Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Flashback: FDR Brooks No Criticism: The Justice Department Probe of Chicago German-Heritage Organizations led by O. John Rogge (Which Came to Nothing).

Pearl Harbor 1941
[Memoirs from more than fifty years in politics for my kids and grandchildren].

The key research into Franklin Roosevelt’s paranoia about being frustrated in his drive to put the U. S. into war on the side of Britain pre-Pearl Harbor…a drive that, ironically, affected both my father and the man much later to be chairman of my company, Quaker Oats…is outlined brilliantly in The New Dealers’ War: FDR and the War Within World War II [Bonus Books: 2001] by Thomas Fleming (whom, I hasten to add, is not the Dr. Thomas Fleming president of the Rockford Institute, of equal stature, but an historian, author of some forty books and commentator on the History Channel, NPR, PBS and A&E). Fleming was unlucky in that his book came out at the time of 9/11 so it didn’t receive its due analysis, but it is the most systemic study of Roosevelt’s actions during the time immediately before and post-Pearl Harbor.

Roosevelt, like his distinguished cousin the brilliant but equally egomaniacal 23rd president, wanted his presidency to culminate in great international acclaim as savior of the West. Indeed, Conrad Black’s book adds to the old luster but the hero-worship is blinding. While TR won the Nobel peace prize for negotiating an end to the Russo-Japanese war, Franklin approached the end of his second-term and expected retirement with great apprehension that the war he hoped we would join would proceed without us. These were some of his concerns: First, the Depression had by no means been solved although ameliorated with short-term, some salutary, solutions which strengthened the corporate state. Unemployment was still high and nothing short of a massive mobilization of industrial resources could rectify it.

Second, the European war posed a definite threat, in Roosevelt’s mind, to the West; the fall of France he viewed as catastrophic and a fall of Britain to the Nazis would change the dynamic of world politics for generations which necessitated that he be ordained to save the Anglo-Saxon heritage. Not that anyone remotely believed—aside from some extreme pro-administration propagandists—that Adolf Hitler would send his Luftwaffe across the Atlantic to Manhattan, bomb the Statue of Liberty and soften America so that he could land troops which would battle the U.S. block-by-block in New York. But in a very realistic sense, the power of Europe would be galvanized in the grip of Germany—no doubt about it. And Roosevelt seemingly could do nothing to join his great fellow world strategist Winston Churchill in an exciting endeavor which would make both their names imperishable as saviors of the West. With Churchill as the patriotic Briton co-worker (a crueler writer than I might say “co-conspirator”) and undoubted genius historian-publicist that has indeed happened as history records them: up to now.

Third, there was a real determination by the American public to stay out of war. In 1940 as France fell and the British evacuated Dunkirk, Gallup showed 86% opposed to war, 5% wanted to fight and the balance uncertain. The next year, the “America First” committee, headed by Robert D. Stuart, Jr. added to the majority; it was filled with popular figures from both parties and exerting a tremendous influence to keep the peace. Fourth, the claims by FDR’s interventionist allies that Hitler was embarked on world conquest were belied by the fact that the dictator had made no move to jeopardize U. S. interests (indeed, he would have been a fool to do so). His forces occupied the Atlantic and channel ports of France; his tanks were halted at the Pyrenees; he turned over the governing of France to the Vichy pro-German forces headed by Marshall Henri Phillipe Petain, a hero of World War I, originator of the immortal slogan that made French troops stand firm at Verdun: “They shall not pass!”

Hitler refused to take France’s valuable colonies in north Africa. He offered Britain a guarantee to its empire. His real goal was not the West, as he subsequently made clear: it was the East. As he said in Mein Kampf “we terminate the endless German drive to the south and west of Europe and direct our gaze toward the lands in the east…But if we talk about new soil and territory in Europe today, we can think primarily only of Russia and its vassal border states.” Hitler followed the blueprint in he had outlined in Mein Kampf. Albeit implementing fearful atrocities at Auschwitz, he did not contemplate the overtaking of Britain and the United States.

FDR realized it was futile to whip up a war against Hitler because Hitler wisely wouldn’t play along. Then, in June, 1941 Hitler did what he had written he would do. He invaded Russia which made his purported “threat” to the U. S. even less likely.. General Robert Wood (ret.), CEO of Sears-Roebuck and an honorary officer of “Americas First” issued a statement that said plainly: “With the ruthless forces of dictatorship and aggression now clearly aligned on both sides, the proper course for the United States becomes even clearer. We must continue to build our defenses and take no part in this incongruous European conflict.” It was at that point that a junior Senator from Missouri named Harry Truman said the best thing that could happen was that Germany and Russia would knock each other off.

But Roosevelt was in a box: the German “threat” was dying off. So after Hitler invaded Russia, the president turned to Japan as a likely prospect to promote a war. When France fell, Japan seized its Asian colonies. It signed a tripartite agreement with Germany and Italy and occupied French Indo-China (Vietnam). After the invasion of Russia, FDR froze all Japanese assets in the U. S., cut off all trade including oil and pressured the British and Dutch to follow which they did. Finally, FDR was getting somewhere. Japan depended almost totally on oil from the U. S. and Dutch East Indies. Without oil, the Japanese would lose the war with China; more than that, it would curl up and die. Rear Admiral Richmond Turner, the chief of naval war plans, wrote FDR and said “shutting off the American supply of petroleum will lead promptly to an invasion of the Netherlands East Indies [by Japan]...It seems certain that, if Japan should then take military measures against the British and Dutch, she would also include military action against the Philippines which would immediately involve us in a Pacific war.”

By October 22, seven weeks before Pearl Harbor, Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson wrote in his diary the question was “how we should maneuver them [the Japanese] into the position of firing the first shot.” It worked. To make war with Germany inevitable, FDR then caused to be leaked to his arch-enemy, The Chicago Tribune, a secret war plan outlining his plans to defeat Germany. The leak by FDR to the paper which published it on December 4, 1941 was a stratagem worthy of Machiavelli: it might cause Hitler to respond with a declaration of war and it could be used by the feds to prosecute the Trib for breach of security: thus killing two birds with one stone. After we declared war on Japan on December 8, Hitler still didn’t declare war on us which exasperated FDR. Then Hitler, enraged, declared war on December 11. The president breathed a sigh of relief and turned for a few minutes to play in diversion with his stamp collection. His future in world history lay before him.

Modern history says almost to a scholar that Hitler had indeed embarked on a quest to take over the world. I think now, more than sixty years later, we’re mature enough to come to a more realistic appraisal without being called pro-Nazi, whacko or eccentric. Unquestionably Hitler was evil incarnate; unquestionably he was a mass executioner of Jews; unquestionably had he succeeded in subordinating the USSR and Britain, he would have been dominant in Europe, fulfilling the dreams of Napoleon. Unquestionably he would either scoop up Britain or render it impotent. Unquestionably he would be a major competitor of influence with the U.S. But I think there can be no doubt that he could not have “taken” the United States if we continued our national defense buildup. Add to that the fact that by every yardstick of public opinion, the American people did not want to go to war. The question then remains: was Roosevelt’s maneuverings to get us into war justified by events? By Aquinas’ doctrine of the just war?

The answer would have to be no: especially from Aquinas. The first condition (damage to be inflicted must be lasting) yes; as is the second (all other means of putting an end to it were impractical or ineffective) and third (there must be a serious prospect of success) but not by the fourth (use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. Digression: George W. Bush’s Iraq decision more nearly fills the Aquinas bill—yes on 1 and 2, a guesstimate of yes on 3 and 4.) In WWII, Aquinas would rule for the “America First” solution: By continuing our buildup, we could meet the threat—especially as the USSR battle was going from bad to worse. Looking at the long-range, was it justified by the fear that Hitler would get the bomb and we would be rendered a near-vassal?

Again no. When Hitler invaded Poland, in 1939, it was already clear that a man-made atomic explosion was possible. We, Hitler and the Japanese were working on versions. Our entry into World War II didn’t advance our efforts to get it. As it was, we got the bomb first and could have used it to dramatic effect to show the world in a peaceful experiment: dropping it on an atoll in the Pacific and have it disappear. The U. S. with the bomb while Hitler was ascendant would prove no different than us with the bomb vis-à-vis the Russians who quickly got the bomb thanks to adroit spying by U. S. traitors. To me, Roosevelt’s wish to go to war cannot be justified by the argument that without this we would never have gotten the bomb and the swastika would be flapping from the U.S. Capitol.

When younger, I, like all my colleagues, viewed this threat in popular terms. I trotted through most my life with that comfortable assumption. But growing old, I’ve developed a different rationale about this: The reason we went to war was not (a) because Hitler was coming over here to get us, or (b) that Japan bombed Pearl Harbor (because we maneuvered to get them to do just that) or (c) the frightful holocaust repelled Roosevelt so that he had to act out of humanitarian concern. None of these; Roosevelt was so callous about the fate of the Jews that he stopped a ship carrying Jewish refugees from coming here, telling Henry Morganthau he should understand that as Jewry was not dominant in the United States, the ship should be refused-- hearing of which caused the treasury secretary to be shocked, then depressed.

We went to war because Franklin Roosevelt wanted us to. To beat Britain’s enemy, Germany, like a game of good old fashioned Groton prep sport: to protect Britain—yes, but mainly to propel him to world stage center as leader of the Free World. Churchill was his loyal ally for a completely understandable reason: without Roosevelt and the U. S., England would have been done for. As I review it from the vantage-point of 60 years, the only one with relatively clean hands (save withholding much details in his famed histories) was Churchill: patriot, brilliant provocateur who got FDR to side with Britain, ace journalist, hero of the Boer War and—in the vantage-point of history, as an enormously influential historian with superb rhetorical skills, a great propagandist on a par with Plutarch whose histories gilded the memory of the Athenians for two thousand five hundred years…Churchill. convincing all major historians that the West was “saved” because England survived and that salvation was accomplished jointly by himself and his great comrade, FDR.

But this version while popular is not indelible. Herodotus wrote in the 5th century B. C. the true pros-and-cons of history with marvelous objectivity. Since he didn’t praise Athens sufficiently, he was downgraded by generations in favor of Plutarch until our own 19th century when scholars found out that, more likely than not, Herodotus was the truth teller, the real historian and Plutarch a pro-Athenian publicist. I hope it won’t take 2,500 years to get to the truth: indeed, brave historians like Thomas Fleming are revising the hoary old story of FDR saving the West even now. And Churchill’s shade need not worry: his gallantry, oratory, literary genius and courage shall never be dimmed. Not so Franklin Roosevelt’s, I feel. While the story of how Pearl Harbor eventuated has begun to be told, the story of how we were caught so unprepared to allow Pearl Harbor to happen will unfold—it’s as certain as rainfall during a monsoon.

However, let us go to post Pearl Harbor. Invested with almost unprecedented war powers, Roosevelt was determined to punish those pro-peace patriots who had stayed his hand for so long. In another place (in my series of articles concerning Robert Stuart in The Wanderer), I chronicled the retribution that was meted out to people active in opposing the war. Fleming describes the attitude of FDR’s attorney general, Francis Biddle. “In the early months of 1942, when FDR turned to the attorney general at cabinet meetings, there was not a trace of the fabled Roosevelt charm in his manner. `He looked at me, his face pulled tightly together,’ Biddle recalled. “`When are you going to indict the seditionists?’” he would ask.”

Biddle soon obeyed his chief and the FBI was unleashed to cooperate with a specially called grand jury. Thoroughly, step-by-step, Roosevelt got rid of his peace adversaries: Fr. Charles E. Coughlin, a demagogue and anti-Semite, disruptive to the cause of serenity in any era, first a radical lefty, capitalist foe, anti-Wall Street near fascist and FDR idolater, then an anti-FDR radical reactionary and hater, who ran his own candidate for president on his own party label, was silenced by his bishop as arranged by FDR and surprisingly obeyed his bishop; Archbishop Francis Beckman of Dubuque was humbled when the Treasury department threatened his archdiocese’s investments, leading Rome to force his early retirement; Charles Lindbergh’s offer of service to his country was denied; he was refused security clearance and could only get a job in the private sector through the sufferance of Henry Ford, no FDR fan—but Lindbergh’s character has been irredeemably tarnished for his basic delivery of one impolitic speech in Des Moines which was also balanced by realization of Jewish persecution. Pretty damned good work in persecuting his enemies by FDR, say I.

The retribution continued. On July 21, 1942, twenty-eight people were indicted of sedition for opposing the war, including a Chicagoan, Elizabeth Dilling, an ex-professional harpist with scathing tongue and a group of noisy eccentrics and anti-Semites. Justice department attorney, William Power Maloney, was deputed to prosecute them. One Chicagoan was arrested for booing FDR at the showing of a newsreel! But these were small-fry and the prosecutions didn’t hold up. A higher Justice official was given the job of trying to prosecute so-called pro-German Americans, including a group in Chicago, home of the pesky Tribune and “America First.” His name was O. John Rogge, then assistant attorney general. In his memoirs, Biddle says he was kept awake at night by the flimsy text of Maloney’s indictment and Rogge’s plans for indictment which violated the 1st amendment in spectacular degree. Civil liberties mattered not to the president and Biddle endeavored to please.

Pleasing to Roosevelt was the work of O. John Rogge who was working the Chicago front, home of the Tribune. Rogge sent subpoenas to officers of German fraternal groups throughout the country to the drumbeat of press publicity. My father, as secretary of the Germania Club, was called to testify with other Chicago officers. The Tribune, staunch opponent of FDR, played it down. Hearst’s Chicago American, played it big with pictures of those called to testify entering the court. The national broadcaster who would blast out the news of the probe of suspected pro-Nazi, was the widely syndicated and much listened-to newspaper and radio columnist Walter Winchell.

Winchell aired on prime-time network radio on Sunday night and well do I remember the broadcast where he zinged the Germania Club. He skimped on celebrity news to get to the real meat. He always started the same way with his famed staccato voice. I obviously don’t have a tape but sitting with my family heard him on that fateful Sunday evening begin as usual with his boilerplate patter. His sponsor, Jergen’s Lotion, went big-time with his endorsement; later, much later, they dropped him because he had become too-too much. But I can hear it now: “Good-evening-Mr.-and-Mrs.-North-and-South-America-and-all-the-ships-at-sea, let’s-go-to-press! Flash! A pro-German fraternal club in Chicago…ha-ha, get that: fraternal!, the Germania Club is being probed tonight as I speak by J.Edgar Hoover in an effort to flush out…” The windup was: And so with lotions of love, this is your New York correspondent Walter Winchell with a toast to the German Navy and Nazi-ratzies in hiding in so-called fraternal clubs…ha!...to the German Navy: bottoms up!

I had just graduated from grade school and had received a certificate of merit for my interest in American history from the Mel Tierney American Legion post of Park Ridge and there was serious talk of the Legion calling it back because my father was a suspected Nazi sympathizer. I said they could take it back if they wished—but this was emblematic of the furor that existed at the time. The man who cracked the whip, hurling imprecations across the nation, was an unusual choice for the Roosevelt administration: Winchell, a former vaudevillian who was so tight with the FDR administration that he was allowed to serve as a part-time Navy lieutenant commander on certain weekends…strutting in a gold-braided uniform when he frequented his pals at his home-base, the Stork Club in Manhattan. Colonel McCormick labeled him “the Gents Room admiral” and soon navy secretary Frank Knox was forced to rescind the uniform-wearing privilege.

Winchell’s national broadcast was picked up in the Chicago press and came across swiftly to our neighbors: Here you had a middle-class family where the father worked for a German steamship line…making a luxury trip to Germany just one year before the war...at the exact time Hitler took over Austria, mind you, and now the same man, an officer of a pro-German club, is part of a probe by J. Edgar Hoover for supposed Nazi ties! After my father testified and brought the Germania Club records that was the end of it and O. John Rogge, satisfied with the press he received, went back to Washington with an armload of clippings. No indictments, no nothing; Germania was not different from a Rotary: luncheons, dinners and colored slides of the old, bucolic Germany. Everybody was cleared: no sweat but the government didn’t announce it at all.

The residual effect on our family was heavy. My father toughed it out; my mother was supportive and I had to face a host of new classmates at the public high school I entered that September. I remember we switched Sunday Mass from St. Juliana’s to a neighboring church because there was some animosity. Here’s an interesting thing that showed remarkable weakness of family ties: Father’s own mother…my grandmother…was afraid to phone us because she feared she might get entangled: how do you like that as demonstration of maternal support? Notwithstanding the fact that, not long later, as a widow with severely limited funds she lived with us from the early 1940s until her death in 1949. Nor was his sister particularly supportive. My mother’s Irish family was—in dramatic ways…denouncing Roosevelt in many ways including his support of the British, damning the British to the hell they as Irishmen believed it belonged, using a stridency we wished they’d drop. Some of our neighbors were supportive; some not. I remember I told a boyhood pal that when I go to college I’d like to study journalism. He thought I said “German-ism!” and he raced home with the news. Before long the entire neighborhood believed I would devote my college years to study German-ism.

I could not imagine how the stress affected Father because he went to the office every day (I believed at the time he was in insurance or something related)—but it was not particularly tough on me, beyond the “German-ism” furor. Assuredly, as the war went on, although as young men continued to be drafted, some of our ex-high school upperclassmen were killed in the war, and I had a lingering reputation of belonging to a family that was pro-Nazi. On D-Day, June 6 ,1944, when I was 16 and a sophomore, the announcement of the Normandy landing was made at our high school. One athlete popular with the girls nudged me and said loudly, “Bad news for you, Heinie! We’re winning!” To my mortification his female audience giggled as he proudly took a bow.

Not bad—just two unhealthy events over the entire high school span--considering that the nation was tied up in knots. Later my poly sci instructor, a great liberal Democrat. Dr. Kenneth O. Osbon, put on an assembly debate for the 1944 presidential election and chose me to speak for the Republican candidate, Thomas E. Dewey (Elizabeth Schmalfuss, much prettier than her name, who asked me out to the girl-ask-boy dance which I am still red-cheeked with embarrassment sixty years later to say I didn’t reciprocate and return the favor by taking her to the prom instead of Janet Perry, another beauty, took the FDR side). At the assembly, when introduced, I wondered if I’d get some boos. Nothing: but there were some for Elizabeth…not directed to her but FDR…showing astoundingly more support for Dewey than I had reckoned.

Now the interesting denouement: One day in 1945, after V-E Day in May, when I was 16, when I came home from school, I was told we would have a guest for dinner. A non-holiday guest for dinner in those years when red meat was rationed with red stamps, butter and eggs with blue stamps and the guest would have to drive out to our house using gasoline stamps, was very, very rare. Families rarely congregated for dinner in those days except for Christmas and Easter. Who could he be? You’ll discover next time.

1 comment:

  1. Tom-
    It is regretable that your BLOG is occasionally visited by a random asshole (see Comment Title). Keep up your good and worthy mission!
    Although I have a German-sounding name (later discovered to be Swiss), I was never "Heinied" by anyone at my schools. Catholic Grade School, Public High. At the latter by then, few would dare such a call -

    P.S. May "Crickets" get rickets--