If only we could all shut up, like World War Two

War ain't going so well? Baghdad Bill says "Clap harder!"

Glenn Greenwald was on Alan Colmes' radio show yesterday along with Frank Gaffney. Frank Gaffney wrote an op-ed in the Washington Times that was based on an entirely fabricated Abraham Lincoln quotation about how Congressmen shouldn't question their President during wartime. Podcasts of Alan Colmes' show are available here in parts one, two and three.

In part two, Jeff from Evansville Indiana said "Had we had done this in World War Two, you'd be speaking German now and you'd probably be in [unintelligible]."

Frank Gaffney replied "I think Jeff's absolutely right, that's the kind of accountability I think people ought to be held to."

Apparently there is this myth that nobody criticized the government in World War Two. In fact we had an election in 1944 in which Thomas Dewey "campaigned vigorously" against FDR, accusing him of abusing his authority as President and questioned FDR's fitness to be President.

There was also extensive debate over FDR's prosecution of the war in general. Senator ALbert B. Chandler of Kentucky, William Randolph Hearst, and Charles Lindberg all believed that the United States should not have gotten involved in the European theatre for a variety of reasons. Chandler thought the danger of Japan forcing China out of the war was an even greater danger than that of Germany forcing the Soviet Union out. Lindbergh on the other hand was isolationist, claiming "The three most important groups who have been pressing this country toward war are the British, the Jewish and the Roosevelt administration."

Opponents of the "Europe First" strategy (designed to knock out Germany first, as it posed an immediate existential threat to the UK and USSR) organized as the "America First Committee." According to Wikipedia its membership included Lindbergh, Gerald Ford, Sargent Shriver, Potter Stewart (future Supreme Court justice), the chairman of Sears, Roebuck and Co., Sinclair Lewis, e. e. cummings, and Gore Vidal. On the Senate Floor, Senator Chandler and Senator Arthur Vandenberg from Michigan publicly criticized FDR's strategy Europe First strategy in 1943, and probably many others did as well (I'm working from some sources I collected for a paper in undergrad and kept around on my computer. See the end of my post for a list of them.)

Another interesting twist in comparing World War Two to the current conflict is looking at who was calling for self-censorship when. In the current conflict, The Nation has repeatedly criticized people like Frank Gaffney and Bill Kristol who call for silencing dissent: examples here, here, here, here, and I'm sure there are many other examples. However, in 1943, The Nation wrote that while the final responsibility for determining the amount of forces to commit to each theater of war rests with the President, “he may justly ask that its weight be not increased by irresponsible propaganda either in Congress or the press.” (Planes for the Pacific. The Nation, APril 24, 1943, pages 579-580.) Contrast this to Arthur Krock of the New York Times, who wrote that the press "was being barred by armed American soldiers from that access to the sources of legitimate news which is the custom of democracy and the guaranteed privilege of responsible journalism." (Arthur Krock. "Strategy Senate Issue." New York Times, May 19th, 1943, page 4.) Of course others in the Times called the debate "reckless" and "irresponsible." (Callender, Harold. “Churchill Takes Part in a Congress Debate.” New York Times, May 23rd, 1943, page E3.)

So basically, the next time somebody spouts the old "In World War Two, everybody got on board! If Howard Dean was around in World War Two, we'd all be speaking German!" shtick, please shoot them down. It is a false and dangerous narrative.

I'll leave you with visual proof of domestic dissent in World War Two. Cecil Jensen, a cartoonist for the Chicago Daily News, explicitly criticizes the Europe First strategy by showing an Allied soldier chasing after Hitler while giving merely a passing glance to a bomb with a lit fuse, labeled "Japs" (the caricaturization is pretty racist, but it was 1943, even Bugs Bunny was racist). The cartoon was published in the New York Times on May 23rd, 1943.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting


Callender, Harold. “Churchill Takes Part in a Congress Debate.” New York Times, May 23rd, 1943, page E3.

“Debate on Strategy.” New York Times, May 19th, 1943, page 24.

Krock, Arthur. “Strategy Senate Issue.” New York Times, May 19th, 1943, page 4.

“Planes for the Pacific.” The Nation, April 24, 1943, pages 579-580.

“Senate Debates ‘Beat Japan’ Cry.” New York Times, May 18th, 1943, page 5.

Steele, Richard W. “Franklin D. Roosevelt and His Foreign Policy Critics.” Political Science Quarterly, Volume 74, Number 1, 1979, pages 15-32.

Trussell, C. P. “Congress Pleased by Churchill Talk.” New York Times, May 20th, 1943, page 3.


James T said...

Thank you for writing this, it's interesting stuff. (e.e. cummings? I guess poets were higher-profile in those days...)

Boghie said...


Your 1943 cartoon seems impossible to track in Google. Maybe a bit more time. Any hints.

I wonder if it was a 1943 cartoon. The caption seems to reference the "United Nations". It might be another term for the Allies, but that seems rather odd.

I also cannot find a Wikipedia reference to Mr. Jensen. He must have been quite influential!

Additionally, I would be a bit concerned if I were referencing fools and racists as examples of 'informed dissent'. There are fools, racists, and neophytes in every generation - even 'the greatest generation'!!!

Adrian said...

Boghie: I didn't find the cartoon through Google and I doubt it's available. If you go into the NYTimes archives you can find it there. Doing so requires paying money, which is why I hosted it myself. The United Nations was a general reference to what we now call the "Allies." But hey, make vague insinuations about my honesty all you want.

I am stunned that Wikipedia doesn't have a list of 1940s political cartoonists!

If you want some more 'informed dissent,' look at the Army-Navy debates on the allocation of forces between the European and Pacific theaters. The Navy disagreed with the Europe First strategy because it relegated them to ferrying the Army across the Atlantic and conducting Anti-Sub Warfare, as opposed to the Pacific theater which required huge aircraft carriers. I'm pretty sure the Navy isn't full of neophytes. But then again, if you had bothered to read the original post, you would have seen that it wasn't only Charles Lindbergh, but also a future President and a future Supreme Court Justice. Call them fools if you wish.

Boghie said...


I do call Stewart and Ford fools. Potter Stewart is not on anyones lips as the marquee Supreme Court Justice of his era. He was very indecisive. That era of Supreme Court rulings is still a mess to deal with.

President Ford's funeral was somewhat muted in comparison to Reagan's, eh...

And, yeah the Navy wanted more money and ships with which to fight the war. I am certain the Army asked for more as well. But, Germany was the much greater threat - and folks saw it that way. And historians see it that way. As proof, we defeated Japan even though we emphasized Germany. Can you imagine the reverse as true. Imagine Germany defeating the Soviet Union and/or England. Imagine if Germany could redirect it's major effort (80% of Germany's war effort was against the Soviet Union) against the western allies.

Maybe we win...

Maybe Nazi Germany wins...

Maybe we have the honor of suing for peace with Nazi Germany...

Peace... Peace... Peace with 'a man we can deal with'. Let us get it in writing!!!

I will not shun your honesty. I always try to find the context of a key point. I simply could not find a good reference to the cartoonist or the cartoon. And, you have to admit that a reference to the United Nations (in the posessive) is odd in 1943. Anything can happen on the web - including someone photoshoping a cartoon for another message (not you, but perhaps your source).

Adrian said...

Boghie: My source was the New York Times. I found the cartoon myself in microfilm, printed it out myself, scanned it myself, and uploaded it myself.

As for your arguments regarding the validity of the Europe First strategy - I agree it was the correct strategy. That's not my point. My point is that there was vigorous dissent in World War 2, the sky didn't fall down, and our democracy is stronger because of it.