Reflections On: Meeting Tim Kaine and Chris Dodd

On April 8th, 2016, I had the pleasure of Senator Tim Kaine of Virgina at Harvard’s Center for Public Leadership. In 1998, four years after being elected to the Richmond, Virginia City Council, he was elected Mayor of Richmond by his colleagues, spending seven terms on the council, including two as Mayor. In 2001, he ran for Lieutenant Governor of Virginia and won 50.35% of the vote, being inaugurated on January 12, 2002, with Mark Warner. In this position, he would also serve as President of the Virginia Senate. In 2005, he ran and won becoming the 70th Governor of Virginia, succeeding Warner, who ran and won for United States Senate, and stayed until 2010, because of term-limits in the Virginia Constitution. On January 31st, 2006, he gave the Democratic response to President George W. Bush’s Sixth State of the Union Address. In 2008, he was a possible Vice Presidential candidate for Barack Obama, but wasn’t chosen. In 2009, until 2011, he was the Democratic National Chairman at the request of President Obama. Following Senator Jim Webb’s decision not to seek re-election, Kaine announced his candidacy, facing former Republican United States Senator and Governor George Allen in the General Election. He was sworn in for a six-year term on January 3, 2013, reunited him with Warner. (Source for the first, and the second, pictures.)

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With Senator Chris Dodd at Harvard’s Institute of Politics.

Having met one-half of the main sponsors of the Dodd-Frank Act (Congressman Barney Frank, the main House sponsor), it made sense to meet the other half, Senator Chris Dodd, the main Senate sponsor.

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Thomas J. Dodd at Nuremberg.

Dodd is the son of former one-time Congressman and United States Senator Thomas J. Dodd.

On October 15, 1995, the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center was dedicated by then-President Bill Clinton at the University of Connecticut. This is due to the recognition of the role Dodd had at the Nuremberg Trials, as according to the Connecticut Magazine article, “70 Years Later: Thomas Dodd at Nuremberg“:

Throughout the Nuremberg Trial, a clear image of Dodd emerges as a man of moral outrage, strict adherence to the letter of the law and competence of the highest order. His concern that future generations learn a lesson from the past is pervasive; his anger is palpable. In his Dec. 11, 1945 opening remarks, he advised the tribunal that “we shall show that within Germany, the conspirators had made hatred and destruction of the Jews an official philosophy and public duty, that they had preached the concept of the master race with its corollary of slavery for others, that they had denied and destroyed the dignity and the rights of the individual human being.” The leaders on trial treated “their fellow men as less than beasts,” he declared, adding, “These savageries are not dead. They must not become a spreading cancer in the breast of humanity. They must be cut out and exposed.” A guilty verdict will “solemnly recall to the world that a moral law existed before the arbitrary conduct of men and governments,” he reminded the tribunal toward the end of the proceedings.

Dodd also became a virulent anti-Communist, his suspicion about the Soviet Union appearing long before the trial ended. In a letter included in Letters from Nuremberg, My Father’s Narrative of a Quest for Justice (a 2007 compilation of letters to his family edited by his son Chris and author Lary Bloom), Dodd compared the Soviets to the Nazis, calling the Russians “predatory and imperialistic.”

“Everything that we have charged the Germans with in this case has been done, and worse, is being done by Russia,” he wrote in July 1946. “They are terrorizing all of Eastern Europe. I fear there is no common ground between us.”

“He couldn’t understand why more people weren’t outraged by the Soviets,” says son Chris Dodd, who represented Connecticut in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate from 1974 to 2011 and is currently CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America. “He was horrified that we would accept this condition of life. He became a lonely voice.”

His father was so outraged by the spread of Communism in Czechoslovakia, Hungary and other Soviet-bloc nations, he refused to accept a citation for his work at Nuremberg from the Polish government. In 1946, U.S. President Harry Truman awarded Dodd the U.S. Medal of Freedom.

“I think he also saw early signs of the Cold War,” says another son, Thomas J. Dodd Jr., at 80, the oldest of Dodd’s six children. A former U.S. ambassador to Uruguay and to Costa Rica, and an emeritus professor of Latin American History at Georgetown University, Tom Dodd says his father “used to talk about getting to know the Soviet legal staff but that as soon as they became friends, they disappeared. It happened so frequently, it was alarming to him.”

Dodd also became a staunch supporter of the new nation of Israel throughout his years in the U.S. House of Representatives (1953-57) and U.S. Senate (1957-71), and he never forgot the plight of the relatives of and victims of Nazi cruelty who testified during the Nuremberg trials.

“One thing that struck me is that there were a lot of Jewish children in my class and some teachers were Jewish,” says Tom Dodd. “In that context, I was aware that some things that they were doing there had some connection to their lives.”

After the war, “our house was filled with survivors and families of those who didn’t survive. It was like a tidal wave,” he adds.

His father was also a frequent speaker at Eastern European social and religious clubs established in this country by emigrants. The senior Dodd’s letters home to his family in Connecticut, at the time living on the green in Lebanon, reveal a loving husband, lonely for his wife and children.

More important to history, however, are his frank observations of the defendants’ appearance and character. For example, he described Hitler’s third-in-command, Rudolph Hess, who suffered a psychotic break, as “completely balmy” with no memory. Nazi Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop was “seedy looking” in “an old brown overcoat, no tie, army shoes with no laces. Here sat the man who paraded all over Europe in fancy dress with the Nazi might and power as a threat behind his diplomacy,” he wrote to his wife in August 1945. “He looked like a Bowery character to me.”

As the trial brought them nearer to their fate, Dodd described the defendants, such as second-in-command Hermann Goering—whom Dodd once labeled “impish”—as “gray and crest-fallen.” Willhelm Keitel, the Nazi top military commander, “wears the mask of the doomed.”

At points during the trial, Dodd still appeared shocked by the events with which he had become so familiar.

“It is truly remarkable, it seems to us, how easily the words ‘concentration camps’ rolled off the lips of these men,” he told the tribunal. “How simple all problems became when they could turn to the terror institution of the concentration camps.”

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill opposed the Nuremberg Trial, preferring the “outlaws” be executed immediately. However, as the proceedings advanced, he softened his view and saw them as a way to publicly purge the evil.

Dodd made it clear that the Nazi officials were not ogres with fangs—anticipating by 22 years “the banality of evil” label Hannah Arendt applied to Adolf Eichmann in her book on his trial in Israel. These were not “mere monsters” who killed “in hot blood nor for personal enrichment . . . they are not perverts (nor) ignorant men,” Dodd said. “Most are trained physicians and some of them are distinguished scientists . . . who could comprehend the nature of their acts.”

Tom Dodd remembers his father being shocked that he had to refer to the defendants as Mr. Goering or Mr. Hess. The fact that they appeared to be so intelligent and normal everyday people also “alarmed him,” says Tom of his father. Apparently, “Mr. Goering” would come to be impressed with his adversary, remarking in April 1946 to a fellow prisoner, “That Dodd is smarter than he looks.”

For the vast majority of his presentation, Dodd systematically laid out the case against each man, using their memos, records of meetings, conversations, cross examinations, testimony of witnesses and other evidence that the Allied powers had collected after the war. The German high command was fanatical about statistical data, much of which was also salvaged.

The strict adherence to American standards of trial procedures (presentation of evidence, cross examination and counter examinations) was the same as if the principles in the case were arguing an insurance claim. Each defendant was treated separately; most had counsel. A defense of “I was just following orders” was prohibited by the rules of the court—though it was frequently offered.

In the case against Ernst Kaltenbrummer, chief of the Nazi police and author of the “Final Solution” for the so-called “Jewish problem,” Dodd told the tribunal that he had attempted an “untenable” defense and described him as a “small man with little authority.”

Dodd was clever in his use of the defendants’ own words against them. For example, after persistent questioning of Alfred Rosenberg, the official in charge of the Eastern European occupied countries, Dodd introduced a December 1941 memo to Hitler in which he [Rosenberg] used the phrase, “extermination of the Jews,” a phrase he denied ever using.

It was Dodd who presented what has come to be regarded as the most dramatic piece of evidence, an event that occurred as the trial was winding down and interest was lagging.

A note to himself, written in his characteristic back hand, states simply “Preserved human head presented as evidence before International Military Tribunal by Thomas J. Dodd—on December 13, 1945.”

During a discussion of the atrocities at the German Nazi Concentration (and Extermination) Camp at Buchenwald, Dodd signaled to an aide to whisk away a white sheet covering an object on a table in front of the judges.

“This exhibit . . . is a human head with the skull bone removed, shrunken, stuffed and preserved,” he announced. The victim, a Pole, was hanged and decapitated for fraternizing with a German woman. This “terrible ornament,” as Dodd called it, was later discovered to have been used by a camp commander’s wife as a paperweight. At this point, evidence of tattooed skins turned into lamp shades (only those “most artistic specimens,” in Dodd’s words) was also introduced.

Dodd’s daughter, Carolyn, remembers years later, sneaking up to the third floor of their West Hartford home and rifling through a box of photographs from the trial. “I came across a picture of him holding that head,” she says, her act resulting in a severe reprimand by her parents.

When he finally returned home in October 1946, Carolyn recalls her father was relieved to be free of the stress and demands on him. But she and her other siblings say he was alarmed that people in this country really weren’t aware of what had gone on during those years in Nuremberg.

At home, there was little said about the trial in front of the kids, although it was the topic of dinner table conversations among adults. Dodd also brought many mementos of the trial back with him: a fragile paper maiché and straw angel for the family Christmas tree that became known as the “angel in our attic;” a flag bearing a swastika; photographs of piles of bodies in pits; and German medals awarded to mothers who bore Aryan children.

The Dodd offspring were instructed to memorize U.S. Chief Counsel Robert H. Jackson’s opening address to the tribunal in November 1945, the words of which (“That four great nations, flushed with victory and stung with injury, stay the hand of vengeance and voluntarily submit their captive enemies to the judgment of the law, is one of the most significant tributes that power has ever paid to reason”) still roll off his son Chris’ tongue without hesitation.

After the trial, Dodd’s primary goal was to make sure that future generations learn from the lessons of the past, a concern that was reflected in his advice to the tribunal that “these incredible events be established by clear and public proof, so that no one can ever doubt that they were fact and not fable.”

“He came home a changed man,” reflects Chris. “It was a life-altering experience. Everything else he did was a reflection of those 15 months.” But his main concern remained the future. “He believed by not remembering, people will repeat the same mistakes,” adds Chris.

“He came to the conclusion that complacency is the greatest enemy, that when people stop paying attention to terrorism, this is what can happen,” says Carolyn, who lives in an assisted living facility in West Hartford.

His oldest children also remember a dramatic change in their father’s appearance.

When he left Connecticut in July 1945, he was a young robust man of 38, with a full head of dark hair. Five months later, with the trial well underway, he surprised his family with a brief Christmas visit.

“He came in very late at night and they woke us up,” recalls Carolyn. “I remember telling him, ‘You look so different.’”

And indeed he did.

“His hair had turned completely grey. It was not like that when he left. It was black. Anxiety did it to him,” Carolyn says.

Her brother, Tom, recalls the same transformation. “He seemed older—I remember that,” he says. “It was a crushing experience. I think when he came back, he really couldn’t convince people how awful this thing was. He gave a lot of speeches, but he was shocked about how little people knew.”

The day-in and day-out grind of preparing and interrogating the Nazis even led Thomas Dodd to question the value of the mission. In a letter of June 9, 1946 to his wife, Grace, three months before his return, he wrote: “Sometimes I wonder if this was worthwhile.”

But then frequently, he reaffirmed his belief in the historical significance of the Nuremberg Trial, which became a model for war crime trials thereafter.

“Sometime the real value of this case will be known and understood,” he wrote. “As time goes on, I do feel it will be recognized as one of the most important events in the history of the world. “

The written record of these events are now frail, aged documents, typed on legal paper with handwritten notes interspersed, and stored in boxes in the center that bears his name—documents that record the last chapter in the lives of men responsible for one of the most violent and horrific periods of world history.

“In America, we’re both blessed and burdened with no memory,” says Chris Dodd. “We’re blessed because life moves on and we forget. But it’s a burden because by not remembering, we repeat the same mistakes.”

Elected to the Connecticut’s 2nd Congressional District in 1975, and re-elected twice, and upon Abraham Ribicoff (who served as the Congressman from Connecticut’s 1st District before his father, Thomas, was elected to that seat) announcing he would not seek another term, Dodd ran for the seat, and won the seat for five consecutive terms. Dodd also served as Chairman of the Democratic National from 1995 until 1997. Between 2001 and 2003, served as the Senate Rules Committee Chair, and as the Senate Banking Committee Chair from 2007 until 2011.

In 2007, Dodd annouced his candidacy for Presidency of the United States, running against candidates, such as Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and Joe Biden, names we are all familiar with.After losing the primary to Barack Obama, he endorsed him for President.

On January 6, 2010, Dodd announced he would retire at the end of his term. He gave his farewell speech on the Senate Floor on November 30th, 2010. He is currently Chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America.

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