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September 14, 2015


I have a professor/presidential library archivist friend with a PHD in History who is a fount of knowledge. He is of the opinion that WW II was a mere continuation of WW I. That means that WW I settled nothing with the millions killed and maimed with its grim trench warfare while Russia was withdrawing from that war when moving from Czarism to communism and while many other important geopolitical changes were going on via annexations, postwar reparations claims against Germany called for in the Treaty of Versailles etc. Ten years after the Treaty of Versailles was signed formally ending WW I the Great Depression began, spreading from Wall Street with its overpriced stock and paper panic all over the world as commodity markets and aggregate demand collapsed both here and around the globe (all of which gave rise to the saying that if you think inflation is bad, try deflation; and as I often say in another context, if you think education is expensive, try ignorance).

The world needed to be put back together again after WW I but old hatreds led to antagonism in the  diplomatic process (unlike postwar WW II, when the Marshall Plan during the Truman Administration rebuilt Japan and Germany into today’s thriving democracies and with no WW III in sight). The U.S. Senate refused President Wilson’s plea to join the League of Nations following WW I, for instance. We then elected three consecutive Republican presidents: Harding, Coolidge and Hoover. (Harding died in office in 1923 and was succeeded by his vice-president, Coolidge, who was elected in his own right in 1924 but refused to run for another term in 1928, when Hoover was elected to the presidency.)

While we were enjoying the “Roaring Twenties” leading to our depression at the end of the decade, Germany during the early and mid 1920s suffered from inflation so bad that the joke there was that “It takes a wagonload of marks to buy a wagonload of bread.” The Treaty of Versailles provided for reparations that a defeated and prostrate Germany resented and could not pay. The stage was set for a political messiah to come to the fore and reassert German national pride. Enter Adolph Hitler with his “Aryan Race” nonsense and rearmament plans (which reenergized the German economy), and the rest is history – a piece of history which can only be described by rational human beings as “sordid.”

As time went by in the 1920s and presumably, as old tensions and hatreds had opportunities to subside, the reparations section of the Versailles Treaty could have been renegotiated upon our insistence and/or someone in one of our three Republican administrations of that decade while we were “roaring” could have come up with an idea (as General Marshall did after WW II in the Truman Administration) to help rebuild Germany, stimulate its economy with favorable trade agreements and in general make the peace easier to maintain and put a lid on the simmering resentment that led to Hitler and  fascism. It was a time for strong and vigilant leadership but we just roared along with our speculative binge and Charleston dances of the “Roaring Twenties” to our own economic doom while Hitler was becoming a fascist dictator and with WW II on the horizon. I think we were asleep at the switch and that with more sensitivity to the situation we could have nipped the likes of a Hitler in the bud early on.

If I am right, or partly right, then just who in this country is at least partly responsible for the rise of Hitler? I believe it was mostly the fault of Calvin Coolidge and to some extent, Herbert Hoover (he was in office only 7 months before the Wall Street crash but he had to know of the speculative bubble building on Wall Street where the stock value and its trading price were unrelated and should have acted with whatever regulatory tools he had within that time to avert the coming catastrophe). Neither Coolidge nor Hoover acted either from their bully pulpits or by calls for legislation to prevent the growing bubble from bursting, the worst happened, and thus not only impoverished America and the world but also fortified Hitler’s position as he ascended into power in 1933.

The question here is to what extent did the laissez faire tactics of Coolidge (forget Europe and everyone get rich and do the Charleston) assist Hitler in coming to power. I looked into the New York Public Library Desk Reference, Fourth Edition, and found the following quote at page 827: “1923. President Harding, whose administration has been tarnished by rumors of corruption, dies unexpectedly; straight arrow Vice President Calvin Coolidge is sworn in.”

Straight arrow indeed! What good is a straight arrow if he is asleep both at the domestic and international switches? He was known as “Silent Cal” at the time. He never had much to say – about anything. He came to be president three years after Prohibition kicked in, and I well remember reading about a group of whisky-drinking press reporters who were playing poker years afterward when a fellow reporter stuck his head in the door and said that “The president (Coolidge) is dead.” The sole female reporter of the group asked: “How can they tell?”

It is clear to me that Coolidge was a ceremonial and not an activist president. History is linear and we will never be able to prove or disprove my thesis that what he did and/or left undone contributed to the rise of a fascist madman. I believe that history would read very differently if an activist Harry S Truman had succeeded the corrupted Harding as president.

Imagine a history that did not include The Great Depression or WW II. Imagine a world whose economies were not destroyed and whose currencies were not debased by the death and destruction of war, where resources were employed in building a better world rather than rebuilding a world after such death and destruction. Who (other than psychotics) could be against such positive outcomes?

Straight arrow? So what? One cast in a leadership role of president must be conscious and aware of what is going on and responsible enough to aggressively act in the interests of those he or she represents. It is my opinion that Calvin Coolidge failed those tests and that his failure to actively intervene in the Wall Street stock bubble and international policies that undergirded the rise of Hitler and fascism made history read as it does today.

So how will history read tomorrow based, as it is, on what we are doing or not doing today with our trade treaties, wage and wealth inequality, political favoritism of rich over poor etc.? It’s something to ponder, and to consider when voting for those who represent us in both legislative and executive capacities. These are the ones who are writing history – and in our names – so we have some responsibilities as citizens and voters to  be conscious and aware in writing that history as well.   GERALD    E

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