Archive for March 19th, 2008

By March 19, 1945, the War in Europe was, for the Germans, lost.  For those living in Germany at at the time, life was spent trying to find food to stay alive while avoiding the incessant rain of artillery shells, bombs, and bullets, also in an effort to stay alive.  Allied troops were closing in on Berlin from the West, and Allied troops (wearing Russian uniforms) were bearing down on the capital from the East.  Germany, in the middle, lay in ruins.

But even so, it came as something of a shock when Adolf Hitler chose this day to issue his “scorched earth” policy.  Anything deemed valuable to the enemy was to be destroyed or sabotaged.  And “anything” meant pretty much “everything”…rail lines, factories, fuel depots, vehicles, weapons, ammunition, foodstuffs, bridges, wells, crops…everything.  The decree was later known as the “Nero Decree”, named after the infamous Caesar who was suspected of starting the fires that destroyed Rome in 64 A.D.

Albert Speer, Hitler’s Minister of Armaments and his personal architect, was horrified.  He very quickly realized that the dictator was not only denying these things to the enemy, he was sentencing his own people to complete destruction.

Ever the architect, Speer (pictured above with Hitler) crafted his own “two-front war”.  He used Hitler’s own tactic of “delusional victory” to remind Der Fuhrer that factories and weapons and infrastructure would be needed when Germany began winning again.  At the same time, he met with regional Gauleiters, begging them to ignore the decree.  Ultimately he confronted Hitler directly and, at great personal risk, told him the war was lost.  Speer waged a one-man war to prevent the policy from being implemented.

Speer’s desire to protect the German people was, among other things, what helped to reduce his sentence when he was tried at Nuremberg.

Recommended Reading: Inside the Third Reich – Speer’s memoirs, written in prison.  One of the best day-to-day looks at Adolf Hitler we’ll ever have.

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La Salle

We celebrated a birth here a few days ago.  I guess it’s time we look at the anniversary of a death.  On March 19, 1682, Rene-Robert La Salle was mutinied by his own men while trying to set up a colony near the Gulf of Mexico.  What could cause such violence?  Well, let’s see.  The 300 colonists he was leading experienced marauding pirates, attacking Indians and sunken ships.  I guess that could cause some stress.

La Salle’s life as an explorer developed early.  He originally joined the Jesuits, but his wanderlust got the better of him.  He repeatedly asked his superiors to be stationed in China, the most prestigious location.  After numerous rejections, he eventually left the order and made his way to New France.

Despite giving the territory of Louisiana its name, La Salle’s primary claim to fame was being the first to navigate the Mississippi River from end to end, but it was Louis Joliet and Jacques Marquette who actually “discovered” the length and importance of the river three years earlier.  In fact, Joliet petitioned to make the same trip that La Salle eventually made, but his request was turned down by the king.  La Salle must have asked nicer because he got the honor.  Oh and the mutiny.

Recommended reading: A New World by Arthur Quinn

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