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A World War II Lesson, and Hitler’s Rise to Power Applied to Modern American Politics

In the United States politics has evolved into this sort of blood sport with people separating themselves by party. Once put into groups there are members of those groups who follow the various party leaders almost without question. I’m convinced that some people, if their party leadership said jump off a bridge, it would be helpful to our cause, there would be a few people doing exactly as ordered.

It is getting close to these “cults of personality” that have been discussed before in an older post you can find by clicking the words cult of personality. I am not saying we are Nazi Germany, but do we have the potential?

When we rally behind politicians because they are “the hope” or the one who will “make us great again” for no other reason than we like the buzz word, or worse, just hate that other person running for office so much we will go with anything to make sure they don’t win that we might be repeating some mid-20th century history.

Now for our applicable bit of History.

On June 29, 1934, the Chief of the German General Staff, (General Ludwig Beck) met with Adolf Hitler. Beck had recently taken this position, and had sought it out, because he had concerns about the man in question.

Remember that Hitler had been a Corporal (and not a good one) in World War I, which had ended in 1918. Doing the math that is only 16 years, and in 1924 Hitler had spent 9 months in prison.

Doing another bit of math, as we continue to watch people rise to prominence in the United States over night, at very young ages and inexperience levels, Hitler was born in 1889. That makes him 45 years of age at this point. Yet, 17 months prior to this meeting in 1934 Hitler had been appointed, not elected, as Chancellor of all of Germany by the elderly, and known to be senile President Paul von Hindenburg.

General Beck had requested his current assignment because as part of his job he would have to know what Hitler’s real plans for Germany were. He had a concern that the young leader would want to re-arm Germany that had disbanded most of its military after World War I, and then launch a war of expansion. Hitler denied these claims, but Beck wasn’t so sure. In that meeting, he warned Hitler that any war started by Germany would quickly become multi-front and that their beloved country would not survive.

There is a military lesson there. Never try to fight a war on more than one front. It never goes well. The US has a policy that we should be ready to do so, but in my opinion as a veteran, we should fight fewer wars. We should also never fight two at once. Sorry for the digression, back to my point.

After the meeting, General Beck returned to his office where that same afternoon he received a phone call from Admiral Wilhelm Canaris. The admiral had been a highly productive and especially talented spy in World War I. During that phone call Canaris expressed to the General that he held many of the same concerns about Hitler.

That information dump from Canaris had another, far more dangerous bit of information. If word leaked out that this was known, surely both of them would have been in danger. Canaris knew, and shared with General Beck, that Hitler was preparing to wipe out (sometimes with deadly action) anyone opposed to his Nazi regime, and intentions to take complete control of Germany.

First on the hit list were General Kurt von Schleicher, Hitler’s predecessor as Chancellor. Second was General Kurt von Bredow who was Schleicher’s friend and assistant.

General Beck was concerned. He was so against such action that at great personal risk he warned Schleicher who said he wasn’t worry.

At noon, June 30, 1934, the very next day after all this took place 5 men walked into Schleicher’s home, found him in his study hard at work, and shot him to death. The noise cause his wife to burst into the room to see what was going on, and she was also gunned down.

General Bredow was notified of this murder two hours later. He was concerned and told the man he was meeting with that “Schleicher was the only man who could save Germany.”

Bredow was in his home a little after 5pm that same day. Two men rang the bell, Bredow came to the door and was shot to death.

With this action, Hitler had set in motion a plan to annihilate anyone who opposed him. But this was about to become more political.

General Werner von Blomberg ordered that Schleicher and Bredow were to be regarded as traitors. He further ordered that no General or Admiral was to attend their funeral. These orders, of course, originated with nonother than Adolf Hitler.

In an act of opposition, General Beck and Admiral Canaris went to the funeral. Not only did they go, but they went in full uniform and participated. They were stopped at the gates to the cemetery by SS officers who were loyal to Hitler. So, the control freak was going to get what he wanted, one way or the other.

On August 2, 1934, the 87-year-old President Paul Ludwig von Hindenburg died. Prior to his death, Hitler had obtained a Political Testament from the man that Adolf should replace him. Recall that Hindenburg was known to be senile. Senility is a legitimate concern in political leaders, something the world should take pay attention to, and prevent. Looking at the members of the House and Senate in the United States, one can ask the question how many suffer from such issues.

Moments after Hindenburg’s deal Hitler declared himself the fuhrer (supreme leader).

Hitler’s next act was to order all of Germany’s Generals and Admirals to assemble. He made them swear an oath, not to Germany, but to Hitler. This same oath was then repeated by the military all over Germany:

“I swear by God the holy oath, that I will render to Adolf Hitler, Fuhrer of the German nation and people, supreme commander of the armed forces, unconditional obedience, and I am ready as a brave soldier to risk my life at any time for this oath.”

Kind of frightening words if you think about it. Yet how many political parties are now demanding allegiance on every single issue in their platform. If you don’t agree leave the party is the general mantra these days.

Next up Hitler wasn’t done removing opposition. He had two more generals on his radar. First was General Werner von Blomberg, and the General Werner von Fritch. These two were to be the handy work of Hermann Goering. This time they weren’t killed, they were politically destroyed. Someone found dirt (of a sexual nature involving prostitutes) and used it to force them to “retire for health reasons.”

So, you see, Hitler new the game. Kill those you must to show you can, then destroy other opposition’s reputations. Whatever it takes to get to the top. Next time we have a campaign season, watch the number of negative ads and see if this one still takes place.

At this point the world had started to take note of Germany’s Generals having some kind of health epidemic. They also realized that Hitler had seized control of Germany with only a few shots being fired.

The moral of this story is several things.

First, appearances matter to the rest of the world. Our political leadership needs to know this, and realized their actions matter.

Second, blindly following a political leader because a large party of people said so, might not be a great idea. It is ok to question people of your own party, respectfully, and even disagree. Blindly following, well, is a really bad idea.

Third, could Hitler have been stopped by General Beck? Perhaps his spy friend? I think so. Had either one gone public, or just shot the man, the world might have been saved and 10s of millions of lives spared. The holocaust might not have happened.

Finally, these lessons show us we must question our leaders. We must hold them to their word. When they say things like “I will protect this group of citizens from that other evil group,” all of these things matter. Divisiveness is bad. The thought that we shouldn’t question a leader, even one we voted for, is ludicrous. The fact that citizens will cut friends from their life, or call each other names, or even get into fights for the mere act of giving or attending a speech…just silly.

We need to come together as a nation, learn from history, and move forward as a nation that can, and will lead the world into an era of peace.

As a P.S. to this post. I was researching this time in history for an idea I had for an Historic Thriller novel. If you are a history buff, like fiction novels, and want to know more about the WWII actions in the Pacific theatre, you may enjoy my book China Bones. It can be found on Amazon (click on the words China Bones).

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Unexplained Mysteries of WW2 by William Breuer – Dress Rehearsal for Pearl Harbor?

William Breuer was a military historian with more than two dozen books to his credit. He passed away several years ago, but his work is still with us, and continues to fascinate readers.

He had a deeper knowledge base of the war than most writers, and it wasn’t just the big battles. He had details on little things that might have turned the tide on any given day than any other historian to the best of my knowledge.

He wrote a book called Unexplained Mysteries of World War 2 that contains a ton of stories about events that have not been fully explained across the intervening decades between that horrific period in history and now. One of those was about an event that occurred long before the war. It happened in China on December 12, 1937. This one, or so his theory says, could have been a test run for the attack on Pearl Harbor.

People tend to forget is that before the War the United States had troops in China. They had been there for a variety of reasons and pulled out before Pearl Harbor. Mostly we knew the position would be taken over, and the men killed or imprisoned if we left them in place.

On that fateful December day, a Lieutenant Mastake Okuyama led a squadron of Japanese Imperial Navy bombers flying up along the Yangtze River. That river is some 3,100 miles long that eventually empties into the Yellow Sea. At that point in time it was used primarily for transportation of goods and people to get out of a number of cities into the open ocean for movement to the rest of the world. At the same time the bombers were going up that river the USS Panay (a U.S. Navy gunship) was going down the river.

Normally the Panay had one job, protect US shipping on that river from pirates that tended to raid other vessels of anything valuable. On this day there was a Lieutenant Command James J Hughes serving as the Captain of the vessel which was equipped to fight pirates, not bombers. The ship was also transporting U.S. citizens out of Nanking which was under siege by the Japanese military. It had four U.S. Embassy officials, five refugees, and a number of western journalists on board. The picture of this boat going down the River was obviously one of U.S. activity given the giant US flags flapping in the wind off the bow.

Now, before we get into what happened there is something that must be revealed. In 1927, Japanese military leaders decided that armed conflict with the United States was inevitable. At that time they put together a top secret plan called the Tanaka Memorial which was their plan for military conquest of China and for that eventual war with the United States. Might that have had something to do with what comes next?

If you read our book called China Bones you can find a very dramatic telling of what happened to the Panay. The result was that it was sent to the bottom of that river.

Recall that there were reporters on the ship. They showed that the attacking aircraft came in so low that there was no way, based on the direction of their attack and the placement of the US flags that the Japanese pilots could have not known the Panay was a US ship.

As the Panay started to sink, to make matters a little more intriguing, a Japanese ship came up on the Panay and opened fire on the already doomed ship. Once the Panay was evacuated the Japanese sent several officers on board looking for equipment or top secret documents in a quick search of the bridge.

Over the next several days the survivors and wounded form that ship had to hide, and travel on foot across the Chinese countryside looking for safety. Again, this ordeal was shown in the historic fiction novel China Bones.

The day after the sinking of the Panay the Japanese military went into the city of Nanking and launch a barbaric bloodbath the likes of which had not been seen on the planet for hundreds of years. Even German military who witnessed it were shocked in their reports back to Berlin. In that attack more than 250,000 Chinese men, women, and children perished. It was an attack that came to be known as the Rape of Nanking.

To make matters worse, a number of days later, a Japanese officer was quoted in the news as saying he had orders to open fire on the Panay.

Was the attack really an accident? Was the attack planned?

Well, William Breuer offers up an alternative theory.

Perhaps this event was a test. Perhaps, just perhaps, it was a trial run for Pearl Harbor. Ok, now we know, Pearl Harbor had much larger Navy vessels, and a lot greater ability to respond but the ability of our military to fight isn’t the theory.

Perhaps the axis powers wanted a way to see what the US would do IF the US was attacked. Perhaps they wanted to be able to attack our forces and take out large amounts of equipment and the result would be public condemnation of the attack, and not a counter attack as we did not counter the attack on the Panay.

Maybe that was the idea, but history knows that we did indeed respond to Pearl Harbor and the rest, as they say, is history.