Monday, October 2, 2006

Stuart’s “America First” Frustrates FDR’s War Strategy. “Lone Eagle” Comes Aboard with Dubuque Catholic Archbishop. Charge of “Anti-Semitism” Refuted as Prominent Journalist Hertzberg

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The second article in a series of three on the “America First Committee,” the Chicago-based committee formed to keep us out of World War II. Its president, Robert D. Stuart, Jr. has just marked his 90th birthday with a brilliant privately circulated memoir. It brings home to a new generation the original concept of this patriotic organization which was filled with luminaries who later became part of the premier U. S. establishment, It appeared in the nation’s oldest national Catholic weekly, The Wanderer.

By Thomas F. Roeser

CHICAGO—A 24-year-old Yale law grad puts together a grassroots movement that seemingly blocks the president of the United States from rushing headlong into war.

The movement is not populated with hippies or draft resisters. It is composed of much of the cream of the establishment—big industrial names, liberals, Democrats, Republicans, conservatives, socialists, war heroes, environmentalists, clergymen, journalists, authors, Nobel Prize winners, actors and actresses. Its spokesman is the most legendary hero this nation had seen since Davy Crockett. Only a skillful manipulation of events leads the nation into war. Tame historians ever since maintain our entry into the war was essential—disparaging the anti-war drive as unpatriotic and counter-productive: alleging that if the anti-war move had succeeded, America would be talking German today.

Gradually the U.S. is discovering more than sixty years after the event that the old pro-war rationalization has been bunk. For generations the history profession has lain low, neglecting to clear up the record and fearful of being tabbed unpatriotic. Some of the truth has come out. But now, the 24-year-old law grad—now a venerable retired CEO of Quaker Oats at age 90—has told his story as the last surviving member of the organization he founded: the America First Committee.

Conventional wisdom, propagated by contemporary history texts, say that America’s entry into World War II was inevitable: that Adolf Hitler meant to conquer the U. S. and that along with Japan’s Emperor Hirohito and Italy’s Benito Mussolini to run the world. Further the isolationists and members of the America First Committee didn’t understand the realities of the new internationalist age. Finally, there was the charge of anti-Semitism: the allegation that the America First Committee was insensitive to the plight of the Jews. These have been the allegations bruited around for more than two generations. The facts are far different in a first-hand report of the America First Committee, written by its founder, Robert D. Stuart. He was my leader at The Quaker Oats Company but I never knew the entirety of his background. His book, Making a Difference, tells it and fills in much history.

It started with a needless war: the unnecessary involvement in World War I to satisfy the need of a president who pretended Christ-like sanctity in order to establish an international global consortium after the peace—a consistory he believed only he could rule: Woodrow Wilson. But the Versailles treaty produced a Carthaginian peace and bitterness in Germany. The bitterness led to the rise of a brutal dictator, Adolf Hitler.

International cowardice in the institution Wilson founded, the League of Nations, led to the strengthening of Hitler and his ally Benito Mussolini. Meanwhile a new U. S. president, failing to solve the Depression with his stock prescriptions, saw a need to solve unemployment and stimulate the economy once and for all: by going to war. Subtly Franklin Roosevelt preached peace but stealthily he pursued war. After elected to an unprecedented third term, he set aside the old plan and began to seriously court our entry into World War II on Britain’s side. Like his old mentor Wilson, FDR sees himself as a potential leader of the entire world with a new international organization. In this dream he is aided by a crafty, brilliant British premier, Winston Churchill, who sees Britain’s survival pegged on the U.S. entry into the war.

Now FDR took dramatic steps to increase possibilities of involvement: extending the navy’s neutrality zone from 300 miles offshore to the mid-Atlantic and moving U.S. troops to Greenland and Iceland. In Spring, 1941 he ordered naval troops to aid the British to search for the German battleship Bismarck without sanction from Congress..

But his efforts were being hobbled by The America First Committee, headed by Robert D. Stuart, Jr. The committee was formed in September, 1940, three months after France fell. Then things looked bleak for Britain. But the gallant Royal Air Force slowly won mastery of the skies. Soon Hitler’s dream of conquest of Britain was shelved. Poll after poll showed the American people steadfastly opposed to entry into the war. Franklin Roosevelt was dismayed. Wherever he looked, America First seemed to be dominating the conversation on the war.

That was because Stuart had put together a very impressive group called America First. In Chicago a number of powerful business leaders had signed up headed by a World War I legendary ex-quartermaster general. He was General Robert Wood, head of Sears, Roebuck. The committee had branches in all the major cities. In Massachusetts, Democrat Jack Kennedy the son of the U. S. ambassador to Britain (a young Harvard grad who sent $100 in support). Also the grandson of the Senator who opposed Wilson’s creation of the United Nations, Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. To supervise publicity, the double threat team of Benton & Bowles, Madison avenue’s hottest company: Chester Bowles and William Benton who had just joined Encyclopedia Britannica as its vice president. Also on board: a former FDR ally, Brig. General Hugh Johnson who had headed the president’s National Recovery Administration (NRA), now a vehement opponent of the war.

The list went on: General Hanford McNider (ret.), a heavily decorated hero of World War I and former national commander of the potent American Legion. Mrs. Alice Roosevelt Longworth, daughter of Theodore Roosevelt and widow of House Speaker Nicholas Longworth. Lillian Gish, Hollywood actress, manufacturer William H. Regnery (later to become a famed publisher). Amos Pinchot, bearer of a legendary environmentalist name, brother of Gifford who had helped Theodore Roosevelt design his conservation program. Then, Mrs. Burton K. Wheeler, wife of the New Deal supporting Montana Democratic senator. Followed by none other than the socialist party candidate for president whose ideas on social policy were borrowed by Roosevelt for the New Deal-- Norman Thomas.

There was the progressive Republican Senator of North Dakota, Gerald Nye who had run a Senate probe of the munitions industry. Then none other than the budding liberal novelist Gore Vidal. Young prize-winning journalist Murray Kempton was a key member. Topped by the Nobel Prize-winning novelist Sinclair Lewis, author of Main Street whose journalist wife, Dorothy Thompson was rooting for war. Also sitting with the committee, a distinguished son of a U. S. president who was judged highly qualified for the presidency himself at some future time: Senator Robert A. Taft of Ohio.

The impressive list continued. Jerry Ford of Michigan, an assistant athletic director at Yale and an All-American football player from Michigan. Potter Stewart, another Yalie who later became a Justice of the Supreme Court. Sargent Shriver, who had married Eunice Kennedy, running his father-in-law Joe’s Merchandise Mart in Chicago. Kingman Brewster, later president of Princeton. None other than Charles A. Beard, the foremost historian in the U. S. Also Eddie Rickenbacker, America’s greatest World War I ace and first president of Eastern Airlines. Then Oswald Garrison Villard, the nationally known former editor of the most liberal magazine in the country, The Nation magazine who quit his job there to fight against the war. Non-board members included former president Herbert Hoover, Robert Maynard Hutchins, at 32 the youngest major university president in the country, president of the University of Chicago. Waiting impatiently outside the Committee but clamoring to get in: American entrepreneurial legend Henry Ford. Once he got accepted he was quickly booted off because of his earlier anti-Semitic writings. National publicity was handled by Sydney Hertzberg, prominent former “Time” magazine correspondent (and father of Hendrik Hertzberg, former editor of “The New Republic” and now political editor of “The New Yorker.”

This dynamic committee was holding the war-planning 32nd president of the United States at bay. But Stuart was still looking for the single most charismatic leader who could galvanize the country with his presence. Then at a meeting at the home of William R. Castle, undersecretary of state to Herbert Hoover, he met him. The tall, lanky, freckled fellow came up, extended his hand shyly and said, “Hi. I’m Charles Lindbergh.”

The Lone Eagle! He was the man Stuart had hero-worshiped since the legendary one-man flight to France, made when Stuart was 11 years old. Stuart writes: “…Lindbergh was my hero as a boy…for years I dreamed of meeting him. My dream went like this: I would be in bed on theporch of Mother and Dad’s old house…I’d hear the Spirit of St. Louis flying overhead, its engine sputtering. The Lone Eagle was out of gas! He ‘d make an expert landing in our garden…and there to greet him, like a St. Bernard coming to the rescue with a can of gasoline, would be Bobby Stuart!”

The dream more than came true. Lindbergh was enthused with America First. Stuart wanted to criss-cross the country to sell the idea. Lindbergh volunteered to fly him. Together they flew long hours, once Lindbergh grinning and turning the controls over to his young admirer. “Don’t worry, relax,” Lindy said. “I’m watching you.”

He was a strong man, this Lindbergh, Stuart writes: “…yet always courteous and helpful. But if anyone insisted that he do something he did not believe it, he just wouldn’t do it. This trait caused him—and us—much trouble.

“When interventionists pressured him to return a medal presented to him in 1938 by Hermann Goring, he refused. Lindbergh explained—quite logically—that he had been presented the medal in a U. S. government-owned residence in Berlin, gathering information on the German military for the U. S. government. He was at a dinner party at the request of Ambassador Wilson. Moreover he had received countless medals and decorations from rulers, many of them probably corrupt or tyrannical. Was he supposed to cause a series of international incidents by rejecting them as well?”

Lindbergh proved to be easily the America First Committee’s biggest draw. He spoke often and it turned out he had a soft, commanding voice and a stunning power over people—speaking not loudly but rather like a Ronald Reagan of the future. He was seen to be a close competitor to Franklin Roosevelt on the radio. Indeed none other than Robert Sherwood, the president’s chief speechwriter and famed dramatist, explained it this way: “Lindbergh was undoubtedly FDR’s biggest competitor on the radio.” But he was also one-up on Roosevelt. Lindbergh insisted on writing his own speeches.

Standing close to the America First Committee—and just outside the circle—was Senator Harry S. Truman, the Missouri Democrat. Truman was the first to argue that we should stand back and watch Naziism and Communism fight it out to the death. Said Truman: “If we see Germany is winning, we ought to help Russia. And if Russia is winning, we ought to help Germany. And in that way let them kill as many as possible although I don’t want to see Hitler victorious under any circumstances.”

Truman’s view was shared by the nation’s prime journalistic military strategist, Hanson Baldwin of The New York Times : “There is no doubt whatsoever that it would have been to the interest of Britain, the United States and the world to have allowed—and indeed to have encouraged—the world’s two great dictatorships to fight each other to a frazzle. Such a struggle, with its resultant weakening of both Communism and Naziism, could not but have aided in the establishment of a more stable peace.”

With that formidable Committee, it proved to be tough going indeed for Franklin Roosevelt to make his case. Once FDR thought he had it cinched: when France fell, caused more from moral dry rot than from Hitler.. Britain came under siege and the country squire from Hyde Park warned that all democratic freedom was in peril. Churchill warned: “The battle for France has been lost. The battle for Britain has begun!”

But in the Battle of Britain, Hitler’s Lufftwaffe huffed and puffed but lost the engagement. Britain did not topple. German plans for an invasion of Britain were shelved. Supposedly good news for the West but not for Roosevelt and Churchill who wanted the U. S. to go to war.

Then Charles Lindbergh came before the House Foreign Affairs committee. As the world’s greatest authority on air power, he now made a point that seemed irrefutable. How could Hitler invade the U. S. with no surface ships to attack us and with our air power and Britain’s dominant in the west Atlantic? As the nation’s young radio networks carried his calm, young voice, he told America: “If England is able to live at all with bases of the German air force less than an hour’s flight away, the United States is not in greater danger across the Atlantic ocean…[N]ot a single squadron of trans-oceanic bombing planes exists anywhere in the world today…I do not believe there is any danger of invasion of this continent, either by sea or air, as long as we maintain an army, navy and air force of reasonable size and in modern condition and provided we establish the bases essential for defense.”

The news wasn’t getting better for Roosevelt, Churchill & Company. Six months after Lindbergh testified, Hitler made the catastrophic move of his career and attacked the Soviet Union, a nation with many thousands of tanks and planes and untold millions of men in uniform. There was never a danger that Hitler would come over here with armies to land in New York harbor—but now any inkling of that happening was ridiculous.

But it was at this very highest point in America First history that the Committee played into its enemies’ hands. That came with a Lindbergh radio speech in Des Moines, Iowa on September 11, 1941.

Stuart writes, “to the extent that `America First’ has an historical black eye, the damage was done on that date.”

Lindbergh told his Des Moines audience, “The three most important groups who have been pressing this country toward war are the British, the Jewish and the Roosevelt administration. Behind these groups, but of lesser importance, are a number of capitalists, anglophiles and intellectuals…It is not difficult to understand why Jewish people desire the overthrow of Nazi Germany. The persecution they suffered in Germany would be sufficient to make bitter enemies of any race.

“No person with a sense of the dignity of mankind can condone the persecution of the Jewish race in Germany. But no person of honesty and vision can look on their pro-war policy here today without seeing the dangers involved in such a policy, both for us and them.

“Instead of agitating for war, the Jewish groups in this country should be opposing it in every possible way for they will be among the first to feel its consequences. Tolerance is a virtue that depends on peace and strength. History shows that cannot survive war and devastation. A few far-sighted Jewish people realize this and stand opposed to intervention. But the majority still do not. Their greatest danger to this country lies in their large ownership nd influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio and our government.

“I am not attacking either the Jewish people or the British people. Both races I admire. But I am saying that the leaders of both the British and the Jewish races, for reasons which are as understandable from their viewpoint as they are inadvisable from ours, for reasons that are not American, wish to involve us in the wsar. We cannot blame them for looking out for what they believe to be their own interests but we must also look out for ours. We cannot allow the natural passions and prejudices of other peoples to lead our country to destruction.”

Stuart was listening to the speech on the radio with Richard Moore, (later to be top aide to Richard Nixon, George H. W. Bush’s ambassador to Ireland and finally the producer of the nationally syndicated television discussion program “The McLaughlin Group.” Stuart writes, “…[A]ll I could say was `oh, God!’ Charles had, of course, not submitted the speech to us for approval—he was not the sort to ask others to vet his remarks. We knew he would never apologize for what he said, for he had spoken what was in his heart.

“And in fact, one cannot find anything demonstrably untrue in what he said. The British, the administration and the Jewish community were the primary advocates of war. Moreover, Charles had openly expressed his sympathy for Europe’s Jews. But truth is seldom an effective defense when the press and the establishment smell blood. Much of the outcry was, I felt, hypocritical…

“What to do? We could not disown Charles; he was our friend; he was honest and courageous and he was still a hero in the eyes of millions of Americans. The reactions of America First directors and speakers was mixed. Some, like Kathleen Norris and liberal essayist Oswald Garrison Villard, supported Lindbergh all the way and decried the press criticism as politically motivated cheap shots. Some, including Norman Thomas and Sterling Morton [head of Morton’s Salt of Chicago] privately believed that Lindbergh had spoken the truth but wished that he had shown a better sense of public relations… Still others, such as Kathryn Lewis (daughter of United Mines Workers leader John L. Lewis) resigned from the committee.”

One leader, Boston Brahmin with the very snooty name of Tudor Gardiner, Jr. wanted the Committee to ask for Lindbergh’s resignation. This Stuart refused to do. He shot back: “If we become brittle in our thinking and fight amongst ourselves, we will be doing exactly what the Morgan boys [J. P. Morgan and the Wall Street investment bankers] want us to do. They are trying to isolate the isolationists, one from another, and thereby bring our ranks crumbling down…You know as well as I do that this committee is not anti-Semitic. Therefore, regardless of misrepresentation by a hostile press and regardless of your disapproval…I am confident that you will stick with us in fighting off the dirty attack made upon our name.”

Lindbergh had many flying stops after Des Moines. When he flew to Chicago a few days later, Stuart met him and expressed some concern. Lindbergh said, “Bob, be realistic. I’m right.” Stuart said yes but he should have been mindful of what the press would say.

“That doesn’t make a bit of difference to me,” said the Lone Eagle. “If it’s right, I should say it.”

Lindbergh’s wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, saw the danger politically but smiled and told Stuart, “If he had listened to others,” she told Stuart, “he would never have gotten to Paris.” Stuart summarizes his good friend Lindbergh: “In the end, Charles stood as tall as ever for me. He was a genuine American hero. The sniping never even dented his greatness.”

The Roosevelt administration seized on the Lindbergh speech as a pretext to build more allies—but then it was hit with another salvo. A man who had listened carefully to Charles Lindbergh’s speech in Des Moines and a member of America First, determined to say what was on his mind and in his soul.

Born in Cincinnati, educated at Mt. St. Mary of the West seminary there and at the Catholic University of Louvain and the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome where he received a doctorate in sacred theology, he was 66-year-old Archbishop Francis Beckman. He had been bishop of Lincoln, Nebraska before coming to Dubuque in 1930. He had made a few national broadcasts from Dubuque but they had been suffused with academic language. Now he would change and speak plainly.

On Sunday, October 19, 1941 he became an outspoken critic not just of the war but of the Roosevelt administration. He was first and only Catholic bishop to do so publicly. I’m indebted to The Wanderer’s able news editor, Paul Likoudis, for the text which he unearthed from a yellowed copy of Fr. Charles E. Coughlin’s magazine Social Justice dated November 3, 1941.

That Sunday, the Archbishop called on the American people over NBC radio to resist President Roosevelt’s designs to go to war. Speaking to American mothers, he said: “The time is short for speaking and I will be brief. I will mince no words. People, we are at a crossroads of Constitutional government. Our laws are hypocritically evaded and then explained away under the guise of a `national emergency’; the greatest dictatorship on earth is made or is in the making.

“War or peace in this sad land is a question crying for immediate answer. Bitter history attends to the downright hypocrisy, faithless and ruthless cunning which has led a nation of peace-minded people to the very brink of war. The plan of the interventionists has been well drawn and adroitly pursued: Step by step and lately, inch by inch, our people in their guilelessness have been betrayed, betrayed, be-spoiled and disillusioned. At the moment the culmination of this plan is simple: `Arm the ships and create the incidents.’ The intelligence of the American people can no longer be limited by `measures short of war’: the appeal now is to the passions and prejudices…The war hysteria and propaganda put forth in this country has no parallel as a deliberate, studied appeal to the emotions. Hitler is to be stopped if it takes ten years, 10 million men, $300 billion with never a thought of where we shall begin and where we shall end. I fear lthis is either folly of men who are mad or who are eager, through war, to cover their own mistakes.

“My dear friends, liberty is the corpse of war and in this critical hour we should be most concerned for it. Hard-won by men who would turn over in their graves if they were to view the revolting spectacle in Washington today. It is time for the peace-loving people of this nation to get down to the business of salvaging their rights…I am not willing for the sake of decorum to remain silent. I have no choice but to remain unswervingly true to my sacred office. A worthy shepherd of his flock deserts them not in the hour of their need.

“Religion is concerned primarily with spiritual affairs, yes; but when a course is set by temporal authorities (an obviously wrong course) which ends in courting godlessness, war and the loss of religious liberty, every single man of the cloth, be he Catholic, Protestant or Jew, in my mind has no alternative but to stand up to the government, tell his people the truth whether they like it or not. ..This is America and we should not fear to love it, honor it, defend it first, last and always.”

War came less to the country less than two months later at Pearl Harbor. What officially happened at Pearl Harbor and who was responsible has long since been in dispute. But the maneuvers to impose on Japan an oil embargo that it felt it could not live with—together with a taunting from official quarters in Washington—has consistently been in disrepute. When war came, Bob Stuart, Jack Kennedy and many hundreds of young men involved in America First enlisted in the armed forces.

But what happened to Charles Lindbergh and the outspoken archbishop of Des Moines who gained the undying enmity of the Roosevelt administration? The details of their punishment from on high will be told in the final article next week.

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