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In The Garden of Beasts…

Author Erik Larson has just done us a huge favor. He’s written and published a book, In The Garden of Beasts, about the American ambassador to Nazi Germany, 1933-38, William E. Dodd, who’s tenure paralleled Hitler’s rise to power.

Ambassador Dodd Family, 1933...

In some very basic respects, we have an excellent analogy between that history, some 75 years ago, and today. Perhaps we can learn some lessons…

The term, fascism, while identified with Hitler and Nazi Germany, actually originated in Italy during and immediately after World War I (1914-20).

It started as a split in the Italian Socialist Party between those who followed the Marxist concept of proletarian (worker) internationalism, and Benito Mussolini’s nationalist corporatism.

The nationalist concept included a highly regimented authoritarian and centralized leadership (dictatorship). Mussolini opposed democracy as well as communism.  The expression of “socialism” at the time was highly popular.

Hitler named his version: The National Socialist Workers Party (NAZI).  Clearly, it had nothing to do with socialism or workers.

Mussolini himself defined the term as, “Fascism should more appropriately be called corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power.”

One can easily perceive the attraction of authoritative and discipline-oriented conservatives and corporatists in the current political landscape to this foundational definition of fascism–or whatever name they may call it.

Many people perceived Hitler as an antidote to communism and the Depression of economic collapse, little realizing that these themselves were reactive effects of runaway corporatism.  The American solution: More of the same?

Included in the concept of fascist corporatism, of course, is the need for crushing all opposition, the elimination of worker unions, the scapegoating of minorities, and the perpetual economy and state of war.

William E. Dodd (64) was an unlikely choice as ambassador to the rising Nazi power. He was chairman of the history department at the University of Chicago, and as an expert on Thomas Jefferson had authored a book (in German) on the subject.

For the first three months of his 4-yr tenure in 1933 Germany he was almost taken in by the Nazi regime, but soon perceived Hitler as a madman that had to be stopped.

Once Hitler had assumed political control of the state apparatus, he lost no time consolidating total power. The means were incessant and brutal.

His beautiful and vivacious daughter, Martha Dodd (24), took a while longer to convince. She was busy living the life of a bon vivant and dating top Nazi officials.

In one of those ironies of history, when she was convinced upon witnessing fascist reality and saw “enough blood and terror to last me the rest of my life,” she became a lifelong ardent and active communist.

Eventually, Ambassador Dodd became so sickened but what he daily witnessed–literally–that he refused to even meet with Nazi officials. He saw it all as a hopeless charade.

The Dumbest Generation??

Unfortunately, he was not backed up by the U.S. State Department or the FDR Administration. They tended to perceive the Nazis as preferable to any alternative, if not in fact a form of German renaissance, and most certainly, business-friendly.

Many American notables supported the Nazis. These included,  Charles Lindbergh,  Joseph Kennedy (JFK’s father and Ambassador to England), John D. Rockefeller (and Chase Bank), Allan Dulles (later CIA Director), and Prescott Bush (Wall Street Banker, later Senator, and the Bush’s daddy).

Of some note were also William Randolph Hearst (and his media empire), Andrew Mellon (Secr. of the Treasury), and Harry Anslinger (Mellon’s nephew-in-law, and director of the Federal Narcotics Bureau).

These latter three were singularly instrumental in the creation of the anti-marijuana and other drug laws, including the agencies that enforced their prohibition.

Other support and overt collaboration (including later during the war thru neutral nations), were Henry Ford (Ford Motor supplied one-third of all vehicles to the German military), GM, GE, Alcoa, DOW, Dupont, Standard Oil, JP Morgan, and many others.

Ambassador Dodd was eventually removed from his post (1938). It was another three years before the U.S. entered the war against the Nazis, and then only after its ally, Japan, attacked Pearl Harbor in December of 1941.

Unfortunately, William E. Dodd did not get to witness justice come to the Nazis. While Dodd remained active touring the U.S. and speaking of the Nazi reality and threat, he died in 1940.

Presciently enough, Dodd also warned against fascism taking root in America.  In particular, he spoke against a certain American billionaire, almost certainly JP Morgan Jr., collaborating with the Nazis to defeat the election of FDR.

While today we don’t have an equivalent of Adolph Hitler (yet), much the same corporatist mentality is at work.

Did Dodd also speak to our own fate?

Dr. Publico

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