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.

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False Testament

Number 4 of a series

This is the fourth and last of my reviews of the video series, “Is the Bible Reliable?” The series is produced by Focus on the Family and features creationist Stephen C. Meyer. The video is marketed as a DVD containing ten episodes. The first six episodes cover the Old Testament, hitting on some high points that Meyer believes will make a case for the reliability of the Bible. As noted (see the above link) Meyer skips a large body of biblical  text that would sink any other publication.

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.

He wants to demonstrate the New Testament is reliable as a source of information due to several  characteristics:

  • A documentary style rather than a piece of satire (for example)
  • A reliable transmission—not a bunch of stuff mangled in retelling
  • Contemporaneous or as nearly contemporaneous with the events described
  • Corroboration  from  other sources
  • Reputable character of those telling the story

He demonstrates that Luke comes off as a historical work.

From BibleGateway.com:

Luke 1:1-4 King James Version (KJV)

Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us,

Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word;

It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus,

That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed.

He offers up early manuscripts to demonstrate the New Testament is truly an ancient work.

He references:

  • Codex Alexandrinus, 5th century A.D.
  • Complete Manuscript of the New (and Old) Testament in Greek

From Wikipedia:

The Codex Alexandrinus (London, British Library, MS Royal 1. D. V-VIII; Gregory-Aland no. A or 02Soden δ 4) is a fifth-century manuscript of the Greek Bible, containing the majority of the Septuagint and the New Testament. It is one of the four Great uncial codices. Along with the Codex Sinaiticus and the Vaticanus, it is one of the earliest and most complete manuscripts of the BibleBrian Walton assigned Alexandrinus the capital Latin letter A in the Polyglot Bible of 1657. This designation was maintained when the system was standardized by Wettstein in 1751. Thus, Alexandrinus held the first position in the manuscript list.

The Magdalen Papyrus, Gospel of Mathew (P64)

The “Magdalen” papyrus was purchased in Luxor, Egypt in 1901 by Reverend Charles Bousfield Huleatt (1863–1908), who identified the Greek fragments as portions of the Gospel of Matthew (Chapter 26:23 and 31) and presented them to Magdalen College, Oxford, where they are cataloged as P. Magdalen Greek 17 (Gregory-Aland {\displaystyle {\mathfrak {P}}}{\mathfrak {P}}64) and whence they have their name. When the fragments were finally published by Colin H. Roberts in 1953, illustrated with a photograph, the hand was characterized as “an early predecessor of the so-called ‘Biblical Uncial'” which began to emerge towards the end of the 2nd century. The uncial style is epitomised by the later biblical Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus. Comparative paleographical analysis has remained the methodological key for dating the manuscript: the consensus is ca AD 200.

And possibly the earliest, the John Rylands (P52) Fragment.

The Rylands Library Papyrus P52, also known as the St. John’s fragment and with an accession reference of Papyrus Rylands Greek 457, is a fragment from a papyrus codex, measuring only 3.5 by 2.5 inches (8.9 by 6 cm) at its widest; and conserved with the Rylands Papyri at the John Rylands University Library ManchesterUK. The front (recto) contains parts of seven lines from the Gospel of John 18:31–33, in Greek, and the back (verso) contains parts of seven lines from verses 37–38.[3] Since 2007, the papyrus has been on permanent display in the library’s Deansgate building.

Meyer wants to compare the meager New Testament holdings with those of other famous works.

A favorable Comparison

  • Gallic Wars by Caesar, written  in 55 B.C., earliest manuscript from 850 A.D. 10 mss extant.
  • Histories by Tacitus, written in 100 A.D., earliest manuscript from 900 A.D., 2 mss extant.
  • History by Thucydides, written in 430 B.c., earliest manuscript from  900 A.D., 8 mss extant.

This last part echoes from a few years back when Michael Shermer debated Douglas Geivett at the University of Texas at Arlington.

This was our first encounter with Douglas Geivett, but a number of the more erudite have studied his writings and arguments. Richard Carrier has reviewed In Defense of Miracles. In “Geivett’s Exercise in Hyperbole” Carrier takes issue with Geivett’s lack of understanding of history:

He then issues a comparison, in the voice of a mock critic, asserting that the resurrection of Jesus is as historically evidenced as Julius Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon in 49 B.C. 3

Geivett’s over the top comparison of the resurrection with this well-established historical event severely blunts the credibility of any other arguments he might make, and it takes some of the shine off his professed piety. Whether he will continue to be an effective proponent of the reality of God will depend on how well he controls his handling of the truth. His standing as a creationist, however, is looking brighter all the time.

That footnote reference links to this:

It should be clear that we have a huge number of reasons to believe that Caesar crossed the Rubicon, all of which are lacking in the case of the resurrection. In fact, when we compare all five points, we see that in four of the five evidences of an event’s historicity, the resurrection has no evidence at all, and for the one kind of evidence it does have, it has not the best, but the very worst kind of evidence–a handful of biased, uncritical, unscholarly, unknown, second-hand witnesses.

In Episode 8 Meyer addresses the early composition of Luke and Acts. He argues there is evidence they are (nearly) contemporaneous.

People, Positions and Places

And when they had gone through the isle unto Paphos, they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew, whose name was Barjesus:

Which was with the deputy of the country, Sergius Paulus, a prudent man; who called for Barnabas and Saul, and desired to hear the word of God.

The biblical quotes are from BibleGateway.com.

Roman Rule of Cyprus

  • Up to 22 BC, Imperial Province. Legate.
  • 21 BC and after, Senatorial Province According to Luke.
  • Paul and Barnabas meet the proconsul Sergius Paulus in Cyprus.

The point here is that differing Roman territories were ruled either by Caesar, and the local ruler was call a legate, or they were ruled by the Senate, and the local ruler was called a proconsul. Paul got it right when referring to the ruler as a proconsul for the date of his supposed visit.

There is the Temple Warning Inscription.

The Temple Warning inscription, also known as the Temple Balustrade inscription or the Soreg inscription, is an inscription from the Second Temple in Jerusalem, discovered in 1871 by Charles Simon Clermont-Ganneau and published by the Palestine Exploration Fund. Following the discovery of the inscription it was taken by the Ottoman authorities, and it is currently in the Istanbul Archaeology Museums.

From BibleGateway.com:

Acts 21:27-28 King James Version (KJV)

27 And when the seven days were almost ended, the Jews which were of Asia, when they saw him in the temple, stirred up all the people, and laid hands on him,

28 Crying out, Men of Israel, help: This is the man, that teacheth all men every where against the people, and the law, and this place: and further brought Greeks also into the temple, and hath polluted this holy place.

Luke, writing for Acts, got this right.

In Episode 9 Meyer takes up external corroboration.

There is the Miracle of Cana:

The transformation of water into wine at the Marriage at Cana or Wedding at Cana is the first miracle attributed to Jesus in the Gospel of JohnIn the Gospel account, Jesus, his mother and his disciples are invited to a wedding, and when the wine runs out, Jesus delivers a sign of his glory by turning water into wine.

The location of Cana has been subject to debate among biblical scholars and archeologists; several villages in Galilee are possible candidates.

 

Miracle at Cana

“Now there were six stone waterpots set there for the Jewish custom of purification …”

– John 2:6

Meyer observes John 2:6 got that right. This was the time stone water pots were used, rather than clay ones.

I was amazed Meyer brought up the James Ossuary:

The James Ossuary is a 1st-century chalk box that was used for containing the bones of the dead. The Aramaic inscription: Ya’akov bar-Yosef akhui diYeshua (English translation: “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus”) is cut into one side of the box. The inscription is considered significant because, if genuine, it might provide archaeological evidence for Jesus of Nazareth. However, the authenticity of the inscription has been challenged.

Meyer apparently made this video in  2010, seven years after this artifact was demonstrated to be a fake:

In 2003, The Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) determined that the inscriptions were forged at a much later date. In December 2004, Oded Golan was charged with 44 counts of forgery, fraud and deception, including forgery of the Ossuary inscription. The trial lasted seven years before Judge Aharon Farkash came to a verdict. On March 14, 2012, Golan was acquitted of the forgery charges but convicted of illegal trading in antiquities. The judge said this acquittal “does not mean that the inscription on the ossuary is authentic or that it was written 2,000 years ago”. The ossuary was returned to Golan, who put it on public display.

Meyer notes some key facts.

Some Key Facts

  1. Paleographical analysis of the inscription dates the ossuary between 20 B.C. and 70 A.D.
  2. Reburial by ossuary was done primarily in the city of Jerusalem between the late 1st century B.c. and 70 A.D.
  3. Only wealthy and prominent people had their bones placed in ossuaries. Inscriptions incurred further expense and expertise.

Episode 10 concludes the video series with the trial of Jesus.

I  will mention some artifacts and some quotes that Meyer asserts attest to the reliability of the scriptural account of Jesus. First there is the authenticity of Herod Antipas.

Herod Antipater (GreekἩρῴδης ἈντίπατροςHērǭdēs Antipatros; born before 20 BC – died after 39 AD), known by the nickname Antipas, was a 1st-century ruler of Galilee and Perea, who bore the title of tetrarch (“ruler of a quarter”) and is referred to as both “Herod the Tetrarch” and “King Herod” in the New Testament although he never held the title of king. He is widely known today for accounts in the New Testament of his role in events that led to the executions of John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth.

There is the finding of Peter’s House in Capernaum:

Capernaum (/kəˈpɜːrniəm/ kə-PUR-nee-əmHebrewכְּפַר נַחוּם‎, Kfar NahumArabic: كفر ناحوم, meaning “Nahum’s village” in both languages) was a fishing village established during the time of the Hasmoneans, located on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. It had a population of about 1,500. Archaeological excavations have revealed two ancient synagogues built one over the other. A house turned into a church by the Byzantines is said to be the home of Saint Peter.

Peter’s House

  • 4th century A.D. writings of the Pilgrim Egeria, say, “And in Capernaum, what is more, the house of the prince of the apostles [Peter] has been turned into a church, leaving its original walls however quite unchanged.”

Josephus is one person who is presumed to have spoken with people who knew Jesus:

The works of Josephus include material about individuals, groups, customs, and geographical places. Some of these, such as the city of Seron, receive no mention in the surviving texts of any other ancient authority. His writings provide a significant, extra-Biblical account of the post-Exilic period of the Maccabees, the Hasmonean dynasty, and the rise of Herod the Great. He refers to the Sadducees, Jewish High Priests of the time, Phariseesand Essenes, the Herodian Temple, Quirinius‘ census and the Zealots, and to such figures as Pontius PilateHerod the GreatAgrippa I and Agrippa IIJohn the BaptistJames the brother of Jesus, and to Jesus (for more see Josephus on Jesus). Josephus represents an important source for studies of immediate post-Temple Judaism and the context of early Christianity.

From Tufts University:

[63] Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.

Finally, there are historians mentioning Jesus.

Historians Mentioning Jesus

  • Titus Flavius Josephus, Yosef Ben Matityahu (ca. 37-100 A.D.)
  • Publius Gaius Cornelius Tacitus (ca. 56-117 A.D.)
  • Mara Bar-Serapion (late 1st century A.D.)
  • Flavius Lustinus, Justin Martyr (ca. 100-165 A.D.)
  • Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus (ca. 9230 A.D.)
  • Pliny the Younger, ca 61-113 A.D.)

Taking them in turn.

Titus Flavius Josephus, already noted.

Publius Gaius Cornelius Tacitus.

A survey of the literature indicates that this citation by Tacitus has not been given enough regard, having often been overshadowed by the citations in Josephus (see next entry). Respected Christian scholar R. T. France, for example, does not believe that the Tacitus passage provides sufficient independent testimony for the existence of Jesus [Franc.EvJ, 23] and agrees with G. A. Wells that the citation is of little value.

It is unfortunate that France so readily agreed with Wells’ assessment. An investigation into the methods and background of Tacitus, as reported by Tacitean scholars (whose works, incidentally, France does not consult), tells us that this is an extremely reliable reference to Jesus and for early Christianity.

Mara Bar-Serapion:

The letter has been claimed to include no Christian themes[2][4] and many scholars consider Mara a pagan, although some suggest he may have been a monotheist.[3] Some scholars see the reference to the execution of the “wise king” of the Jews as an early non-Christian reference to Jesus. Criteria that support the non-Christian origin of the letter include the observation that “king of the Jews” was not a Christian title, and that the letter’s premise that Jesus lives on in his teachings he enacted is in contrast to the Christian concept that Jesus continues to live through his resurrection. Another viewpoint is that he could be referring to the resurrection recorded in Jesus’s teachings which say he lived on, that would mean we don’t know if he believed the resurrection happened or not and leaves it up to speculation whether he was a Christian or a non-Christian who agreed with Christians as regarding Jesus as a “wise king” according to the Gospels.

Flavius Lustinus:

The 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia notes that scholars have differed on whether Justin’s writings on the nature of God were meant to express his firm opinion on points of doctrine, or to speculate on these matters. Specific points Justin addressed include that the Logos is “numerically distinct from the Father” though “born of the very substance of the Father,” and that “through the Word, God has made everything.” Justin used the metaphor of fire to describe the Logos as spreading like a flame, rather than “dividing” the substance of the Father. He also defended the Holy Spirit as a member of the Trinity, as well as the birth of Jesus to Mary when she was a virgin. The Encyclopedia states that Justin places the genesis of the Logos as a voluntary act of the Father at the beginning of creation, noting that this is an “unfortunate” conflict with later Christian teachings.

Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus:

The Roman historian Suetonius (c. AD 69 – c. AD 122) mentions early Christians and may refer to Jesus Christ in his work Lives of the Twelve Caesars.

One passage in the biography of the Emperor Claudius Divus Claudius 25, refers to agitations in the Roman Jewish community and the expulsion of Jews from Rome by Claudius during his reign (AD 41 to AD 54), which may be the expulsion mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles (18:2). In this context “Chresto” is mentioned. Some scholars see this as a likely reference to Jesus, while others see it as referring to an otherwise unknown person living in Rome.

Pliny the Younger:

In any event, the value of the Pliny letter as “evidence” of Christ’s existence is worthless, as it makes no mention of “Jesus of Nazareth,” nor does it refer to any event in his purported life. There is not even a clue in it that such a man existed. As Taylor remarks, “We have the name of Christ, and nothing else but the name, where the name of Apollo or Bacchus would have filled up the sense quite as well.” Taylor then casts doubt on the authenticity of the letter as a whole, recounting the work of German critics, who “have maintained that this celebrated letter is another instance to be added to the long list of Christian forgeries…” One of these German luminaries, Dr. Semler of Leipsic provided “nine arguments against its authenticity…” He also notes that the Pliny epistle is quite similar to that allegedly written by “Tiberianus, Governor of Syria” to Trajan, which has been universally denounced as a forgery.

Despite Meyer’s enthusiasm for his list of historical reference to Jesus, these seem paltry at times. However, in religion enthusiasm counts for a lot.

Suppose…

Suppose we grant Meyer all his points about when the texts were written and how these place names and these people are as told in the Bible (including the New Testament). There is one thing he cannot get past. The details can be demonstrated to have been fabricated. Some examples are in called for. Refer to previous posts for examples I am not repeating here. These are new.

A talking donkey:

Numbers 22:26-30 King James Version (KJV)

26 And the angel of the Lord went further, and stood in a narrow place, where was no way to turn either to the right hand or to the left.

27 And when the ass saw the angel of the Lord, she fell down under Balaam: and Balaam’s anger was kindled, and he smote the ass with a staff.

28 And the Lord opened the mouth of the ass, and she said unto Balaam, What have I done unto thee, that thou hast smitten me these three times?

29 And Balaam said unto the ass, Because thou hast mocked me: I would there were a sword in mine hand, for now would I kill thee.

30 And the ass said unto Balaam, Am not I thine ass, upon which thou hast ridden ever since I was thine unto this day? was I ever wont to do so unto thee? and he said, Nay.

Nay, indeed. Here is another:

Luke 22:41-44 King James Version (KJV)

41 And he was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed,

42 Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.

43 And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him.

44 And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.

You may have noticed Jesus was by himself, with nobody around to hear him. So, who is writing down what he’s saying?

Jesus was born in Bethlehem? Really? Why? Mary and Joseph were required to travel to Bethlehem (from Nazareth) for a census (for tax purposes). Really? Since when did the Romans, or any other government require this? From all appearances this is made up in order for Jesus to fulfill the prophesy that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.

The nativity of Jesus or birth of Jesus is described in the gospels of Luke and Matthew. The two accounts agree that Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the time of Herod the Great to a betrothed virgin whose name was Mary. There are, however, major differences. Matthew has no censusannunciation to the shepherds or presentation in the Temple, implies that Jesus’s parents’ home is Bethlehem, and has him born in a house there, and has an unnamed angel appear to Joseph to announce the birth. In Luke there are no Magi, no flight into Egypt, or Massacre of the Innocents, Joseph is a resident of Nazareth, the birth appears to take place in an inn instead of the family home, and the angel (named as Gabriel) announces the coming birth to Mary.[1] While it is possible that Matthew’s account might be based on Luke, or Luke’s on Matthew, the majority of scholars conclude that the two are independent of each other.[1]

From where I observe, Meyer is clawing at the air to validate the Bible to a bunch of Christian youth. His aim is to ensure they (and viewers) retain their faith in the Bible and thereby retain their faith in Christianity. Were I a cynic among them this sort of hoax would only put me off the message of The Lord. Which is pretty much what happened with me, about 60+ years ago.

I watched to  the end of Episode 10 streaming on Amazon Prime Video (where I obtained these screen shots), and when that finished another episode started up, featuring not Stephen C. Meyer, but Del Tackett, former president of Focus on the Family. It’s Episode 1 of Season 3, with Season 3 having the title, “Who is Jesus?” Season 3 does not appear on Amazon’s Prime Video menu. You may have to do a search to find it. I make no promises I will watch and review Season 3, except.. Except that Amazon may have this available for a limited time, and I  would hate to let slip the opportunity to watch it without having to  pay the $25+ to purchase a DVD.

Keep reading. God may grant your wish.

False Testament

Number 3 of a series

This is number three in my review of the video Is the Bible Reliable, produced by Focus on the Family and featuring creationist Stephen C. Meyer. This installment covers episodes 4-6 of 10, concerning principally the biblical  kingdoms of David and Solomon and the stories of the conquest of the nations of Israel and Judah. The first episode dwells on Meyer’s argument that the David and Solomon are real characters from history, and furthermore the related biblical stories are true. Meyer introduces the prevailing skeptical views. He begins with the minimalist view, which is the notion that these kings existed but that their importance is much puffed up in the biblical narrative.

The Minimalist View

  • Israel Finkelstein  and colleagues at Tel Aviv view Saul and David as leaders of a small tribal confederation.
  • Tenth century B.C. Judah shows little or no evidence of permanent population, urban centers, capital, temple or big building projects in Jerusalem.
  • Some textual critics (Thomas Thompson) still deny that David existed.

Meyer is going to dispute Finkelstein and Thompson, so it is worth reviewing what minimalist (nihilists?) have had to say. First Finkelstein:

Israel Finkelstein (Hebrewישראל פינקלשטיין‎‎, born March 29, 1949) is an Israeli archaeologist and academic. He is the Jacob M. Alkow Professor of the Archaeology of Israel in the Bronze and Iron Ages at Tel Aviv University Finkelstein is widely regarded as a leading scholar in the archaeology of the Levant and a foremost applicant of archaeological data in reconstructing biblical history. He is also known for applying the exact and life sciences in archaeological and historical reconstruction. Finkelstein is the excavator of Megiddo – a key site for the study of the Bronze and Iron Ages in the Levant.

He has this to say about Saul. Again from Wikipedia:

Finkelstein dealt with a variety of themes related to the archeology and history of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. He proposed that the first North Israelite territorial polity emerged in the Gibeon-Bethel plateau in the late Iron I and early Iron IIA. He found archaeological evidence for this in the system of fortified sites, such as Tell en-Nasbeh, Khirbet ed-Dawwara, et-Tell (“Ai”) and Gibeon. Historical evidence for the existence of this polity can be found in the campaign of Pharaoh Sheshoqn I in this region in the middle-to-second half of the 10th century BCE. According to Finkelstein, positive memories in the Bible of the House of Saul, which originated from the North, represent this early Israelite entity. He suggested that this north Israelite polity ruled over much of the territory of the highlands, that it presented a threat to the interests of Egypt of the 22nd Dynasty in Canaan, and that it was taken over during the campaign of Sheshonq I.

Additionally, there is this concerning King David:

Finkelstein has recently dealt with the location of the ancient mound of Jerusalem (with Ido Koch and Oded Lipschits). The conventional wisdom sees that “City of David” ridge as the location of the original settlement of Jerusalem. Finkelstein and his colleagues argued that the “City of David” ridge does not have the silhouette of a mound; that it is located in topographical inferiority relative to the surrounding area; and that the archaeological record of the ridge does not include periods of habitation attested in reliable textual records. According to them, the most suitable location for the core of ancient Jerusalem is the Temple Mount. The large area of the Herodian platform (today’s Harem esh-Sharif) may conceal a mound of five hectares and more, which – similar to other capital cities in the Levant – included both the royal compound and habitation quarters. Locating the mound of Ancient Jerusalem on the Temple Mound resolves many of the difficulties pertaining to the “City of David” ridge.

According to Finkelstein, the history of Jerusalem in biblical times should be viewed in terms of three main phases: A) Until the 9th century BCE, Jerusalem was restricted to the mound on the Temple Mount and ruled over a modest area in the southern highlands. Accordingly, Jerusalem of the time of David and Solomon can be compared to Jerusalem of the Amarna period in the 14th century BCE: it had the size of a typical highlands mound (for instance, Shechem), ruled over a restricted area, but still had impact beyond the highlands. B) The first expansion of Jerusalem came in the 9th century BCE, perhaps in its second half, when the town grew significantly in a southerly direction. Remains of the Iron IIA were unearthed south of al-Aqsa Mosque, above the Gihon Spring and to the south of the Dung Gate of the Old City. In parallel to this development, Judah expanded to the Shephelah in the west and Beer-sheba Valley in the south, and for the first time became a territorial kingdom rather than a city-state restricted to the highlands. C) The most impressive phase in the settlement history of Jerusalem commenced in the late 8th century BCE and lasted until its destruction by the Babylonians in 586 BCE. At that time Jerusalem expanded dramatically, to include the entire “City of David” ridge, as well as the “Western Hill” (the Armenian and Jewish Quarter of today’s Old City). This expansion was the result of the arrival of Israelite refugees after the demise of the Northern Kingdom in 722-720 BCE. These groups brought with them traits of Northern material culture, and more important – their foundation myths, royal traditions and heroic stories. These Northern traditions were later incorporated into the Judahite Bible.

Israel Finkelstein has collaborated with Neil Nasher Silberman, and one outcome has been the book The Bible Unearthed. From Wikipedia:

The methodology applied by the authors is historical criticism with an emphasis on archaeology. Writing in the website of “The Bible and Interpretation”, the authors describe their approach as one “in which the Bible is one of the most important artifacts and cultural achievements [but] not the unquestioned narrative framework into which every archaeological find must be fit.” Their main contention is that:

“ …an archaeological analysis of the patriarchal, conquest, judges, and United Monarchy narratives [shows] that while there is no compelling archaeological evidence for any of them, there is clear archaeological evidence that places the stories themselves in a late 7th-century BCE context. ”

On the basis of this evidence they propose

“ … an archaeological reconstruction of the distinct histories of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, highlighting the largely neglected history of the Omride Dynasty and attempting to show how the influence of Assyrian imperialism in the region set in motion a chain of events that would eventually make the poorer, more remote, and more religiously conservative kingdom of Judah the belated center of the cultic and national hopes of all Israel. ”

As noted by a reviewer on Salon.com the approach and conclusions of The Bible Unearthed are not particularly new. Ze’ev Herzog, professor of archaeology at Tel Aviv University, wrote a cover story for Haaretz in 1999 in which he reached similar conclusions following the same methodology; Herzog noted also that some of these findings have been accepted by the majority of biblical scholars and archaeologists for years and even decades, even though they have only recently begun to make a dent in the awareness of the general public.

In their book, Finkelstein and Silberman devote Appendix D to “Why the Traditional Archaeological of the Davidic and Solomonic Period is Wrong.” Here is part:

The Davidic Conquests: A Ceramic Mirage

The most important archaeological evidence used to link destruction levels with the Davidic conquests was the decorated Philistine pottery, which was dated by scholars from the beginning of the twelfth century BCE until about 1000 BCE. The first strata that did not contain this distinctive style were dated to the tenth century, that is, to the time of the united monarchy. But this dating was based entirely on biblical chronology and was thus a circular argument because the lower date for the levels with this pottery was fixed according to the presumed era of the Davidic conquests around 1000 BCE. In fact, there was no clear evidence for the precise date of the transition from the Philistine style to later types.

Moreover, recent studies have revolutionized the dating of Philistine pottery. In recent decades, many major sites have been excavated in the southern coastal plain of Israel, the area of strong Egyptian presence in the twelfth century BCE, and the region where the Philistines settled. These sites included three of the cities mentioned in the Bible as the hub of Philistine life— Ashdod, Ashkelon, and Ekron (Tel Miqne) as well as several sites that served as Egyptian forts. The latter disclosed information about the Egypto-Canaanite material culture in the last decades of Egyptian hegemony in Canaan. Their finds included Egyptian inscriptions related to the imperial administration of Canaan as well as large quantities of locally made Egyptian vessels. Some of the inscriptions date from the reign of Ramesses III— the pharaoh who fought the Philistines and supposedly settled them in his forts in southern Canaan.

The surprise was that the strata that represent the last phases of Egyptian domination in Canaan under Ramesses III did not reveal the early types of the decorated Philistine vessels, and the earliest Philistine levels did not reveal any sign of Egyptian presence, not even a single Egyptian vessel. Instead, they were completely separated. Moreover, in a few sites, Egyptian forts of the time of Ramesses III were succeeded by the first Philistine settlements. In chronological terms this could not have happened before the collapse of Egyptian domination in Canaan in the mid– twelfth century BCE. The implications of this revelation for the archaeology of the united monarchy create a sort of domino effect: the whole set of pottery styles is pushed forward by about half a century, and that includes the transition from Philistine to the post-Philistine styles.

Finkelstein, Israel; Silberman, Neil Asher. The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Isreal and the Origin of Sacred Texts (pp. 340-341). Free Press. Kindle Edition.

[I note in the Kindle edition the name Israel is misspelled in page attribution.]

Wikipedia has this concerning Thompson:

Thomas L. Thompson (born January 7, 1939 in Detroit, Michigan) is a biblical scholar and theologian. He was professor of theology at the University of Copenhagen from 1993 to 2009, lives in Denmark and is now a Danish citizen.

Thompson is closely associated with the minimalist movement known as The Copenhagen School (other major figures include Niels Peter Lemche, Keith Whitelam, and Philip R. Davies), a loosely knit group of scholars who hold that the Bible cannot be used as a source to determine the history of ancient Israel, and that “Israel” itself is a problematic concept.

It is critical to evaluate the level of analysis given to the matter of biblical historicity by Meyer against that given by serious scholars. Meyer’s presentation is not, nor should ever presume to be, a scientific discourse. First, the lectures presented in the video are less than 30 minutes each, leaving little time for deep analysis. Second, there is no way to escape the conclusion there is never any intent at a factual presentation. Meyer’s lectures are aimed at impressionable minds with a goal of keeping them convinced of the veracity of the Bible and to reinforce a reliance on the supernatural.

In the remainder of this review I am not going to provide any depth at disputing Meyer’s presentations. I will post some salient points and offer a top-level discussion.

Meyer urges that the discovery of a fortified wall is evidence of David’s kingdom.

David’s Kingdom: The Fortress of Elah

  • Great big fortified wall, but there is no city inside.

There is the matter of the Tel Dan Stele:

The Tel Dan Stele is a broken stele (inscribed stone) discovered in 1993–94 during excavations at Tel Dan in northern Israel. It consists of several fragments making up part of a triumphal inscription in Aramaic, left most probably by Hazael of Aram-Damascus, an important regional figure in the late 9th century BCE. Hazael (or more accurately, the unnamed king) boasts of his victories over Omri, the king of Israel and his ally the king of the “House of David” (bytdwd). It is considered the first widely accepted reference to the name David as the founder of a Judahite polity outside of the Hebrew Bible, though the earlier Mesha Stele contains several possible references with varying acceptance. A minority of scholars have disputed the reference to David, due to the lack of a word divider between byt and dwd, and other translations have been proposed. The stele was not excavated in its primary context, but in its secondary use. The Tel Dan stele is one of four known contemporary inscriptions containing the name of Israel, the others being the Merneptah Stele, the Mesha Stele, and the Kurkh Monolith.

The Tel Dan inscription generated considerable debate and a flurry of articles, debating its age, authorship, and authenticity; however, the stele is generally accepted by scholars as genuine and a reference to the House of David. It is currently on display in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

David: The Tel Dan Stele

  • Found in 1993 at Tel Dan, inscribed in the mid-9th century B.C.
  • “I (King Hazael) killed Joram son of [Ahab] king of Israel, and I killed  [ ]yahu son of [ ] of the House of David” (Lines 7-9).

There is the Kurkh Stele of Shalmaneser III:

The inscription on the Shalmaneser III Stela deals with campaigns Shalmaneser made in western Mesopotamia and Syria, fighting extensively with the countries of Bit Adini and Carchemish. At the end of the Monolith comes the account of the Battle of Qarqar, where an alliance of twelve kings fought against Shalmaneser at the Syrian city of Qarqar. This alliance, comprising eleven kings, was led by Irhuleni of Hamath and Hadadezer of Damascus, describing also a large force led by King Ahab of Israel.

Kurkh Stele of Shalmaneser III

  • Specifically mentions King Ahab.
  • King Ahab sends over 2,000 chariots and 10,000 men to fight in the battle of Qarqar in 853 B.c.
  • In the record of those defeated by the Assyrians are the names of Ahab, king of Israel, and Ben-Hadad, king of Syria, who appears in 1 Kings 20:33.

And that finishes the review of Episode 4.

Next, Meyer launches into Episode 5, “The Assyrian Invasion.” From Amazon:

This lesson examines the archaeological record of Sennacherib’s assault on Judah. Learn how the evidence backs up the Bible’s account of the defense of Jerusalem.

Historians do not doubt that about 2749 years ago invasions and conquests from nearby people threatened and ultimately brought an end to the dynasty of the Davidic kings. From all appearances, Meyer seeks only to demonstrate the Bible’s account jibes with history.

Hezekiah and Sennacherib

  • According to the book of 2 Kings, in approximately 732 B.C. the Assyrian Empire invaded the norther kingdom of Israel (2 Kings 17:3).
  • By ca. 722 B.C. Israel had been defeated, and King Hoshea had been taken captive (2 Kings 17:6).
  • In about 701 B.C., following the conquest of Israel, the Assyrians moved on to attack the kingdom of Judah, ruled by King Hezekiah (2 Kings 18:13).
  • This culminated in a siege of Jerusalem by the Assyrians. Under Sennacherib, however, the Assyrians failed to capture Jerusalem and returned to Nineveh (2 Kings 19:36; 2 Chronicles 32:21).

There is the Sennacherib Prism:

Sennacherib’s Annals are the annals of the Assyrian king Sennacherib. They are found inscribed on a number of artifacts, and the final versions were found in three clay prisms inscribed with the same text: the Taylor Prism is in the British Museum, the Oriental Institute Prism in the Oriental Institute of Chicago, and the Jerusalem Prism is in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

The Taylor Prism is one of the earliest cuneiform artifacts analysed in modern Assyriology, having been found a few years prior to the modern deciphering of cuneiform.

The annals themselves are notable for describing his siege of Jerusalem during the reign of king Hezekiah. This event is recorded in several books contained in the Bible including Isaiah chapters 33 and 36; 2 Kings 18:17; 2 Chronicles 32:9. The invasion is mentioned by Herodotus, who does not refer to Judea and says the invasion ended at Pelusium on the edge of the Nile delta.

Sennacherib (or Taylor) Prism

“As for Hezekiah,the Judean who did not submit to  my yoke, I Surrounded and conquered 46 of his strong-walled towns…by leveling with battering-rams and by bringing up siege-engines. 200,150 people…I brought away from them and counted as spoil.”

More conquests. Here is the Attack on Azekah.

Attack on Azekah

The Azekah inscription, ca. 701 B.C., describes the Assyrian attack of Sennacherib on the Judean stronghold of Azekah.

“I overwhelmed the district of Hezekiah of Judah…Azekah, his stronghold, which is located between my land and the land of Judah.”

The corresponding excerpt from 2 Kings relating to the event.

I will just quote from the bible:

2 Kings 18:13-17 King James Version (KJV)

13 Now in the fourteenth year of king Hezekiah did Sennacherib king of Assyria come up against all the fenced cities of Judah, and took them.

14 And Hezekiah king of Judah sent to the king of Assyria to Lachish, saying, I have offended; return from me: that which thou puttest on me will I bear. And the king of Assyria appointed unto Hezekiah king of Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold.

15 And Hezekiah gave him all the silver that was found in the house of the Lord, and in the treasures of the king’s house.

16 At that time did Hezekiah cut off the gold from the doors of the temple of the Lord, and from the pillars which Hezekiah king of Judah had overlaid, and gave it to the king of Assyria.

17 And the king of Assyria sent Tartan and Rabsaris and Rabshakeh from Lachish to king Hezekiah with a great host against Jerusalem. And they went up and came to Jerusalem. And when they were come up, they came and stood by the conduit of the upper pool, which is in the highway of the fuller’s field.

From 2 Chronicles 32:9-12

From BibleGatway.com:

2 Chronicles 32:9-12 King James Version (KJV)

After this did Sennacherib king of Assyria send his servants to Jerusalem, (but he himself laid siege against Lachish, and all his power with him,) unto Hezekiah king of Judah, and unto all Judah that were at Jerusalem, saying,

10 Thus saith Sennacherib king of Assyria, Whereon do ye trust, that ye abide in the siege in Jerusalem?

11 Doth not Hezekiah persuade you to give over yourselves to die by famine and by thirst, saying, The Lord our God shall deliver us out of the hand of the king of Assyria?

12 Hath not the same Hezekiah taken away his high places and his altars, and commanded Judah and Jerusalem, saying, Ye shall worship before one altar, and burn incense upon it?

The God of Abraham at this point intervened.

2 Kings 19:35-36:

2 Kings 19:35-36 King James Version (KJV)

35 And it came to pass that night, that the angel of the Lord went out, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians an hundred fourscore and five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses.

36 So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed, and went and returned, and dwelt at Nineveh.

But now the Sennacherib Prism is silent on the matter, and Meyer takes note of that silence, and for what reason? Is it possible Sennacherib was embarrassed by this miraculous defeat and left it unrecorded?

Conspicuous Silence

“He himself I shut up in Jerusalem, his royal city, like a bird in a cage…Fear of my lordly splendor overwhelmed that Hezekiah. The warriors and select troops he had brought in to strengthen his royal city Jerusalem, did not fight…

From the Sennacherib (or Taylor) Prism

When extra-biblical sources fail to mention the miracle, Meyer interprets it as an embarrassment for Sennacherib.

Meyer winds down Episode 5 by posting four competing hypotheses regarding the Old Testament narrative.

He will eventually cross out all but the one in the lower right, the “divinely inspired” hypothesis. Yes, the Bible is divinely inspired.

Episode 6 has the title “The Babylonian Conquest of Judah.”

From Amazon:

This lesson describes the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, thereby ending the Davidic monarchy. Due to Israel’s rebellion against God, He handed them over to their enemies to be taken into exile.

Here is what is interesting about the use of language. Whenever God fails to protect the Jews, it is because they displeased God, and God was punishing them. Whenever a miracle saved the Jews (185,000 dead enemy soldiers), then it was God intervening to  protect his chosen people.

The Babylonian Conquest of Jerusalem

  • Nebuchadnezzar then appointed Jehoiachin’s  uncle, Zedekiah, to be King. After nine years Zedekiah rebelled.
  • This rebellion ended in the summer of 587 B.C. when the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem after a siege of over a year.
  • From 605BC-587BC [sic], all of the fortified cities of Judah fell to the Babylonians, and 3 kings of Judah either died or were captured.

Next Meyer invokes the Lachish Letters:

The Lachish Letters or Lachish Ostraca, sometimes called Hoshaiah Letters, are a series of letters written in carbon ink in Ancient Hebrew on clay ostraca. The letters were discovered at the excavations at Lachish (Tell ed-Duweir).

The ostraca were discovered by James Leslie Starkey in January–February, 1935 during the third campaign of the Wellcome excavations. They were published in 1938 by Harry Torczyner (name later changed to Naftali Herz Tur-Sinai) and have been much studied since then. Seventeen of them are currently located in the British Museum in London, a smaller number (including Letter 6) are on permanent display at the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem, Israel.

The Lachish Letters

Letter 4 indicates Lachish and Azekah as among the last cities to be conquered.

Letter 4: “We are watching for the signal stations of Lachish, according to all the signals you are giving, because we cannot see the signals of Azekah.”

This is further confirmation to Meyer that the biblical account is historically correct.

From the biblical account:

Bullae from city of David

Jeremiah 36:10-12 King James Version (KJV)

10 Then read Baruch in the book the words of Jeremiah in the house of the Lord, in the chamber of Gemariah the son of Shaphan the scribe, in the higher court, at the entry of the new gate of the Lord‘s house, in the ears of all the people.

11 When Michaiah the son of Gemariah, the son of Shaphan, had heard out of the book all the words of the Lord,

12 Then he went down into the king’s house, into the scribe’s chamber: and, lo, all the princes sat there, even Elishama the scribe, and Delaiah the son of Shemaiah, and Elnathan the son of Achbor, and Gemariah the son of Shaphan, and Zedekiah the son of Hananiah, and all the princes.

Additionally:

Jeremiah 36:22-24 King James Version (KJV)

22 Now the king sat in the winterhouse in the ninth month: and there was a fire on the hearth burning before him.

23 And it came to pass, that when Jehudi had read three or four leaves, he cut it with the penknife, and cast it into the fire that was on the hearth, until all the roll was consumed in the fire that was on the hearth.

24 Yet they were not afraid, nor rent their garments, neither the king, nor any of his servants that heard all these words.

Meyer highlights key words from the Bullae from the City of David.

Here is what is archaeologically significant:

Bullae from the First Temple period found in the City of David excavations

Shedding light on the bureaucracy and officials of ancient Jerusalem

A collection of seals (bullae) from the late First Temple period, discovered in the City of David excavations, shed light on the bureaucracy and officials of ancient Jerusalem

A collection of dozens of sealings, mentioning the names of officials dated to the days of the Judean kingdom prior to the Babylonian destruction, was unearthed during excavations by the Israel Antiquities Authority in the City of David National Park in the area of the walls of Jerusalem, funded by the ELAD (El Ir David) organization.

The sealings (bullae- from which the Hebrew word for stamp, “bul”, is derived) are small pieces of clay which in ancient times served as seals for letters. A letter which arrived with its seal broken was a sign that the letter had been opened before reaching its destination. Although letters did not survive the horrible fire which consumed Jerusalem at its destruction, the seals, which were made of the abovementioned material that is similar to pottery, were actually well preserved thanks to the fire, and attest to the existence of the letters and their senders.

According to Ortal Chalaf and Dr. Joe Uziel, directors of the excavation for the Israel Antiquities Authority, “In the numerous excavations at the City of David, dozens of seals were unearthed, bearing witness to the developed administration of the city in the First Temple period. The earliest seals bear mostly a series of pictures; it appears that instead of writing the names of the clerks, symbols were used to show who the signatory was, or what he was sealing. In later stages of the period–from the time of King Hezekiah (around 700 BCE) and up to the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BCE–the seals bear the names of clerks in early Hebrew script. Through these findings, we learn not only about the developed administrative systems in the city, but also about the residents and those who served in the civil service.”

This is archaeological confirmation of this portion of the scripture. Meyer cites the biblical events confirmed, or at least not invalidated, by science.

Events in the Babylonian Conquest of Judah: Top Points of Agreement

  • Sometime after the appointment of Zedekiah the Babylonians completely destroy Jerusalem.
  • The Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar took many Jews captive to Babylon.
  • Cyrus the Great, a Persian emperor, conquers Babylon in roughly 539 B.C.
  • Cyrus allows the Jews to return from Babylon.

What has happened is this. As Judaic scribes started recording events as they happened, the biblical text began to come more in line with the actual history. Gone were the absurdities of Genesis and Exodus, and gone also were such that Finkelstein and Silberman note in their book:

The first question was whether Moses could really have been the author of the Five Books of Moses, since the last book, Deuteronomy, described in great detail the precise time and circumstances of Moses’ own death.

Finkelstein, Israel; Silberman, Neil Asher. The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Isreal and the Origin of Sacred Texts (p. 11). Free Press. Kindle Edition.

Meyer lists biblical persons identified in history.

Top Characters Attested: Great and Small

  • Nebuchadnezzar
  • Jehoiachin, king of Judah
  • Necho, king of Egypt
  • Cyrus the Great
  • Possibly Jeremiah, “the prophet”
  • Baruch, son  of Neriah
  • Yerame’el, son of the king
  • Elishama, servant of the king
  • Gemariah, servant of the king

Concluding Episode 6, Meyer makes an astounding assertion.

The Bible is true and accurate in all the things it records.

Particularly:

  • In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

    And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

  • 15 And they went in unto Noah into the ark, two and two of all flesh, wherein is the breath of life.16 And they that went in, went in male and female of all flesh, as God had commanded him: and the Lord shut him in.

    17 And the flood was forty days upon the earth; and the waters increased, and bare up the ark, and it was lift up above the earth.

    18 And the waters prevailed, and were increased greatly upon the earth; and the ark went upon the face of the waters.

    19 And the waters prevailed exceedingly upon the earth; and all the high hills, that were under the whole heaven, were covered.

    20 Fifteen cubits upward did the waters prevail; and the mountains were covered.

    21 And all flesh died that moved upon the earth, both of fowl, and of cattle, and of beast, and of every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth, and every man:

    22 All in whose nostrils was the breath of life, of all that was in the dry land, died.

  • 21 And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided.22 And the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon the dry ground: and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left.
  • [Supposedly written by Moses]

    34 And Moses went up from the plains of Moab unto the mountain of Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, that is over against Jericho. And the Lordshewed him all the land of Gilead, unto Dan,

    And all Naphtali, and the land of Ephraim, and Manasseh, and all the land of Judah, unto the utmost sea,

    And the south, and the plain of the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees, unto Zoar.

    And the Lord said unto him, This is the land which I sware unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, saying, I will give it unto thy seed: I have caused thee to see it with thine eyes, but thou shalt not go over thither.

    So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord.

    And he buried him in a valley in the land of Moab, over against Bethpeor: but no man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day.

  • 18 Also Judah took Gaza with the coast thereof, and Askelon with the coast thereof, and Ekron with the coast thereof.19 And the Lord was with Judah; and he drave out the inhabitants of the mountain; but could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley, because they had chariots of iron.

I am so glad Meyer can assure me everything in the Bible is true and accurate, because I am daily battered by a flood of facts to the contrary.

For Meyer that is the end of the Old Testament. He next launches into the New Testament and the story of Jesus, which story will cover the final four episodes. Episode 6 is titled, without surprise, “New Testament.” From Amazon:

Recent archaeological finds have unearthed mounds of evidence that are slowly bringing an end to Biblical skepticism. By looking at this evidence, studying the recent findings and corroborating the stories, we realize the accuracy of the New Testament.

I will likely summarize the final four episodes in the next (final) review. Keep reading.

Don’t cry for me, Venezuela

This is number 6.

The truth is I  never left you.

And you know the rest.

Hugo Chávez rose to power in Venezuela in opposition to the Puntofijo Pact. The pact was an agreement entered into by three prominent Venezuelan political parties in 1958, following the ouster of dictator Pérez Jiménez. The co-signers sought to cement democratic processes into Venezuelan politics, but the effect was to exclude other than the three dominant parties. Particularly excluded was the Communist Party. Eventually only the AD and COPEI parties shared power. The two relied heavily on Venezuela’s oil revenues to solidify their political hold, and when oil prices fell, the ruling parties increasingly used violent means to suppress opposition.

Chávez was a career military officer when he instigated a coup against the government in February 1992. That and another attempted coup in November failed, and Chávez was jailed. Meanwhile, government suppression of human rights and systematic corruption began to erode the government’s legitimacy, and President Carlos Andrés Pérez was impeached and removed from office. In 1994 the new government freed Chávez, who began to shop around the region, particularly with Fidel Castro’s Cuba, for support. He was elected president in the 1998 election:

Voter turnout in the election is disputed. Voter turnout was 63.45%, and Chávez won the election with 56.20% of the vote. Academic analysis of the election showed that Chávez’s support had come primarily from the country’s poor and “disenchanted middle class”, whose standard of living had decreased rapidly over the previous decade, while much of the middle and upper class vote went to [Henrique Salas Römer].

The direction of Venezuela under Chávez became clear in short order:

Chávez’s presidential inauguration took place 2 February 1999. He deviated from the usual words of the presidential oath when he took it, proclaiming: “I swear before God and my people that upon this moribund constitution I will drive forth the necessary democratic transformations so that the new republic will have a Magna Carta befitting these new times.” Freedom in Venezuela suffered following “the decision of President Hugo Chávez, ratified in a national referendum, to abolish congress and the judiciary, and by his creation of a parallel government of military cronies”. Soon after being established into office, Chávez spent much of his time attempting to abolish existing checks and balances in Venezuela.[162] He appointed new figures to government posts, adding leftist allies to key positions and “army colleagues were given a far bigger say in the day-to-day running of the country”. For instance he put Revolutionary Bolivarian Movement-200 founder Jesús Urdaneta (es), in charge of the Bolivarian Intelligence Agencyand made Hernán Grüber Ódreman (es), one of the 1992 coup leaders, governor of the Federal District of Caracas.

There was not doubt that Chávez intended autocratic rule based on socialism. Chávez’s program involved massive social programs that relied upon oil revenues. When oil prices started to collapse these programs became unsustainable, but Chávez did not move to rescind them. That’s a brief recount of how Venezuela got to where it is now. From The New York Times:

CARACAS, Venezuela — Food shortages were already common in Venezuela, so Tabata Soler knew painfully well how to navigate the country’s black market stalls to get basics like eggs and sugar.

But then came a shortage she couldn’t fix: Suddenly, there was no propane gas for sale to do the cooking.

And so for several nights this summer, Ms. Soler prepared dinner above a makeshift fire of broken wooden crates set ablaze with kerosene to feed her extended family of 12.

Recollections of the Peron era in Argentina are difficult to avoid. Chávez is now dead since 2013, and Nicolás Maduro, a more or less cookie-cutter version of Chávez, is attempting to carry on, with similar success. The people of Venezuela may have welcomed the increased power Chávez’s social reforms promised, but these came at the price of government suppression to legitimate opposition. From The New York Times:

Five months of political turmoil in Venezuela have brought waves of protesters into the streets, left more than 120 people dead and a set off a wide crackdown against dissent by the government, which many nations now consider a dictatorship.

An all-powerful assembly of loyalists of President Nicolás Maduro rules the country with few limits on its authority, vowing to pursue political opponents as traitors while it rewrites the Constitution in the government’s favor.

And I am not inclined to shed a tear.

Quiz Question

One of a continuing series

This week’s Quiz Question is a mixture of nostalgia, history, and language. Answer as many as you can. Post your answers in the comments section below.

  1. SNAFU is an acronym. What does it stand for?
  2. FUBAR is an acronym. What does it stand for?
  3. Where was Killroy?

Update and answers

These date back to the Second World War.

SNAFU (in dinner table language) stands for Situation Normal, All Fowled Up.

FUBAR stands for Fowled Up Beyond All Reason.

Killroy was always “here.” The simple drawing with the slogan, “Killroy was here,” adorned many a fighting vehicle and bunker of American forces.

Quiz Question

One of a continuing series

The topic for this week’s Quiz Question is famous quotes.

  1. Somebody first said famously, “There is no “there” there. Who said it first and what is it?
  2. When told that a certain person had died, the response was, “How can they tell?” Who died, and who said it?
  3. “If I owned half that dog I would kill my half.” Who said it?
  4. “It isn’t over until the fat lady sings.” Who said it? What was the inspiration?
  5. “Veni, vidi, vici.” Who said it first? What does it mean?
  6. “She makes you want to burn every bed in the world.” Who said it.
  7. “I have never killed any one, but I have read some obituary notices with great satisfaction.” Who said it? Not Churchill as I first thought.
  8. “Gott Mit Uns.” You know what it means. Where was it famously inscribed?
  9. “If there is a God, He will have to beg my forgiveness.” May not be an actual quote, but what is the supposed origin?
  10. “I’ll let you be in my dreams if I can be in yours.” Who wrote that?

Update and answers

Readers should have know most or all of these.

  1. Gertrude Stein said this about Oakland, California.
  2. Dorothy Parker, when told that Calvin  Coolidge had died, famously asked, “How can they tell?”
  3. Actually what Mark Twain said was, “If I owned half that dog, I would shoot my half.”
  4. The fat lady is the archetypal soprano in a Wagnerian opera. The opera is not over until the fat lady sings. Yogi Berra is alleged to have said it as a way of explaining when the game is over. Actually, he never  attended an opera in  his life, and it is most likely Sam Goldwyn said it first.
  5. Supposedly Julius Caesar said, in Latin, “I came, I saw, I conquered.”
  6. H.L. Mencken said this on admiring a grotesque sample of the opposite sex.
  7. Legendary trial lawyer Clarence Darrow said that.
  8. The Nazi storm troopers who ravaged a conquered Europe, raping, looting, and killing, wore belt buckles with the inscription, in German, “God [is] with us.”
  9. This was supposedly discovered inscribed on a wall in one of the Nazi death camps after liberation.
  10. Nobel Prize-winning  poet Bob Dylan provided this thought in his song Talkin’ World War III. I use it from time to time.

Politicians Acting Foolishly

Number 2 in a series

Twenty-one months ago I made this ridiculous promise:

This comes around with such regularity I’m going to create a recurrent series of posts. Where do I start? I will go back a few years, back four years even…

And I did go back four years to then Congressman Anthony Weiner, who, until June 2011, represented New York’s 9th congressional district. What got him excused from politics was his propensity of exhibiting less than interesting body parts on the Internet. People picked up on the last name.

So, I’m late getting back to the matter of politicians acting foolishly. I can’t imagine what took me so long. Here is round number 2, this time with my favorite American governor, Chris Christie of New Jersey. Although he is my favorite governor, his popularity is currently polling about 15%. We have to wonder why. Here is the most recent.

Consider his public persona. The man definitely has a way with public image. I caught the story on yesterday’s edition of ABC World News Tonight with David Muir, courtesy of Hulu.

Yes, the governor got onto a radio program, which he co-hosts, and for no apparent reason a bunch of people wanted to talk about stuff that happened last week. New Jersey reached a budget impasse, and, lacking a budget, the Governor closed public parks, including beaches. Then he and his family ensconced themselves upon one of said beaches. And got their picture took.

On the radio the Governor started taking calls from listeners. “Mike in Montclair” had some choice words:

Governor, next time you want to sit on a beach that is closed to  the entire world except you… You put your fat ass in  a car… and go to one that’s open.

Whoa! Somebody is displeased. The Governor’s response was classic Christie:

You know, Mike, I love getting calls from communists in Montclair.

Communist? How long has it been since I heard that comeback? Fifty years at least. Mike believes he’s being bullied.

Apparently the Governor sees the error of his ways and knows he needs to make a final effort to show grace and to save the situation. He does it with style.

You know, you’re swearing on the air, Mike, and you’re a bum!

With an exclamation mark.

Irony upon irony. ABC reporter David Wright reports the story with the George Washington Bridge in the background.

It was somewhat over three years ago I first visited the topic:

Concerns were raised that the New Jersey’s Republican state government had rigged a phony traffic study just to create havoc for Fort Lee residents, this in payback because the town’s Democratic mayor had declined to endorse Governor Chris Christie’s re-election.

Placing traffic cones at the George Washington Bridge.

Additional irony. Last year on a family outing with Barbara Jean, we were skirting the Big Apple, trying to get to Rhode Island. I perked up when I realized I was about to drive through the place pictured above. The irony faded somewhat when they charged me $15 to drive the Camry across. But thanks to Governor Christie, I got some of it back in chuckles.

The Junior Varsity Team

A rehash

Posted on Facebook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ISIS, Despite Heavy Losses, Still Inspires Global Attacks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

Quiz Question

One of a continuing series

Just recently I had to respond to a Facebook comment that compared Donald Trump to Barack Obama, this regarding Trump’s lack of familiarity with the truth:

And we should paint President Obama with the same brush? In this regard Obama is a piker compared to Trump. Actually, not even Nixon attained Trump’s rarefied air.

Obama a piker. Yes, a slacker. Then I wondered if anybody reading had an idea where we got the term “piker.” That’s this week’s Quiz Question. What’s the origin of the term?

Post your answer as a comment below. No fair running to  Google. You were supposed to know this stuff already.

Update and answer

People wanting to know how we got the term “piker” need to go all the back to an explorer named Zebulon Pike. Pike, later Brigadier General Pike, conducted two explorations of the American  West under the presidency of Thomas Jefferson. On his expedition he and his men discovered and attempted to climb what is now known as Pike’s Peak in Colorado. This was in November, and they were unsuccessful, leading Pike to proclaim that this obstacle would never be climbed. Today there are an automobile roadway and a cog rail line going to the top.

During the gold rush of 1849 many set out from the eastern states to  head for the California gold fields. Some had “California or Bust” painted on their wagons. As with such adventures, California was a mountain range and a desert too far, and some got to Pike’s Peak and gave up. Today these people are known as pikers, those who failed at their endeavors or did not live up to  their early promise.

In Missouri there is a Pike County, giving rise to the song:

Do you remember sweet Betsy from Pike,
Who crossed the high mountain with her lover Mike?

Followed by numerous additional stanzas.

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.

Years of Living Dangerously

January 1934

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

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

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

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

LLORET DE MAR, SPAIN, January 11, 1934

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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