The Official Slanderer

Looking to find one emblemmatic villain behind America’s decision to slam its doors against immigrant refugees in the early 1920s — especially Jewish people from Eastern Europe like my grandparents for whom failure to escape would mean death in the Holocaust? Look no further than this man: Brigadeer General Marlborough Churchill, head of American Military Intelligence (MID) from 1918 through 1920. During this time, Churchill’s MID generated a parade of reports painting Jews as undesirables, subversives, and Reds, as slanted as any Anti-Semitic propagrada of the era.

These became the chief ammunition xenophobic Congressmen used to justify imposing quotas in 1921 and 1924 designed to block all but a tiny trickle of immigrants, aimed primarily at Jews and Italians. Italy, which sent over 270,000 to Ellis Island in 1913, was restricted after 1924 to 3,845 per year. Poland, which had sent 174,000 — including about 100,000 Jews — was cut to 5,982 per year.

The American public backed restrictive quotas by a large margin. And for his part, General Churchill was probably not even a bigoted man. A distant relative of England’s Winston Churchill, product of Andover Academy and Harvard, he was a rigorous professional and brilliant staff officer. His job demanded that he protect the United States, which in 1919/1920 included two key points:

  • First, America was committed to supporting the new country of Poland, created in 1918 at the close of World War I and thrown immidiately into a life-or-death military struggle against Bolshevik Russia. Saving Poland was critical to stabilizing Europe after the War.
  • Second, Americans demanded safety against saboteurs and subversives, primarily leftists and Socialists who in 1919 had driven the country into the deliriums of the First Red Scare. The large majority of leftists were Eastern European immigrants.

Both these missions led Churchill and MID to focus on The Jews. It is alarming that today there survives a thick file of memos written by MID under General Churchill containing a barriage of slanders against Jews people as a group. They focus on Eastern Europeans but include surveillance of Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, financiers Paul Warburg and Jacob Schiff, and western Zionist leaders Chiam Weizman and Theoodore Herzl. The reports finger Jews as instigators of the Bolshevik Revolution and rulers of the Western Press, a secret conspiracy ready to subvert any country. They describe Jewish people as personally filthy and non-hygenic and, if allowed into the US, “a serious menace to our civilization.”
To Churchill’s MID, stories of violent anti-Jewish riots — pogroms — in Poland and the nearby Ukraine in 1919 were simply slanders spread by Jews to undermine Polish independence.
Think I’m exaggerating? Make a visit some time to the National Archives in College Park, Maryland, and ask them to show you Record Group 165 (Military Intelligence), file 245-15. That’s the Jewish File. Hold on to your socks while you read it!
Having recently discovered how the restrictive immigration policies of the 1920s almost cost the lives of my own grandpatents and family, I’ve now spent time studying these old archive records trying to figure out how intelligent and well-meaning professionals like General Churchill could do so much damage in the world. More on this to come….

Louis Brandeis on “Too Big to Fail”

A quick thought this morning on reading the latest plea from Detroit for a $20 billion taxpayer handout to keep General Motors and Chrysler from bankruptcy:

Before joining the Supreme Court in 1916, Louis Brandeis, one of the true great minds of Twentieth Century America, wrote a wonderful rant against the big money powers of his time called Other People’s Money: And How the Bankers Use It. In it, Brandeis described what he called the “Curse of Bigness,” which was his way of describing the big monopolistic banks, railroads, and steel companies that threw their muscle around back then to intimidate Washington, Main Street, and the public. “Size, we are told, is not a crime,” Brandeis wrote. “But size may, at least, become noxious by reason of the means through which it is attained or the uses to which it is put.”

Brandeis’s book became a big seller in 1913. It earned him the lasting hatred of Wall Street tycoons like J. P. Morgan, but it also helped create public demand for a Federal Reserve System. Brandeis’s political hero was Theodore Roosevelt, who as President happily used the new Antitrust Laws to fight “bigness” by busting trusts when he saw fit.

Today, in our modern fiscal collapse, Brandeis’s “curse of bigness” has come back to haunt us under the guise of a new doctrine: Too Big to Fail. We now see a dizzying, growing list of malefactors hiding behind its skirts:

Wall Street banks are too big to fail;
Main Street banks are too big to fail;
Detroit automakers are too big to fail;
The $700 billion bailout package was too big to fail;
The drug-taking third baseman for the Yankees is too big to fail.

Who’s next? What’s next? What kind of monster have we created?

Louis Brandeis got it right back in 1913. Bigness can be a curse, and we are paying for it now. What ever happened to the Antitrust laws? They made perfect sense to Theodore Roosevelt. Maybe it’s time to bring them back.