The Charlotte News

Tuesday, July 8, 1941


Site Ed. Note: "Distraction" asks whether the Peru-Ecuador border conflict was possibly stirred deliberately by Nazi Fifth Columnists in those countries to act to divert attention of the United States from the primary issue at hand, the war in Russia, to channel off aid and diplomacy there to prevent the possibility of an uprising in South America favorable to fascism, further diluting aid available to send either to Britain, the Free French or Russia. It points, for example, to the Kaiser's efforts during World War I to engage Mexico as a trading partner in the early stages of Mexico's revolution begun in 1910, to form an economic alliance in order to obtain ultimately a military alliance in the hope of fostering just such a distraction during World War I, even a means for insertion to the U.S.--one which one might posit was inveigled to the devise through the Pancho Villa raid on New Mexico in 1916, leading directly to the Pershing punitive expedition which caused harsh feelings in Mexico for nearly two decades, until 1933 ushered in the Good Neighbor Policy of the Roosevelt Administration with Josephus Daniels, Secretary of Navy at the time of the Pershing raid, as its genial new Ambassador of good will.

We stress this piece today because it points up a paradigm for the kind of interference activity Fifth Columnists ran for the Nazis, and that paradigm suggests precisely why Josephus Daniels may have acted to cover up a murder of an American journalist on July 1 in Mexico, to prevent the stirring of the international pot in a press already increasingly hot by the day for a shooting war with the Nazis.

How would it have looked, say, in The New York Times or in Time or Newsweek: "Journalist-Author W. J. Cash Murdered in Mexico--Nazi Agents Suspected"? That followed by a story of how Cash had been found hanging in a room at the Reforma Hotel, a noted American tourist and celebrity hang-out, his neck broken, strangled, hung?

Nonsense, you say. Why would even such an intriguing murder in Mexico of an American journalist and author have garnered that sort of publicity? But Time had done a glowing review of Cash's book in February, had announced in a brief note in an April issue his award of the Guggenheim in mid-March, would have considered it no doubt a proper follow-up. (We should note that what began this project ultimately for us was the discovery in July, 1991 of the Nazi spy arrests in the July 7, 1941 issue of Time, while, on a hunch, looking for a possible obituary therein on Cash, not present--our nose for news, albeit a half century old, no doubt at work. As neither biography on Cash had mentioned these arrests occurring the weekend before Cash's death, becoming public the day before, June 30, the day Cash began complaining to Mary of being followed by Nazi agents, it struck us as rather odd that the arrests had never been connected in the least with his death, even in so much as a footnote. Thus our fledgling research began, without our knowing for several more years that even The News had announced the arrests on its front page on June 30 and, ironically, presented an editorial on same the date of Cash's death. As a collateral note, we should indicate that major news stories in English, such as the spy arrest, could be had in Mexico no doubt the same day of general release by the press through at least wire service compilations, as we know the A. P. had, as in all international capitals of the time outside the Axis, an office in Mexico City; The News, on the other hand, would have come by mail only, not wire, and thus had Cash--as Cam Shipp, for instance, employed as a publicity agent for Warner Brothers in Hollywood, was doing, as we know by his letter to the editor in June re the change of Charlotte street names to run simpatico with Allied nomenclature--received daily copies of The News in Mexico, these editions of June 30 and July 1 obviously would not have ever reached Cash's hands before his death. Nevertheless, a copious reader of the news each day, he would have known of the spy arrests on June 30 by other sources available to him.)

So it stands to reason that neither Daniels nor the President would have wanted such a story of murder to surface. Such a story might have catapulted matters, together with the news of the arrests of 32 Nazis in New York, such that Congress either might have moved closer to approving entry to the war or, more likely placed pressure on the President to divert, at the behest of isolationists such as Military Affairs Committee Chairman Robert Reynolds, aid and increased diplomatic support to Mexico, intentionally to reduce aid to Russia and Britain at this critical time, with Lend-Lease fresh on the griddle since March, with the President's May 27 declaration of national emergency heating heavily now the forges for production of war materiel. And such a diversion of aid would have only increased that which the editorials of the day were arguing our delays in aid were doing otherwise: the Nazi chances for a quick victory in Russia, leading to the Channel invasion of Britain by a freshly fueled and fed Nazi army with amply protected supply lines into oil-rich Iraq, into the wheat and oil-rich Ukraine.

Daniels, incidentally, recorded in his memoirs that he phoned the President on July 4, the same day Mary related that he arranged through the State Department the cooked-up papers to enable her egress from Mexico. Though he does not mention Cash in his memoirs, he did to his family at some length in his weekly offering to them, as recorded July 7, set forth below in full.

Another reason, of course, as we have posited before, for not wanting a murder such as this to surface from Mexico at this time was the obvious fear that such a thing could have tipped the delicate balance of relations built up between the U.S. and Mexico over the previous eight years. There was a genuine fear afoot that the Axis might then suddenly obtain traction in Mexico by provoking a coup, with some 40-50% of the population having voted for the fascist Almazán a year earlier for president, a substantial portion of which believing the election to have been rife with fraud, threatening coup, with an active group of Nazi agents and saboteurs at work with impunity in the country, with the historic tendencies of sympathy with Germany on trade issues, with pockets of German population within the country going back decades. Enter William Rhodes Davis to the mix of issues when it comes to trade with Germany in the wake of Mexico's Expropriation Day--just as Anschluss, as a first step to war, was being inveigled by the Nazi puppets in Austria to annex Hitler's native land--, and the picture becomes complete.

There were therefore several reasons--including potential deterrence of the substantial tourist trade between the U.S. and Mexico at a time when Mexico's economy, in trouble if reliant on sale of the March, 1938 expropriated British and American oil, still largely embargoed from Mexico and in need of a foreign market outside the Allied sphere, now even cut off from access to Germany via Vladivostok and the Trans-Siberian railway, was yet ailing--which would have prompted the better political solution to the matter of Cash's death by having it quickly determined a suicide, body cremated without further observation and analysis stateside, than the messy business of murder, especially if that murder pointed to Nazi agents.

Mary said in her 1957 report that the Mexican Government was "neutral" in the war, and so, nominally, it was--all the more reason, as America moved closer to joining the side of the Allies by this point in time, that there was a fear by the U.S. that this nominal neutrality, coupled with a willingness still to do business with Hitler, could lead, over any slight tip of that precious balance, to open conflict with Mexico, with an Axis-supplied military on the make.

Installment 32 of Out of Night finds Jan still in the torturous throes of the Gestapo, being whipped mercilessly to obtain information. A former leader within his Comintern propaganda apparatus, Karl Burmeister, avoids continuing torture and beating by escape through a window to his death. Jan sits helplessly, bearing up under the taunts, fists, and bullwhip cracks to his face, seeking desperately to avoid the treacherous label "traitor".

The report of Josephus Daniels to his family, dated July 7, 1941, as contained within Joseph Morrison's papers on Cash at UNC's Wilson Library, went as follows:

The week embracing the Fourth of July was a rather hectic one. Visitors from the United States by the score, most of them with letters from friends and members of Congress called, some of them very interesting along with others who were not. Most people who come from the United States are eager to learn and return home with a realization that Mexicans are not all bandits but that as a rule they are kind and friendly.

Early in the week we came in close contact with one of the most baffling tragedies. Mr. and Mrs. Wilbur Cash, of Charlotte, had come here two weeks before. Jonathan knew him well. He received a Guggenheim award for his book "The Mind of the South" which appeared early in the year, and he and his wife had come here, first as tourists, for he needed a rest, then he expected to gather material for another book. En route here they stopped at Austin, Texas, where he delivered the commencement address at the University. We did not know they were here until a short time before he hung himself with his cravat in a room in the Reforma. It seems he had been extremely nervous and could not sleep and then was weakened by an attack of dysentery or diarrhea. His wife told me that in the CHARLOTTE NEWS he had written very critically of the Nazis and had the delusion that they were after him. She said that after the beginning of Germany's invasion of Russia he walked the floor and talked of nothing else and bemoaned the fact that he had no paper in which to express himself. His delusion that Nazi agents were after him grew as he became more and more demented. While his wife was at the Geneve with Mr. and Mrs. Meyer (he is the Associated Press correspondent here) he went to the Reforma, engaged a room, where his wife found he was registered. Knocking at the door brought no response. When the door was broken open they found he had hanged himself in the bathroom. It was, as you may imagine, a terrible blow, increased by the fact that she was in a foreign country and, I think, without money. Mr. and Mrs. Meyer took her home with them that night and the next morning we invited her to come and stay at the Embassy. Your mother gave her affectionate sympathy. She is a cousin of Belle and Sallie Cameron and her maiden name was Mary Bagley Ross and is a cousin of your mother on her father's side. Consul Wilson looked after everything for her. The Guggenheim Foundation sent her some money. His body was cremated and she left here with the ashes by aeroplane on Saturday.

The Fourth of July was celebrated here on a larger scale than ever before, both by American residents and more than a thousand tourists from the United States who were here--many of them attending the Summer School of the University of Mexico--most of them, I think, glad to get out of the extreme heat. In the morning I attended the American Legion festivities on the grounds of the Reforma Club--a regular fiesta with games--and made a short talk. At 12:30 we had a breakfast at the Embassy for members of the Diplomatic Corps, Members of the Cabinet and other Mexican officials, and representatives of the press. In the afternoon from 5 to 7:30 your mother and I shook hands with about 2,000 callers and all were served tea, etc. Then Dr. McKean offered a prayer attributed to George Washington, George Wright, Acting President of the Chamber of Commerce, read the Declaration of Independence, omitting most of the 17 particular grievances that existed in 1776, Mrs. Christie sang the Star Spangled Banner so well it gave us a thrill, and I had the temerity to imagine I had received the mantle of Thomas Jefferson and gave a 1941 model of the Declaration of Independence. I hope you read it. If I do say it, as shouldn't, it was a document of value. But I know nobody will remember my declaration a century hence, or even a twelve-month. That night we went to a Legion Fourth of July dinner and dance at the American Club--big attendance. I spoke, emphasizing the new realization of the boon of having a country in which a man had a right to live, and contrasted it with the condition of the 8,000 or 10,000 Spaniards who had come here because they would be shot if they remained in Spain and would starve in France where they had gone when Franco won, and thousands of refugees in Europe who have no place to lay their heads.

Among the visitors last week was Winston Guest, a noted polo player, who told me--and he is--that he was a cousin of Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of Britain. His mother is an American and he has become an American citizen. He told me that he had been commissioned by the Rockefeller Cultural Committee to visit all of the Panamerican countries as an Ambassador of Good Will to the athletic organizations of these countries. I think he ought to be helping his cousin to fight for Britain, for he is a big strapping fellow who ought to make a good soldier, instead of wasting time and money on the sort of junket he is taking. We cannot do too much in cultural ways, like interchange of professors and the coming of a thousand students here to Summer School to learn Spanish (they pay their own way and tuition) but having such so-called ambassadors of good-will as Douglas Fairbanks, Winston Guest and millionaires and representatives of Big Business who have an eye for getting a foothold here to make money after the war, who ought to be in the Army or Navy, is not promoting Good Will. It is the bunk. A journalist here told me he had heard as a reaction to sending play boys as Ambassadors of Good Will to South American [sic], that a Brazilian had said: "If the United States doesn't stop sending such Ambassadors of Good Will to Brazil our country will declare war on the United States." But I know that in propaganda and in advertising much money is wasted. However, is [sic] 51% hits the mark it pays.

Incidentally, the choice of words in the latter sentences is interesting as the visit by Robert Rice Reynolds to Mexico in 1940, posing, sombrero style, as just such an Ambassador of Good Will, was, as Daniels recounted also in his memoirs, a profound embarrassment; he hurried, he said, to find ways to get the Senator from his native state shunted off the noticeable path to such important affairs as the unveiling of a statue in a remote rural area and, as quickly as possible, to avoid his blowing the whole previous seven years of improved relations with the country, to effect his return north of the border. Cash often referred to Reynolds in his pieces as the "playboy" or else he who kissed blonde actresses, in this case Harlowe.

At the same time, Daniels appears perhaps overly sensitive to such invasions to his embassage. The goodwill efforts of the thespian crowd, for instance, which he references negatively, had drawn on April 21 precisely the opposite reaction from Raymond Clapper, who observed that such goodwill proved indispensable to improved relations with Mexico, favored an "army of movie stars" to be sent to invade Latin America.

So, had Daniels, rumpled newspaperman, former Secretary of Navy under Wilson, former boss of Undersecretary Franklin Roosevelt, who still as President called him "Chief", perhaps, become a little crusty with excess wisdom in his latter months as Ambassador after his eight elder years in the station? Still and all, Daniels guided the Good Neighbor Policy expertly and kept Mexico enough friendly to the United States that the Nazis largely lost the foothold they had gained during the early years of his tenure, a foothold naturally inherited from the Kaiser's efforts in the mid Teens, a foothold fostered by President Cardenas as a necessary adjunct to his oil export business with Hitler in 1938-39.

But as Raymond Clapper points out again in his column today, you couldn't do business with Hitler--any more than you could do business, as Dorothy Thompson insists, with the "ineffable" Mr. Lindbergh and his coterie of Nazi-sympathizers in the America First movement, lately become rabidly anti-Communist, since June 22 anyway.

In any event, with Cash as a suicide, the piece is sui generis in the larger puzzle, disconnected, an aside, a "baffling tragedy", as Daniels intones. As a murder by Nazi agents, however, all the pieces suddenly fit, as surely as the jagged edges of South America neatly carve out from the opposite coast of Africa.

So look how Daniels so easily accepts without question these "delusions" of Nazi spies following Cash, accepts without question the suicide, despite his recognition that his son Jonathan was a friend, indeed had, with the Knopfs, co-sponsored Cash for the Guggenheim--finally offers in explanation a theory supposedly derived from Mary, concern over the Russian invasion, which Mary debunked. But, as to the suicide scenario, he had nothing but Mary's word on the matter, that of a cousin to his own wife? Perhaps, perhaps there was more.

Again, it is the dissembling regarding the timing of the cremation of Cash's remains in the face of his parents' objections, the lack of "suitable permission" for same once done, and moreover the absence of an autopsy report, which begin to unveil that mystery.

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