On the eve of another war: familiar bluster and false signals

A European dictator was expected to launch a full-scale military assault on his neighbor. The media was all over the map in speculating whether war was imminent or not. Peace feelers by diplomats and heads of state and government abounded, “don’t worry, he’s bluffing,” many stated to an anxious and nervous public.

Readers may believe that the above is a report on the present situation with regard to Russia and Ukraine. It is not. Without the benefit of instantaneous global communications and thousands of media entities, the preceding description of events encapsulated the world situation on August 31, 1939. Then, it was Germany and Poland that dominated the headlines and wire reports. Many expected Germany to invade Poland over territorial demands on the Polish Corridor, former German territory lost to Poland as a result of the Treaty of Versailles following World War I, and the Free City of Danzig, which Germany claimed as its own.

German dictator Adolf Hitler was engaged in last-minute diplomacy with Britain and France, both of which had been guaranteed “peace in our time” as British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain put it after the British and French sacrificed Czechoslovakia in Munich to satisfy Hitler’s demand for the return of Sudetenland, Czechoslovak territory, to Germany.

In the hours before the outbreak of World War II, Pope Pius XII, an admirer of the Nazis and Hitler, prayed for peace from the Vatican. There were hopes that Italy would remain neutral, particularly after the Nazis and the Soviets had signed a mutual non-aggression pact, an act that had stunned the Communist and Socialist parties of the world. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, on a cruise in the North Atlantic aboard the USS Lang, a Navy destroyer, ordered a hasty beeline for Fort Hancock in Sandy Hook, New Jersey. FDR quickly returned to Washington as war talk intensified in Europe. The U.S. War Department dispatched 18 Curtiss P-36 warplanes to the Panama Canal.

Americans fled Europe on passenger liners. Aboard the Queen Mary from Southampton, England, wealthy financier J.P. Morgan was forced to share his suite with other passengers on the overcrowded vessel. The foreign ministers of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark met in Oslo to reaffirm their neutrality. The French reported that German Army deserters were swimming the Rhine on to French territory and asking to join the French Foreign Legion.  Some 45,000 French school children were evacuated from Paris to the countryside. A parade in London led by British Union of Fascists leader Sir Oswald Mosley and consisting of 3,000 pro-Hitler marchers was roundly booed by onlookers.

On the eve of World War II, Radio Corporation of America (RCA) reported a 20 percent increase in radiogram traffic between Europe and the United States. Radio was the “Internet” of that era.

Writing in August 31, 1939, The New York Times, Bertram D. Hulem, in a dispatch from Washington, reported that Hitler was moving toward peace negotiations with Poland and, as the Times put it, was “yielding.” Hitler reportedly requested the Polish negotiator to return to Berlin. Hitler would also consult with Russia and Britain prior to any peace deal with Poland. The newspaper’s report was baseless and it ironically appeared on the front page alongside a report from Warsaw that the Polish army was mobilizing 2,500,000 troops to fend off a German invasion. Meanwhile, Nazi troops began marching into Slovakia, a remnant of the destroyed nation of Czechoslovakia.

August 31, 1939, resembles February 15, 2022, with regard to Russia and Ukraine.  President Joe Biden declared a Russo-Ukrainian war was imminent and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, a former television sitcom star, pinpointed a Russian invasion of his country for February 16. Western embassies evacuated their staffs from Kyiv. Many countries called on their nationals to leave Ukraine as soon as possible. U.S. and other NATO troops were dispatched to NATO’s eastern flank. Russian troops had massed on the Russian and Belarusian borders with Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin was going to add Ukraine to a restored version of the Soviet Union. War was imminent, or so the world was told.

In the early morning of February 15, Russian troops did not advance into Ukraine but began to withdraw from the Ukrainian border, with many returning to their garrisons’ permanent bases deeper within Russia. Was the Russian show of force merely an attempt to intimidate Ukraine? Or was it part of a larger information war between Russia and the West, one in which Russian military indications and warnings, captured by secret Western intelligence sources and methods, were quickly declassified by the White House and shared with the public?

Was this past week’s talk of imminent war a 2022 version of the final week of August 1939. The present situation in Europe is a virtual case of what they French say, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose—the more it changes, the more it stays the same.

Of course, World War II did begin in earnest on September 1, 1939, when Britain and France, honoring their treaty commitment to Poland, declared war on Germany after German military forces launched a blitzkrieg (lightning war) attack on Poland. Europe was in an uneasy “Phony War” until April 1940, when Germany invaded Denmark and Norway.

As Harvard philosopher George Santayana famously said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”—a quote that has morphed into other versions—it is instructive to closely examine the world situation on August 31, 1939. The similarities to today are amazing, with one major exception. The world was not dealing with a deadly pandemic in 1939. With economies and political systems already frayed from the effects of the pandemic—including an attempt by the far-right to oust Canada’s government—there are some significant present-day variables to the pre-war situation in 1939.

As visitors continued to marvel at the technology on display at the New York World’s Fair, where a Nazi German pavilion was not present after Hitler ordered German withdrawal from the international exposition. What was at the fair was a “Court of Peace” where one could sit while reading about Hitler’s threats, demands, and reversals on the diplomatic stage in Europe.

On the eve of the outbreak of World War II, there were troubling signs that Hitler was intent on war. Albert Forster, the Nazi leader in Danzig, was in Berlin demanding “liberation” for the free city. Liberation from what? Danzig was formally governed by the League of Nations. Poland provided the free city with a postal service and a commissioner, Marian Chodacki, represented Poland’s interests in the Danzig administration. In many respects, Danzig was a test case. The demilitarized city posed no threat to Hitler and nor did Poland, for that matter. That would all change on the evening of August 31, when Germany falsely claimed that Polish troops had attacked the German radio station Sender Gleiwitz in the German Upper Silesian town of Gleiwitz. The “attackers” were actually SS troops disguised at Polish military personnel. The German invasion of Poland was based on a “false flag” attack. It was this same scenario, a false flag, that Biden and other U.S. officials warned would be used by Russia as a pretext for an all-out invasion of Ukraine. The lessons of August 1939 are very much alive in 2022.

One of the similarities is the presence of pro-Russian elements within the Republican Party, and, as seen with the past three weeks in Canada, the Conservative Party of Canada. Within the Republican Party in 1939 was a strong pro-German faction, the German-American Republican League. This faction urged New York’s popular Republican mayor, the anti-Nazi Fiorello LaGuardia, to be expelled from the party. The pro-Hitler German-American Bund newspaper, Beobatcher, which was very likely found on the coffee table of one Fred Trump, Sr. in his house in Queens, called for LaGuardia to be committed to an insane asylum in an article titled, “Dirty Talmud Jew Becomes Impudent.” If one wonders where Donald Trump gets his propensity for demanding people to be imprisoned or worse, executed, one only needs to consult with the American Nazi organs of the 1930s. Fred Trump’s friends in Yorkville, the German-American enclave in Manhattan, predicted a quick victory for Germany in Poland. Few doubted that Britain and France would come to Poland’s assistance. Nazi propaganda outlets also reported that after Hitler conquered the United States, he would arrive in New York with a list of those to be sent to concentration camps. Mayor LaGuardia topped the list, with columnists Walter Winchell and Dorothy Thompson in second and third place.

On July 4, 1939, LaGuardia gave a speech at the World’s Fair’s Court of Peace. He said, “How does a dictator start on his way? By first picking the weakest minority, abusing and oppressing it; then moving on to another. Here in this land our children from every country have put aside the vices of their ancestors and held fast to their virtues.” That was then. Today, as the United States, Canada, and other countries grapple with a renewed Nazi movement, the words of LaGuardia are only faint echoes in Flushing Meadows, the site of the 1939 fair in Queens.

Previously published in the Wayne Madsen Report.

Copyright © 2022 WayneMadenReport.com

Wayne Madsen is a Washington, DC-based investigative journalist, author and nationally-distributed columnist. A member of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) and the National Press Club. He is the editor and publisher of the Wayne Madsen Report (subscription required).

Comments are closed.