The Mob versus the Nazis was an offer an Obama predecessor couldn’t refuse.
Quentin Tarantino’s darkly comic 2009 film, Inglourious Basterds, was rollicking Nazi vengeance porn, the core shtick being a handful of Jewish American soldiers wreaking havoc on Hitler, Goebbels, and their goose-stepping ilk. The movie was alternative history, of course, but the story of shtarkers, Jewish tough guys, going after Nazis has a basis in fact.
This is the theme of my new historical novel, The Devil Himself, which is about the very real collaboration between Jewish mob boss Meyer Lansky and U.S. Naval Intelligence.
I have known Meyer Lansky’s family for years and had access to his personal recollections and private papers. Meyer’s activities, sanctioned by the government as part of “Operation Underworld,” included a Tarantinian mobilization of Jewish American mobsters against Nazi sympathizers and saboteurs, a campaign as cloaked in secrecy as SEAL Team Six’s recent takedown of Osama bin Laden.
On that subject, my early admiration of President Obama’s handling of bin Laden’s killing lost steam when his administration began twisting itself into pretzels to convey that the terrorist’s killing was done, uh, politely. Heaven forbid we hurt the feelings of the other homicidal maniacs that have Americans in their crosshairs.
As contemporary America contemplates how to deal with its enemies, it is worth looking at what the wartime administration of another liberal Democrat did when faced with foreign terrorists.
OPERATION UNDERWORLD began shortly after Pearl Harbor, when the cruise ship Normandie caught fire and capsized at Pier 88 in Manhattan in early February, 1942. The Normandie, the largest luxury liner in the world, was seized by the U.S. after France fell to the Nazis. It was being retrofitted for U.S. troop deployment when it was destroyed.
Many blamed the ship’s destruction on Nazi sabotage. In retrospect, it probably wasn’t, but at the time it was a reasonable assumption. The German American Bund had been a thriving pro-Nazi advocacy group in New York before the war. German U-boats were destroying U.S. ships in the North Atlantic at such a successful clip that Admiral Karl Dönitz dubbed his campaign the Third Reich’s “Happy Time.” More American sailors were killed under this initiative than died at Pearl Harbor.
Navy intelligence swarmed the New York docks to solicit the cooperation of the longshoremen to ferret out German spies. They were heartily rebuffed. The operating theory about the Navy’s cold reception was that the largely Italian dock workers may have been loyal to Hitler’s partner in mayhem, Italy’s Mussolini. While such an allegiance may have been the case with some of the stevedores, there was a better explanation: The men who worked the docks were averse by nature and culture to help out any authorities.
Gravely concerned, the Navy sought the advice of New York law enforcement. Prosecutors conceded that, yes, the mob-controlled longshoremen were a tough lot, but not all mobsters were knuckle-dragging simians—especially ones whose Eastern European Jewish landsmen were being rounded up by Hitler.
Indeed, Meyer Lansky had tried to enlist in the army after Pearl Harbor, but was rejected because of his age, just shy of 40, and his height, 5’ 4” in socks. Other Jewish mobsters had better luck. One of Meyer’s men, Doc Stacher of Newark, served in the Army. Cleveland boss Moe Dalitz entered the Army a private and came out a captain. Minneapolis killer Davie Berman and Chicago’s Charlie Barron were rebuffed, but enlisted in the Canadian army using fake names.
A meeting was arranged between Commander Charles Radcliffe Haffenden of the Third Naval District and Meyer Lansky at Longchamps restaurant. Haffenden was stunned when the diminutive mobster introduced himself, donning a conservative business suit, looking like a cross between an accountant from Arthur Andersen and a violin instructor. His eyes, hard and black, told a different story.
Haffenden’s pitch was simple: The Navy understood that the mafia controlled the waterfront, Nazi sabotage was suspected in the Normandie fire, German U-boats were likely getting information from somebody on the docks, and the longshoremen weren’t cooperating. Could Meyer’s men be of any assistance?
Meyer acknowledged he had been giving Bund members the business for years. With the help of men like his childhood friend, Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, cutthroats like Louis “Lepke” Buchalter, Jacob “Gurrah” Shapiro, Allie “Tick Tock” Tannenbaum, and Seymour “Blue Jaw” Magoon, Jewish racketeers had been breaking up Bund rallies in the Yorkville section of Manhattan using guns, knives, and baseball bats. The mob hastened the Bund’s demise by introducing mortal risks to its leadership.
Meyer clarified for Haffenden that there was no such thing as the mafia (heh), that he was a simple investor and music distributor (uh huh), but that he’d help because “it’s patriotism.”
He added that there was a man who was greatly respected by the Italian toughs on the waterfront who might be able to assist. The good news was that this man was Meyer’s old friend. The bad news was that this friend was doing a 30- to 50-year prison sentence in an upstate New York prison known as “Siberia.”
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?