Political Hay

From America First to America Last

When will Democrats just say no to anti-Semitism and conspiracy-mongering?

By 9.8.06

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Let the campaign begin.

Here's a test. When were the following said, and by whom?

"The greatest danger to this country lies in their (the Jews) large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio, and our Government."

"The issue we are dealing with in the...administration is dual loyalties-the double allegiance of those myriad officials at high and middle levels who cannot separate U.S. Interests from Israeli interests....they honestly do not know whether their own passion...is motivated primarily by America-first patriotism or is governed first by a desire to secure Israel's safety..."

The first was said by a prominent member of the pre-World War II "America First Committee," an organization that was fanatically dedicated to isolationism and keeping America out of any involvement in European or Asian struggles. The date: September 11, 1941.

The second is a column posted in the MoveOn.org "MoveOn Bulletin" of May 9, 2003. The piece was entitled "A Rose by Another Name" and was written in 2002 by two former CIA political analysts.

But it is not simply a couple of random quotes that cause the two organizations, separated by over a half a century, to resemble one another to such a startling degree. In their philosophy, objectives and choice of language -- not to mention their supporters -- it is increasingly clear that MoveOn.org is the 21st century political descendant of the America First Committee.

Who were the American Firsters? The America First Committee came to life on September 4, 1940 and quickly evolved into what one historian called "the most powerful isolationist or non-interventionist pressure group in the United States." It grew out of a Yale student organization led by a son of a Quaker Oats Company vice president, and was headed by retired Army General Robert E. Wood, who was the chairman of Sears Roebuck at the time. The group's national committee included such celebrities of the day as the actress Lillian Gish, World War I flying ace General Eddie Rickenbacker, Henry Ford, Alice Roosevelt Longworth (daughter of Theodore) and, most prominently, "Lucky Lindy" himself -- Colonel Charles Lindbergh. It was Lindbergh who gets credit for the opening quote above, said in a Des Moines, Iowa speech.

Their philosophy? The Franklin Roosevelt administration, Jews and capitalists were dangerous "war agitators" who "comprise only a small minority of our people; but they control a tremendous influence." This analysis about the sinister intent of "powerful elements" in America was provided by Lindbergh, whose words and sentiments seem as if they have been lifted verbatim into a MoveOn screed about the Bush administration, Neo-cons, Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman and Halliburton.

In one speech Lindbergh warned that these three groups "planned, first, to prepare the United States for foreign war under the guise of American defense; second to involve us in the war step by step, without our realization; third, to create a series of incidents which would force us into the actual conflict." How was this diabolical plot to be carried out? They would be "covered and assisted by the full power of their propaganda" over "the rising opposition of the American people."

The response from Roosevelt and his supporters was swift. With the Nazis having successfully swallowed Czechoslovakia, Poland, Austria, France, Belgium and the Netherlands, Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes went in front of a Jewish audience to brand the America First Committee as "the America Next" Committee. America First, said FDR's lieutenant, attracted "antidemocrats, appeasers...and anti-Semites," adding that "Hitler was enthusiastic about it." When a rally featuring anti-war celebrity and novelist Kathleen Norris, Massachusetts Senator David Walsh and Lindbergh drew a crowd of 10,000 in Madison Square Garden, one FDR-loyalist labeled it "the largest gathering of pro-Nazi and pro-Fascists of both domestic and imported brands since the German American Bund rallies in Madison Square Garden." A second, larger anti-war rally in the same place spurred gossip columnist Walter Winchell to snipe that "every hate spreader they could find showed up for that meeting."

Compared to all of this, the recent and presumably forthcoming speeches on the subject of appeasement by President Bush, Secretaries Rice and Rumsfeld and a host of supporters of the war on Islamic Fascism are little short of politely expressed disagreements.

But make no mistake. America has been here before. Tragically, it listened for too long to the celebrities, politicians and retired generals who urged America First and blamed the Jews along the way.

On December 7, 1941, America Firster Senator Gerald Nye of North Dakota was getting ready to go onstage and address an America First rally in Pittsburgh. The late Alistair Cooke records that shortly before he started speaking, Nye was handed a scribbled note that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor. Stricken, Nye "fumbled and paused," then muttered "I can't somehow believe this..." before going on with a "troubled brow" to deliver his anti-war harangue anyway.

Four days later, on December 11, 1941, the national committee of America First -- the celebrities, the politicians, the retired generals -- quietly voted to disband. By 1942, America First and its cause was a liability for candidates for the Senate, House and even state governorships. Opponents went to great lengths to tie the Committee to its once-favored candidates like cans to a dog's tail.

One of the first questions that will no doubt be asked in this year's fall campaign is just which candidates have the support of America First's political great-grandchild -- MoveOn.Org? The time has come for open discussions of the same issues that drove America First and which are so vehemently articulated by MoveOn today -- anti-Semitism and anti-capitalism being but two. Are Senate candidates currently accepting support from MoveOn -- including Ohio's Sherrod Brown, West Virginia's Robert Byrd, Florida's Bill Nelson and, particularly stunning in a state with both a sitting Jewish Governor (Democrat Ed Rendell) and a sitting Jewish Senator (Republican Arlen Specter), Pennsylvania's Bob Casey, Jr. -- willing to stand up and disavow this group? Or do they privately share beliefs with MoveOn, which in a style that harkens from America First, has entertained references to the Democratic Senator from Connecticut as "Jew Lieberman"? One finds it difficult to believe that men like these would hesitate for a political nano-second to cut the endorsement cord between themselves and MoveOn. Are they truly willing to accept support from the MoveOn crowd -- and heed their voices if making American foreign policy?

Then again, imagine the incredulity that caused Franklin D. Roosevelt to say the following about one-time American hero Charles Lindbergh to his (Jewish) Secretary of the Treasury, Henry Morgenthau, Jr: "If I should die tomorrow, I want you to know this. I am absolutely convinced that Lindbergh is a Nazi."

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About the Author
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania at jlpa1@aol.com.