Rachel and the Isolationists: How Maddow Blew It

Rachel Maddow got it wrong.  She correctly quotes lines from Charles ‘Lucky’ Lindbergh’s Jew-baiting speech  at a rally of the “isolationist” America First Committee in 1941 just before the surprise attack at Pearl Harbor  when many of us worried about being dragged into a European war that would be a bloody replay of 1914-18.

“The greatest danger to this country lies in (the Jews’) large ownership and influence in our motion pictures,  our press, our radio and our government.”

Lindberg accused the Jews, the British and Roosevelt (Rosenfelt according to Jew baiters) of  manipulating us into an unpopular, unnecessary war.  Incendiary stuff from America’s greatest hero  the first to fly the Atlantic solo.

Alas, Lucky Lindy had a fevered fondness for Nazi aviation, Nazi medals and Hitler’s Third Reich.

(And, as we learned later, his passion also extended to Teutonic females three of whom  bore him several secret illegitimate children.)

Maddow quoting Lindberg on Jews is meant to tag Trump’s shouts of “AMERICA FIRST!” as a sort of proto-Naziism.

It’s more complicated.  The “isolationist” America First Committee, infiltrated by both Nazis and communists  (this was before Hitler’s invasion of Russia), tapped into deep antiwar instincts of a broad range of Americans.

“Non intervention” after World War One was not only respectable but massively popular especially in my German-friendly Midwest where America First Committee had its Chicago hq. Painful awareness of past butcheries on the Somme, Paschaendale and Argonne Forest was still alive along with bitter disillusionment  that “Woodrow Wilson’s war” was good for nobody but the arms-dealing “merchants of death”.   On Chicago’s streets you could see war amputees; my dad’s pals had fought on both sides of the muddy trenches.

Although the America First Committee drew anti-semites and crazy FDR-haters, it also numbered  pacifists like the socialist party’s Norman Thomas and and western progressives like Senators Nye,  Wheeler and Bob Lafollette.  Novelist Sinclair Lewis, student Gore Vidal and young Jack Kennedy supported AFC.

There’s a tradition, especially west of the Alleghanies, of saying no thank you to war.  So, Rachel,  “isolationism” can also be a radical antiwar outlook. America First may not be such a bad thing if it  signals reluctance to interfere in other countries.

Hillary is an unblushing interventionist.  Politically, she’s in bed, “in a cordial, warm and respectful relationship” with the  war criminal Henry Kissinger (Chile, Cambodia, Indonesia ad nauseaum).  Hillary believes our military  is a vehicle for exporting democracy and all those other good things.  It’s called imperialism which goes  back to the Spanish-American war (to “liberate” Cuba) and the genocidal Phillipine insurrection.

Candidate Trump jiggles back and forth up and down like a yo yo.  He’s incoherent and contradictory.   But his genius is to know what his audience wants, no more deadly overseas “nation building”.  “Unlike other candidates for the presidency, war and aggression will not be my first instinct,” he said in his maiden foreign policy speech aimed at guess who.

Who knows what he’d do in the Oval Office when, like Hillary, he’s confronted with a Pentagon committed to the  “long (permanent) war” against the Muslim world.  Trump would probably go crazy like Charlie Chaplin in The Great Dictator  dancing with a balloon shaped like the world to Wagner’s Lohengrin.

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Clancy Sigal is a screenwriter and novelist. His latest book is Black Sunset

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