Ronald Reagan: Tear Down This Wall

Ronald Reagan would have turned 97 today, had he not passed away in 2004 and faded from the political scene a decade earlier due to Alzheimer’s. His memory gets invoked constantly by Republicans, 20 years after he left office with his sunny optimism intact and a stronger nation behind him. We’ll continue arguing over his legacy, its meaning, and its heirs, but we can never argue about the impact of his leadership on history. Reagan spoke truth to massive power, and he sounded its death knell in four short words:

Speaking truth wasn’t enough, though, and Reagan explains that immediately after his famous Berlin declaration. We didn’t beat the Soviets in a fluke.
Mitch Berg and Gary Gross have Reagan remembrances today as well.

Isms And Schisms

My friend Richard Disney continues unearthing nuggets of American animation history. This time, he’s found a relatively short cartoon about the nature of “Isms”, and how they lead to government control and the end of freedom. It’s remarkably trenchant 60 years after its release, mostly in how everyone puts blinders on to all but their own interests, and then complain when they get the inevitable result:

Richard was one of the many friends I made at the CLC conference last October, along with Warner Todd Houston, Ken & Kathy Marrero, and many others. I’ve urged Richard to start a regular feature on his blog for these lost treasures of patriotic thought. He may decide to do that, and if so, keep a regular eye on his site for more.

The API In 1956

My friend Richard Disney unearthed this 1956 cartoon from the American Petroleum Institute, extolling the virtues of both oil and competition. It’s very typical of the age, down to the type of animation used. It has an Eisenhower Era flavor to it that won’t surprise most people, although it’s pretty amusing to see people shoot first at the little green men rather than try to feel their pain. Its basic theme — that oil has enhanced our standard of living and that competition makes everything more affordable — should still resonate, even if the style is just a tad …. dated.
Bonus question: Which world leader springs to mind when seeing and hearing Ogg?
UPDATE: The script isn’t working, but the link does. Check it out; it’s a nice change of pace!

A Reminder Of Inhumanity

Yesterday had a special and chilling significance for the people of Berlin. Forty-six years ago, the East German government started construction on the barrier that would become the Berlin Wall, a structure that stood for decades to keep communism’s victims inside the Soviet-sponsored prison that was East Berlin. That characterization appears especially apt with the discovery yesterday of a seven page order that shows for the first time that the regime gave explicit shoot-to-kill orders to its guards — and included women and children in the directive:

Now, coinciding with the 46th anniversary of the start of construction of the Berlin Wall on August 13, 1961, a seven-page document has surfaced in an archive of Stasi files that contains an explicit firing order. It was issued to a special team of Stasi agents tasked with infiltrating regular units of border guards to prevent their colleagues from defecting.
“It is your duty to use your combat … skills in such a way as to overcome the cunning of the border breacher, to challenge or liquidate him in order to thwart the planned border breach,” says the order dated October 1, 1973. “Don’t hesitate to use your weapon even when border breaches happen with women and children, which traitors have often exploited in the past.”

As Der Spiegel notes, the order had been discovered before, and even published on one occasion in 1997. It escaped general notice, however, and former leaders of the defunct regime insisted that no such order ever existed. Its rediscovery has generated calls for new trials for the old Communists who maintained and obeyed those orders. Other directives called for warning shots or shouted calls to stop, but this order doesn’t mention any other procedure except to kill people whose only crime was to try to leave the prison the Communists made for Germans in East Berlin.
Ironically, the rediscovery may have come at just the right time. A wave of entertainment has hit Germany that paints the regime in a rosy light. The Left Party, which descends from the Communists who ruled East Germany, have been delighted to see films like Goodby Lenin! (see update) arrive on the scene, as they weave nostalgia for the old days around failing memories of the brutality of the actual nature of their rule.
The note clears away the fog that the Left Party and clueless artistes have created in Germany. Nothing shows the nature of oppressive communism than an order to shoot women and children who rejected it.
UPDATE: The reference to Goodbye Lenin as a nostalgia trip for communism came from the Der Spiegel article. CQ commenters say that’s a micharacterization and that the film does not paint East Germany in a good light, and that it’s rather good.

25 Years Ago Today

I’ve been reading The Reagan Diaries in fits and starts as other reading assignments take priority, but the personal point of view in this book fascinates me. Years ago, I read Winston Churchill’s The Second World War, which gave the same point of view but with a retrospective narrative. This shows Reagan’s reactions in real time, and it’s intriguing.
For instance, take a look at the entry for August 10, 1982, to see what’s changed and what’s pretty much stayed the same:

Things continue to look better in the Middle East [Israel had invaded Lebanon that summer].
Met with Israeli opposition leader Shimon Peres of the Labor party. He’s quite a contrast to Begin and believes once the P.L.O. leaves Beirut Israel should leave Lebanon. Believes we must also resolve the Palestinian problem. Surprisingly, he wants us to continue befriending the Arabs and wants Jordan brought into the peace process …

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, non?
Speaking of which, those with e-mail will get a kick from Reagan’s last part of the same entry:

Rcv’d. letter from Richard Viguerie with copy of Conservative Digest. He tried to write in sorrow, not in anger about my betrayal of the conservative cause. He used crocodile tears for ink.

This is the same Richard Viguerie who created the Conservatives Betrayed website and now posts an entire appendix of quotes from Ronald Reagan. According to the index, that’s the last mention of Viguerie in Reagan’s diaries. For those who receive Viguerie’s e-mail essays by e-mail, it provides a small bit of context.

When Graft Had Class

The passing of Lady Bird Johnson produced a slew of complimentary obituaries and remembrances of the former First Lady. Normally, Christopher Hitchens would supply the antidote for all of the flowing saccharine, but Hitchens is on assignment this week. Instead, Jack Shafer at Slate offers the belated rebuttal, pointing out Lady Bird’s role in amassing the Johnson fortune through a quaint form of graft, but one that may have some resonance in today’s political issues:

In 1943, the year Lady Bird Johnson purchased KTBC, the Federal Communications Commission, which reviewed all broadcast-license transfers, was close to being abolished, Caro writes. Lyndon Johnson used his political influence in both Congress and the White House to prevent that from happening. The FCC was among the most politicized agencies in the government, Caro asserts, and it knew who its friends were.
Johnson socialized with FCC Commissioner Clifford Durr at the time, “sometimes at Durr’s home, sometimes at his own,” although Durr says Johnson never mentioned Lady Bird’s application for KTBC’s license. Lady Bird, however, directly approached Durr about the station, and Lyndon phoned James Barr of the FCC’s Standard Broadcast Division. “He wanted to get a radio station, and what I remember is, he wouldn’t take no for an answer,” Caro quotes Barr. …
Once Lady Bird completed her purchase of KTBC, the “five years of delays and red tape, or delays and unfavorable rules” from the FCC that had stymied the previous owners “vanished … and slowness was replaced by speed,” according to Caro. In short order she got permission to broadcast 24 hours a day (KTBC had been a sunrise-to-sunset station) and move it to 590 on the dial—”an uncluttered, end of the dial” where it could be heard in 38 surrounding Texas counties. It was no coincidence. Lyndon and Lady Bird recruited a new station manager, promising 10 percent of the profits, and Lyndon told him that the changes in the license restrictions that would make KTBC a moneymaker were “all set.” In 1945, the FCC OK’d KTBC’s request to quintuple its power, which cast its signal over 63 counties.
When Lyndon visited William S. Paley, president of CBS radio, and asked if KTBC could become a CBS affiliate and carry its lucrative programming, he didn’t have to spell out why the request should be granted. The radio networks feared the regulators in Washington as well as the members of Congress who regulated the regulators. KNOW in Austin had been repeatedly denied the affiliation because a San Antonio “affiliate could be heard in Austin.” CBS Director of Research Frank Stanton approved Johnson’s request.
Johnson shook down powerful companies to advertise on the station. Local businesses that wanted Army camps to remain located in Austin knew one way to secure Lyndon’s help was to advertise on KTBC.

Well, isn’t this all about Lyndon Johnson? Why bring Lady Bird into the story? Because without Lady Bird as a front, LBJ couldn’t have pulled it off. She used an inheritance received from a relative to buy the radio station, and that allowed her to keep ownership — and an obvious conflict of interest — away from LBJ himself.
Meanwhile, LBJ himself used his leverage to ensure that his wife’s broadcast assets remained highly profitable. The radio station led to establishing Austin’s first TV station in a bid with only one participant — Lady Bird Johnson. With the FCC heading for the scrap heap in the 1940s, LBJ provided a necessary bulwark against obsolescence. The agency made sure that any requests for better frequency assignments and power output got expedited and approved, making the stations even more lucrative for the Texas couple.
Now, had LBJ allowed the FCC to get cut from the federal government, it might have negated an argument that has appeared this year. Without the FCC in the 1940s, the Fairness Doctrine may never have been codified. It certainly couldn’t have been enforced. Interestingly, after LBJ’s rescue, no one has seriously challenged its existence.
Lady Bird undoubtedly deserved the outpouring of praise she received, but the truth of her role in enriching her family by her husband’s manipulation of governmental agencies should also be made clear. Jack Shafer manages to do it with a little less vitriol than Hitchens.

Working With The Mob: Your Government Dollars At Work

The CIA has started its release of hundreds of documents revealing illegal activities during the Cold War, the so-called “family jewels” that cast the agency in its poorest light yet. Not only does this release demonstrate violations of the laws forbidding domestic spying by Langley, it also shows how inept the agency was at times. The multiple attempts at assassinating Fidel Castro are a case in point:

The CIA recruited a former FBI agent to approach two of America’s most-wanted mobsters and gave them poison pills meant for Fidel Castro during his first year in power, according to newly declassified papers released Tuesday. …
The documents show that in August 1960, the CIA recruited ex-FBI agent Robert Maheu, then a top aide to Howard Hughes in Las Vegas, to approach mobster Johnny Roselli and pass himself off as the representative of international corporations that wanted Castro killed because of their lost gambling operations.
At the time, the bearded rebels had just outlawed gambling and destroyed the world-famous casinos American mobsters had operated in Havana.
Roselli introduced Maheu to “Sam Gold” and “Joe.” Both were mobsters on the U.S. government’s 10-most wanted list: Momo Giancana, Al Capone’s successor in Chicago; and Santos Trafficante, one of the most powerful mobsters in Batista’s Cuba. The agency gave the reputed mobsters six poison pills, and they tried unsuccessfully for several months to have several people put them in Castro’s food.

The best that can be said about this idiotic notion was that the CIA eventually got the poison pills back. Otherwise, this had to be one of the most inane and self-defeating plots ever cooked up by any federal agency. Remember that this is just a couple of years after Appalachin, when the FBI finally had to admit that the Mafia existed. These men, Sam Giancana and Trafficante, ruled various parts of the US through murder and intimidation. (Trafficante controlled the Gulf Coast region of the US, not just Cuba.) They weren’t benevolent despots, but men who corrupted government officials, ran drugs, and pimped for a living.
And why did the CIA essentially hire these guys? To commit an assassination that was illegal, on behalf of a government that wouldn’t dirty its hands by operating aboveboard to stop Castro themselves. Even a year afterwards, when Kennedy authorized the Bay of Pigs invasion, he changed his mind at the last moment and aborted the air cover necessary for the mission, stranding thousands of brave Cubans and leaving them at the mercy of Castro.
If it wasn’t true, it would be a comedy. In fact, even part of the truth serves as a bitter comedy. Giancana got his payback from the CIA by having the agency bug his girlfriend, singer Phyllis McGuire, to see if she was having a sexual affair with comedian Dan Rowan. Momo turned the CIA into a grubby private detective service.
Other documents show that the CIA had few scruples about violating its charter and spying on Americans, and that it didn’t start with Richard Nixon:

Historians have generally concluded that far from being a rogue agency, the C.I.A. was following orders from the White House or top officials. In 1967, for instance, President Lyndon B. Johnson became convinced that the American antiwar movement was controlled and financed by Communist governments, and he ordered the C.I.A. to produce evidence. …
The C.I.A. undertook a domestic surveillance operation code-named Chaos that went on for almost seven years under Presidents Johnson and Nixon. Mr. Helms created a Special Operations Group to conduct the spying. A squad of C.I.A. officers grew their hair long, learned the jargon of the New Left, and went off to infiltrate peace groups in the United States and Europe.
The agency compiled a computer index of 300,000 names of American people and organizations, and extensive files on 7,200 citizens. It began working in secret with police departments all over the United States.

Why is this so bad? I imagine that some will argue that the nation was at risk for Communist infiltration at the time, and that we needed a strong defense against it. I won’t dispute that at all. However, that clearly fell under the jurisdiction of the FBI at the time, not the CIA, and for very good reasons. The FBI has to follow certain rules in gathering information on American citizens inside the US in order to protect our civil rights, whereas the CIA has no such restrictions on its operations. We don’t impose those restrictions on their operations because they’re not supposed to be spying on Americans inside the US.
That didn’t stop them during this period, and even more egregiously, it didn’t stop Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon from ordering them to do it. The poltical class didn’t just fail to stop the abuses, they encouraged them. That’s rather disappointing, to say the least, and a point to consider when we think about limits on power, even during wartime.

Look Back In Disappointment

It is said that the only meaning in some lives is to serve as a warning to others. Former Selma sheriff Jim Clark’s viciousness doubled back on itself to defeat him in the long run. Unfortunately, he seems to have been one of those examples.

Newsweek has a fascinating interview with Rep. John Lewis, talking about the death of Jim Clark, formerly the Sheriff of Selma, Alabama — and the nemesis of Lewis during the civil-rights movement. Lewis shared a particularly noxious moment in history with Clark, one that defined the movement and shocked America into acknowledging the continuing injustice of Jim Crow.
Lewis had planned to march to Selma with a few hundred followers in order to register black voters in the city. He had run afoul of Clark on several occasions, the most recent an arrest for attempting to take the literacy test used by Alabama at that time to deny the vote to blacks. Lewis expected trouble, but he got much worse. Clark ordered his men, some on horseback, charge the demonstration, beating and trampling the peaceful and unarmed men and women on a bridge coming into town. National media captured the attack on film, and it provided a turning point for Lewis, and Clark as well.
Lewis recounts the story in the interview, but what is striking is the fact that Clark never reconciled himself to the freedom he inadvertently brought to black Alabamans. Unlike other segregationists like George Wallace, who later sought Lewis’ forgiveness, Clark refused to repent for his brutality:

Did he ever apologize for his actions, or express any remorse?
No, he never did. I know there were press people that tried to interview him in a little town near where he died and he never, ever showed any sense of remorse. He never asked to be forgiven for what he did. He even told one reporter that he didn’t beat John Lewis, that he never hit anyone, that some of us were beaten because we were trying to date some of the local peoples’ wives and girlfriends. He was never able to see the light; he was just never able to come around. There were other people in Selma—the mayor—who called us troublemakers and agitators at the time, [who] came around and said he thought I was one of the bravest human beings he had ever known and if he had been black he would have been doing the same thing. And when we went back to Selma for an anniversary a few years ago as honorary mayor, he hosted a luncheon for us and gave me the keys to the city. Gov. [George] Wallace, who was a friend of Sheriff Clark, asked to be forgiven, but Sheriff Clark never did. …
To some extent it was the brutality of people like Sheriff Clark that brought the country around on civil rights. Is their some level of appreciation for what his actions did for the movement?
I can appreciate that. I think it was President Kennedy who said that if we ever passed a Civil Rights Act, and he was talking about the act he didn’t live to see passed, he said we would have to give credit to Bull Connor. I think we have to give a lot of credit to Clark and other people who beat us because Americans were able to see the contrast. They saw unbelievable, brave, courageous people believing in a dream and participating in nonviolence being beaten and brutalized. And it was the contrast that I think did change America and hasten the day of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. In early 1965, President [Lyndon] Johnson told Dr. [Martin Luther] King we didn’t have the vote to pass the Voting Rights Act, but with the reaction of people like Sheriff Clark he created the environment to get the votes to pass the act. That cannot be denied.

I may not agree with Rep. Lewis on policy, but I have tremendous respect for his efforts to ensure the respect for civil rights and the end of Jim Crow. People of my age and younger have grown up with the big battles of the civil-rights movement as history rather than current events, and we don’t really have the context of the difficulties that men and women like Lewis had to overcome. It’s important to tell the stories of these fights and to understand how an entire nation could have willed itself to avert their eyes to a century of injustice after the end of the Civil War.
Stories of repentance are equally valuable. The men who participated in that oppression who later repented, such as Wallace or the mayor Lewis mentions, shows that we can forgive and heal eventually, and most can finally step outside themselves and allow for empathy with the people they once considered their enemies. Clark, on the other hand, showed that some people can never let go of the bitterness, hatred, and lies that perpetuated Jim Crow. His failure to come to terms with his personal bigotry and his role in brutalizing the citizens of Selma feels like an opportunity lost, a life wasted, a lesson eternally unlearned.
It is said that the only meaning in some lives is to serve as a warning to others. Clark’s viciousness doubled back on itself to defeat him in the long run. Unfortunately, he seems to have been one of those examples.
UPDATE: I did write Selma, Georgia at the beginning of the piece, even though I wrote Alabama everywhere else. Yikes. Thanks to Roger in the comments for pointing out my mistake.

Nazis Considered Pope Pius An Enemy

The reputation of Pope Pius XII has suffered from an endless series of accusations of collaboration with the Nazi regime before and during World War II. In books such as John Cornwell’s Hitler’s Pope and others, the Pope and the Roman Catholic church face accusations of moral cowardice in the face of the most twisted regime in modern human history. However, new documentation shows that the Nazis themselves considered Pius and his Church their enemy — because Pius assisted in the flight of Jews from the Nazi genocidists:

Pius XII, the wartime pontiff often condemned as “Hitler’s Pope”, was actually considered an enemy by the Third Reich, according to newly discovered documents.
Several letters and memos unearthed at a depot used by the Stasi, the East-German secret police, show that Nazi spies within the Vatican were concerned at Pius’s efforts to help displaced Poles and Jews.
In one, the head of Berlin’s police force tells Joachim von Ribbentropp, the Third Reich’s foreign minister, that the Catholic Church was providing assistance to Jews “both in terms of people and financially”.
A report from a spy at work in the Vatican states: “Our source was told to his face by Father Robert Leibner [one of Pius’s secretaries] that the greatest hope of the Church is that the Nazi system would be obliterated by the war.”

After the war, the Pope himself acknowledged that he did not speak out consistently against the Nazis, but claimed he held back in order to save more people from their clutches. In light of this new evidence, he may have done his best under the worst of circumstances. Certainly the Nazis understood him as a threat to their plans to wipe Jews off the face of the Earth, and recorded their concerns.
How did Pius get such a bad rap? Part of it comes from the circumstance of having been Pope during the war. The Vatican, after all, sits within Rome — and the Italians who aligned themselves with Hitler had them surrounded. The Swiss survived under similar circumstances by essentially doing the same thing — remaining quiet while doing what they could under the radar.
Now, though, it looks like there may be more to the story than just circumstance. The discovery of these records within the files of the Stasi — the East German secret police during the Communist era — indicates that the smear may have had political motivations. The Telegraph reports that some believe the story got circulated at the direction of Moscow to discredit the Catholics, which they saw as a potential rival in Eastern Europe. If they could paint the Vatican as Nazi sympathizers, then the Poles and other Catholics in the Soviet sphere of influence would discount them as an anti-Communist force.
In the end, of course, the Soviets failed in their strategy. Their smear lived on, unfortunately.

Letter: Speer Knew Of The Holocaust

For decades, Albert Speer insisted that he knew nothing of the planning of the Holocaust. He escaped the hangman’s noose at Nuremberg in a convincing performance of contrition, and survived his 20-year sentence to achieve respectability as the example of a good German caught up in madness, bereft of insight during the reign of the most calculatingly brutal regime in history.
While his contrition might have been real, his cover story apparently was a lie. A letter written by Speer in 1971 makes clear that Speer had explicit knowledge of the plans for the extermination of the Jews of Europe:

A newly discovered letter by Adolf Hitler’s architect and armaments minister Albert Speer offers proof that he knew about the plans to exterminate the Jews, despite his repeated claims to the contrary.
Writing in 1971 to Hélène Jeanty, the widow of a Belgian resistance leader, Speer admitted that he had been at a conference where Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS and Gestapo, had unveiled plans to exterminate the Jews in what is known as the Posen speech. Speer’s insistence that he had left before the end of the meeting, and had therefore known nothing about the Holocaust, probably spared him from execution after the Nuremberg trials at the end of the second world war. …
In the letter to Jeanty, written on December 23 1971, Speer wrote: “There is no doubt – I was present as Himmler announced on October 6 1943 that all Jews would be killed”. He continued: “Who would believe me that I suppressed this, that it would have been easier to have written all of this in my memoirs?”

Historians always looked at Speer’s claims of innocence about the Holocaust with some suspicion. William Shirer, whose Rise and Fall of the Third Reich remains the seminal work on Nazi Germany, wondered in his history how Speer could have remained ignorant of the death-camp system. Speer drew his workers from the same system, and demanded more and more as the war progressed. Any ignorance on their provenance or their fate had to either be willful or faked.
They also questioned his sentencing, even at the time of the Nuremberg trials. The men who supplied the forced labor to Speer had their necks stretched, while Speer essentially walked away from the ruins of Nazi Germany. Why? Speer made a calculated decision to defy Hermann Goering and admit all of the horrors of the Third Reich, expressing remorse and sorrow all along the way. Goering had rallied the rest of the defendants to assume a defiant tone, defending the Nazis and blaming the atrocities on everyone else. The tribunal allowed itself to be impressed by Speer’s no-nonsense admissions of the obvious and rewarded him with his life.
Now it appears that Speer was more calculating even than most thought. The letter makes clear that Speer knew exactly what the Nazis would do to the Jews, and cared so little that he helped them work prisoners to death. Essentially, Speer lived a lie for the last half of his life, aided and abetted by a credulous West that for some reason wanted to believe his strange protestations of innocence.
UPDATE: It wasn’t Wannsee, as I initially wrote; Wannsee was January 1942.