The Sphinx

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The Sphinx – Franklin Roosevelt, The Isolationists, and the Road to World War II
By Nicholas Wapshott
Norton & Company – £18.99

As is always the case with any book that honestly addresses America’s isolationism during the first half of the twentieth century, there is always going to be some sort of eye opening consternation. An inevitable revelation so recondite, but not necessarily surprising, that is capable of making one re-assess ones’ own beliefs, if not myopic, pre-ordained knowledge.

In this instance, I refer to that extraordinary cartoonist and cultural icon; yet resoundingly, politically naïve film producer, Walt Disney. A nigh brand name if not phenomenon, who in the past at least, many held responsible for bequeathing a horribly tarnished world with a child-like sense of profound innocence and wonderment. Although The Sphinx – Franklin Roosevelt, The Isolationists, and the Road to World War II by Nicholas Wapshott (a truly fascinating book) sheds colossal new light on Disney, among others, as well as an entire era. An entire continent.

The so-called New World, which readily subscribes to the ideology known as the inexorable pursuit of happiness, has always catered for many an individual renowned for appalling isolationism and despicable anti-Semitism. The car-manufacturer, Henry Ford, was one, Walt Disney, another. This is glaringly brought to bear in the seventh chapter of this audacious book (‘Kristallnacht’), where, writing of Leni Riefenstahl – who was in America at the time to promote Olympia, the ”elegiac movie account of the Nazi 1936 Olympics” – the author writes: ”One who welcomed Riefenstahl was Walt Disney. As Riefenstahl recalled:

”In Hollyood, naturally, I ran into resistance from the Jews who, on my arrival, had already published a giant advertisement in several newspapers that – under the headline ”There is no place in Hollywood for Fraulein Riefenstahl” – demanded a boycott against me. Numerous American film directors didn’t care to receive me because of their financial dependence on the Jewish moneymen.

An honourable exception, Walt Disney, creator of Snow White, warmly welcomed me and and showed me his extensive studios and even his latest work. It was gratifying to learn how thoroughly proper Americans distance themselves from the smear campaign of the Jews.”

”Smear campaign”?
Was Riefenstahl (that) delusional?
Did Riefenstahl really not not know, just what was taking place within the unbelievably dire parameters of Nazi Germany?

Suffice to say, it’s much easier to write with the benefit of hindsight, but by November 1938, thousands of Jews within Germany and Austria, had already been deported to such early concentration camps as Oranienburg, Dachau, Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen – without trial – where literally thousands were brutally tortured and murdered. For more information and confirmation, one need only read the recently published, excellent Before Auschwitz – Jewish Prisoners in the Pre-war Concentration Camps by Kim Wunschmann (Harvard University Press).

That said, Wapshott’s The Sphinx is a very thorough, meticulously researched and more than readable account of a particularly turbulent time in America’s far from easy history. From the ‘New Dealers’ to ‘Peace In Our Time,’ ‘Third Term Fever’ to ‘The Battle of Britain,’ ‘Barbarossa’ to Isolationism Redux,’ the former editor of the London Times has herein written what many might consider to be an altogether timely book; especially given America’s current reluctance to supply The Kurds with the modern weaponry they so desperately need in their, and the world’s fight, against the Islamic State.

An utterly in-human organisation, who to my mind, are up there with the Nazis.

David Marx

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