get out. Her mother joined her. Then her father. Finally the driver, apparently awakened by the bedlam, decided to stop. Out on the curb the father and the soldier began to engage in a fierce argument as to who had spoiled whose New Year’s Eve. Russell and I and the taxi-driver stole away, leaving them to fight it out. The frayed nerves of the war, we decided.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 272-273). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Shirer lays out the realities of Germany’s situation during this stage in the war. It is grim.

Berlin, January 3

I learned today what the Russians have promised to deliver to Germany this year:

1,000,000 tons of fodder and grain;
500,000 tons of oil seeds;
500,000 tons of soya beans;
900,000 tons of petroleum;
150,000 tons of cotton (this is more cotton than Russia had to export to the whole world last year);
Three million gold marks’ worth of leather and hides. This looks good on paper, but I would bet a lot the Russians deliver no more than a fraction of what they have promised.

An official statement announces that Göring is to become absolute dictator of Germany’s war economy—a job he has had in effect for a long time. The press is beginning to harp about “Britain’s aggressive designs in Scandinavia.” Hitler, we hear, has told the army, navy, and air force to rush plans for heading off the Allies in Scandinavia should they go in there to help Finland against Russia. The army and navy are very pro-Finnish, but realize they must protect their trade routes to the Swedish iron-ore fields. If Germany loses these, she is sunk.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 273). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Swedish neutrality turned out to be Hitler’s savior. Without the iron ore Sweden supplied throughout the war, Germany would have either needed to conquer Sweden or else throw in the towel when its war industry ran out of steel.

Hitler did conquer and occupy Norway, using neutral Swedish territory. Clifton is a town in Texas, and it is populated by Norwegian settlers. For some time after, Swedes were not welcome in Clifton.

The fighting in Finland was the main news in the early part of the year.

Berlin, January 9

Harry C., probably the best-informed man we have in the Moscow Embassy, passed through today with his wife, who is going to have her baby in America. Harry, no Bolo-baiter, had some weird tales. He says the one and only thought of a Russian nowadays is to toe the Stalin line so that he can save his job or at least his life. The Russians, he says, have hopelessly bungled the attack on Finland. A hundred thousand casualties already, the hospitals in Leningrad and the north jammed with wounded. But they are the lucky ones because thousands of lightly wounded died of cold and exposure. Harry says everyone in Moscow, from Stalin down, thought the Red army would be in Helsinki a week after the attack started. They were so sure that they timed an attack on Bessarabia for December 6, and only called it off at the last minute.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 274-275). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

For clarification, Bolo was slang for Bolsheviks. The Bolsheviks (majority) defeated the Mensheviks (minority) in the Russian Revolution, and the Communists are known as Bolsheviks.

The same day—the brutality of the Gestapo is a surprise?

Learn that eighteen Poles were killed and thirty wounded recently in a Polish prison camp. The S.S. here claim there was a “revolt.” The army is protesting to Hitler about the senseless brutality of the Gestapo in Poland, but I doubt if that will change matters.

Must note a new propaganda campaign to convince the German people that this is not only a war against the “plutocratic” British and French, but a holy struggle against the Jews. Says Dr. Ley in the Angriff tonight: “We know that this war is an ideological struggle against world Jewry. England is allied with the Jews against Germany…. England is spiritually, politically, and economically at one with the Jews…. For us England and the Jews remain the common foe….”

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 275). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Gestapo is a contraction of Geheim Staatspolizei, secret state’s police, headed up by Heinrich Himmler.

The winter of 1940 was particularly bitter, and German citizens suffered more so due to the lack of coal. Those out of favor suffered even worse.

Berlin, January 11

Cold. Fifteen degrees below zero centigrade outside my window. Half the population freezing in their homes and offices and workshops because there’s no coal. Pitiful to see in the streets yesterday people carrying a sack of coal home in a baby-carriage or on their shoulders. I’m surprised the Nazis are letting the situation become so serious. Everyone is grumbling. Nothing like continual cold to lower your morale.

Hitler is back in town and last night at the Chancellery, I hear, he and Göring lambasted the big industrialists, who had been hurriedly convoked from the Rhineland, for being slack. These great tycoons, who made it possible with their money for Hitler to climb to power, sat there, I’m told, with red faces and never dared utter a peep. Hitler also saw the military yesterday and today and there is talk about a big push in the spring. The army, according to my spies, is still against an offensive on the Maginot Line despite party pressure for it. Will the Germans try to go through Holland, as many think? They want air bases on the Dutch coast for the take-off against Britain. Also fantastic talk here of an invasion of England; of the Germans going into Sweden to sew up their Swedish iron-ore supplies, the justification to be that the Swedes are plotting to let in Allied armies to fight in Finland.

Learned today from a traveller [sic] back from Prague that producers of butter, flour, and other things in Slovakia and Bohemia are marking their goods destined for Germany as “Made in Russia.” This on orders from Berlin, the idea being to show the German people how much “help” is already coming from the Soviets.

A Wilhelmstrasse official admitted to me today that the Germans had imposed forced labour on all Jews in Poland. He said the term of forced labour was “only two years.”16 A German school-teacher tells me this one: the instructors begin the day with this greeting to their pupils: “Gott strafe England!”—whereupon the children are supposed to answer: “He will.”

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 276-277). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Wilhelmstrasse is a major Berlin thoroughfare, the center of government during this period. The term was used to designate the German government.

Edward R. Murrow rose to prominence with his coverage of the war, particularly during the Blitz, from London. Shirer and Murrow got together in Amsterdam to confer. Shirer’s take on the Dutch outlook is revealing. Germany’s neighbor’s worked under the delusion they could survive having Nazi Germany as a neighbor. We know today of the tragedy that was to come in a few weeks, and this knowledge is stark in juxtaposition with the picture Shirer paints here.

Amsterdam, January 18

Ed [Murrow] and I here for a few days to discuss our European coverage, or at least that’s our excuse. Actually, intoxicated by the lights at night and the fine food and the change in atmosphere, we have been cutting up like a couple of youngsters suddenly escaped from a stern old aunt or a reform school. Last night in sheer joy, as we were coming home from an enormous dinner with a fresh snow drifting down like confetti, we stopped under a bright street-light and fought a mighty snow-ball battle. I lost my glasses and my hat and we limped back to the hotel exhausted but happy. This morning we have been ice-skating on the canals with Mary Marvin Breckinridge, who has forsaken the soft and dull life of American society to represent us here. The Dutch still lead the good life. The food they consume as to both quantity and quality (oysters, fowl, meats, vegetables, oranges, bananas, coffee—the things the warring peoples never see) is fantastic. They dine and dance and go to church and skate on canals and tend their businesses. And they are blind—oh, so blind—to the dangers that confront them. Ed and I have tried to do a little missionary work, but to no avail, I fear. The Dutch, like everyone else, want it both ways. They want peace and the comfortable life, but they won’t make the sacrifices or even the hard decisions which might ensure their way of life in the long run. The Queen, they say, stubbornly refuses to allow staff talks with the Allies or even with the Belgians. In the meantime, as I could observe when I crossed the border, the Germans pile up their forces and supplies on the Dutch frontier. If and when they move, there will be no time for staff talks with the Allies. The Dutch tell you that if they even whisper to the Allies about joint defence [British spelling] plans, Hitler will consider that an excuse to walk in. As though Hitler will ever want for an excuse if he really decides to walk in.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 277-278). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

I was in Amsterdam last year, and I had a conversation with a resident. I brought up the matter of skating on the canals, and he told me that was a thing of the past. The climate is so much warmer, the canals no longer freeze.

I have to reprint the entire section from January 20, because it gives a stark picture of how anybody, no matter who they were, could be caught up in the paranoid Nazi machine.

Amsterdam, January 20

Ed off today to Paris and I, alas, must head back tonight to Berlin. I’ve invited Marvin to come up next month and do the “women’s angle.” Ran into Tom R., an American businessman, in the bar of the Carlton this afternoon. He gave me the story at last of what happened to Eleanor K.17 He himself was involved. He had given her a couple of business letters to certain parties in Germany which he says he did not think were compromising, but which obviously were. These were the letters which in the end almost led to her death. Eleanor did not look at them, merely tucking them into her bag. At Bentheim, on the Dutch-German border, the Gestapo discovered them. They arrested her, but allowed her to be confined in the local hotel, there being no suitable jail. Each day there were long hours of questioning, with the Gestapo inquisitioners trying to break her down and make her admit what she in truth refused to: that she knew the contents of her letters and was really a courier in the service of shady business interests inside and outside Germany which were engaging in unlawful financial practices. To make matters worse, one of the letters was to a Jew in Berlin. One night in the hotel Eleanor fell into a mood of deep depression. The Gestapo had questioned and threatened her all day. She saw herself receiving a long prison sentence. She had intended to return to America for good in a few weeks. Now she would spend years in a Nazi concentration camp or a damp prison cell. She decided to make sure she wouldn’t. She decided to kill herself. The resolve made, she prepared for it coolly. She procured a rope, tied one end to the radiator, the other around her neck, opened the window, sat down on the window-ledge, and began to swallow strong sleeping-pills. She would soon be unconscious, she knew, would topple out of the window, and the rope would do the rest. Why it didn’t, she will never know, Tom says. Probably the rope slipped off the radiator. All she knows is that some days later they told her in the hospital that the snow in the street below had broken her fall, that she had lain there for five hours until someone had stumbled across her half-frozen form in the first light of dawn, and that she had broken almost every bone in her body, but probably would recover. Eventually she was removed to a prison hospital in Berlin, where the American consulate, in great secrecy, procured her release and quietly got her out of the country. She is now in America, Tom says.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 278-280). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Another entire copy and paste, illustrating how unglamorous was the life of a foreign correspondent during the war.

Berlin, January 22

I got an idea yesterday of how German transportation, at least of railroad passengers, has been paralysed by the severe winter and the demands of the army. At the German border we were told that the usual express train to Berlin had stopped running. With fifty other passengers I took refuge from the blizzard in the station at Bentheim and waited several hours until the railroad officials organized a local train which they said would take us some twenty-five miles of the two hundred and fifty miles to Berlin. The train, which was unheated, soon stopped; we piled out in the snow with our luggage as best we could, there being no porters in Germany nowadays. By the time it was dark, we had progressed on various local trains about seventy-five miles when in one little station word came that an express train from Cologne would be coming along soon and would pick us up for Berlin. But when it came in, it was jammed and there were at least five hundred people on the platform who wanted to get aboard. There was a free-for-all fight. I used college football tactics and charged in behind my baggage, just managing to squeeze into the outer platform of a third-class coach, the rest of the crammed passengers shouting and cursing at me. For the next eight hours I stood in that unheated spot until we got almost to Berlin. Several hundred irritable passengers stood in the corridors most of the night, and there were thousands on the station platforms we stopped at who never got on the train at all. Such grumbling I have not heard from Germans since the war started.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 280-281). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Shirer obtains a perspective of the German mentality from somebody thoroughly acquainted.

Berlin, January 24

think Percival W., a retired American businessman of German parentage who has spent most of his life in this country, sees something I’ve been trying to get straight. I had never met him before, but he dropped up to my room this morning for a chat. We discussed the German conception of ethics, honour, conduct. Said he: “For Germans a thing is right, ethical, honourable, if it squares with the tradition of what a German thinks a German should do; or if it advances the interests of Germanism or Germany. But the Germans have no abstract idea of ethics, or honour, or right conduct.” He gave a pretty illustration. A German friend said to him: “Isn’t it terrible what the Finns are doing, taking on Russia? It’s utterly wrong.” When Mr. W. remonstrated that, after all, the Finns were only doing what you would expect all decent Germans to do if they got in the same fix—namely, defending their liberty and independence against wanton aggression—his friend retorted: “But Russia is Germany’s friend.”

In other words, for a German to defend his country’s liberty and independence is right. For a Finn to do the same is wrong, because it disturbs Germany’s relations with Russia. The abstract idea there is missing in the German mentality.

That probably explains the Germans’ complete lack of regard or sympathy for the plight of the Poles or Czechs. What the Germans are doing to these people—murdering them, for one thing—is right because the Germans are doing it, and the victims, in the German view, are an inferior race who must think right whatever the Germans please to do to them. As Dr. Ley puts it: “Right is what the Führer does.” All this confirms an idea I got years ago: that the German conception of “honour,” about which Germans never cease to talk, is nonsense.

Mr. W. tells me he was in Germany until shortly before we entered the war in 1917 and that until the winter of 1916–17 there was no suffering among the civilian population at all. He says the present rations and shortages are about the same as Germany experienced in the third year of the World War. He is sure things cannot go on as at present, with the front quiet and nothing but hardship, especially the suffering from the cold we’ve had for more than a month now. “What the Germans must have,” he said in departing, “are a lot of quick victories.”

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 281-282). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Another entire section copied and pasted. Shirer gives more insight into German thinking from talking to people.

Berlin, January 25 (midnight)

Dined alone at Habel’s. A 1923 half-bottle of Bordeaux rouge, but despite the waiter’s assurances, it was not a good enough wine to withstand that age; 1934 is the best year now for ordinary wines. I was about to leave when a white-haired old duffer sat down at my table. As he had no fat card for a meat dish he had ordered, I offered him one of mine. We started talking.

“Who will win the war?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” I said.

“Why, selbstverständlich, Germany,” he laughed. He argued that in 1914 Germany had the whole world against her, now only Great Britain and France, and Russia was friendly.

“Each side thinks it will win,” I said. “In all the wars.”

He looked at me with pity in his old eyes. “Germany will win,” he said. “It is certain. The Führer has said so.”

But as we talked I was conscious that my remarks were jarring him. He became aggressive, irritated. He said Britain and France started the war. “But you attacked Poland, and some people feel that started the war,” I put in. He drew himself up in astonishment.

“I beg your pardon,” he gasped, and then proceeded for ten minutes to repeat every lie about the origins of the war that Hitler has told. (The German people do believe Hitler then, I mused.) “The documents issued by our Foreign Office have proved beyond the shadow of doubt,” he went on, “that Britain and France started the war and indeed planned it for more than a year.”

“They don’t prove it to me,” I said.

This caused him to lose his breath. When he had recovered he said: “As I was saying, saying, the documents prove it….”

I noticed my sour remarks were attracting the attention of the rest of the room and that two hatchet-faced men with party buttons at the next table seemed to be on the point of intervening with some heroics of their own. I upped and left, bidding the old gentleman good-night.

At six p.m. Fräulein X called for some provisions I had brought her from relatives abroad. She turned out to be the most intelligent German female I have met in ages. We talked about the German theatre and films, about which she knew a great deal. She had some interesting ideas about German character, history, direction. The trouble with the Germans, she said, was that they were “geborene Untertanen”—born subjects, though “Untertan” conveys also a connotation of submissive subjects. Authority and direction from a master above was about all a German wanted in life.

“A German,” she said, “will think he has died a good German if he waits at a curb at a red light, and then crosses on a green one though he knows perfectly well that a truck, against the law though it may be, is bearing down upon him to crush him to death.”

What embittered her—and she was brilliantly bitter—was that this Germany was staking all in a war which might end the very Western civilization which certain elements in Germany had not only contributed to but had tried to make one with Germany’s culture. She thought the present regime cared not a whit about Western civilization and represented the barbarian element which had always lurked below the surface in German history and for whom life only had meaning when it meant glorified war, force, conquest, brutality, and grinding down a weaker foe, especially if he were a Slav. She blasted away about the German’s utter lack of political sense,

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 283-284). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

his slavishness towards authority, his cowardly refusal to think or act for himself.

The non-European, anti-Western civilization element, as she put it, now has the upper hand in Germany and she thought the only way the west-European nature of the German could be saved would be by another defeat, even another Peace of Westphalia (which split up Germany in 1648 into three hundred separate states). I’m rather inclined to agree.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 282-285). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Shirer tells of the greatest organized mass migration in modern times. Germans will be moved in to occupy the territory stripped from the Poles. This is to be followed six years later by the greatest organized mass migration in modern times, as these Germans are repatriated to the post-war German state.

There is also great irony in the propaganda war.

Berlin, January 27

The greatest organized mass migration since the exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey after the last war is now coming to an end in Poland. Some 135,000 Germans from Russian-occupied eastern Poland and 100,000 Germans from the Baltic states are now being settled in the part of Poland which Germany has annexed outright. To make room for them an equal number of Poles are being turned out of house, home, and farm and sent to occupied Poland…. Dr. Frank, German Governor-General of Poland, has decreed the death sentence for Poles who hold back goods from sale or refuse to sell their wares when offered a “decent” price. This will enable the Germans to complete their pillage of Poland. If a Pole objects, off with his head…. A German court in Posen has sentenced eight Poles, including three women, to death for allegedly mistreating German flyers—probably parachutists. Even the Germans admit that not one of the flyers was killed.

A phony war. Today’s dispatches from the front deal exclusively with an account of how German machine-guns fought French loud-speakers! It seems that along the Rhine front the French broadcast some recordings which the Germans say constituted a personal insult to the Führer.

“The French did not realize,” says the DNB with that complete lack of humour which makes the Germans so funny, “that an attack on the Führer would be immediately rejected by the German troops.” So the Germans opened fire on the French loud-speakers at Altenheim and Breisach. Actually the army people tell me that the French broadcast recordings of Hitler’s former speeches denouncing Bolshevism and the Soviets.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 285-286). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The following post will relate sections in the book from February 1940.

Years of Living Dangerously

Continuing a review of William Shirer’s Berlin Diary

William Shirer’s book recounts his experiences and observations from close up during the years prior to the war and concluding when Adolf Hitler’s government expelled him in 1940. Prior installments recount the story, using extensive excerpts from the book. In December 1939 the war begins to get serious with the first German losses, notably in a famous sea battle.

Shirer relates the realities of a foreign correspondent operation.

Berlin, December 1

My telephone bill yesterday and today, including numerous urgent calls to Helsinki, Stockholm, Berlin, Amsterdam, London, and New York, has run over a thousand dollars and my cable and telegraph bill must come to almost half that. But Paul White and Klauber say: “Get the broadcasts.”

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 255). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

War is now being waged on other fronts, specifically between the Soviet Union and Finland. Churchill has not yet come to power, but his voice, long a metronome of prophecy, becomes increasingly strident. He catches the attention of the Nazi propaganda mill.

Berlin, December 13

New title for Churchill in the Nazi press these days: Lügenlord—“lying lord.” Most common reference to Churchill in the Nazi press is simply by his initials W.C., the letters painted on every water-closet in Germany, which is why the Nazis use them.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 259). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The fine edge of the German war machine obtains its first blunting with a resounding British naval victory off the South American coast. You would not know this from the Nazi press.

Berlin, December 14

The German papers tonight celebrate a great sea victory of the pocket-battleship Graf Spee over three British cruisers off Montevideo. On the radio I heard London hailing it as a British victory, which reminds one of Jutland, it, too, having been celebrated as a triumph by both Britain and Germany. The German papers claim the British cruisers used mustard-gas shells, though in German naval circles this charge is not taken seriously. Dr. Goebbels is certainly going to town on this story.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 259). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Nazi propaganda badly mishandles a resounding naval defeat.

Berlin, December 19

The populace is still a little bit puzzled about how the big victory of the Graf Spee suddenly ended by the pocket-battleship scuttling itself off Montevideo yesterday afternoon. But Goebbels and Göring have pulled a neat one to make them forget it as soon as possible. The attention of the German people tomorrow morning will be concentrated by the press and radio on something else, an alleged victory—this time in the air—off Helgoland. An official statement which the papers and radio have been told to bang for all it’s worth says that thirty-four out of forty-four British bombers were shot down this afternoon north of Helgoland. A very timely victory. We had just left the evening press conference after firing embarrassing questions about the Graf Spee and were putting on our overcoats downstairs when Dr. Boehmer rushed in breathlessly and said he had some big news and would we please return upstairs to the conference room. Then he read us in breathless tones the communiqué about the thirty-four British planes being shot down. Suspect it is eyewash.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 259-260). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The fact is, the Graf Spee had been savaging British shipping in the South Atlantic and in the Indian Ocean for weeks. Merchant ships had been sunk, cargo looted, and crew taken prisoner. The British Admiralty tracked these activities and figured where the ship would go next. Three British cruisers set out to intercept, and, in a near repeat from WWI, there was a fierce gun duel near the Falklands. It was a nearly even exchange, but the German ship had to limp into Montevideo for repairs. There the Brits bottled it up, faking their own strength through a fake telegram ordering up fuel for ships they did not have. Captain Langsdorff scuttled his ship in the harbor and shot himself.

The Nazis have the power they long craved, and now they have the war as an opportunity to swing the ax.

Berlin, December 21

Hitler and Ribbentrop have wired their Christmas greetings to Comrade Josef Stalin. How ludicrous. Wires Hitler: “Best wishes for your personal well-being as well as for the prosperous future of the peoples of the friendly Soviet Union.”15 The Russians are not going so fast in Finland after a month of fighting. I recall what the counsellor of the Soviet Embassy told me here a few days before the fighting began. “It will be all over in three days,” he boasted.

Eleven admitted executions here in the last two days. About half for espionage and the rest for “damaging the interests of the people in war-time”—the sentences in all but one case being passed by the “People’s Court” whose proceedings are never published. One of the eleven was sentenced by the court to fifteen years’ imprisonment for “damaging the people’s interests,” but Himmler wasn’t satisfied with the sentence, so he simply had the poor fellow shot. “Shot while offering resistance to state authority,” Himmler says. And Heinrich Himmler is such a mild little fellow when you talk to him, reminding you of a country school-teacher, which he once was—pince-nez and all. Freud, I believe, has told us why the mild little fellows or those with a trace of effeminacy in them, like Hitler, can be so cruel at times. I guess I would prefer my cruelty from great thundering hulks like Göring.

Many long prison sentences being meted out to Germans who listen to foreign radio stations, and yet many continue to listen to them. So many, in fact, that an official warning was issued today. It concluded: “No mercy will be shown the idiotic criminals who listen to the lies of the enemy.” I passed an afternoon with a German family the other day, mother, two daughters, one son. They were a little apprehensive when they turned on the six p.m. BBC news. The mother said that besides the porter, who is the official Nazi spy for the apartment house, they had just learned that a Jewish tenant in return for receiving clothing ration cards (Jews get food cards, but no clothing cards) had turned informer for the house, and they had to be very careful. They played the radio so low I could hardly catch the news, and one of the daughters kept watch by the front door.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 261-263). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

What memories Shirer must have had, wading in the midst of that flock of characters who would later become etched in history.

Berlin, December 24-5, three a.m.

Lord Haw-Haw, the British traitor who goes here by the name of Froehlich, but whose real name is William Joyce and whose voice millions of English listen to on the radio every night, and his English wife were at the party, but I avoided them. Later Jack Trevor, an English actor, who has also turned traitor and broadcasts German propaganda to England, came in, much in his cups. I cannot stomach him either.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 264). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Joyce became a fixture of the war with Germany. He ridiculed, and the Brits scoffed and laughed. At the conclusion he was scraped up with the refuse of the Allied victory, and the Brits executed him.

Shirer and other correspondents were given the opportunity to review some of the Kriegsmarine’s newest additions.

Berlin, December 27

A little way down the river, returning to our car, I noticed the 35,000-ton battleship Bismarck. It looked very near completion. Great secrecy surrounded this and its sister ship—the only two 35,000-ton battleships laid down by the German navy.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 266). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

In 18 months the Bismark would be at the bottom of the Atlantic ocean, having sunk only the British battleship Hood in its initial foray into the Atlantic Ocean.

The first year of World War II draws to a close, and harsh reality sets in.


Berlin, December 31

A flood of New Year’s proclamations from all and sundry—Hitler, Göring, Himmler, etc. Hitler holds out hope of victory to the people in 1940. Say he: “United within the country, economically prepared and militarily armed to the highest degree, we enter this most decisive year in German history…. May the year 1940 bring the decision. It will be, whatever happens, our victory.” He goes to extreme lengths to justify his war, and if the German people were not so poisoned by propaganda and suppression of the slightest factual news from abroad, they would laugh. He says the “Jewish reactionary warmongers in the capitalistic democracies” started the war! Words have no more meaning for the man nor, I fear, for his people. He says: “The German people did not want this war.” (True.) “I tried up to the last minute to keep peace with England.” (False.) “But the Jewish and reactionary warmongers waited for this minute to carry out their plans to destroy Germany.” (False.)

Curious how the Germans, who should know better by this time, try to scare the English by blustering threats. Göring has a piece in tomorrow’s V.B.: “Until now German airplanes have been content to keep a sharp eye on England’s war measures. But it needs only the word of the Führer to carry over there, instead of the present light load of cameras, the destructive load of bombs. No country in the world is so open to air attack as the British Isles…. When the German air force really gets started, it will make an attack such as world history has never seen.”

Cold, and a coal shortage. The office boy said tonight we were out of coal at the office and that there was no more coal to be had.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 270-271). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The following year the war will get on in earnest with Germany going gun-to-gun with France and Great Britain. And the illusion of German invincibility will be demolished with the Battle of Britain.

Years of Living Dangerously

Continuing a review of William Shirer’s Berlin Diary

William Shirer’s book recounts his experiences and observations from close up during the years prior to the war and concluding when Adolf Hitler’s government expelled him in 1940. Prior installments recount the story, using extensive excerpts from the book. In November 1939 the war in Poland is past history, and the sitzkrieg takes on the character of a guillotine blade about to fall. Nazi atrocities emerge from behind the curtain, and the stage is set for four more years of a world in anguish.

Hitler has made a pact with the Devil. This calls for some changes.

Berlin, November 2

The anti-Comintern is dead. I learn the Nazi anti-Comintern museum, which used to show us the horrors of Bolshevism here, has quietly closed down. This week the Nazi editor of the Contra-Komintern wrote his subscribers apologizing for the non-appearance of the magazine in September and explaining that it would be coming out under a new name. He intimated that the editors had ascertained that Germany’s real enemies after all were not Bolsheviks, but Jews. “Behind all the enemies of Germany’s ascendancy,” he writes, “stand those who demand our encirclement—the oldest enemies of the German people and of all healthy, rising nations—the Jews.”

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 242). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The Anti-Comintern Pact was a pact involving Germany and Japan to oppose the spread of communism. Hitler rose to power with his violent opposition to communism. Communists in Germany were rounded up and dispensed with routinely under his rule. However, with the revelation of the pact with the Soviet Union, it became necessary to make clear things had been different all the while. Read 1984.

Next Shirer describe’s Hitler’s routine.

Berlin, November 5

CBS wants me to broadcast a picture of Hitler at work during war-time. I’ve been inquiring around among my spies. They say: He rises early, eats his first breakfast at seven a.m. This consists usually of either a glass of milk or fruit-juice and two or three rolls, on which he spreads marmalade liberally. Like most Germans, he eats a second breakfast, this one at nine a.m. It’s like the first except that he also eats a little fruit. He begins his working day by wading into state papers (a job he detests, since he hates detail work) and discussing the day’s program with his adjutants, chiefly S.A. Leader Wilhelm Brückner, and especially with his deputy, Rudolf Hess, who was once his private secretary and is one of the few men he trusts with his innermost thoughts. During the forenoon he usually receives the chiefs of the three armed services, listens to their reports and dictates decisions. With Göring he talks about not only air-force matters but general economic problems, or rather results, since he’s not interested in details or even theories on this subject.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 242-243). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Remind you of somebody you know? More of interest, the same day.

He likes American films and many never publicly exhibited in Germany are shown him. A few years ago he insisted on having It Happened One Night run several times.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 244). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

An interesting bit of prophecy:

Berlin, November 7

The Queen of the Netherlands and the King of the Belgians have offered to mediate peace. Small hope. The offer coolly received here. The Dutch and Belgians still decline to have staff talks together. But their historic neutrality, their refusal to ally themselves with one side or the other, may land them in the soup unless they junk it. Much talk here about the Germans pushing through Holland. This would not only turn the Maginot Line, but give the Germans air bases a hundred miles from the English coast.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 245). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Later, an interview with Göring .

“Are you going to begin bombing enemy ports?”

“We’re humane.”

We couldn’t suppress our laughter at this, whereupon Göring retorted: “You shouldn’t laugh. I’m serious. I am humane.”

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 246). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The reality of the war becomes manifest.

Berlin, November 8

Hitler told the people to make up their minds to a long war and disclosed that on the Sunday two months ago when Britain and France came into the war, he ordered Göring to prepare for five years of conflict.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 246). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

One of several attempts on Hitler’s life.

Berlin, November 9

Twelve minutes after Hitler and all the big party leaders left the Bürgerbräu Keller in Munich last night, at nine minutes after nine o’clock, a bomb explosion wrecked the hall, killed seven, wounded sixty-three. The bomb had been placed in a pillar directly behind the rostrum from which Hitler had been speaking. Had he remained twelve minutes and one second longer he surely would have been killed. The spot on which he stood was covered with six feet of debris.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 246-247). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

One keeps being reminded of, “The beatings will continue until morale improves.”

Berlin, November 18

Yesterday nine young Czech students at the University of Prague were lined up before a German firing squad and executed. At the press conference this noon we asked the authorities why and they replied that the students had staged anti-German demonstrations in Prague on October 23 and November 15. “There can be no joking in war-time,” said our spokesman, a little bored by our question. Later in the day the Germans admitted that three more Czechs, two of them policemen, were shot for “attacking a German.” I would bet my shirt that in the twenty years that three million Sudeten Germans lived under Czech rule not a single one of them was ever executed for taking part in any kind of demonstration.

Here in Germany three youths were executed yesterday for “treason.” And two youngsters aged nineteen were sentenced to death in Augsburg today for having committed a theft in the home of a soldier.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 249). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The sitzkrieg wears on. Meanwhile a signal Nazi policy becomes clear.

Berlin, November 19

For almost two months now there has been no military action on land, sea, or in the air. From talks with German military people, however, I’m convinced it would be a mistake to think that Germany will accept the Allied challenge to fight this war largely on the economic front. That is just the kind of war in which the Reich would be at a disadvantage. And that’s one of the reasons why most people here expect military action very soon now.

Frank, the Governor-General of occupied Poland, today decreed that the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw henceforth must be shut off from the rest of the capital by barricades and placed under sharp police control. He says the Jews are “carriers of diseases diseases and germs.” An American friend back from Warsaw tonight tells me the Nazi policy is simply to exterminate the Polish Jews. They are being herded into eastern Poland and forced to live in unheated shacks and robbed of any opportunity of earning bread and butter. Several thousand Jews from the Reich have also been sent to eastern Poland to die, he says.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 250). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Toward the end of November Shirer departed Berlin for another stay in Geneva. The narrative will continue in December.

Years of Living Dangerously

Continuing a review of William Shirer’s Berlin Diary

William Shirer’s book recounts his experiences and observations from close up during the years prior to the war and concluding when Adolf Hitler’s government expelled him in 1940. Prior installments recount the story, using extensive excerpts from the book. In the month of October 1939 the war comes to full bloom.

The war comes to Berlin, sort of, and Britain finds, to its surprise, it really is in the war. The Nazis become unconstrained, bringing their true character to bear.

BERLIN, October 2

Just heard the BBC announce that English planes had flown over Berlin last night. A surprise to us here. No air-raid alarm. No sound of planes. But they’re all lying these days. The Germans say they’ve sunk the Ark Royal, for instance.

The family of Eleanor K., a naturalized American girl of German parentage who has been very helpful to me here for years, has been after me since yesterday to do something about locating her. She left Amsterdam for Berlin a few days ago, but failed to arrive. I went over to the consulate today and got G. to put through a blitz call to the German secret police at the Dutch border. Answer: Eleanor is under arrest there. How shall I explain that to her family?

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 228-229). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

A German submarine really did sink the British carrier Royal Oak at anchor at Scapa Flow, but on 14 October. Meanwhile, it’s time for everybody to choose up sides. Countries caught up in the typhoon of another European war are coming under Soviet domination, not to see the light of day again for 50 years.

BERLIN, October 5

Reichstag tomorrow. Hitler is expected to offer peace terms. No one expects them to be very generous. He himself flew to Warsaw today to hold a triumphant review of his troops. He made a speech to his soldiers, the speech of a conquering Cæsar. The people here certainly want peace. The government may want it for the moment. Will Britain and France make it now, and then maybe next year have to mobilize again? Hitler has won the war in Poland and lost the peace there—to Russia. The Soviets, without a fight, get nearly half of Poland and a stranglehold on the Baltic states and now block Germany from its two main goals in the east, Ukrainian wheat and Rumanian oil. Hitler is hastily withdrawing all Germans from the Baltic states, where most of them have been settled for centuries. Estonia has capitulated to Moscow and agreed to the Soviets’ building an air and naval base on its soil. The foreign ministers of Latvia and Lithuania are shuttling back and forth between their capitals and Moscow trying to save the pieces. And once the Soviets get a wedge in these Baltic states, how soon will they go Bolshevik? Soon. Soon.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 230-231). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Luxembourg, Holland, Belgium, and Switzerland elect to sit this one out. Only Switzerland and Sweden will survive intact. Spain, reeling from a devastating civil war remains neutral against great pressure from Hitler. Spain’s neutrality will eventually spell doom to Hitler’s ambitions. Italy will throw in it’s lot with Hitler the following year, Mussolini being Hitler’s inspiration. Portugal will remain neutral and will have little effect on the course of history. See the movie Casablanca, which prophetically characterizes Portugal’s place in the war.

It worked before. Maybe it will work again. He may as well give it a try. Hitler pitches peace to his enemies. It’s déjà vu all over again.

BERLIN, October 6

Hitler delivered his much advertised “peace proposals” in the Reichstag at noon today. I went over and watched the show, my nth. He delivered his “peace proposals,” and they were almost identical with those I’ve heard him offer from the same rostrum after every conquest he has made since the march into the Rhineland in 1936. These must have been about the fifth. And though they were the fifth at least, and just like the others, and just as sincerely spoken, most Germans I’ve talked to since seem aghast if you suggest that perhaps the outside world will put no more trust in them than they have learned by bitter experience to put in the others.

Hitler offered peace in the west if Britain and France stay out of Germany’s Lebensraum in eastern Europe. The future of Poland he left in doubt, though he said Poland would never again endanger (!) German interests. In other words, a slave Poland, similar to the present slave Bohemia.

I doubt very much if England and France will listen to these “proposals” for five minutes, though some of my colleagues think so on the ground that, now that Russia has come up against Germany on a long front and this past week has been busy establishing herself in the Baltic states, it would be smart of London and Paris to conclude peace and sit back until Germany and Russia clash in eastern Europe. Pertinax wrote a few months ago that the German problem would never be settled until Germany had a barrier on the East that it knew it could not break. Then it would stop being expansive, stop disturbing the rest of Europe, and turn its undoubted talents and energy to more peaceful pursuits. Russia might provide that barrier. At any rate Russia is the winner in this war so far and Hitler is entirely dependent upon the good graces of Stalin, who undoubtedly has no good graces for anyone but himself and Russia.

Hitler was calmer today than usual. There was much joviality but little enthusiasm among the rubber-stamp Reichstag deputies except when he boasted of German strength. Such a boast sets any German on fire. The members of the Cabinet—up on the stage where the opera singers used to perform—stood about before the session chatting easily, Ribbentrop with Admiral Raeder, Dr. Goebbels with von Neurath, etc. Most of the deputies I talked to afterwards took for granted that peace was assured. It was a lovely fall day, cold and sunny, which seemed to contribute to everybody’s good feelings. As I walked over to the Reichstag (held as usual in the Kroll Opera) through the Tiergarten I noticed batteries of anti-aircraft everywhere.

The early edition of tomorrow morning’s Völkische Beobachter, Hitler’s own sabre-rattler among the journals, seems transformed into a dove of peace. Its flaming headlines: “GERMANY’S WILL FOR PEACE—NO WAR AIMS AGAINST FRANCE AND ENGLAND—NO MORE REVISION CLAIMS EXCEPT COLONIES—REDUCTION OF ARMAMENTS—CO-OPERATION WITH ALL NATIONS OF EUROPE—PROPOSAL FOR A CONFERENCE.”

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 231-233). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

What could have been a routine foreign assignment was now looking to be a stretch of living dangerously. After noting multiple death notices in the newspaper, Shirer makes arrangements for the long haul.

BERLIN, October 8

I leave tomorrow for Geneva to recover my senses and fetch some winter clothing, as the weather has turned cold. I did not bring any winter things when I left Geneva exactly two months ago. I did not know. Two months! What an age it seems. How dim in memory the time when there was peace. That world ended, and for me, on the whole, despite its faults, its injustices, its inequalities, it was a good one. I came of age in that one, and the life it gave was free, civilized, deepening, full of minor tragedy and joy and work and leisure, new lands, new faces—and rarely commonplace and never without hope.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 233). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Shirer observes the sitzkrieg up close.

BERLIN, October 10

Coming up the Rhine from Karlsruhe to Basel this morning, we skirted the French frontier for a hundred miles. No sign of war and the train crew told me not a shot had been fired on this front since the war began. Where the train ran along the Rhine, we could see the French bunkers and at many places great mats behind which the French were building fortifications. Identical picture on the German side. The troops seemed to be observing an armistice. They went about their business in full sight and range of each other. For that matter, one blast from a French “75” could have liquidated our train. The Germans were hauling up guns and supplies on the railroad line, but the French did not disturb them.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 234). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

How different things are in neutral Switzerland.

Geneva, October 12

A curious sensation to see the Swiss papers reporting both sides of the war. If you had that in the dictatorships, maybe the Cæsars couldn’t go to war so easily. Much fun romping around with Eileen and Tess. Coming down with a cold. No heat in the houses here yet.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 235). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Switzerland during the war.

Berlin, October 15

Back again, depressed, the week in Switzerland over in no time. Of my three and a half days in Geneva, two spent down with a cold and fever and one preparing a broadcast which never got through because of atmospherics. But it was grand just the same. Tess came along as far as Neuchâtel in the train and it was sad parting in the little station above the lake there. Swiss train full of soldiers. The country has one tenth of its population under arms; more than any other country in the world. It’s not their war. But they’re ready to fight to defend their way of life. I asked a fat businessman in my compartment whether he wouldn’t prefer peace at any price (business is ruined in a Switzerland completely surrounded by belligerents and with every able-bodied man in the army) so that he could make money again.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 235). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

That same day.

At Anhalter station I bought the morning papers. Big news. “GERMAN SUB SINKS BRITISH BATTLESHIP ‘ROYAL OAK’!” British Admiralty admits it. That’s a blow. Wonder how it was done. And where?

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 236). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Still later.

My room waiter tells me there was much loud anti-aircraft fire heard in Berlin last night, the first since the war began. Propaganda Ministry explains tonight a German plane got lost over the city and was shot down.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 236). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Censorship becomes evident as the Nazis block NBC and CBS transmissions.

Berlin, October 19

Nothing much at all has happened, it says, and I’m inclined to believe it, though Paris has swamped America for weeks with wild tales of a great French offensive against the Westwall. High Command says German losses up to October 17 in the west have been 196 killed, 114 missing, 356 wounded. Which tends to prove how local the action there has been. I’m almost convinced that the German army tells the truth in regard to its actions. The navy exaggerates, the air force simply lies.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 238). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

During the previous war the Turks sided with Germany. Now there is a turnabout that will prove fortunate for the western powers.

Berlin, October 21

The Wilhelmstrasse furious at the Turks for signing a mutual-assistance pact with the British day before yesterday. Papen jerked back here hurriedly and was called before the master, my spies tell me, for a dressing-down. It’s the first diplomatic blow the Germans have taken in a long time. They don’t like blows.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 238). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Even when things are going well for the Nazis, their brutishness shows through. How will they be in coming years as things begin to unravel for them?

Berlin, October 24

The German people who have been hoping for peace until the bitter end were finally told tonight by Ribbentrop in a speech at Danzig that the war will now have to be fought to a finish. I suppose every government that has ever gone to war has tried to convince its people of three things: (1) that right is on its side; (2) that it is fighting purely in defence of the nation; (3) that it is sure to win. The Nazis are certainly trying to pound these three points into the skins of the people. Modern propaganda technique, especially the radio, certainly helps them. Three youths in Hanover who snatched a lady’s handbag in the black-out have been sentenced to death.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 239). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The reality of a Germany cut off from the rest of the world becomes manifest just weeks in.

Berlin, October 28

I hear in business circles that severe rationing of clothing will begin next month. The truth is that, having no cotton and almost no wool, the German people must get along with what clothing they have until the end of the war.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 239). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Nazi Germany settles into its storied wartime routine, where brutality and arbitrary executions are aimed at keeping the population focused.

Berlin, October 31

The secret police announced that two men were shot for “resisting arrest” yesterday. One of them, it is stated, was trying to induce some German workers to lay down their tools in an important armament factory. Himmler now has power to shoot anyone he likes without trial.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 241). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The following installment will cover November 1939, with critical developments in the war.

Years of Living Dangerously

Continuing a review of William Shirer’s Berlin Diary

William Shirer’s book recounts his experiences and observations from close up during the years prior to the war and concluding when Adolf Hitler’s government expelled him in 1940. Prior installments recount the story, using extensive excerpts from the book. The previous installment tells of the rapidly developing story of the invasion of Poland and the German nation’s reaction to it.

German people start to come to grips with the fact this is going to be a real war.

BERLIN, September 16

An American woman I know bought a tin of sardines today. The grocer insisted on opening the can in the shop. Reason: you can’t hoard tinned food if your grocer opens it first.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 211). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

As I post this it is March 2020. Eighty years on we are appreciating what was going on in German society then. And the chickens came home to roost. The Soviets executed their side of the secret protocol.

BERLIN, September 17

At six o’clock this morning, Moscow time, the Red army began an invasion of Poland. Russia of course had a non-aggression pact with Poland. What ages ago it seems now—though it really wasn’t ages ago—that I sat in Geneva and other capitals and heard the Soviet statesmen talk about common fronts against the aggressor. Now Soviet Russia stabs Poland in the back, and the Red army joins the Nazi army in overrunning Poland. All this of course is heartily welcomed in Berlin this morning.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 211-212). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Poland was doomed. From this point forward nothing done from the western Allies was of any help to the Poles. They were to remain under the thumb of foreign or dictatorial powers for another 50 years.

The following day Shirer journeyed to the front to observe the story at close hand.

Zoppot, near Danzig, September 18

Drove all day long from Berlin through Pomerania and the Corridor to here. The roads full of motorized columns of German troops returning from Poland. In the woods in the Corridor the sickening sweet smell of dead horses and the sweeter smell of dead men. Here, the Germans say, a whole division of Polish cavalry charged against hundreds of German tanks and was annihilated. On the pier of this summer resort where just five weeks ago John [Gunther] and I sat far into the peaceful night arguing whether the guns would go off or not in Europe, we watched tonight the battle raging around Gdynia. Far off across the sea you could see the sky light up when the big guns went off.

Dr. Boehmer, press chief of the Propaganda Ministry in charge of this trip, insisted that I share a double room in the hotel here with Phillip Johnson, an American fascist who says he represents Father Coughlin’s Social Justice. None of us can stand the fellow and suspect he is spying on us for the Nazis. For the last hour in our room here he has been posing as anti-Nazi and trying to pump me for my attitude. I have given him no more than a few bored grunts.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 212-213). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

He recounts the efficiency of the revitalized German military.

DANZIG, September 19–20, two thirty a.m.

We watched the battle until noon. In that time the Germans must have advanced about a quarter of a mile. Their infantry, their tanks, their artillery, their signal corps, all seemed to work as a precise machine.

As we prepared to go, Joe [Barnes] turned to me. “Tragic and grotesque,” he said. It was, all right. The unequal battle, the dazed civilians in the streets below—tragic indeed. And grotesque the spectacle of us, with little danger to ourselves, standing there watching the killing as though it were a football game and we nicely placed in the grand-stand.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 215). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

In the afternoon we drove to the Danzig Guild Hall, a Gothic building of great beauty, to hear Hitler make his first speech since his Reichstag address of September 1 started off the war. I had a seat on the aisle, and as he strode past me to the rostrum I thought he looked more imperious than I had ever seen him. Also he was about as angry during his speech as I’ve ever seen him.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 216). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Same day—Shirer tells of his close encounters with the Nazi elite.

When Hitler brushed past me going down the aisle, he was followed by Himmler, Brückner, Keitel, and several others, all in dusty field-grey. Most of them were unshaven and I must say they looked like a pack of Chicago gangsters. Himmler, who is responsible for Hitler’s protection, kept shoving people back in the aisle, muttering at them. The army, I hear, would like to get rid of him, but fear to do so. The black-out was called off here tonight. It was good to see the lights again.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 216-217). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The foreign press corps got a ride back to Berlin in one of Hitler’s 32 passenger planes, and Shirer reports on the German press, long since a propaganda organ of the party.

BERLIN, September 20

Tonight the press talks openly of peace. Says the Frankfurter Zeitung: “Why should England and France waste their blood against our Westwall? Since the Polish state has ceased to exist, the treaties of alliance with it have no more sense.”

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 217). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Hitler’s long range plan was to attack the Soviet Union, but at this stage in the game the plan remained a mystery. This leaves Shirer and others wondering, “What is Hitler thinking?”

BERLIN, September 21

Great hopes here that Russia will help Germany to survive the blockade. First, I can’t understand Hitler’s putting himself in a position where his very existence depends upon the good graces of Stalin. Second, I can’t understand the Soviets pulling Nazi Germany’s chestnuts out of the fire.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 220). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The facts, now known, are that Stalin knew in 1939 he was vulnerable to a revitalized German military, having previously purged his own military of its leadership. He figured it would take several years before the Soviet’s would be able to hold off the new Germany, and his deal with Hitler was an arrangement for him to gain some time. Right up until the day German troops rolled over the Soviet frontier Stalin continued to supply Germany with the materials it needed to prosecute its war against the West.

Germany had friends in the West, one of them not being President Roosevelt. The United States President saw the danger of a resurgent German and was eager for America to tip the scales. Notable Americans are to this day in disfavor due to their displaced loyalties.

BERLIN, September 22

The D.A.Z., commenting on Roosevelt’s message asking for the repeal of the neutrality law, says tonight: “America is not Roosevelt, and Roosevelt must reckon with the American people.” Yesterday the B.Z. saw some hope in what it called the “Front of Reason” in America. In that front it put Senators Borah and Clark, Colonel Lindbergh, and Father Coughlin!

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 220). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

D.A.Z. = Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, a German newspaper. B.Z. = Börsen-Zeitung, the main German newspaper devoted to financial news. From Wikipedia:

Charles Edward Coughlin (/ˈkɒɡlɪn/ KOG-lin; October 25, 1891 – October 27, 1979) was a Canadian-American Roman Catholic priest based in the United States near Detroit. He was the founding priest of the National Shrine of the Little Flower church. Commonly known as Father Coughlin, he was one of the first political leaders to use radio to reach a mass audience: during the 1930s, an estimated 30 million listeners tuned to his weekly broadcasts. He was forced off the air in 1939 because of his pro-fascist and anti-Semitic rhetoric.

Charles Lindbergh became an early 20th century American hero with his solo flight from Long Island to Paris in 1927, and the tragic kidnapping and killing of his infant son brought him much sympathy a few years later. Senator William Borah of Idaho was a noted isolationist until his death in 1940. Senator Bennett Champ Clark from Missouri is noted for being a “rabid isolationist.”

Shirer recounts the death of General von Fritsch, one of those who opposed Hitler from the beginning. It is worth reading about Werner von Fritsch’s life.

BERLIN, September 26

They buried General von Fritsch here this morning. It rained, it was cold and dark—one of the dreariest days I can remember in Berlin. Hitler did not show up, nor Ribbentrop, nor Himmler, though they all returned to Berlin from the front this afternoon. The official death notices in the papers omitted the usual “Died for Führer” and said only: “Died for the Fatherland.” Yesterday after Goebbels had finished fuming, some of us correspondents gathered in the street outside and concluded that Fritsch was either shot by order of Himmler, his mortal enemy, or was so disgusted with life and the state to which Hitler had led Germany (disgusted perhaps too at the senseless slaughter by German bombs and shells of the women and children in Warsaw?) that he deliberately sought to be killed; that is, committed suicide. What, we asked, was a general of his rank doing in the front line outside of Warsaw, where the snipers have been picking off German troops at an alarming rate? Actually, I hear, he was killed while advancing with a small detachment of scouts up a street in a suburb across the Vistula from the capital. A curious thing for Germany’s greatest modern military figure to be doing.

Hitler showed a typical smallness in declining to attend the funeral. He cannot forgive a man who has crossed him, even in death. He could not forgive von Kahr, who suppressed his beer-house Putsch in 1923, and so had him shot in the 1934 purge.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 222-223). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Same day—Americans who served with gallantry in those days.

LATER.—Seven members of the American consulate staff in Warsaw arrived here tonight and we had drinks in the Adlon bar. They told a terrible tale of the bombardment of the city and the slaughter of the civilian population. Some of them seemed still shell-shocked. They got out during a temporary truce between the Germans and the Poles. One German shell scored a direct hit on the consulate, but fortunately the staff had taken refuge in the cellars of the Embassy.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 223-224). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Shirer reports on the days news and his feelings at being in the eye of a storm.

BERLIN, September 27

In the first battle between a naval fleet and airplanes (for years the admirals and air commanders have fought out on paper the question whether a fleet is vulnerable to air attack) the Germans today claim to have destroyed a British aircraft-carrier and damaged a battleship without losing a single plane.

I went to the State Opera tonight before my broadcast, George Kidd of U.P. suggesting it would be good for our nerves. It was the opening night of the season and the piece an old favourite, Weber’s Freischütz. I was a little surprised at the state of my nerves. I could not sit through it. I could not stand the sight of all the satisfied burghers, men and women, many of them in evening dress, and even the music didn’t sound right. Amusing only was a special sheet of paper in the program instructing what to do in case of an air-raid alarm. Since there is no cellar in the Opera, a map showed me how to get to my cellar, which was Number One Keller. The alarm, the instructions said, would be announced from the stage. I was then to keep calm, call for my hat and coat at the Garderobe, and proceed to the cellar. At the all-clear I was to return to the Opera, check my hat and coat, and the opera would go on from where it left off. There was no alarm.

Ribbentrop is in Moscow and we wonder what he’s up to.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 224-225). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Joachim von Ribbentrop was a German wine merchant who weaseled his way into the Nazi hierarchy, becoming the German foreign minister during the run-up to the war. He survived the war and was executed by the Allies in October 1946. Winston Churchill had this to say about him, recounting his last visit to England.

However, Herr von Ribbentrop and his wife did not seem at all conscious of this atmosphere. On the contrary, they tarried for nearly half an hour engaging their host and hostess in voluble conversation. At one moment I came in contact with Frau von Ribbentrop, and in a valedictory vein I said, “I hope England and Germany will preserve their friendship.” “Be careful you don’t spoil it,” was her graceful rejoinder. I am sure they both knew perfectly well what had happened, but thought it was a good manœuvre to keep the Prime Minister away from his work and the telephone. At length Mr. Chamberlain said to the Ambassador, “I am sorry I have to go now to attend to urgent business,” and without more ado he left the room. The Ribbentrops lingered on, so that most of us made our excuses and our way home. Eventually I suppose they left. This was the last time I saw Herr von Ribbentrop before he was hanged.

Churchill, Winston. The Gathering Storm: The Second World War, Volume 1 (Winston Churchill World War II Collection) . RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

September closed out with talk of a hopeful peace. However, “hopeful” is the only operative word. England and France had finished with Hitler’s groundless promises, and they would persist. France would be defeated, and England would prevail in the Battle of Britain the following year. Churchill’s unwillingness to accede to Hitler’s overtures would eventually spell the end of the Third Reich.

BERLIN, September 30

The talk of peace dominates all else here today. The Germans are sure of it, and one of the secretaries of the Soviet Embassy told me today Moscow was too. He said London and Paris would jump at the chance for peace now. The Völkische Beobachter observes today: “All Europe awaits the word of peace from London.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 228). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Future installments will continue with the development of World War 2 during the remainder of 1939 and into 1940. Keep reading.

Years of Living Dangerously

Continuing a review of William Shirer’s Berlin Diary

William Shirer’s book recounts his experiences and observations from close up during the years prior to the war and concluding when Adolf Hitler’s government expelled him in 1940. Prior installments  recount the story, using extensive excerpts from the book. The prior installment tells of the rapidly developing story of the invasion of Poland and the German nation’s reaction to it. Already people were being summarily executed for lack of enthusiasm, in this case a person who refused to engage in defense work.

An announcement the German army had already entered Warsaw turned out to be a bit of fluffery.

BERLIN, September 9

No more news of the German army’s entry into Warsaw and I begin to suspect yesterday’s announcement was premature. O. W., back from the front, told me this noon that he’d seen some of the horribly mutilated bodies of Germans killed by Poles. He described also how he’d seen the Germans rounding up Polish civilians—men, women, boys—and marching them into a building for a summary court-martial and then out into the back yard against a wall, where they were disposed of by German firing squads. Our military attaché says you can do that, that that’s the way cricket is played with franc-tireurs, but I don’t like it, even if they are snipers, and I doubt from what O. W. says that the court-martial makes any great effort to distinguish actual franc-tireurs from those whose only guilt is being Poles.

Göring broadcast today—from a local munitions factory. He warned the people it might be a long war. He threatened terrible revenge if the British and French bombed Germany.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 206-207). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

For “franc-tireurs” you can read “snipers.”

He portrays life in Germany as little affected by events on the eastern front.

BERLIN, September 10

Life here is still quite normal. The operas, the theatres, the movies, all open and jammed. Tannhäuser and Madame Butterfly playing at the Opera. Goethe’s Iphigenie at the State Theatre. The Metropol, Hitler’s favourite show-house, announces a new revue Wednesday. The papers tonight say two hundred football matches were played in Germany today.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 207). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The Brits and the French wee slow to ramp up their part of the war, the truth being actual fighting was going on over a thousand miles from the nearest Allied forces.

BERLIN, September 11

For the first time today the war communiqué mentions French artillery-fire on the western front. The Protectorate government in Prague announced today that any Czechs captured fighting with the enemy would be shot as traitors.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 208). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

It is presumed Czechs who fled their country after the German takeover have joined up with Allied forces in the west. Apparently Hitler considers subjugation of Czech territory brought all ethnic Czechs into their fold, no matter where they now resided.

The reality of the situation had yet to sink in, and the government propaganda machine continued to engage in a relentless campaign to control the German mindset.

They had been to the Opera and seemed oblivious of the fact that a war was on, that German bombs and shells were falling on the women and children in Warsaw. I doubt if anything short of an awful bombing or years of semi-starvation will bring home the war to the people here.

Classic headline in the D.A.Z. tonight: “POLES BOMBARD WARSAW!” The press full of the most fantastic lies.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 208). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Shirer spent the early weeks of the war in Berlin. He reported on news received from others. This phase of the war is historical. France and Great Britain were slow to take action for months, and this portion came to be called sitzkrieg, in contrast to blitzkrieg. It was not the lightning war. It was the sitting war.

BERLIN, September 14

D. and H. and W., who were at the front for three days this week, say that almost every other town and village in Poland they saw was either half or totally destroyed by bombs or artillery.

All of us here still baffled by the inaction of Britain and France. It is obvious from the broadcasts of Ed and Tom from London and Paris that the Allies are exaggerating their action on the western front.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 209). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Conversations with Germans, whose thoughts had been shaped by years of government propaganda, exposed contradictions.

The maid came in tonight to say how terrible war was.

“Why do the French make war on us?” she asked.

“Why do you make war on the Poles?” I said.

“Hum,” she said, a blank over her face. “But the French, they’re human beings,” she said finally.

“But the Poles, maybe they’re human beings,” I said.

“Hum,” she said, blank again.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 209). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The German populace had been conditioned to think of people to the east as non-human.

Shirer analyzes Germany’s strategic position. It was a repeat of WWI. Supplies from outside had to pass mostly through antagonistic countries. The Soviet Union was, in fact, Germany’s worst enemy. But prior to the attack on Poland the two countries had formed a secret pact. That pact was about to be invoked, and Poland was doomed.

BERLIN, September 15

I heard today on very good authority that Russia may attack Poland.

A few words on a dry subject. How does the Allied blockade affect Germany? It cuts her off from about 50 per cent of her normal imports. Chief products of which Germany is deprived are: cotton, tin, nickel, oil, and rubber. Russia might supply some cotton, but her total exports last year were only 2.5 per cent of Germany’s annual needs. On the other hand Russia could probably supply Germany all the manganese and timber she needs, and—with Rumania—enough oil for military purposes at least. Iron? Last year Germany got about 45 per cent of her iron ore from France, Morocco, or other places from which she is now cut off. But Sweden, Norway, and Luxemburg provided her with eleven million tons. These supplies are still open. All in all, Germany is certainly hard hit by losing the sources of 50 per cent of her imports. But with the possibilities open to her in Scandinavia, the Balkans, and Russia she is not hit nearly so badly as she was in 1914.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 210). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Throughout September 1939 there were daily developments. More in future posts.

Abusing Science

Number 62 of a series

I would let you borrow my copy, but it’s a Kindle edition, and I’m not sure how that would work out. I bought the book. It’s Undeniable by creationist Douglas Axe.

Douglas Axe is the Maxwell Professor of Molecular Biology at Biola University, the founding Director of Biologic Institute, the founding Editor of BIO-Complexity, and the author of Undeniable: How Biology Confirms Our Intuition That Life Is Designed. After completing his PhD at Caltech, he held postdoctoral and research scientist positions at the University of Cambridge and the Cambridge Medical Research Council Centre. His research, which examines the functional and structural constraints on the evolution of proteins and protein systems, has been featured in many scientific journals, including the Journal of Molecular Biology, the Proceedings of the National Academy of SciencesBIO-Complexity, and Nature, and in such books as Signature in the Cell and Darwin’s Doubt by Stephen Meyer and Life’s Solution by Simon Conway Morris.

Some elaboration for those not up on the creationism scene: BIOLA stands for Bible Institute of Los Angeles. Despite the reference, there appears to be a branch in Thousand Oaks. Besides his association with Biola, you need to also note his association with the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, a prime mover for creationism. Anyhow, this book may be a lesson on how science and religion can reconcile. Or not.

I have not read the entire book, but a few excerpts will give you the flavor. Axe relates how he moved from being addicted to science and reason to accepting the obvious—none of this stuff can exist without the intervention of an intelligent designer. Start here:

I recall a question on a final exam near the beginning of my graduate studies at Caltech: Which of the biological macromolecules is apt to have been the first “living” molecule, and why? If that sounds like Greek to you, relax. I promise to write in plain English. All you need to know is that the question is about how life began, posed with the unstated assumption that it began by ordinary molecular processes. That assumption had been ingrained in biological thinking for so long that it went without saying. Every student in the class understood this, but I understood it more critically than most did. I knew the expected response to the test question, but through my critical lens, that response seemed scientifically questionable. So I had a choice: Do I go with the flow, or do I push against it?

Axe, Douglas. Undeniable (p. 2). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

Axe elaborates on his chain of thought.

Of all the controversial ideas to come from modern science, none has brought more awkwardness than Darwin’s idea of evolution through natural selection. We know natural selection means “survival of the fittest,” which in one sense isn’t at all controversial. Indeed, Darwin’s observation that fitter individuals are apt to have more offspring is so obvious it hardly needs to be stated. But how can something with so little content—a truism—possibly explain the astounding richness of life?

The biggest question on everyone’s minds has never been the question of survival but rather the question of origin—our origin in particular. How did we get here?

Axe, Douglas. Undeniable (p. 3). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

Note the italicized piece at the end. “How did we get here?” This is a sticking point for many, and not just for the religious. At the base may be the human need for purpose. People live by purpose, and they naturally look for purpose, especially in things they do not understand. The problem with this way of thinking is it’s circular—ignoring that purpose is not a feature of nature.

Peer pressure exists in science as in most aspects of human society. Axe exploits this recognition and attempts to lay it at the feet of scientists who have accepted natural causes as a basis for human existence.

But if science itself wasn’t the cause of the change, then what was?

Whether he intended to or not, Darwin reveals here that peer pressure is a part of science, happening behind the scenes as the various scientific interests compete against one another for influence.

Axe, Douglas. Undeniable (p. 5). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

Allow me to loosely define materialism as the notion that we live in a material world, absent of spiritual entities hovering about and tweaking that world. Axe displays his disdain for materialism.

By way of background, the flag that has flown for many generations over the academy of higher education is that of a broad school of thought known as materialism.5 The meaning here isn’t the common one (an obsession with flashy cars or expensive clothes) but rather the view that matter—the stuff of physics—underlies everything real. Even if they don’t use this term, atheists tend to subscribe to the materialist view of reality, believing God to be a product of the human imagination, which they believe to be a product of material evolution. Theists, on the other hand, believe the reverse—that the material universe was brought into existence by God, who is not material. Both views accept the reality of the physical world, but one sees this as the only reality whereas the other doesn’t.

Axe, Douglas. Undeniable (pp. 6-7). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

He inserts this sidebar, which is worth a look:

TWO -ISMS WORTH REMEMBERING materialism: the belief that physical stuff underlies everything real scientism: the belief that science is the only reliable source of truth

Axe, Douglas. Undeniable (p. 7). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

The hard fact is physical stuff does underlie everything real, and science, or something strongly resembling science, is the only reliable source of truth. I will explain that last. Science is a rigorous approach to looking at what is going on and figuring out 1) what is going on and 2) rational explanations for what is observed and how this fits into the remainder of what we know. Absent science, we must ask what other means we would suggest for discovering truth. Some options:

  • Do not examine further, but sit quietly and concoct a story that fits our fancy.
  • Read an ancient text and make it into an explanation of how the world works.
  • Listen to a strident voice and accept what is said, ignoring other sources.

Yeah, we used to do that, and human progress stagnated for centuries until people started getting serious about solving real problems.

He invokes Thomas Nagel, getting around to:

As a first-rate philosopher of the mind, Nagel actually changes the debate with this candid version of atheism. In light of his example, thoughtful atheists no longer have the luxury of assuming their worldview just works somehow—that dead molecules somehow formed simple life, and that simple life somehow formed us, despite all the apparent difficulties.

Axe, Douglas. Undeniable (p. 8). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

Axe cites “dead molecules” and “apparent difficulties,” exposing his inclination for resorting to emotionalism. He seems to do a lot of that in this book. Another sidebar:

THE BIG QUESTION To what or to whom do we owe our existence?

Axe, Douglas. Undeniable (p. 9). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

“To whom.” And that’s going to be what’s at the bottom of Axe’s argument. We are supposed to consider not merely a what but a who. There has to be a person, assumed transcendental, behind all of this. We have entered Axe’s world, and it is not the world of science and reason. He mocks natural causes, likening them to “oracle soup.”

1.​Fill a large pot with oracle soup.
2.​Cover the pot, and bring the soup to a boil.
3.​Remove the pot from the heat, and let the soup cool.
4.​Lift the lid to reveal complete instructions for building something new and useful, worthy of a patent—all spelled out in pasta letters.
5.​Repeat from step 2 as often as desired.

Axe, Douglas. Undeniable (p. 16). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

The allusion is to obtaining information from a source that contains less information. Creationist William Dembski previously invoked Kolmogorov complexity to argue life (complex chemistry) cannot be derived from non-life (not complex chemistry), because that would invoke the creation of information, in violation of the Kolmogorov complexity principle.

From all observation, life sprang from non-life without the introduction of information derived from an outside (intelligent) source.

As his book starts out, Axe is doing nothing more than to argue for the existence of the God of Abraham. If you doubt that you need only ask him.


An Intellect Without Equal: Number 21

I continue to plow through the book by Philip Rucker and Carol D. Leonnig. My original intent was to pick excerpts that give insight into Donald Trump’s sorry mental state. I am finding there is an example on nearly every page.

As the United States government prepared for a transition of power, intelligence agencies confirmed the Russian government had viewed the election of Hillary Clinton as a threat, and they had taken steps to boost the candidacy of Donald Trump.

The Obama administration had decided to punish Russia for interfering in the 2016 election, shuttering two Russian compounds in the United States and ejecting thirty-five diplomats suspected of spying.

Trump was angry when he learned the news. He felt it was one thing for Clinton’s advisers and allies to accuse Russia of meddling in the election; he could just accuse the Democrats of sour grapes. But retaliatory action against Russia by the U.S. government effectively confirmed that Russia had actually interfered in the election—and that, Trump believed, raised doubts about his own victory.

“They’re trying to delegitimize your presidency right now,” Bannon told the president.

Rucker, Philip. A Very Stable Genius (p. 21). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Early on it was becoming clear Donald Trump was not merely an idealog, but was also an unstable one with paranoiac fixations.