by Patrick J. Buchanan – January 8, 1999
Anyone raised in Catholic schools at mid-century often heard the term “invincible ignorance.” Nuns used it to describe those benighted souls who lacked mental competence to grasp the truth. Whenever I read a column by Ed Koch, the old phrase comes to mind.
Koch recently cited as conclusive proof of my malevolence that I defend the America First Committee — an organization, says Ed, “that supported Hitler and the Nazis in 1941.”
Where to begin? Is the man a total ignoramus? Does Ed Koch know nothing of the origins of America First? Its incubator was that hotbed of Hitlerism, Yale Law School. Its recruiting letter was signed by four students: Bob Stuart, Eugene Locke, Potter Stewart and Gerald R. Ford. The first two would become U.S. ambassadors; Stewart, a Supreme Court justice; and Ford, a president.
Among its earliest recruits were a future president of Yale, Kingman Brewster, future Sen. Peter Dominick, and Sargent Shriver, future ambassador and brother-in-law to JFK, who sent $100 to America First with a note: “What you are doing is vital.”
In its statement of principles, the AFC declared that it stood for “an impregnable defense” and believed “American Democracy can best be preserved only by keeping out of the European War.” It was open to all except “Nazists, Fascists, Communists or members of other groups that place the interests of any other nation above those of our own country.” Its patriotism was unpartitioned and undiluted.
After studying America First for years, historian Wayne Cole concluded the AFC “was a patriotic and honorable exercise of democracy in action. … The Committee’s leaders … barred Nazis, Fascists and anti-Semites from leadership, and tried to enforce those bans.”
Supporters rallied from across America — Murray Kempton, Gore Vidal, Sinclair Lewis, World War I ace Eddie Rickenbacker, New Republic muckraker John T. Flynn and Oswald Garrison Villard, editor of Nation. Socialist candidate Norman Thomas spoke from its platforms; Sen. Robert A. Taft applauded it.
America First was chaired by Gen. Robert Wood, head of Sears Roebuck. On its National Committee were Gen. Hugh Johnson, a New Dealer; Alice Roosevelt, daughter of Theodore; humorist Irvin S. Cobb; novelist Kathleen Norris; and two wives of U.S. senators — Mrs. Burton K. Wheeler and Mrs. Bennett Champ Clark.
Motivating the AFC was a belief that World War I had been a calamity and must never be repeated. America had gone to war in 1917 to “make the world safe for democracy.” But Europe was now safe for fascism in Italy, Stalinism in Russia, Nazism in Germany.
America had gotten nothing from the war but 116,000 dead, 200,000 wounded, a $25 billion debt and Allies who refused to pay their war debts; while the British Empire had gobbled up colonies all over the Middle East, Africa and the Pacific.
Renouncing the hateful Versailles treaty, Republicans swept the nation in 1920, ruled 12 years, then lost to FDR, who ran in 1932 against entry into the League of Nations. By fall of 1940, FDR was echoing America First, pledging in Boston, “(M)others and fathers … I have said this before, but I shall say it again and again and again: Your boys will not be sent into any foreign wars.”
FDR was, of course, lying. Even then, he was plotting U.S. entry into the war, and would use Ed Koch-like minions to smear America First; for he knew he would lose any open debate. In his Jan. 6, 1941, message to Congress, FDR even warned of “secret agents and their dupes” inside America’s gates, ready to betray us.
And there were secret agents and dupes. Only they were not Nazis. They were communist traitors and Stalinist spies honeycombed through FDR’s regime: Alger Hiss, Laurence Duggan and Noel Field at State, Harry Dexter White at Treasury, Lauchlin Currie in FDR’s White House, Judith Coplin at Justice, Rep. Sam Dickstein, Julius Rosenberg and David Greenglass in the atom bomb project, etc., etc.
After Hitler attacked his ally, Russia, in mid-1941, even Harry Truman echoed America First: “If we see that Germany is winning, we ought to help Russia, and if Russia is winning, we ought to help Germany, and that way let them kill as many as possible….”
The most famous America Firster was the fearless Charles A. Lindbergh, who had flown the Atlantic alone into immortality in 1927. He was feared and hated by FDR. When war came, Lindbergh went as a civilian, flew in combat, shot down a Japanese Zero and would later be called an inspiration by America’s first astronauts.
And Ed Koch isn’t fit to carry the goggles of The Lone Eagle.