Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Hitler sympathizers

Hmmm. Gathering from what Bill O'Reilly said the other day on the Today Show:
These pin-heads running around going, "Get out of Iraq now" don't know what they are talking about. These are the same people before Hitler invaded in WWII that were saying, "He's not such a bad guy.' They don't get it.

... he could use a little history lesson.

After all, let's recall just who those sympathizers were -- namely, the captains of America's mainstream conservative right who led what was called the America First Committee:
The AFC had its origins in 1940, when a Yale law student named R. Douglas Stuart Jr. organized a petition on campus to build opposition to intervention in the European wars then reaching a high pitch. He found a sponsor in Robert E. Wood, chairman of the board at Sears, Roebuck -- then and now the quintessentially middle-American company. Wood and a group of fellow Chicago businessmen (including former diplomat William R. Castle, who had been a high-ranking Hoover Administration official, and whose work appeared in Japanese and German propaganda publications; and William Regnery, founder of Regnery Publishing ... yes, that Regnery Publishing ...) helped Stuart form plans for a large-scale organization, which led to the naming and formation of the America First Committee in August of that year.

The chief point of agitation for the America Firsters was FDR's loosening of the arms embargo to Europe -- particularly for Britain and France -- shortly after Hitler's invasion of Poland in September 1939 and the subsequent outbreak of war. In retrospect, of course, this not only helped pull the United States inexorably to war, it was the morally courageous -- and right -- thing to do. To have utterly abandoned Britain especially to the tender mercies of the Nazis would have been cowardice, and almost certainly would have wrought an unimaginable nightmare: complete and uncontested Nazi hegemony in Europe, a reign that may well have continued even to the present day. The idea that America First was in hindsight somehow "right" is both laughable and truly contemptible. Defenders of America First (including Patrick Buchanan) like to argue that Hitler's regime eventually would have collapsed under its own weight -- but the evidence they present for this is thin and quite unconvincing.

Nonetheless, in its origins at least, America First was in truth largely a mainstream response that was mostly isolationist, and not fascist, in nature. Its charter even specifically announced that Nazis, fascists and communists were not welcome.

But even in the beginning, there were warning signs: Among the first members of the committee were Henry Ford, who, as the publisher of the Protocols hoax-promoting text, The International Jew, was not only one of the foremost progenitors of anti-Semitism in America, but had an open and celebrated business and ideological connection with Hitler's war machine.

Also on that original national committee:

-- Avery Brundage, former Chairman of the American Olympic Games Committee when in Berlin 1936. Brundage's behavior in that episode had already earned its place in history as one of the low watermarks of cowardice and complicity in the Nazis' consolidation of their power.

-- Charles A. Lindbergh, the first man to fly solo across the Atlantic and a household name even still, was to become the leading spokesman for the America First Committee -- as well as a notable anti-Semite.

The arc of Lindbergh's career in this period mirrored that of the America First Committee itself -- beginning, to all appearances, as mainstream isolationists and pacifists, but then rapidly devolving into something more sinister. The first real warning sign came at a May 29, 1941 rally in Philadelphia with 16,000 in attendance, when many audience members gave a Nazi salute. Lindbergh, while demanding the overthrow of the FDR regime, asked the audience: "Are we going to let Jews run this country?"

However, that remark received relatively little play, especially compared to the national firestorm that erupted after Lindbergh, on Sept. 11, 1941, gave a speech in Des Moines that blamed Jews for dragging the nation toward war:

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 for 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 upon peace and strength. History shows that it cannot survive war and devastations. 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 and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio and our government.

I am not attacking either the Jewish 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 which are not American, wish to involve us in the war.

We cannot blame them for looking out for what they believe to be their own interests, but we also must look out for ours. We cannot allow the natural passions and prejudices of other peoples to lead our country to destruction.

Of course, in retrospect, it is clear that on the basis of Hitler's plans for the Jews alone, America would have been justified in entering in a war against Germany on purely moral grounds. Not that this actually happened; if anything, American officials were in reality congenitally slow on the uptake about what was happening to the Jews in Europe.

In any event, Lindbergh's Des Moines speech created a national uproar, because its rather naked anti-Semitism -- especially the suggestion that American Jews were unpatriotic -- made plain for the first time what the underpinnings of America First were in reality about. Lindbergh had already raised eyebrows by accepting in October 1938 the Service Cross of the German Eagle from Herman Goering for his service in advancing the cause of aviation; Lindbergh had in fact helped advise the Germans on organizing the Luftwaffe. After the Des Moines speech, however, Lindbergh's reputation was so tarnished that even his hometown of Little Falls, Minnesota, removed his name from its water tower.

The connection to the Nazi agenda had indeed been gradually revealing itself for some time. On Jan. 22, 1941, Dr. Joseph Paul Goebbels, Propaganda Minister for the Third Reich, made a short-wave radio broadcast that promoted the group, proclaiming: "The America First Committee is truly American and truly patriotic!"

Other America First spokesmen were likewise nakedly anti-Semitic. The most notorious of these was Father Charles Coughlin, the Protocols-promoting radio ranter with a weekly audience of millions, who continued to insist that Jews were trying to pull Americans into a war against "their own kind." In his magazine Social Justice, he wrote: "Stalin's idea to create world revolution and Hitler's so-called threat to seek world domination are not half as dangerous combined as is the proposal of the current British and American administrations to seize all raw materials in the world. Many people are beginning to wonder who they should fear most -- the Roosevelt-Churchill combination or the Hitler-Mussolini combination."

Another famous aviator -- Laura Ingalls, the first woman to fly solo across the American continent -- was also a noted America First figure. She was also a raving anti-Semite who, it turned out later, was fully in the pay of the Germans. Ingalls received funds from Baron Ulrich von Gienanth, head of the Gestapo in the U.S. (his title was Second Secretary of the German Embassy in Washington). She also worked with Hans Thomson, German Charge' d'Affaires and Fritz Weidemann, the German Consul in San Francisco. In 1942, Ingalls was arrested by the FBI for failing to register as an agent of the Nazis and was sentenced to two years in prison.

While all this was going on at the top, the troops of the America First movement were also becoming increasingly Nazified. Members of the German-American Bund -- which received large amounts of funding from the Nazi regime -- moved quietly into the chapters of the America First Committee. Other proto-fascists likewise swelled the ranks of America First: William Pelley’s Silver Shirts, Coughlin's Christian Front, the KKK, White Russian Fascists. All this infiltration by mid-1941 led the American Legion in California to declare that the entire fifth column in the U.S. had joined the America First movement.

Smaller opposition groups tried to counter their propaganda by drawing public attention to the underlying agenda. The most notable of these was "Friends of Democracy," which produced the "Nazi Transmission Belt" cartoon as well as a pamphlet examining Lindbergh's Nazi ties. It also produced a flier that pointed out:

1) A large part of the audiences of many America First meetings are members of pro-Nazi organizations.

2) Nazi propaganda is distributed at many of these meetings.

3) Nazi organizations not only distribute the literature of the America First Committee but recruit members and raise money for the committee.

4) The Nazi press in the United States has stamped the program of America First with its approval.

5) The propaganda ministries of the democracy-hating Nazi and Fascist governments endorse the policies of the committee.

Another group, calling itself the Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies (CDAAA), published an article in May 1941 that observed:

The point is that un-American organizations have made appeals for contributions of money to America First. Un-American element crowd America First rallies. They applaud America First speakers. They boo the President of the United States. They do not boo Hitler or Mussolini or Stalin. . . Some of them belong to the Nazi Bund which is pro-Hitler. . . What Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin and their friends in this country Applaud cannot be good for America.

All this came to a screeching halt on Dec. 7, 1941, when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and America's entry into the war was cemented. America First's officials met on Dec. 8 and announced the organization was disbanding. At least publicly.

In secret, however, the leaders -- who were convinced America would lose the war -- kept the organization going, planning for the day when the Nazis took over. As Russ Bellant reported in Old Nazis, the New Right, and the Republican Party: Domestic Fascist Networks and Their Effect on U.S. Cold War Politics:

After Pearl Harbor and Germany's declaration of war on the United States, the America First Committee didn't go out of business as it officially declared on December 12, 1941. Five days later, a secret meeting of certain key leaders of America First took place in New York to plan for what they assumed (and hoped) would be the Axis victory in Europe and the Far East. "[T]he Committee has in reality gone underground," FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover reported to the White House. It began planning for the day when they would be the Americans with whom the victorious Nazis would negotiate a surrender. Finally, when the defeat of the Nazis by Allied powers was a foregone conclusion, the America First Committee secretly dissolved itself in 1944.

(Bellant's primary source, for those interested, was a Feb. 13, 1942 memo from J. Edgar Hoover to Major General Edwin M. Watson, Secretary to the President, which declared that America First had "gone underground.")

The meeting was held in the home of Edwin Sibley Webster, a wealthy Wall Street broker with Kidder, Peabody, and it featured a number of key American First members, including Lindbergh. The group reformed under a new name, Americans for Peace. One of the attendees, Horace Haase, left no doubt about the future activities of the gathering:

"It is obviously necessary for the leaders of the America First like Wood and Webster to keep quiet. But the organization should not be destroyed. I have never been in the limelight and have nothing to lose. I can remain active in a quiet way. I should like to offer to keep the files. We must get ready for the next attack which must be made upon this communistic administration."

The America Firsters' fantasies of serving as a future Vichy government in America gradually crumbled, of course, as the tide of the war turned. Americans for Peace quietly disbanded in late 1944.

Another significant American figure in the buildup of the Nazi war machine: Prescott Bush, grandfather of the current president and scion of the Bush family fortune. A fortune that was based, in no small part, on doing business with Hitler's war machine -- and in fact, funnelling large sums of American capital into German manufacturing -- during the 1930s.

In other words, those Hitler sympathizers who were claiming, "He's not such a bad guy," who "just didn't get it" (or rather, perhaps "got it" all too well), were in fact the same right-wing enablers who, in their 21st-century guise, are nowadays finding excuses for an incompetent and mendacious president who dragged his country into a war under false pretenses, claiming: "He's not such a bad guy."

This is not to compare Bush to Hitler, but rather, to point out that the corporatist impulse to support warmakers is deeply entrenched. The faction that made excuses for Hitler out of their own self-interest comprises today the same people who pooh-poohed so-called liberal organizations like Amnesty International when they raised concerns about America's continuing support for Saddam Hussein back in 1989. You know, the folks who now accuse devoted patriots who do not believe in wasting the lives of our soldiers of actually causing them harm. Talk about "just not getting it."

This particular line of attack on antiwar liberals is predicated on the notion that the war in Iraq has become the focal point of the "war on terror" -- when, in fact, nearly everyone with a sense of reality understands that it is in fact a terrible diversion from the real work of combating terrorism. Most of all, it obscures the real nature of those Hitler sympathizers, who were in the end the same corporate enablers of a warmongering leader with whom O'Reilly is clearly aligned, making excuses for the inexcusable.

And perhaps it's worth remembering, as well, that we've heard complaints similar to O'Reilly's current jihad about non-Christians wanting to "do away" with Christmas before. Long before. Why, back in the 1930s, none other than Henry Ford was making nearly identical complaints:
"And it has become pretty general. Last Christmas most people had a hard time finding Christmas cards that indicated in any way that Christmas commemorated Someone's Birth. Easter they will have the same difficulty in finding Easter cards that contain any suggestion that Easter commemorates a certain event. There will be rabbits and eggs and spring flowers, but a hint of the Resurrection will be hard to find. Now, all this begins with the designers of the cards."

Where was this text located? Why, in The International Jew, of course.

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