Freedom: A History of US

Webisode 12. Segment 4
Twentieth Century Monsters

On the very day of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's inauguration in 1933, the day he told America that "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself," something fearful was happening in far-off Germany. The Reichstag—Germany's congress—was deciding to give absolute power to its chancellor, Adolf Hitler See It Now - Adolf Hitler. Imagine giving the worst people in a country the power of life and death. Imagine a nation that burns the books of its writers because it fears and hates ideas and truth. Imagine a nation that kills people because it doesn't like their religion or race. A nation that has decided to destroy freedom. That's what happened in Germany in the thirties. It became a dictatorship—the most evil dictatorship in recorded history.

In March of 1933, however, most people in America paid no attention to what was happening in Germany. Hitler was a little man with a black brush mustache and dark hair that fell into his face See It Now - Adolf Hitler Cartoon. He strutted about raising his arm in a straight salute and shrieking his speeches . He didn't seem evil; he seemed silly. Hitler calls his movement Nazism, for national socialism. In other countries, like Japan and Spain and Italy, similar political movements sprout up See It Now - Hitler and Mussolini. They are called Fascism, and they teach that loving your country is more important than loving truth and right actions. Militant nationalism is a twentieth century disease and a British statesman named Winston Churchill See It Now - Winston Churchill sees the danger of what is happening more clearly than anyone. He says, "Dictators ride to and fro upon tigers which they dare not dismount. And the tigers are getting hungry ."

There is also another disease at loose in the world. It is called anti-Semitism. It is hatred of Jews. Hitler uses that old idea to explain Germany's problems Check The Source - Hitler's First Political Tract. It is convenient. Whatever is wrong must be the fault of Jews. Inflation? Depression? It is all because of the Jews. So in Germany, as soon as the Nazis come to power, Jews are persecuted for no reason except their religion. Liane Reif-Lehrer was a Jewish girl born in Vienna, Austria, in 1934. Later on she wrote, "I should have been a normal little girl, happy with my special doll, my big brother, and my doting parents. But the world around me was going mad, and the life I should have had was not to be."

The Nazis use the technology of the modern world for purposes of murder. They build factories for killing. Then they hunt down the Jews of Europe and send them to be slaughtered See It Now - Concentration Camps. They don't kill just Jews. Hitler hates Slavs (who live in eastern Europe), gypsies, people who are crippled, and anyone who doesn't agree with him. The Nazis kill as many of those people as they can. And they enslave others.

How can three nations—Germany, Italy, and Japan, soon to be known as the Axis in the coming war—be a threat to the whole world? In the same way that a lone wolf doesn't try to attack a whole flock. He picks them off, one by one.

In 1938 Hitler takes over Austria, and then Czechoslovakia, and the democracies let him do it. When the Nazis march into Poland in See It Now - Nazi Soldiers 1939, finally Britain and France respond. They declare war on Germany Check The Source - Neville Chamberlain Radio Address.

Europe faces something the Germans call blitzkrieg. It means "lightning war." They speed German troops, tanks, and artillery across nations, obliterating them almost before they know what is happening. In 1940, first Norway and then Denmark and finally France are overwhelmed See It Now - Nazi Cartoon. Now almost the only European democracy left is Britain, and Prime Minister Winston Churchill is fearful that it may be the next to go. He says, "If we are conquered, all will be enslaved and the United States will be left single-handed to guard the rights of man Check The Source - Winston Churchill's War Speech in the House of Commons."

In America President Roosevelt finds a way to arm England without violating this country's official neutrality: he lets the allies borrow supplies and pay for them later. It is called lend-lease. To his critics he explains: "This nation will remain a neutral nation, but I cannot ask that every American remain neutral in thought as well. Even a neutral cannot be asked to close his mind or his conscience Check The Source - Survivors of the Saint Louis."

By 1941 much of the world is at war . The Germans are attacking Britain and Russia in Europe, and in Asia, Japan has occupied parts of China and French Indochina and is threatening many places in the Pacific in August. Franklin Roosevelt tells Americans they must be willing to "defend freedom against forces which would enslave the world." But he still holds back from entering the war, saying, "I am not willing to fire the first shot. I am waiting to be pushed into the situation."

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