Information and Myth-making

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”

Joseph Goebbels, Reichsminister of Propaganda in Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945

It has been said that the ability to perpetuate myths is one of the most powerful cultural catalysts: newspapers, cable T.V, and now the internet all play a crucial role but the most influential factor maybe society’s distant chords of memory, with emphasis on the memory (or in some cases, the lack of). Information and the mediums that support its delivery comprise the pedagogical tools that enable people to acquire and produce new ideas or revamp old ones. But what happens when information is disinformation or misinformation? When that occurs, what becomes of some of our previous premises that arose from such information? Do they continue as dominating cultural beliefs or are they eventually dismissed?

In the 1960’s, under the cauldron of the Cold War the United States and Soviet Union waged relentless asymmetrical warfare. The use of propaganda and disinformation took on paramount importance in this fight. Within the Central Intelligence Agency one source of “unplanned” disinformation was the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS)1. The purpose of the FBIS was to monitor radio broadcasting (including CIA fabricated information) around the world from more than a dozen listening posts located in such varied places as Hong Kong, Panama, Nigeria, Cyprus and San Francisco. The FBIS also determined whether pro-western clandestine transmissions were reaching their intended targets. Many of the programs monitored by the FBIS were disseminated within the U.S. government, media, and academia.

The FBIS did not differentiate between sources when it forwarded its reports to subscribers (government agencies, universities, corporations, and the media were the major subscribers to this service), so no one knew if they were getting accurate information or simply disinformation. Even though the editors of the FBIS were members of the CIA’s Intelligence Directorate, the operators in the clandestine services refused to reveal their covert operations (which included the above mentioned covert radio transmissions) to the FBIS, therefore a certain amount of information was simply disinformation (unbeknownst to the FBIS). The CIA’s Clandestine Services department seemed untroubled by this development, showing little if no regard for misleading the media, academia and other CIA analysts, State, and Defense department colleagues as well.

So can we differentiate between “good” information and disinformation, if that’s at all possible? I believe only by systematically studying the sources, context, and provenance of the information can we arrive at an approximate objectivity. In the case of the FBIS, a topological and functional analysis would needed to have been done before the information could have been evaluated for its degree of objectivity. The analysis could have asked the following questions: what function (role) does the FBIS have; how does this function relate and affect other departments within their parent organization; what are the records or information that are created as a result of that internal and external functionality; and what is the temporal and spatial influence of the information (who is using it and for how long)?  In addition to a functional analysis, a documentary analysis could also have been done, (if there were documents to study, see: previous blog post on, How to Study Documents), which could have yielded further positive results.2 By answering or attempting to answer these questions, a higher degree of scrutiny and possibly better understanding of the information could have been acquired.3

So, do we know the extent of damage done by the creation of disinformation by both Cold War protagonists? No and I would venture to guess that most people do not care. This should not be dismissed simply as a cynical remark but one based on the fact that our society is deluged with a constant flow of information. Some good and some not so good but when faced with an abundance of data, people will generally fall back on preconceived notions and myths (such as the popular urban legends of the CIA assassinating JFK or selling drugs in South Central Los Angeles).

“History is the enemy of memory,” cautioned historian Richard White, after researching the archival sources and discovering many of his mother’s stories (which consisted of her childhood memories in Ireland) to be false.4 However, did Richard White prefer the truth or were the stories told to him of greater importance even though they had a layer of hyperbole and myth-making (we could further discuss the ambiguity of truth5 and the influence of story telling in shaping societal constructs)? It is the responsibility of document curators, archivists, librarians and researchers to make sure myths and memories do not replace empirical truth (or at the very least we need to create a level playing field) but we must not lose sight of this dichotomy: people generally prefer a good story, even an embellished one, regardless of its veracity. While “the truth maybe stranger than fiction,” many times it is not as riveting. I began this blog with a quote from Joseph Goebbels and his views on the “truth,” and I will end it with my own observation.  “People may believe a lie if repeated long enough but people tend to get bored with the truth much sooner.”

(Click here to read more on the question of information permanence).

  1. Victor Marchetti and John D. Marks, The CIA and The Cult of Intelligence (New York: Doubleday, 1980).
  2. To read more about documentary analysis, see: Luciana Duranti, Diplomatics: new uses for an old science (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 1998).
  3. To read more about functional analysis, see: Helen Willa Samuels, Varsity letters: documenting modern colleges and universities (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 1998).
  4. Randall C. Jimerson, Archives Power: Memory, Accountability, and Social Justice (Society of American Archivists, 2009).
  5. William Empson, Seven Types of Ambiguity (New York: Meridian, 1955).
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Mussolini, MI-5 and the Question of Permanence

Recently new archival material has been uncovered that sheds light on a previously unsubstantiated rumor. Mussolini-also known as Il Duce-was for a short period of time in the employment of British MI-5. According to Cambridge historian Peter Martland, who discovered details of the deal struck with the future dictator, said: “Britain’s least reliable ally in the war at the time was Italy after revolutionary Russia’s pullout from the conflict. Mussolini was paid £100 a week from the autumn of 1917 for at least a year to keep up the pro-war campaigning – equivalent to about £6,000 a week today.” The payments according to the Guardian were authorized by Sir Samuel Hoare, an MP and MI-5’s man in Rome, who ran a staff of 100 British intelligence officers in Italy during this period. At the time, Mussolini ran a right-wing newspaper, the Il Popolo d’Italia, which made him an attractive “asset” to western intelligence agencies. Along with his “literary talents,” Mussolini had a penchant for giving political opponents “offers they couldn’t refuse,”  Mussolini made available to Hoare and MI-5, Italian army veterans who beat up peace protesters in Milan (a possible preview to his fascist black shirt units) as a way to enlist continued Italian support for the war.

While the above story is fascinating, with features of skullduggery and subterfuge, what really interests us are the story’s archival nuances. The context of this event, revolve around Cambridge historian Peter Martland and his discovery of payment references proving Hoare’s (and MI-5’s) complicity with Mussolini. But more than that is the fact that Hoare kept the references and mentioned it in his memoirs, published in 1954. Why the story never took off when it was first told decades ago is not known (no actual documentation?) but the largely ignored story  has obtained new life with the recent find in Hoare’s papers (except in Italy). The act of creating and keeping the references by Hoare is interesting in of itself because it proves that the operation followed some type of protocol and that Hoare was not freelancing, or so it would seem. Consequently, this operation possibly might have been known by higher-ups at MI-5 because if it was not, why would he have created and kept the references to the payoffs, for historical purposes…I doubt it. It more than likely seems that Hoare wanted to create a paper trail to either protect himself or the possibly more mundane act of just keeping good accounting records (go figure).

Another area of archival concern implied within the article is preservation. The question to pose about this event is, would Hoare have kept the records if they could have been disseminated electronically at the point of creation and would Martland have discovered them years later if they would have been created within an ephemeral electronic environment, especially one with an automated records destruction cycle? I don’t have the answers to these questions but they do hang over us like the Sword of Damocles. How do we preserve electronic records but more importantly can we get to records that can shape or change history? It would seem that the ability to create and store in an analog environment but more importantly to keep such documentation private are one of the attributes that make paper so inviting to the records creator. Would people be so quick to create documentation in a more widely accessible medium, if they believed it would incriminate them in nefarious activities or would such previously recorded acts move to a more “private recording sphere?”

One final point to discuss is the authenticity of the documents. Some people might question these records as fraudulent but I would contest those charges with a couple of points. First, why would Hoare have referred to the event in question in his memoirs, if it was not true and what possible advantage would certain personnel in British Intelligence have in admitting to being associated with a known thug? By 1944 being associated with fascism was seen unfavorably, after all this was not 1938 when Hitler was chosen as Time “Man of the Year,” when the world was still enamored with Fascism. So, I cannot see there being any reason for the fraud but one never completely knows.

This story did not end well for all of the characters involved, both protagonists, Mussolini and Hoare, would meet again but not before Mussolini had turned many of his Italian WWI veterans into the elite Black Shirt shock troops (MI-5 money helped) and used them to march on Rome. After taking control of Italy, Mussolini quickly turned his ambitions to recreating the Roman Empire which brought him back into contact with his old paymaster. It was under the auspices of the Abyssinia (modern day Ethiopia and Eritrea) conflict in which then British foreign secretary, Hoare signed the Hoare-Laval pact, which gave Mussolini control over Abyssinia and sowed the seeds for the eventual war in Saharan Africa. As history tells us, Mussolini would end his conquering days swinging from the gallows, while Hoare would be made Peerage as Viscount Templewood, of Chelsea in the County of Middlesex after serving as ambassador to Spain during WWII.

Part II: Death of Newspapers or a chance for a Slim survival

In a past blog we discussed the possibility of newspapers disappearing as a information source (or at least as a analog source). While not all newspapers are being thrown a lifeline, there’s something about that old saying…  “what’s in a name.” The New York Times was all but assured of going the way of GM, when out of nowhere (south of the border actually) there arrived hope. The hope came in the shape of Mexican Carlos Slim Helu, considered one of the wealthiest men in the world, who controls (or owns it, depending on who you talk to) about 40-45% of the Mexican economy. Carlos Slim is viewed by some as a financial oligarch and by others as a source of pride. What ever may be the case, Slim is now the largest shareholder of the Times, after the Sulzbergers. What does this all mean? Who knows, maybe just like in the auto industry (Chrysler owned by Fiat, GM owned by the U.S.A Gov and Hummer owned by the Chinese) we will now start selling other “sacred institutions” to foreigners, governments or unions.  Or maybe, newspapers have gone the way of the Dodo. Whatever the final outcome, the control of the new information conduits continues.

Just like the mythical stories of the Rothschild’s and their use of pigeons (to relay information about the results of the Battle of Waterloo) giving them an upper hand in the London Financial Markets. Information or the control of it, remains the ultimate prize for economic conquistadors. Carlos Slim’s fortune is based upon such control. From his monopoly on cell phone and land-line services (Telmex, America Movil, and TracPhone), Slim has focused on distribution control, not content. His iron fist approach to consolidating an industry is legendary (his equivalent would be John D. Rockefeller). Along with his uncanny ability to buy when others are selling, has made him an economic force equivalent to Warren Buffet or previously (before he became a philanthropist to the Democratic Party) George Soros.

I believe there is no doubt that we have arrived at the end of the analog information age. We are definitely in the digital information world and its here that I believe Carlos Slim is positioning himself. Regardless of the amount of information there is out on the Internet, the New York Times retains brand power. And with that, also comes credibility (if you don’t believe me, just ask anyone who they would trust more concerning the veracity of a news story, Joe’s info blog or the nytimes.com). I’m also going to put forward a prediction. I really believe we are coming to a top in the amount of (quality) information that is being produced, why, because we can only read so much. I don’t know if Carlos Slim believes that but he has said that he does not want to control content but the vehicles that deliver it (Carlos Slim builds monopolies and just like he did in Mexico, he might just attempt to do this here).

Now humans can only process a certain amount and lets face it, the amount of waste on the web is vast. But there’s another aspect to this, and that is the role of search engines, when someone types in a search entry, how many people go beyond the first page or the first 5 entries? If your website doesn’t come up in the first page, in all likely hood it will not be picked. Therefore, making sure your website is one of the first chosen is of vital importance. And its here that the NYTimes has a huge advantage, where nearly everyone of their major stories will come up first on a search  (not to mention they are one of the top 5 on-line news sources). Something Mr. Slim has possibly taken note of.

So in an ironic twist, just like there is a shaking out in any industry, I think we will have the same thing happen with all forms of on-line official and homegrown news sources (websites, wiki’s, blogs, facebook’s and twitters). Now, it does not mean that these other sources will become non existent, it is just that they will become immaterial (I will go out on a limb and say 95% of the Internet will be irrelevant).  So, as a limited processing species, we only can read and look at a limited amount of information and for a lot of our choices we rely on pattern (name) recognition to guide us through many of our decisions. In many ways we already do this, how many people have websites they look at everyday and only those? Therefore, information preservers and curators will be looking at many familiar names, just in a different medium. A medium that Mr. Slim would like to control.

The Death of Newspapers or a Rebirth?

In the last several years we have been hearing the death knell of newspapers, (and books) as the primary mechanism of informational and knowledge delivery. Bloggers (our modern day Benjamin Franklins), wiki’s and web pages, are storming the bastion of the 4th Estate and would seem to be on the verge of overwhelming, or at the very least altering it. The Internet has been the primary cause of this paradigm shift; it has changed the culture but more importantly the informational pedagogies. This blog touches upon whether newspapers are really going to die (some would say that their bodies are already traversing the river Styx) and be taken over (or replaced) by websites such as the Huffington Post (known as the HuffPo). I don’t know the answers (nobody does) but there is a possibility that newspapers can find a form of Brahmanian reincarnation, ironically of all places, in the digital world.

In the 2009 January/February addition of Atlantic Monthly an article (End Times, by Michael Hirschorn) described the current dismal state of the New York Times (the flagship of American newspapers) and other newspaper stalwarts:

“The thinking goes that existing brands–The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal–will be the ones making that transition, challenged but still dominant as sources of original reporting. But what if the old media dies much more quickly? What if a hurricane comes along and obliterates the dunes entirely? Specifically, what if The New York Times goes out of business–like this May?”

With more than $1 Billion in debt, $46 million in cash reserves (as of October) and $400 million in debt coming due, it seems that Wall Street Investment firms and banks aren’t the only bankrupt entities in New York. It is very plausible that the NYT will cease to exist or have to change its structure dramatically (such as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette deciding it will no longer be delivering print additions beyond a certain radius) or it may just come back as a digital newspaper selling off its other assets to pay off its creditors. The NYT isn’t the only financially strapped paper (Seattle Times, The Tribune Company, and countless others are in similar circumstances). Regardless, the coming year will be froth with change in the newspaper world. So, with the impending doom and gloom, is there a chance for newspapers to survive?  The possibility is remote but if they do survive, it will be because they are willing to leverage the power of their brand names while adopting new informational models.

What do I mean by this? Simply that major newspapers have something blogs and other Web 2.0 generated entities do not provide, name recognition and continuity. The NYT bridges the gap of paper and digital. People are more comfortable believing something that used to be in paper and that now is in digital. Linguistically, the NYT and other major newspapers have already framed and controlled the argument of validity by having their names equating with some aspect of truth, because of that very same longevity and continuity.

This leads many people to associate the NYT as a concrete symbol of truth, which really espouses what I call, “truth of fact.” Truth of fact is the ability to cognitively create a culturally belief in which an entity can be trusted to report an existence of an event, person, place or thing. It doesn’t mean that it can tell us causality or how factually true every aspect of such a report may be, just that what it reports happened or that it exists. (Now some people will argue that it can do both, I will not argue this point.) It also has created an organic relationship with society as opposed to a simply positivistic one. The new forms of newspapers (blogs) cannot create in a matter of a few years, what took newspapers decades. So, what are we left with?

In order to survive, newspapers more than likely will move completely over to digital and cut off their more expensive paper editions (the nytimes.com is already one of the top 5 online news sources). Once they move their revenue generating to web advertisements and devote themselves to a complete web product, most large newspapers will do fine, granted probably in a much smaller scale.  This in many ways is a good thing, as newspapers will be forced to concentrate on quality reporting, such as investigative news (that really no longer exists). News bloggers I believe will come to resemble free-lance reporters (if they don’t already), who will benefit from the name recognition of being associated with a major newspaper.  By becoming reliable and trustworthy news sources, some bloggers will enjoy the elevated status that comes with seeing their story linked from the NYT home page or any other major paper. In addition, (with out sounding conspiratorial) I would not be surprised if major news outlets will not be treated with some preference by large search engines.

Now none of this may happen and we could be left with no newspapers. However, if such a scenario were to occur, I don’t believe we would have information news anarchy for very long. People and society tend to strive for some level of order in all things. The new technology is causing a development of tension, which will not be resolved with out some societal transformation. It happened before in our history with the introduction of the car, radio, and television. How this societal change will play out is anyone’s guess, but as an archivist, I look forward to seeing how we not only preserve the old but how we deal with the new information mechanisms.

Historical Truth?

Recently, I came to be fascinated by the historical theories of Oscar Handlin and William McNeill, which focus on whether or not history is true.  I was exposed to their essays while reading Taking Sides: Clashing Views on Controversial Issues in American History, Volume II Reconstruction to the Present for one of the History classes I am taking this semester.  I tend to favor Handlin’s theory more than McNeill’s, but both encourage thinking and question their readers’ belief in historical truth.  If anything, Handlin and McNeill are capable of making one see history through different eyes.

Oscar Handlin opens his essay, “The Uses of History,” by saying that the world has a desire for facts, for knowledge, and also for reassurance and relevance.  This need for reassurance and relevance can be a problem for historians seeking the truth.  Historical data becomes distorted as historians try to meet these demands. To make the past usable, to “solve the world’s problems,” historical data has to have a scientific approach, a formula.  Historical truth is NOT influenced by the desires or visions of the viewer.  Historical truth is evidence.  This evidence forms a record; the record is the truth.  Oscar Handlin says evidence is chronological, evidence is vocabulary, and evidence is context.  He says without a record, there could be no “counting of time, no reading of words, and no perception on the context, and no utility of the subject.” Fact is something of common ground for all historians despite the difference in their interpretation.  Scientific methods must be used to distinguish between fact and opinions.  Handlin warns the historian to be careful of the difference between fact and interpretation, and confronts the arguments of falseness in historical truth.  Such is false when influenced by external pressures (as in Stalin’s imposition on Russian history), when opinions get involved with evidence, when information is manipulated for convenience, when the distinction between fact and interpretation disappears, and when it becomes a means to an end of someone’s preconceived notions instead of arriving to the truth based on the evidence alone. All these external pressures and choices are the basis of William McNeill’s opinion of historical truths or myths.

McNeill’s essay, “Mythistory, or Truth, Myth, History, and Historians,” emphasizes the falsehood of historical truth, seeing history as evolving through the discovery of new data and exposure to intellectual choices and subjective judgments on the arrangement of historical facts.  These judgments and choices have nothing to do with scientific methodology.  The scientific method of finding historical truth is meaningless and is of no use to the historian. Unlike Handlin, McNeill believes all the “evidence” becomes nothing but a catalogue; it has to be put together for the reader in order to be understandable, credible, and useful because facts alone do not give “meaning or intelligibility to the record of the past.”   Everything evolves, causing emphasis on what is important to change.  Previously important facts become “background noise” while others remain constant.  This picking and choosing of facts is what makes history elastic and evolutionary.  Every culture has its own version of truth; truth about its own culture as well as the “truth” about other cultures.  Truth to one is another person’s myth (mythistories).  Therefore, all these outside forces of culture, background, relationships, society, etcetera, affect what is true whether the individual realizes it or not. Because of this, history tends to be biased and, according to McNeill, the past is influenced by the way an individual wants it to be.  History (or myth) becomes self-validating.   What historians need to do is to view history and group identities on a more general scale. Specialization with a focus on documents should be avoided.  Historians need to view history as ecumenical and parochial.   It evolves as groups evolve.  The main important figure he states is “ever-evolving mythistories will indeed become truer and more adequate to public life, emphasizing the really important aspects of human encounters and omitting irrelevant background noise more efficiently so that man and women will know how to act more wisely than is possible for us today.”

This is what makes history interesting and dynamic, not static.  It makes for new and fresh versions of history.  How one views historical truth can influence his or her outlook on events and people in history. Can history be based on science and knowable things (Handlin’s chronology, words, and context) or can that even be manipulated by the people of that time because it reflects their “truth,” which can be other’s “myths”?   What about things which are “common ground” to historians and people?  Everyone can say “Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492.”  Is this based on scientific evidence or is it an evolution of an important fact that didn’t become “background noise,” whereas some other facts may have? Is history true? Such is not up to the historian only, but also to the reader’s interpretation of the historian’s interpretation, which is all influenced by theories of historical truth.

Gas and Oil Prices: Then and Now

It seems like today the subject that is most often brought up in conversation is the price of oil and gasoline. Many people are shocked to see gas prices skyrocket to or above $4 a gallon. Of course this isn’t the only time gas prices have crippled driving in America. Since this is a topic generating a great deal of interest, I thought it would be interesting to see the reactions, thoughts, and conjectures of people at YSU. Their theories about who was behind it and what actions they took and are taking to minimize the effects upon their day to day lives. I decided to rummage through the Jambar Newspaper archive to find some answers.

During the 1970’s several problems occurred in the Middle East that caused the raising of gas prices. In 1973 there was the OPEC embargo of the United States because of the US support for Israel. In 1979 Iraq invaded Iran and both countries significantly, if not completely, stopped their export of oil, leading President Jimmy Carter to declare an “energy crisis” in America.

Despite these problems that globally affected the world, many of the opinions generated in the 1970s closely reflect current themes. Many people believed that the Middle Eastern events were just the oil companies taking advantage of the situation. For example, in the January 15, 1974 edition of The Jambar, an article titled, “Oil Slicks,” states that oil prices were “spurred by capitalistic avarice, the oil firms are priggishly manipulating the market, hoarding petroleum reserves, raking in windfall profits, operating refineries below capacity, and providing inertia in the administrative agencies laden with oil lobbyists. Simultaneously, the industry has paid lip-service to superficial solutions….Simply put, the industry is benefiting from the oil crunch by manipulating supply and demand.” More reactions like today were reflected by YSU Professor of Economics, Dr. Taghi T. Kermani in the Aug 2, 1979 issue of The Jambar. He spoke of the “Energy Crisis” as, “being played up…It sounds very odd to hear that there is a lack of energy, lack of oil, and every time you read about it the oil profits have gone up 30, 40, or 50 percent.” He claims that “the American people have been fed nothing but lame excuses.” So what did they do about it?

On Nov 9, 1973, The Jambar printed an article on a “Computerized car pool” proposal. However, the response was “lukewarm,” due to the giving out of personal information. Alternative energy was also suggested at the time with coal and nuclear energy and The Jambar (1/15/1974) stated that “energy industries should be nationalized as public utilities with “profits” filtered back to the citizenry.” A task force was also suggested by the University to find ways to reduce energy on campus during the “Energy Crisis.” The government also initiated C.A.F.E. (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) to increase the miles per gallon in cars.

The energy crisis of the 1970’s ended in the early 1980’s with an “oil glut,” caused by a decrease in demand and an over production of supplies. This begs the question: Can the same thing happen today? An article on CNNMoney suggests that oil prices will eventually tank, but with end of summer prices heading towards $5 a gallon, it seems like many of us will suffer pain at the pump for a while before it gets any better.

Today, many people are considering other transportation alternatives like scooters or public transportation. The production of SUVs and trucks has been severely cut and the production of small cars and hybrids has increased. The government is trying to focus on other forms of energy such as electric, ethanol, and wind. Countries, like Iceland, are working on a completely “fossil-fuel free economy” with a focus on hydrogen power. At YSU, students are getting second jobs to help pay for rising gas prices, scheduling classes so they won’t have to drive to Youngstown everyday during the week, or, unfortunately, not attending class as much as they should, according to a recent article in The Jambar. Will history repeat itself, only time will tell.

Want to see more about the current oil crisis? Click on this link.

Fleeing the Coming Storm

The official papers of Representative Michael J. Kirwan (D-19th Ohio), which are currently being processed by Archives & Special Collections, contain a substantial volume of correspondence between the congressman and his constituents. Among these letters are those from local residents pleading with Kirwan for assistance in obtaining asylum for friends and relatives desperate to flee Europe. Most of the people in question were Jewish and in urgent need of sanctuary from the Nazis. Sadly, the congressman’s official correspondence reflects what little power he had in these matters.

American immigration laws at the time were based upon a quota system, whereby entry into the U.S. was limited by an annual number assigned to each country of origin. Once the limit was reached for a particular group, the gate was closed for that year. For the Jews of Europe, however, the situation was complicated further by the promulgation anti-Semitic legislation in Germany that codified the Nazi definition of “Jewishness.”

The Nuremberg Laws, so-called because they were first made public in 1935 at the annual Nazi Party rally in Nuremberg, declared that only persons of German blood could be citizens of the Third Reich. Accordingly, German Jews were stripped of their citizenship and other rights because they were viewed by Hitler and the Nazis as a foreign ethnic group. The Party’s definition, however, did not match that followed by United States immigration authorities, who saw Jews as practitioners of a religion, not as an ethnic group. Thus, German Jews seeking immigrant visas to the U.S. were seen as Germans by American officials and were placed in the same quota group for Germany as non-Jewish applicants. Later, Jewish residents of other countries would experience this same bureaucratic dilemma.

The appointment of Breckinridge Long to the post of Assistant Secretary of State made things worse. Smug, bigoted, and ambitious, Long did nothing to alleviate the plight of those endangered by the Nazis as he supervised 23 of the 42 divisions in the State Department, including the visa section. Citing “the interest of national security,” Long denied visas to a multitude of potential immigrants because he feared the infiltration of fascist spies and saboteurs into the United States. Thus, Long and his associates (with the support of President Franklin D. Roosevelt) abandoned thousands to the tender mercies of Hitler’s SS while never coming close to filling established quotas. Working within such an environment—and hamstrung by the law, prejudicial policies, and Long’s supposed phobia of Nazi espionage—it is small wonder that Congressman Kirwan could do little in this regard to serve his constituents as the clouds of war gathered.

Selections from the Kirwan files relating to immigration between 1937 and 1940 can be read online through the following links:

Correspondence involving Augusta Berkowitz

Correspondence involving Bernard Altman

Correspondence involving Mr. & Mrs. Solomon Hirschhorn

Correspondence involving I.E. Philo

Correspondence involving Mrs. Zysla Goldszak

Correspondence involving Jacob Bierman

Correspondence involving Krueger Family

Correspondence involving Nicholas and Joseph Banko

Correspondence involving Joan Wheeler and Nancy Wheeler

Interested in learning more about the Holocaust, view the Alfred Hitchcock Documentary.

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Sources:

Dallek, Robert. Franklin D. Roosevelt and American Foreign Policy, 1932-1945. New York: Oxford University Press, 1979.

Friedman, Saul S. A History of the Holocaust. Portland, Ore.: Valentine-Mitchell, 2004.

Kirwan, Michael J. Michael J. Kirwan Archives. Youngstown, Oh.: Youngstown State University, Maag Library, Archives & Special Collections, 1937-1970

Israel, Fred L., ed. The War Diary of Breckinridge Long: Selections from the Years 1939-1944. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 1966.

Wyman, David S. The Abandonment of the Jews: America and the Holocaust, 1941-1945. New York: Pantheon Books, 1984.