Once Burned, Twice Wary

When I was in college, taking upper division at Cal State University Northridge (a place of no particular fame or note, other than being one of those public unis which used to provide a fair education at relatively low cost) I had a lot of time between some of my classes, and spent many hours in the stacks of the Oviatt Library. On discovering the microfiche newspaper archives, squirreled away in the basement, I undertook a project to read, or at least skim one of them – every daily issue from 1935 to 1945, on reels that covered two weeks at a time. I had already skimmed many of the bound periodicals of the weekly news magazines available – Time, Life, Newsweek and the like – because I had an interest in the period, they were available and what better way to agreeably pass the time between classes? (Both carried the comic strip Terry and the Pirates, which I found fascinating.) I wound up with the Chicago Tribune, after a trial of the Los Angeles Times, because the pages of the Times were scanned from side to side on the reels of microfiche, which made me slightly motion-sick to skim at speed, whereas the Tribune pages were scanned from top to bottom.

It took me the best part of an academic year, to go through that eventful decade, and it was a fascinating excursion into a past that then was just barely out of reach. It was like looking at history through a keyhole, day by day as it was experienced by people at the time, as the Depression ended and world war crept closer and closer. All they knew, as Will Rogers observed, was what they read in the papers. This discussion last week at NeoNeocon, on how German and Austrian Jews tried to escape the Nazi Holocaust brought this excursion to the past to my mind again. On a number of scattered occasions, during the late 1930s and into the war years, there were news stories in the Tribune (and I presume similar stories in other contemporary newspapers) about Nazi atrocities and the persecutions of German and European Jews; stories which later were proved, upon Liberation in the spring of 1945 to have been completely accurate, if understating the extent to which the Nazis took genocide. Invariably, within days of such stories appearing, there would be a chorus of letters to the editor, in tones ranging from outraged to cautionary, advising a whole dusting of salt when it came to so-called atrocity stories in time of war. Don’t fall for obvious propaganda, the authors of such letters advised. Remember how we were fooled by tales of German atrocities in Belgium the last time around.

Although the German Army had in fact, routinely committed what now are accepted as war crimes in invading Belgium in 1914, it later emerged that the most floridly operatic atrocities were inventions or gross exaggerations – and most Americans who were old enough to remember such stories and having been convinced of German frightfulness – were infuriated at having been fooled. Conventional wisdom among many Americans in the inter-war years was that we had been suckered into a war which really hadn’t been any of our business to start with; and this was reflected in those letters-to-the-editor. Don’t fall for the propaganda. We won’t get fooled again.

Of course, when Germany was liberated and British, American and Russian troops found the extermination camps, the skeletal survivors, the crematories, the mass graves and all the records of what had been done to Jews, Roma, Slavs in the interests of the Nazi final solution, people realized that it had all been more horrific than the most demented anti-Nazi propagandist had ever come up with in the wildest flight of their imagination. Still, I wonder to what degree American skepticism about Nazi persecution of Jews before and during the war emerged from memories of being taken in, once before, by claims of atrocities which later proved to have been gross exaggerations. It’s the old cautionary lesson taught in the story of the boy who shouted ‘wolf’ once too often; when the wolf really appeared, no one believed him. Now that our National Establishment Media has falsely cried ‘wolf’, ‘Russian collusion’, ‘racism’, ‘insurrection’ and ‘deadly epidemic’ so many times over the last year and more … when and if the wolf really appears, who is going to believe them at all?

Discuss as you wish.

19 thoughts on “Once Burned, Twice Wary”

  1. “… when and if the wolf really appears …”

    The wolf has already appeared. But we are too trapped in the past to recognize it.

    When historians look back at this period, they will focus on the overwhelming obvious disaster in progress — the hollowing out of the US economy, as factories were offshored. This has had a number of effects which have become steadily worse — the loss of industry has reduced government expenditures from lower-than-otherwise tax revenues; the loss of jobs has increased government expenditures through more people having to seek government handouts; the resulting unsustainable trade deficit is reducing the value of the dollar, with consequences we are only now beginning to see. The US economic landscape is beginning to look like bombed out Germany at the end of WWII.

    The question historians will debate is whether the offshoring was a consequence of foolish over-regulation by an idiotic Political Class or was the result of a deliberate external economic assault on the US. Was the US Political Class too caught up in preparing for a shooting war (just like WWII) to recognize that it was being defeated in a new kind of long economic war?

  2. “Don’t fall for obvious propaganda, the authors of such letters advised. Remember how we were fooled by tales of German atrocities in Belgium the last time around.”

    C S Lewis said he encountered the same phenomenon when talking with British soldiers during WWII…they almost all discounted war-crimes stories as ‘propaganda’.

  3. Paul Gigot is an alumnus of Cal State Northridge.

    I think the “hollowing out:” of US industry was largely explainable by greed and short term thinking by executives who are compensated on the basis of quarterly returns. Politicians, like Bill Clinton on the other had, were bribed.

  4. Microfiche is card, reels are microfilm. Other than that pedantic quibble, right on!
    (I have the right to quibble, having given much of my time and eyesight to the stuff.)

    ISTR to that Bob Dylan did the same sort of thing at the NYPL, in his case going through the papers from the American Civil War era. And the Trib was IIRC McCormick’s Republican daily flayer of FDR, so the perspective would be interesting.

    As to Holocaust/Shoah reportage, it was fairly plentiful, fairly detailed, and fairly well sourced in the larger papers I know of, but of course those terms and Genocide weren’t in use, so atrocities–massacres and mass killings like the Einsatzgruppen carried out before the factories were ready–got noticed even when the Brits had to keep mum about how much they knew, and how they knew it.

    The scale and thoroughness of the Final Solution were obscure, not the overall policy, as you point out.

    Finally, I think sometimes that the issue of WW propaganda skepticism gets more attention than is warranted– how different would the war efforts of the Allies have been if everyone was 110% convinced that every tale was true? It’s not as if anyone but a few idealists fought the Nazis because the Nazis were mean to the Jews–certainly no national leaders did (or should have) committed their countries to war on that basis alone.

    The victorious soldiers, sailors, and airmen had to find motivations less remote to most of them than Nazi mistreatment of Jews and other minorities–and they did.

    Cousin Eddie

  5. Mike K…”I think the “hollowing out:” of US industry was largely explainable by greed and short term thinking by executives who are compensated on the basis of quarterly returns.”

    There are companies in the world other than US companies, of course. If you’re in, say, the dishwasher business, and it is possible to make dishwashers of equivalent quality for 40% less, by taking advantage of lower labor costs overseas–and you don’t do it, and a European competitor (for example) does, then most American consumers will buy that cheaper product.

    This can be avoided IF either (a) you can improve productivity, via automation and process improvements, sufficiently to negate most of the labor costs difference (also considering the effect of transportation costs, of course), or (b) there are sufficiently-stiff tariffs to overcome the difference. But absent either of these, you’ll just lose your American market to non-American companies.

  6. David F: “… there are sufficiently-stiff tariffs to overcome the difference.”

    That would be the obvious way to deal with the consequences of well-intended US political decisions. For example, it makes politicians feel good to ban child labor in the US — but are they really banning child labor or simply making sure the child labor happens in the sneaker factories overseas? Out of sight, out of mind.

    If a regulation is deemed necessary to protect the worker or the environment, surely it is just as important to apply those regulations to imports as to domestic production? Otherwise, all that happens is what we see around us — the nasty stuff still happens but gets done overseas, while American workers are left jobless. Seems simple to mandate that all imports should demonstrate they comply with every regulation applicable to US production of the same item, or pay a tariff equivalent to the avoided cost. And if that makes politicians think twice about some of their regulations, that would be an added benefit.

    The Universal Law is that “People Respond to Incentives”. It can reasonably be argued that businessmen were short-sighted by offshoring, but they were responding rationally to the incentives which the Political Class created.

  7. The FBI, CIA, and the general national security state is the wolf. The media is a part of their arsenal, and we are their prey.

  8. The question historians will debate is whether the offshoring was a consequence of foolish over-regulation by an idiotic Political Class or was the result of a deliberate external economic assault on the US.

    Why not both?

  9. “a place of no particular fame or note”

    CSU Northridge used to have the best jazz big band in the country back in the early 80s. So, there’s a note, at least.

  10. The second American Revolution

    The first American Revolution occurred before 1776. In the Hillsdale College historical course “Land of Hope” the historian Dr. Wilfred McClay clearly and vividly explains that the real American revolution occurred first in the minds of the American colonists. This occurred years before the first shots were fired. The Patriots were persuaded that they had a right to rule themselves rather than being ruled by Imperial England.

    Thomas Paine’s widely read pamphlet “Common Sense” reflected these beliefs. The Declaration of Independence put them into a formal resolution. And the “Shot Heard Round the World” began the bloody test of whether the revolution would live.

    We are now amid a second revolution. Like the first one, it began in the mind. But unlike the first revolution it is a top-down rather than a bottom-up movement. It is led by an entitled class whose goal is to rule those who view the rest of us as cattle, to be herded. And if we resist to be beaten and cowed into submission. This is not a revolution for the people, but a counter-revolution of the privileged.

    The first revolution had two factions: the Patriots who wished to form a new Republic and the Tories who wished to be ruled by Imperial England. The current revolution also has two factions. This time the Patriots wish to keep the Republic and the Socialist who wish to re-establish a Continental Empire ruled by from the Imperial City: Washington DC.

    The first steps have already been taken. The Socialist control the means of communication. They hold the Presidency and the bureaucratic levers of power, the police powers of the central state and are purging the military of those who disagree. They hold the tools of coercion much as the British held those powers until the shooting began. Their political power bases are densely populated urban centers and communities dominated by academic institutions. The Patriots are widely dispersed throughout the rest of the country and lack a unified center.

    But like the original revolution the issue is still in doubt. As many Patriots surely did before the bloody battles of the of the Revolutionary war began, we pray that bloodshed can be avoided. But world history is the story of violent conflict interspersed with brief periods of peace. Let us pray that the Patriots are again victorious.

  11. It was like looking at history through a keyhole, day by day as it was experienced by people at the time

    What a great project.

  12. “It was like looking at history through a keyhole, day by day as it was experienced by people at the time”

    It might be even MORE interesting for the current generation of students, because historical knowledge has eroded to the point that it would be all new to many of them.

  13. it is possible to make dishwashers of equivalent quality for 40% less, by taking advantage of lower labor costs overseas–

    This is the role of tariffs. In the early 19th century, they were used to protect American industries. The same appears to be the case now. I think a pretty good case can be made for “Buy American,” which is why I see Joe Biden mouth those words at times. He doesn’t mean it which is why they are so important.

  14. While I generally lean towards free trade, I believe Gavin has a good point. Our businesses are not competing, at least at the low end, with equal competitors, and very often competing with organizations making use of special government authority, up to the sanctioned use of slave labor. This is a very different situation from the classic free trade model.

  15. The first rule of evaluating journalism is that journalists know nothing. They are repeating what they’ve been told. When they repeat accurately what they’ve been told by a knowledgeable and truthful source, the public is informed to the extent that they notice it at all and understand it. Notice that I mentioned five conditions, if you multiply the probability of each condition being met by all of the others, you have the probability that the public actually gained knowledge. If you assume that all have a 90% probability, and you can judge for yourself how optimistic that assumption is, the overall probability is 59%.

    As the present crop of journalists rarely seem capable of either writing or editing a coherent sentence, let alone comprehending even the simplest concepts, the chance of gleaning anything meaningful from the spew approaches zero. This is without even reckoning the deliberate distortions that most are devoted to.

    The journalists of yore seem to have had better language skills but I wonder if they were more honest?

  16. Gavin is right on point.
    In his book, “The Way The World Works,” the economist Jude Wanniski called it “the wedge,” It’s the taxes, regulations and other burdens layered on top of the actual costs of production.
    In the U.S., simply consider all of the federal, state & local environmental, labor, tax, union, etc., regulations, imposed at every level of the manufacturing supply chain, all overseen by well-paid legal & compliance & accounting departments, all of which costs are added into the price paid by the ultimate purchaser.
    However, given the present historically high, and increasing, cost of global shipping, and the fragility of global shipping demonstrated by the Suez/Ever Given accident, comparative advantage calculations may now be under close review by the beancounters.

  17. “Free Trade” — fully reciprocal free trade between near-peers following broadly similar regulations — is a good concept. Let everyone benefit from Comparative Advantage. One of the assumptions in “Free Trade” is that everyone everywhere is hard at work producing those items in which they have a Comparative Advantage. That obviously does not describe the kind of distorted “Free Trade” which the US Political Class has signed us up for — where lots of Americans are not in the work force, not producing.

    I see our simulacrum of “Free Trade” as really a classic example of the Tragedy of the Commons. It was in each business owner’s individual interest to offshore the manufacturing of her product and lay off her workers — because it cut her costs. But when all business owners do it, the “Commons” of a market of self-supporting tax-paying working Middle Class consumers is destroyed — and everyone is worse off.

  18. “Free Trade with Free Countries” has a better ring to it and might actually work. Of course it wouldn’t be as good for the multinational corporations and the politicians they’ve bought…

Comments are closed.