Above: Lindbergh’s Des Moines speech
- “The American carnage stops right here, right now. From this day forward a new vision will govern our land. From this day forward it’s going to be only America first! America first!” – Donald Trump
In his characteristically poisonous inaugural address, Trump once again used the sinister slogan “America First,” the name of the isolationist, defeatist, anti-Semitic national organization that urged the United States to appease Adolf Hitler.
The America First Committee began in spring 1940 at Yale University, where Douglas Stuart Jr., the son of a vice president of Quaker Oats, began organizing his fellow students. He, together with future US president Gerald Ford and Potter Stewart, a future Supreme Court justice, drafted a petition stating, “We demand that Congress refrain from war, even if England is on the verge of defeat.”
Their proposed solution to the international crisis was a negotiated peace with Hitler. Other Yale students — including Sargent Shriver, who served in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, and Kingman Brewster, the chairman of the Yale Daily News, future president of Yale and ambassador to the UK– joined the isolationist crusade.
Robert Wood, the chairman of Sears Roebuck became the group’s chairman. The organization soon included Col. Robert McCormick of the Chicago Tribune; Minnesota meatpacker Jay Hormel; Sterling Morton, the president of Morton Salt Company; U.S. Rep. Bruce Barton of New York; and Lessing Rosenwald, the former chairman of Sears.
Soon the organization had several hundred chapters and almost a million members, two-thirds of whom lived in the Midwest. The celebrity aviator Charles Lindbergh joined America First in April 1941, serving as the committee’s principal spokesman and star of its rallies.
Seeking to present itself as a mainstream organization, America First struggled with the problem of the anti-Semitism of some of its leaders and many of its members. It had to remove from its executive committee not only the notoriously anti-Semitic Henry Ford but also Avery Brundage, the former chairman of the U.S. Olympic Committee who had prevented two Jewish runners from the American track team in Berlin in 1936 from running in the finals of the 4×100 relay.
Still, the problem of anti-Semitism remained; a Kansas chapter leader pronounced President Franklin Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt “Jewish” and Winston Churchill a “half-Jew.”
After Pearl Harbor, the America First Committee closed its doors, but not before Lindbergh made his infamous speech at an America First rally in Des Moines, Iowa, in September 1941. After charging that President Roosevelt had manufactured “incidents” to propel the country into war, Lindbergh proceeded to reveal his true thoughts.
“The British and the Jewish races,” he declared, “for reasons which are not American, wish to involve us in the war.” The nation’s enemy was an internal one, the Jews. “Their greatest danger to this country lies in their large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio, and our government,” he contended. Booing began to drown out the cheers, forcing him again and again to stop, wait out the catcalls, and start his sentences over.
“Lindbergh ought to be shipped back to Germany to live with his own people!” shouted a Texas state representative before the House of Representatives in Austin passed a resolution informing the aviator that he was not welcome in the Lone Star State. Across the country, newspapers, columnists, politicians and religious leaders lashed out at Lindbergh.
“The voice is the voice of Lindbergh, but the words are the words of Hitler,” wrote the San Francisco Chronicle. “I am absolutely certain that Lindbergh is pro-Nazi,” wrote New York Herald Tribune columnist Dorothy Thompson.
Trump is a supremely ignorant man, but he surely knows the filthy origins of the slogan he’s used time and again: we have been warned.