Thursday, March 8, 2018

The Dark Underbelly Of "America First"

Since Trump's campaign spewed it, we've heard the phrase "America first!" uttered countless times, including at rallies as well as speeches after Dotard's inauguration. But one common theme remains: few of Trump's followers - or for that matter, Americans in general - are aware of the dark history of the America First movement.

In an article appearing in the January 21, 2017 issue of The Atlantic we learn:

"The America First Committee (AFC), which was founded in 1940, opposed any U.S. involvement in World War II, and was harshly critical of the Roosevelt administration, which it accused of pressing the U.S. toward war. At its peak, it had 800,000 members across the country, included socialists, conservatives, and some of the most prominent Americans from some of the most prominent families. There was future President Ford; Sargent Shriver, who’d go on to lead the Peace Corps; and Potter Stewart, the future U.S. Supreme Court justice. It was funded by the families who owned Sears-Roebuck and the Chicago Tribune, but also counted among its ranks prominent anti-Semites of the day."

But this tells very little of the actual story. Or how the AFC's  tentacles subsequently spawned what would mutate into the military -industrial complex. An entity we were first warned about by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, e.g. in January, 1961:

"In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together."

To learn more about the "America First" bunch and their spinoffs one needs to go to a serious monograph like  Russ Bellant's  'Old Nazis, The New Right and the Republican Party', South End Press, 1991)  Therein we learn:

The America First Committee was an organization founded in the early 1940s and whose charter and organization was dedicated to opposing all effort to aid Allies facing the aggression of Nazi Germany.

Bellant shows in detail how the propaganda and activist arm of the German Nazi party in the U.S. (the German -American Bund) was likewise active in building up sympathy  for Hitler and the Axis powers.  Indeed, prior to Pearl Harbor the zeitgeist had settled in among American Firsters that in the event of any war, the Axis  needed to prevail.  (Bellant, p. 34).     When war was declared after Pearl Harbor a common trope was that the AFC had been "disbanded" but this was patently untrue. It had merely metamorphosed into other groups and a spectrum of anti-American activities. This included spreading Nazi propaganda and militating against any war effort.

What we behold now, for those aware of history, is Trump and his White Nationalist supporters, hearkening back to the days when the Nazi party and Adolf Hitler were idolized by those screeching "America First".  Maybe this is why - after the Charlottesville VA conflict, Trump praised the marching neo-Nazis as "some very fine people".

What "America First" really meant in that earlier crass, anti-Semitic era is perfect isolationism to the extent of not entering a conflict that might bring U.S. power to bear against "Herr Hitler".    As I  pointed out, the AFC didn't disband after the U.S entered World War II, but it coalesced - along with two other groups (the American Coalition of Patriotic Societies and the American Vigilante Intelligence Federation) into what became known as The American Security Council.   

The Atlantic piece doesn't reference them, but the top players in launching the ASC were Gen. Robert Wood and William Regnery, a publisher and long time Nazi sympathizer whose publishing company (Regnery Press) was also responsible for such illustrious works as those below:  

As we see here, the primary obsession of Wood and Regnery was communism.. Hence, it made sense for them to back Hitler and the Nazis to take down the Soviet Union and the commies.  This also likely led to the U.S. importing former Nazi spies via Operation Bloodstone  following WWII - and under the aegis of Allen Dulles of the O.S.S.  the precursor of the  CIA.  Readers can learn more here:

Concerning Regnery, a 2012 TIME article observed

"As the country moved to the right, the firm became a hit machine, first under Henry's son Alfred now under president and publisher Marji Ross".

More on the ASC background: the first intended targets of the ASC were trade unions which were believed to be infiltrated by commies.  It is no coincidence that in the Third Reich trade unions also came in for special scrutiny and indeed, destruction. As we learn from author Ian  Kershaw ('Hitler Nemesis', p. xxxiii):

“Leaders of big business, though often harboring private concerns about current difficulties and looming future problems for the economy, for their part were grateful to Hitler for the destruction of the left-wing parties and trade unions."

The ASC knew that it couldn't go that far in the U.S. but it could implement a massive surveillance system. Less known is that the ASC worked in tandem with an original Army surveillance program  that had been going on for some time. This was documented in: Army Surveillance in America: 1775-1980, Chapter 7: Watching the Workers, (Yale University Press, 1991).

The technique was described by former FBI agent William Turner as:

'"a dossier system modeled after the FBI's, which was intended to weed out employees and prospective employees deemed disloyal to the free enterprise system." 

Is it possible that Trump's repeated "America First" themes and rhetoric embody a signal or message that would bring back the worst excesses of the original America First movement, especially its ties to  Nazi sympathizers and later (via the American Security Council)  an exhaustive spy system to monitor workers?  We don't know, but what we do know is that Trump is a confirmed authoritarian who would love nothing better than to be a law unto himself. We also know, from the Charlottesville conflict,  that he fancies neo-Nazis and White nationalists.     

Anyone who knows history and the sordid past associated with America First, ought to be consumed by foreboding every time they hear the words uttered by Trump -  whether he knows about the original meaning or not. 

Footnote:  Seems a conservo blogger is a tad miffed that "leftists" have called out Trump for Nazi-sympathizing but not Louis Farrakhan. Of course, there's a slight little difference here: Trump occupies the presidency, arguably the most powerful position on the planet (with the nuke codes) while Farrakhan is a basic nobody and has been.  No one is saying Farrakhan is innocent of anti-Semitism. But to make a fuss about left "hypocrisy" for not calling him out when he lacks one millionth the power or influence of Trump is take myopia to a depth way beyond any rational reckoning and clearly within the realm of false analogy and red herrings.


Crazy Liberal said...

America First Committee (1940) was not the first instance of fascism trying to rear its ugly head in the US. The Business Plot of 1933 was a harbinger of things to come.

Copernicus said...

You are correct, but I was referencing the first occasion in which "America First" was actually used as a phrase to disguise such fascism.