Hindsight Isn’t Always Twenty-Twenty

Dec 10, 2016 | 1 comment

I’m reading In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Seattle author Erik Larson.  One of our Friday Nighters mentioned it and we ordered it from the Ocean Park Library.  The book was published in 2011, a national best seller with a particularly insightful message for the here and now.

The story centers on Martha Dodd, the twenty-six-year-old daughter of William Edward Dodd, FDR’s first Ambassador to Germany. The story is confined to the family’s first year in Berlin from their arrival on Thursday, June 29, 1933 but with ample flashbacks for context and with commentary by Martha, herself, in later years.

Martha Dodd

Eventually, Martha became a journalist of some note and wrote four books, the first of which was a memoir of her years in Berlin, Through Embassy Eyes.  By her own account (and certainly by Larson’s) Martha had a number of dalliances with Germans in high places and, in her own words “became temporarily an ardent defender of everything going on” and admired the “glowing and inspiring faith in Hitler, the good that was being done for the unemployed and inspiring faith in Hitler, the good that was being done for the unemployed”

Between the stories of Martha’s liaisons, Larson includes the almost weekly incidents involving the American citizens as well as native Germans and he carefully documents the responses and reports by Ambassador Dodd to his superiors back home.  As Larson points out in his preface, “Hindsight tells us that during that fragile time the course of history could so easily have changed.  Why, then, did no one change it?  Why did it take so long to recognize the real danger posed by Hitler and his regime?”

Berlin 1933

Why, indeed.  And with works such as this book of Larson’s at our fingertips, why does our hindsight relative to current events here in our own time remain so blurry?  It belies explanation.  Shortly after the book was published in 2011 Tom Hanks bought the film rights.   Although there is a trailer out about the film (available on YouTube at  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TLBOqZMfsf4) the movie has yet to be released.  I can’t help but wonder if actually seeing Larson’s characters on the silver screen will sharpen our focus on what happened all those years ago.  Will it give us clearer hindsight?  Or will it even matter?

1 Comment

  1. Caroline Miller

    I hope the Hank’s film gets released soon. I don’t what to sit around and wonder “Why?” Not on my watch!


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