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An Ambassador of Democracy

ISSUE:  Summer 1941

Nearly everyone now agrees that the policy of capitulation carried out by the Western democracies was largely responsible for the present world situation. Fourteen European nations wiped off the political map as sovereign and independent states speak with a force that the best historical survey could hardly match. Discussions of the causes which led to the disaster become a pale reflection of reality compared with this roll call of dismembered or murdered countries. But as the policy of appeasement which brought the world to this dark hour still exercises its nefarious influence, a review of the last eight years of unfortunate events and more unfortunate political mistakes is not just a matter of academic interest but a part of the active struggle against the major enemy with whom mankind is confronted today.

From that point of view I doubt that any book published since the beginning of the European War could do more to liquidate the delusions concerning a possible truce between democracy and totalitarianism than “Ambassador Dodd’s Diary.” It also might have been named “The Failure of a Mission,” but with the enormous difference that while his colleague Sir Nevile Henderson went to Berlin to deliver democracy to Hitler, William E, Dodd went to enlighten his government as to the urgency of consolidating and strengthening resistance to that spirit of aggression which showed itself in all the manifestations of the Germany of the early ‘thirties.

He undertook his task free from any prejudice. When, on a June morning in 1938, President Roosevelt telephoned to him at his office at the University of Chicago to ask him to go to Germany as Ambassador, he at once reminded the President of his book, “Woodrow Wilson,” which he thought might militate against his acceptance by Berlin. But when the President insisted that he wanted “an American liberal in Germany as a standing example,” Dodd realized that he must put his knowledge and his honesty at the service of his country. More familiar with German history and German psychology than most of his contemporaries, he went to Berlin determined to promote the cause of peace but more determined still to tell the truth, even if it should disturb the slumbers into which the chancelleries of the world, with the exception of those of the totalitarian regimes, had fallen in recent years.

From the very beginning he displayed the dignity of the representative of a great democracy in a milieu where democracy was scoffed at and despised. He repressed even his natural curiosity to see for himself those fantastic gatherings of which the Nazis were so fond and which had been popularized on the screen in order to impress the world. “I received,” he wrote on August 19,1933, “an invitation today from the Foreign Office asking me, as well as all other members of the diplomatic corps, to attend a great demonstration meeting of the Nazi Party and its Ftihrer in Niirnberg. . . . Elaborate train and hotel service was offered at the expense of the government. It was plain that the invitation came by order of the Hitler chiefs and the word ‘Partei’ (Party) was used three times in the first paragraph of the letter. I saw at once that attendance would be embarrassing and concluded that I would not attend unless all other Ambassadors did.” He sounded out his colleagues and asked Washington for instructions. But as soon as he received a “noncommittal reply” from the State Department, leaving the decision to him, he made up his mind not to go—”even if all other Ambassadors went.”

Already his attitude was fixed. We see him later on keeping himself apart from all similar performances, including the great Goering parade of January 13, 1936, at which all the other Ambassadors were present. As he learned more about the Nazi leaders and the things going on in Germany, this position became more than a matter of principle. Hitler in the meantime had proved himself capable of dealing violently not only with other nations but also with his most devoted and intimate friends. After Hitler murdered Ernst Roehm and had the outstanding S. A. chiefs executed in Munich, Ambassador Dodd’s disinclination to flatter the Nazi leaders, as his colleagues did, grew into an evident repugnance ; he considered such flattery unworthy of his post. He avoided any dealings with them other than those imposed on him by his official duties. “I decided last Tuesday,” he wrote on July 13,1934, “that I would never again attend an address of the Chancellor or seek an interview for myself except upon official grounds. I have a sense of horror when I look at the man.” He spoke about this with the British Ambassador next day. But Sir Eric Phipps would not for anything have missed the spectacle of Hitler climbing over the body of the dead Marshal von Hindenburg to the supreme pinnacle of the Reich. He tried to persuade Dodd to go: “It will be a grand show, all kinds of flashlights, photographers, and pomp.” But Dodd replied: “He is such a horror to me, I cannot endure his presence.”

One can easily imagine how lonely Ambassador Dodd must have felt in that group of diplomats for whom the Nazi world provided endless entertainment. He showed this feeling when Luis de Zulueta, the Spanish Ambassador, left Berlin. “I am afraid,” he explained, “that his successor will be a Fascist with whom I shall not be able to associate in any but a purely formal manner. I am distressed to lose my only friend here.” Zulueta, now a professor in Bogotd, was not precisely a fighter. After he ceased to be Ambassador of the Republic to the Vatican, when Italy recognized the rebel chief Franco as head of the legitimate government, he stayed out of Spain for the rest of the war. But he was a sensitive man who shared Dodd’s abhorrence of Nazi-ism and was intelligent enough to see that a frivolous attitude toward its menace could only lead to subjugation and defeat. De Zulueta corresponded more to Dodd’s conception of a modern diplomat, a conception that induced him while on leave in Washington in the spring of 1934, to urge, to the amazement of some of the State Department officials, “the necessity of having ambassadors and assistants who knew the history and traditions of the countries to which they were sent, men who think of their own country’s interest, not so much about a different suit of clothes each day or sitting up at gay but silly dinners and shows every night until 1 o’clock.” Even before the last British Ambassador arrived, Mr. Dodd anticipated his appearance on the Berlin scene with acute and justified mistrust: “The new English Ambassador here,” he wrote on June 2, 1937, “is reported to be in full sympathy with the German-Italian aggression in Spain. His name is Henderson, and he was in Argentina several years before coming here. He had already revealed his complete pro-Franco attitude, seemingly unaware of the dangers to England. He is also reported to have informed the German Government that England would make no objections if Hitler seized Austria and Czechoslovakia.”

Dodd himself understood very well the real significance of the struggle in Spain. On August 15, 1936, less than four weeks after the rebellion against the Republic had started, he made this note: “A report of the American Consul at Stuttgart in southern Germany says the press over that region is quite open in its discussion of Spanish relations. The general idea they suggest is for the Fascist-Nazi powers to assist the revolutionary, or rather the reactionary, army crowd of Spain to regain control there.” Eight days later, in reporting the shipment of twenty-five German planes from Diis-seldorf to Spain, he added caustically: “I do not see how the Spanish rebels can pay for their imports.” Realizing clearly that on the outcome of the Spanish struggle against German and Italian aggression depended the possibility of stopping Hitler without recourse to a general war, Dodd could not conceive that a British diplomat could favor the success of Franco in Spain. He thought that perhaps the reports of Henderson’s position were exaggerated, but his first meeting with his newly arrived colleague revealed that they were too mild. On June 28,1937, Dodd reported this statement made by Henderson in a general discussion: “Germany under Hitler is renewing the Bismarck policy of annexing all European peoples of German descent, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and other countries. . . . Germany must dominate the Danube-Balkan zone, which means that she is to dominate Europe. England and her Empire is to dominate the seas along with the United States.”

Dodd was accustomed to the hesitations of Henderson’s predecessor, who was caught between his knowledge of the situation and the reluctance of the British Foreign Office to take a firm stand. In January, 1937 Sir Eric Phipps was known to be ready to help his government to the limit against German aggression and willing to support the French-Soviet pact; three months later he was uncertain about what Britain should do in any direction. He admitted that Italy might seize Ethiopia and even Egypt, which would have meant immediate war in the Mediterranean, and that France might break across the German frontier—”which England would not support.” He saw Germany preparing for war and England incapable of opposing her designs. And when Dodd remarked that “that means a new Europe, with France declining, England losing her Empire, and Germany becoming master of all,” Sir Eric agreed with a sad gesture of resignation. But at least that is not as disturbing as the cynical assumption of Nevile Henderson that the swastika was destined to fly over all the capitals of Europe. Sir Eric was an “appeaser” because he had lost all hope that London would take a firm stand. Sir Nevile was an “appeaser” out of his enthusiasm for Hitler and the “New Order.”

Although the other representatives of countries menaced by Hitler did not share Henderson’s opinion that Germany had a right to dominate Europe, neither did they show much better political insight. From the beginning of the Ethiopian conflict, the American Ambassador vigorously favored a policy of resistance and full application of sanctions. He naturally felt distressed when, at the very point of accomplishing the first great success of the League, the policy of sanctions was dropped as a result of the pro-Mussolini intrigues of Pierre Laval. On December 12, 1935, after a long conversation with the French Ambassador, who argued strongly for the Hoare-Laval proposition, Dodd said : “It’s the biggest mistake since the World War. It means an Italian-German combination for redistribution of eastern and southern Europe, and such a combination cannot be defeated by England and France. Why did your governments not apply the oil sanctions through the League with American co-operation and bring Mussolini to terms?”

Knowing the influence of the big oil companies in his own country, Dodd guessed at once that behind the decision not to apply oil sanctions against Italy—the only effective measure that could have broken the invading march of Mussolini’s armies—were maneuvers of the same interests. On December 20, 1935 he wrote: “The Dutch Minister reported that he had heard no news that Dutch-English-American oil companies—Shell, Sinclair and Standard—had brought pressure to bear in London and Paris to stop the League sanctions against Italy, especially oil sanctions. I had heard indirectly that a Sinclair Oil man in Paris and some big business man in London had applied pressure, and consequently I had dropped the Dutch Minister a note on the subject. I am still of the opinion that the oil companies used pressure.”

Not only in the case of the oil interests but in other instances he watched the dangerous tendency of financiers and industrialists to reconcile themselves to the idea that after all the intelligent course to follow was to separate business from politics, to set aside personal tastes and preferences, and to clear the way for economic collaboration with all the victorious regimes, even though it meant enthroning Hitler as the master of the world. He ironically made note of the disposition on the part of American bankers in Berlin to accept Germany’s moves toward hegemony as a fait accompli and reported that, in spite of all that was happening and of Hitler’s announced attitude, the bankers felt “they can work with him.”

He had learned to know Hitler better. As far back as October 17, 1933, after his first long conversation with the Fuhrer, he wrote: “My final impression was of his belligerence and self-confidence.” And again on May 21, 1935: “Earnest and emphatic as Hitler appeared, he certainly does not fool me. He once avowed to me that he would throw any German official into the North Sea if he sent propaganda to the United States and when I arrived in New York during the last days of March, 1934, his Consul General brought me a cabled order to German officials in America to the same effect. . . . But there are now 600 employees in the foreign propaganda division now active in Berlin. Nor was there any let-up in the United States in 1934, although perhaps the Consuls for a time suspended open activity. This is one of the many evidences of the complete insincerity of their promises.” And his opinion of the Fuhrer he applied equally to his two most powerful henchmen: “A unique triumvirate! Hitler, less educated, more romantic, with a semi-criminal record. Goebbels and Goering, both Doctors of Philosophy, both animated by intense class and foreign hatreds and both willing to resort to the most ruthless methods. I do not think there has ever been in modern history such a unique group. There was such a group in ancient Rome.” The charm of Goering—that so delighted Sir Nevile Henderson during the period in which he was trying to save British prestige, and eventually the Empire, by proving himself a better shot than the powerful Air Marshal—never affected the American Ambassador.

It may be that for a short period Dodd placed some trust in von Neurath. The German puppet Foreign Minister first appeared to be devoted to the maintenance of peace. On May 28, 1934 Dodd quoted his comment on the belligerent speech of Mussolini before the so-called Italian Parliament: “That is like Mussolini; there are some fools in Germany who talk that way also; but there is no substantial element of the German people who want war.” This relatively favorable impression of von Neurath was rapidly corrected after Dodd heard that he enthusiastically “heiled” the Fuhrer when the latter assumed full powers on Hindenburg’s death. And on August 3,1934, he pointed out: “I have never seen evidence that the Secretary ever resists the arbitrary conduct of the Fuhrer.” Three years later he saw von Neurath in his real light when the Foreign Minister bluntly told him: “We shall never allow the present government in Spain to win the civil war. It is Communism and we shall never allow that in any European state.” Three months before, a Foreign Office official had declared to Counselor Mayer of the American Embassy in Berlin that “Germany was not willing to leave the decision to the Spanish people.” Ambassador Dodd reported that conversation, adding: “That is the Mussolini-Hitler dictator idea. They will control Spain.” And although he did not express himself on that precise point, he must have believed the embargo policy against Spain a terrible mistake on the part of his own government.

No incident of German foreign policy or any of its implications escaped this alert observer, whose diary is like a seismograph accurately recording the different intensities and geographic locations of the Hitler aggression. Hitler did not fool him when he presented himself as the greatest bulwark against the spread of Communism in Europe. Ambassador Dodd felt sure that the very moment it would fit Hitler’s plans to turn to Moscow he would not hesitate to throw away his pretended hatred of Communism, which had been used only to divide liberal forces everywhere and to present the Spanish Republic and Dr. Benes’s government as instruments of Soviet policy. As early as November 9, 1934 he set down this amazing anticipation of Ribbentrop’s sensational flight to Moscow: “In my judgment the Reichswehr, the Foreign Office, and the royalists are all pressing Hitler for a Russian pact like that with Poland, which was a surprise to all the world in 1933.”

He did not, like his colleagues, limit himself to denouncing Hitler’s aggressive purposes and complaining of the increase in German power. Against that menace he advocated collective security as the only way to stop the rising Nazi storm„ “With so many efforts to make a solid Fascist front from Rome to Tokyo,” he wrote on November 18, 1937, “and similar efforts to swing Latin America into alliances with these Berlin-Rome dictators, and especially to defeat all easier trade relations, it seems to me that real co-operation between the United States, England, France and Russia is the only way to maintain world peace. One thing seems to me certain: there will come a complete totalitarian domination of Europe and Asia if democratic countries continue their popular isolation policies.”

In the building of a strong Balkan front to oppose any Nazi move he saw one of the main hopes of preserving peace. The events of the last few months prove how wise he was when, in March, 1987, he wrote to Messersmith, American Minister to Austria, that “the best and perhaps the only guarantee of world peace is for all the Balkan states to form a co-operative confederation ready always to help one another. That would be a union of 80,000,000 people. Germany would have to think twice before she moved against such a union.”

Apparently William E. Dodd was considered by many as a person unfitted for a high diplomatic post, I have been told that even on the occasion of the dinner held in his honor after his final return from Berlin, some of the guests wondered how the Administration could have entrusted such a delicate mission to a man who did not conceal his opinion of Nazi ideals and methods. The experiences of the last years have revealed him as one of the greatest American ambassadors and have demonstrated his keen powers of analysis and prediction. His championship of a vigorous and clearsighted policy against aggression stands in happy contrast to the readiness with which other representatives of Washington abroad played the game of the appeasers, favoring a soft course which might bring about an ultimate reconciliation between the American and the totalitarian ways of life. The liberal American reader will find himself more at home in Dodd’s illuminating book than he will in going through the recent newspaper articles in which former Ambassador Cudahy reports the marvels of the Nazi economic machine. And it is only to be hoped that another book, a volume of 200,000 words by Claude G. Bowers which is already completed and awaiting only the diplomatic moment for publication, will appear soon and further correct the distressing impression that in these crucial years American democracy has had as its ambassadors only men like Cudahy and Kennedy.

When Dodd left his post the trend of European policy was already clear. The murder of Louis Barthou had deprived France of one of her most courageous and intelligent statesman in the international field. In anticipation of his scandalous betrayal of today, Laval was consistently serving the Axis against his own country and had already accomplished the isolation of France by abandoning the policy of alliances which was the keystone of her national security. Yugoslavia, whose feelings for France were eloquently reaffirmed during the visit to Belgrade in 1937 of Yvon Delbos, Foreign Minister of the Popular Front, was sacrificed as a result of the French flirtations with Italy, and, after her offer to conclude a treaty of mutual assistance had been rejected by Paris, signed a new treaty of friendship with Rome. Deserted by his French friends, Titulescu, the chief promoter of the Balkan bloc and one of the few really big Europeans of the post-World War period, had been obliged to quit his post as Rumanian Foreign Minister. Together with the League of Nations, the Little Entente and all the other instruments of resistance to totalitarian aggression were going to pieces, while Litvinov struggled unsuccessfully to repair the damage by building an Eastern Locarno and the Russians were also trying to conclude a definitive military alliance with France. In England a simple-minded, conceited, and stubborn man, Mr. Neville Chamberlain, had assumed the leadership of the country; he was without any experience whatever in foreign affairs, but he felt himself called by God to bring to Europe and the world “peace in our time.”

It is difficult to believe that the suicidal policy of those years could have been the result of insufficient information about Hitler’s plans. Even though Ramsay MacDonald’s fantastic idea of cutting down the budget of the intelligence service had impaired England’s channels of information, it is not likely that in Paris and London the people entrusted with the direction of their countries entirely ignored what was going on in Germany. In fact, it was clear to Ambassador Dodd that they knew German developments very well. He wrote on August 15,1934 that Francois-Poncet was and had been “fully convinced that France is to be attacked, Alsace-Lorraine, Austria and western Poland to be annexed.” That conviction, which naturally was transmitted to Paris, failed to persuade the French government, two years later, to oppose German occupation of the Rhineland.

In spite of his recently concluded pact with Germany, the Polish Ambassador did not feel any happier than his French colleague. Speaking to Dodd in November, 1934, he was quite frank: “The pact of last winter is only a temporary affair. Germany intends to re-annex part of our country, the maps posted all over Germany show this clearly.” But during the five years that elapsed between that conversation and the invasion of Poland, Colonel Beck in Geneva was constantly playing the game of the two totalitarian powers and we—the Spanish delegation—always found him one of the most tricky and antagonistic members of the League’s Council.

On his part Hitler needed no intelligence service to sense the lack of reaction on the part of the democracies. In fact, he was more concerned about the possibility of meeting opposition from the smaller countries than from the great powers. On March 11, 1938 he took good care to assure himself that the Czech army was not mobilizing before he rushed his troops toward Vienna. (On May 20th of the same year, a quick decision of President Benes, ordering the army to its war stations and calling one class of reserves to the colors, was sufficient to check a Nazi attempt at invasion.) March provided one of the best opportunities to stop Hitler. Litvi-nov realized that at once and on the eighteenth he declared the seizure of Austria was an act of violence that endangered everyone, and called for a conference of Great Britain, France, the United States, and Russia to agree on ways of “checking the further development of aggression.” The British Prime Minister took six days to reply. And his speech showed clearly that he had no desire to collaborate with Soviet Russia, a position that was destined to ruin, a year later, the French-British-Russian negotiations and lead to the conclusion of the German-Russian Pact.

Every prediction made by Ambassador Dodd has been fulfilled. His diary, therefore, is not only an extraordinary record of the events which rendered the war unavoidable, but a powerful and convincing denunciation of that crime against democracy known as “appeasement,” which in reality is an indication of how deeply Hitlerism has penetrated the heart of the world.


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