Tremendous Challenges Awaited the Plainspoken Truman

Fewer than 10 examples of this Harry Truman “60 Million People Working” political pin are known to exist. This pin sold for $19,717 at an August 2008 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

When Franklin Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945, Harry Truman became the seventh vice president to move into the Oval Office after the death of a president. Truman had been born during the White House years of Chester Arthur, who had followed James Garfield after his assassination (1881). And in Truman’s lifetime, Teddy Roosevelt and Calvin Coolidge had ascended to the presidency after the deaths of William McKinley (1901) and Warren Harding (1923). However, none of these men had been faced with the challenges awaiting the plainspoken Truman.

FDR had been a towering figure for 12 years, first leading the country out of the Great Depression and then deftly steering the United States into World War II after being elected a record four times. Unfortunately, Truman had not been involved in several important decisions, and was totally unaware of several strategic secrets (e.g. the development of the atom bomb) or even side agreements made with others, notably Winston Churchill. He was not prepared to be president.

Even the presidents who preceded FDR tended to exaggerate the gap in Truman’s foreign-relations experience. Woodrow Wilson was a brilliant academic and Herbert Hoover was a world-famous engineer. There were enormously important decisions to be made that would shape the world for the next half century. Even Truman had his sincere doubts about being able to follow FDR, despite the president’s rapidly failing health.

The significance of these decisions has gradually faded, but for Truman, they were foisted upon him in rapid order: April 12, FDR’s death; April 28, Benito Mussolini killed by partisan Italians; two days later Adolf Hitler committed suicide; and on April 29, German military forces surrendered. The news from the Pacific was equally dramatic as troop landings on the critical island of Okinawa had apparently been unopposed by the Japanese. It was clearly the apex of optimism regarding the prospects for an unconditional surrender by Japan and the welcomed return of world peace.

In fact, it was a miracle that turned out to be a mirage.

After victory in Europe (V-E Day), Truman was faced with an immediate challenge regarding the 3 million troops in Europe. FDR and Churchill did not trust Joseph Stalin and were wary of what the Russians would do if we started withdrawing our troops. Churchill proved to be right about Russian motives, as they secretly intended to continue to permanently occupy the whole of Eastern Europe and expand into adjacent territories at will.

Then the U.S. government issued a report stating that the domestic economy could make a smooth transition to pre-war normalcy once the voracious demands from the military war-machine abated. Naturally, the war-weary public strongly supported “bringing the boys home,” but Truman knew that Japan would have to be forced to quit before any shifts in troops or production could start.

There was also a complex scheme under way to redeploy the troops from Europe to the Pacific if the Japanese decided to fight on to defend their sacred homeland. It was a task that George Marshall would call “the greatest administrative and logistical problem in the history of the world.”

Truman pondered in a diary entry: “I have to decide the Japanese strategy – shall we invade proper or shall we bomb and blockade? That is my hardest decision to date.” (No mention was made of “the other option.”)

The battle on Okinawa answered the question. Hundreds of Japanese suicide planes had a devastating effect. Even after 10 days of heavy sea and air bombardment on the island; 30 U.S ships sunk, 300 more damaged; 12,000 Americans killed; 36,000 wounded. It was now obvious that Japan would defend every single island, regardless of their losses. Surrender would not occur and America’s losses would be extreme.

So President Truman made a historic decision that is still being debated today: Drop the atomic bomb on Japan and assume that the effect would be so dramatic that the Japanese would immediately surrender. On Aug. 6, 1945, “Little Boy” was dropped on Hiroshima with devastating effects. Surprisingly, the Japanese maintained their silence, perhaps not even considering that there could be a second bomb. That second bomb – a plutonium variety nicknamed “Fat Man” – was then dropped two days ahead of schedule on Aug. 9 on the seaport city of Nagasaki.

No meeting had been held and there was no second order given (other than by Enola Gay pilot Paul Tibbets). The directive that had ordered the first bomb simply said in paragraph two that “additional bombs will be delivered AS MADE READY.” However, two is all that was needed. Imperial Japan surrendered on Aug. 15, thus ending one of history’s greatest wars.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Roosevelt Used Radio to Encourage, Hitler to Fuel Rage

A Franklin D. Roosevelt photograph, signed and inscribed to Eleanor Roosevelt, sold for $10,000 at an October 2016 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Saul Bellow was a Canadian-born writer who became a nationalized U.S. citizen when he discovered he had immigrated to the United States illegally as a child. He hit the big time in 1964 with his novel Herzog. It won the U.S. National Book Award for fiction. Time magazine named it one of the 100 best novels in the English language since “the beginning of Time” (March 3, 1923).

Along the way, Bellow (1915-2005) also managed to squeeze in a Pulitzer Prize, the Nobel Prize for Literature, and the National Medal of Arts. He is the only writer to win the National Book Award for Fiction three times.

Saul Bellow

Bellow loved to describe his personal experience listening to President Roosevelt, an American aristocrat (Groton and Harvard educated), hold the nation together, using only a radio and the power of his personality. “I can recall walking eastward on the Chicago Midway … drivers had pulled over, parking bumper to bumper, and turned on their radios to hear every single word. They had rolled down the windows and opened the car doors. Everywhere the same voice, its odd Eastern accent, which in anyone else would have irritated Midwesterners. You could follow without missing a single word as you strolled by. You felt joined to these unknown drivers, men and women smoking their cigarettes in silence, not so much considering the president’s words as affirming the rightness of his tone and taking assurances from it.”

The nation needed the assurance of those fireside chats, the first of which was delivered on March 12, 1933. Between a quarter and a third of the workforce was unemployed. It was the nadir of the Great Depression.

The “fireside” was figurative; most of the chats emanated from a small, cramped room in the White House basement. Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins described the change that would come over the president just before the broadcasts. “His face would smile and light up as though he were actually sitting on the front porch or in the parlor with them. People felt this, and it bound them to him in affection.”

Roosevelt’s fireside chats and, indeed, all of his efforts to communicate contrasted with those of another master of the airwaves, Adolf Hitler, who fueled rage in the German people via radio and encouraged their need to blame, while FDR reasoned with and encouraged America. Hitler’s speeches were pumped through cheap plastic radios manufactured expressly to ensure complete penetration of the German consciousness. The appropriation of this new medium by FDR for reason and common sense was one of the great triumphs of American democracy.

Herr Hitler ended up committing suicide after ordering the building burned to the ground to prevent the Allies from retrieving any of his remains. So ended the grand 1,000-year Reich he had promised … poof … gone with the wind.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

News Reporting Has Come a Long Way, but Kinks Remain

A sketch of Edward R. Murrow, signed, by artist Johnny Raitt is among six sketches of famous newscasters that went to auction in July 2010.

By Jim O’Neal

In the past year, several prominent newspapers and TV networks have corrected or retracted provocative political stories that were factually wrong. Critics are prone to blame the insatiable appetite to feed the 24/7 news-cycle beast and, increasingly, a news organization’s rush to be first. This has been compounded by the steady transition from costly field correspondents to much-less expensive panelists sitting around a table in the TV studio offering personal opinions.

Most of these discussions start with “I think” or “In my opinion,” which by definition blurs facts with subjective comments. Unbiased, factual reporting is mixed into a lethal cocktail that blurs reality and has inexorably led to an environment where charges of “fake news” are routine. Then social media further distort issues and reality. People can now easily shop for any “facts” on TV or the internet that support their opinions. However, the “need for speed” is not a recent phenomenon.

Triggered by the oldest of journalism’s preoccupations – the desire to be first with a dramatic story – Edward R. Murrow, William L. Shirer and their network, the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), made broadcast journalism history on March 13, 1938. What set the stage was CBS founder and CEO William S. Paley’s realization that his radio network had just been soundly beaten again by the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) and their reporter “Ubiquitous Max” Jordan, with his eyewitness account of Austria’s fall.

Worse, the fault was Paley’s. Until Jordan’s story and its effect on America, Paley had supported news director Paul White’s decision not to use network employees for hard-news reporting. To their increasing chagrin, men like Murrow and Shirer were forced to cover truly soft stories like concerts instead of Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich’s actions and intentions. Paley had had enough. He asked White to call Shirer and tell him, “We want a European roundup tonight.” The broadcast would cover the European reaction to the Nazis’ Austrian takeover. The players would include Shirer in London with a member of Parliament; Murrow in Vienna; and American newspaper correspondents in Paris, Berlin and Rome.

They had eight hours to put together what had never been done before. As Stanley Cloud and Lynne Olson describe in their book The Murrow Boys: “Never mind that it was five o’clock, London time, on a Sunday afternoon, which meant that all offices were closed and that all technicians and correspondents and members of Parliament they would need were out of town, off in the country or otherwise unreachable. Never mind the seemingly insuperable technical problems of arranging the lines and transmitters, of ensuring the necessity of split-second timing. Never mind any of that. That was what being a foreign correspondent was all about. It was part of the code of the brotherhood. When the bastards asked if you could do something impossible, the only acceptable answer was yes. Shirer reached for the phone and called Murrow in Vienna.”

Beginning at 8 p.m., with announcer Robert Trout’s words, “We take you now to London,” Murrow, Shirer and their comrades proved radio was not only able to report news as it occurred but also able to put it into context, to link it with news from elsewhere – and do it with unprecedented speed and immediacy. They set in motion with that 30-minute broadcast in March 1938 a chain of events that would lead, in only one year, to radio’s emergence as America’s chief news medium and to the beginning of CBS’s decades-long dominance of broadcast journalism. The broadcasts by Murrow and his team during the London blitz and over the entire course of the war set the standard for broadcast reporting style and eloquence.

We have come a long way since then, but it’s not clear to me if we’ve made any progress.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Truman Well Aware that Presidency was a Most Terribly Responsible Job

A Harry Truman signed and inscribed photograph, dated Jan. 17, 1953, sold for nearly $3,885 at a February 2006 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

The news broke shortly before 6 p.m. on April 12, 1945. President Franklin Roosevelt had died of a cerebral hemorrhage in Warm Springs, Ga. Within minutes, the bulletin had reached every part of the country. It was almost midnight in London, but in Berlin, it was already the next day, where it was (ominously) Friday the 13th. However, Joseph Goebbels interpreted it as a lucky turning point when he telephoned Adolf Hitler. He was already devising ways to turn this to Germany’s advantage, even as enemy troops closed in on the Third Reich.

By 7 p.m., Harry Truman, his Cabinet and Bess and Margaret were assembled in the Cabinet Room along with Chief Justice Harlan Stone to administer the oath of office. Within hours of Roosevelt’s death, the country had a new president.

Then the family and the Cabinet were dismissed. Secretary of War Henry Stimson lingered to brief the new president on a matter of extreme urgency. He explained that a new weapon of almost inconceivable power had been developed, but offered no details. Truman had just learned about the existence of the atomic bomb. He canceled a date to play poker and went to bed. It had been a long day.

It was also a long day for America’s top generals: Dwight D. Eisenhower, George S. Patton and Omar Bradley. The shock of losing their trusted commander-in-chief was compounded by genuine concern over Truman’s lack of experience. To make matters worse, they had just seen their first Nazi death camp. All were depressed, but Patton was especially emphatic about his concerns for the future.

The next morning, President Truman arrived at the White House promptly at 9 a.m. It was now April 13, 1945 – 27 years to the day since he had landed at Brest, France (Brittany), as a lowly 1st Lieutenant in the Allied Expeditionary Forces in WWI. Now he was the United States’ commander in chief in the century’s second world war. Everything in the Oval Office was eerily just as FDR had left it. He sat in the chair behind the desk and quietly pondered the challenges he had inherited. Downstairs, the White House staff was frantically coping with the press, the jangle of telephones, and wondering what to do next.

After a routine update on the status of the war, Truman surprised everyone by announcing he was going to the Capitol to “have lunch with some of the boys” … 17 congressmen to be exact. After a few drinks and lunch, he told the group he felt overwhelmed and emphasized he would need their help. Then he stepped out to meet the assembled press and made his now famous remarks: “Boys, if you ever pray, pray for me now. I don’t know whether you fellows ever had a load of hay fall on you, but when they told me yesterday what had happened, I felt like the moon, the stars and all the planets had fallen on me.”

Less than four months later, in August 1945, the man from Independence, Mo., now confident and in control, dropped his own bombshell when he broadcast to the nation:

“Sixteen hours ago, an American airplane dropped one bomb on Hiroshima,” the president said, adding, “We are now prepared to obliterate more rapidly and completely every productive and enterprise the Japanese have above ground in any city. We shall destroy Japan’s power to make war. … If they do not now accept our terms, they may expect a rain of ruin from the air the like of which has never been seen on this earth.”

The buck DID stop here, just as the little sign on his desk promised.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

How We Record History Has Evolved Over the Ages

A 1935 copy of The History of Herodotus of Halicarnassus (Nonesuch Press) sold for $1,125 at an October 2013 auction.

By Jim O’Neal

We often fail to remember that history (itself) has a history. From the earliest times, all societies told stories from their past, usually imaginative tales involving the acts of heroes or various gods. Later, civilizations kept records inscribed on clay tablets or the walls of caves. However, ancient societies made no attempt at verification of records, and often failed to differentiate between reality and mythical events and legends.

This changed in the 5th century B.C. when historians like Herodotus and Thucydides explored the past by the interpretation of evidence, despite still including a mixture of myth (“history” means “inquiry” in Greek). Still, Thucydides’ account of the Peloponnesian War satisfies most criteria of modern historical study. It was based on interviews with eyewitnesses and attributed actual events to individuals rather than the intervention of gods.

Thus, Thucydides managed to create the most durable form of history: the detailed narrative of war, political conflict, diplomacy and decision-making. Then, the subsequent rise of Rome to dominance of the Mediterranean encouraged other historians like Polybius (Hellenic) and Livy (Roman) to develop narratives to capture a “big picture” that made sense of events on a longer time frame. Although restricted to just the Roman world, it was the beginning of a universal history to describe progress from origin to present, with a goal of giving the past a purpose.

In addition to making sense of events through narratives, there was a tradition growing to examine the behavior of heroes and villains for future moral lessons. We still attempt this today with a steady stream of studies of Lincoln, Churchill and Gandhi, as well as Stalin, Hitler and Mao.

But there was a big hiccup with the rise of Christianity in the late Roman Empire era, which fundamentally changed the concept of history in Europe. Historical events started to be viewed as “divine providence” or the working of God’s will. Skeptical inquiry was usually neglected and miracles routinely accepted without question. Thankfully, the Muslim world was more sophisticated in medieval times and they rejected accounts of events that could not be verified.

However, neither Christians nor Muslims produced anything close to the chronicle of Chinese history published under the Song Dynasty in 1085. It recorded history spanning almost 1,400 years and filled 294 volumes. (I have no idea how accurate it is!)

By the 20th century, the subject matter of history – which had always focused on kings, queens, prime ministers, presidents and generals – increasingly expanded to embrace common people, whose role in historical events became more accessible. But most world history was written as the story of the triumph of Western civilization, until the second half when the notion of a single grand narrative simply collapsed. Instead, the post-colonial, modern world demanded the study of blacks and women’s histories, in addition to Asians, Africans and American Indians.

Now we are in another new place where it is increasingly difficult to know where to find reliable accounts of real events and a flood of “fake news” is competing for widespread acceptance. Maybe Henry Ford was right after all when he declared that “History is bunk!”

Personally, I don’t mind and still enjoy frequent trips to the past … regardless of factual flaws.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

As War Loomed, Hospitals Lacked Drugs to Treat Wounds, Infections

This 1939 original newspaper political cartoon by Joe Parrish (1905-1989), depicting Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini about to plunge into war, went to auction in November 2014.

By Jim O’Neal

In September 1938, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain returned from Munich and infamously declared he had an assurance for “Peace for our time.” The phrase was an optimistic borrowing from a versicle in the Anglican service of evensong: “Give peace in our time, O Lord, because there is none other that fighteth for us, but only Thou, O God.”

Chamberlain was wrong on several levels since Germany (Adolf Hitler) had no intention of granting peace to Britain and its European neighbors. Secondly, Britain had a true leader-fighter in Winston Churchill, who had warned the British Parliament in 1935 of “Germany arming at breakneck speed, England lost in a pacifist dream, France corrupt and torn by dissension, America remote and indifferent.” A year later, this was no longer a rhetorical flourish, but a dangerous fact as Britain would soon be at war.

From the largest cities to the smallest villages, citizens prepared their civil defenses: air-raid shelters designated, blackout curtains for homes sewn, gas masks delivered, and fire marshals named. Trading cards in cigarette packs showing film stars and athletes were replaced with a series of 48 “Air-Raid Precautions.” Plans were made to evacuate hundreds of thousands of people from large cities to remote rural areas.

Major hospitals were organized into emergency medical facilities. A blood transfusion system was set-up, with widespread training under the Red Cross First Aid course. Prominently missing in all this was the critical supply of penicillin … for one simple reason: It did not exist. Neither did any other vital drug to treat wounds and other infectious diseases common to war casualties.

History credits the discovery of penicillin many years earlier (1928) to Sir Alexander Fleming at St. Mary’s Hospital in London after a serendipitous encounter with a mold growing in an untended Petri dish. However, he was such a poor communicator and orator that his work was largely ignored. Plus, he found the substance “too frustrating and difficult to work with” and abandoned it.

Fortunately, a small group at Oxford recognized the substance’s potential as a “miracle drug,” although they did not have the resources to manufacture commercial quantities until grants from the Rockefeller Foundation spurred the installation of small production sites.

Even more astonishing was that the first major application occurred in November 1942 when a fire at Boston’s Cocoanut Grove nightclub killed 492 people. Several hundred people survived life-threatening burns after treatment with a penicillin variant. The fire started after a club employee changed a light bulb in a darkened area, lighting a match to see what he was doing. With Freon in short supply due to the war, a highly flammable gas (methyl chloride) was being used as a substitute. Boom … the fire engulfed the entire building.

Of course, tens of millions of people were subsequently saved on many battlefields and in hospitals and emergency rooms all over the world. The worry now is that that through overuse, bacteria have developed resistance strategies, leading to new “super bugs.” Survival of the fittest seems to be an immutable law of nature.

Remember to eat your spinach and wash your hands!

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

American Forces Quickly Rallied to Face German Aggression

Tom Lovell’s World War I Soldiers on Horseback, painted for a magazine story illustration, sold for $8,750 at a March 2012 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

At the start of 1917, only four months before the United States declared war on the German Empire, the U.S. army totaled 107,641 men. Sixteen other nations had larger armies. Another major weakness was the lack of recent experience in large-scale military operations. It had been a full 51 years since the armistice at Appomattox had ended the Civil War and many things had become rusty in the interim.

Also, somewhat remarkably, there was no modern military equipment heavier than medium-size machine guns!

Even the National Guard was larger (132,000 men), but this part-time militia was dispersed among the 48 states, generally poorly trained, and any federal oversight was unusually lax. One sparkling exception was the U.S. Marine Corps, over 15,000 first-class troops. However, they were scattered throughout the Western Hemisphere in America’s possessions and in Central American republics, acting as police in the aftermath of the 1898 Spanish-American War.

Despite this bleak situation, and because the Germans had committed far too many acts of war, on April 2, President Woodrow Wilson requested a joint session of Congress. On April 6, the U.S. Congress voted overwhelmingly to go to war. The vote in the Senate was 82-6 in favor (with eight abstentions) and 373-50 in the House, with Jeannette Rankin of Montana in the minority. In 1941, she would become the only member of Congress to vote against declaring war on Japan after Pearl Harbor.

Yet, by June 1917, the commander of the American Expeditionary Force, General John J. Pershing, had arrived in France and on July 4, American Independence Day, elements of his 1st Division paraded in the streets of Paris. Throughout the following months, fresh units of an Army designed to reach a strength of 80 divisions – nearly 3 million men – continued to arrive. By March 1918, 318,000 men had reached France, the vanguard of 1.3 million to be deployed, and not a single one had been lost to enemy action in oceanic transport.

Rare are the times in great wars when the fortunes of one side are transformed by the sudden accretion of reinforcements. Napoleon’s enemies in 1813 when the Russian army joined Britain/Austria … the North in our Civil War when the adoption of conscription added millions versus the South’s hundreds of thousands … 1941 when Adolf Hitler’s stupid declaration of war on the United States, followed by Japan’s ill-advised action, saved an isolated Britain and an almost defeated Soviet Union.

This was another of those times, when Germany had declared unrestricted war in the Atlantic in the flawed calculation that the war would be over in Europe before the United States could mobilize.

As philosopher George Santayana so wisely observed, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” and “Only the dead have seen the end of war.”

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Luftwaffe’s Incendiary Bombs Devastated British Treasures

A first edition of John Dalton’s A New System of Chemical Philosophy (Manchester: S. Russell, 1808-10) sold for $7,812.50 at an October 2013 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

“Peace for our time” was proudly announced by British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain after signing the Munich Pact in 1938. This agreement effectively conceded the annexation of the Sudetenland regions of Czechoslovakia to Nazi Germany in the hope it would quell Adolf Hitler’s appetite for European expansion. Today, it is universally regarded as a naive act of appeasement as Germany promptly invaded Poland.

A full year before, the British Museum had located a deserted, remote mine to store their priceless treasures in anticipation of war. Other institutions like the Victoria and Albert Museum and the National Gallery joined in by relocating historic records, manuscripts and artwork. Steel racks were constructed to store boxes and other containers, while shelves were hollowed out of solid rock walls. Special consideration was given to maintaining proper humidity, temperature and delicate atmospheric pressure. It turned out to be a prudent strategy.

However, despite all the frenzied planning, once the bombing started, there were simply too many British libraries to protect and the Germans were using special incendiary bombs designed to ignite buildings rather than destroy them. The effect was devastating and before the war ended more than one million rare volumes were destroyed.

One particularly perplexing example was the remarkable library of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society (the famous “Lit & Phil”), England’s oldest scientific society. Alas, this included one of the most fascinating and least-known scientists, John Dalton.

Dalton

Dalton was born in 1766 and was so exceptionally bright he was put in charge of his Quaker school at the improbable age of 12. He was already reading one of the most difficult books to comprehend – Sir Isaac Newton’s Principia – in the original Latin! Later, at Manchester, he was an intellectual whirlwind, producing books and papers ranging from meteorology to grammar. But it was a thick tome titled A New System of Chemical Philosophy that established his lasting reputation. In a short chapter of just five pages (out of 900), people of learning first encountered something approaching modern conception. His astounding insight was that at the root of all matter are exceedingly tiny, irreducible particles. Today, we call them atoms.

The great physicist Richard Feynman famously observed that the most important scientific knowledge is the simple fact that all things are made of atoms. They are everywhere and they constitute everything. Look around you. It is all atoms … and they are in numbers you really can’t conceive.

When Dalton died in 1844, about 40,000 people viewed the coffin and the funeral cortège stretched for two miles. His entry in the Dictionary of National Biography is one of the longest, rivalled by only Charles Darwin and a few others.

Shame on the Luftwaffe for destroying so much of his original work. It is somehow comforting to know they weren’t bombed out of existence since their atoms are now merely part of something else … somewhere in our universe.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Hitler’s Seduction of German People was Sudden, Complete

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Adolf Hitler is among the figures featured in Gum Inc.’s 1938 “Horrors of War” trading card series. A complete set (288 cards) sold for $2,390 at a November 2011 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

The same winter President Roosevelt came to power in the United States, another leader in Europe assumed his country’s highest office. Over the next 12 years, until their deaths just two weeks apart in 1945, the lives of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Adolf Hitler would grow increasingly intertwined … drawn together as archenemies in a conflict that was the 20th century’s most grotesque and widespread event.

Even all these years later, the rise of Hitler still baffles. His seduction of the German people was so sudden and complete, his assumption of power so total, that he defies comparison with history’s other evil conquerors. One German philosopher called him an “error” in history, as if the Fates had been distracted while a deadly mutant virus took hold.

Both FDR and Hitler’s journey to power was propelled by a world economic collapse.

Along with America and most of Europe, Germany suffered a Great Depression, with unemployment reaching 25 percent. If it had been hunger alone, the people may have followed a very different kind of leader. But Hitler’s enormous popularity was also a product of Germany’s lingering desire for revenge.

Despite Germany’s surrender in 1918 (an armistice arranged by the Reichstag, not the Army), few accepted the fact that they had been defeated in World War I. Hitler was from Bavaria, a haven for right-wing nationalists, and he railed against the forces of Judaism and Bolshevism, while mocking the fragile Weimar government as “November Criminals” for acceptance of the armistice.

After the complete breakdown of the economy in 1930, the passion of resentment and revenge gained momentum to include students, professors and businessmen. Hitler’s anti-Semitic message resonated with a deep suspicion of money cartels and the perceived unjust punishment from the Versailles agreement. The campaign moved with the speed of a plague.

The Nazi bible was Mein Kampf, a two-volume treatise started by Hitler while in prison for the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch, a bungled attempt to control Bavaria. As the movement gained in favor, Mein Kampf (My Struggle) became a best-seller and provided Hitler with a cloak of legitimacy. Still, it was Hitler’s voice, not his pen, that fueled the emotional appeal of the Nazi movement. In a brilliant insight, he grasped that the pain of the German people could be harnessed in a unique way. They had been victimized by the depression, humiliated by Versailles, robbed by chronic inflation and their spirit had devolved into despair, fear and resentment.

Hitler’s extraordinary oratory provided a powerful reassurance that they were a great people, their suffering unjust and he promised an improved life while those who were responsible for their pain would be punished. His two-hour speeches could hold a crowd of half-a-million people spellbound. It mattered not what he said, but how he said it. They were thrilled by the pageantry, the sense of historical inevitability and blind faith that Germany would rise again. It was only a short journey from here to another war of conflagration with even greater magnitude than the last.

The people were eager to get it started and so it came.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Battle of Stalingrad Defined Struggle Between Fascism and Bolshevism

the-boy-from-stalingrad-columbia-1943
The Boy from Stalingrad was a 1943 Columbia Pictures movie about Russian youths fighting the German assault on Stalingrad. The propaganda film was officially approved by the U.S. government, which briefly worked to maintain its wartime alliance with the Soviets.

By Jim O’Neal

While the siege of Leningrad was under way, a ferocious battle was beginning over Stalingrad, a sprawling provincial city of half a million, outlining the banks of the Volga River.

If there was one battle that defined the struggle between fascism and Bolshevism – the essential confrontation that Adolf Hitler had long dreamed of winning – it was this one. From a strategic standpoint, it would allow Germany to cut off the supply route to the Russian Army up north and open the way for the Wehrmacht to control the oil fields surrounding the Caucasus Mountains.

But Hitler wanted Stalingrad for a personal reason, too. Joseph Stalin had named this city in 1925 to honor the battle he had led there during the Russian Civil War. Its capture would be a symbolic victory and erode Russia’s willpower. However, Stalingrad would prove important to both sides and together they would expend the lives of 1 million people in just five months.

The drama began with the Germans attacking the city’s northern edge and discovering Russian civilians, many of them women in dresses, firing the guns. It was a harbinger of the legendary Russian resistance. That night, an enormous roar deafened Stalingrad, the sound of 600 German planes descending at once. They dropped bombs carrying incendiary devices and when they ignited, the city was so bright from flames that soldiers 40 miles away claimed they could read a newspaper. In all, 40,000 civilians died that night and the worst was yet to come.

Since the city was home to several prized armament plants, tanks rolled off the assembly line directly into battle. Yet it was hand-to-hand combat that came to dominate the fighting – building by building, block by block, rooftop to rooftop – until giant piles of rubble remained. Snipers worked from every garret, booby traps appeared at every turn, and hand grenades came flying from every angle. The insanity of the fighting was obvious even to impotent commanders, but the two leaders in Moscow and occupied Ukraine insisted their armies fight on.

Ignoring the pleas of his advisors, Hitler failed to protect his flanks and fresh Russian troops encircled the city, trapping the entire German army inside. Now they were the ones under siege, starving and freezing while they waited for the promised reinforcements that never came.

By January 1943, the battle was over and 80,000 German troops were marched off to Soviet camps, where all but a handful would eventually die. Things would only go downhill from here as the German people lost faith and the Allies started their offense directly against the Fatherland.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].