Human Smoke : The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization

  • ISBN13:


  • ISBN10:


  • Edition: Reprint
  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2009-03-03
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Note: Supplemental materials are not guaranteed with Rental or Used book purchases.

Purchase Benefits

  • Free Shipping On Orders Over $35!
    Your order must be $35 or more to qualify for free economy shipping. Bulk sales, PO's, Marketplace items, eBooks and apparel do not qualify for this offer.
  • Get Rewarded for Ordering Your Textbooks! Enroll Now
List Price: $17.00 Save up to $12.37
  • Rent Book $4.99
    Add to Cart Free Shipping


Supplemental Materials

What is included with this book?

  • The New copy of this book will include any supplemental materials advertised. Please check the title of the book to determine if it should include any access cards, study guides, lab manuals, CDs, etc.
  • The Used and Rental copies of this book are not guaranteed to include any supplemental materials. Typically, only the book itself is included. This is true even if the title states it includes any access cards, study guides, lab manuals, CDs, etc.


From bestselling author Baker comes a highly researched and surprising new book about the decades preceding World War II. "Human Smoke" is a superbly assembled narrative that encompasses the vast political, social, religious, and economic landscapes throughout the world.


Alfred Nobel, the manufacturer of explosives, was talking to his friend the Baroness Bertha von Suttner, author of Lay Down Your Arms. Von Suttner, a founder of the European antiwar movement, had just attended the fourth World's Peace Conference in Bern. It was August 1892.

"Perhaps my factories will put an end to war even sooner than your congresses," Alfred Nobel said. "On the day when two army corps may mutually annihilate each other in a second, probably all civilized nations will recoil with horror and disband their troops."

Stefan Zweig, a young writer from Vienna, sat in the audience at a movie theater in Tours, France, watching a newsreel. It was spring 1914.

An image of Wilhelm II, the Emperor of Germany, came on screen for a moment. At once the theater was in an uproar. "Everybody yelled and whistled, men, women, and children, as if they had been personally insulted," Zweig wrote. "The good-natured people of Tours, who knew no more about the world and politics than what they had read in their newspapers, had gone mad for an instant."

Zweig was frightened. "It had only been a second, but one that showed me how easily people anywhere could be aroused in a time of a crisis, despite all attempts at understanding."

Winston Churchill, England's first lord of the admiralty, instituted a naval blockade of Germany. "The British blockade," Churchill later wrote, "treated the whole of Germany as if it were a beleaguered fortress, and avowedly sought to starve the whole population -- men, women, and children, old and young, wounded and sound -- into submission." It was 1914.

Stefan Zweig was at the eastern front, gathering Russian war proclamations for the Austrian archives. It was the spring of 1915.

Zweig boarded a freight car on a hospital train. "One crude stretcher stood next to the other," he wrote, "and all were occupied by moaning, sweating, deathly pale men, who were gasping for breath in the thick atmosphere of excrement and iodoform." There were several dead among the living. The doctor, in despair, asked Zweig to get water. He had no morphine and no clean bandages, and they were still twenty hours from Budapest.

When Zweig got back to Vienna, he began a pacifist play, Jeremiah. "I had recognized," Zweig wrote, "the foe I was to fight -- false heroism that prefers to send others to suffering and death, the cheap optimism of the conscienceless prophets, both political and military who, boldly promising victory, prolong the war, and behind them the hired chorus, the 'word makers of war' as Werfel has pilloried them in his beautiful poem."

Jeannette Rankin of Montana, the first woman to be elected to the House of Representatives, voted against declaring war on Germany. It was April 6, 1917.

"I leaned over the gallery rail and watched her," said her friend Harriet Laidlaw, of the Woman Suffrage Party. "She was undergoing the most terrible strain." Almost all of her fellow suffrage leaders, including Laidlaw, wanted her to vote yes.

There was a silence when her name was called. "I want to stand by my country," Rankin said. "But I cannot vote for war. I vote no." Fifty other members of the House voted no with her; 374 voted yes. "I felt," she said later, "that the first time the first woman had a chance to say no to war she should say it."

One of her home-state papers, the Helena Independent, called her "a dupe of the Kaiser, a member of the Hun army in the United States, and a crying schoolgirl."

A young pro-war preacher, Harry Emerson Fosdick, wrote a short book, published by the Young Men's Christian Association.

War was not gallantry and parades anymore, Reverend Fosdick said. "War is now dropping bombs from aeroplanes and killing women and children in their beds; it is shooting by telephonic orders, at an unseen place miles away and slaughtering invisible men." War, he said, is "men with jaws gone, eyes gone, limbs gone, minds gone."

Fosdick ended his book with a call for enlistment: "Your country needs you," he said. It was November 1917.

Meyer London, a socialist in the House of Representatives, voted no to President Wilson's second declaration of war, against Austria-Hungary. It was December 7, 1917.

"In matters of war I am a teetotaler," said London, in a fifteen-minute speech. "I refuse to take the first intoxicating drink."

Representative Walter Chandler walked over to where London sat and stood in front of him as he delivered his rebuttal.

"It has been said that if you will analyze the blood of a Jew under the microscope, you will find the Talmud and the Old Bible floating around in some particles," Congressman Chandler said. "If you analyze the blood of a representative German or Teuton you will find machine guns and particles of shells and bombs floating around in the blood."

There was only one thing to do with the Teutons, according to Chandler: "Fight them until you destroy the whole bunch."

Eleanor Roosevelt and her husband, Franklin D., the assistant secretary of the navy, were invited to a party in honor of Bernard Baruch, the financier. "I've got to go to the Harris party which I'd rather be hung than seen at," Eleanor wrote her mother-in-law. "Mostly Jews." It was January 14, 1918.

A captured German officer was talking to a reporter for The New York Times. It was November 3, 1918, and the German government had asked for an armistice.

The German officer claimed that his army was not defeated and should have continued the war. "The Emperor is surrounded by people who feel and talk defeat," the offi cer said. He mentioned men like Philipp Scheidemann, the leader of the socialists.

New tanks were coming, the captured officer observed, and war was expected between the United States and Japan. "Japan and the United States would surely clash some day," he said, "and we would then furnish both sides with enormous quantities of material and munitions." The ceding of Poland and Alsace-Lorraine, the officer believed, meant social upheaval, the ruin of German industry, and the impoverishment of the working class. "Our enemies will have what they have desired -- the complete annihilation of Germany. That would be a peace due to Scheidemann."

Winston Churchill, now England's secretary of state for war and air, rose in Parliament to talk about the success of the naval blockade. It was March 3, 1919, four months after the signing of the armistice that ended the Great War.

"We are enforcing the blockade with rigour," Churchill said. "It is repugnant to the British nation to use this weapon of starvation, which falls mainly on the women and children, upon the old and the weak and the poor, after all the fi ghting has stopped, one moment longer than is necessary to secure the just terms for which we have fought." Hunger and malnutrition, the secretary of war and air observed, had brought German national life to a state of near collapse. "Now is therefore the time to settle," he said.

Winston Churchill published a newspaper article. It was February 8, 1920. Churchill had a different enemy now. Now his enemy wasn't Germany, it was the "sinister confederacy" of international Jewry.

"This movement among the Jews is not new," Churchill said. It was a "world-wide conspiracy for the overthrow of civilisation and for the reconstitution of society on the basis of arrested development, of envious malevolence, and impossible equality." He listed Marx, Trotsky, Béla Kun, Rosa Luxemburg, and Emma Goldman as some of the malefactors. The conspiracy had been, he said, the "mainspring of every subversive movement during the Nineteenth Century." It had played a recognizable part in the French Revolution. All loyal Jews, he advised, must "vindicate the honour of the Jewish name" by rejecting international bolshevism.

Aylmer Haldane, the commander of British forces in Iraq, telegraphed Winston Churchill for more troops and airplanes. It was August 26, 1920.

"Jihad was being preached with frenzied fervour by the numerous emissaries from the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala," Haldane wrote. Churchill, secretary of state for war and air, sent him an encouraging note: "The Cabinet have decided that the rebellion must be quelled effectually, and I shall endeavour to meet all your requirements."

Several days later, Churchill wrote Hugh "Boom" Trenchard, the head of the Royal Air Force, a memo. Churchill and Trenchard were developing the notion of policing the British empire from above, thereby saving the cost of ground troops -- a policy that became known as "air control."

"I think you should certainly proceed with the experimental work on gas bombs, especially mustard gas, which would inflict punishment on recalcitrant natives without inflicting grave injury on them," Churchill wrote Trenchard. Churchill was an expert on the effects of mustard gas -- he knew that it could blind and kill, especially children and infants. Gas spreads a "lively terror," he pointed out in an earlier memo; he didn't understand the prevailing squeamishness about its use: "I am strongly in favor of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes." Most of those gassed wouldn't have "serious permanent effects," he said.

Haldane's men bombed and strafed rebellious tribes, fired on them with gas-filled shells, burned villages, and repaired the railway. The official death toll on the British side was forty-seven English officers and troops and 250 Indian Gurkhas. "It is impossible to give the Arab casualties with any approach to exactitude," Haldane wrote, "but they have been estimated at 8450 killed and wounded." Haldane offered his thoughts on how to deal punitively with a village. "Separate parties should be detailed for firing the houses, digging up and burning the grain and bhoosa, looting, &c.," he advised. "Burning a village properly takes a long time, an hour or more according to size from the time the burning parties enter."

Churchill wrote Haldane a congratulatory telegram: "During these diffi cult months your patience and steadfastness have been of great value, and I congratulate you upon the distinct improvement in the situation which has been effected by you." It was October 18, 1920.

A wing commander in the Royal Air Force, J. A. Chamier, published his views on how best to deal with tribal rebellions.

The commanding officer must choose the most inaccessible village of the most prominent tribe, said Chamier, and attack it with all available aircraft. "The attack with bombs and machine guns must be relentless and unremitting and carried on continuously by day and night, on houses, inhabitants, crops and cattle," Chamier wrote. "This sounds brutal, I know, but it must be made brutal to start with. The threat alone in the future will prove efficacious if the lesson is once properly learnt." It was 1921.

Franklin Roosevelt, now a lawyer in New York City, noticed that Jews made up one-third of the freshman class at Harvard. He talked the problem over with Henry Morgenthau, Sr., and he went to the Harvard Board of Overseers, of which he was a member. "It was decided," Roosevelt later explained, "that over a period of years the number of Jews should be reduced one or two per cent a year until it was down to 15%." It was about 1922.

Mohandas K. Gandhi was arrested for sedition. He had written an article that began: "How can there be any compromise whilst the British Lion continues to shake his gory claws in our faces?" It was March 10, 1922.

That Sunday, John Haynes Holmes, a pacifist preacher, gave a sermon in the Lyric Theater in New York. "Gandhi is disciplining three hundred million Indians to struggle for liberty," Holmes said, "to throw off the British yoke by nonviolence, and he is doing this with a degree of success which is shaking the empire to its foundations. He would save India in time, and therewith perhaps save the world."

Gandhi gave a statement at his trial. "I am endeavoring to show to my countrymen that violent non-cooperation only multiplies evil and that as evil can only be sustained by violence, withdrawal of support of evil requires complete abstention from violence," he said. He would, he told the court, cheerfully submit to the highest penalty for his crime.

He was sentenced to a term of six years in jail.

Lord Hugh Cecil, a member of Parliament for Oxford, rose to say that the Royal Air Force was unnecessarily large and should be smaller. It was March 21, 1922.

Winston Churchill, the secretary of state for war, secretary of state for air, and secretary of state for the colonies, rose in reply to say that the Royal Air Force should stay large. Churchill recalled the end of the Great War, when British airplanes had been on the verge of bold accomplishments. "Had the War lasted a few more months, or possibly even a few more weeks," he said, "there would have been operations conducted from these coasts upon Berlin and in the heart of Germany, and those operations would have increased in magnitude and consequence had the campaign been prolonged all through the year 1919." But those operations were not to be. Peace intervened, "owing to our having run short of Germans and enemies before the experiments were completed."

Churchill went on to make a prediction. "In an aerial war," he said, "the greatest form of defence will undoubtedly be offense."

Stefan Zweig was on vacation in Westerland, on the island of Sylt in the North Sea. He read in the paper that his friend Walter Rathenau, the foreign minister of Germany, a Jew, had been assassinated. It was June 24, 1922.

The German mark plunged in value. "Now the real witch's sabbath of inflation started," wrote Zweig. To repair a broken window now cost more than the whole house would have cost before the infl ation; a single book now cost more than a printing company with one hundred presses had. "The unemployed stood around and shook their fists at the profi teers and foreigners in their luxurious cars who bought whole rows of streets like a box of matches," he said. "Towering above them all was the superprofi teer, Stinnes."

With the collapse of values, Zweig said, Berlin became a Babylon: "Every high school boy wanted to earn some money, and in the dimly lit bars one might see government officials and men of the world of finance tenderly courting drunken sailors without any shame."

Authoritarian countermovements grew amid chaos, said Zweig. Men "aligned themselves in readiness for any slogan that promised order."

Boom Trenchard, head of the Royal Air Force, was chatting with his staff. They were wondering whether it was better to have lots of fighter planes, in order to fight off the enemy, or lots of bombers to bomb the enemy on his home ground. Trenchard said that it was really like playing football. You can't just defend your own goal, you have to go over onto the other side of the field. The nation that could stand being bombed longest, he said, would win in the end. And, in his opinion, "The French in a bombing duel would probably squeal before we did." It was July 9, 1923.

The Daily Mail, a conservative London paper, published a forged letter. It was October 25, 1924.

The letter was purportedly signed by Grigori Zinoviev, a Russian communist leader, and addressed to the Communist Party in England. It appeared four days before the general election of 1924 -- an important race for Winston Churchill, who had lost two previous campaigns.

The letter, marked "very secret," talked of a "successful rising in any of the working districts of England." Its prose had faintly Churchillian cadences in places -- there were phrases such as "strain every nerve" and "pronounced its weighty word" -- but with an admixture of bolshevistic pastiche. "It would be desirable to have cells (nuclei?) in all the units of troops, particularly among those quartered in large centres of the country, and among factories working on munitions and at military store depots," the letter said. The headline in the Daily Mail was "Civil War Plot by Socialists' Masters."

Churchill's devoted supporter Esmond Harmsworth was the son of Lord Rothermere, publisher of the Daily Mail. Churchill's close ally in Secret Intelligence, Desmond Morton, first forwarded the letter from an obscure Latvian source to the British Foreign Office, attesting to its authenticity.

Moscow called the letter a "clumsy forgery" and a "crude fabrication" and demanded an apology. Members of Parliament said it was a "fake" and a "malicious hoax." "How did Conservative headquarters become possessed of that letter?" the Labor prime minister, Ramsay MacDonald, asked. "It is a most suspicious circumstance that a newspaper and headquarters of the Conservative Association seem to have had copies of it at the same time as the Foreign Office, and if that is true, how can I, a simple-minded, honest person who puts two and two together, avoid a suspicion -- I will not say conclusion -- that the whole thing is a political plot?"

Churchill and other conservatives used the Zinoviev letter to unseat Prime Minister MacDonald. Churchill compared MacDonald to Alexander Kerensky, the weak Russian socialist leader who allowed the Bolsheviks to triumph.

"You all know the story of Kerensky," Churchill said in a campaign speech, "how he stood there, like Mr. MacDonald, pretending that he meant to do the best he could for his country, and all the time apologizing behind the scenes to the wild, dark, deadly forces which had him in their grip."

Churchill won his election. Still he couldn't stop talking about the Zinoviev letter. Conspirators and revolutionaries "of every race under the sun" had assembled in Russia to plan world revolution, he asserted in the Weekly Dispatch. "Everywhere they have endeavoured to bring into being the 'germ cells' from which the cancer of Communism should grow," he wrote. "There was, therefore, nothing new and nothing particularly violent in the letter of Zinoviev, alias Apfelbaum, to the British Communists." It was November 2, 1924.

Ramsey MacDonald watched his Labor cabinet pack up. He felt, he said, like a man sewn in a sack and tossed into the sea. Churchill returned to power: He became chancellor of the exchequer in the new Conservative government.

He reinstated the gold standard, triggering a massive depression.

Joseph Goebbels was working on his diary-novel Michael. "I lie awake for a long time and think of the quiet pale man of Nazareth," he wrote. Then Adolf Hitler came into his life.

Hitler had just gotten out of Landesberg prison, where he'd dictated Mein Kampf to his friend Rudolf Hess. Goebbels finished reading Mein Kampf. "Who is this man?" he asked himself. "The real Christ, or only St. John?" Hitler offered Goebbels the job of editor of the National Socialist newspaper, the Völkischer Beobachter. They spoke at meetings together. "He jumps to his feet, there he is," Goebbels wrote in his diary in November 1925. "Shakes my hand. Like an old friend. And those big blue eyes. Like stars. He is glad to see me. I am in heaven."

A few weeks later, Goebbels saw him again. "Hitler is there. Great joy. He greets me like an old friend. And looks after me. How I love him! What a fellow! Then he speaks. How small I am! He gives me his photograph. With a greeting to the Rhineland. Heil Hitler! I want Hitler to be my friend. His photograph is on my desk."

A few months later still, the two of them had another meeting. Goebbels gave a two-and-a-half-hour speech. "I give it all I have. They rave, they shout. In the end Hitler embraces me. Tears are in his eyes. I feel something like true happiness."

They had dinner together that evening -- Hitler allowed Goebbels to pay. "And even in that, what greatness!"

Goebbels had found his man of Nazareth. "Adolf Hitler -- I love you."

Reverend Harry Fosdick gave a sermon in Geneva, at the Cathedral of Saint Pierre. It was September 13, 1925, the opening of the League of Nations Assembly. Reverend Fosdick had renounced his previous fervent militarism; he was a well-known antiwar preacher now.

Fosdick had seen men come freshly gassed from the trenches, he said. He had heard the cries of those who wanted to die and could not.

"I hate war," he said, "for what it forces us to do to our enemies, rejoicing over our coffee cups at the breakfast table about every damnable and devilish evil we have been able to inflict upon them. I hate war for its results, the lies it lives on and propagates, the undying hatreds that it rouses, the dictatorships that it puts in the place of democracy, and the starvation that stalks after it." Fosdick's speech was quoted in newspapers. Twenty-five thousand copies of it were printed and distributed. Most people agreed with it. Most of the world was pacifist.

The Royal Air Force dropped more than 150 tons of bombs on India. It was 1925.

Winston Churchill visited Rome. "I could not help being charmed by Signor Mussolini's gentle and simple bearing, and by his calm, detached poise in spite of so many burdens and dangers," Churchill said in a press statement. Italian fascism, he said, had demonstrated that there was a way to combat subversive forces; it had provided the "necessary antidote to the Russian virus."

"If I had been an Italian I am sure I should have been entirely with you from the beginning to the end of your victorious struggle against the bestial appetites and passions of Leninism," Churchill told the Romans. It was January 20, 1927.

The Royal Air Force announced the staging of a mock bombing exercise at its annual air pageant in Hendon, north of London. It was June 11, 1927.

The New York Times described the Hendon event in advance: "The 'town,' which will be built largely of airplane wings, will be bombed to bits. Airplanes will drop food and ammunition to the European 'refugees,' who will be fl eeing after having escaped from the citadel in which they have been 'beleaguered' by the town's native inhabitants." The town was located in the imaginary land of Irquestine.

Two hundred airplanes were going to fly to the music of a song called "Chick, Chick, Chick, Chick, Chicken." When the singer sang "Lay a little egg for me," the planes were to release their bombs.

A squadron of British planes bombed the sacred pyramid of the Nuer at Dengkur, in the African Sudan. They blew up herds of cattle -- "mangled flesh and splintered bones crescendoed high," reported Time magazine -- and strafed Nuer tribesmen. One of the tribesmen shot back, wounding a pilot in the thigh. "Not more than 200 Nuers were killed," according to an offi cial estimate. It was February 1928.

Winston Churchill published an extraordinary work of history called The Aftermath, the last volume in his history of the Great War. It was March 1929.

The Great War exhibited novel features, Churchill said. For example: "Whole nations were methodically subjected, or sought to be subjected, to the process of reduction by famine." But what had happened was nothing compared to what would have happened if the Germans had kept fighting into 1919, he said. Poison gases of "incredible malignity" would have ended all resistance. "Thousands of aeroplanes would have shattered their cities."

Instead, suddenly, the fighting ended: "In a hundred laboratories, in a thousand arsenals, factories, and bureaux, men pulled themselves up with a jerk, and turned from the task in which they had been absorbed."

But those whose noncombatant labors had been interrupted would get another chance, sooner or later, to carry forward their plans from 1919, Churchill predicted. "Death stands at attention," he wrote, "obedient, expectant, ready to serve, ready to shear away the peoples en masse; ready, if called on, to pulverise, without hope of repair, what is left of civilisation. He awaits only the word of command."

Baron Ponsonby, author of Falsehood in Wartime, remembered something that Winston Churchill had said to him years before. "I like things to happen," he had said, "and if they don't happen I like to make them happen." It was March 11, 1929.

Winston Churchill, on a speaking tour in the United States, gave a talk at the Bond Club in New York City. It was October 9, 1929.

Churchill's speaker's fee of $12,500 was paid by Sir Harry McGowan, chairman of African Explosives and deputy chairman of Imperial Chemical Industries, a British conglomerate that made fertilizer, rayon, gunpowder, TNT, bombs, ammunition, and poison gas. Imperial Chemical was the descendant of Alfred Nobel's explosives company, where McGowan had started working at the age of fi fteen; it had agreements with munitioneers DuPont and, in Germany, I. G. Farben.

McGowan and Churchill had developed a financial intimacy: McGowan was investing some of Churchill's wealth for him in the American stock market. Sir Harry had, Churchill confided to his wife, Clementine, "profound sources of information."

During his multicity tour, Churchill praised big navies, large weapons programs, and Anglo-American cooperation. "We don't want all the good people in the world to disarm while the bad ones remain heavily equipped for war," he told the Iron and Steel Institute later that month. "You are the friends we would like to see most strongly armed."

Mohandas Gandhi walked to the ocean with his followers. He had decided to resist the British imperial salt monopoly. "Watch, I am about to give a signal to the nation," he said, lifting a few grains of sea salt. It was April 6, 1930.

Lord Irwin, the tall, bony viceroy of India, had already arrested many of Gandhi's disciples. He hoped he wouldn't have to arrest Gandhi, though, which would cause unrest:

I was always told that his blood pressure is dangerous and his heart none too good, and I was also told a few days ago that his horoscope predicts that he will die this year, and that is the explanation of this desperate throw. It would be a very happy solution.

But Mohandas Gandhi didn't die. He and sixty thousand followers were imprisoned. In Peshawar, near India's Northwest Frontier, British troops fired on a crowd of Muslim salt protesters, killing some of them. Air raids "cleaned up" the Peshawar region afterward, according to The New York Times.

Mussolini gave a speech to a crowd of blackshirted Fascisti in Florence. "Words are beautiful things," he said, "but rifles, machine guns, ships, and airplanes are more beautiful still." It was May 17, 1930.

Major Frank Pease, the president of the Hollywood Technical Directors Association, a Red-baiting group, saw All Quiet on the Western Front, from Universal Pictures. The movie, about the pointlessness and horror of the Great War, was based on a novel by Erich Maria Remarque.

Major Pease disliked the movie; he wrote telegrams to President Hoover and others asking them to ban it. "Its continued uncensored exhibition especially before juveniles will go far to raise a race of yellow streaks, slackers and disloyalists," he said. "Moscow itself could not have produced a more subversive film."

When the movie wasn't banned, Pease sent out a newsletter. "The mesopotamian mongrels guilty of such a criminal film as ALL QUIET were bound to over-reach themselves some time, and this looks like the time," he wrote. "THE TIME TO CALL A HALT IS NOW."

It was May 24, 1930.

The Associated Press sent in a story from Peshawar. It was August 17, 1930. "Chastened by a daily rain of bombs from British planes, raiding Afridi tribesmen were reported today in full retreat to the hills of the northwest frontier," the story said. "Punishment inflicted on the villages by raiding airplanes was said by officals to have had a salutary effect. The disaffected sections are expected to sue for peace in a short time."

The Times of London, in an editorial, blamed the deaths of Afridi tribesmen on Gandhi's propagandists.

In Berlin, Albert Einstein was talking to reporters. It was September 18, 1930. The Hitlerites had triumphed in an election. "There is no reason for despair," Einstein said, "for the Hitler vote is only a symptom, not necessarily of anti-Jewish hatred but of momentary resentment caused by economic misery and unemployment within the ranks of misguided German youth." Einstein observed that during the Dreyfus affair most of the population of France had become anti-Semitic. And then that had changed. "I hope that as soon as the situation improves the German people will also fi nd their road to clarity," he said.

Joseph Goebbels, Reichstag member and party leader of Berlin, led two hundred Brownshirts into a movie theater. It was December 8, 1930. Goebbels had gotten them tickets to All Quiet on the Western Front, which was just out in Germany. Goebbels described Erich Maria Remarque as a "slicked-over fashionmonkey." He said that the film was a "work of filth." His recruits had weapons -- briefcases full of white mice, stink bombs, and sneeze powder. They would defend the honor of the two million who had died in the Great War against naysayers and defeatists such as Remarque.

As the film played, and as Goebbels observed from the balcony, the Brownshirts leaped up and began shouting, "Jews out! Jews out!" They freed the mice and flung the stink bombs and the sneeze powder. There was confusion; the film was stopped. The police arrived and emptied the theater.

The next night, the storm troopers were there again, and there were more of them. Police on horses tried to keep control. Goebbels denounced the fi lm as "Jewish," and then the protestors marched toward a fancy shopping district in Berlin, the Kurfürstendamm, where there were Jewish-owned businesses. "Many a proprietor of a stylish café trembled for its plate-glass front as he saw the young anti-pacifists approaching," reported The New York Times, "but apparently no windows were broken." Twenty-seven people were arrested.

The next night, there was another disturbance; and the night after that; and the night after that. The theater stood empty. The German government, intimidated, suppressed the fi lm. "The film of shame has been banned," wrote Goebbels in his diary. "With that action the National Socialist movement has won its fi ght aginst the dirty machinations of the Jews." It was, he wrote, "a victory that could not have been any grander."

Erich Maria Remarque had been watching the first demonstration. "Nobody was older than twenty," he wrote later. "None of them could have been in the war -- and none of them knew that ten years later they would be in another war and that most of them would be dead before they reached thirty."

Gandhi had replaced Lenin as Churchill's arch-nemesis. "The truth is," Churchill wrote, "Gandhi-ism and all it stands for will, sooner or later, have to be grappled with and finally crushed. It is no use trying to satisfy a tiger by feeding him with cat's-meat." It was December 11, 1930.

A month later, Gandhi was released from jail. He wrote a letter to the viceroy, Lord Irwin. "Dear Friend," he said. "I have received suggestions from friends whose advice I value that I should seek an interview with you."

Irwin invited him to the palace. The two men met and talked. They met again and talked -- and again. Winston Churchill was disgusted. The British government must, he said in a speech, dissociate itself from this "weak, wrong-headed" rapprochement: "It is alarming and also nauseating to see Mr Gandhi, a seditious Middle Temple lawyer, now posing as a fakir of a type well known in the East, striding half naked up the steps of the viceregal palace, while he is still organising and conducting a defi ant campaign of civil disobedience, to parley on equal terms with the representative of the King-Emperor. Such a spectacle can only increase the unrest in India." It was February 23, 1931.

Albert Einstein gave a speech at the Ritz-Carlton in New York. There were two ways of resisting war, Einstein said. In countries where there was a draft, the pacifist could refuse military duty. In countries where no draft currently existed, such as the United States and England, the pacifist could publicly declare that he will not, under any circumstances, take up arms.

"If only 2 percent of the men liable for war service were to refuse," Einstein said, "there would not be enough jails in the world to take care of them." He and Mrs. Einstein got an ovation. It was December 14, 1930.

Two editors from a conservative newspaper presented themselves at a house on an elegant street in Munich. It was May 4, 1931. The house was called the Brown House, and it was the headquarters of the National Socialist German Workers Party -- the Nazi Party. A steel magnate, Fritz Thyssen, had helped the party leader, Adolf Hitler, buy it. There was a swastika fl ag fl apping on the roof. Guards checked the two editors' papers, and then Rudolf Hess, Hitler's longtime private secretary, greeted them. Hess had an odd look, one of the visitors thought: in his face there were traces of fanaticism and "mental turmoil." Hess was the man to whom, some years earlier, Hitler had dictated the long monologues that became Mein Kampf.

Hitler was busy for the moment, so Hess took the two of them on a tour. They went down to the basement and saw the fireproof cabinets that held fi les on half a million party members. They went back upstairs and saw swastikas in the ceiling stucco and swastikas in the window glass. They saw a room called the Hall of the Senators, which held sixty-one chairs covered in red leather. Its ceiling was of marble, and it bore an image of the party emblem done in mosaic; on its floor were "vast priceless carpets into which were woven innumerable swastikas." Hess took them up to the courtroom of the National Socialist Party, which had a table in it bearing a gold swastika and a figure of Christ.

After an hour, Hess showed the guests into Hitler's office and made the introductions. Hitler was friendly. He shook hands with them and said, genially, "I know the part which you and your paper play among the German intelligentsia and bourgeoisie." There were two pictures visible: a small one of Mussolini on the desk and a big one of Frederick the Great, in oil, on the wall. Hitler began talking -- sometimes banging his fist on the table, sometimes shouting -- about the communists, the Vatican, the Jews, Freemasonry, the press, Karl Marx, Trotsky, and the city of Berlin, which he called an "international muckheap." One of the editors, Richard Breiting, had worked as a shorthand recorder in the Reichstag, the German Parliament, so he was able to keep up with this stream of excited speech.

"We can achieve something only by fanaticism," said Hitler. "We do not intend to nail every rich Jew to the telegraph poles on the Munich-Berlin road," he said. "That is nonsense." But there will be cases of hardship. "If you use a plane, there will be shavings."

Breiting asked who would supply the administrative brains to run the government, assuming the National Socialist party came to power. Hitler eyed him intently. "I am the master mind and my secret General Staff will produce the brains we need," he said. He flushed and grew angry. "Any resistance will be broken ruthlessly. I will tolerate no opposition." They finished the interview.

Afterward, Breiting wrote a summary. "Hitler exerts over his staff semi-hypnotic influence," he noted. "I was told he sometimes rages around the Brown House like a madman." He was, Breiting thought, a neurasthenic, a man of enormous egotism, with a tendency toward megalomania. Sometimes, it was said, he burst into tears. He left a strong impression, in any case; his chin, under the centerpiece of the mustache, showed great energy. "As he speaks he frequently grimaces as if he would like to crush his opponent with his teeth."

Copyright © 2008 by Nicholson Baker

Excerpted from Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization by Nicholson Baker
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Rewards Program

Write a Review