The Charlotte News

April 18-23, 1941


April 18, 1941-Flying Carpet
April 19, 1941-Nazis Lose Mexico
April 21, 1941-Useful Mission
April 22, 1941-A Labor Curb
April 23, 1941-Daniels in Mexico

Site Editor's Note: This series of five articles on Mexico City by Washington syndicated columnist Raymond Clapper appeared on the editorial pages of The Charlotte News between April 18 and April 23, 1941. Clapper was a regular entry on the News editorial page during this period. Obviously, with Cash having received the Guggenheim Fellowship in mid-March for a year to write his novel in Mexico City beginning in June, these articles were of more than passing interest to him and new wife Mary who would accompany him to Mexico.

The articles indicate the still active presence of Nazi agents in Mexico, perhaps "75 to 150", but out in the provinces where the Mexican Government could not keep a close eye on their activities, says Clapper. (Actually, history demonstrates that the agents were still more active through mid-summer, 1941 in and around Mexico City than Clapper suggests--though they were on tightly bound pocketbooks by this point. Asking for arrests, Josephus Daniels presented Mexico's foreign ministry with the names of three suspected lead spies, Georg Nicolaus, Friedrich Karl von Schleebrugge, and Paul Max Weber, on July 12, 1941, eleven days after Cash's death and the day after President Roosevelt appointed William Donovan as head of the Office of Coordinator of Information, the forerunner of O.S.S. Mexico's only immediate response was to close the German consulates in early August. When Mexico finally enacted a "get-tough" policy toward the Nazi spies on November 14, 1941, and gave it sloth-like action with arrests in late February, 1942, 240 suspected spies, those who had not already fled by summer's end, were arrested. Only two were ever tried for espionage; none were convicted. All were deported back to Europe. To present a sanitized face for the Good Neighbor Policy, however, the regime of newly inaugurated president Avila Camacho had been reporting since early 1941 that the Nazi spies were washed up in Mexico and that most had left the country. Just how many of Mexico's very prominent German community had assisted in enabling the spies' presence and activity in the years between 1939 and 1942 and just how many and to what extent government officials and police were bribed to allow their escape can be understood only anecdotally. (See The Shadow War, by Leslie Rout and John Bratzel, 1986, pp. 71, 79-80, 85-86, 92))

Just ten months earlier in an editorial column appearing in the News June 7, 1940, Clapper had stated: "Mexico, protected by us from attack, has been hospitable to German and Japanese influences and has made a mockery of our Good Neighbor policy, of our effort to sustain Mexican economy by the silver-purchase subsidy, and has seized American oil properties and traded the oil to Germany and Japan. The Mexican Government is honeycombed with Communists and officials with sentiments hostile to the United States. Disorders there are not improbable in the near future and the Nazis would like nothing better than to see us engaged in trouble on the Mexican border. Only a few weeks ago a parade in Mexico City mocked Americans and the Good Neighbor policy, the very policy which had permitted the Mexicans to indulge in acts that no Hitler ever would have tolerated and that few Administrations in this country would have stood for."

In the series of articles below, Clapper also speaks of the warming presence of former Raleigh News and Observer editor-in-chief, powerful political force in North Carolina, and close friend of Franklin Roosevelt, Ambassador Josephus Daniels. Daniels had an interesting and checkered career. He, along with Furnifold Simmons and a small clique of other powerful political forces then in North Carolina, were instrumental in encouraging the Red Shirt campaign (descendent of the Klan) which spawned race riots in Wilmington in 1898, resulting in the brutal shooting deaths of eleven African-Americans. (See The Mind of the South, Book II, Chap.II, section 9) Daniels justified the matter, however, because of a supposed libel against white women printed by a local black newspaper editor, whose offices were burned in the melee. The scandalous libel printed by the black editor was the claim that poor white men must take better care of their women because they were apt to have clandestine meetings with black men, meetings which when found out led to charges of rape, followed by lynching. He further charged that the lynching victim was improperly labelled a "Big Burly Black Brute" when in fact many had white fathers and were therefore "sufficiently attractive for white girls of culture and refinement to fall in love with". (See Editor in Politics, by Josephus Daniels, 1941, pp. 283-312) The final result of this bloody and successful 1898 campaign for wresting control from the "Fusionist" (interracially aligned with Populists) Republican Party then governing North Carolina, in which Daniels stood proudly for the Democratic "white supremacist" platform, was that Daniels actively participated in support of a "suffrage amendment" to deny "the ignorant Negroes" the right to vote. Nevertheless, Daniels also editorially condemned vigilante lynching of blacks. (Id. at p. 401-402) Cash in The Mind of the South, (Book III, Chapter II, section 23), chided Daniels, "in general one of the most liberal and intelligent editors the South has had", for having referred editorially at the turn of the century to Trinity College (later Duke) professor John Spencer Bassett as "bASSett", because Professor Bassett had suggested that after Robert E. Lee, the greatest person born in the South in the nineteenth century was Booker T. Washington.

But with a twist not uncommon in the first 60 years or so of Twentieth century Southern Democratic politics, Daniels was quite progressive on other than racial issues, offering generally a populist, hence "Bryanesque", theme during his editorship in Raleigh. Always backing the economic interests of the "common man" and the yeoman farmer, he favored breaking up of the big tobacco monopolies and limiting the power of the big oil trusts. But then he joined the Wilson Administration as Secretary of Navy, was there immediate superior to the young FDR in his first government position, and supervised the 1914 U.S. Naval invasion of Vera Cruz which resulted in the deaths of 126 Mexican defenders. He remained Navy Secretary during the 1916-17 Pershing punitive Army invasion of Mexico to avenge the raid on New Mexico by Pancho Villa. Mexico bristled for nearly twenty years over these shows of imperialistic might in its internal affairs. Yet, Daniels ironically ended his career as the beloved Ambassador to Mexico, appointed by FDR in 1933, fostering almost single-handedly the Good Neighbor Policy, salvaging what had become treacherous relations between the United States and Mexico during the years at the height of the bloody Revolution in Mexico, begun in 1910 and ended with the election of 1940. Arguably, then, it was Daniels who laid the foundation for the good relations with Mexico which have existed uninterrupted since and the man who was instrumental in saving Mexico from Nazi control in World War II. Daniels would retire as Ambassador in October, 1941 at age 79.

Clapper also writes of the limits on organized labor placed by the new Avila Camacho regime elected the previous summer over a fascist-favored candidate, and which was now curbing the influence of the Nazis in Mexico. Camacho was the hand-picked successor to the previous president, Lazaro Cardenas, considered the last of the Revolution's presidents. It was during the Cardenas years that Mexico had traded actively with Nazi Germany through an elaborate scheme concocted by U.S. oil man and Abwehr agent William Rhodes Davis to trade oil for various machinery and commodities by laundering the trades through Davis and the Bank of Boston, though with tacit Administration approval. It was here that Southern cotton turned through elaborate trade inveigling to Nazi oil to power the Panzers which crashed into Poland September 1, 1939, in the process earning Davis millions during an eighteen-month period from March, 1938. After the Nazi invasion of Poland, the flow of oil from Mexico was stopped by a British blockade, but for which the Mexican Government remained willing and able to supply the Reich with its crude as long as they were paid in kind--precipitant problems concerning which Clapper briefly mentions. Davis, a frequent guest at the Reforma Hotel where Cash died in Mexico City, died himself exactly one month after Cash, on August 1, 1941, ostensibly of a heart attack. Nevertheless, some historians speculate that the British S.I.S., British intelligence, managed to poison Davis, or have him poisoned, to end his repeated attempts, for awhile successful, to do an end run around the British blockade and get oil from Mexico through to Germany via Siberia. Upon the Nazi invasion of Russia on June 22, however, this tactic abruptly ended. On July 1, 1941, Davis and his oily pals immersed in guano had few places left to turn on their slippery slope. (See for discussion of this oil trade with Mexico, The Game of Foxes, by Ladislas Farago, McKay, 1971; The Nazi Undercover War, by William Breuer, St. Martin's Press, 1989; Mystery Man, by Dale Harrington, Brassey's, 1999. See Davis obit., Time, August 11, 1941, p. 43.) Note also Clapper's sense that having cash in pocket was sine qua non for getting along well in Mexico in 1941.

Clapper treats too of the new miracle of interstate and international travel by airplane, offered here for entertainment value--though it is of passing interest to note that Cash had purchased in advance of departure from Charlotte two return train tickets from Mexico back to North Carolina in the event the U.S. declared war and it became unsafe to remain in Mexico. Cash knew quite well also and had written his parents before leaving that in an emergency he and Mary could fly back to North Carolina within some 15 hours. Why did he not choose to use the train tickets or book an airline when he thought he was being followed by Nazi spies? Was he threatened in such a manner that he felt he could not use them without further endangering his and Mary's lives?

It is noteworthy that the Honolulu City Council passed an ordinance on June 30, 1941, the day Cash first complained of being followed by Nazi spies, that permitted the commanding general of the Hawaiian Department to restrict the travel of anyone in Honolulu so as to prevent foreign citizens from being in any place from which the Fleet parked at Pearl could be viewed. As of November 29, 1941, the ordinance had not been used. (See Nov. 29, 1941 letter from the Hawaiian Department of the Army in reply to letter from the War Department in late November, 1941 warning of subversive activities by the Japanese around Pearl Harbor, as contained in Congressional Report from the Joint Congressional Committee on Investigation of the Pearl Harbor Attack, Senator Alben Barkley, Chairman, report issued July 16, 1946, Part III, "Responsibilities in Hawaii", p. 122 and Committee Exhibit no. 32, pp. 17-18.) But the threat of the use of this restrictive ordinance as of June 30 could have sent a shock wave through the Japanese military and the Reich dependent at the time on Japanese spies' ready visual access of Pearl to study ship movements and test thereby the possibility of aggressive moves by the United States against the Japanese--and ultimately, by late summer, in planning the December 7 invasion. Did the Japanese inform the Nazis of the belief on June 30-July 1, especially with the newspapers then full of the breaking news of the 32 arrested Nazi spies in New York, some American citizens, that it would soon need an American citizen above reproach to blackmail to do its dirty work at Pearl? If so, it takes little to imagine the acridity with which Cash would have responded to such an "invitation" from the little housepainter in Berlin. And... Well, later...

For Cash's own unpublished take on Mexico City written in his first days there in mid-June, 1941, see "Report from Mexico".

April 18, 1941

Flying Carpet

By Raymond Clapper

Mexico City. -- Although I have flown many thousands of miles, I never cease to wonder at this experience of stepping into an airplane and having time and distance telescope almost out of existence.

We have not yet grasped the mighty fact that this conquest of the air is one of the towering events of history, something that is changing our world completely. As time moves on and permits us to look back, I think we shall see that the real revolutionists of the modern age were not Karl Marx and Lenin but the Wright brothers. Their invention has shaken the British Empire to its foundations. It has made Hitler possible. It has made American isolation impossible. Nothing like this has happened since the invention of gun powder.


The sleek, shining massive machinery that we call the airplane makes it possible to be here today and there tomorrow in a sense that would have left George Washington dizzy. A few weeks ago I was obliged to make a quick trip from Washington to Memphis, Tenn. After breakfast at home in Washington, I drove to the airport, left on an 8:30 a.m. plane. By 3 p.m. I was in Memphis. I spent the afternoon and evening there, boarded a return sleeper plane at midnight, was back home in Washington before daylight. I met the milkman at the door. I slept two hours and then had breakfast with my family. In other words, I had gone halfway across the continent, spent the afternoon and evening at my destination on the bank of the Mississippi River, and returned to Washington without even skipping breakfast at home. It was as if I had merely stayed downtown for one evening, missing dinner at home.


On this present trip, I left Washington at one o'clock in the morning, went to bed in a berth that slept like a bed at home, woke up in Dallas, Texas, and by late afternoon -- before 6 p.m. -- I was in this hotel room here in Mexico City. Mountains, rivers, and deserts all look alike in the airplane. From the capital of the United States to the capital of Mexico in less than seventeen hours is now routine traveling.

American and British officials are hopping back and forth across the Atlantic and it is scarcely any more trip than traveling from Washington to Chicago. Now we are flying bombers to England in twelve hours -- and scores of them have crossed without a single loss as far as is known. Recently President Roosevelt wanted a close-up look at conditions in China. He sent his assistant, Lauchlin Currie out by airplane to Chungking. Mr. Currie went, stayed 26 days in China and was back in Washington 42 days from the time he left.

True, the airplane is being put to inhuman work. In this war it is serving as one of the greatest destructive forces of all time. It has made warfare into a frightful kind of mass massacre of civilians, in a reversion to the primitive and barbarous days when invading armies butchered captive peoples. Evil as this is, still it demonstrates the power of the airplane and suggests the enormous constructive use to which it might be put in serving civilization instead of destroying it.


That opportunity will come after this war ends. Aviation is where the railroad was in Lincoln's day when, slowly, it just barely spanned the continent.

The airplane can be made a potent police weapon for international peace if the surviving nations have sense enough to organize a peace. Its civilian uses can be multiplied infinitely. We shall have enormous facilities for manufacturing planes. We shall have thousands of pilots and mechanics. The plane can be made the common mode of travel. Its use for light freight can be extended to revolutionize business methods. Airplane travel can be made relatively safe and much cheaper and faster than it is now.

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April 19, 1941

Nazis Lose Mexico

By Raymond Clapper

Mexico City. -- The battle against the Nazi Fifth Column in Mexico has been won. This favorable turn of affairs, so important to the United States now, comes about because of the strong determination of the present Mexican Government to cast its lot with the United States for the common defense of the two countries.

During the last two or three years we have heard much about Nazi activity in Mexico and for a time the situation was extremely disturbing to Washington. But the wind has shifted, as is indicated not alone by words but more important by actions of the Mexican Government, operating under the firm hand of President Avila Camacho.

The last Mexico City daily newspaper of pro-Nazi leanings has now switched its policy at the prodding of the Mexican Government. The Nazis have no journalistic mouthpiece left. Recently Nazis instigated organization of an anti-Semitic mass meeting here. When the Mexican government heard of this, it forced cancellation of the affair and the word was passed that no movement of that kind would be permitted to take root.


On the positive side have been several actions which make clear the friendly attitude of the Mexican Government toward the United States. One was the signing of the agreement permitting American Army planes to fly over Mexico en route to the Panama Canal, which greatly facilitates our defense of the canal. Another was a prompt action of the Mexican Government in seizing Axis ships, closely following the lead of the United States. The operating chief of the Mexican fleet is going to the United States shortly to inspect naval bases and to discuss closer collaboration. When the Nazis invaded Greece and Jugoslavia, the Mexican Government issued a statement denouncing the assault. The language followed the tenor of Washington's reaction but was, if anything, more emphatic. At the same time the Mexican Minister to Berlin was ordered home at once "to report."


There apparently is some popular dissent from this policy, for the feeling against England is quite strong. There is no "aid to Britain" slogan here. Great Britain has no Ambassador here, he having been recalled at the time of the oil expropriation. The general feeling here is that London blundered in permitting an abrupt break with Mexico over the situation. The British are trying to reestablish themselves now, and there is talk of Canada setting up a legation here as a bridge for overcoming this embarrassment.


Germany's stock has gone down for several reasons. One is the dislike of the easy-going Mexican people for the stiff regimentation which the German system imposes. More specifically, Mexico is bitter over the failure of Germany to carry through its end of the barter deal for expropriated oil. Germany got the oil but when the war came, she suspended shipments of exchange materials. Urgently needed irrigation works, which were to have used German machinery, have been held up. The experience has convinced the Mexican Government that Germany is a weak reed upon which to lean.

President Avila Camacho is a realist. He knows the United States must have Mexican total co-operation in defense since the country lies between the United States and our most vital spot, the Panama Canal. He knows that the co-operation of his government and us will bring large dividends for Mexico, while any other course would only mean an unpleasant situation that might interfere with constructive work which he hopes to accomplish here. This situation may not be so well understood throughout the Mexican population but it is fully understood at the top and the present government here is accordingly taking the lead among Latin-American neighbors in contributing toward hemisphere unity and hemisphere defense.

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April 21, 1941

Useful Mission

By Raymond Clapper

Mexico City. -- That earthquake they had here in Mexico City this week, was, I suspect, just a reaction from the visit of an army of American movie stars on a goodwill mission. The stars turned the town upside down and the day after they left, Mexico City had the sharpest earthquake in some years.

But the earthquake was the visit of the screen stars. They drew a bigger street crowd than the real earthquake. They drew a bigger crowd than Vice-President Henry Wallace had on his goodwill trip here recently. Henry was good with his Spanish and made a big hit but when he opened his mouth he wasn't as funny as Joe E. Brown. The Mexicans didn't mob him for autographs as they did Mickey Rooney. Mrs. Wallace is a beauty in her own right but Norma Shearer really packed them in.


After seeing this goodwill movie demonstration, which was first suggested by Jimmy Roosevelt with Nelson Rockefeller's Government committee on cultural relations, I am of the opinion that the way to lick the Nazi Fifth Column in Latin America is to send out an army of movie stars.

The value of this Hollywood expedition was that it reached the lower layers of the Mexican people. The Government tops are co-operating with the United States. But down below, Nazis do better than we do. Our diplomats know what ought to be done and they try hard but they have neither the money nor the men to work with. Down here you need either money or a box office face.


The British have no diplomatic representation here, having been thrown out when they tried to be overly tough about the oil expropriation but even so they have turned loose here propaganda agent, Robert Marett. They stocked him with cash and put him on his own. He has produced some startling changes in editorial policy in certain Mexican newspapers.

There are probably 75 to 150 German top agents working in Mexico -- mostly out in the provinces where they are not subject to the frowning scrutiny of the central Mexican Government here. They are active but the American Embassy doesn't have the men nor the money to find out as much about it as we should know. We are lucky in that President Avila Camacho and Foreign Minister Padilla are honestly working with the United States -- and I have heard enough to convince me that they do not have their fingers crossed in this.


The people are not all sold. There are strong German communities with considerable intermarriage. In one locality Rotary Club members were intimidated recently by Nazis. The leader of the Student Federation at the University of Mexico was offered 1,500 pesos by a German business man if he would issue a statement saying the students favored Germany. The student leader rejected the offer. But the Nazis did organize a small student demonstration against the Mexican Foreign Office's attitude of friendliness toward the United States.

I'd like to see Jock Whitney take this crew of stars around Latin America. It was an especially good crew. These stars were either beautiful or funny. They carried their liquor. They worked like slaves putting on personal appearances, most of them saying a few phrases in Spanish. They went through twelve-hour days of continuous mobbing by frantically enthusiastic grounds. Yet they were always gracious and handled themselves more tactfully than some political campaigners I have seen. I didn't know they had it like that.

The second proposition is that the Government at Washington loosen up, give its representatives throughout Latin-America some money to work with. Money talks south of the Rio Grande. That cause is thrice armed which is not only right but which has some money behind it. That may not be statesmanship but it will work.

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April 22, 1941

A Labor Curb

By Raymond Clapper

Mexico City. -- Nothing reveals the shift in the wind here as clearly as the new labor law, imposing a cooling off period before strikes can be called.

This new law, signed April 10, preserves the right to strike but fixes firm restrictions around it. It was provoked by a continued wave of strikes. President Avila Camacho feels strongly the need of increasing production and insists upon labor's co-operation.

In preparing the way for the tightening down, President Avila Camacho appeared before the Confederation of Mexican Workers at its convention in February and put labor on notice. He gave assurance that labor gains in the previous Cardenas regime would be protected.

"But," he went on to say, "the workers must accept responsibility of this hour. They must revise their methods and must give the co-operation which the nation requires."


To appreciate fully what is taking place, it must be remembered that the Cardenas regime was a labor government. Great political power was exercised by the Marxist labor leader, Lombardo Toledano, who after his return from Soviet Russia a few years ago, introduced many Communist directions and proceeded to fortify labor's power by organizing the workers into military units. They drilled with rods instead of guns, marched in frequent uniformed demonstrations and generally were riding the crest of the wave.

The new president, Avila Camacho, is not a reactionary. Although he is regarded by many as moving definitely to the right, it probably is more accurate to say that he is trying to consolidate the Cardenas reforms, bring about a better balance, encourage private enterprise and increase production while at the same time preserving labor's collective rights.

The new labor law provides that strikes can be called only by a majority vote of the employees of a given plant. Before they can strike, they must give six days notice -- or ten days in the case of public utilities.


This notice must set forth the grievances and the terms of settlement desired. It must be filed with the Federal Board of Conciliation and Arbitration and the employer must be notified. He must reply within 48 hours.

If either side refuses to attend conciliation sessions, judicial compulsion can be invoked. If a strike is called by less than a majority of plant employees, or occurs in violation of the cooling off period, or violates the collective bargaining contract, the Government Conciliation Board can declare the strike non-existent, give workers 24 hours notice to return to work, and if they fail to do so, the employer is thereupon relieved of all liability.

He is free to hire other workers, to make a new contract, and bring civil action to collect for any property loss. Non-employees are forbidden to participate in a strike, and no physical or moral force may be used.


President Avila Camacho justified this measure on the ground that the right to strike is not intended to paralyze industry but to provide workers with a weapon to be used only after conciliation had failed. Abuse of the right to strike, he said, exerts ruinous consequences upon the national economy and deeply affects the prestige of the labor movement.

He thought it was necessary to punish those who unjustifiably disturb the national economy by acts of coercion or who by physical or moral violence obstruct resumption of work.

Labor leaders grumbled but accepted the action. It went into effect a few days ago without incident. Lombardo Toledano, the aggressive revolutionary leader, has retired and apparently has no standing with the new Mexican Government.

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April 23, 1941

Daniels In Mexico

By Raymond Clapper

Mexico City. -- I never could get excited about cultural relations activities as a means to bring about good feeling between nations.

The United States and Japan have worked the cultural relations game to the limit for 40 years.

But everyone here says cultural relations are important -- very important and maybe this is a different situation. German groups are organized, out in the provinces, in athletic and hiking societies, in shooting clubs. Germans marry into Mexican families and remain Germans. The Americans hang around the American club and complain about Roosevelt and the Reds -- seeing, I take it, little difference between them.


A little girl in a Mexican school writes to the American Embassy and asks for some books about the United States for the school library. The Embassy has no books. It writes to the State Department. The State Department replies that there is no appropriation for books and sends a pamphlet about Yellowstone Park.

Congress ought to give the State Department money to buy books about the United States, printed in Spanish, and keep them on hand for distribution to the schools here.

The reason relations with Mexico are so good is that the present Mexican Government is smart enough to see that good relations are to its interest.


I should add a second important reason. It is Uncle Joe Daniels, the American Ambassador. By all of the rules he should be the most unpopular Ambassador we have ever had. For as Secretary of Navy under Wilson, he sent the fleet to Vera Cruz. He doesn't speak a word of Spanish -- says he is too old to learn.

Yet no Ambassador has been more loved by the Mexican people. The reason is that they are convinced he is sympathetic, and that he is not trying to gouge them. We have had ambassadors who have conceived it their duty to concentrate on nagging the Mexican government, serving as a kind of police court lawyer for the oil companies. The oil companies don't like Daniels. They resent his not acting like the British did. --The British became very snooty over the oil expropriations and as a result were requested to go home -- where they still are. They have to do their propaganda work here now through an unofficial agent. He is smart and has plenty of spending money, so he gets along.

Ambassador Daniels could have been tough with the Mexican Government but it wouldn't have got the oil properties back. --Nothing is going to get the oil properties back. Expropriation Day is the big national holiday here now. But the Mexicans do not take it out on the American Government and for a good deal of that we can thank Uncle Joe Daniels.


He is an old-fashioned country editor, a William Jennings Bryan Democrat, and happens to be just the kind of person who inspires confidence among the Mexicans who are going through their Bryan period. This friendly feeling has made it possible for the Government of President Avila Camacho to start playing ball with the United States.

The whole story of that can't be written yet. The recent agreement permitting American army planes to fly over Mexico and use Mexican landing fields is only the beginning. There is much more going on, looking toward defense of the Northern Hemisphere.

It may be a little hard on the oil companies but they have made a good thing out of Mexico for a long time and now there are bigger issues at stake, as anyone can see who will think for a moment of the place Mexico must occupy in our defense.

We are getting what we need here through the co-operation of the Mexican Government. This is better than having to fight a war against a pro-Nazi Mexican Government to get it.

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