Fire and Fury

The Start of a New Series

The monkey spit has certainly hit the fan, and on-lookers are choking with joy. Especially am I in another level of Heaven. The book went on sale at 8:00 a.m. Central Time Friday, and at 8:00 a.m. plus a second or more I hit the button on Amazon and pulled down a Kindle edition, $14.99 plus tax. Let the fun begin. Images are screen shots from ABC World News Tonight with David Muir, streaming on Hulu this morning.

Of course the President of the United States had some objections.

“Full of lies, misrepresentations and sources that don’t exist. Look at this guy’s past …” People, your President is totally irony-deficient. Being a world authority on these matters, he is definitely one to spot lies, misrepresentations, and sources that don’t exist when he sees them. And, to be sure, many reviewers have spotted such in the book.

The author is Michael Wolff, who wrote from a few month’s history with the Trump presidential campaign and also from inside the first year of the Trump White House. Wolff apparently draws most of his material second hand from  sources close to the President. For example:

Trump, observed Walsh, had a set of beliefs and impulses, much of them on his mind for many years, some of them fairly contradictory, and little of them fitting legislative or political conventions or form. Hence, she and everyone else was translating a set of desires and urges into a program, a process that required a lot of guess work. It was, said Walsh, “like trying to figure out what a child wants.”

Wolff, Michael. Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House (p. 113). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.

The author is seen on ABC saying, “They all say he is like a child,” citing what staffers have told him about the President. “Walsh” is Katie Walsh:

Katie E. Walsh (born November 2, 1984) is an American Republican political operative who briefly served as White House Deputy Chief of Staff for Implementation in the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump. She is currently working with the Trump-aligned 501(c)(4) America First Policies.

Wolff talks of the President’s need for “immediate gratification.”

But it wasn’t Bannon versus everybody else so much as it was Bannon Trump versus non-Bannon Trump. If Trump, in his dark, determined, and aggressive mood, could represent Bannon and his views, he could just as easily represent nothing at all—or represent solely his own need for instant gratification. That’s what the non-Bannon people understood about Trump.

Wolff, Michael. Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House (p. 174). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.

“It’s all about him,” Wolff says, again from close sources. He drills down, using terms like “moron” and “idiot.”

In early October, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s fate was sealed—if his obvious ambivalence toward the president had not already sealed it—by the revelation that he had called the president “a fucking moron.”

Wolff, Michael. Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House (p. 304). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.

From a White House email:

Purporting to represent the views of Gary Cohn and quite succinctly summarizing the appalled sense in much of the White House, the email read:

It’s worse than you can imagine. An idiot surrounded by clowns. Trump won’t read anything—not one-page memos, not the brief policy papers; nothing. He gets up halfway through meetings with world leaders because he is bored. And his staff is no better. Kushner is an entitled baby who knows nothing. Bannon is an arrogant prick who thinks he’s smarter than he is. Trump is less a person than a collection of terrible traits. No one will survive the first year but his family. I hate the work, but feel I need to stay because I’m the only person there with a clue what he’s doing. The reason so few jobs have been filled is that they only accept people who pass ridiculous purity tests, even for midlevel policy-making jobs where the people will never see the light of day. I am in a constant state of shock and horror.

Wolff, Michael. Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House (p. 186). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.

We see Wolff stating, “This is a man who does not read, does not listen.”

But not only didn’t he read, he didn’t listen. He preferred to be the person talking. And he trusted his own expertise—no matter how paltry or irrelevant—more than anyone else’s. What’s more, he had an extremely short attention span, even when he thought you were worthy of attention.

Wolff, Michael. Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House (p. 114). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.

The president did not truly listen to anybody. The more you talked, the less he listened. “But Steve is careful about what he says, and there is something, a timbre in his voice and his energy and excitement, that the president can really hone in on, blocking everything else out,” said Walsh.

Wolff, Michael. Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House (p. 182). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.

Others have noted this:

In early August, less than a month after Ailes had been ousted from Fox News, Trump asked his old friend to take over the management of his calamitous campaign. Ailes, knowing Trump’s disinclination to take advice, or even listen to it, turned him down. This was the job Bannon [took] a week later.

Wolff, Michael. Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House (p. 3). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.

Wolff notes Donald Trump’s unsettling repetition. From ABC News, “Wolff paints a portrait of a mentally unstable man, saying the President often repeats the same story every three minutes.”

The president’s advisers felt he shouldn’t put himself in a position where he would be compared with Bannon. The worry among staffers—all of them concerned that Trump’s rambling and his alarming repetitions (the same sentences delivered with the same expressions minutes apart) had significantly increased, and that his ability to stay focused, never great, had notably declined—was that he was likely to suffer by such a comparison. Instead, the interview with Trump was offered to Sean Hannity—with a preview of the questions.

Wolff, Michael. Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House (p. 309). Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.

At Mar-a-Lago recently the President failed to recognize life-long friends ABC News reports, although my copy of the book does not appear to recount this episode.

Of course, President Trump is slinging back.

At the White House, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders reminds us how ridiculous these accusations are. From the video:

It’s disgraceful and laughable. If he was [sic] unfit, he probably wouldn’t sitting there. … This is a strong and great leader.”

And that, readers, has to be one for the history books. Being unfit did not prevent Donald Trump from becoming President. He became President through the intervention of a mass of American voters who, themselves, may be unfit. Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large numbers. “A strong and great leader,” completely defining the meaning of the terms “strong” and “great,” with “leader” thrown in for good measure.

The scene from the White House news briefing closes with a view of Sanders’ backside as she exits stage left. Hey! How would you like to have that job?

President Trump weighs in, saying he never spoke to Wolff for the book. Sanders has conceded Wolff did interview Donald Trump, and Wolff says it was for the book, regardless of what Trump thought.

ABC White House Correspondent Cecilia Vega delivers the coup de grace.

… This is a West Wing used to dealing with crisis, David. As one senior White House official told us, quote, “People expect us to be running around with our hair on fire, but it’s hard to do that when it’s already been burned off.”

There is going to be much more of this. I have not had so much fun since cousin Elroy stuck the dynamite down the outhouse. Keep reading. And may Jesus have mercy on our souls.

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Years of Living Dangerously

Continuing review of Berlin Diary

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

In September 1937 Shirer began a series of radio broadcasts for CBS from Europe. Up to this point Hitler was confining his reign of terror to Germany. As 1937 drew to a close, events leading up to Armageddon were developing in Germany. This episode covers Shirer’s notes from 5 September to the end of the year.

BERLIN, September 5

Did my trial broadcast this Sabbath day. Just before it began I was very nervous, thinking of what was at stake and that all depended upon what a silly little microphone and an amplifier and the ether between Berlin and New York did to my voice. Kept thinking also of all those CBS vice-presidents sniffing at what they heard.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 81). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

By this time Shirer’s wife Tess was pregnant, and the family was preparing for the birth in Europe. Shirer’s trial broadcast was well-received back home, and his position became “permanent.”

NUREMBERG, September 13

Murrow called and said I’m hired. Start October 1. Wired Tess. Celebrated a little tonight, I fear, on the very potent local Franconian wine. Prentiss Gilbert, our counsellor of Embassy, has been here, the first American diplomat to attend a Nazi Party Congress.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 82). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

During this period Hitler’s campaign of oppression began to be everywhere manifest:

BERLIN, September 27

Tess back, feeling fine, and we’re packing. We are to make our headquarters in Vienna, a neutral and central spot for me to work from. Most of our old friends have left— the Gunthers, the Whit Burnetts— but it is always that way in this game. Go to London next week, then Paris, Geneva, and Rome to meet the radio people, renew contacts with the newspaper offices, and, in Rome, to find out if the Pope is really dying, as reported. We are glad to be leaving Berlin.

To sum up these three years: Personally, they have not been unhappy ones, though the shadow of Nazi fanaticism, sadism, persecution, regimentation, terror, brutality, suppression, militarism, and preparation for war has hung over all our lives, like a dark, brooding cloud that never clears. Often we have tried to segregate ourselves from it all. We have found three refuges: Ourselves and our books; the “foreign colony,” small, limited, somewhat narrow, but normal, and containing our friends— the Barneses, the Robsons, the Ebbuttses, the Dodds, the Deuels, the Oechsners, Gordon Young, Doug Miller, Sigrid Schultz, Leverich, Jake Beam, and others; thirdly, the lakes and woods around Berlin, where you could romp and play and sail and swim, forgetting so much. The theatre has remained good when it has stuck to the classics or pre-Nazi plays, and the opera and the Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra, despite the purging of the Jews and the year’s disciplining of Fuertwängler (who has now made his peace with Satan), have given us the best music we’ve ever heard outside of New York and Vienna. Personally too there was the excitement of working here, the “Saturday surprises,” the deeper story of this great land in evil ferment.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 83-84). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The note from 27 September contains additional indications that Germany was at the time girding for war.

But Germany is stronger than her enemies realize. True, it is a poor country in raw materials and agriculture; but it is making up for this poverty in aggressiveness of spirit, ruthless state planning, concentrated direction of effort, and the building up of a mighty military machine with which it can back up its aggressive spirit. True, too, that this past winter we have seen long lines of sullen people before the food shops, that there is a shortage of meat and butter and fruit and fats, that whipped cream is verboten, that men’s suits and women’s dresses are increasingly being made out of wood pulp, gasoline out of coal, rubber out of coal and lime; that there is no gold coverage for the Reichsmark or for anything else, not even for vital imports. Weaknesses, most of them, certainly, and in our dispatches we have advertised them.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 84-85). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Much of what is going on and will go on could be learned by the outside world from Mein Kampf, the Bible and Koran together of the Third Reich. But— amazingly— there is no decent translation of it in English or French, and Hitler will not allow one to be made, which is understandable, for it would shock many in the West. How many visiting butter-and-egg men have I told that the Nazi goal is domination! They laughed. But Hitler frankly admits it. He says in Mein Kampf: “A state which in an age of racial pollution devotes itself to cultivation of its best racial elements must some day become master of the earth…. We all sense that in a far future mankind may face problems which can be surmounted only by a supreme Master Race supported by the means and resources of the entire globe.”

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 85-86). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

He says in Mein Kampf: “A state which in an age of racial pollution devotes itself to cultivation of its best racial elements must some day become master of the earth…. We all sense that in a far future mankind may face problems which can be surmounted only by a supreme Master Race supported by the means and resources of the entire globe.”

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 85-86). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

During this time the Shirers left Nazi Germany for what they thought would be the safety of Austria.

I leave Germany in this autumn of 1937 with the words of a Nazi marching song still dinning in my ears:

Today we own Germany, Tomorrow the whole world.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 87). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Christmas day is the final entry in the diary for 1937:

VIENNA, December 25

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (p. 89). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

VIENNA, December 25 Christmased this afternoon with the Wileys; John our chargé d’affaires here now. Walter Duranty there, as always, the Fodors, etc. Chip Bohlan, on leave from the Moscow Embassy, came with me to the studio of the Austrian Broadcasting Company to help me shepherd the youngsters of the American colony through a Christmas broadcast. A childish job and one that I do not like, being too much interested in the political situation at present.

We are nicely installed in an apartment in the Ploesslgasse, next door to the Rothschild palace. The owners, being Jewish, have removed themselves to Czechoslovakia for greater safety, though Schuschnigg seems to have the situation fairly well in hand here. Vienna, though, is terribly poor and depressing compared to our last sojourn here, from 1929 to 1932. The workers are sullen, even those who have jobs, and one sees beggars on every street corner. A few people have money and splash it at the night-clubs and a few fashionable restaurants such as the Drei Husaren and Am Franziskanerplatz. The contrast is sickening and the regime is resented by the masses, who are either reverting to their old Socialist Party, which is fairly strong underground, or going over to Nazism. The great mistake of this clerical dictatorship is not to have a social program. Hitler and Mussolini have not made that mistake. Still, there is more to eat here than in Germany, and the dictatorship is much milder— the difference between Prussians and Austrians! Next to Paris I love this town, even now, more than any other in Europe, the Gemütlichkeit, charm, and intelligence of its people, the baroque of its architecture, the good taste, the love of art and life, the softness of the accent, the very mild quality of the whole atmosphere. A great deal of anti-Semitism here, which plays nicely into the hands of the Nazis, but then there always was— ever since the days of Mayor Karl Lueger, Hitler’s first mentor on the subject when he was down and out in this city. Have had much good talk with Duranty, who is living here for a few months; the Fodors, she lovable as before, he a walking dictionary on central Europe and generous in telling what he knows; Emil Vadnai of the New York Times, a Hungarian of great charm, knowledge, and intelligence. Had Duranty broadcast the other day, though New York was afraid his voice was too high. Came a cable the same evening from Chicago: “… your clear, bell-like voice…” signed by Mary Garden, who ought to know.

We wait for the baby, due in seven weeks now, arguing the while over names.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (pp. 89-91). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Darwin’s Doubt

Number 5 in a Series

If there remains any doubt regarding the underpinnings of Intelligent Design, one only has to review the day-to-day endeavors of its key proponents. Stephen C. Meyer founded and currently heads up the Center for Science and Culture (CSC) of the Discovery Institute. The Discovery Institute is the principal organization supporting this attempt to cloak religious creationism and disguise it as cutting-edge science. The above image is a screen shot from  Does God Exist, a video series hosted by Stephen C. Meyer and produced by Focus on the Family, an organization whose purpose is the promotion of a conservative Christian viewpoint.

This is a continuation of my review of  Stephen C. Meyer’s book Darwin’s Doubt. It draws on a an item posted to the Evolution News blog. That posting excerpts a number of passages from the book. I previously reviewed three of these excerpts. Here are the remaining two:

Intelligent agents can generate new structural (epigenetic) information and construct functionally integrated and hierarchically organized layers of information as we see in animal body plans:

The cited text being:

The highly specified, tightly integrated, hierarchical arrangements of molecular components and systems within animal body plans also suggest intelligent design. This is, again, because of our experience with the features and systems that intelligent agents— and only intelligent agents— produce. Indeed, based on our experience, we know that intelligent human agents have the capacity to generate complex and functionally specified arrangements of matter— that is, to generate specified complexity or specified information. Further, human agents often design information-rich hierarchies, in which both individual modules and the arrangement of those modules exhibit complexity and specificity— specified information as defined in Chapter 8. Individual transistors, resistors, and capacitors in an integrated circuit exhibit considerable complexity and specificity of design. Yet at a higher level of organization, the specific arrangement and connection of these components within an integrated circuit requires additional information and reflects further design (see Fig. 14.2).

Conscious and rational agents have, as part of their powers of purposive intelligence, the capacity to design information-rich parts and to organize those parts into functional information-rich systems and hierarchies.

Meyer, Stephen C.. Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design (p. 366). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Some analysis will be helpful. Take the first two sentences: “The highly specified, tightly integrated, hierarchical arrangements of molecular components and systems within animal body plans also suggest intelligent design. This is, again, because of our experience with the features and systems that intelligent agents— and only intelligent agents— produce.” Meyer insists that examination of the lowest level of structure of living organisms suggests the work of an outside living agent. Here he is appealing to intuition without providing a factual basis. He compares the functional organization of living organisms to the construction of intricate systems devised by people. By implication, he wants the reader to consider that an entity with human-like qualities is behind the development of living organisms.

Finally:

Meyer concludes that “both the Cambrian animal forms themselves and their pattern of appearance in the fossil record exhibit precisely those features that we should expect to see if an intelligent cause had acted to produce them” (p. 379) He summarizes his argument as follows:

Here is the text from the book:

When we encounter objects that manifest any of the key features present in the Cambrian animals, or events that exhibit the patterns present in the Cambrian fossil record, and we know how these features and patterns arose, invariably we find that intelligent design played a causal role in their origin. Thus, when we encounter these same features in the Cambrian event, we may infer— based upon established cause-and-effect relationships and uniformitarian principles— that the same kind of cause operated in the history of life. In other words, intelligent design constitutes the best, most causally adequate explanation for the origin of information and circuitry necessary to build the Cambrian animals. It also provides the best explanation for the top-down, explosive, and discontinuous pattern of appearance of the Cambrian animals in the fossil record.

Meyer, Stephen C.. Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design (p. 381). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Again some analysis. Take the initial sentence: “When we encounter objects that manifest any of the key features present in the Cambrian animals, or events that exhibit the patterns present in the Cambrian fossil record, and we know how these features and patterns arose, invariably we find that intelligent design played a causal role in their origin.” Standing alone in the book this would seem to be a bald proclamation of fact. It will be interesting to peruse the remainder of the book and see whether Meyer has, indeed, demonstrated that “invariably we find that intelligent design played a causal role in their origin.” I suspect this phrasing represents considerable overreach on the part of the author. In following posts I will examine the arguments Meyer makes in the book, and I will keep coming back to this matter of conclusions well-jumped. Keep reading.

Darwin’s Doubt

Number 3 in a Series

Chipmunk confronts a diet soda can near Mirror Lake Utah

I have a copy of creationist Stephen C. Meyer’s book Darwin’s Doubt, and I have promised to review it. I was recently reminded of that by a post on the Discovery Institute’s Evolution News site. That posting excerpts a number of passages from the book. I previously reviewed the first of those. Here is another citation:

Intelligent agents can generate top-down patterns of appearance like we see in animal body plans.

Here is the pertinent passage:

“Top-down” causation begins with a basic architecture, blueprint, or plan and then proceeds to assemble parts in accord with it. The blueprint stands causally prior to the assembly and arrangement of the parts. But where could such a blueprint come from? One possibility involves a mental mode of causation. Intelligent agents often conceive of plans prior to their material instantiation— that is, the preconceived design of a blueprint often precedes the assembly of parts in accord with it. An observer touring the parts section of a General Motors plant will see no direct evidence of a prior blueprint for GM’s new models, but will perceive the basic design plan immediately upon observing the finished product at the end of the assembly line. Designed systems, whether automobiles, airplanes, or computers, invariably manifest a design plan that preceded their first material instantiation. But the parts do not generate the whole. Rather, an idea of the whole directed the assembly of the parts.

Meyer, Stephen C.. Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design (pp. 371-372). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Meyer is correct in stating (by implication) that a builder, on receiving a set of design specifications (blue prints and such), can proceed in constructing a device or assembly. Note the implication. There exists nothing like the desired assembly. The materials to construct it are present, and there is a pre-recorded set of instructions for construction. The instructions are the sole source of the information required for construction.

At this point a reminder is helpful. Define information as the agent that mediates cause and effect. I have stated this previously, perhaps not in this exact form. Nobody has ever challenged my definition. All are welcome to have a go at it.

What Meyer does not concede is that a set of instructions is not a prerequisite for constructing a device/assembly. Random processes can accomplish this. This is the basis of Darwinian evolution, and this is what the creationists argue strongly against. They pose it much like this:

Given even the finished components, steel sheet, machine screws, quantities of paint, it is unlikely to the extreme that a random process will assemble these components into a functional automobile, much less into one that somebody would purchase off the showroom floor and drive away.

To be sure, that is an extreme statement of the creationists’ argument, and those people do argue a more digestible case. Their most popular argument is more like this:

Given a completed, perfectly functional, automobile and given materials to be added to produce next year’s model, it is improbable to the extreme that this modification can occur by accident. Some sort of pre-conceived design is required. A set of documentation is required. At the minimum there must be an intelligent agent with the pre-conceived design upgrade in mind.

And this is what the so-called Darwinists object to. The creationists insist there must be a pre-conceived idea, there being no mention of who or what holds this pre-conceived idea. To be clear, the agency that Stephen C. Meyer represents is the Discovery Institute, and their concept is called Intelligent Design. Further, the narrators of Intelligent Design want to insist that religious faith is not at the base of their argument. And this last is an outrageous lie of grand proportions. Any notion that Stephen C. Meyer pushes Intelligent Design absent religious faith is daily countered by his own words and actions. For example:

The final four episodes deal with the New Testament, the contribution by Christians, telling the story of Jesus of Nazareth, his teachings, his trial and execution, and his return from the dead. Meyer wants to assure viewers all those doubts about the validity of the New Testament are groundless.

Following the trajectory of Meyer’s life and career, we see a relentless commitment to a defense of the Christian faith. His promotion of Intelligent Design is one manifestation of that commitment.

Returning to Meyer’s argument, biologists argue that random processes we observe in nature are adequate to have produced the life forms we see today. In direct counter to Meyer, the concept of Intelligent Design is intellectually bankrupt on a number of points. Repeating myself:

I scoff. Really? Let me get this straight. An Intelligent Agent, the Entity who created the Universe, the Earth, the planets, the sun, and all we see around us—this Entity, took over 13 billion years to get us to where we are today after first creating the Universe. Actually, over 13 billion years to get us to the point where there was a Universe and a planet Earth, and there were any number of species of plants and animals, but none resembling people. Allow me to repeat: Really? If that is Stephen C. Meyer’s concept of intelligence, then Heaven help the human species, because intelligence is all that’s keeping us going.

Additionally, at no point in their argument have proponents of Intelligent Design identified a mechanism by which the Intelligent Designer could have implemented these designs. Nor can they.

I will continue the review of Meyer’s book through an analysis of the Evolution News post prior to diving into a direct review of the book. Keep reading.

Deconstructing D’Souza

Chapter 2

I spent the previous post analyzing Chapter One of Dinesh D’Souza’s book (see above). The chapter is titled “Return of the Nazis,” and it makes a go at demonstrating that “progressives” (liberals, Democrats) are the real racists. Yeah, that didn’t wash.

I’m taking the book a chapter at a time, and Chapter Two has the title “Falsifying History.” Here I have to admit my eyes glazed over following D’Souza’s analysis of the roots and the development of Fascists states, salient being Nazi Germany under Hitler and Fascist Italy under Mussolini. Where he loses me is his deep discourse on Fascist theorist Giovanni Gentile. My thanks go out to D’Souza for educating me, for I had not heard of Gentile before. Here is a short blurb from Wikipedia:

Giovanni Gentile (30 May 1875 – 15 April 1944) was an Italian neo-Hegelian idealist philosopher, educator, and fascist politician, and a peer of Benedetto Croce. The self-styled “philosopher of Fascism“, he was influential in providing an intellectual foundation for Italian Fascist thought, and ghostwrote part of The Doctrine of Fascism (1932) with Benito Mussolini. He was involved in the resurgence of Hegelian idealism in Italian philosophy and also devised his own system of thought, which he called “actual idealism” or “actualism“, and which has been described as “the subjective extreme of the idealist tradition”.

That done, D’Souza overworks theoretical versus applied Fascism and is eager to demonstrate that modern progressivism (liberalism) is thinly disguised Fascism. It’s a stretch, but readers do need to be aware that D’Souza is point-on regarding some issues. Particularly, he illustrates the socialistic nature of Nazism and its godfather, Fascism. Both Mussolini and Hitler invoked nationalization of significant industries, but D’Souza goes beyond that to remind us this is what progressive candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren want.

As mentioned, that latter assertion is beyond convincing, but D’Souza uses the pair’s positions on financial institutions to leverage his argument.

If you read the Nazi platform without knowing its source, you could easily be forgiven for thinking you were reading the 2016 platform of the Democratic Party. Or at least a Democratic platform drafted jointly by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Sure, some of the language is out of date. The Democrats can’t talk about “usury” these days; they’d have to substitute “Wall Street greed.” But otherwise, it’s all there. All you have to do is cross out the word “Nazi” and write in the word “Democrat.”

D’Souza, Dinesh. The Big Lie: Exposing the Nazi Roots of the American Left (Kindle Locations 1093-1098). Regnery Publishing. Kindle Edition.

And that seems to be the prime argument of Chapter Two. A push by progressives to exert government oversight upon large banks and other financial institutions translates into  government control, which translates into Nazism and Fascism and all the horrors that went with them before they were defeated by military force.

Not addressed in this chapter are the actual crimes committed by people who were running these institutions ten years ago. Government oversight was supposed to be in place to prevent, among other transgressions, falsification of portfolios offered for sale. Oversight was lax, and the result was a collapse of major markets, for which the response of a Republican president was to initiate government action to ameliorate the damage and the subsequent action by a Democratic president to see these policies through. D’Souza may dislike government intervention in American business, but the history of this time was a dramatic loss in market value, followed by a long slow climb to unprecedented levels, due to aggressive government intervention. Socialism in action? It will be interesting to see if D’Souza has anything to say about these events in the remaining chapters.

Coming up next, Chapter Three, “Mussolini’s Journey.” I can hardly wait.

Deconstructing D’Souza

This writer has been popping up on my Facebook feed and other places for several years. He is a prolific publisher, always seeming to be a bit off-kilter. Since a lot of people take him seriously, he is worth some analysis. Here is a blurb from Wikipedia, slightly edited:

Dinesh Joseph D’Souza; born April 25, 1961) is an Indian American conservative political commentator, author and filmmaker. From 2010 to 2012, he was president of The King’s College, a Christian school in New York City.

Born in Bombay, D’Souza came to the United States as an exchange student and graduated from Dartmouth College. He became a naturalized citizen in 1991. He is the author of several New York Times best-selling books, including titles on Christian apologetics. D’Souza has been critical of New Atheism. In 2012, D’Souza released his film 2016: Obama’s America, an anti-Obama polemic based on D’Souza’s 2010 book The Roots of Obama’s Rage; the film is the highest-grossing conservative documentary film produced in the United States.

On May 20, 2014, D’Souza pleaded guilty in federal court to one charge of using a “straw donor” to make an illegal campaign contribution to a 2012 United States Senate campaign, a felony. On September 23, he was sentenced to eight months in a halfway house near his home in San Diego, five years probation, and a $30,000 fine.

So, a quick read leaves the impression of a person passionate about an ideal to the extent that other ideals must go on the block.

Regarding the New Atheism, to which D’Souza seems much opposed, it is a recent movement holding that “superstition, religion and irrationalism should not simply be tolerated but should be countered, criticized, and exposed by rational argument wherever their influence arises in government, education, and politics.” In the spirit of full disclosure, I adhere to the New Atheism. Additionally I am going to be opposed to much of D’Souza’s thinking, or, if not his thinking, then what he is saying about what he is thinking and what he wants people to believe. That said, this is not going to be a kind and gentle review of his most recent book, The Big Lie.

I was off on vacation earlier this month when the book came up in an on-line conversation, and I purchased the Kindle edition, on which this review is based. As I began to plow through the author’s rhetoric I started highlighting significant passages—you can do that with Kindle—intending to come to them subsequently in a review. I quickly realized I was highlighting something on about every page, so I made the decision early on to take this book one chapter at a time. It’s going to make the whole thing more digestible. Let’s see how it goes. Start with Chapter One, “Return of the Nazis.”

As advertised on the cover, this book is going to convince us the American Left (however that’s defined) has Nazi roots. How does it start? It starts by demonstrating that The Left has victims and further that The Left attempts to absolve itself of blame (blame for this victimization) by blaming the people it victimizes. After an opening paragraph that discusses Sigmund Freud’s theory of transference he gets off into how he sees that Adolf (remember the Nazis) used this mechanism. He quotes from Hitler’s book, which I quote here more completely:

All this was inspired by the principle—which is quite true in itself—that in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large- scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation. For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down, a fact which is known to all expert liars in this world and to all who conspire together in the art of lying. These people know only too well how to use falsehood for the basest purposes.

Hitler, Adolf. Mein Kampf (p. 203). Prabhat Prakashan. Kindle Edition.

So, that’s the scheme of The Left. They will accuse their opponents of the big lie, much as Hitler (the Nazis) employed the tactic in the rise to power:

Hitler, however, is not referring to his own big lies. Rather, he is referring to the lies allegedly promulgated by the Jews. The Jews, Hitler says, are masters of the big lie. Now recognize that Mein Kampf is a tireless recitation of libels and calumnies against the Jews. The Jews are accused of everything from being capitalists to being Bolsheviks, from being impotent to lusting after Nordic women, from being culturally insignificant to being seekers of world domination. The charges are contradictory; they cannot simultaneously be true.

D’Souza, Dinesh. The Big Lie: Exposing the Nazi Roots of the American Left (Kindle Locations 68-73). Regnery Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Hopefully the stage is now set for understanding the argument that’s going to run the length of the book. I hope. At this point I have read the first two chapters, and there are nine. Reading the first two gives me to consider I may not be able to distill D’Souza’s central argument, partly because his argument has the appearance of being whatever he needs to say to convince readers that The Left is a collection of Fascists, Nazis, liars. Hence the title.

I will pick a few choice quotes from each chapter and give readers an idea of where D’Souza is going wrong. Here is one tactic that I have covered before:

Even my most incriminating allegations proved invulnerable. I noted that, in 1860, the year before the Civil War, no Republican owned a slave; all the four million slaves at the time were owned by Democrats.

D’Souza, Dinesh. The Big Lie: Exposing the Nazi Roots of the American Left (Kindle Locations 114-116). Regnery Publishing. Kindle Edition.

You have to understand the assumed association. Left = Democrat = the Democratic Party. The statement about only Democrats owning slaves almost has to be true by definition. In 1860 the Republican party, newly created, had abolition its principal platform. While it would be a stretch to say  “All the four million slaves at the time were owned by Democrats,” it would not be much of a stretch to say that no Republicans owned slaves. We have to think that if you were a Republican, then you had already signed up to abolish slavery. Here D’Souza goes out on a limb to state only Democrats owned slaves in 1860. The reason this is not necessarily so is there was never any compelling reason for slave owners to join the Democratic party. D’Souza is guessing, and his readers are not expected to realize that.

D’Souza is playing the game that has become known as “Quick History Lesson.” Here is the link from four years ago:

Facebook again. Somebody posted this on their Facebook feed. It’s supposed to be a history lesson. In fact, it’s title is “Quick History Lesson.” It is quick. Here’s what it says:

And here’s the meme that got the discussion going:

The argument being made then, as D’Souza is attempting to make now, is that Democratic Party = Left = liberal = racist. Follow the link and see how that approach leads nowhere. My observation from four years ago hints at D’Souza’s fallacy:

Strom Thurmond is one of those Democrats who deserted the Party when it started becoming too liberal in 1964.

James Strom Thurmond (December 5, 1902 – June 26, 2003) was an American politician who served for 48 years as a United States Senator. He ran for president in 1948 as the States Rights Democratic Party (Dixiecrat) candidate, receiving 2.4% of the popular vote and 39 electoral votes. Thurmond represented South Carolina in the United States Senate from 1954 until 2003, at first as a Democrat and, after 1964, as a Republican. He switched because of his opposition to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, disaffection with the liberalism of the national party, and his support for the conservatism and opposition to the Civil Rights bill of the Republican presidential candidate Senator Barry Goldwater. He left office as the only senator to reach the age of 100 while still in office and as the oldest-serving and longest-serving senator in U.S. history (although he was later surpassed in length of service by Robert Byrd and Daniel Inouye). Thurmond holds the record at 14 years as the longest-serving Dean of the United States Senate in U.S. history.

A Democratic (not all that liberal) president ended racial discrimination in the United States Military services. More recently, liberals, principally of the Democratic Party, have championed laws forbidding hiring discrimination against homosexuals. A liberal Democratic president has ordered a halt to anti-homosexual bias in the military services. These have been liberal initiatives with little or no support from the conservative faction.

I state without further elaboration that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and similar civil rights legislation would not exist today if the conservatives presently representing the Tea Party coalition had their way.

The “Quick History Lesson” theme carried through multiple subsequent posts, including one with the following observation:

Smith is right. It was the Republican Party that abolished slavery 150 years ago, and it was the Democratic Party in the Old South that continued to support suppression of black citizens for nearly a hundred years until… Until Franklin Roosevelt was elected as a very liberal president in 1932, and Democratic President Harry Truman desegregated the United States armed services. The kicker came in the presidential election of 1964 when Barry Goldwater was nominated, and movie actor Ronald Reagan explained to Republicans at the nominating convention how bad and nonconservative had been the policies of Democratic presidents Kennedy and Johnson. In that year conservatives began to see the light and to make their shift from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party. This day the Confederate flag never waves at a Democratic Party function, and the Old South is nearly wall to wall Republican.

If Carl Smith is concerned about the welfare of the KKK he can put his mind at ease. The KKK still has a small place in the hearts of some people, and he never had to look very far from his podium at the March CPAC to find that place.

Yes, D’Souza is going to need to stretch the truth mightily to lay racism at the feet of today’s Democratic Party or to link it to what he calls the American Left.

Some more:

Even after the election, it’s now harder, as a consequence of the book and movie, for Democrats to play the race card. They tried, briefly, in attempting to halt the nomination of Jeff Sessions as Trump’s attorney general. Decades ago, the charge went, he said some racist things. Yes, but what about Democrat Robert Byrd, “conscience of the Senate”? Decades ago, he had been a leader of the Ku Klux Klan. Yet the Clintons and Obama eulogized him when he died in 2010. The Democrats discovered, to their dismay, that their race card had become a dud. It no longer worked. Sessions sailed through.

D’Souza, Dinesh. The Big Lie: Exposing the Nazi Roots of the American Left (Kindle Locations 128-132). Regnery Publishing. Kindle Edition.

[Emphasis added]

Yes, the new Attorney General was found by Democrats (and liberals) to be unfavorable, and they did lean on his previous positions on racially-sensitive issues to push for his defeat. Subsequent developments show a mixture. Here are some citations from Wikipedia:

On April 10, 2017, Sessions disbanded the National Commission on Forensic Science and ended the Department’s review of the forensic accuracy in closed cases.

On April 3, 2017, Sessions announced that he was going to review consent decrees in which local law enforcement agencies had agreed to Department oversight. U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar then denied Sessions’s request to delay a new consent decree with the Baltimore Police Department.

On May 12, 2017, Sessions ordered federal prosecutors to begin seeking the greatest criminal charges possible. The new guidelines rescinded a memo by Attorney General Eric Holder that had sought to reduce mass incarceration by avoiding mandatory sentencing.

On October 4, 2017, Sessions released a Department of Justice (DoJ) memo interpreting Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on sex, stating that Title VII “is ordinarily defined to mean biologically male or female,” but it “does not prohibit discrimination based on gender identity per se.” The memo was written to withdraw an earlier DoJ memorandum issued by Eric Holder on December 15, 2014, which aligned the DoJ with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on interpreting Title VII to include gender identity or transgender status as a protected class. At that time, DoJ had already stopped opposing claims of discrimination brought by federal transgender employees.[141] Devin O’Malley, representing the DoJ, stated “the last administration abandoned that fundamental principle [that the Department of Justice cannot expand the law beyond what Congress has provided], which necessitated today’s action.” Sharon McGowan, a lawyer with Lambda Legal who previously served in the Civil Rights division of DoJ, rejected that argument, saying “this memo [issued by Sessions] is not actually a reflection of the law as it is — it’s a reflection of what the DOJ wishes the law were” and “[t]he Justice Department is actually getting back in the business of making anti-transgender law in court.”

However:

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department has dispatched an experienced federal hate crimes lawyer to Iowa to help prosecute a man charged with murdering a transgender high school student last year, a highly unusual move that officials said was personally initiated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

In taking the step, Mr. Sessions, a staunch conservative, is sending a signal that he has made a priority of fighting violence against transgender people individually, even as he has rolled back legal protections for them collectively.

Regarding D’Souza’s claim that Sessions’ confirmation “sailed through” indicates a considerable variance from reality. The fact is that Sessions was confirmed by a vote of 52 to 47 in the Senate, with all Republicans voting for confirmation in addition to one Democrat. There was one abstention, and 45 Democrats voted against in addition to the two Independent senators. I look forward to sailing through my next medical exam.

D’Souza spends much of Chapter One defining the terms Nazi and Fascist. The goal appears to be that if you parse the right definitions you can pin these disagreeable terms on Democrats and on liberals in general. For the record, official Fascism began in Italy post World War One with the rise of Benito Mussolini, and Adolf Hitler so admired Mussolini’s approach he adopted the concept in his nascent Nazi (National Socialist) party. In only this manner are the two closely associated. A more scholarly definition of Fascism is found in Wikipedia:

Fascism is a form of radical authoritarian nationalism, characterized by dictatorial power, forcible suppression of opposition and control of industry and commerce that came to prominence in early 20th-century Europe. The first fascist movements emerged in Italy during World War I before it spread to other European countries. Opposed to liberalismMarxism and anarchism, fascism is usually placed on the far-right within the traditional left–right spectrum.

Ignoring that definition, D’Souza wants to place Fascism to the left of center.

This is a topic I have not written about before. On two occasions, once in 1976 and again in 1980, Reagan offhandedly linked the Democratic Party with fascism.

D’Souza, Dinesh. The Big Lie: Exposing the Nazi Roots of the American Left (Kindle Locations 86-87). Regnery Publishing. Kindle Edition.

But that was Ronald Regan, dead over ten years. Come forward to 2017, and D’Souza wants to deny Fascism is right wing:

In this case, the story that we had accepted, like suckers, was the idea that fascism and Nazism are inherently “right wing.”

D’Souza, Dinesh. The Big Lie: Exposing the Nazi Roots of the American Left (Kindle Locations 94-96). Regnery Publishing. Kindle Edition.

And he goes on from there. He rightly gets into the tactics of the anti-fascist (AntiFa) people. They are disrupting, often with violence, conservative speakers and events. The publication date on the book states it came out in 2017, and it is likely so that publication preceded some significant events:

The Unite the Right rally (also known as the Charlottesville rally) was a far-right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, United States, from August 11–12, 2017. Its stated goal was to oppose the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee from Emancipation Park, which itself had been renamed by City Council from ”Lee Park” two months earlier. Protesters included white supremacistswhite nationalistsneo-Confederatesneo-Nazis, and various militias. Some of the marchers chanted racist and antisemitic slogans, carried semi-automatic riflesswastikasConfederate battle flagsanti-Muslimand antisemitic banners, and “Trump/Pence” signs.

[Skip some material]

After the aborted rally, at around 1:45 p.m., a man drove his car into a crowd of counterprotestors, hitting several and slamming into a stopped sedan, which hit a stopped minivan that was in front of it. The impact of the crash pushed the sedan and the minivan further into the crowd. One person was killed and 19 others were injured in what police have called a deliberate attack. The man then reversed the car through the crowd and fled the scene.

If you have missed any signs that Dinesh D’Souza is all for Donald Trump, then it is because I have not brought the matter up until now. Yes, Dinesh D’Souza goes full-court to defend Donald Trump against his detractors.

Start with this. In previous postings I have noted that a particularly odorous crowd seems attracted to Trump and cannot be found anywhere cheering for Hillary Clinton (or Barack Obama).

Obviously, the question still remains: why do these guys like Trump if Trump isn’t a racist like them? One possible answer is that these are jobless guys, losers in society, some of them total imbeciles. Whatever they call themselves—fascists or something else—frankly I don’t believe they are fascists or know much about fascism. Hitler would have sent most of them straight to the gas chambers. (Let’s recall that one of the earliest categories of people Hitler euthanized were the so-called “imbeciles.”) It’s quite possible that these guys voted for Trump because they expect him to bring back unskilled jobs. So even if Trump is not a racist, it’s still possible that racists would like him for reasons that have nothing to do with racism.

D’Souza, Dinesh. The Big Lie: Exposing the Nazi Roots of the American Left (Kindle Locations 714-720). Regnery Publishing. Kindle Edition.

[Emphasis added]

That reasoning is a neat piece of work. Why are (the people I mentioned) attracted to Trump? D’Souza grasps for an answer. Apparently any answer. These people are jobless (desperate). Or maybe merely losers. Else they could be imbeciles. Yes, I could agree with the last. D’Souza plunges on from there—for whatever reason I cannot discern. Yes, if they are imbeciles, then they are the kind that Nazis would not like—the Nazis would euthanize them. So, why would they support Trump if Trump were a Nazi? Makes sense.

D’Souza goes to tremendous length to winnow out the definition of Nazi and Fascist, and I am not going to follow that thread to its conclusion. I will close by dropping some quotes I found interesting.

Trump’s statements about Muslims cannot be termed racist for the simple reason that Islam is a religion, not a race. Can they, however, be termed xenophobic or anti -Muslim?

D’Souza, Dinesh. The Big Lie: Exposing the Nazi Roots of the American Left (Kindle Locations 724-725). Regnery Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Have fun with that one while I go on to the next.

It follows, therefore, that civil rights belong only to citizens. Aliens who are not part of the American social compact don’t have any constitutional rights. Again, Trump’s denial that illegal aliens have a constitutional right to be here is in the mainstream of the liberal tradition.

D’Souza, Dinesh. The Big Lie: Exposing the Nazi Roots of the American Left (Kindle Locations 735-738). Regnery Publishing. Kindle Edition.

D’Souza is a naturalized citizen from India, so he must have taken a civics course as part of the process. Apparently he slept through the class describing a constitutional amendment that guarantees everybody due process of the law. To put it briefly, non-citizens, legally here or not, have constitutional rights. An illegal alien cannot be arrested and convicted for a crime without a trail and all that goes with it.

Finally, let’s hear it for President Trump.

He got himself elected, and now he’s handling the most extreme opposition with aplomb.

D’Souza, Dinesh. The Big Lie: Exposing the Nazi Roots of the American Left (Kindle Locations 785-786). Regnery Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Please try not to laugh.

Dying to Believe

Some more of the same

Tuesday again and another reminder it’s not just Jesus who coaxes believers to their deaths. Here I present the sad story of Timo Degen:

Timo Degen, a 31-year-old kindergarten teacher from Munich, died in March 1997 after reading about Greve’s quasi-mysticism and the “liberation from the drudgery of food and drink” on one of her many internet sites. On day 12 of his diet he reported having visual problems and a week later he slipped into a coma. A hospital spokesman said Degen had suffered “an almost total circulatory system collapse” and looked as though “he’d been in a concentration camp”; after four weeks on intravenous drips he recovered, only to fall over and die from a head injury.

Well, that’s bad enough. The story from Cult Education Institute follows up with additional enlightment:

Greve’s followers have been unrepentant, and the German new age magazine Esotera announced that “one death in 5,000 is not too high a price to pay to fight world hunger”.

Greve is, of course, Ellen Greve, also known as Jasmuheen. I recently reviewed her book Pranic Nourishment, which is a revised edition of her earlier Living on Light. In it she echoes the sentiments of the Esoteria writer:

Through introducing the idea and method of fine-tuning it is our intention to aid in the elimination of world hunger through pranic nourishment which will also then benefit the environment and create a more sustainable future for the planet.

Jasmuheen. PRANIC NOURISHMENT – Nutrition for the New Millennium (Living on Light) (Divine Nutrition Series Book 1) (Kindle Locations 2769-2771). Self Empowerment Academy Pty Ltd. Kindle Edition.

Believe what you want, but I am thinking Greve’s teachings will most quickly eliminate world hunger by eliminating people.

The Comfort Delusion

Creationist Ray Comfort, part 3

This is a continuing discussion of Ray Comfort’s book You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think: Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics. What it seems to be about is the author’s argument for the existence of the God of Abraham and the divinity of Jesus plus what goes along with that. His argument I will summarize with an excerpt from the book’s introduction:

To be an atheist is to play Russian roulette with all barrels loaded. An atheist can’t win. Of course, he feels and acts like a big player, until the trigger is pulled.

The issue isn’t the existence of God. If the atheist is wrong and there is a Creator, then he was wrong. He gambled and he lost. No big deal. The real gamble is that there’s no hell. That’s what makes the player sweat just a little. “What if?” is the deep and nagging doubt. He believes it’s worth the excitement of the game. Yet atheism isn’t a mind game; it is intellectual suicide.

Comfort, Ray. You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think: Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics (Kindle Locations 87-91). WND Books. Kindle Edition.

I found it difficult to digest Comfort’s entire presentation at once, so I’m breaking out topics to discuss. This discussion is going to be about illicit sex.

By now everybody knows about sex. There are close to 7.5 billion people on this planet, and all but a very few got here by means of sexual copulation between males and females. Obviously this is going to be a topic of interest to all but a few.

As an outsider looking in, what I find most interesting is Ray Comfort’s fascination with sex and his ideas about illicit versus perfectly all right sex. Despite the title of the book (leading atheists to water and so forth) he spends a lot of the book’s available space dwelling on the difference between two brands of sex. For example:

But the justice of Almighty God is so thorough He will see to it that thieves, liars, fornicators, blasphemers, adulterers, and all who have transgressed the moral Law (the Ten Commandments) will get equity—that which is due to them.

Comfort, Ray. You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think: Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics (Kindle Locations 116-118). WND Books. Kindle Edition.

Fornicators (read the book) are people who engage in sexual intercourse with people (even of the opposite sex) with whom they do not have a binding that has been sanctioned by a holy person or at least by a designated public official. People who do this are lumped together with thieves and liars. Notice Comfort also mentions blasphemers and adulterers. Adulterers are really fornicators, because there is no aforementioned binding covering their transgression. This so much interests Ray Comfort that he mentions fornication in one use of the word or another no fewer than 15 times.

And that’s about it. To hear Comfort tell it, sexual copulation is a human activity of such a special nature that it needs to be set aside from others and given a place of interest to an imaginary person conjured up by Bronze Age tribes people something like 3000 years ago. Some analysis is due.

What’s wrong with fornication? Let us concede that the process by which all of us came to be has consequences in modern society. Besides sexually-transmitted disease, there is the hazard of unintended procreation. Of course, these two are also possible consequences of sexual copulation within the scope of a recognized binding (marriage). Maybe what is needed is an injunction against social irresponsibility, and that would really cover nearly everything, including lying and stealing.

But what this is about is Comfort’s manifest fascination with sex, especially fornication. To be clear, here are the remaining references from the book:

That means he is free to embark on his sexual prowls, because it is nothing but a basic instinct to do so. It’s his procreative nature to fornicate, and therefore therefore not a sin. For the atheist, this is a hill to die on.

Comfort, Ray. You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think: Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics (Kindle Locations 389-391). WND Books. Kindle Edition.

Another accusation often leveled at us is that the Seventh Commandment is about “adultery,” not fornication (sex before marriage). That’s not true.

Comfort, Ray. You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think: Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics (Kindle Locations 840-841). WND Books. Kindle Edition.

true. 1 Timothy 1:8-10 makes clear that the Commandment not only includes fornicators, but it also includes homosexuals.

Comfort, Ray. You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think: Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics (Kindle Locations 841-842). WND Books. Kindle Edition.

However, God is so good He will also punish thieves, liars, fornicators, adulterers, blasphemers, and everyone who has violated His perfect and holy Law.

Comfort, Ray. You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think: Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics (Kindle Locations 1013-1014). WND Books. Kindle Edition.

Rapists, murderers, thieves, liars, blasphemers, adulterers, fornicators, etc., will get exactly what they deserve, and if I die in my sins, being Jewish will not save me from the justice of a holy God.

Comfort, Ray. You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think: Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics (Kindle Locations 1047-1049). WND Books. Kindle Edition.

He has seen your lust (see Matthew 5:27-28), fornication, lies, anger, blasphemy, and rebellion.

Comfort, Ray. You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think: Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics (Kindle Locations 1179-1180). WND Books. Kindle Edition.

It is His Law that you have violated with your lust, lying, stealing, hatred, fornication, and blasphemy, etc.

Comfort, Ray. You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think: Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics (Kindle Location 1186). WND Books. Kindle Edition.

As each of us grows from childhood, we have the potential to be a fornicator, a liar, a thief, an adulterer, a pervert, a homosexual, a drunkard, a murderer, a rapist, or a pedophile.

Comfort, Ray. You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think: Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics (Kindle Locations 1263-1264). WND Books. Kindle Edition.

Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor coveters, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortionists will inherit the kingdom of God.

Comfort, Ray. You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think: Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics (Kindle Locations 1269-1270). WND Books. Kindle Edition.

[Quoted from 1 Corinthians 6:9-11]

Upon my repentance and faith in Jesus, my guilt will disappear. All of it. Not for lust only, but for all of my sins—for ingratitude, rebellion, greed, unbelief, lying, stealing, fornication, etc. All the guilt disappears upon repentance and faith in Jesus. Oprah can’t do that.

Comfort, Ray. You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think: Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics (Kindle Locations 1543-1545). WND Books. Kindle Edition.

It’s also for those who are happily enjoying their fornication and pornography. It’s for both rich and poor, top rockers and rock bottomers, happy and sad—all of us need

Comfort, Ray. You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think: Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics (Kindle Locations 1655-1656). WND Books. Kindle Edition.

He will not only punish adulterers and fornicators, but His just wrath will also fall on all those who have lusted after another person, lied, stolen, hated, blasphemed, etc.

Comfort, Ray. You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think: Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics (Kindle Locations 1838-1839). WND Books. Kindle Edition.

Let’s look at your moral judgments for a moment. Do you think homosexuality is morally wrong? Of course you don’t (I’m guessing). How about fornication? Adultery? Murder? Rape? Lying and stealing?

Comfort, Ray. You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think: Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics (Kindle Locations 1856-1857). WND Books. Kindle Edition.

If society says that fornication (sex outside of marriage) is okay, then you agree. Then if society says that it’s morally right to exterminate Jews, then you must say that it’s okay, because you have no moral absolutes. The thought of you ending up in

Comfort, Ray. You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think: Answers to Questions from Angry Skeptics (Kindle Locations 1859-1861). WND Books. Kindle Edition.

I think I picked up on all references. That last one is interesting. Ray Comfort, besides leveling fornication with genocide, wants to make the case against societal norms. Genocide would not be condoned under God’s law (except that it appears to be), so if morality is determined by society, then a society that condones fornication can also condone genocide. Except that God’s law, as interpreted by Ray Comfort, is really a codification of societal norms from those ancient times. Comfort can believe to his distress that his moral code has divine inspiration, but the hard fact is the Bible, the alleged source of his moral code, was written by people. It is straight out of the human brain.

Our Bronze Age ancestors had reasons for wanting to orchestrate standards for sexual conduct, among other forms of activity, and they invoked an imaginary person in order to give these standards additional authority, said additional authority being strictly manufactured. A well-ordered life remains an asset in modern society, but the solution is enlightened example and not reliance on unbalanced doctrinaires. Ray Comfort has enough demonstrated personal baggage to render him a questionable source of how to conduct our lives. It is doubtful he will ever come around to abandoning his slipshod thinking and gain credibility with a thinking society.

Whole Cloth

I was looking for a title—something to call this. Help was on the way:

For example, a cotton shirt cannot be made until the cotton has been sown as seeds, then grown, harvested and woven, and from this fabric many types of garments can be made. Our baseline is like the cloth, a weave that runs through all.

Jasmuheen. PRANIC NOURISHMENT – Nutrition for the New Millennium (Living on Light) (Divine Nutrition Series Book 1) (Kindle Locations 4248-4250). Self Empowerment Academy Pty Ltd. Kindle Edition.

And that’s about the substance of this book. It has all the appearance of being cut from whole cloth—meaning it’s made up.

What got me onto this was something we covered 15 years ago for The North Texas Skeptics:

Before we get on to Wiley Brooks we need to talk about Ellen Greve. Greve is a former Australian business woman who now calls herself Jasmuheen. She is a New Age guru promoting avoidance of food. Her cult is said to have a following of 5000 world wide. At least one wiseacre has conjectured these may not be the same followers from one year to the next. Her followers tend to be claimants of the famous Darwin Awards.

Australian follower Verity Linn succumbed while attempting to follow Jasmuheen’s guidelines near Cam Loch in Scotland in September 1999. Prior to that in the summer of 1998 Lani Morris of Melbourne breathed herself to death, and Timo Degen, a German kindergarten teacher, did the same in 1997.

Yeah, people were dying under the false belief that, properly conditioned, a person can live without food. Interest in the subject picked up recently, and Greve updated her book. The previous title was Living on Light. You can still get a copy from Amazon from $1044 (paperback). The new edition is Pranic Nourishment, and I have the Kindle edition ($7.77). The much revised edition acknowledges the danger of actually practicing what Greve preaches.

March 2006 with Jasmuheen:

I feel guided to add additional points regarding caregivers …

At the end of the nineties an Australian women, Lani Morris, died in Brisbane Australia. Her caregiver said that she was experiencing many difficulties but refused to stop and that on day 7 she drank 1.5 litres of pure orange juice, consequently she collapsed into a coma and was later taken off life support. Her caregiver Jim Pesnak and his wife – a couple who were in their 70’s who I had never met – were arrested and charged with manslaughter and jailed. The court said that it was their duty to stop this woman from proceeding as soon as they noticed she had difficulty. At the time they felt that as a responsible adult it was her choice whether to go on or stop.

Personally I feel that the only caregiver we need is the Divine One Within and as I keep stressing, if its guidance and voice is not 100% clear and trusted by you then the 21-day process is not for you.

Jasmuheen. PRANIC NOURISHMENT – Nutrition for the New Millennium (Living on Light) (Divine Nutrition Series Book 1) (Kindle Locations 2389-2397). Self Empowerment Academy Pty Ltd. Kindle Edition.

Obviously Greve does not completely shoulder responsibility for the multiple deaths of people attempting to follow her advice. We are  left to believe fault lies with the caregivers.

Make no mistake. The principles of chemistry and physics still hold. Greve’s wacko ideas have no basis in fact and seem to have been  pulled straight out of a fevered brain or drawn from half-baked New Ageisms. Without digging into the book’s narrative, I  will just illustrate with some excerpts. Start here, first paragraph:

I have come to understand that the process that I – and many others – have undergone to allow the body to be sustained by light; is about utilising photon energy to sustain us via a process like photosynthesis. Rather than take the energy from the sun as plants do we have developed the ability to tap into and absorb the Universal Life force or ‘chi’ energy directly into our cells. This occurs via mind mastery where command and expectation utilizes the Universal Law of Resonance where like attracts like. Because I expect the pranic forces to nourish and sustain me having undergone the 21-day process as outlined in the latter chapters, it does.

Jasmuheen. PRANIC NOURISHMENT – Nutrition for the New Millennium (Living on Light) (Divine Nutrition Series Book 1) (Kindle Locations 206-211). Self Empowerment Academy Pty Ltd. Kindle Edition.

Greve means that literally, “allow the body to be sustained by light; is about utilising photon energy to sustain us via a process like photosynthesis.” No. There is no evidence anything like that has ever happened or can happen. The hard, cold fact is that Greve is a fraud. The signature attempt by her to demonstrate her philosophy ended catastrophically:

In 1998, she appeared in her first film, a six-part direct to video documentary called The Legend of Atlantis: Return of the Lightmasters. The Australian television programme 60 Minutes challenged Jasmuheen to demonstrate how she could live without food and water. The supervising medical professional Dr Beres Wenck found that, after 48 hours, Jasmuheen displayed symptoms of acute dehydration, stress, and high blood pressure. Jasmuheen claimed that this was a result of “polluted air”. On the third day, she was moved to a mountainside retreat about 15 miles from the city, where she was filmed enjoying the fresh air, claiming she could now successfully practice Inedia. But as filming progressed, Jasmuheen’s speech slowed, her pupils dilated, and she lost over a stone (6 kg or 14 lb) in weight. After four days, she acknowledged that she had lost weight, but stated that she felt fine. Dr. Wenck stated: “You are now quite dehydrated, probably over 10%, getting up to 11%.” The doctor continued: “Her pulse is about double what it was when she started. The risk if she goes any further is kidney failure.” Jasmuheen’s condition continued to deteriorate rapidly due to acute dehydration, despite her contrary insistence. Dr Wenck concluded that continuing the experiment would ultimately prove fatal. The film crew agreed with this assessment and stopped filming.

That was nearly 20 years ago. Greve continues with the nonsense to this day, as evidenced by the book. Fact is, a hot book (I purchased a copy) is strong motivation.

It’s also a hilarious display of the codswallop devoured by a sizable chunk of 21st century society. Examples abound:

According to Dr. Deepak Chopra in his book Ageless Body, Timeless Mind, every atom is more than 99.9% empty space and the subatomic particles moving at great speed through this space are bundles of vibrating energy which carry information and unique codings. He calls this “thinking non-stuff” as it cannot be seen by physical eyes.

Jasmuheen. PRANIC NOURISHMENT – Nutrition for the New Millennium (Living on Light) (Divine Nutrition Series Book 1) (Kindle Locations 222-225). Self Empowerment Academy Pty Ltd. Kindle Edition.

First of all note the reference to the equally delusional Deepak Chopra. If we accuse Greve of making all this stuff up, she can fall back on pointing out she is merely quoting another authority, disregarding that the other authority is just as whacked out as she is. More:

When a Being is vibrating at a lower frequency, it permits many other forms of energies to mix and mingle with its pool of energy and its cycles. When this happens, the thoughts have a tendency to get confused which causes a being to experience frustration.

Jasmuheen. PRANIC NOURISHMENT – Nutrition for the New Millennium (Living on Light) (Divine Nutrition Series Book 1) (Kindle Locations 315-317). Self Empowerment Academy Pty Ltd. Kindle Edition.

This is excerpted from a more expansive paragraph, yet it is significant. “Lower frequency?” Where does she get this stuff? Assume it’s not Deepak Chopra. There are no facts relating to “beings” (people?), vibrational frequencies, “energy cycles” that back this up. She’s pulling stuff out of the air. It’s the very definition of “whole cloth.”

There are said to be seven cosmic planes – physical, astral, mental, Buddhic, atmic, monadic and Logoic.

Jasmuheen. PRANIC NOURISHMENT – Nutrition for the New Millennium (Living on Light) (Divine Nutrition Series Book 1) (Kindle Locations 339-340). Self Empowerment Academy Pty Ltd. Kindle Edition.

Don’t you just love it when a writer puts down, “there is said to be…?” Gives you a lot of confidence in what you’re reading. No, it doesn’t. It gives you confidence that stuff is being pulled out of the air.

This is an interesting concept and one well explored by the Theosophists among others. The exact midpoint between the in and out breath is said to be in the year 2012, this date is the last date of the Mayan calendar and is foretold by the Hopi Indians and many other civilisations. This year marks a time of wondrous change with multitudes awakening to their true divinity.

Jasmuheen. PRANIC NOURISHMENT – Nutrition for the New Millennium (Living on Light) (Divine Nutrition Series Book 1) (Kindle Locations 344-346). Self Empowerment Academy Pty Ltd. Kindle Edition.

Hopefully it won’t be necessary for me to post any more clips from the book. Evidence is that Greve is making stuff up.

I can’t leave off this topic without opening a look into a remarkable bit of self-delusion—something revealing. Items of this sort are dropped, almost randomly, through the book.

So since June 1993, I have existed on tea and water, then for pleasure tasted ‘white’ food (a potato phase due to boredom and lack of mind mastery) or the odd mouthful of chocolate and regardless of these indulgences I know that the only thing that nourishes and sustains me is Light.

Jasmuheen. PRANIC NOURISHMENT – Nutrition for the New Millennium (Living on Light) (Divine Nutrition Series Book 1) (Kindle Locations 1453-1455). Self Empowerment Academy Pty Ltd. Kindle Edition.

[Emphasis added]

I began to exchange my pure fruit juice preference for the odd cappuccino or the odd mouthful of chocolate just because I felt like the flavour of something sweet but I also learnt to transmute these things.

Jasmuheen. PRANIC NOURISHMENT – Nutrition for the New Millennium (Living on Light) (Divine Nutrition Series Book 1) (Kindle Locations 2657-2659). Self Empowerment Academy Pty Ltd. Kindle Edition.

[Emphasis added]

For me, as an absolute food purist for some 20 years, the process was extremely liberating! To be nourished from pranic energy and then be free to have a stage of tasting chocolate, or to have a potato scallop now and then through winter just for fun was fun!

Jasmuheen. PRANIC NOURISHMENT – Nutrition for the New Millennium (Living on Light) (Divine Nutrition Series Book 1) (Kindle Locations 2659-2661). Self Empowerment Academy Pty Ltd. Kindle Edition.

[Emphasis added]

And more. The woman is eating. Is there another way to spell fraud? Let’s go further. Her claims about food intake are demonstrably false.

Since June 1993 I have existed on an average of 300 calories per day which covers the calorie content of sugar and milk in my tea.

Jasmuheen. PRANIC NOURISHMENT – Nutrition for the New Millennium (Living on Light) (Divine Nutrition Series Book 1) (Kindle Location 1473). Self Empowerment Academy Pty Ltd. Kindle Edition.

Hard information has it that an adult human cannot subsist on that daily energy intake:

“The basal metabolic rate of a human is about 1,300-1,500 kcal/day for an adult female and 1,600-1,800 kcal/day for an adult male.”

Now it’s time for me to pull stuff out of the air and make statements without citing any references. The above figures are likely for an active person. Walking, talking, grocery shopping. If you slow down, do nothing, lie on your back, look at the ceiling, you can survive on maybe 900 calories per day. The history of war prisoners held by the Japanese in World War Two bears out that an active person cannot survive on 900 calories per day.

Greve can claim to tone her metabolism to 100% efficiency, but there are some physical facts that cannot be ignored. A grown person, merely living, dissipates energy at 100 watts. That’s 8,640,000 joules per day. At 4184 joules per Calorie, that’s 2965 Calories per day, in conflict with the numbers referenced above. That means my estimate of 100 Watts is too high, but not by that much. In order for Greve to turn down her thermostat and only put out 300 Calories of heat per day, she’s going to have to be stone cold. She is definitely at odds with some basic physics in her wild-ass claims.

Bottom line, whack job of a book, a few people dead, money in Greve’s pocket, 21st century public not much better off than their ancestors from 1000 years back. That’s progress.

Dying to Believe

Some more of the same

Some readers complain… Actually, I don’t receive a bunch of complaints about this series, including nobody complaining when I blame Jesus. So, people must be cool with blaming Jesus on a bunch of untimely deaths. The facts being, Jesus is more often not to blame. Stupidity in the form of false belief is alive and well without the benefit of Jesus, as evidenced by the Breatharians:

Prior to her death Verity Linn had announced her intent to follow the Breatharian quest, and a copy of Jasmuheen’s book was found near her body. However, it is not apparent the notorious demise of Jasmuheen’s followers resulted in major hit on her popularity. Besides “Living on Light,” she has two other books, “In Resonance” and “Our Camelot,” listed on Amazon.

The book mentioned, “Living on  Light,” is now in its fourth edition and retitled Pranic Nourishment, with the subtitle “Nutrition for the New Millennium.” I just now purchased a Kindle edition, and you should be looking for a review (possibly not favorable) in the near future.

As mentioned in the referenced item from The North Texas Skeptic:

[Ellen] Greve is a former Australian business woman who now calls herself Jasmuheen. She is a New Age guru promoting avoidance of food. Her cult is said to have a following of 5000 world wide. At least one wiseacre has conjectured these may not be the same followers from one year to the next. Her followers tend to be claimants of the famous Darwin Awards.

The Wikipedia entry for Jasmuheen contains detail of additional interest:

Jasmuheen developed financial and business management skills working full-time in the finance industry. In 1992 she began combining her experience in business and finance with meditation, selling access to workshops and seminars on the topic and, by deed poll changed her name to Jasmuheen.

In 1998, she appeared in her first film, a six-part direct to video documentary called The Legend of Atlantis: Return of the Lightmasters. The Australian television programme 60 Minutes challenged Jasmuheen to demonstrate how she could live without food and water. The supervising medical professional Dr Beres Wenck found that, after 48 hours, Jasmuheen displayed symptoms of acute dehydration, stress, and high blood pressure. Jasmuheen claimed that this was a result of “polluted air”. On the third day, she was moved to a mountainside retreat about 15 miles from the city, where she was filmed enjoying the fresh air, claiming she could now successfully practice Inedia. But as filming progressed, Jasmuheen’s speech slowed, her pupils dilated, and she lost over a stone (6 kg or 14 lb) in weight. After four days, she acknowledged that she had lost weight, but stated that she felt fine. Dr. Wenck stated: “You are now quite dehydrated, probably over 10%, getting up to 11%.” The doctor continued: “Her pulse is about double what it was when she started. The risk if she goes any further is kidney failure.” Jasmuheen’s condition continued to deteriorate rapidly due to acute dehydration, despite her contrary insistence. Dr Wenck concluded that continuing the experiment would ultimately prove fatal. The film crew agreed with this assessment and stopped filming.

Sadly, there are additional deaths due to people following Jasmuheen’s eternal wisdom. So, who needs Jesus?

I will profile additional such deaths in future posts. And may Jesus have mercy on my soul.

Is too late for me to get my money back?

Excursion into the absurd

It happened that yesterday I was preparing a post on a running theme I call “Industrial Strength Irony,” and my case study was mega-church pastor Dr. Robert Jeffreys. What was ironic was his “now you say you do, and now you don’t” posture on political civility:

That’s from the Lyrics On Demand, and it’s about sin in No Name City, but let’s pretend the subject is irony. Then here it is, I mean here it is:

This appalling act of violence highlights the fact that the unrelenting demonization of our legitimately elected political leaders could lead to tragedy, and I refer particularly to the mainstream media, our universities, and to Hollywood.

Now is the time to tone it all down, embrace real tolerance, report objectively, and stop provoking our nation to conflict.

And I could see this was so ironic when juxtaposed against his previous attempts at civility. An exemplar of this were the remarks made in a book he published a few years ago. I purchased a copy, a few dollars plus tax, and obtained the quote. And that was done. Then came today, and I have the book, in Kindle edition, on a terabyte computer drive and also on a flash memory card. And  there it sits. Maybe I should read it. I mean, read the entire book and not just the crazy parts. Came lunch today, and I had my soup and my cheese crackers and soda and my Samsung tablet. I decided to start with the first chapter. The title is “Why Study Bible Prophecy.” And I started reading. I read the first paragraph:

Have you ever read the novel Futility, or the Wreck of the Titan by Morgan Robertson? The novella tells the story of a magnificent ocean liner named the Titan that strikes an iceberg on its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York and sinks in the middle of the ocean. You are probably thinking, “This sure does sound like the real story of the Titanic.” Yet Robertson’s novel differs from the actual event in several ways. The ship in Futility was 1,800 feet long while the real Titanic was 1,882 feet long. The Titan was able to displace 66,000 tons of water, while the Titanic was able to displace 70,000 tons of water. Yet both ships were triple-screw ocean liners that could travel up to twenty-five knots per hour and transport three thousand passengers.

Robert, Jeffress. Perfect Ending: Why Your Eternal Future Matters Today (Kindle Locations 45-51). Worthy Publishing. Kindle Edition.

[Emphasis added]

And I stopped right there. The part about Titanic being able to transport three thousand passengers is true, if you include the crew. A lot of the rest is not. The real Titanic was 882 feet (and nine inches). It displaced 53,210 tons. And knots per hour is not a meaningful combination of Roman typeface.

Is it too late for me to get my money back?

Given that I purchased the book originally to  obtain the quote in question, and given that this is a book by a writer who believes in a magical person in  the sky and that the “end times” are coming, and people will be teleported away, but only if they truly believe that the magical person  (MP) created people and  instilled in them a made up sin and then sought to punish them for this sin by drowning all but a select family and then impregnated a teenage girl with himself as the zygote and subsequently had himself tortured and killed to absolve all people of the supposed sin he had, himself, invented, after which he came alive again and walked and talked for 40 days before ascending into the sky, and given the remainder of the book is going to be full of this nonsense—should I finish reading it, or should I attempt to return it and get my money back?

I will allow readers to make the decision. I’m posting a link to this on Facebook, and I’m asking readers to let me know by voting on Facebook or in  the comment section below whether I should pay for the sins I inflicted during 76 years on this planet and read the remainder of this book and write a review. My fate is in your hands, readers. Do your worst.

And may Jesus have mercy on your soul.

Race To The Bottom

It was long ago, maybe 150 years, they started calling it. The United States of America had seen 15, and  then with the death of Abraham Lincoln 16, presidents come and go. Some outstanding, many mediocre. George Washington seemed to be everybody’s favorite. For some reason Andrew Jackson scored highly. Millard Fillmore was tops in mediocrity. But 150 years ago one stood out. James Buchanan ranked the lowest. Absolutely the worst president of all.

Until this year.

Reporter and author Garry Boulard published The Worst President in 2015, prior to the ascendancy of Donald Trump. To summarize, James Buchanan politicked 40 years to acquire the presidency and then took another four to destroy the office. What James Buchanan accomplished in four years, President Donald Trump put to shade within his first 100 days. We are going to hope Trump’s is a record that will stand for a thousand years.

Boulard’s dissection of the 15th president is neat and nearly surgical. He recounts Buchanan’s early years and his rise to prominence and then catalogs the fumble upon fumble that marked his term in office. And that’s all I’m going to do. There is some interesting stuff about Buchanan’s early times, and then I will sketch four highlights of his presidency.

To start:

When Buchanan was born, George Washington had been president for only 24 months. The U.S. Supreme Court had convened for the very first time the year before. There was no telegraph, no train, no Library of Congress, no Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Florida, Texas or California. There wasn’t even a New York Times.

But there was Pennsylvania, celebrating its third year as a state when Buchanan came to life in the tiny, forested Cove Gap, near the Maryland border, on April 23, 1791.

Boulard, Garry. The Worst President–The Story of James Buchanan (Kindle Locations 447-451). iUniverse. Kindle Edition.

Tragedy struck early for young James. He became engaged to Anne Coleman, of a wealthy family, but after a friend suggested the proposed marriage was driven by money, she saw no honorable way out, and she killed herself. Buchanan never married, the only president who never did. Already in politics, he clawed his way up, always seeming to be in the know of the people who counted. Some of his rise was actually based on merit:

But his bachelorhood in a country that revered family never really hurt him as he rose in the ranks, mostly out of public view, serving as Andrew Jackson’s Minister to Russia in the early 1830s, James Polk’s Secretary of State in the mid-1840s and Franklin Pierce’s Minister to Great Britain in the mid-1850s.

Boulard, Garry. The Worst President–The Story of James Buchanan (Kindle Locations 286-289). iUniverse. Kindle Edition.

Compared to other presidents of the time, his foreign policy experience was possibly unmatched. His term in office, however, was marked by episodes without compare up to that point. Here are six:

Kansas

Slavery was the big issue of those years preceding the Civil War. The United States, seemingly founded on human liberty, codified human slavery within its constitution. It quickly developed that the Southern economy depended on the cheap (free?) labor of slaves, and that drove the politics of the region. As new states were added to  the Union, especially states that could pass as southern, it was important for southerners to maintain a balance of power in Congress by admitting these states as “slave states.” Slavery would be legal in those states. Kansas was the flash point.

Blood had already been shed in the Kansas Territory when Buchanan came to power, a Democrat and a proponent of legal slavery. His solution to the Kansas problem was ambiguous to say the least. He proposed the people of Kansas should determine for themselves whether it would be a slave state,  then he worked the machinery to ensure it would be.

First he appointed his old friend Robert J. Walker, to be the territorial governor during the admission process. This was after much cajoling, because Walker did not want the job and declined multiple entreaties from Buchanan, some in writing. The problem was, once Walker became ensconced in the position, he proceeded to carry out Buchanan’s promise of impartiality. Buchanan immediately came under pressure from slavery advocates and caved with great public notice:

Whatever doubts Buchanan may still have had regarding Walker were probably finally resolved eight days later when his long-time trusted adviser Robert Tyler bluntly urged him to remove Walker “without hesitation.”

Boulard, Garry. The Worst President–The Story of James Buchanan (Kindle Locations 941-942). iUniverse. Kindle Edition.

Dred Scott

Scott was an escaped slave who sued in court for his freedom. The Supreme Court, in a landmark decision, ruled that slavery was, in fact, legal, and Scott’s petition was denied. President Buchanan gained additional notoriety by interfering with the process:

Bumptiously inserting himself into the preliminary deliberations of the court, Buchanan had not only corresponded with Catron on the matter, but also Associate Justice Robert Grier, pushing him to join the Southern majority. Grier, of Pennsylvania, was uncomfortable going against the wishes of the president-elect of his own state and may have felt additional pressure recalling that he held his seat primarily because Buchanan had declined an earlier nomination from President Polk to the

Boulard, Garry. The Worst President–The Story of James Buchanan (Kindle Locations 808-811). iUniverse. Kindle Edition.

Cuba

The United States was not to acquire the island of Cuba for another 50 years, but expansionist elements already had an eye in that direction. There were plans to purchase Cuba from mother Spain, plans which did not involve what is commonly considered to be a purchase:

The task of advancing the President’s Cuban proposal in the Senate fell to the durable John Slidell, a long-standing devotee of invading the island nation. Brandishing charts and maps, Slidell, beginning in January 1859, championed legislation that would give Buchanan $30 million to be used in the acquisition of Cuba. Slidell imaginatively argued that the purchase of Cuba was a natural outgrowth of American expansionism. The “law of our national existence is a growth we cannot disobey,” he exclaimed, telling his colleagues that as Britain was in India, and France was in Africa, the U.S. should be in Cuba.

It wasn’t just Slidell who swung into action on this one. To Buchanan’s pleasure, his pals came out of the woodwork in favor of his proposal.

“If Spain be indisposed to sell, I would seize Cuba,” Mississippi Senator Aaron Brown told an enthusiastic gathering of Tammany Hall Democrats in New York. Brown went on to note that the U.S. had tried to negotiate before with Spanish officials over Cuba—always unsuccessfully. “I have grown weary of this thing, of having young, proud, glorious America knocking at the door of Spain and asking for admission. It is our policy not to ask justice, but to demand it, because it is our right.”

Boulard, Garry. The Worst President–The Story of James Buchanan (Kindle Locations 1099-1109). iUniverse. Kindle Edition.

L’affaire Sickles

This was a nasty bit of business:

Sickles’ victim was Philip Barton Key, the District Attorney of Washington and son of Francis Scott Key, author of the Star-Spangled Banner.

Sickles accused Key of having an affair with his attractive 22 year-old wife Teresa. He shot him three times, resulting in the District Attorney’s instant death and Sickles’ arrest later that afternoon. Buchanan was told of the shooting within minutes by a breathless White House page named John Bonitz who witnessed the killing.

Boulard, Garry. The Worst President–The Story of James Buchanan (Kindle Locations 1138-1142). iUniverse. Kindle Edition.

The President of the United States gave this witness, John Bonitz, a bundle of money and advice to get out of town. This was doubly mysterious, since there were numerous other eye witnesses who came forward and testified against Sickles, a very good friend of the President’s. With the President’s additional meddling, along with the code of honor prevailing in those days, Sickles got off and served his country many years following.

The Crittenden Proposal

Perhaps no motion more dipped in human depravity ever came before the United States Government than the so-called Crittenden Proposal. The Democratic Party of those days was the party of slavery, and the newly launched Republican Party had in its plank the elimination of slavery. As the election of 1860 approached, it became evident the Republicans had the odds on at winning the presidency, with Abraham Lincoln, an acknowledged opponent of slavery, at the helm. Southerners saw no recourse but to secede from the Union in that event, and Buchanan saw the need to forestall secession. His solution involved throwing human rights to the wolves, and the Crittenden Proposal was emblematic:

No stranger to tackling thorny challenges, the 73 year-old Crittenden had served as President Millard Fillmore’s attorney general, painstakingly helping to broker the famous Compromise of 1850 which recognized Southern slavery, admitted California as a free state and organized the Utah and New Mexico territories with no restrictions on slavery. Now Crittenden visited the White House and told Buchanan that he thought he could make magic happen again, a magic that would rob secession of its purpose through the adoption of a series of amendments to the Constitution.

Those amendments would primarily prevent Congress from abolishing slavery where it existed; require that slave owners be compensated whenever fugitive slaves were harbored by abolitionists; prohibit slavery north of the Missouri Compromise line and protect slavery in territories south of that line. A final Crittenden proposal would lock it all in by declaring that none of the above amendments could be changed by subsequent amendment.

Boulard, Garry. The Worst President–The Story of James Buchanan (Kindle Locations 2113-2120). iUniverse. Kindle Edition.

The Civil War

Buchanan is best noted for his inability, or his unwillingness, to avoid civil war. A pronouncement of his is one that will live in infamy:

On December 3, drawing heavily on Black’s opinion, Buchanan declared in his annual message to Congress that while it was certainly unconstitutional for any state to leave the union, if one did, there really wasn’t much he could do about it.

Boulard, Garry. The Worst President–The Story of James Buchanan (Kindle Locations 91-93). iUniverse. Kindle Edition.

This followed the secession of South Carolina and came a few months preceding the onset of armed conflict. The result was 785,000–1,000,000+ dead within the following  four and a half years. We can only hope that President Trump succeeds only in continuing to make himself and the rest of us look foolish and will keep his finger off the launch button.

This is the place where I point out curiosities found in my edition. Emphasis added:

  • Multiple ways of spelling Buchanan. It’s Buchannan in three places.
  • That he now claimed to have summarily rejected the offer, and even went so far as to call it an insult, rang hallow.

    Boulard, Garry. The Worst President–The Story of James Buchanan (Kindle Locations 1536-1537). iUniverse. Kindle Edition.

  • When, on the next day, that move was was completed,

    Boulard, Garry. The Worst President–The Story of James Buchanan (Kindle Location 1982). iUniverse. Kindle Edition.

Fundamental Apocalypse

The word in the title, “apocalypse,” has slipped its original meaning. It has come to  mean “dire circumstances.” And that’s what this movie is all about.

Hulu has produced a TV series based on Margaret Atwood’s book, The Handmaid’s Tale, from 31 years ago, and it’s right up there with any zombie apocalypse flick you care to see, made more treacherous by skillful understatement. It’s a tale of modern society gone horribly wrong. It’s about the people living through the fundamental apocalypse. Where have we seen this before?

What has happened is the Unite States government has been overthrown in a well-crafted coup d’état, carried out by a fundamentalist Christian movement. The coup is swift and decisive. The national government is decapitated in a single strike, eliminating all leaders of the national government, all leaders, that is, except perhaps some of the movement already in power. The coup is blamed on external forces, a monstrous false flag operation, necessitating the suspension of all civil rights. This is followed, of course, by the instigation of an authoritative and self-perpetuating rule and a state named Gilead. American law and American  society will now be based on biblical literalism. Almost to the letter.

Opening scenes show a family, husband, wife, daughter, from Boston, attempting to escape north across the Canadian border. They don’t make it. The husband stays by their stalled car while the wife and child dash through the woods toward the border, two miles away. Guardians, heavily-armed religious police, overtake the mother and daughter and carry the child away. Gunfire in the distance indicates the husband has been killed. The fate of the mother is worse.

The title derives from Genesis 16:

16 Now Sarai Abram’s wife bare him no children: and she had an handmaid, an Egyptian, whose name was Hagar.

And Sarai said unto Abram, Behold now, the Lord hath restrained me from bearing: I pray thee, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her. And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai.

And Sarai Abram’s wife took Hagar her maid the Egyptian, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife.

And he went in unto Hagar, and she conceived: and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her eyes.

And that is about the sum total of the handmaid’s tale. Catalyst to the coup were multiple failures of modern society, one of which was a precipitous decline in human fertility. Genesis 16 was to counter this calamity. Fertile women were to be pressed into breading service, in almost exact accordance with the biblical passage. The wife, now given the name Offred (from Of Fred), undergoes a brutal program of indoctrination that renders her totally submissive and in perpetual dread of unpleasant death, at least superficially. She is placed in the home of a high level Commander, her only tasks consisting of daily grocery shopping and, once each month, spreading her legs so the Commander can penetrate and impregnate her. It is not a private affair. The Commander’s wife sits behind Offred and restrains her hands. Other members of the household observe. There is not a lot of love lost.

The first crack of the plot brings to mind Robert Heinlein’s Revolt in 2100, previously reviewed. Recall from that tale (“If This Goes On”), the country has devolved into a repressive theocracy, and desirable young women are pressed into service as concubines for the priests. Other similarities exist. Heinlein’s story incorporates secret police keeping watch on everybody, and also an underground movement to oppose and overturn the theocracy. There are also shades of 1984, with eavesdropping cameras all about and sudden disappearances of those only suspected of apostasy. A black van may come to a stop next to the curb on a busy street and a pedestrian scooped inside, never to be seen again.

Another scene recalls The Stepford Wives. The handmaids shop in pairs, each keeping an eye on the other. They move among the supermarket aisles like grown up dolls on trolley wheels, the hems of their frocks almost brushing the floor. Faces devoid of expression.

As Offred and her shopping partner Ofglen (Of Glen) return to their respective prison houses, they often pass alongside the river, where authorities have on display the latest reminders of what resistance brings. Homosexuals and Catholic priests are equally served.

The book is presented as a narrative, recorded by a woman giving only her handmaid’s name, Offred, in what may have been a safe house along the escape route to Canada. An epilogue is presented as a symposium on the history of the Gileadean.

Being a partial transcript of the proceedings of the Twelfth Symposium on Gileadean Studies, held as part of the International Historical Association Convention, held at the University of Denay, Nunavit, on June 25, 2195.

Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid’s Tale (p. 299). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

The presenter describes the finding of a collection of audio cassettes, inside a container in a house, in no particular order. The book has apparently been constructed by compiling and assembling transcripts of the tapes. Atwood’s book is meant to recreate the haphazard nature of the narrative, moving, jumping forward and backward in time, as the woman calls to mind her experiences in Gilead and her life before.

In the book, her narrative ends precipitously. There is a ceremony featuring the execution by hanging of three people, followed by the unmasking of revolutionary elements within the ranks of the handmaids. The wife of Offred’s Commander reveals her knowledge of Offred’s perfidy, a sexual fling with the Commander, and Offred is sent to her room to await her fate. When the black van arrives to  take her away the Guardians inside are revealed to be rescuers with the rebellion, come to help Offred escape. Offred’s narrative ends at that point.

There is ample in  the book to make a reader’s blood run cold, but Hulu has added more. I am up to episode 6 in the TV series, and the creators have already introduced disturbing sub-plots. One episode features a visit by a trade delegation from Mexico. The trade ambassador is a woman, a complete repudiation of Gileadean culture. On arriving she quizzes Offred about her situation, in the presence of the Commander and his household. Offred is meek to the core, telling the ambassador the is satisfied. At a later, private, meeting Offred is candid. She is a prisoner, raped monthly in a vain effort to produce a child, doomed to death at the end of her tenure. The Mexican ambassador says she cannot help Offred. Mexico has the same fertility crisis, and the Mexicans are prepared to trade chocolate for some of Gilead’s handmaids.

Contrary to the book, Hulu shows Offred’s husband, Luke, having escaped to Canada and receiving a note from Offred, smuggled to him by the Mexican delegation. It is unknown to me how much further along this tangent Hulu will carry the story. Is there going to be a counter revolution? Will Offred (revealed by Hulu as June) ever see her daughter alive again? Or Luke?

Some Skeptical Analysis is in order. Here are a few points of note:

The inception of Gilead by means of a surgical coup d’état is uncharacteristic. The creation of a totalitarian theocracy out of the United States is too quick and too precise. Historical precedent is contrary. The Soviet Union developed with breath-taking speed from the Russian Empire, but there was merely one framework of suppression and brutality exchanged for another. Additionally, Russia’s abject military failures were a necessary caustic agent. Nazi Germany grew remorselessly out of a German monarchy that suffered humiliating losses in a war of its own making. And it was not overnight. Chinese communism and the current state of Cuba are additional examples. Look to Venezuela to see a modern state collapsing into oligarchy. Neither the book nor the movie display such a run-up to dystopia.

Gilead’s economy is failing, and it is not difficult to see why. With one half of the work force standing as armed guard over the other half, who is doing productive work? The book does tell of Colonies, where slave labor is producing food and maybe other products of the economy, but shortages are rife in both renditions of the story.

A core theme is modern society’s plummeting birth rate. Gilead attempts to remedy this through the handmaids, and readers (viewers, as well) recognize this as a reliance on scripture to solve a real world problem and also a mechanism that only contributes to it. It is obvious to the the casual observer that Gilead, perhaps the remainder of human society, is doomed to extinction from aging within two or three generations. Only the religious fanatics can fail to recognize this.

Yes, I can see a society that rides theocracy into its grave. We have only to look at:

  • North Korea—yes it is a theocracy.
  • The Taliban

These societies, and others so organized, cannot exist in a modern world without an infusion from the world they detest.

Watching, also reading, one wonders whether this is the vision we could expect under today’s theocratic politicians. How much power would it be required for them to have to bend modern society along these lines? We may be experiencing a small taste. Is the experiment already underway?

Years of Living Dangerously

Continuing review of Berlin Diary

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

This installment will cover the year 1937 up through 7 May, 80 years ago. The first part of 1937 has few entries for Berlin Diary, the first one being 8 April:

BERLIN, April 8, 1937

April here and no Hitler surprise this spring yet. This may be a year of Nazi consolidation, building up the armed forces, assuring Franco victory in Spain, cementing relations with Italy (support for the Duce in Spain and the Mediterranean in return for his giving Germany a free hand in Austria and the Balkans), and giving the nerves of the German people a little rest.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 911-914). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

And that was to be the case. During 1937 Germany’s involvement in the Spanish Civil War intensified. Shirer left Universal Services and joined forces with Edward R. Murrow in reporting the early weeks of the coming war.

BERLIN, May 3

Gordon Young of Reuter’s and I ran into Lord Lothian about midnight in the lobby of the Adlon. He arrived here suddenly yesterday to confer with Nazi leaders. Young asked him why he had come. “Oh, Göring asked me to,” he replied. He is probably the most intelligent of the Tories taken in by Hitler, Göring, and Ribbentrop. We wanted to ask him since when he was under orders from Göring, but refrained.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 926-930). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Lord Lothian will be an unfamiliar figure to all but historians. Here’s from his Wikipedia entry:

Philip Henry Kerr, 11th Marquess of Lothian, KT CH PC DL (18 April 1882 – 12 December 1940), known as Philip Kerr until 1930, was a British politician, diplomat and newspaper editor. He was private secretary to Prime Minister David Lloyd George between 1916 and 1921. He played a major role in the drafting of the Treaty of Versailles of 1919, and was responsible for including the War Guilt Clause which he later felt was a bad mistake. After succeeding a cousin in the marquessate in 1930, he held minor office from 1931 to 1932 in the National Government headed by Ramsay MacDonald. In the late 1930s, he was a leading advocate of appeasement of Germany, emphasizing the harshness of the Versailles Treaty and the dangers of Stalin’s communism. From 1939 until his death in December 1940 he was Ambassador to the United States, Proving highly successful in winning Americans support for the British war effort, most notably the Lend Lease program, which passed Congress after his death.

By this time German President Paul von Hindenburg had been dead for over two years. On this day, 80 years ago, the great airship named after him came to a fiery end:

BERLIN, May 7

Hillman awakened me with a phone call from London about four a.m. today to inform me that the Zeppelin Hindenburg had crashed at Lakehurst with the loss of several lives. I immediately phoned one of the men who designed it, at Friedrichshafen. He refused to believe my words. I telephoned London and gave them a little story for the late editions. I had hardly gone back to sleep when Claire Trask of the Columbia Broadcasting System phoned to ask me to do a broadcast on the German reaction to the disaster. I was a bit ill-tempered, I’m afraid, at being awakened so early. I told her I couldn’t do it and suggested two or three other correspondents. About ten she called back again and insisted I do it. I finally agreed, though I had never broadcast in my life.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 930-936). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Shirer’s tenure with Universal Service was to come to an end later in the year, as the Hearst conglomerate folded its operations to cut its losses.

From this point forward I will post on the 80th anniversary of a related entry. Entries are sparse for 1937, but from 1938 going forward events in Europe were coming to a boil. Shirer’s first-hand look has been hard to duplicate. Juxtaposed against the official history, it often provides chilling insight.

Years of Living Dangerously

Continuing review of Berlin Diary

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

This installment will cover the year 1936. That year saw the continued territorial solidification of Nazi Germany, with the re-militarization of the Rhineland. Imposition of capital punishment for those opposing the Nazis became a harsh reality. The Nazis began to extend their reach beyond national borders as Germany and Italy threw their weight on the side of the Republican faction in the Spanish Civil War, and Germany signed the Anti-Comintern Pact with Japan. The year opened ominously and from there deteriorated without remorse.

BERLIN, January 4, 1936

The afternoon press, especially the Börsen Zeitung and the Angriff, very angry at Roosevelt’s denunciation of dictatorships and aggression, obviously directed mostly against Mussolini, but also meant for Berlin. Incidentally, an item I forgot to record: X of the Börsen Zeitung is not to be executed. His death sentence has been commuted to life imprisonment. His offence: he occasionally saw that some of us received copies of Goebbels’s secret daily orders to the press. They made rich reading, ordering daily suppression of this truth and the substitution of that lie. He was given away, I hear, by a Polish diplomat, a fellow I never trusted. The German people, unless they can read foreign newspapers (the London Times has an immense circulation here now), are terribly cut off from events in the outside world and of course are told nothing of what is happening behind the scenes in their own country. For a while they stormed the news-stands to buy the Baseler Nachrichten, a Swiss German-language paper, which sold more copies in Germany than it did in Switzerland. But that paper has now been banned.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 567-576). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The Börsen Zeitung is not to be confused with the current publication, founded in 1952. Der Angriff (the Attack) was a propaganda sheet established by Joseph Goebbels. That somebody could receive the death sentence for disclosing manipulation of the press is telling of the Nazis’ need to strangle free information and also of their ruthless approach to the suppression of all opposition. Shirer’s continued conflict with Nazi repression was indicative:

BERLIN, January 23

An unpleasant day. A telephone call awakened me this morning— I work late and sleep late— and it turned out to be Wilfred Bade, a fanatical Nazi careerist at the moment in charge of the Foreign Press in the Propaganda Ministry. He began: “Have you been in Garmisch recently?” I said: “No.” Then he began to shout: “I see, you haven’t been there and yet you have the dishonesty to write a fake story about the Jews there….” “Wait a minute,” I said, “you can’t call me dishonest…” but he had hung up.

At noon Tess turned on the radio for the news just in time for us to hear a ringing personal attack on me, implying that I was a dirty Jew and was trying to torpedo the winter Olympic Games at Garmisch (which begin in a few days) with false stories about the Jews and Nazi officials there. When I got to the office after lunch, the front pages of the afternoon papers were full of typically hysterical Nazi denunciations of me. The Germans at the office expected the Gestapo to come to get me at any moment. Actually, I had written in a mail series, some time ago, that the Nazis at Garmisch had pulled down all the signs saying that Jews were unwanted (they’re all over Germany) and that the Olympic visitors would thus be spared any signs of the kind of treatment meted out to Jews in this country. I had also remarked, in passing, that Nazi officials had taken all the good hotels for themselves and had put the press in inconvenient pensions, which was true.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 576-588). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

There follows Shirer’s account of his confrontation with Propaganda Minister Wilfrid Bade. That a nation would have the office of Propaganda Ministry is startling, and that it would be called the Propaganda Ministry is more so. Bade was scooped up by the Soviets at the conclusion of the European war in 1945 and died in one of their prisons later that year.

It should be noted that not all the Nazis were on the same side of the English Channel:

BERLIN, February 25

Learn that Lord Londonderry was here around the first of the month, saw Hitler, Göring, and most of the others. He is an all-out pro-Nazi. Fear he has not been up to any good.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 619-621). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

About this time the French, with the aim at hemming in Nazi Germany, concluded a mutual assistance pact with the Soviet Union, and the Nazis reacted in typical, scripted, fashion:

BERLIN, February 28

The French Chamber has approved the Soviet pact by a big majority. Much indignation in the Wilhelmstrasse. Fred Oechsner says that when he and Roy Howard saw Hitler day before yesterday, he seemed to be very preoccupied about something.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 622-624). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Stirrings became apparent within Nazi Germany as surreptitious plans for re-militarization of the Rhineland were conducted, even as denials flew:

BERLIN, March 6, midnight

This has been a day of the wildest rumours. Definite, however, is that Hitler has convoked the Reichstag for noon tomorrow and summoned the ambassadors of Britain, France, Italy, and Belgium for tomorrow morning. Since these are the four Locarno powers, it is obvious from that and from what little information I could pry out of party circles that Hitler intends to denounce the Locarno Treaty, which only a year ago this month he said Germany would “scrupulously respect.” My guess too, based on what I’ve heard today, is that Hitler will also make an end of the demilitarized zone in the Rhineland, though the Wilhelmstrasse savagely denies this. Whether he will send the Reichswehr in is not sure. This seems too big a risk in view of the fact that the French army could easily drive it out.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 627-633). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The Rhineland is a German region adjacent to the border with France, and it had been decreed a military-free zone under terms of the Treaty of Versailles. The movement of German troops into this region was Hitler’s riskiest gamble at the time, and the lack of action by France and other Allied factions set the course for the coming of another world war.

BERLIN, March 7

A little on the careful side is right! Hitler on this day has torn up the Locarno Treaty and sent in the Reichswehr to occupy the demilitarized zone of the Rhineland! A few diplomats on the pessimistic side think it means war. Most think he will get by with it. The important thing is that the French army has not budged. Tonight for the first time since 1870 grey-clad German soldiers and blue-clad French troops face each other across the upper Rhine. But I talked to Karlsruhe on the phone an hour ago; there have been no shots. I’ve had our Paris office on the line all evening, filing my dispatch. They say the French are not mobilizing— yet, at least— though the Cabinet is in session with the General Staff. London— as a year ago— seems to be holding back. The Reichswehr generals are still nervous, but not so nervous as they were this morning.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 641-647). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Same day, Shirer assesses Hitler’s commitment to sincerity:

The quality of Hitler’s sincerity may be measured by his proposal to demilitarize both sides of the frontiers, thus forcing France to scrap her Maginot Line, now her last protection against a German attack.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 664-666). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Discussing Hitler:

He cleverly tried to reassure Poland in his speech today. His words were: “I wish the German people to understand that although it affects us painfully that an access to the sea for a nation of thirty-five million people should cut through German territory, it is unreasonable to deny such a great nation that access.”

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 699-701). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

To say that the German military command was nervous at this risky move is an understatement. This kind of action was counter to all good military experience, of which there was a considerable amount being wasted. The former corporal, in naive brashness, had successfully gone where the generals feared to tread. Shirer recalls observing Werner von Blomberg, commander of German armed forces:

After lunch I took a stroll alone through the Tiergarten to collect my thoughts. Near the Skagerakplatz I ran into General von Blomberg walking along with two dogs on the leash. His face was still white, his cheeks twitching. “Has anything gone wrong?” I wondered. Then to the office, where I pounded my head off all afternoon, stopping to telephone to Paris my story every time I had three or four hundred words. Remembered it was Saturday when New York came through by cable hollering for early copy for the Sunday morningers. Saturday is Hitler’s day all right: the blood purge, conscription, today— all Saturday affairs.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 702-706). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The same day:

Our Cologne correspondent phoned several times to give a description of the occupation. According to him, the German troops have been given delirious receptions everywhere, the women strewing their line of march with flowers. He says the air force landed bombers and fighters at the Düsseldorf airdrome and several other fields. How many troops the Germans have sent into the Rhineland today nobody knows. François Poncet (the French Ambassador) told a friend of mine tonight that he had been lied to three times by the German Foreign Office on the subject in the course of the day. The Germans first announced 2,000 troops, then later 9,500 with “thirteen detachments of artillery.” My information is that they’ve sent in four divisions— about 50,000 men.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 709-715). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Shirer relates the apparent success of Hitler’s audacious move. What was possibly the last great opportunity to stop Hitler has been forfeited:

BERLIN, March 8

Hitler has got away with it! France is not marching. Instead it is appealing to the League! No wonder the faces of Hitler and Göring and Blomberg and Fritsch were all smiles this noon as they sat in the royal box at the State Opera and for the second time in two years celebrated in a most military fashion Heroes Memorial Day, which is supposed to mark the memory of the two million Germans slain in the last war.

Oh, the stupidity (or is it paralysis?) of the French! I learned today on absolute authority that the German troops which marched into the demilitarized zone of the Rhineland yesterday had strict orders to beat a hasty retreat if the French army opposed them in any way. They were not prepared or equipped to fight a regular army. That probably explains Blomberg’s white face yesterday. Apparently Fritsch (commander-in-chief of the Reichswehr) and most of the generals opposed the move, but Blomberg, who has a blind faith in the Führer and his judgment, talked them into it. It may be that Fritsch, who loves neither Hitler nor the Nazi regime, consented to go along on the theory that if the coup failed, that would be the end of Hitler; if it succeeded, then one of his main military problems was solved.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 722-731). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The same day:

LATER.— Dosch-Fleurot had an interesting story tonight from the Rhineland, where he’s been watching the German occupation. He reports that Catholic priests met the German troops at the Rhine bridges and conferred blessings on them. In Cologne Cathedral Cardinal Schulte, he says, praised Hitler for “sending back our army.” Quickly forgotten is the Nazi persecution of the church. Dosch says the Rhine wine is flowing freely down there tonight.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 756-759). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Shirer analyses the aftermath of the rearmament of the Rhineland:

KARLSRUHE, March 13

Here, within artillery range of the Maginot Line, Hitler made his first “election” speech tonight. Special trains poured in all day from surrounding towns, bringing the faithful and those ordered to come. The meeting was held in a huge tent and the atmosphere was so suffocating that I left before Hitler arrived, returning to my hotel, where over a good dinner and a bottle of wine, with most of the other correspondents, I listened to the speech by radio. Nothing new in it, though he drummed away nicely about his desire for friendship with France. Certainly these Rhinelanders don’t want another war with France, but this reoccupation by German troops has inculcated them with the Nazi bug. They’re as hysterical as the rest of the Germans. Later went out to a Kneipe with a taxi-driver who had driven me around during the day and had a few Schnaps. He turned out to be a Communist, waxed bitter about the Nazis, and predicted their early collapse. It was a relief to find one German here against the regime. He said there are a lot of others, but I sometimes wonder.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 763-771). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

No part of public life was left untouched by the growing power of the dictatorship. Vis, the matter of Dr. Hugo Eckener:

March 29

The new Zeppelin— to be called the Hindenburg— soared gracefully over our office yesterday. I was down to Friedrichshafen the other day to inspect it and it’s a marvel of German engineering genius. Yesterday it was doing “election” propaganda, dropping leaflets exhorting the populace to vote “Ja.” Dr. Hugo Eckener, who is getting it ready for its maiden flight to Brazil, strenuously objected to putting it in the air this week-end on the ground it was not yet The new Zeppelin— to be called the Hindenburg— soared gracefully over our office yesterday. I was down to Friedrichshafen the other day to inspect it and it’s a marvel of German engineering genius. Yesterday it was doing “election” propaganda, dropping leaflets exhorting the populace to vote “Ja.” Dr. Hugo Eckener, who is getting it ready for its maiden flight to Brazil, strenuously objected to putting it in the air this week-end on the ground it was not yet

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 772-781). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Then, later in April:

Goebbels has forbidden the press to mention Eckener’s name.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Location 788). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The Hindenburg exploded in flames while landing at Lakehurst, New Jersey, the following year, killing 36 people.

Civil war erupted in Spain, where Shirer and his wife had spent the year 1933. Germany and Italy were to intervene, and the conclusion was eventually to affect disastrously the fortunes of the Axis powers:

BERLIN, July 18

Trouble in Spain. A right-wing revolt. Fighting in Madrid, Barcelona, and other places.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 820-821). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Charles Lindbergh became America’s hero in 1927 with his solo flight from New York to Le Borget in France, where Shirer covered the landing. Lindbergh’s fame allowed him to wander into international politics, and his favorable slant toward the Nazis took much of the luster off his former glory:

BERLIN, July 23

The Lindberghs are here, and the Nazis, led by Göring, are making a great play for them.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 822-823). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

In 1936 Germany and Italy threw their full support behind Spain’s General Francisco Franco, sealing the doom of the Monarchists and ushering in a period of political oppression in Spain that was to last until Franco’s death in 1975.

BERLIN, November 18 The Wilhelmstrasse announced today that Germany (with Italy) has recognized Franco. General Faupel, who has done good work for Germany in South America and Spain, is to be Hitler’s Ambassador to Salamanca. Apparently today’s decision was timed to offset Franco’s failure to take Madrid just as he seemed to have it in his grasp. At first, I’m told, recognition was to coincide with Franco’s entry into Madrid, which the Germans expected ten days ago. Dodd tells me our consulate in Hamburg reported this week the departure from there of three German ships loaded with arms for Spain. In the meantime the comedy of “non-intervention” goes on in London. For two years now the policies of London and Paris have ceased making sense to me, judged by their own vital interests. They did nothing on March 16, 1935 and on March 7 this year, and they’re doing nothing about Spain now. Is my judgment becoming warped after two years in this hysterical Nazi land? Is it absurd or isn’t it absurd to conclude that

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 891-898). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

As the year 1936 drew down, the bizarre nature of a modern dictatorship continued to unfold.

BERLIN, November 25

We were summoned to the Propaganda Ministry today for an “important” announcement. Wondered what Hitler was up to, but it turned out to be merely the signing of an anti-Comintern pact between Germany and Japan. Ribbentrop, who signed for Germany, strutted in and harangued us for a quarter of an hour about the pact’s meaning, if any. He said it meant, among other things, that Germany and Japan had joined together to defend “Western civilization.” This was such a novel idea, for Japan at least, that at the end of his talk one of the British correspondents asked him if he had understood him correctly. Ribbentrop, who has no sense of humour, then repeated the silly statement, without batting an eye. It seems obvious that Japan and Germany have drawn up at the same time a secret military treaty calling for joint action against Russia should one of them get involved in war with the Soviets.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 899-906). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

If I have not mentioned Joachim von Ribbentrop previously, be advised here is one of Nazism’s most interesting characters. He rose to prominence through a curious route, as a wine merchant introduced to Hitler. He offered to work as a go between for Hitler with Franz von Papen, then Chancellor or Germany, later to be succeeded by Hitler. Ribbentrop became Nazi Germany’s foreign minister and was instrumental in many of the regime’s international intrigues. Winston Churchill, in his book World War II, recounts Ribbentrop’s lack of diplomacy, typical of Nazi diplomatic dealings:

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) (Kindle Locations 4169-4176). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

1936 concluded with holiday celebrations and Germany’s further lurch into foreign militarism:

BERLIN, December 25

A pleasant Christmas dinner, and American at that, even to mince pie, with Ralph and Esther Barnes and their children. Ralph and I had to get up in the middle of it, though, to check on queries from New York about a sensational A.P. report that the Germans had landed a large body of troops in Morocco to help Franco. There was no one in the Wilhelmstrasse, as all officials are out of town over the holidays, so we were unable to get a confirmation or denial. Sounds like a fake, though.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 907-911). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Starting with 1937, once I get caught up, posts will appear on the 80th anniversary of Shirer’s diary entries. 1937 marked the beginning of the tumult that was to become another world war.

Years of Living Dangerously

Continuing review of Berlin Diary

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

This installment will cover the year 1935. It was during this year that Nazi Germany began to assert itself with overt rearmament and with moves to expand its territory. Here’s the first entry for 1935:

BERLIN, January 14, 1935

The good Catholics and workers of the Saar voted themselves back into the Reich yesterday. Some ninety per cent voted for reunion— more than we had expected, though no doubt many were afraid that they would be found out and punished unless they cast their ballot for Hitler. Well, at least one cause of European tension disappears. Hitler has said, and repeated in a broadcast yesterday, that the Saar was the last territorial

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 339-342). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Saarland was pivotal in the expansion of Nazi Germany. Wikipedia has the details:

In 1920 the Saargebiet was occupied by Britain and France under the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles. The occupied area included portions of the Prussian Rhine Province and the Bavarian Rhenish Palatinate. In practice the region was administered by France. In 1920 this was formalized by a 15-year League of Nations mandate.

The occupation rankled German nationalism at the time, and the return of Saarland was a key item on the Nazis’ political agenda, a cause that gave them considerable lift with their people.

SAARBRÜCKEN, March 1

The Germans formally occupied the Saar today. There has been a pouring rain all day, but it has not dampened the enthusiasm of the local inhabitants. They do have the Nazi bug, badly. But I shall come back here in a couple of years to see how they like it then— the Catholics and the workers, who form the great majority of the population. Hitler strode in this afternoon and reviewed the S.S. and the troops.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 349-352). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The French were supposed to be the enforcers of the partitioning, and there is general agreement that had they acted against the German incursion there would have been an immediate withdrawal into Germany. Some think that would also have spelled the end of Hitler’s political power. In  the event, no such action was taken by the Allies, and Hitler put the reoccupation of the Saar in his “win” column, one of an unbroken succession that was to continue until September 1939. Matters began to develop in diplomatic circles:

BERLIN, March 15

Simon, it’s now announced, will come here March 24. But all is not well. Göring has told the Daily Mail, which through Lord Rothermere, its owner, and Ward Price, its roving correspondent— both pro-Nazi— has become a wonderful Nazi mouthpiece and sounding-board, that Germany is building up a military air force.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 367-370). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

“Simon” was British Foreign Secretary John Simon:

In 1931, when the Liberals split once again, Simon became leader of the Liberal Nationals (later to become the National Liberals) who continued to support protectionism and Ramsay MacDonald‘s National Government after the departure of the mainstream Liberals under Herbert Samuel. Simon was never opposed by a Conservative candidate at Spen Valley after 1924, and over time, Simon’s Liberal Nationals became hardly distinguishable from the Conservatives, but some Conservative MPs continued to be known locally as “National Liberals” for decades after the Second World War.

Additionally:

Tonight the Wilhelmstrasse people protested against France’s increasing the period of conscription for the French army.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 371-372). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

France, which had taken no action in response to the reoccupation of the Saar, was beginning to acknowledge the heat of its historic nemesis across the border. The Nazi government, in calculated fashion, loudly disclaimed all actions by other powers in reaction to Germany’s increasingly threatening posture. Each time another government took defensive action, Goebbels’ propaganda mill ground out a response that worked to justify Germany’s increasingly aggressive moves. Later:

The Paris office told me tonight that the French were excited and were trying to get the British to do something, but that London was holding back.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Location 389-390). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Slack as the French were, the Brits were even less prone to react. There was a strong movement in the island nation to resist rearmament and to avoid additional conflict with Germany.

A theme began to be manifest, a theme with which all would grow to become accustomed:

BERLIN, March 17

The first paragraph of my dispatch tonight sums up this extraordinary day: “This Heroes Memorial Day in memory of Germany’s two million war dead was observed today amid scenes unequalled since 1914 as rebirth of Germany’s military power brought forth professions of peace mixed with defiance.”

Hitler and his henchmen were in the royal box, but he himself did not speak. General von Blomberg spoke for him, though it seemed to me that he was uttering words certainly penned by the Führer. Said Blomberg: “The world has been made to realize that Germany did not die of its defeat in the World War. Germany will again take the place she deserves among the nations. We pledge ourselves to a Germany which will never surrender and never again sign a treaty which cannot be fulfilled. We do not need revenge because we have gathered glory enough through the centuries.” As Hitler looked on approvingly, the general continued: “We do not want to be dragged into another world war. Europe has become too small for another world-war battlefield. Because all nations have equal means at their disposal for war, the future war would mean only self-mutilation for all. We want peace with equal rights and security for all. We seek no more.”

Not lacking was a battalion of air-force men in sky-blue uniforms who goose-stepped like the veterans they undoubtedly are— but are not supposed to be.

Every German I’ve talked to today has applauded these lines. One of the Germans in my office, no Nazi, said: “Can the world expect a fairer offer of peace?” I admit it sounds good, but Ebbutt keeps warning me to be very sceptical, which I hope I am.

Tomorrow, according to our office, the Times will take a conciliatory line. My guess is that Hitler has got away with it.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 407-452). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The restoration of German honor, the sense of righting historic wrongs, eventually the demand for lebensraum, would come to be justification for attack, invasion, subjugation, and mass murder. The product of years of covert military buildup increasingly showed through.

Ten years later, minus ten days, American forces crossed the Rhine at Remagen.

Shirer continues to observe the desperate plight of German Jews:

BERLIN, April 11

Many Jews come to us these days for advice or help in getting to England or America, but unfortunately there is little we can do for them.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 466-472). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

BAD SAAROW, April 21 (Easter)

Taking the Easter week-end off. The hotel mainly filled with Jews and we are a little surprised to see so many of them still prospering and apparently unafraid. I think they are unduly optimistic.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 473-475). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Hitler continues to preach peace and to deny that which he is steadfastly planning:

BERLIN, May 21

Hitler made a grandiose “peace” speech in the Reichstag this evening and I fear it will impress world opinion and especially British opinion more than it should. The man is truly a superb orator and in the atmosphere of the hand-picked Reichstag, with its six hundred or so sausage-necked, shaved-headed, brown-clad yes-men, who rise and shout almost every time Hitler pauses for breath, I suppose he is convincing to Germans who listen to him. Anyway, tonight he was in great form and his program— of thirteen points— will convince a lot of people. It’s rather an amazing program, at that; very astutely drawn up. Leading up to it, Hitler screamed: “Germany needs peace…. Germany wants peace…. No one of us means to threaten anybody.” As to Austria: “Germany neither intends nor wishes to interfere in the internal affairs of Austria, to annex Austria, or to conclude an Anschluss.”

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 481-488). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Continuing, something all tyrants find necessary. His 13-point program, which he laid out this day, included an interesting point number 12:

12. Something should be done to prohibit the poisoning of public opinion among the nations by irresponsible elements orally or in writing, and in the theatre or the cinema.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 506-507). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

If anybody had not already noticed, it was now proclaimed that disagreeing with der Führer was not only unpatriotic, but also criminal.

Shirer notes that British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin has, on this day, replaces Ramsay MacDonald.

 

The British continue to make concessions to appease Hitler:

BERLIN, June 18

It’s in the bag, signed today in London. The Wilhelmstrasse quite elated. Germany gets a U-boat tonnage equal to Britain’s. Why the British have agreed to this is beyond me. German submarines almost beat them in the last war, and may in the next.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 523-525). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Shirer tells of a conversation that day with a fellow correspondent.

Usually Norman Ebbutt presides, sucking at an old pipe the night long, talking and arguing in a weak, high-pitched voice, imparting wisdom, for he has been here a long time, has contacts throughout the government, party, churches, and army, and has a keen intelligence. Of late he has complained to me in private that the Times does not print all he sends, that it does not want to hear too much of the bad side of Nazi Germany and apparently has been captured by the pro-Nazis in London.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 529-533). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Wikipedia elaborates:

During his time in Berlin Norman Ebbutt became well acquainted with top government officials and counted Chancellor Heinrich Brüning among his friends. He was distrustful of Hitler and disliked the Nazis. In April 1933 he wrote in The Times: “Herr Hitler, in his speeches as Chancellor, has professed a peaceful foreign policy. But this does not prove that the underlying spirit of the new Germany is a peaceful one. Germany is inspired by the determination to recover all it has lost and has little hope of doing so by peaceful means. Influential Germans do not see ten years elapsing before the war they regard as natural or inevitable breaks out in Europe. One may hear five or six years mentioned.”

Later journalist and author Douglas Reed described the article as “a masterpiece of careful political forecasting, based on expert knowledge.”  However, Ebbutt felt his message about the real mood of Germany was not being fully conveyed to the British public, because of The Times and its editor Geoffrey Dawson.

A recalcitrant British press poorly served its readers during this period.

By October the reality of war was becoming impossible to ignore. Benito Mussolini’s fascist state was Hitler’s inspiration, and we owe much to Mussolini for the germination of Nazism and the rise of Adolph Hitler, an early spiritual follower. At the conclusion it was Hitler that showed the muscle and who became fascist Italy’s foster father, indulging enormous succor, ultimately fatally, as Mussolini’s failures dragged down the Nazi war effort.

The year wraps up with a recognition of journalistic reality in Nazi Germany:

BERLIN, December 30

Dodd called us in today for a talk with William Phillips, Under Secretary of State, who is visiting here. We asked him what action Washington would take if the Nazis began expelling us. He gave an honest answer. He said: None. Our point was that if the Wilhelmstrasse knew that for every American correspondent expelled, a German newspaperman at home would be kicked out, perhaps the Nazis would think twice before acting against us. But the Secretary said the State Department was without law to act in such a case— a lovely example of one of our democratic weaknesses.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 562-566). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

William E. Dodd was the American ambassador to Germany. He served a critical role during a critical time:

On October 12, 1933 Dodd gave a speech to the American Chamber of Commerce in Berlin, with Joseph Goebbels and Alfred Rosenberg in attendance, and used an elaborate analogy based on Roman history to criticize the Nazis as “half-educated statesmen” who adopted the “arbitrary modes” of an ancient tyrant.[42] His views grew more critical and pessimistic with the Night of the Long Knives in June–July 1934, when the Nazis killed prominent political opponents including many dissenters within the Nazi movement. Dodd was one of the very few in the U.S. and European diplomatic community who reported that the Nazis were too strongly entrenched for any opposition to emerge. In May 1935 he reported to his State Department superiors that Hitler intended “to annex part of the Corridor, part of Czechoslovakia, and all of Austria.” A few months later he predicted a German-Italian alliance. Feeling ineffectual, Dodd offered to resign, but Roosevelt allowed him only a recuperative visit to the U.S. The President wrote to U.S Ambassador to Italy Breckinridge Long in September 1935 that he and Dodd had been “far more accurate in your pessimism for the past two years than any of my other friends in Europe.” In a note to Assistant Secretary of State R. Walton Moore that same month, he wrote of Dodd: “we most certainly do not want him to consider resigning. I need him in Berlin.” Dodd reported to Secretary of State Hull in September 1936 that Hitler’s domestic economic policies, rearmament, and Rhineland initiatives had consolidated his support to the point that he could count on the support of the German people for a declaration of war “in any measure he might undertake.”

Following a U.S. vacation of several months in 1936, Dodd devoted the fall to testing German reaction to a personal meeting between Roosevelt and Hitler, an initiative the President proposed, or a world peace conference. After a series of rebuffs, Dodd produced a report for the State Department dated November 28, 1936, which Assistant Secretary Moore commended and forwarded to Roosevelt. He decried the tendency of Europeans to refuse to believe that Hitler meant to carry out the expansionist plans he had outlined in Mein Kampf. He described Hitler’s success in outmaneuvering France and Great Britain diplomatically and forging ties with Italy and Spain. Assessing the current situation he wrote: “there does not appear to be any vital force or combination of forces which will materially impede Germany in pursuit of her ambitions.”

1936 was year that saw Germany start to exercise its military might, beginning with the re-militarization of the Rhineland. This was also the year Germany and Italy worked to tip the scales decisively in favor of the Republican forces in the Spanish Civil War. Coverage of 1936 will begin in the next installment of this review.

Years of Living Dangerously

Continuing review of Berlin Diary

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

The previous post includes Shirer’s account of his visit to Nuremberg in September 1934 to cover the annual Nazi rally. It highlights impressions he gained observing the Nazis first hand. In October Shirer and his wife Theresa (Tess) settled into a more or less permanent home in Berlin. Shirer began to observe life under Nazi rule:

BERLIN, October 9

We’ve taken a comfortable studio flat in the Tauenzienstrasse. The owner, a Jewish sculptor, says he is getting off for England while the getting is good— probably a wise man. He left us a fine German library, which I hope I will get time to use.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 306-308). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Shirer’s Jewish landlord is representative of the situation of German Jews in the 1930s. Hitler never made a secret of his desire to eliminate German (European?) Jewry, and Jews came under immediate oppression when the Nazis took power in 1933. Two out of every three were to die by 1945. The landlord was one of the lucky ones.

Shirer continues to observe the dissolution of European society. The same day:

LATER.— On my eight o’clock call to the Paris office tonight, they told me that the King of Yugoslavia had been assassinated at Marseille this afternoon and that Louis Barthou, the French Foreign Minister, had been badly wounded. Berlin will not be greatly disappointed, as King Alexander seemed disposed to work more closely with the French bloc against Germany, and Barthou had been doing some good work in strengthening French alliances in eastern Europe and in attempting

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 311-315). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Adolf Hitler was born and raised a Catholic, and was a choir boy in the church. Despite his impious reputation, Hitler never renounced his faith, even reaffirming it in at least one communication. However, it was necessary for Nazism to dominate, and the Christian  churches represented an opposing authority Hitler needed to bring into line:

BERLIN, November 15

Not much news these days. Have been covering the fight in the Protestant church. A section of the Protestants seem to be showing more guts in the face of Gleichschaltung (co-ordination) than the Socialists or Communists did. But I think Hitler will get them in the end and gradually force on the country a brand of early German paganism which the “intellectuals” like Rosenberg are hatching up.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 316-319). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Complete political control requires elimination of opposing thought, and control of the public education system is a goal appreciated, even in the United States, by certain political factions. The same day:

Bernhard Rust, the Nazi Minister of Education, was the speaker, but my mind wandered during his speech. Rust is not without ability and is completely Nazifying the schools. This includes new Nazi textbooks falsifying history— sometimes ludicrously.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 325-327). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

German rearmament, in violation of the Treaty of Versailles, was an open secret that the Allies, victors in the previous war, found it convenient to ignore. Why stir the pot? The secret was becoming less so:

BERLIN, November 28

Much talk here that Germany is secretly arming, though it is difficult to get definite dope, and if you did get it and sent it, you’d probably be expelled.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 327-329). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

This rounds out the year 1934. Shirer came to Germany during that year, and the full nature of Nazism was becoming apparent. The following year, 1935, was the year during which Nazi Germany began to assert itself on the world stage. Hints of Hitler’s plan for expansion began to show through to anybody with sufficient vision. The following installment of this series will cover that year entirely.

Years of Living Dangerously

Continuing review of Berlin Diary

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

On 30 June 1934 Shirer was working for the Paris Herald and reporting from Paris. He observes that communication with Berlin was cut off for several hours. The reason soon becomes clear.

PARIS, July 14

It now develops that Hitler’s purge was more drastic than first reported. Röhm did not kill himself, but was shot on the orders of Hitler. Other dead: Heines, notorious Nazi boss of Silesia, Dr. Erich Klausner, leader of the “Catholic Action” in Germany, Fritz von Bose and Edgar Jung, two of Papen’s secretaries (Papen himself narrowly escaped with his life), Gregor Strasser, who used to be second in importance to Hitler in the Nazi Party, and General von Schleicher and his wife, the latter two murdered in cold blood. I see von Kahr is on the list, the man who balked Hitler’s Beer House Putsch in 1923. Hitler has thus taken his personal revenge. Yesterday, on Friday the 13th, Hitler got away with his explanation in the Reichstag. When he screamed: “The supreme court of the German people during these twenty-four hours consisted of myself!” the deputies rose and cheered. One had almost forgotten how strong sadism and masochism are in the German people.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 159-166). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Of particular note is the life trajectory of Gregor Strasser. Gregor and his brother Otto were prominent in the formation of what became National Socialism,, but a falling out eventually doomed Gregor:

Born in 1892 in Bavaria, Strasser served in World War I in an artillery regiment, rising to the rank of first lieutenant. He joined the Nazi Party (NSDAP) in 1920 and quickly became an influential and important figure. He took part in the abortive putsch in Munich in 1923 and was imprisoned, but released early on for political reasons.

Strasser joined a revived NSDAP in 1925 and once again established himself as a powerful and dominant member, hugely increasing the party’s membership and reputation in northern Germany. Personal and political conflicts with Adolf Hitler led to his death in 1934 during the Night of the Long Knives.

The story of Joseph Goebbels by Fraenkel and Manvell recounts Gregor Strasser’s downfall.

Grim European politics continues to play out while Shirer observes.

PARIS, July 25

Dollfuss is dead, murdered by the Nazis, who today seized control of the Chancellery and the radio station in Vienna. Apparently their coup has failed and Miklas and Dr. Schuschnigg are in control. I do not like murder, and Nazi murder least of all. But I cannot weep for Dollfuss after his cold-blooded slaughter of the Social Democrats last February.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 167-169). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

During this time Hitler nominally shared power with German  President Paul von Hindenburg, German hero of World War One. In  August, following Hitler’s elimination of other rivals to his power, Hindenburg died.

PARIS, August 3

Hitler did what no one expected. He made himself both President and Chancellor. Any doubts about the loyalty of the army were done away with before the old field-marshal’s body was hardly cold. Hitler had the army swear an oath of unconditional obedience to him personally. The man is resourceful.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 174-177). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Hitler’s move was audacious. The minor part was his absorbing both government heads. Having the armed forces swear allegiance to him personally was a diabolical stroke. Picture this: you’re a soldier in the Reichswehr, in formation before your commanding officer, and he “instructs” you to raise your hand in the two-fingered salute and swear allegiance to that one man. Not to the Reichswehr, not to Germany, but to a dictator who has just demonstrated no compunction against mass murder. You cannot say no, and the oath, to a German, is a blood oath. It cannot be rescinded. All did it, and from that day forward the German armed forces were chained to the fortunes of this former army corporal. If he was going down, they were, too.

Shirer received a job offer that was to change the course of his life. It was to lead him to Berlin, into the center of the storm.

PARIS, August 9

Dosch-Fleurot rang me at the office this afternoon from Berlin and offered me a job with Universal Service there. I said yes at once, we agreed on a salary, and he said he would let me know after talking with New York.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 177-179). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Shirer’s introduction to Nazi Germany sets the stage for what is to  come.

BERLIN, August 25

Our introduction to Hitler’s Third Reich this evening was probably typical. Taking the day train from Paris so as to see a little of the country, we arrived at the Friedrichstrasse Bahnhof at about ten this evening. The first persons to greet us on the platform were two agents of the secret police. I had expected to meet the secret police sooner or later, but not quite so soon. Two plain-clothes men grabbed me as I stepped off the train, led me a little away, and asked me if I were Herr So-and-So— I could not for the life of me catch the name. I said no. One of them asked again and again and finally I showed him my passport. He scanned it for several minutes, finally looked at me suspiciously, and said: “So…. You are not Herr So-and-So, then. You are Herr Shirer.”

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 182-188). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Followed by… more of what is to come. Life was trying for journalists in Nazi Germany.

BERLIN, August 26

Knickerbocker tells me Dorothy Thompson departed from the Friedrichstrasse station shortly before we arrived yesterday. She had been given twenty-four hours to get out— apparently the work of Putzi Hanfstängl, who could not forgive her for her book I Saw Hitler, which, at that, badly underestimated the man. Knick’s own position here is precarious apparently because of some of his past and present writings. Goebbels, who used to like him, has fallen afoul of him.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 191-195). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

An additional view of life under Hitler:

BERLIN, September 2

The constant Heil Hitler’s, clicking of heels, and brown-shirted storm troopers or black-coated S.S. guards marching up and down the street grate me, though the old-timers say there are not nearly so many brown-shirts about since the purge.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 199-201). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Shirer continues to soak up the Nazi Germany experience, and he gives additional insight.  In September 1934 he attended the yearly Nazi rally in Nuremberg. It’s a telling view of the emboldened Nazi Party and the rebirth of the German military.

NUREMBERG, September 4

Like a Roman emperor Hitler rode into this mediæval town at sundown today past solid phalanxes of wildly cheering Nazis who packed the narrow streets that once saw Hans Sachs and the Meistersinger.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 212-214). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

And Hitler, himself:

He was clad in a rather worn gaberdine trench-coat, his face had no particular expression at all— I expected it to be stronger— and for the life of me I could not quite comprehend what hidden springs he undoubtedly unloosed in the hysterical mob which was greeting him so wildly. He does not stand before the crowd with that theatrical imperiousness which I have seen Mussolini use. I was glad to see that he did not poke out his chin and throw his head back as does the Duce nor make his eyes glassy— though there is something glassy in his eyes, the strongest thing in his face. He almost seemed to be affecting a modesty in his bearing. I doubt if it’s genuine.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 218-223). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

What modern world leader does this bring to mind?

Putzi Hanfstängl, an immense, high-strung, incoherent clown who does not often fail to remind us that he is part American and graduated from Harvard, made the main speech of the day in his capacity of foreign press chief of the party. Obviously trying to please his boss, he had the crust to ask us to “report on affairs in Germany without attempting to interpret them.” “History alone,” Putzi shouted, “can evaluate the events now taking place under Hitler.” What he meant, and what Goebbels and Rosenberg mean, is that we should jump on the band-wagon of Nazi propaganda.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 225-229). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

It’s impossible to pass up this opportunity to  relate Shirer’s impression of the Hitler experience:

About ten o’clock tonight I got caught in a mob of ten thousand hysterics who jammed the moat in front of Hitler’s hotel, shouting: “We want our Führer.” I was a little shocked at the faces, especially those of the women, when Hitler finally appeared on the balcony for a moment. They reminded me of the crazed expressions I saw once in the back country of Louisiana on the faces of some Holy Rollers who were about to hit the trail. They looked up at him as if he were a Messiah, their faces transformed into something positively inhuman. If he had remained in sight for more than a few moments, I think many of the women would have swooned from excitement.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 230-235). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

And more:

NUREMBERG, September 5

I’m beginning to comprehend, I think, some of the reasons for Hitler’s astounding success. Borrowing a chapter from the Roman church, he is restoring pageantry and colour and mysticism to the drab lives of twentieth-century Germans.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 239-241). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

And more:

I’m beginning to comprehend, I think, some of the reasons for Hitler’s astounding success. Borrowing a chapter from the Roman church, he is restoring pageantry and colour and mysticism to the drab lives of twentieth-century Germans.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 239-241). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Further impressions:

NUREMBERG, September 6

Now, the goose-step has always seemed to me to be an outlandish exhibition of the human being in his most undignified and stupid state, but I felt for the first time this morning what an inner chord it strikes in the strange soul of the German people.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 264-269). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Some observations:

NUREMBERG, September 7

Von Papen arrived today and stood alone in a car behind Hitler tonight, the first public appearance he has made, I think, since he narrowly escaped being murdered by Göring on June 30. He did not look happy.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 278-287). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The decapitation of the SA and other opposition to Hitler would likely produce some repercussions. Hitler had to get things straight. There had to be assurances the bloodletting was over… for now.

NUREMBERG, September 9

Hitler faced his S.A. storm troopers today for the first time since the bloody purge. In a harangue to fifty thousand of them he “absolved” them from blame for the Röhm “revolt.” There was considerable tension in the stadium and I noticed that Hitler’s own S.S. bodyguard was drawn up in force in front of him, separating him from the mass of the brown-shirts.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 287-291). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Germany lost big in the First World War, and the Versailles Treaty placed onerous burdens of reparation on the country. Further, the treaty sharply restricted German rearmament, a restriction the Germans immediately and covertly began to  undermine. Winston Churchill, out of power during this critical period, was one of a few, and by far the most strident, to raise alarms at Germany’s covert action:

It was also at this moment a great diplomatic advantage to Hitler to divide the Allies, to have one of them ready to condone breaches of the Treaty of Versailles, and to invest the regaining of full freedom to rearm with the sanction of agreement with Britain. The effect of the announcement was another blow at the League of Nations. The French had every right to complain that their vital interests were affected by the permission accorded by Great Britain for the building of U-boats. Mussolini saw in this episode evidence that Great Britain was not acting in good faith with her other allies, and that, so long as her special naval interests were secured, she would apparently go to any length in accommodation with Germany, regardless of the detriment to friendly Powers menaced by the growth of the German land forces. He was encouraged by what seemed the cynical and selfish attitude of Great Britain to press on with his plans against Abyssinia. The Scandinavian Powers, who only a fortnight before had courageously sustained the protest against Hitler’s introduction of compulsory service in the German Army, now found that Great Britain had behind the scenes agreed to a German Navy which, though only a third of the British, would within this limit be master of the Baltic.

Churchill, Winston. The Gathering Storm: The Second World War, Volume 1 (Winston Churchill World War II Collection) (Kindle Locations 2142-2151). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Immediately following the previous war, the German military command began to play the treaty’s restrictions. There were limits on total troop strength. No problem. What is basic to an armed force is a command structure, so German military leaders didn’t waste numbers on privates and corporals. They created an officer corps wearing enlisted stripes. Came time to ramp up, the command structure was in place. All that was necessary was pinning on stars and bars. The lower ranks could be quickly filled from with conscripts and a horde of volunteers. Shirer describes the obvious, that German rearmament has been underway for years.

NUREMBERG, September 10

I feel that all those Americans and English (among others) who thought that German militarism was merely a product of the Hohenzollerns—from Frederick the Great to Kaiser Wilhelm II—made a mistake. It is rather something deeply ingrained in all Germans. They acted today like children playing with tin soldiers. The Reichswehr “fought” today only with the “defensive” weapons allowed them by Versailles, but everybody knows they’ve got the rest— tanks, heavy artillery, and probably airplanes.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 294-300). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The review of William Shirer’s Berlin Diary will resume with October 1934.

Years of Living Dangerously

Continuing review of Berlin Diary

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

The book is sectioned, with titles by date, and this series will unroll a month at a time, or by multiple months at a time, until it reaches the 80th anniversary of the date. From that point on posts will correspond with the 80th anniversaries.

Following the events of 1934, Shirer picks up again on 34 June 1934, a pivotal date in the history of Nazi Germany. This was the Night of the Long Knives, when Hitler asserted complete control by eliminating all his rivals, and a few others besides.

PARIS, June 30

Berlin was cut off for several hours today, but late this afternoon telephone communication was re-established. And what a story! Hitler and Göring have purged the S.A., shooting many of its leaders. Röhm, arrested by Hitler himself, was allowed to commit suicide in a Munich jail, according to one agency report. The French are pleased. They think this is the beginning of the end for the Nazis. Wish I could

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 151-155). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

There was a good reason Berlin was cut off for several hours that day. Wikipedia explains:

The Night of the Long Knives, also called Operation Hummingbird or, in Germany, the Röhm Putsch (German spelling: Röhm-Putsch), was a purge that took place in Nazi Germany from June 30 to July 2, 1934, when the Nazi regime carried out a series of political extrajudicial executions intended to consolidate Hitler’s absolute hold on power in Germany. Many of those killed were leaders of the SA (Sturmabteilung), the Nazis’ own paramilitary Brownshirts organization; the best-known victim was Ernst Röhm, the SA’s leader and one of Hitler’s longtime supporters and allies. Leading members of the left-wing Strasserist faction of the Nazi Party (NSDAP), along with its figurehead, Gregor Strasser, were also killed, as were establishment conservatives and anti-Nazis (such as former Chancellor Kurt von Schleicher and Bavarian politician Gustav Ritter von Kahr, who had suppressed Adolf Hitler‘s Munich Beer Hall Putsch in 1923). The murders of Brownshirt leaders were also intended to improve the image of the Hitler government with a German public that was increasingly critical of thuggish Brownshirt tactics.

Ernst Röhm was the primary target of the purge. Röhm and Hitler were early catalysts for the German Workers’ Party (DAP), which later became the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) [from Wikipedia], a forerunner for the National Socialist (Nazi) party. Röhm led the failed Beer Hall Putsch of 1923 and received a suspended sentence. Following a hiatus from German politics, during which he consulted for the military in Bolivia, Röhm returned and eventually headed up the SA, the  Sturmabteilung or Brownshirts. The SA was an army of street fighters who enforced for the Nazis during the lead up to the party’s ascent to power in 1933.

After Hitler became chancellor in January of that year, the SA became superfluous, and their power was seen more as a liability and as a rival to Hitler’s. Germany’s military high command disdained the presence of such a group, and likewise German industrial leaders, who had championed Hitler’s rise, saw them as a threat and an embarrassment. In great secrecy the plot was hatched to eliminate all threats to Hitler’s position. Lists were drawn up, assignments were made, and the strike was carried out beginning in the early morning hours of 30 June.

A critical factor was the sexual orientation of Röhm and others high in the SA. Röhm was a notorious homosexual and homosexuality flourished in the group. This was a matter of considerable concern to a movement that championed Christian virtue and Germany’s racial superiority. The pretext for the bloodletting was a supposed plot being hatched within the SA, and that set the stage. Shirer tells the story in another book:

At the moment of 2 A.M. on June 30 when Hitler, with Goebbels at his side, was taking off from Hangelar Airfield near Bonn, Captain Roehm and his S.A. lieutenants were peacefully slumbering in their beds at the Hanslbauer Hotel at Wiessee on the shores of the Tegernsee. Edmund Heines, the S.A. Obergruppenfuehrer of Silesia, a convicted murderer, a notorious homosexual with a girlish face on the brawny body of a piano mover, was in bed with a young man. So far did the S.A. chiefs seem from staging a revolt that Roehm had left his staff guards in Munich. There appeared to be plenty of carousing among the S.A. leaders but no plotting.

Shirer, William. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (p. 221). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Hitler’s icy nature is shown  in full glory as he deals with an old friend:

Shortly after dawn Hitler and his party sped out of Munich toward Wiessee in a long column of cars. They found Roehm and his friends still fast asleep in the Hanslbauer Hotel. The awakening was rude. Heines and his young male companion were dragged out of bed, taken outside the hotel and summarily shot on the orders of Hitler. The Fuehrer, according to Otto Dietrich’s account, entered Roehm’s room alone, gave him a dressing down and ordered him to be brought back to Munich and lodged in Stadelheim prison, where the S.A. chief had served time after his participation with Hitler in the Beer Hall Putsch in 1923. After fourteen stormy years the two friends, who more than any others were

Shortly after dawn Hitler and his party sped out of Munich toward Wiessee in a long column of cars. They found Roehm and his friends still fast asleep in the Hanslbauer Hotel. The awakening was rude. Heines and his young male companion were dragged out of bed, taken outside the hotel and summarily shot on the orders of Hitler. The Fuehrer, according to Otto Dietrich’s account, entered Roehm’s room alone, gave him a dressing down and ordered him to be brought back to Munich and lodged in Stadelheim prison, where the S.A. chief had served time after his participation with Hitler in the Beer Hall Putsch in 1923. After fourteen stormy years the two friends, who more than any others were

Hitler, in a final act of what he apparently thought was grace, gave orders that a pistol be left on the table of his old comrade. Roehm refused to make use of it. “If I am to be killed, let Adolf do it himself,” he is reported to have said. Thereupon two S.A. officers, according to the testimony of an eyewitness, a police lieutenant, given twenty-three years later in a postwar trial at Munich in May 1957, entered the cell and fired their revolvers at Roehm point-blank. “Roehm wanted to say something,” said this witness, “but the S.S. officer motioned him to shut up. Then Roehm stood at attention—he was stripped to the waist—with his face full of contempt.”* And so he died, violently as he had lived, contemptuous of the friend he had helped propel to the heights no other German had ever reached, and almost certainly, like hundreds of others who were slaughtered that day—like Schneidhuber, who was reported to have cried, “Gentlemen, I don’t know what this is all about, but shoot straight”—without any clear idea of what was happening, or why, other than that it was an act of treachery which he, who had lived so long with treachery and committed it so often himself, had not expected from Adolf Hitler.

Shirer, William. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (pp. 221-222). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The TV series The World at War chronicles the rise of Nazi power in Episode 1, and it features army officer Edwald von Kleist describing the events of the Nazi purge. He notes that not only Röhm and other direct threats to Hitler were purged, but people considered to be merely unpleasant were added to the list. The Wikipedia entry states, “At least 85 people died during the purge, although the final death toll may have been in the hundreds.” Among those scooped up was  Kurt von Schleicher, who had preceded Hitler as Germany’s chancellor.

The S.A. men were not the only ones to fall on that bloody summer weekend. On the morning of June 30, a squad of S.S. men in mufti rang the doorbell at General von Schleicher’s villa on the outskirts of Berlin. When the General opened the door he was shot dead in his tracks, and when his wife, whom he had married but eighteen months before—he had been a bachelor until then—stepped forward, she too was slain on the spot. General Kurt von Bredow, a close friend of Schleicher, met a similar fate the same evening. Gregor Strasser was seized at his home in Berlin at noon on Saturday and dispatched a few hours later in his cell in the Prinz Albrechtstrasse Gestapo jail on the personal orders of Goering.

Shirer, William. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (p. 222). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

One who escaped was Franz von Papen, the person primarily responsible for installing Hitler as chancellor. Several in Papen’s immediate circle were caught up, including his secretary, Herbert von Bose, who was shot in lieu of being arrested. Papen was arrested but spared, He survived the war and was subsequently tried at Nuremberg, along with Nazi principals charged with war crimes. Papen’s crime seems to have been just what he did, ushering Hitler into power and supporting his early programs. He was acquitted and walked free from that trial, but was subsequently tried and jailed by a German court. He died in 1969, having considerably exceeded his life expectancy.

Shirer continued to report from Paris until August, at which time he was hired by Universal Service and commenced his reporting from Berlin. The next in this series is an introduction to Berlin and Nazi Germany.

Years of Living Dangerously

Continuing review of Berlin Diary

February 1934 – Paris

William Shirer’s idyllic year off came to a conclusion in January 1934 as he exhausted his savings and obtained a job with the Paris Herald. He and his new wife Tess left (then) peaceful Spain and plunged into the chaos of European politics of the 1930s.

PARIS, February 7

A little dazed still from last night. About five p.m. yesterday I was twiddling my thumbs in the Herald office wondering whether to go down to the Chamber, where the new premier, Édouard Daladier, was supposed to read his ministerial declaration, when we got a tip that there was trouble at the Place de la Concorde. I grabbed a taxi and went down to see. I found nothing untoward. A few royalist Camelots du Roi, Jeunesses Patriotes of Deputy Pierre Taittinger, and Solidarité Française thugs of Perfumer François Coty— all right-wing youths or gangsters— had attempted to break through to the Chamber, but had been dispersed by the police. The Place was normal. I telephoned the Herald, but Eric Hawkins, managing editor, advised me to grab a bite of dinner nearby and take another look a little later. About seven p.m. I returned to the Place de la Concorde. Something obviously was up. Mounted steel-helmeted Mobile Guards were clearing the square. Over by the obelisk in the centre a bus was on fire. I worked my way over through the Mobile Guards, who were slashing away with their sabres, to the Tuileries side. Up on the terrace was a mob of several thousand and, mingling with them, I soon found they were not fascists, but Communists. When the police tried to drive them back, they unleashed a barrage of stones and bricks. Over on the bridge leading from the Place to the Chamber across the Seine, I found a solid mass of Mobile Guards nervously fingering their rifles, backed up by ordinary police and a fire-brigade. A couple of small groups attempted to advance to the bridge from the quay leading up from the Louvre, but two fire-hoses put them to flight.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 80-92). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Some background may be helpful—this was before most of us were born. I translate “Jeunesses Patriotes” as “young patriots,” apparently a militant political faction at the time. Wikipedia has the following detail:

The Jeunesses Patriotes (“Young Patriots”, JP) were a far-right league of France, recruited mostly from university students and financed by industrialists founded in 1924 by Pierre Taittinger. Taittinger took inspiration for the group’s creation in the Boulangist Ligue des Patriotes and Benito Mussolini‘s Blackshirts.

According to the police, the Jeunesses Patriotes had 90,000 members in the country and 6,000 in Paris in 1932. Its street fighters were led by a retired general named Desofy, and were organized around Groupes Mobiles, paramilitary mobile squads of fifty men, outfitted in blue raincoats and berets. The group stated its willingness to combat the “Red Peril” and the Cartel des Gauches (Left-wing Coalition), and chose to back Raymond Poincaré who came to power after the Cartel des gauches.

The organization retreated in 1926, but made a comeback in 1932, with the Cartel des Gauches ‘s electoral victory, and took part in the February 6, 1934 riots, an anti-parliamentary street demonstration in Paris in the context of the Stavisky Affair. In 1936, the Popular Front government outlawed the Jeunesses Patriotes and other nationalist groups.

Grim reality was quickly manifest:

The first shots we didn’t hear. The first we knew of the shooting was when a woman about twenty feet away suddenly slumped to the floor with a bullet-hole in her forehead. She was standing next to Melvin Whiteleather of the A.P. Now we could hear the shooting, coming from the bridge and the far side of the Seine. Automatic rifles they seemed to be using. The mob’s reaction was to storm into the square.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 96-99). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

French were battling each other. It was a foreboding of the tragedy that was to follow six years later, as French society failed to rally against the invading German army.

Shirer recounts the deadly serious nature of the situation:

“If they get across the bridge,” I thought, “they’ll kill every deputy in the Chamber.” But a deadly fire— it sounded this time like machine-guns— stopped them and in a few minutes they were scattering in all directions.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 104-106). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Édouard Daladier was at the time the president of the national Council, having replaced Camille Chautemps barely ten days before, an offshoot of what is called the Stavisky Affair. The riots of 6 February, just described, resulted in 15 people being killed. A consequence was that Daladier was forced to resign. Shirer assesses Daladier’s character in light of the previous night’s action. His assessment of French democracy again foretells the doom that awaits France in a few short years:

Imagine Stalin or Mussolini or Hitler hesitating to employ troops against a mob trying to overthrow their regimes! It’s true perhaps that last night’s rioting had as its immediate cause the Stavisky scandal. But the Stavisky swindles merely demonstrate the rottenness and the weakness of French democracy.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 114-116). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Additionally:

But to resign now, after putting down a fascist coup— for that’s what it was— is either sheer cowardice or stupidity. Important too is the way the Communists fought on the same side of the barricades last night as the fascists. I do not like that.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 118-119). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

France and Germany were not the only festering sores in European society (not to  mention Spain). The German-speaking nation of Austria was coming apart at the same time:

PARIS, February 15

The fighting in Vienna ended today, the dispatches say. Dollfuss finished off the last workers with artillery and then went off to pray.

Shirer, William L.. Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent 1934-1941 (Kindle Locations 139-141). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

The shortened trajectory of Englebert Dollfuss was pivotal in the unfolding of the European tragedy:

Engelbert Dollfuss October 4, 1892 – July 25, 1934) was an Austrian Christian Social and Patriotic Front statesman. Having served as Minister for Forests and Agriculture, he ascended to Federal Chancellor in 1932 in the midst of a crisis for the conservative government. In early 1933, he shut down parliament, banned the Austrian Nazi party and assumed dictatorial powers. Suppressing the Socialist movement in February 1934, he cemented the rule of “austrofascism” through the authoritarian First of May Constitution. Dollfuss was assassinated as part of a failed coup attempt by Nazi agents in 1934. His successor Kurt Schuschnigg maintained the regime until Adolf Hitler‘s annexation of Austria in 1938.

Additionally:

February 23

Heard today that Dollfuss had hanged Koloman Wallisch, the Social Democrat mayor of Bruck an der Mur.

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

William Shirer turned 30 on that day.

At this point there is a long break in Shirer’s narrative. He doesn’t pick it up again until 30 June, known hence for a horrendous unfolding of Nazi Germany’s future.