Saturday, May 23, 2020

May 25, 1944: Strategic Sheep Purposes

Article by Opa for Mercury Chronicle, May 25, 1944.


"Five Brothers" Have Agreed 
To Dismiss Power Politics

Editor's note: Thomas Doeppner, a student at Kansas State College, was for a short time with the United Press at Amsterdam. He is a German refugee, and his interpretation of developments in the European war theater carries the weight of his internment camp experiences in Nazi Germany, as well as that of previous years of travel on the continent. The Mercury Chronicle each week brings you his interpretation of the war in Europe.

By Thomas W. Doeppner

London was the scene of a smaller crisis of the British Empire last week: the meeting of the five prime ministers of the British Commonwealth of Nations. Very little of decisions or even of topics under discussion were given to the army of press correspondents who patiently waited in front of locked doors. The knowledge which the public received about the outcome of the conference had its source in a few generalizations and in the speeches which the five gave in parliament.

One of the most interesting subjects of apparent controversy was the question of the Empire's postwar status. Should Britain and her Dominions be solidified into a single, unified power bloc? Should the existing "Democratic Empire" be made the nucleus of a new League of Nations? Should the dominions retain their present status of relative independence? Or should this independence be carried even farther? 

Winston Churchill, so far, a leader and advocator of big power politics, this time made no commitments either one way or the other: but it would not be Churchill if he had not a hand in the game, somewhere. 

Churchill's Boer War enemy and later good friend, Jan Christian Smuts, South Africa's Prime Minister, who last year had favored a strong Commonwealth bloc, surprised the world by being the principal sponsor of a League of Nations plan. He had opposed British power politics in 1919, but at that time, he was a strong opponent of the League as well. 

Awkward Handling. 

Today, however, he maintains that the first League of Nations did not fail in principle, but because of the "awkward impractical handling of its major functions." Smut's idea of a League would not dismiss the plan for a strong Commonwealth block entirely, but it would permit other countries to influence this block as members of the League. 

In some contrast to Smut's focus, Canada's Mackenzie King expressed his satisfaction with the status quo ante*?-intimating the fact that Canada's ties with Britain, are no longer any deeper than her ties with the United States. 

King favored neither the Big Power Bloc idea, nor the suggestions of a new League. He wants Canada to retain and possibly enlarge her present state of independence. 

King's biggest opponent was Australia's John Curtin. Curtin's position can easily be understood when one considers the scares and fears through which Australia must have gone during the days when Japanese invasion of the Australian continent seemed imminent. Curtin wants to ensure Australia's safety in the Pacific and, therefore came out came out with a suggestion to form a permanent secretariat of the Commonwealth, which would mean the formation of a strong highly centralized and permanent British power block. This, Curtin thinks, would guarantee Australia's security. 

Fraser Favors Idea

New Zealand's "I'm-from-Missouri" Peter Fraser did not seem very concerned about this particular part of the conference, but he seemed inclined to step in with Mackenzie King's idea of a status quo, much to King's surprise, who had expected that New Zealand would follow the footsteps of her big neighbor, Australia. 

In general, it appears safe to say that the "Five Brothers" have agreed to dismiss power politics from the possibilities for the Empire's future, rather than set up a system which might act as a check against a British Big Power Bloc.

Opa writes another article for the Mercury Chronicle, reporting and interpreting the news for his Kansas community. This episode in history is not one that is familiar.

I know I've asked this before, but where is he getting his news? I was actually for a hot minute thinking, maybe his Dad is somehow wiring info to him on a radio or something?! Then I remembered that his Dad was in Nazi-run territory and the odds of that are quite low. Plus it would be stupid for him to risk his life for his kid's newspaper article. 

Anyway, this story reminds us that war is more than just fighting the enemy. Even though that seems plenty hard enough, your team must be on the same page, and even within the British Commonwealth, it seems like folks have a different idea about what the future should look like. It seems weird to think that they have to work out what happens after the war while they are still fighting the war, but that's a huge part of making sure that peace is lasting. 

The "peace" after the First World War was clearly not strong enough to prevent the second. So now they have to figure out what the power structure is after this war (if they can predict it and plan it). Spoiler alert: they do a little better, but it's still not great.

The laughable part of this all is my 20-20 hindsight vision. Britain loses SO much power after the war. Here the discussion is all about the British Power Bloc, thinking out checks and balances. How can we have the protective power of Britain without losing our independence? Meanwhile, I'm remembering a bit done by one of my favorite comedians, Eddie Izzard. He talks about how after the war Britain is sort of holding a bunch of territories behind her back, hoping no one notices. The Allied powers tell her, give it back, let it go, and England retorts that it needs the Falkland Islands for "strategic sheep purposes." And just like that, England is no longer an Empire. 

Saturday, May 16, 2020

May 24, 1944: Stubborn Optimism

Letter from Opa to Visa Division in D.C.

1011 Moro Street
Manhattan, Kansas
May 24, 1944

Visa Division
Department of State
Washington, D.C.


I am filing an application for preexamination at the Immigration and Naturalization Service at Philadelphia. I shall be grateful if you will supply me with sufficient copies of Form BC to enable me to apply for advisory approval for the issuance of an immigration visa.

My alien registration number is 1102568, the number of my certificate of identification, 5871.

Very truly yours,

Thomas W. Doeppner

Letter from Opa to American Consul in Canada

1011 Moro Street
Manhattan, Kansas
May 24, 1944

Consul General of the 
United States of America
Winnipeg, Manitoba

Dear Sir:

I have filed application for preexamination with the Immigration and Naturalization Service at Philadelphia. I would like to make formal application for my visa at your office and shall be grateful I you will inform me as to what documents I should submit prior to my appearance at your office.

Very truly yours,

Thomas W. Doeppner

Letter from Opa to Helen Herckt at INS

1011 Moro Street
Manhattan, Kansas
May 24, 1944

Miss Helen Herckt               99503/254 St.
Chief, Status Section              NIU
U.S. Immigration and
Naturalization Service
70 Columbus Ave.
New York 23, NY

Dear Miss Herckt:

Thank you for your letter of May 17, 1944. My studies are completed now, but as yet my plans for the coming months are incomplete. I have made application for work in several electric manufacturing companies as electrical engineer. Since most of these companies are to some extent engaged in work which is of some importance to the war, effort, these companies have to apply for a special permission to employ me. I am now waiting that this permission may be granted, and I shall let you know as soon as I have accepted employment upon the granting of such permission.

In the meantime, I shall probably remain in Manhattan where I can make a living by servicing radios and other odd jobs in the line of electrical engineering.

I received the application blank and questionnaire from I-55 for preexamination, executed them, and am forwarding them today to Philadelphia. Thank you for considering the change of my status from that of a student to that of a temporary visitor.

Very truly yours,

Thomas Walter Doeppner

Opa did spend all night typing! He is diligent in responding and moving forward as soon as he gets the next step on his desk. I could argue that he doesn't have much else to do, but all the same- he is no procrastinator. 

I mistakenly thought forwarding materials to Philadelphia meant he was forwarding to AFSC. He may still be doing that, but in this case he is referring to the INS in Philadelphia. 

Most of these letters are pure follow-up requesting the next pieces of information and documentation he needs to have. I will say, in a time of internet, I thought about how most of these letters have been (or at least should be at this point) replaced by an online search and downloading of a form. There is some goodness in that expedience, but I wonder if the lack of human contact means that it is harder for folks to understand the process (no one to write and ask questions, no one to respond with directions). I suppose this is the role now played by many of the non-profit organizations that provide legal and social work services for folks navigating this process. Even in Opa's time, the AFSC and other agencies were needed to help people manage. 

The last letter refers to Opa's shifting from student visa to visitor visa. This isn't so much a desire but a bridge between the protections of being a student to the protections of being an employee (or even better, citizen). Opa has graduated, so he's sort of in no-man's-land as far as his legal status in the US. 

I felt for him as he was describing his application process. He's applying for jobs, but as a German(-ish) applying for jobs in companies that are actively working on projects to benefit the war effort: he's a liability. They have to really want him to go through the efforts of getting permission/clearance to have them on their team. I can fully understand why as a company you would want to simplify and say: no foreign employees right now. Unfortunately, that guy is my Grandfather, and he is in a bind. 

This must feel oddly familiar to him. In Germany, after graduating from High School with honors, he had no prospects. No real path to a positive career or education. Eve before the war was in full-steam-ahead mode, this was clear. Now he has clawed his way to America, studied and managed working, creating a new life, becoming proficient in English, and fully engaging the American culture. He has done his best to fully assimilate. Here he is, after graduation, and the prospects are not looking great. He is working hard with optimism, but despair is really a short distance around the corner. Has he given thought to what would happen if no one employs him? How long can he work odd jobs? 

Opa was German by cultural upbringing, but he did have a stubborn optimism. I thought that was born out of his life experience of things working out, but now I wonder if he had always been a bit stubbornly optimistic. He just took the next step, confident (or faking it) that things would work out.

It's working so far.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

May 23, 1944: All Good Things

Letter from Opa to Grandmother


May 23, 1944

Dear Margie,

Several things of importance happened today. A representative from RCA was on the campus and informed me that the 2nd Service Command has relaxed the ruling concerning the employment of aliens in the East, and that therefore, if I am still interested, my application for work with the RCA will be reconsidered. Naturally, he could not promise anything, but he thinks that he will be able to give me some definite word one week from now, after an airmail correspondence with his headquarters in Camden, N.J. It might be that they want me to go east, at least for further interviews, in a week or two, but I am very skeptical.

Also, I received two application blanks and questionnaires from the Immigration and Naturalization Service, one of which is twenty-two pages long, concerning my pre-examination. So, tonight, I just typed my foolish head off; typed those questionnaires, sent a letter to Philadelphia, wrote to the State Department to get advisory approval for the issuance of an immigration visa, wrote to the American Consul in Canada and asked him to make formal application for a visa to Canada, and wrote to the Canadian Consul in Kansas City (I hope there is one) asking him what port of entry he would suggest. If I should be granted pre-examination, it would mean a trip to Canada for not more than ten days. How does that sound for a second honeymoon?

Hubert left this morning at 9:45, with good impressions of Eileen, Manhattan, and Marjorie. I was so glad he was able to come and stay over; this gave some added flavor to my birthday.

I am taking plenty of time for reading this week. Tonight, I started on Voltaire; that guy is just too clever, and rather radical. He reminds me an awful lot of Sy's ideas, and of the argument Sy and I had the other night, also of the talk we had that night in the grass on the campus. You will have to read it when you get back.

The debate question whether or not I should finish this letter was won by the negative.



Opa has a lot happening at once, but most of it seems to be good things. He's got a bone from the RCA company, saying they'll consider him for employment. He has his correspondence from the INS with the next steps in his complicated path to citizenship. (I love that he forwarded the information to Philadelphia, I'm assuming to the headquarters of AFSC, who are still keeping tabs on him.) His fiancé sent him a birthday card. And Opa got to spend time with one of his dear friends Hubert Shelley (from his days at McPherson College), who just left.

All good things!

The card from Grandmother did remind me that this would likely be the first year that Opa did not receive a letter from his Mom or anyone in his family on is birthday. He doesn't seem to be dwelling on that. Either he isn't thinking about it, or I suspect, he is keeping that grief to himself. Sometimes writing something down makes it a little too real. 

For the most part, for Opa, this is as happy a May as he can muster.