"Will It Run"
excerpted from the book
The American Axis
Henry Ford, Charles Lindbergh,
and the Rise of the Third Reich
by Max Wallace
St. Martin's Griffin, 2003, paper
On the afternoon of May 21 1940, President Roosevelt retreated
to his private 'White House study to catch up on his correspondence.
In recent weeks, he had become increasingly worried about domestic
Fifth Column activities. Only three days earlier, Charles Lindbergh
had broadcast his "Air Defense of America" speech and
the address had injected new life into the isolationist movement.
"When I read Lindbergh's speech,
I felt that it could not have been better put if it had been written
by Goebbels himself," the President wrote to Henry Stimson,
a Republican politician whom Roosevelt had recently asked to serve
as his new secretary of war. "What a pity that this youngster
has completely abandoned his belief in our form of government
and has accepted Nazi methods because apparently they are efficient."
The same year , Father Coughlin used his popular radio show
to rally his listeners against another threat, urging the creation
of a Christian Front to "combat Communism." Within weeks,
Christian Front groups, characterized by fierce anti-Semitism,
had formed in cities all over the country. In January 1940, the
FBI arrested eighteen members of a Christian Front splinter group
and charged them with attempting to overthrow the United States
government. Their alleged aim was to rally thousands of Irish
Catholic members in the police and National Guard to seize the
White House and place Major General George Van Horn Moseley in
the Oval Office as a military dictator. The group had been planning
the coup d'etat for years and had secured the support of several
high-ranking members of the army and National Guard. At their
meetings, they addressed their leader as "Führer"
and gave the Nazi salute. Most alarmingly, the plotters had already
been given thousands of rounds of ammunition, arms and explosives
by an officer of the New York National Guard.
General Moseley was a former commander
of the U.S. Third Army who had emerged as a powerful spokesman
for the right wing of the isolationist movement. On September
30, 1938, the day he retired from the armed forces, Moseley issued
a public attack on the New Deal, which he believed was leading
America on a disastrous path toward dictatorship. The Roosevelt
administration, he charged, was manipulated by the "alien
element in our midst." He warned that Americans must awaken
to the sinister motives of "the wrong sorts of immigrants"
who wished to replace "our system with their own un-American
theories of government." His antiSemitism became even more
explicit when he joined the ranks of the isolationists seeking
to prevent American entry in the European war. At a 1939 National
Defense meeting in Philadelphia, Moseley declared: "The war
now proposed is for the purpose of establishing Jewish hegemony
throughout the world." While "your sons and mine"
would be conscripted to fight side by side with the Christian-killing
Communists, only Jews would profit, he told the audience. The
Jews controlled the media and they were about to dominate the
federal government, he warned. They were leading America into
war to reinstate their power in countries that had banished them.
Privately, he described Jews as "crude and unclean, animal-like
things. It's like writing about something loathsome such as syphilis."
The ragtag mob that championed his presidency
never formally drafted him as their leader. In fact, there is
no evidence that Moseley was aware of the Christian Fronts coup
preparations or their plan to install him in the White House.
It is possible that they seized on the general as the ideal leader
after he publicly suggested that military resistance to the President
may be justified under some circumstances. The army, he stated
in a 1939 speech, "is your salvation today. If the administration
went too far to the left and asked our military establishment
to execute orders which violated all American tradition, that
army would demur."
On the morning of Monday, September 16, 1940, four men with a
mission gathered in Henry Ford's Dearborn office. Ford was joined
by his now frequent adviser Charles Lindbergh, along with Douglas
Stuart and General Robert E. Wood, to discuss a newly formed national
organization known as the America First Committee.
Stuart, the son of a Quaker Oats vice
president, was a twenty-four-year-old Yale law student who, with
five classmates, had formed a campus-based organization called
the Emergency Committee to Defend America First, dedicated to
keeping America out of the war. Interviewed in 2003, Stuart, then
86, recalled, "We were very idealistic. We weren't particularly
political. We simply believed that this was not America's quarrel."
Among the five original members were Sargent Shriver, John F.
Kennedy's future brother-in-law, and Kingman Brewster, who would
later become president of Yale University. A few months after
the campus group was formed, Stuart received a letter from General
Robert E. Wood, chairman of the Sears Roebuck Corporation, offering
to help the cause by any means at his disposal. Soon after, Wood
proposed launching a nationwide movement designed to counter the
increasingly effective interventionist propaganda he believed
was pushing America toward war. Stuart would be national director
of the organization, while Wood would serve as chairman.
The first order of business was to recruit
a group of prominent Americans to lend credibility to the fledgling
movement. By the time of its official inauguration in Chicago
on September 4, its name had been shortened to the America First
Committee. Four goals were set:
1. The United States must build an impregnable
defense for America.
2. No foreign power, nor group of powers,
can successfully attack a prepared America.
3. American democracy can be preserved
only by keeping out of the European war.
4. Aid "short of war" weakens
national defense at home and threatens to involve America in war
Twelve days later, Stuart and Wood traveled
to Detroit at Lindbergh's invitation to enlist Henry Ford for
the National Committee. Stuart had met Lindbergh a month earlier
at a Chicago isolationist rally where Lindbergh was the principal
speaker. They hit it off immediately, Stuart later describing
Lindbergh as a "very sincere and courageous American who
has the habit of sticking his neck out." Lindbergh offered
to put the new organization in touch with Ford, whom he thought
might be willing to lend his name and money to the cause. Lindbergh
was by then well aware of his friend's opinions on the subject
of the European war. As Ford production chief Charles Sorensen
later described his boss's views: "His pet peeve was Franklin
Roosevelt, but any mention of the war in Europe or this country's
involvement upset him almost to incoherence.
In June, Lindbergh had persuaded Ford
to provide financial backing for the American Legion in its campaign
against U.S. military intervention. But until now the isolationists
lacked an effective national organization dedicated solely to
their cause. Although polls consistently found more than 80 percent
of Americans opposed to intervention, the movement lacked an organizing
force. Ford was at first reluctant to get involved, citing his
role in the disastrous Peace Ship expedition a quarter century
earlier. But Lindbergh was persuasive, and Ford finally agreed
to take an active role on the National Committee and give the
AFC his full support.
On September 27, Lindbergh wrote a letter
to Ford thanking him for joining the cause: "Your stand against
entry into the war has already had great influence, and if we
are able to keep out of it, I believe it will be largely due to
the courage and support you have given us." Only two weeks
earlier, the Pulitzer Prize-winning American playwright Robert
Sherwood had delivered a national radio address on the BBC denouncing
both Lindbergh and Ford for what he called their "traitorous
point of view. " Sherwood called the two men Hitler's "bootlickers"
and Lindbergh's flirtation with Nazism "a tragic example
of a mental aberration."
In the face of all the criticism, the
AFC founders forged on. They were determined to make the AFC representative
of as wide a cross-section of American society as possible. They
vowed to recruit Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives-even
socialists. The most important criterion for membership was a
belief that America should keep out of the European war.
However; it was Lindbergh's association with yet another prominent
I fascist that caused the greatest hand-wringing amongst his friends.
On September 16, 1940, a few hours after he left the meeting with
Stuart and Wood at Ford's office, Lindbergh boarded an overnight
train for Washington, D.C. Arriving at the station the next morning,
he immediately took a taxi to the home of Truman Smith, who had
disregarded General Marshall's warning to avoid public contact
with his controversial friend. Smith was very anxious for Lindbergh
to meet a man whose ideas he believed were very much in keeping
with their own, a former American diplomat named Lawrence Dennis.
A product of the eastern liberal intellectual
establishment, the Harvard-educated Dennis worked for the U.S.
Foreign Service from 1920 to 1927 until he resigned to protest
American intervention in Nicaragua. But after Franklin Roosevelt
won the White House and introduced his New Deal, Dennis's political
ideals, once liberal, shifted rapidly to the right. He set about
proposing his own radical solution he Great Depression: a set
of "central controls" based on a corporate state. As
early as April 1933, he was making references in correspondence
to "Good Old Hitler" and writing, "I should like
nothing better than to be a leader or a follower of a Hitler who
would crush and destroy many now in power." In 1936, he finally
named his evolving ideology when he published a book titled The
Coming American Fascism outlining his vision of a fascist America
as a sensible alternative to Communism.
lacked, since the Independent's demise, was a credible mouthpiece.
When Lindbergh took the podium at an America
First rally on September 11 in Des Moines, Iowa, a week after
the meeting with Ford, his speech began on a familiar note: "It
is now two years since this latest European war began. From that
day in September 1939, until the present moment, there has been
an ever-increasing effort to force the United States into the
Since the start of his public involvement
with the interventionist cause twenty-four months earlier, Lindbergh
had regularly hinted that there were invisible forces pushing
the country toward war, but he had never identified those forces
by name. Now, he indicated that was about to change:
The subterfuge and propaganda that exists
in our country is obvious on every side. Tonight, I shall try
to pierce through a portion of it, to the naked facts which lie
beneath. National polls showed that when England and France declared
war on Germany, in 1939, less than 10 percent of our population
favored a similar course for America. But there were various groups
of people, here and abroad, whose interests and beliefs necessitated
the involvement of the United States in the war. I shall point
out some of these groups tonight, and outline their methods of
procedure. In doing this, I must speak with the utmost frankness,
for in order to counteract their efforts, we must know exactly
who they are.
As the crowd of 8,000 midwesterners waited
in hushed expectation, he proceeded to carry through on this promise:
The three most important groups who have been pressing this country
toward war are the British, the Jewish and the Roosevelt administration.
Needless to say, the American far right was overjoyed with the
Des Moines speech, particularly its warning of the consequences
for Jews if they continued to support intervention. In Germany,
the press upheld Goebbels' strict orders to refrain from praising
Lindbergh for fear of "jeopardizing" his efforts in
America. But in New York, the official newspaper of the pro-Nazi
Bund, the Free American, called the Des Moines speech "truthful,"
and echoed its implication that the Jews' "elimination in
this country" might be "less gentle.""' Father
Coughlin's Social Justice and Scribner's Commentator also had
high praise for the speech. In light of the Des Moines address,
America most prominent fascist leader, Joe Mcwilliams believed
he was having a positive influence on Lindbergh thinking. According
to the undercover FBI informant Arthur Derounian McWilliams claimed
his disciples were responsible for indoctrinating the America
First spokesman: "I'll tell you how Lindbergh is getting
his education. He is getting it from the men I have been talking
to for months... Lawrence Dennis is one. I can't tell you who
the others are. For months, I've been talking to intellectuals
on the Jewish question, coaching them and giving them our literature.
Lindbergh talked to these men after I educated them. Indirectly,
Lindbergh got his education from me." Asked whether he believed
America would ever be governed by National Socialism, Mcwilliams
replied, "Hell yes. Can't you see the way the AFC is gradually
> coming our way? Just wait six months."
Meanwhile, a Gallup poll revealed that
an overwhelming majority of Americans disagreed with Lindbergh
assertion that Jews were responsible for inciting war. The poll,
released October 24, asked Americans what groups are most active
"in trying to get us into a war." The "Roosevelt
Administration" was the overwhelming response, followed by
"Big Business." Only one in sixteen respondents-less
than 7 percent-listed the Jews.
How typical was anti-Semitism in late-Depression
America? Many historians and biographers have cited a January
1939 Gallup poll reporting that 83 percent of Americans opposed
the admission of a larger number of Jewish refugees. However,
they usually fail to point out that most Americans were opposed
to increased immigration of any kind during this period, as much
because of economic conditions and high unemployment as anything
else. As early as 1937, a majority of Americans told pollsters
they would be willing to elect a Jewish president. 106 In a 1940
poll, Americans by an overwhelming 3 to 1 margin said they would
be less likely to elect a member of Congress if he was "against
the Jews."' °7 The same year, only 12 percent of those
polled responded favorably to the idea of a "campaign against
the Jews." Clearly, however, a large portion of the population
was anti-Semitic, egged on by the propaganda of Father Coughlin
and other extremists who consistently blamed the Jews for the
country's economic problems. Another poll found that one-third
of the American people believed Jews were more radical than other
Americans and possessed a number of unpleasant qualities, including
greed, dishonesty and selfishness. A disproportionate percentage
of anti-Semitic attitudes could be found in the midwest rural
constituencies where support for Coughlin, Lindbergh and the America
First Committee was highest and where the Dearborn Independent
had enjoyed its strongest popularity fifteen years earlier.
With the AFC in disarray, the Executive Committee convened on
September 18 to decide whether to repudiate Lindbergh's comments.
The isolationist movement as a whole was clearly hurting. A number
of prominent anti-interventionists, including Republican congressman
Everett Dirksen of Illinois, publicly switched sides and supported
the Roosevelt administration's stand for the first time. On October
5, one of organized labor's most prominent isolationists, Carpenter
Union chief William Hutcheson, abandoned his anti-intervention
position and resigned from America First."' John Flynn pleaded
that, unless the AFC acted quickly, the movement was in danger
So high was Nazi esteem for Lindbergh that its agents failed to
comprehend that he was no longer an asset to their cause in America,
but had instead become a liability. In the words of Anne's sister
Constance, reflecting on America's new attitude toward Lindbergh,
"In just fifteen years, he had gone from Jesus to Judas.
" Nevertheless, thousands of letters from everyday Americans
continued to pour in supporting his stand, and he could still
fill an arena. On October 30, 1941, 20,000 New Yorkers packed
Madison Square Garden to hear Lindbergh call for "the right
to demand integrity in the leadership of this nation."
Throughout most of the Great Debate, the
focus on both sides had been the war in Europe. Little attention
was paid to developments in Asia, despite faint rumblings over
Japanese aggression in China and the announcement that Japan had
signed a tripartite pact with Germany and Italy. But when the
Roosevelt administration blocked all Japanese assets in America
in July 1941 and moved to cut off its oil supplies in Asia, isolationists
paid attention to Asian developments for the first time.
In the late fall of 1941, the America
First Bulletin carried a blaring front-page headline: BLAME FOR
RIFT WITH JAPAN RESTS ON ADMINISTRATION, charging that the Japanese
had only peaceful intentions and were being unfairly vilified
by Roosevelt." The same day, the New York chapter of the
AFC fired off an angry letter to the President: "What's all
this sabre-rattling in connection with Japan?
Less than twenty-four hours later, the
Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.
... a few weeks short of V-E Day, the President died suddenly
at his Georgia retreat. Lindbergh had temporarily suspended his
journal so there is no record how he felt about the death of his
greatest nemesis. However her own unpublished memoirs, Truman
Smith's wife Kay provides a revealing insight into the mindset
of the circle of Roosevelt's longtime enemies who surrounded Lindbergh.
She recalled that on the day they heard of the President's death:
In blew Connie Brown (Constantine Brown
of the Washington Star). His eyes popping out of his head, sparkling,
his face one large beaming smile. He said not a word but hugged
me violently. Rushed to Truman, embraced him. Threw his arms high
in the air in exultation. Whirled around and flew out the door
leaving me speechless. Truman and I burst into roars of laughter.
We had not yet heard the news but we knew only one thing could
have given him such fierce delight The evil man was dead Writing
this in the year of 1974,1 know how right we were to hate him
so bitterly. Our decline, our degeneracy stems from that man and
his socialist, blinded greedy wife.
The American Axis