Blind Spot: Hitler's Secretary


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partisan band in 9th century Sicily, combating a series of foreign invasions. By the 18th century, it had evolved into the island's unofficial government. It retained its paramilitary tactics and insularity (Mafiosi called their organization a "family," and members took a blood oath). During the 19th century, the group turned criminal. It terrorized businesses and landowners who didn't regularly pay protection.

At the turn of the century, the Mafia attempted to replicate its Sicilian operation throughout Western Europe and America. It initially succeeded only in Southern Italy and America. By 1920, the Mafia had established "families" (chapters) in most Italian-American enclaves, even in midsized cities like Rochester, N.Y., and San Jose, Calif. Extorting protection payments continued to be its primary function. Only during Prohibition did it branch out of ethnic neighborhoods and into bootlegging, gambling, and prostitution. However, in New York and Chicago--the largest bastions of organized crime--Jewish and Italian gangs (not Sicilian Mafiosi) dominated. In the 1930s, the mobsters Meyer Lansky and "Lucky" Luciano set up a national crime syndicate--a board of the most powerful organized-crime chiefs to mediate disputes and plan schemes. The Mafia played only a minor role.

The Godfather's depiction of Mafia strength in the late '40s is largely accurate. Because of its committed, disciplined rank and file and economic base in extortion, the Mafia emerged as the dominant organized-crime group to survive Prohibition's repeal. In 1957, Mafia families took control of the Lansky-Luciano syndicate. During the '40s and '50s, families also firmed up relationships with urban political machines (New York City politicians openly sought their support), police departments, and the FBI (J. Edgar Hoover denied the existence of the Mafia and refused to investigate it). City governments helped rig government contracts and turned a blind eye to other rackets. Many of the scams depended on the Mafia's increasing control of unions, especially the Teamsters and the Longshoremen's.

The Mafia's power has steadily declined since the late '50s. In New York, the number of "soldiers" or "wise-guys"--the ones who take the blood oath--has dwindled. According to the New York City Police Department, there were about 3,000 soldiers in the city in the early '70s, 1,000 in 1990, and only 750 last year. The Mafia is said to rely increasingly on "associates"--mobsters who have not taken an oath. Often this consists of alliances with other ethnic gangs, especially Irish ones.

In the last 10 years, Mafia operations have been devastated by arrests. For instance, last year federal agents busted the bulk of Detroit's family--one of the most powerful and impenetrable. The FBI describes once-thriving operations in Los Angeles, Boston, San Francisco, and other major cities as virtually defunct. The head of the FBI's organized-crime unit estimates that 10 percent of America's active Mafia soldiers are now locked up.

Only New York and Chicago have substantial Mafia organizations. The New York Mafia consists of five families (Gambino, Genovese, Lucchese, Bonanno, and Colombo) that have sometimes cooperated, sometimes competed with one another. Until the 1992 arrest of its boss, John Gotti, New York's Gambino family was the nation's most powerful. However, it has been replaced by the Genovese family, which has recently suffered fewer arrests. But the Genoveses, too, are in trouble. The family's leader, Vincent "Chin" Gigante, was recently indicted and has been said to be mentally unstable--he used to wander Greenwich Village in his pajamas, mumbling incoherently. The Lucchese and Bonanno families merged gambling activities last year to compensate for thinning ranks.

Police estimate that Chicago's Mafia syndicate the "Outfit" has only 100 members--half its 1990 strength. After a series of convictions in the mid-'80s, the Outfit lost its control of Las Vegas casino-gambling revenue to legitimate business.

In spite of declining numbers, the Mafia remains profitable. According to the New York City Police Department, in 1994 the five families pocketed $2 billion from gambling alone. Loan-sharking also continues to be lucrative. However, the Mafia's other activities have radically changed. For instance, its biggest extortion schemes in the New York area have been broken up: It no longer controls wholesale food (the City Council broke its hold on Fulton Fish Market) or Long Island's garbage-removal cartel. According to the New York Times, it has adapted to the losses by shifting to white-collar crime. Major new scams include collaboration with small brokerage houses in stock-tampering schemes, and the manufacturing of faulty prepaid telephone calling cards sold at convenience stores.

Mafia experts propose five explanations for the decline:

1) Increased federal enforcement. Before Hoover's death, the FBI did not aggressively investigate the Mafia. In addition, starting in the early '80s federal prosecutors have used the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), passed in 1970, to charge top mob bosses with extortion.

2) The government cleaned up the unions. As late as 1986, the Justice Department found that the Mafia controlled the International Longshoremen's Association, the Hotel and Restaurant Employees union, the Teamsters union, and the Laborers' International Union. However, subsequent government supervision of these unions has reduced mob involvement.

3) The rise of black urban politics destroyed the big city machines the Mafia once depended upon to carry out its rackets.

4) Assimilation: Second- and third-generation Sicilians, who now control the Mafia, place less emphasis on the omertà --the code of silence that precludes snitching. Turncoats have provided the decisive evidence in recent cases against John Gotti and other bosses.

5) The Mafia failed to control the drug trade. Mexican, Colombian, and South Asian mobsters more efficiently import cheaper drugs and eschew partnerships with the Mafia. In addition, many predict the Russian mob, operating out of Brooklyn, will soon replace the Mafia as New York City's largest organized-crime outfit.

J. Edgar Hoover: Gay marriage role model? By Hank Hyena Jan. 5, 2000

In 1999 the hunt for gay role models outed numerous historical figures and fictional characters from Honest Abe to Tinky Winky. 2000 may yet provide even more eye-popping additions to the lavender hall of fame. Now with the anti-gay Knight Initiative pending a popular vote in California this spring, at least two gay Web sites are gathering examples of proto-gay marriage as inspiration.

But will the relentless search for homosexual love-nests lead to elevating a homophobe to the purple pantheon?

J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI chief, and his longtime companion, Clyde Tolson, were an ambiguously gay crime-fighting duo. Inseparable for 44 years, 1928-1972, the two top G-men vacationed together, often dressed similarly and continue their cohabitation even after death. They're buried alongside one another.

Such facts have garnered Hoover and his handsome right-hand henchman praise as homosexual role models from the Web site Partners' list of "Famous Lesbian and Gay Couples." Along with an impressive lineup of long-term lovers, the crime-fighting couple are touted as the 11th-longest romance on a list headed by Canadian authoress Mazo de la Roche and Carol Clement's 75-year love affair. Other famous persevering pairs include Greek historical novelist Mary Renault and Julie Mullard (50 years), cubist writer Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas (39 years), poet W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman (34 years), Renaissance wonder Leonardo da Vinci and his apprentice Giacomo Caprotti (30 years) and conqueror Alexander the Great and his cavalry commander Hephaistion (19 years).

Do Hoover and Tolson really belong on this list? No one has unearthed documentation that the two men had blazing hot sex together. Couldn't they have just been platonic pals? Evidence of physical intimacy is merely circumstantial, although suspicions about J. Edgar and Clyde ran rampant through Washington political circles. Richard Nixon's obscene comment upon hearing of Hoover's death ("Jesus Christ, that old cocksucker!") perhaps describes the opinion of inside observers, but no letters, photos, diaries or reliable witnesses can carnally tie the two men together. The best "proof" comes from the wife of Hoover's psychiatrist; she claims that Hoover admitted his homosexuality to her husband during a confidential session.

Even if Hoover and Tolson did engage in a lifelong love affair, does that really make them worthy of admiration? After all, he spread destructive, unsubstantiated rumors that Adlai Stevenson was gay to damage the liberal Illinois governor's 1952 bid for the presidency. He hunted down and threatened anyone who dared to utter an innuendo about his sexual preference. And his extensive secret files contained surveillance material on Eleanor Roosevelt's alleged lesbian lovers, probably gathered for the purpose of blackmail.

The Who's Who gay role model page of Getting Real Online, a youth support Web site, lists Hoover as "somebody to look up to," citing his lengthy relationship with Tolson and suggesting that Hoover was a "part-time cross-dresser." But this is another allegation that lacks reliable substantiation, such as a photo of J. Edgar in drag.

Hoover's and Tolson's names will undoubtedly be bandied about in the next three months as the battle over the proposed ban on gay marriage heats up. Yanking J. Edgar and Clyde flamboyantly out of the closet and waving their relationship with the rainbow flag may assist the cause of gay activists, but the truth remains that the master detective who spied on everyone else's sex life left the dossier on his own libido decidedly empty. | Jan. 5, 2000

John Dillinger, 1903-1934

In April 1934 Warner Brothers released a newsreel showing the Division of Investigation manhunt of John Dillinger. Movie audiences across America cheered when Dillinger's picture appeared on the screen. They hissed at pictures of D.O.I. special agents. When he heard the news, D.O.I. Director J. Edgar Hoover was outraged.

At 16, Dillinger dropped out of school and began working at a machine shop, where he did well. His nights included drinking, fighting, and visiting prostitutes. Later, after five months in the Navy, Dillinger went AWOL, and married Beryl Hovious in 1924. He was 20 and she was 16.

On September 6, 1924, Dillinger and Edgar Singleton robbed a grocer. Dillinger was arrested; his father sternly advised him to plead guilty and take his punishment, which turned out to be 10 to 20 years in prison, even though he had no previous criminal record. Singleton, who was much older and did have a prison record, served less than two years of his 2-to-14-year sentence, thanks to his lawyer.

Although his wife visited him frequently, Beryl filed for divorce. Dillinger was devastated.

In prison, Dillinger learned all he could. He met Walter Dietrich, who had worked with Herman Lamm. A former German army officer, Lamm emigrated to the US. He applied his military training to bank robbery. He carefully investigated a bank's layout, and assigned each associate a role.

After nine years, Dillinger was paroled in 1933. Dillinger was determined to become a professional bank robber. In his memoirs, government agent Melvin Purvis wrote, "there is probably no one whose career so graphically illustrates the inadequacies of our system as does that of John Dillinger."

The Dillinger gang raided police stations for guns, and used the Lamm method to rob banks. The men drew maps showing towns, landmarks, and the number of miles between various points. The men even hid cans of gasoline in haystacks along the escape route.

During a bank robbery on January 15, 1934, a police officer was killed. Dillinger later told his lawyer, "I've always felt bad about O'Malley getting killed, but only because of his wife and kids....He stood right in the way and kept throwing slugs at me. What else could I do?"

In 1934, Dillinger was arrested in Tucson. Dillinger, by now a folk hero to Americans disillusioned with failing banks and the ineffective federal government, arrived at the jail Indiana. But he would never be tried for the murder of Officer O'Malley. On March 3, he escaped by threatening guards with a wooden gun he claimed to have carved out of a washboard. (Later, evidence emerged that his lawyer had arranged for Dillinger's escape with cash bribes.) Dillinger stole the sheriff's car and drove to Chicago. J. Edgar Hoover was ecstatic, because driving a stolen vehicle across state lines was a federal crime, making Dillinger eligible for a D.O.I. pursuit.

Because of his fame, life was becoming increasingly difficult for Dillinger. He underwent plastic surgery in 1934. On his 31st birthday, Dillinger was declared America's first Public Enemy Number One. The following day the federal government promised a $10,000 reward for his capture, and a $5,000 reward for information leading to his arrest.

Dillinger moved into Anna Sage's apartment. She was facing deportation proceedings for operating several brothels. Sage hoped to avoid deportation by turning Dillinger over to the D.O.I. Dillinger invited Sage and Polly Hamilton, his girlfriend, to the movies. When the movie was finished, Dillinger walked out of the theater where he was shot twice, and died instantly.

FDR: Father of Rock 'n' Roll, by Timothy Noah
Posted Tuesday, Sept. 7, 1999, at 1:14 PM PT

When people talk about rock 'n' roll's crossover into mainstream white culture, the decade they're usually talking about is the 1950s, and the person who usually gets the credit is Elvis Presley. But the groundwork for the youth culture that supported rock 'n' roll's growth was laid two decades earlier by the Roosevelt administration.

The important role played by big government in creating teen culture is explained in a book by Thomas Hine called The Rise and Fall of the American Teenager.

Hine's thesis is that "teen-agers" didn't really exist as a cohesive social group before the Depression. (The word first appeared in print in 1941, in Popular Science magazine.) But

after 1933, when Franklin D. Roosevelt took office, virtually all young people were thrown out of work, as part of a public policy to reserve jobs for men trying to support families. [Here Hine might also have pointed out that a similar impetus to throw old people out of work would later lead to the creation of Social Security.] Businesses could actually be fined if they kept childless young people on their payrolls. Also, for the first two years of the Depression, the Roosevelt administration essentially ignored the needs of the youths it had turned out of work, except in the effort of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), which was aimed at men in their late teens and early twenties.

What did these unwanted youths do? They went to high school. Although public high schools had been around since 1821, secondary education, Hine writes, had been "very slow to win acceptance among working-class families that counted on their children's incomes for survival." It wasn't until 1933 that a majority of high-school-age children in the US were actually enrolled in high school. By 1940, Hine writes, "an overwhelming majority of young people were enrolled, and perhaps more important, there was a new expectation that nearly everyone would go, and even graduate." When the US entered World War II the following year, high-school students received deferments. "Young men of seventeen, sixteen, and younger had been soldiers in all of America's previous wars," Hine writes. "By 1941 they had come to seem too young."

Hine argues, quite persuasively, that the indulgent mass "teen-age" culture is largely the result of corralling most of society's 14-to-18-year-olds into American high schools. The baby boom, which began in 1946, obviously fed that teen-age culture's further expansion. But the teen culture itself quite obviously predates the teen years of the very oldest baby boomers, who didn't enter those golden years--15, 16--until the early 1960s.

Hine doesn't get into this, but boomer math contradicts the boomer mythology that that it was the baby boom that first absorbed rock 'n' roll into the mass culture. For many pop-culture historians, the Year Zero for rock 'n' roll as a mass-cult phenomenon was 1956. That's when Elvis recorded his first No. 1 hit, "Heartbreak Hotel." You can also make a decent case that the Year Zero was 1955, when Bill Haley and the Comets hit No. 1 with "Rock Around the Clock," the first rock 'n' roll record ever to climb to the top of the charts. Were the consumers who turned "Rock Around the Clock" and "Heartbreak Hotel" into hit records 9 and 10 years old? Of course they weren't. They were teen-agers who'd been born during and shortly before World War II. And they wouldn't have existed as a social group if FDR hadn't invented them.

Who Lost Pearl Harbor? By David Greenberg, Dec. 7, 2000

The debate over President Franklin Roosevelt's role in the Pearl Harbor Attack has been swirling for 59 years. Even today, Roosevelt-haters are propounding far-flung theories about presidential treachery while historians wearily rebut them.

Some years ago, historian Donald Goldstein was promoting Gordon Prange's book about Pearl Harbor (At Dawn We Slept). Goldstein found his audiences so fixated on the blame issue that he returned to Prange's original overlong manuscript to extract a second book (Pearl Harbor: The Verdict of History) to satisfy the enthusiasts.

Indeed, the question of who lost Pearl Harbor is the Kennedy assassination for the GI Generation. And like the Kennedy assassination, the Pearl Harbor debate is interesting more as historiography than as history—more for what it says about the different camps and their worldviews than about the actual events.

The controversy dates back to the attack itself. After the Japanese raid, Americans were shocked, and they looked for explanations and for heads that could roll. Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox concluded that the Pacific command had been derelict, having anticipated a submarine assault but not an air raid. Adm. Husband Kimmel and Lt. Gen. Walter Short, the chief Navy and Army commanders in the Pacific, were relieved of their duties on Dec. 17.

Republicans rose to defend Kimmel and Short and to blame Roosevelt. The motivations were at least threefold. First, the GOP disliked the principle of civilian control of the military, and many were convinced that politicians were scapegoating honorable fighting men. Second, the right's ideological hatred of Roosevelt ran deep and Pearl Harbor presented another occasion for partisan attack. Third, many on the right remained defiantly isolationist even after the war began, and they believed that the American people would never have licensed entry into the battle had Roosevelt not hoodwinked them.

Though Knox's report was well received by the public, FDR feared that the punishment of the Pacific commanders could be explosive, and he sought to quell a potential uproar with a blue-ribbon panel. He named Supreme Court Justice Owen Roberts to head a commission composed mostly of military officials that would settle the question. But when, in early 1942, the Roberts Commission returned a verdict similar to Knox's, it only stoked conservative fears of a cover-up.

Conservatives launched tirades against the commission and the president. Recriminations continued even during the heat of wartime. From 1942 to 1946, Congress conducted eight investigations into the matter.

Among military men, isolationists, and FDR-haters, it became an article of faith that the president had been seeking a "back door" into World War II. He suppressed signs of the impending attack, it was claimed, because only a strike against American soil would unite the public behind his goal. This is the canard that so many books have labored to prove.

In the late 1940s and 1950s, conservative, isolationist writers, military men and even some left-wing isolationists got into the act. The eminent historian Charles Beard, once fired from Columbia University for opposing World War I, saw World War II through the prism of the first one, and charged FDR with maneuvering America into conflict in 1941.

A folk wisdom that took hold among citizens, many of them in the armed forces. They circulated outlandish stories: that Roosevelt adviser Harry Hopkins had transferred planes away from Hawaii just before the attack; that FDR and Winston Churchill had plotted the raid with the Japanese; that British and American airmen had manned the offending planes.

Over the years, historians dutifully exposed the flaws (and lies) in the revisionist arguments. Those arguments, like most conspiracy theories, had a kernel of truth. FDR certainly favored American intervention in the war, as had been obvious at least since his support for Lend-Lease in 1940. It's also true that Kimmel and Short weren't as well informed of Washington's intelligence as they should have been. But the revisionists have never made the critical leap between motive and action. Most significant, no one ever produced credible evidence that Roosevelt knew the attack was coming. In fact, contemporaneous diaries and accounts show reactions of surprise among top officials.

Some skeptics believed that it was Washington—not Tokyo—that was bent on war and refused to pursue available diplomatic channels. But as the New York Times has reported, a researcher working in the Japanese foreign ministry archives recently found documents showing that Tokyo actively chose the path of war and, intentionally concealed its hostile aims, even from its own diplomats in Washington, and that Japanese officials took pride in the deception. The famous message alerting the US about the attack was in all probability deliberately delayed. While not speaking directly to the question of what FDR knew, this evidence demolishes the portrait of a Japanese government forced into war by Washington's intractability.

As damning to the revisionist claims as the ignorance of facts is the absence of logic. Gaping holes riddle the revisionists' reasoning. Even if FDR sought a Japanese attack as a pretext for war, would he really allow all the major ships of the American fleet to lie vulnerable and so many Americans to be killed? Surely a strike on American soil that was far less crippling would still have aroused the public indignation to make war against an aggressor.

Alas, the repeated failure of the dozens of tracts, from the 1940s to our own day, to stand up to scrutiny will not deter those who believe history is full of conspiracies. No amount of evidence or argument will persuade those who wish to believe in Roosevelt's treachery or in Adm. Kimmel's faultlessness. Which is not a surprise. Have you ever tried to convince a True Believer that Oswald acted alone?

Did FDR know? With the release of "Pearl Harbor," conspiracy theorists have resurrected the rumor that Roosevelt had advance warning of the bombing.

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