1932: The Rise of Hitler and FDR_Two Tales of Politics, Betrayal, and Unlikely Destiny
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Two Depression-battered nations confronted destiny in 1932, going to the polls in their own way to anoint new leaders, to rescue their people from starvation and hopelessness. America would elect a Congress and a president—ebullient aristocrat Franklin Roosevelt or tarnished “Wonder Boy” Herbert Hoover. Decadent, divided Weimar Germany faced two rounds of bloody Reichstag elections and two presidential contests—doddering reactionary Paul von Hindenburg against rising radical hate-monger Adolf Hitler.
The outcome seemed foreordained—unstoppable forces advancing upon crumbled, disoriented societies. A merciless Great Depression brought greater—perhaps hopeful, perhaps deadly—transformation: FDR’s New Deal and Hitler’s Third Reich.
But neither outcome was inevitable.
Readers enter the fray through David Pietrusza’s page-turning account: Roosevelt’s fellow Democrats may yet halt him at a deadlocked convention. 1928’s Democratic nominee, Al Smith, harbors a grudge against his one-time protege. Press baron William Randolph Hearst lays his own plans to block Roosevelt’s ascent to the White House. FDR’s politically-inspired juggling of a New York City scandal threatens his juggernaut. In Germany, the Nazis surge at the polls but twice fall short of Reichstag majorities. Hitler, tasting power after a lifetime of failure and obscurity, falls to Hindenburg for the presidency—also twice within the year. Cabals and counter-cabals plot. Secrets of love and suicide haunt Hitler.
Yet guile and ambition may yet still prevail.
1932’s breathtaking narrative covers two epic stories that possess haunting parallels to today’s crisis-filled vortex. It is an all-too-human tale of scapegoats and panaceas, class warfare and racial politics, of a seemingly bottomless depression, of massive unemployment and hardship, of unprecedented public works/infrastructure programs, of business stimulus programs and damaging allegations of political cronyism, of waves of bank failures and of mortgages foreclosed, of Washington bonus marches and Berlin street fights, of once-solid financial empires collapsing seemingly overnight, of rapidly shifting social mores, and of mountains of irresponsible international debt threatening to crash not just mere nations but the entire global economy.
It is the tale of spell-binding leaders versus bland businessmen and out-of-touch upper-class elites and of two nations inching to safety but lurching toward disaster. It is 1932’s nightmare—with lessons for today.
Slayton, p. 373; Alter, p. 110. Jouett Shouse soon wrote to Newton Baker: “If McAdoo had not broken the pledges he made, Roosevelt would not have been nominated. On the fourth ballot there would have been serious defections from his ranks with the result that some other nominee would have been certain. That nominee would have been you or Ritchie.” (Rosen, p. 248) 157 190½. Eaton, p. 358. The final vote: FDR, 945, Smith, 190½, Baker, 5½, Ritchie, 3½, George White, 3, and James M. Cox, 1.
leadership—of brains, ability and steadfastness. I ask your faith in God, that our country shall not fail.68 In January 1931, Republican National Committee executive director Robert H. Lucas (an architect of the “Hoovercrat” strategy—and the former commissioner of Internal Revenue) wrote to his former Internal Revenue Bureau field agents soliciting any political information they might possess.69 Fumed New Mexico’s progressive Republican senator Bronson Cutting: “These men check the income tax
Hitler’s potential by America’s attaché in Berlin, the Yale man Capt. Truman Smith.72 “His technique,” Hanfstaengl marveled of Hitler, “resembled the thrusts and parries of a fencer or the perfect balance of a tightrope walker. Sometimes he reminded me of a skilled violinist, who never coming to the end of his bow, always left just the faint anticipation of a tone—a thought spared the indelicacy of utterance.”73 He amused Hitler (as he had FDR) with his piano stylings, introduced the still
He had none, save for the power of his lungs. But many discerned his menace. The alarmed General Lossow extracted a pledge from Hitler “on his word of honor . . . [to] never make a putsch.”96 Such vows, as the world soon learned, remained operative only at his convenience. Hitler’s Baltic German advisers, the pompous Alfred Rosenberg and the prissy Max von Scheubner-Richter97 accordingly developed a crack-brained scheme to kidnap Lossow, Kahr, and Bavarian State Police chief Col. Hans Ritter von
that his 360 Texas delegates and alternates had traveled north to Chicago to vote for their man—and that is what they proposed to do. He was not exaggerating. “Garner for President” may have originally been the solitary and unrealistic brainchild of William Randolph Hearst, but once Texans savored the idea, they grasped it with Alamo-like devotion to their breasts. Shifting them into Roosevelt’s column would be no easy task. Rayburn demanded to know how long FDR’s forces could hold together.