Tag Archives: Roosevelt

If only FDR had listened about Hitler

July 1, 2011

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Are you a World War II junkie?

Love history and politics?

Here’s a great read for you.

As Adolph Hitler was gearing up his Nazi steamroller, American diplomat William Dodd tried to warn the U.S. government.

The Holocaust and World War II are evidence that Ambassador Dodd failed.

“In the Garden of Beasts” tells how and why Dodd couldn’t convince either Franklin Delano Roosevelt — the president who appointed him — or the high-society members of the U.S. Foreign Service that Hitler shouldn’t be treated like the leaders of other countries.

The four short years of Dodd’s tenure as ambassador to Germany come alive in Erik Larson’s latest superb nonfiction work. The brutality of Hitler and his Nazi brethren is palpable. The internal politics of 1933-37  Germany are ruthless and bloody.

And the snooty wealthy class that populated U.S. consulates at the time played no small part in enabling Ambassador Dodd’s cautions to go unheeded.

Unlikely and disliked

Plucked out of the history department of the University of Chicago, Dodd may have been a third or fourth choice for the post in Berlin, an appointment FDR made under pressure of a deadline. Naive enough to have his family Chevrolet shipped to Germany when the world’s ambassador class generally used limos and chauffeurs, Dodd’s middle-class values put him at odds with the consulate staff in Berlin, made him the source of German leaders’ ridicule, and worst of all caused his reports to be disrespected by those in Washington who should have been listening to his warning cries.

Don’t be put off by the nonfiction character of “In the Garden of Beasts.” Larson has done amazing research here, but the way he fashions the change in Dodd and Dodd’s daughter Martha, too, from being lovers of all things German (Martha in more ways than one!) to a critical analyst of that country’s leadership and people is brilliant and makes for meaty reading.

As you’re reading, try to be aware of parallels in the social culture of 1930s Germany and some aspects of 21st century life. A word to the wise?– bz

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Dust Bowl history makes sad era a reality show

March 10, 2008

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“The Worst Hard Time,”
by Timothy Egan

You may have seen photos of the Dust Bowl, but read Timothy Egan’s comprehensive history and you can taste the dirt and feel the wind blast against your skin.

Egan’s “The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl,” paints such a vivid portrait of those 1930s years of dry, violent storms that you’ll find yourself coughing and swallowing hard just imagining what it must have been like when nature punished farmers for turning millions of acres of grassland into billowing towers of dust, dirt and sand.

Imagine how hard times must have been that people in the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma and southwestern Colorado would be driven to eat pickled tumbleweed to survive.

Imagine going three years without a paycheck.

Imagine your small town newspaper editor describing as “sissies” those who — after losing all the top soil from their land, not having anything to feed their cattle, watching their children, spouses and relatives die from “dust pneumonia” — didn’t have the “courage” to stick out the hard times.

Through interviews with people who lived through the 1930s in the Dust Bowl counties and terrific research, including amazing diary entries from a farmer who lost everything, Egan helps his readers know this little-known era of American history.

It’s a dense work, filled with information, especially information about real people – how they felt, how they cried, how they survived.

It’s an honest history, too, one not afraid to acknowledge both the failed recovery programs of the Franklin Roosevelt Administration and the conservation-minded ones that began to work to revive the land in places.

Whether or not you believe that the planet faces climate change today, this is a book that should help everyone understand how connected humanity is to the soil. The consequences of not valuing the soil result in tragedies like the Dust Bowl — something no one who reads this book would ever want to go through. — bz

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