Archive for the ‘Notes to Future Historian’ Category

In the Garden of Beasts

July 31, 2011

[Ed. : Note to future Historians: this entry contains topical references which we hope will be meaningless in a few short years. We hope.]

Hitler Addressing the S.A. 1933

I’ve just read a book about the opening days of the Nazi regime takeover of Germany which, of course, followed the days of the Weimar Republic, a government that couldn’t seem to get anything done. Sort of like the one we in the United States seem to have right now. Of course, huge differences exist. The Weimar government couldn’t get much done because of outside forces it could do little about. The Treaty of Versailles and then a world-wide depression constrained its ability to do much. The current inability of the United States government to do anything is an entirely self-inflicted wound administered by a group of petulant children from the ideological right-wing, abetted by surprisingly feckless Democrats led by a president bent on jumping off the cliff with the children. Only time will tell if they all manage to destroy what is left of the economy of this great Nation.

The book, In the Garden of the Beasts by Erik Larson, follows the four-year tenure of America’s ambassador to Germany from 1933 through 1937. A scholar and chairman of the History Department at the University of Chicago, William E. Dodd, was picked by President Roosevelt for the job. He arrived with his family in Berlin just five months after the Nazis took power. Dodd quickly grasped what that meant. Along with two other embassy employees he tried to raise an alarm, but the wiser, richer heads running the State Department were much too worried about collecting bond debts from Germany for private American investors dumb enough to have bought them in the first place.

Ambassador Dodd and Family Arriving in Germany - LOC

We all learned in school about the European powers of the day adopting appeasement of Hitler as policy. Less is taught in U.S. schools about the U.S. government’s similar policy: “Ignore him and maybe he’ll go away.” Of course, not everyone in the upper reaches of the State Department thought Hitler should be ignored; some thought we could do business with him. (As did many titans of U.S. business.)

Dodd thought otherwise and was appalled at the lack of concern in Washington about what Germany was doing to its Jews, it’s lawless state-sponsored murders of people thought disagreeable by the Nazis, and by its open and plain-to-see rearmament in violation of the Treaty of Versailles.

One joke circulating through Germany about the illegal and supposedly secret rearmament may have reached Dodd. One man with a new baby in his family tells a friend that he doesn’t have enough money to buy a stroller for the baby. The friend works in a stroller factory and volunteers to bring enough spare parts to his friend so he can build a stroller himself. Some weeks later the friend spots the father carrying the baby in his arms and asks why he isn’t using the stroller he should have built from the parts. The Dad says, “I tried. I tried three times but it always ends up as a machine gun!” (From the book: Endnote 213)

Gestapo Head Rudolf Diels - Bundesarchiv

One suspects there may have been jokes circulating about Dodd’s daughter as well. She managed to bed a fair number of Nazis and other Germans while she was there. At one point she carried on a simultaneous affair with both the head of the Gestapo and a NKVD Russian spy. She had a good time in Germany even if her father didn’t.

William Bullitt - LOC

The Germans complained about Dodd, the upper-level wise men did not like him, and so they convinced President Roosevelt to replace Dodd with Hugh Wilson, another wise man from State, who set about his new job in Berlin with gusto, promising Germany’s Foreign minister, the Nazi von Ribbentrop, that if war came to Europe he (Wilson) would do all he could to keep the United States out of it. William Bullitt, one of the stars of the State Department, wrote Roosevelt that the appointment of Wilson “increased definitely” the chances for peace in Europe. Secretary of State Cordell Hull and his undersecretary Sumner Wells applauded. Soon Hitler gobbled up the Rhineland, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and invaded Poland. The rest is history.

My point? At long last I come to it: History teaches that people at high levels of government, despite their pretenses, don’t know much more about how things will turn out than we do. They aren’t bad people; they aren’t stupid, they just can’t see any further into the future than we can. And sometimes, not as far.

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Note to Future Historians

April 9, 2009

One day in the distant future this blog will be discovered by archaeologists.  I don’t know whether they will stumble on a digital version or the hard copies, lovingly and reverently saved by my children, their children, and all my descendants.  (Are you listening children?)

Archaeologist Discovering this Blog

Future Archaeologist Discovering this Blog

But find it they will; it is unthinkable that my words will simply sink into the abyss of history.  That imposes a heavy responsibility on me.  I must write for the ages as well as you my current readers.  If I write about ephemera like Hula Hoops, Beanie Babies, and Republicans, I risk those future scientists and historians not knowing what I’m talking about.

On the other hand, the business of predicting the future is hazardous.  Will Brittany Spears live happily ever after?  Will Dick Cheney get indicted for war crimes?  Will GM survive?  And what about Madonna?  Will she get to adopt another baby?

These are weighty matters and I don’t have a clue how they will all turn out.  And if I can’t even hazard a guess, how am I supposed to know what will interest some PhD student in a thousand years?

Besides sex, of course.

(Excuse me while I insert a photo for the future historians reading this.)

Blogger Having Sex

21st Century Blogger Having Sex

I do write a little about sex here from time to time, in the Viagra Blues category, but writing about sex everyday would get to be boring reading for you and who knows what sexual mores will be a thousand or a hundred thousand years hence. Beyond the certain knowledge that the Glen Canyon Dam will be gone and the Colorado River again flowing unvexed to the sea, how am I supposed to know what the future holds? That future student will be under a lot of pressure to publish or perish — I suppose that practice will last — and if I’m going to keep her interested, I’ve got to write about stuff that will still matter far in the distant future.

Humans, whatever their lives may be like in that distant time, will probably still be asking some of the same questions about life and death that we ask, but I have no special insight into metaphysics.  And hallucinogenic drugs are not likely to be legalized in my life time so I probably won’t get to do a thorough study of alternative consciousness.  Although Joe Klein over at Time Magazine has a good idea about that. (I would lower the age he suggests.)

Blogger as an Ass

Blogger as an Ass

Well, future historian, I’m sorry I’m not Shakespeare.  Him I suppose you have heard of and read?  If you’ve read this far into my blog, you deserve a break.  May I suggest something light, say A Midsummers’ Night Dream?  Or that mystery you’ve been reading. I bet mysteries are still being written. Take a break and go read that for awhile.  Spoiler Alert: The butler did it.

But don’t forget to come back.  I’ve got lots more good stuff to tell you in future posts!