Nazi economics, Old South "justice" and British liberalism

Nazi Germany’s push for economic autarky took another step forward with the announcement that the state-owned Reichswerke A.G. fur Erzbergbau und Eisenhütten General Goering was to build a steel plant in Salzgitter in the east of Prussia to process the abundant but low-quality iron-ore available in Germany particularly in that region. The company was named after Herman Goering in his capacity as Plenipotentiary for the Four Year Plan (he was promoted to Reichsmarschall only in 1940). The scheme was not popular with the established steel barons of the Ruhr to whom the added competition did not appeal but Goering secured their acquiescence. The Volkswagen car plant was built nearby at Wolfsburg in part to use the plant’s output. Under the somewhat less contentious name of Salzgitter AG the company has acquired a number of other steelworks and operates as a publicly traded entity following privatization in 1998.

The first, protracted phase of the Scottsboro case brought about by almost certainly fabricated rape allegations by two white women against a group of African-Americans in 1931 came to an end. The affair marks something of a watershed between the unchallenged white man’s “justice” abuse of the legal system and the recognition of the right to a fair trial irrespective of race. One defendant had been convicted of rape already and the trial at Decatur convicted a further three, one of whom was sentenced to death (as was usual at the time in such cases, although this was later commuted) and two to prison sentences of 99 and 105 years respectively. The weakness of the prosecution case was evident, however, in the decision to drop charges against the remaining four defendants who had been in custody for some years. Eventually all the convictions were overturned or the defendants pardoned, two posthumously.

A. P. Herbert’s private member’s bill to reform English divorce law finally passed through all the legislative stages after a bizarre and perplexing intervention by the House of Lords. Usually the citadel of conservatism, the Lords had passed an amendment shortening the duration of marriage after which divorce were possible to three years from the original five. Judges were also to be given discretion in “difficult cases”. Perhaps certain conservative strategists imagined that it would flush out allies in the Commons against the bill if it could be made to appear as excessively liberal, forcing extra debate which might be fatal to the bill as a whole.  The bait was not taken and the bill’s promoters in the Commons allowed it to pass as amended to general congratulation and pleasure. Along the way the bill had lost one of its useful reforms: shortening the waiting period between the decree nisi (the first stage of the divorce) and the decree absolute from six months to six weeks. It would have removed one of the great legal complications of the abdication crisis which left Mrs. Simpson legally married until May 1937; as is often now forgotten, Edward VIII thus left the throne in order to be able to marry a woman who was still someone else’s wife.  The six month interval remained in force until 1996.


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