Campus political extremism today is shocking. Large numbers of university professors and administrators advocate positions that combine support for totalitarian Islamofascism and its terrorists with deep hatred of Israel and anti-Americanism. How did this come about in the twenty-first century? Actually, the roots go back to 1930.
Some of the worst political extremism in academic history took the form of enthusiastic support on American campuses for Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. This is a disgraceful chapter in American academic history and one largely unknown. Its story is the topic of a new book, “The Third Reich in the Ivory Tower,” by Stephen H. Norwood (Cambridge University Press, 2009). The author is a professor of history at the University of Oklahoma and holds a PhD from Columbia University (of all places. The book is already flaming controversies and debate.
Norwood’s study shows that that the appeasement, support for totalitarian aggression and
The Chomsky’s, Cole’s, Beinin’s et al of today could easily fit into the campus atmosphere of the 1930's.
terror, academic bigotry, and anti-Semitism that today fill so many American universities were predominant forces on many campuses in the 1930s. The Chomsky’s, Cole’s, Beinin’s et al of today could easily fit into the campus atmosphere of the time.
He sums up the situation at American universities in the 1930s thus:
“American universities maintained amicable relations with the Third Reich, sending their students to study at Nazified universities while welcoming Nazi exchange students to their own campuses.... America’s most distinguished university presidents willfully crossed the Atlantic in ships flying the swastika flag, openly defying the anti-Nazi boycott, to the benefit of the Third Reich’s economy. By warmly receiving Nazi diplomats and propagandists on campus, they helped Nazi Germany present itself to the American public as a civilized nation, unfairly maligned in the press.”
Norwood’s book is a must read, but also a sad and uncomfortable read. He also details the reactions of America’s professors and universities to the rise of Hitler. The responses on American campuses ranged from complete indifference and refusal to join in campaigns against Nazi Germany to widespread support for German Nazism, including for German atrocities committed against Jews.
Starting in 1933 anti-Hitler mass protests were being held throughout the United States. Americans of all creeds joined in. So did labor unions, political parties, and others. Perhaps the most memorable anti-Nazi sign from the marches was that of the Undertakers Union, “We want Hitler!” American streets were filled with anti-Nazi protests every week. College and university presidents and administrators did not take part. They did not convene protest meetings against Nazi anti-Semitism on the campuses, nor did they urge their students and faculty members to attend the nationwide mass rallies held on March 27, 1933.”
Some leading German Jewish scientists and professors managed to make it to the United States. The most famous was of course Albert Einstein. Some American schools went out of their way to hire these refugees. Harvard and Yale (which has a Hebrew slogan on its official coat of arms) did not. Harvard refused to hire refugees even when the Rockefeller Foundation offered to cover half their salaries.
Some academics condemned those calling for a boycott of Germany in response to the
Academics condemned those calling for a boycott of Germany in response to the atrocities committed on Kristallnacht.
atrocities committed on Kristallnacht. They insisted it would be “hypocritical” on the part of those protesting the boycott of German Jews by Nazis to call for a boycott of Nazi Germany. This is worth noting because one hears the exact same claim today when those who call for boycotts of anti-Israel academics are similarly denounced and accused of exhibiting “hypocrisy.”
Many of the faculty members at Harvard were openly anti-Semitic, including Harvard’s president James Bryant Conant. Later, after the war, Conant served as US Ambassador to Germany and worked feverishly to get Nazi war criminals paroled .
Harvard went out of its way to host and celebrate Nazi leaders. The high Nazi official Ernst (Putzi) Hanfstaungl was invited as the Harvard commencement speaker in 1934. The wealthy Hanfstaungel had been one of Hitler’s most important backers, insisted that “the Jews must be crushed,” and describing Jews as “the vampire sucking German blood.” He openly advocated the mass arrest or worse of German Jews.
In 1935 the German consul in Boston was invited by Harvard to lay a wreath with a swastika on it in the campus chapel. Nazi officials were invited to Harvard’s tercentenary celebrations in 1936, held intentionally on the Jewish High Holidays as a slap in the face of Jewish faculty and students. A mock student debate held in 1936 was presided over by Harvard professors as judges. They acquitted Hitler of most of the mock charges and declared that German persecution of Jews was simply irrelevant.
Yale was only marginally less friendly to the Nazis than Harvard. Yale and Harvard presidents welcomed a delegation of Italian fascists to both campuses in October of 1934. The student newspapers at both schools warmly approved.
Some MIT professors came out vocally in support of Hitler and Nazi Germany, including mechanical engineering professor Wilhelm Spannhake. His son Ernst was a student at the time at MIT; the son insisted that the Nazis had committed no atrocities at all.
Professor Thomas Chalmers of the history department at Boston University publicly demanded a “hands off “ policy regarding Hitler and opposed American denunciations of Nazi Germany. After the war the University of Chicago hired one of the leaders of the Romanian genocidal fascist organization “Iron Guard” as a faculty member.
Norwood’s own alma mater, Columbia University, collaberated with Nazi Germany in many ways. Months after Germany started book burning, Columbia’s President Nicholas Murray Butler went out of his way to welcome Nazi Germany’s ambassador to the US for a lecture circuit at the school, and praised the Nazi emotionally as a gentleman and a representative of “a friendly people”.
A Columbia Dean named Thomas Alexander praised Hitler’s Nazism sycophantically and
There are frightening similarities between what has been happening in American campuses since the early 1990s and what transpired in the 1930s.
visited Germany himself. He especially approved of the Nazi policy of forced sterilizations.
The “Seven Sisters,” as the seven elite women’s colleges in America were called, were unwilling to take any anti-Nazi stand. Collaboration with the Nazis continued at some campuses after Germany invaded Czechoslovakia and Poland. The oppression of women in Nazi Germany made no more impression upon them than the oppression of women in Islamic societies does on today’s campus extremists and feminists.
False symmetry, the condemnation of fascism together with condemning Western democracies, is not the innovation of the past decade’s campus campaign to defend Islamic terror. In the 1930s academics and university presidents signed statements that protested German behavior but at the same time gave it legitimacy. For example, in one attempt at “even-handedness,” a petition claimed that “minorities are suppressed and discriminated against to some degree in every land.”
All of the above sound familiar? It does to Norwood, who says he sees frightening similarities between what has been happening in American campuses since the early 1990s and what transpired in the 1930s.