Wednesday, July 23, 2014

As American as Quaker Oats and the America First Committee

Bill Kauffman remembers "Robert Douglas 'Bob' Stuart Jr., who died in May at the age of 98, [who] helmed two of the 20th-century Midwest’s flagship cultural enterprises" — Still America First. An exceprt:
    In September 1940, Bob Stuart and several Yale Law School classmates—including future President Gerald Ford and future Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart—founded the America First Committee, the largest antiwar organization in American history. Their law professor Fred Rodell later wrote in The Progressive—before Vietnam—that America First was “the only important U.S. political movement ever sparked and kindled by youngsters.” (Gerald Ford quit when he feared his involvement might jeopardize his position as assistant football coach at Yale. A profile in courage!)

    Speaking of which, there were Kennedy footprints all over America First. Old lech Joe Kennedy kicked in a few bucks, and John F. Kennedy sent the AFC a check for $100, with a note reading “what you all are doing is vital.” Mr. Stuart’s long-time friend Sargent Shriver, Kennedy in-law and the last pro-life Democrat to run on the national ticket, was present at the creation.

    Mr. Stuart said that the disastrous entry of the U.S. into the slaughterhouse of World War I was his motivation in founding the AFC. He saw the new European war as a continuation of the previous one, and he wanted no part of it for his country.

    The America First story has been told well by historians Justus Doenecke and Wayne Cole. Its personalities ranged from Main Street Republicans to prairie populists, from pacifist novelists to Midwestern manufacturers. Behind its banner stood figures as various as Socialist Norman Thomas, American Legion commander Hanford MacNider, and Sears Roebuck chairman Robert E. Wood. And, of course, Charles Lindbergh.

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