Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Flashback: More About Wilson and Many Other Things.

[Memories of family and politics for my kids and grandchildren].

Once the desperate circumstances about Father’s precarious health became more clear—with the cardiologist saying that despite the removal of the oxygen tent, he could go any time—I determined to elicit even more from him in bedside talks, similar but more advanced than the talks we had while he shaved as the child in me listened.

So you believe Woodrow Wilson by engaging us in a war we totally didn’t need was the evil genius of all that came thereafter?

“No doubt about it,” he said. “You must remember that journalism was complicit in this conspiracy as was his family. There is the legend that Wilson tried every possible way to avoid going to war but, as a rational man of conscience, could not. The media surfaced with the story that on the night of April 1, 1917—just a day or so before Wilson appeared before the joint session of Congress to urge a declaration of war—the editor of the `New York World’ Frank J. Cobb was called to the White House from his home in New York to visit with the president as Wilson supposedly underwent the grave torment of deciding whether or not to ask for the declaration. Cobb was a close friend of the president; his newspaper was hotly anti-German, enthusiastically pro-British and Cobb had published several leaks given to him by the president which detailed the Kaiser’s plans for conquest—rather outrageous given the time and place.

“Cobb had to take a train to get to Washington and arrived at the White House at 1 a.m. on April 2—when later that day Wilson asked for the declaration--the story says. Thereupon Wilson paced the floor and reviewed the pros and cons of the decision, which Cobb faithfully recorded for the media. The supposed Zimmermann promise to Mexico that it could get back Texas and Arizona if it joined with Germany against us—a fantasy if there ever was one and which has not received serious attention from historians ever since—was on one side of the equation. On the other side was nothing more than Wilson’s desperate wish for peace. Not mentioned was what we have learned since: that the Lusitania had been filled to the gills with armaments for Britain as part of our working relations with England; not mentioned was the fact that Wilson as a supposed neutral had demanded Germany abandon all submarine warfare against England or the U. S. would sever diplomatic relations.

“Cobb wrote this up notwithstanding that there is no record whatsoever of his visit on the White House logs: strange but he could have been allowed to sneak in, but why? This was no clandestine visit. The greater evidence is that when Cobb was hailed into the White House to hear the pros and cons of an agonized president, on April 1, Wilson’s speech had already been written. Believe it or not, Cobb’s biographers then changed the time and had him visit Wilson two weeks before—when indeed the logs show he did visit. The change was made by Maxwell Anderson, the playwright, a journalist friend of Cobb’s who wrote the play `What Price Glory?’ There is every reason to think that the supposed last-minute reprieve for peace which Cobb heard from Wilson was invented by Cobb and made whole by Anderson after Cobb’s dearth.

“Not mentioned was Wilson’s undercover work to defeat a resolution the Congress had passed under the sponsorship of Oklahoma’s Senator Thomas P. Gore—Gore Vidal’s grandfather—which simply warned Americans traveling on belligerent ships would do so at their own risk. Wilson worked behind the scenes to kill that. Why?

“Because Wilson wanted provocations for war. It is even a part of our own history now as you shall read in books I shall give you. Wilson sent a letter to the German Kaiser to plead in his best public relations terms mentioning the urgent needs of humanity against German submarine warfare, the Kaiser responded by personally writing in longhand on Wilson’s very note the fact that Wilson was asking for the unrestricted right of U.S. citizens to cruise about on hostile and armed merchantmen whenever they like in a zone of war. The Kaiser asked if Britain’s starvation policy against Germany was not in the urgent need of humanity. Answer: starvation was quite right; submarine tactics were quite wrong in Wilson’s view. All these things in Wilson’s favor appeared in the daily press. None of the responses, appeared. That’s why General Pershing was right when he said immortally that in war the first casualty is always the truth.”

You indicated that Wilson’s family was engaged in this effort to promote war and him as a dove of peace.

“They concocted the heart-warming personal feature story which journalists loved to use and pro-Wilson historians still do. The story swept the country that Edith Wilson, his second wife, woke at midnight on April 2, 1917 and found her husband had gotten up and was tapping out a speech on his portable typewriter—they had them then--on the South Portico of the White House by the light of an oil lamp, the speech he would deliver later that day to a joint session of Congress requesting a declaration of war! She says she didn’t disturb him but left a glass of milk and a cookie by his chair as he hunched over the portable and typed. Thus the lonely president ala Lincoln together with his thoughts. The country was charmed. But her story is contradicted by the notes of a White House staffer who denies he was out on the portico at all but in his office a few steps from his bedroom. The implication is clear: Edith’s public relations people wanted to show how sacrificing and humble the lady was--leaving the glass of milk and cookie by his side unobserved.”

Why would her public relations people as you call them care what kind of image she conveyed?

“Because after his stroke when she ran the country and dealt with the House and Senate arbitrarily she was neither humble nor self-sacrificing.”

Let me ask you another thing. But first, are you getting tired?

“No. But where is your mother?”

She’s somewhere, maybe having coffee. Would you rather rest?

“Not in the slightest. Ask away.”

You have maintained that two presidents wanted to get us into war with Germany—Wilson and FDR. You have maintained, quite convincingly to me, that they had their messianic reasons for this: to become international leaders, perhaps even greater world figures than they already were. I don’t believe you showed them the slightest sympathy; yet you went to work for the FBI during Roosevelt’s third term. Wasn’t that the equivalent of working for FDR as the FBI would be expected to be on FDR’s side to cause us to intervene in the war?

“The FBI wasn’t on Roosevelt’s side in the slightest. As to where my sympathies were with the Germans, to start at the beginning, when we went to Germany in 1938—you, Mother and I when you were ten—I became alarmed at the racist haste and anti-American hostility over there. I was alarmed at the hatred directed against the Jews. I don’t know if you remember this, but you and I took a walk through the streets of Berlin one day and saw the Jewish stars affixed to the stores which were run by Jews. Do you remember that?”

I’ll never forget.

“I read the daily newspapers over there and I was disheartened at the evil they portrayed. After September 1, 1939 there was for all practical purposes no international travel; Germany was at war with Britain and my job shut down. For a time I was doing some insurance selling to keep the wolf from the door. I was secretary of the Germania Club, a German-American fraternal group that dates back to Carl Schurz, a group that gathered at Schurz’s behest to engage in the funeral procession with the bier of Abraham Lincoln and which continued to meet ever afterward. A friend at the Club said that someone from the FBI was interested in making contact with a person who knew German and participated in German-American fraternal affairs. There was only one person in the FBI Chicago office who could read German and she was a stenographer.

“I took the call which was to a man named Bill Krein—a charming young FBI lawyer. We had lunch. I was somewhat hesitant because just as you suggested I thought that FDR’s FBI which was part of FDR’s Justice Department would be as eager for us to get into the war as was FDR. It turned out quite the opposite. The Justice Department under Francis Biddle was; but even Biddle was less enthused than FDR. As for the FBI which was under Biddle, J. Edgar Hoover was far more interested in the Communist influence in this country—the feds and Hollywood—than the very little of the Nazis. But Krein had the job of keeping tab on the Germans. I thought it was entirely all right because if there were German disloyalty, our government certainly should know about it.

“There’s an interesting religious theme to it as well. Hoover was particular about hiring Catholics, although he was not one. Catholics at the time were basically anti-communist due to their religious upbringing and Hoover was decidedly anti-communist, more worried about infiltration from the communists than from the Nazis whose influence he discounted. Krein was a Catholic; in fact a lot of them were. And almost all of them were suspicious of FDR. Interesting.

“At first, I volunteered to do anything I could to make him familiar with German-American activities. There was a daily paper published here, the `Abenpost’ and a Sunday paper the `Sontagpost.’ I began by merely telling him what it contained—not much, just the chronicle of German-American social doings and gossip. Not long later I received a call from his superior, the agent in charge, Walter Devereux who became my good friend. Walt asked if I would translate pertinent stories from the newspapers as well as look over communications they had intercepted that were in the German language. I guess what I submitted on a free-will basis was so good that Walt became determined to hire me. I was agreeable since my job with the German steamship lines had gone pfffft anyhow with the European war.

“ They hired me full-time from late 1940 on but wished that I not mention it to anyone. To many people I was working in insurance or this and that. I went to the office every day at 188 West Randolph where the FBI’s local office was located and put in long days and nights translating newspapers and documents the agency received from German sources. It is interesting but you’d think they would have had much better translators than I in Washington. They had the translators—certainly better from a scholarly standpoint--but no one who was in touch country-wide with German-American affairs with the contacts I had had since I had been the western passenger manager of the North German Lloyd where I had free-range for sales trips across the country. . Quite often, my analyses were sent to Washington and I was told—after a promotion—that Hoover himself preferred my material to the stuff he received in his own office. Why? Because the analysis in his own office was pedantic and theoretical—not practical.

“As the line’s top Midwest, then national, salesman I knew far more German-Americans than anyone else in the agency—then anyone at the FBI in Washington, actually. It was quite an honor to be invited to go to Washington with Walt and meet with Hoover himself. The first time I went, Walt, Hoover and I had lunch in his office and Hoover asked a good number of questions about German-American activities which, fortunately for me, I could answer. All told, Walt and I went to Washington to meet with either Hoover and his assistants or Hoover directly about three times. You took a train, the `Capitol Limited’ in those days. I was asked to move there so I could be closer to the operations but I argued it would not be good. My information network was centered largely in Chicago. Besides, I hate Washington. Always have; always will. I am glad Hoover agreed.”

What were your observations about Hoover?

“I was much impressed with his bulldog looks which presaged his bulldog tenacity. He took the work seriously but recognized that the principal motivation of the Roosevelt administration was to get us into war under whatever pretext—similar to what had happened under Wilson—and this was what Hoover didn’t want. He also knew that yes, communist sympathizers really existed in the Roosevelt administration and saw first-hand the switcheroo from the days of the Hitler-Stalin non-aggression pact to the overnight change with the communist sympathizers after Hitler broke the pact and invaded the USSR.

“Then, overnight, the sympathizers felt we could not get into war fast enough. Hoover was also very wary of FDR’s interest in cracking down on dissent from German-American groups while not doing the same with communist sympathizers in his administration. Finally, Hoover had a long memory and recalled the terror tactics used against German Americans by A. Mitchell Palmer, Wilson’s crusading attorney general to whom civil liberties meant nothing. Hoover was as assistant to Palmer and disagreed with the tactics at that time. And as I said earlier there was yet another factor. Hoover who was not a Catholic was very big on hiring Catholic agents. Why? Because the church in America at that time was hotly anti-communist, this coming from the hierarchy many of which were Hoover’s friends and allies including—few know this—Fulton Sheen. A Jesuit at Georgetown, a Fr. Walsh, had written a good deal about communist theory. My being a Catholic gave Hoover more confidence that I would be thoroughly anti-communist. And he was right.”

On the way home from that session with Father, I told Mother that I had never seen him more dedicated to sharing material like this with me.

“That may be because he knows his time is short.”

Who told him?

“No one that I know. I didn’t.”

Why do you think he suspects?

“Yes. Of course. He has had the last sacraments and he is ready. He receives the Eucharist every morning. He seems at peace. He’s the most calm I’ve ever seen him.”

It’s more important to me than ever to hear him out, Mother.

“It seems to give him great satisfaction as well. Just watch to see that he doesn’t overdo in talking with you. Listen but don’t push him. When he gets tired, let him quit. While you’re at work—mornings and afternoons—he and I talk about all sorts of other things—not politics, things we have enjoyed. It’s selfish I know but I wonder what will happen to me after he goes. Oh, we are comfortably well off, of course. But taking care of him has been my whole life.”

Well, then taking care of you will be my whole life.

“Tommy, thanks, but I want to be independent. It’s my nature ever since I went to work at age 16. But we can talk about this later. Right now all I can think about is him. And if it’s true that we don’t have too much time left to be with him talk to him and remember what he says. He’s never written anything down. I’m counting on you to remember it and carry it forward to your kids and grandchildren.”

1 comment:

  1. World War One was truly an unnecessary war for the American people. Wilson manipulated the public in order to enter the war -- the Central Powers were always held accountable while the Allies always received a pass from the Anglophile Wilson who was never a neutral. The New York banking houses lent so much money to the allies that Wilson seemed to be going to war to guarantee their loans! A much maligned figure who cried foul against Wilson was Mayor William Hale Thompson of Chicago.