Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Dark Invasion: 1915 — 
Reviewed by James Gallen

Dark Invasion: 1915 — 
Germany's Secret War and the Hunt for the First Terrorist Cell in America

by Howard Blum
Published by Harper, 2014

Studies of America's involvement in World War I usually focus on unrestrained submarine warfare, the Zimmerman Telegram, Theodore Roosevelt's drumbeat for war, and President Wilson's reluctance to get involved. Dark Invasion shows that the story began much earlier, shortly after the opening shots of the war.

Author Howard Blum lifts the veil from Germany's covert war against the country that, although officially neutral, was a major supplier of war materials to the Allies. Its goal was to disrupt the supply of materials flowing to the Allies from the U. S. and Canada by working in conjunction with the U-boats plying the North Atlantic, all while remaining clandestine so as to avoid driving America into belligerency. It was a war ordered by authorities in Berlin and fought between a network of German spies and the New York City Police Bomb and Neutrality Squad led by Captain Tom Tunney.

Captain Tom Tunney, NYPD

Broad in scope, this war included an aborted attempt to disable the Welland Canal, attacks against the Canadian Pacific Railway, delayed action "cigar" incendiaries placed amidst sugar shipments (sugar is flammable), bombs aboard ships, germ attacks against "war horses" destined for shipping to the Allies, the instigation of labor strikes, a bombing of the U. S. Capitol, and an assassination attempt against one of Britain's prime American financiers, J. P. Morgan, as well as German overtures toward Mexican officials, in and out of power. The results of the covert war did not end with the end of World War I itself, but linger on in responses to the crises including the founding of the Bureau of Investigation, predecessor of the FBI, enhanced requirements for passports and the criminalization of spying.

Order Now

Dark Invasion portrays Germany as viewing America as an enemy long before declarations of war. Neutrality was national policy, but private Americans executed their own policies to aid both the Allies and Germany. True, Germany as well as the Allies could buy American goods, but the Royal Navy control of the seas prevented their delivery. Crews of German vessels stranded in the U.S. by the blockade provided recruits willing to fight for the Fatherland in the land of their exile. While the stories of the fires aboard ships, the bombing of the Capitol, and the shooting of Morgan were reported in the press, their association with Germany was of necessity covered up to permit the continued resistance to the pressures for war. White House meetings had to balance the need to defend American interests without giving the jingoes an issue with which to build an irresistible demand for war.

Although the word "terror" is used in connection with the German operation, I think it is not totally appropriate. Terror attempts to achieve its goals through terrorizing the population, not by the direct results of the actions themselves. The German goal was to prevent the delivery of war supplies to the Allies by sinking ships, poisoning horses, eliminating a source of credit and creating labor unrest, not by frightening the American people into inaction. While the methods were similar to later Homeland Security challenges, Germany's war against America involved more direct means.

Wanted Poster for German Agent

The attraction of a book is not just the story it tells but also the way it tells it. This history is presented in the form of a "whodunit" mystery. The maneuvering between German agents, British intelligence, and the Bomb and Neutrality Squad maintains suspense for those who do not know what happened and how it will end. The cast of characters helps follow the narrative that shifts from the viewpoint of Tunney and his antagonists. This work is the result of extensive research with quotes from and copies of original documents and photos. Even the title is derived from Dark Invader, the memoirs of Franz von Rintelen, the German spy network's chief operative in America in 1915. For me it placed the early phases of the war and debates over American involvement in an entirely new light. I recommend this to anyone interested in America's road to the Great War.

James Gallen

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