Convoluted tale of an American-born doctor who attempted to sabotage the U.S. effort against Germany in World War I.
Journalist Koenig’s reconstruction of the Anton Dilger story ultimately feels like a series of ironies, coincidences, near- coincidences and rumored possibilities. Dilger (1884–1918, barring, as the author suggests, a slim possibility that he faked his death) was born on the family farm in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, son of a German immigrant who rose to the rank of general as a renowned Union cavalry officer in the Civil War. Having returned to Germany for an extensive education culminating in medical school, he got involved as an army surgeon at the outset of hostilities in the Balkans in 1915; family and friends were already noting that he showed little interest in reestablishing American residency. At some point, with America poised to enter the War after German U-boats sank the Lusitania, Dilger went to German intelligence operatives with the idea that he could return to the U.S. as a spy and, ultimately, “germ saboteur.” The hero cavalryman’s turncoat son then set up a secret lab in Chevy Chase, Md., outside Washington, where he produced blanders and anthrax bacilli that would be used to infect horses being shipped to Europe to support the military; stevedores in U.S. ports were paid by German agents to do the actual inoculations. But Dilger’s germ warfare plan was hardly effective: Perhaps one percent of all Allied war animals died of the diseases, leaving the reader to ponder the point of its lengthy treatment here. He moved on to Mexico to foment anti-U.S. activity, also without significant consequence, before dying of Spanish flu in Madrid.
German-American equestrians, full charge; all others may safely pass.