Richard Lucas, author of Casemate’s recently published AXIS SALLY: The American Voice of Nazi Germany has been busy promoting his new book. In the past few months, he has been interviewed for many local, regional and national newspapers and radio stations. We asked Richard a few questions about what made him write this book….
I reached the decision to write a book when I came upon the fascinating story of Axis Sally (Mildred Gillars). It was a story that had never been told in a full, factual manner and I really felt that I could add to the literature on World War II and the era. Although I had always considered writing as a profession, the story of Mildred Gillars was so compelling that I was inspired to go forward and make a real contribution to history and our understanding of the woman and her times.
How much research did you do for the book? Can you give us some tips on this?
The research and writing for Axis Sally took over five years. It involved trips to the National Archives, the Library of Congress, Ohio Wesleyan University archives, etc. Also, I hired an experienced German-speaking researcher in Berlin to look for documents that could only be found at the Bundesarchiv. I was determined that the book would be as factually accurate as possible, based on primary documents.
What fascinates you about revisiting the past and bringing it to life in a book? Have you always been interested in history?
I have always been interested in history. I’ve been a shortwave radio enthusiast since I was 10 years old. My father brought home a Hallicrafters receiver that he bought second hand for $40. I have so many memories of history being made and listening to it on shortwave – the funereal music broadcast when a Communist leader died, the solemn announcements that are now relics of a bygone era, etc. There was always an atmosphere on the shortwave radio of exclusivity and the ability to gain knowledge that ABC, CBS and NBC didn’t provide.
I collected cards and pennants from all those stations – and the hobby provided an invaluable education about media manipulation and propaganda. I was a young kid receiving propaganda magazines and pamphlets that Mao’s China and Radio Moscow. It resulted in the opening of my mail by “unknown persons”. The power of propaganda and the seriousness of psychological warfare became very real to me – especially when I found a birthday present sent from California opened, inspected and tied back together with a wire coat hanger. That incident really told me a lot about how seriously our government took psychological warfare.
Why did you decide to write this book? What prompted you to put this story down on paper?
I first heard the broadcasts of Axis Sally on website dedicated to World War II era broadcasts. I was struck by two things, 1) she was a relatively skilled broadcaster compared to the other Americans and British who worked for the Nazis and 2) there were two distinctly different voices in the broadcasts both purported to be Axis Sally. I knew that there were several different Tokyo Roses (including Iva Toguri), but I did not know that more than one woman went by the moniker Axis Sally. So I tried to find out more about these two women, but there were no biographies of Axis Sally. There were internet pages that had some information but much was speculation and some was inaccurate. After some research at the National Archives, I decided that the true story was so compelling, it was worthy of a book.
What do you like most about your book? Why should we read it?
The journey of Mildred Gillars from publicity-seeking Broadway showgirl, driven by love to become a reviled traitor and then become an intensely private and devout teacher was just an irresistible, human story. It is one woman’s life in the context of a war that cost millions of lives. It examines the decisions she made, why she made those decisions, and how she ended up on the wrong side of history
A favorite radio show of mine is “This American Life”. Well, this is an American life that went badly wrong – and I think lives such as these demand examination..
What are you working on at the moment?
Right now, I am working on promoting Axis Sally, but I have been doing some research on America First, corporations and the isolationist movement in the late 1930s. Another area of interest that grew out of my Axis Sally research was the preferential treatment that some Germans (even those with blood on their hands) were given by the OSS, CIA and other agencies interested in their skills. Although John Loftus and others have done great work on this issue, I sense that there is more to the story that may or may not ever been known.
For more information about Richard Lucas, check out some recent interviews