The Charlotte News

Saturday, September 20, 1941


Site Ed. Note: The insouciance of the Charlotte police, as described in "So What?", dismissing the fusillade of shoot-'em-up as merely part of the bootlegging war and therefore unworthy of police attention, was perhaps a sign of the times. Was it fueled by one too many gangster movies viewed by the police themselves, creating consequent apathy or at least role models for inaction? One too many, where Edward G. Robinson fights it out to the death with Cagney, police or no police? Or were they merely emulating in little the U.S. Government in large, still largely sitting on the sidelines as Hitler and Stalin bloodily slugged it out as two of the foremost gangster nations, the isolationists hopeful of both being mercilessly weakened to the point of exhaustion by the end of the third round?

Whatever the case, at least we know that such gangsterism was not confined either to the movies or Chicago or the 1920's and early '30's. It reared its head even unto the land of Protestantism and, not just incidentally, continued Prohibition--wherein existed, as Tom Jimison, defrocked Methodist bishop, former News reporter, and civil rights attorney, once stated the case, (as quoted in Bruce Clayton's biography of Cash), "The lowest-kneeling, loudest-praying, rightest-fisted, hardest-drinking clan of Scotch Presbyterians that ever staggered to the polls to vote dry... They'd crucify Christ again right in front of the First Presbyterian Church if ever he dared to show up here."

Maybe so. And, ergo the shrug of shoulders at a mere 40 shotgun slugs over somebody's moonshine turf war? Judging by earlier editorials, some of the cops were likely either on the payroll of the offending bootleggers or recovering from a belt of moonshine themselves, or both.

We note in passing also that once again, for the second or third time since Cash's death on July 1, the editorialist borrows the Cash phrase "little reader" to address the readership. Perchance the irony of the piece called to mind a subject on which Cash might have thusly commented--and probably would have.

Hugh Johnson and Dorothy Thompson today take on the complex issue of the cause of World War II. Was it, as the interventionists had it, at least as Johnson characterizes them, that the fault was in the U.S. not joining the League of Nations? Johnson, a non-interventionist, answers by reference to the failure of the British to react to Hitler's coming to power when the French wanted to do something about it; to the French stepping aside when England wanted to respond to Mussolini's attack on helpless Ethiopia; to the failure of the British to play its part in the Nine Power Pact which Secretary of War Stimson wanted to use to enforce the territorial integrity of China against Japan's early incursions there, (which extended back to 1931 when Hoover was President).

Dorothy Thompson, an interventionist, suggests that it was the playing of a paradoxically dual role in the Twenties during the Harding-Coolidge-Hoover era, leading to the worldwide Depression which produced Hitler--the role of protectionist in matters of trade while also maintaining the war debts against Europe and making further loans to them, eventually bankrupting the U.S., when the rational choices were either to forgive the war debts with protectionist tariffs in place, or an expansionist trade policy to enable the European countries to pay off the debts with trade imbalances.

She suggests further that the U.S. refused to join the League because of isolationist Republican Senators, such as Hiram Johnson of California. She then proceeds to poke holes in Herbert Hoover's comparison of the situation then extant to that of the Napoleonic wars when, by not acceding to the thrust of opinion urging joinder with Britain against Napoleon, the peace was saved and Britain and Russia won anyway. Ms. Thompson counters that the result was ultimately the War of 1812. (Just whether that particular cause and effect leap may be made with facility, however, is subject to question. While one major problem contributing to the War of 1812 arose as a result of seizure by Britain during the Napoleonic wars of U.S. ships, based on alleged trade usurpation between Europe and the West Indies in violation of treaty, followed by the complete embargo of trade with Britain and France during Jefferson's presidency and continued into Madison's, the more immediate problem leading to the outbreak of that war was the expansionist desires of the country into territory west of the Mississippi, the dream of taking Canada from the British, and the taking of west Florida from the Spanish, an ally of Britain, leading the British, in response to such talk, to assist in arming Native Americans in the west, fueling further the passions of the hawks to seize the territory.)

Well, who had the better of the argument, Johnson or Thompson, Hoover and Lindbergh or the interventionists?

As we have suggested before, regardless of cause, regardless of which stance might have prevailed otherwise, the matter would become largely moot save for academic discussion by the events to take place at Pearl Harbor. At that point, debate largely ended with unanimity that direct counter-action was the only solution to the Axis bad boys.

In the end, was the cause of World War II more an age than it was the actions or inactions of a group of men? Obviously, the Nazis were thugs countering other thugs in the form of Communists within Germany for control of its destiny in the post-war world of the 1920's, as Jan Valtin recounted in Out of the Night. And that internal fight held in microcosm the paradigmatic genesis of the world imbroglio to come, the fight ultimately of brute force against democratic ideals. From that seed, could anything have been done effectively to stop it, without producing more conflict?

The genesis in turn of that seed within Germany is often laid to the strictures of Versailles, the emasculation of German pride by stripping it of military capability. Did that lead to the need of youth to demonstrate manhood by the brawls and brickbats which followed in the various labor squabbles between the Nazis and Communists?

But how does one explain Japan on that model? Italy? Neither were so stripped at Versailles. Both were allies in World War I. Feudalistic militarism in Japan, Fascism in Italy, both preceded the coming of Nazism to Germany. All three systems arguably germinated from the same basic thrust in man, out of an amalgam of strains inherent in mankind, transmitted through time via native folk cultures existing within each of these three problematic societies, each having the common trait of giving highest honor to the warrior class, each holding immense male pride in victory through interpersonal combat. But did not Britain and the United States also feel this sense of pride through time? And how on such a model does one explain Soviet Communism which became totalitarian after internal struggles between Lenin and Trotsky for control of the ideal to characterize the post-revolutionary, post-czarist state in Russia?

How could it have been stopped, this thrust of proof of manhood by combat?

Could armies have been amassed on the borders of Germany in 1933 by Russia, France and Great Britain to threaten action should the aggressive internal violence continue within Germany? Would international law have supported the stimulation of internal revolt against the Nazis before they had undertaken any aggressive moves outside the borders of Germany by means other than propaganda, before Poland? Would such action, even if undertaken and legitimized, have done anything other than produce further power vacuums into which would have stepped even worse, more merciless leaders and groups following them to the edge of the field at Armageddon to prove one point--that they were men?

The answers, if any, are perhaps self-evident. Nothing legally could have been done at that earlier stage; nothing effectively could have been done diplomatically against these madmen bent on world dominion, especially given the weak status of the League of Nations and its inability to impose sanctions on wayward sovereigns to insure adherence to basic laws of humanity.

The futility of an answer to avert the inevitable conflict at that time highlights since the war the unerring effectiveness thus far of the United Nations in 60 years to avert further world conflict. It is no accident, with the presence of that body on the world stage in times of international crisis, that such wars have ceased to be. It is not merely mutual deterrence in the nuclear age which effected such a peace, as the more hawkish might have it.

And, moreover, it is also the passage from an earlier age where victory in physical combat was honored as the highest rank attainable by individual man, an age of feudalism where knightly service to the lord was required to discharge the family debt to society, to an age where discussion, however fierce, is the preferred order of the day and that which is most honored.

We honor the Cuban Missile Crisis and its handling long before we honor Vietnam, long before we honor Iraq. For we could have easily invaded Cuba and by it likely started World War III, likely, in turn, over in 48 hours with mutual assured destruction proved in all its horror. Many would have thought it a bold stroke, an honorable thing, even if the end of the civilized world was the inexorable result in its wake. Many people do not want to live, and feel that an honorable and proud death is superior to the perceived emasculation brought on by modern life, that anyone who counsels peace is a weakling, a wingless bird to be cast from the nest. Many people are insane.

Intellect versus bold physical strength and ruthless brawn. Venting aggression through physical combat where the fight is to the death or through role playing in sports where all leave the field, save for the occasional accident, alive and in sound health. Some in every society throughout the world, including the United States, are still striving to understand these distinctions as they relate to the psyche of the human creature. The world advances by increments, by frets and starts in stutter steps, by viewing the carnage and destruction of war in its midst, and passing on the horror stories to the youth, now fully in color moving pictures and sound, to be inspired either against its further useless roundabout or to foster vendetta for this or that ancient wrong, to view the scene objectively with an eye to preventing its future recurrence or to seek vicariously to occupy the role of the warriors to play in full the fight to the death, to foster the further belief in the art of war for its own sake to be sought, or to be avoided at all costs short of sacrificing democracy. We advance generationally by increments.

War in Iraq, high gas prices, emergent fiscal crisis. One thing leads to the other over the course of five and a half years. We once deplored the motto of a war-oriented video game being advertised one Sunday afternoon five and a half years ago: "Freedom is Not Free", it said. We countered that freedom must be enjoyed more freely, just as Roosevelt counseled at the beginning of 1941. Freedom is of course free. It is war which is not free. Only war. And to be enslaved to it is to be nothing more than a peasant, a slave whose master is war.

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