June 29, 2017

1941. Hitler Ridicules American Fears of a Nazi Invasion

Hitler Ridicules U.S. Fear of Nazis
"New York City's mounted police form a solid line outside Madison Square Garden on February 20, 1939, to hold in check a crowd which packed the streets around the Garden where the German American Bund was holding a rally" (source)
This is part of a series of posts on how newspapers covered the rise of fascism. On May 23, 1941, a month before Nazi Germany launched its invasion of the Soviet Union, American ambassador John Cudahy sat down with Adolf Hitler at his Berghof headquarters.

The United States was still six months away from entering the war, and Axis victory seemed a real possibility. Cudahy noted that some in America were concerned about an eventual invasion should Germany conquer Europe (a scenario which was addressed in an article in The New York Times a year earlier). Hitler dismissed it as fantasy, saying that "the idea of a Western Hemisphere invasion was about as fantastic as an invasion of the moon."

From The New York Times, June 6, 1941, pp. 1-2:
Hitler Ridicules U.S. Fears, Holds Nazi Attack Wild Idea
This is the first interview has given to an American press correspondent in a year. Mr. Cudahy, United States Ambassador to Belgium in 1939 and 1940, is now en route to the United States via Lisbon. This dispatch was cabled from Berlin just before his departure.


"Convoy means war," Adolf Hitler told me quietly on the afternoon of May 23 as we sat in the famous living room of his Berghof at Berchtesgaden. International legal precedents were well established, he said, that escorting munitions, war materials and deadly weapons to an enemy with armed naval forces was a warlike act. These precedents had been determined by Anglo-Saxon maritime powers for a long time, were thoroughly well known and understood by all legal authorities.

At my side was the celebrated interpreter, Dr. Paul Schmidt, and across the big round table, Walter Hewel, liaison officer of the German Foreign Office. Through the largest bay window I have ever seen the snow-sheeted Alps seemed startlingly close and white as an antimony in the Spring sunshine. Far down the green valley was polka-dotted with Spring flowers. The distant silhouette of Salzburg looked vague and fluttering against a cumulus cloud embankment, like a phantom city.

I was met in the hallway of the Berghof by Herr Hewel and a captain aide. I distinguished a portrait of Bismarck as we went down a passageway and through doors to an oblong room of great height, length and breadth. We descended three steps. At the opposite end of the hall another stairway with iron balustrade leads to the only other exit, a Roman arched doorway.

The whole color scheme has a garnet tint—the carpet, the marble steps and the coverings of furniture. On both white plaster walls there are swastikas, tapestries and paintings of reclining nudes. The woodwork and the paneling on the ceiling are of shellacked oak. I noticed an oak table, a piano and a bust of Wagner. There were calla lilies and carnations on the table and hydrangeas in a bowl. A clock struck noisily during our conversation.

I told the Fuehrer that the primary cause of opposition to Germany in the United States was based upon the sentiment that the security of the Western Hemisphere was threatened by German aggression. People argued that German conquest might go on and on and the next logical field for German military adventure was the two American continents.

He laughed at that and refused to take me seriously. He said the idea of a Western Hemisphere invasion was about as fantastic as an invasion of the moon.

I replied that, fantastic or not, an eventual attack by Germany on the Americas was feared by a large number of thoughtful American people.

He could not believe it, he persisted, because he had too high an opinion of the intelligence and good sense of Americans. He said he was convinced this invasion story was put out by warmongers against their better knowledge, men who wanted war in the belief it would be profitable for business—an erroneous conception, since the last great war had demonstrated that war was ruinous to business.

Hold Invasion Impracticable

He said the German High Command considered an invasion of either American continent to be as wildly imaginary as an invasion of the moon and he was confident that Army and Navy chiefs in the United States shared the same views as the German military authorities.

"Why," he asked, "do not the British send more troops to Greece and North Africa?" He answered his own question by saying it was because sufficient transports were not available, although the distances were comparatively short. The combined shipping tonnage of Britain, the United States and Germany would be hopelessly inadequate, he insisted, to transport an army of millions, which would be required for a successful conquest of the Western Hemisphere.

The German Army, he went on, was not concerned with military expeditions for the sake of showing off or to demonstrate that nothing was impossible for German arms. If the Crete enterprise seemed difficult, he said, an attack over some 2,500 miles of open water, as would be the case with the United States, is simply unthinkable.

He said he had never heard anybody in Germany say that the Mississippi River was a German frontier in the same spirit that the Prime Minister of Australia has referred to the Rhine as a frontier of that country. But, since the Rhine was their frontier, he had decided to send some Australian prisoners to that mighty famous German river so they might acquaint themselves with frontier atmosphere.

Low Living Standard Denied

He assured me that Germany had too many serious problems in Europe to give any thought to an American invasion. I told Herr Hitler that many people shared his view that the Atlantic offered too formidable a military obstacle to be surmounted at present, but the same people believed a German triumph would mean economic disaster to the United States.

The reason for this belief, I said, was because of a lower standard of living for workers in Germany and disciplinary methods imposed upon German labor, which would never be accepted in the United States. Therefore American industrial output could not compete with that of Germany.

He replied that he did not think the living standard of German workers was so low. The controlling purpose of National Socialism, he said, was to improve living conditions for working people. This effort the war had interrupted, but it would be renewed with redoubled force when peace came, and he had great ambitions for the common man in Germany. Among other things he hoped to see him own an automobile.

He reminded me that Germany, with a population density of 140 persons to the square kilometer, had risen out of depression and provided jobs for all so that there were no longer any unemployed, while the United States, with only eleven persons to the square kilometer, was unable to cope with a very serious unemployment problem.

He asked me why the German nation was singled out as an economic menace to America when Germany had an area of only 600,000 to 700,000 square kilometers and a population of only 85,000,000, while the British Empire had a population of 400,000,000, Japan 100,000,000, Russia 170,00,000 and other nations of the world 500,000,000.

He inquired why, if German competition was so greatly feared, her colonies had been taken away from Germany, and said development of the colonies would have presented a great outlet for German industrial output.

Two-Way Trade Stressed

He asked further why the United States was opposed to the organization of Europe to provide markets in Europe for German goods, thereby lessening the probability of competition with the United States. Southeastern Europe was, he said, a natural component to German economy, for the Balkan countries had a surplus of agricultural produce, which they could exchange for Germany's industrial products.

That, he insisted, was the "iron rule of trade." No country could buy from another unless it could also sell, and how, he asked, could the United States, with its great agricultural surpluses, offer to take farm produce from Southeastern Europe in payment for American manufactured articles?

I inquired whether he envisaged a trade union for Europe with suppression of quotas, tariffs, currency restrictions, etc. He replied that he thought all commercial relations between countries could be assured by long-term trade treaties guaranteeing to both partners a profitable arrangement and suppressing the element of speculation that has always cursed business. He saw no future in trade relations based on loans because, he told me, loans have to be paid back and the end of borrowing is often bankruptcy.

The future trade of Germany, he declared, would not be based upon paper, but upon exchange of commodity for commodity with an absolute exclusion of speculation. Professors had scored his economic theories, but in twenty of thirty years, he predicted, they would be teaching them in universities.

I asked about gold and its function in the future international trade of Germany. He said Germany  had been deprived of all her gold by the necessity of paying reparations and had been forced to devise a system of international trade without gold. Yet he recognized the usefulness of gold in providing a more elastic method of mercantile dealing between nations and as a basis of credit.

Denies Interest in Slaves

I then turned to countries occupied by German military forces and asked the Fuehrer if he could indicate in broadest outline his disposition with reference to such nations. I told him frankly that my question was inspired by a belief among many Americans that German domination of Europe meant suppression of native national languages, customs and institutions.

His reply was that Germany had not commenced this war. War had been declared against Germany by France and England. It was strange, he said, to hear the British discourse on world domination when they held in oppression millions of subject Indians, Egyptians and Arabs.

"We shall settle relations with our neighbors in such a way that all will enjoy peace and prosperity," he summarized.

I returned to the case of Belgium, explaining that my interest had a personal angle because I had lived in that country. His answer was that his formula for the future of Europe was "peace, prosperity and happiness." Germany, he said, was not interested in slaves or the enslavement of any people.

At the conclusion of our discussion, Herr Hitler, stating that he had tried to answer all my inquiries with clarity and candor, expressed skepticism of any beneficial results from this interview. He said that time after time he had tried to emphasize that the position of Germany and his plans were not inimical to the United States, but his efforts had always proved futile.