When John Schoolfield came home to the Eastern Shore after his six-year fight against the authoritarian dictates of Adolf Hitler in WWII, he was a changed man.
Indeed after watching Hitler attack the free press and demonize journalists, my father made the decision to dedicate his professional career to ensuring that our system of fact checking and trusted journalistic reporting remained strong, credible, and pledged to the sanctity of verifiable truth.
Dad was incensed when Hitler labeled the independent press “lugen presse” (lying press) and declared them “the enemy of the people”. He was outraged when Hitler adopted Vladimir Lenin’s ploy that “a lie told often enough becomes the truth” and used that tool to convince his unsuspecting victims to follow him through the gates of insurrection hell using violence, vengeance, and intimidation as tools of the insurrection.
Hence, at 27, dad purchased the Eastern Shore Herald newspaper in Eastville and set out to trumpet truth in journalism for the next 40 years of his life going on in later years to have a syndicated column dedicated to military history called “Drumbeat” focused on giving tribute to those who fight for our freedoms.
Dad wrote and lectured about how fascist dictators manipulate the populace and get them to worship authoritarian rule, abandoning core values of God and country.
The two favorite reference books that he quoted from extensively were:
Sinclair Lewis’s “It Can’t Happen Here,” a work of fiction about an unlikely candidate who wins an election and then uses that position for personal goals rather than the public good; and “Mein Kampf, ” which detailed the formula for the overthrow of a representative government and converting it to supreme rule by an individual.
John said the formula Hitler used was the same formula used by dictators throughout history. First, he said, they have to convince the citizens that the country is in some perceived state of disrepair, telling them that he or she is the only one that can make that country “great again.” Second, they come after anyone who is telling truth to power, especially the press, blurring the lines between reality and the budding dictator’s alternative facts. Third, Hitler carefully picked his targets, realizing that educated people would never believe those lies.
John’s copy of “Mein Kampf” was extensively marked up, with this Hitler quote highlighted and underlined. Hitler wrote that there was “no point in trying to convert the intellectuals because they cannot be converted,” arguing that the educated (and therefore independent thinking) would always yield to the stronger “man on the street” (thugs) so don’t waste time trying to change their minds.
Wherever we lived, our house was peppered with Post It notes, most containing quotes from famous (or notorious) characters embedded in history. He loved Lincoln and cherished Thoreau. I want to honor John’s memory by leaving you with two of his favorites. Lincoln said, “I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts.” Thoreau’s quote was exactly on point and is on our refrigerator today reading, “Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.”
Mary Schoolfield Dufty, Exmore