The war that never ends

May 6, 2018

On this date 73 years ago today a plane landed in Reims France carrying one General Alfred Jodl. His mission: to plead one last time that German forces be allowed to surrender to Western Allied forces rather than remain in place and leave untold numbers of troops at the mercy of Joseph Stalin’s Red Army.

Supreme Commander Allied Expeditionary Force, Dwight Eisenhower was however in no mood for negotiating. The terms remained as dictated the day before: surrender where you stand to whatever force stands in front of you. Jodl had no choice but to radio back to headquarters.

A headquarters that at approximately 1:30 am., May 7th 1943 replied ‘Admiral Doenitz authorizes signature of surrender under conditions stated.— Keitel.’ The surrender would officially take effect one minute after midnight May 8th. And with that, the first half of the most destructive conflagration the world had ever known was over.

Also on this date in 1945, Axis Sally, a.k.a. Mildred Gillars signed off for the last time. Her “Home Sweet Home” and “Midge at the mike”; Nazi propaganda programs exploited the loneliness of troops far from home by sowing doubt about the behavior of their wives and sweethearts back home. A recurring theme between the popular American music was to instill doubt into the soldier’s minds of not just their military mission, but just what, if anything awaited them back home should they be lucky enough to survive the war.

But what made her broadcasts especially disgusting was the fact that the voice behind them wasn’t a fellow member of Hitler’s master race but rather an American citizen. Yes, an American citizen.

Born in Portland, Maine, November 29, 1900 as Mildred Elizabeth Sisk, she took her stepfather’s name of Gillars and graduated from high school in Connecticut, Ohio in 1917. From there it was on to Ohio Wesleyan University and a major in dramatic arts. Unable to meet graduation requirements her life took to various odd jobs and a couple of trips to Europe and back before finally arriving in Germany in 1935. First with the Berlitz School of Languages in Berlin as an English instructor and eventually as her role as an actress and announcer at Radio Berlin.

Ironically she was working on December 7th 1941 when the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was announced. A moment that in her last act of being American in a foreign land saw her let loose with a barrage against the Japanese that she later recalled was of such animosity against Germany’s ally that it could have landed her in a concentration camp.

She denounced her tirade, pledged full allegiance to her German masters and proceeded to save her own skin by playing against her own countrymen.

She was found and arrested on March 15, 1946, flown to the states to await trial two years later, was indicted in September of ’48 and by January ’49 was standing trail on eight counts of treason. On March 10, 1949 she was convicted of one count, served her sentence at the Federal Reformatory for Women in Alderson, West Virginia and was released on parole June 10, 1961.

A prison converted Catholic, Gillars moved into Our Lady of Bethlehem Convent in Columbus, Ohio, taught German, French and music and at the age of 72 even graduated from Ohio Wesleyan.

In a 2011 review of Richard Lucas’ book “Axis Sally, The American Voice of Nazi Germany”, Cleveland’s The Plain Dealer, Brian Albrecht wrote:

“Gillars died, impoverished, in 1988. To the author, “Axis Sally” became the final victim of her own propaganda, who “paid a heavy price for that delusion.” She is buried in St. Joseph’s Cemetery, south of Columbus, in an unmarked grave.

And perhaps in some ways, the author intended his book to serve as that missing marker, explaining the popular perception, if not the person, with the epitaph . . .

Those who heard her, hated her.

Those who didn’t, now know why.

World War Two may be long past, but propaganda is as present today as ever.

From a media induced insanity where “anonymous sources” and “persons with knowledge of “ are now the norm, rather than the exception for even once trusted news outlets to social media giants Facebook, Twitter, and Google establishing their own versions of Orwell’s Ministry of Truth, the line between fact and fiction is more blurred today than at any time in our history.

Where this all sorts out is anyone’s guess, but if there’s one thing I do know is that if we allow ourselves to just blindly follow our media masters we’re closer to the epitaph of the traitor from Portland than we dare admit.

Publisher Note:  A version of this column first appeared in the May 6, 2018 print edition of the Joplin Globe.

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