The Mob versus the Nazis was an offer an Obama predecessor couldn’t refuse.
(Page 2 of 3)
Charles “Lucky” Luciano had been convicted of running prostitution rackets six years earlier. After Meyer advised Haffenden that one shouldn’t approach a Sicilian expecting something for nothing, a bewildered Luciano was moved in the dead of night from the inclement Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York, to the more hospitable Great Meadow Prison in Comstock.
Shortly after his arrival, Luciano was escorted into the warden’s office where he was greeted by Meyer and his attorney Moses Polakoff. The men had brought the overjoyed Luciano Italian and Jewish delicacies from Manhattan.
Luciano agreed to help. He ordered his capos, who were permitted to visit him, to cooperate with the Navy. Of course, he wanted something in return for his cooperation: his freedom. Haffenden agreed to do his best.
IN THE SUMMER of 1942, eight Nazi saboteurs were captured soon after they came ashore via U-boat near Amagansett, Long Island, and Jacksonville, Florida. They had brought with them lots of cash, explosives, and plans to blow up American defense plants, bridges, railways, and Jewish-owned department stores.
These saboteurs weren’t the Third Reich’s first string. Their leader turned himself in to J. Edgar Hoover. Some of the others were captured when mob-controlled union members employed at New York hotels reported them to naval intelligence.
For his part, President Roosevelt, a nighttime reader of gangster novels, was ruthless when it came to dealing with the Nazis. He wanted to execute all of the saboteurs without as much as a public utterance. Instead, two of the saboteurs were given long prison sentences and six of them, after one of the swiftest Supreme Court reviews in history, were executed at the District of Columbia jail and buried in a nearby potter’s field. Roosevelt even joked about the executions while mixing drinks at the presidential retreat, Shangri-La.
In one of the stranger coincidences in history, FDR was very close to the powerful journalist Walter Winchell, who was, in turn, a friend and neighbor of Meyer Lansky in the Majestic House apartments on Central Park West. Winchell was an unrepentant propagandist for the American cause, and he was unafraid to work with gangsters to publicize their beat-downs of Nazi sympathizers.
While history is clear about Roosevelt’s active engagement in wartime espionage, the substance of any FDR-Winchell-Lansky interaction remains unknown. Still, imagine the mere spectacle of such a dotted-line triangle given today’s transparency fetish.
Domestic sabotage was a non-issue for the remainder of the war. This was due to factors besides Operation Underworld, of course, but German spies mustn’t have found the New York waterfront hospitable with the likes of Bugsy, Lepke, & Company roaming Lower Manhattan.
Meyer and Luciano’s services didn’t stop here. When it came time to invade Sicily, Commander Haffenden again brought in the boys. They provided naval intelligence with mafia contacts in Sicily that were instrumental in both the initial landing (courtesy of maps provided by local fishermen) and in locating strategic Nazi strongholds. It wasn’t all about patriotism: Mussolini had cracked down hard on the Sicilian mafia and homegrown gangsters wanted him out.
For his service, Luciano’s prison sentence was commuted by New York governor Thomas E. Dewey, who had been the very prosecutor to put him behind bars. Luciano, who never bothered to become an American citizen, was deported to Italy, never to regain his position atop the American underworld.
To be sure, mafiaphiles have exaggerated the contributions of racketeers to the war effort. Especially preposterous is the folklore that has Luciano storming onto Sicilian beaches beside Patton waving a yellow flag emblazoned with the letter L to liberate the countryside.
It’s hard to imagine either the president or the media in the age of WikiLeaks tapping the Sopranos to whack al Qaeda. Both the successful conquest of Sicily — which, nevertheless, included the Allied air bombing of our own troops — and the initial slaughter at Normandy would have been declared “quagmires” by today’s reporters. Contrast this with American journalists during FDR’s day, who barely reported Hitler’s demoralizing “Happy Time” duck shoot against U.S. vessels.
Somewhere along the line, being seen as apologetic and gentle has trumped other priorities in international affairs. Envision FDR or Truman offering frantic assurances that Hitler’s body reached its final resting place in strict accordance with Waffen SS tradition. Or that the Hiroshima bomb incinerated tens of thousands humanely.
Still, at least one thing about Operation Underworld would translate to 21st-century Washington, namely the fate of the Navy officer who ran the program. Commander Haffenden was shipped to Iwo Jima in the hope he wouldn’t make it back. He did, but was severely injured. His reputation was dragged through sea clutter when word of Operation Underworld leaked and became the subject of investigations. Positioned as a rogue agent, Haffenden turned to alcohol and became a Dictaphone salesman, dying on Christmas Eve, 1952.
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.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?