Q: So in America First, he decided to take his position public.
Characterize that for me.|
AF: His view was that Germany was a good idea--Nazi
Germany--that if it achieved, it would bring order to the world. He preferred
to see Germany win over the Soviet Union. There was a period of time, of
course, when the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany were partners in league. And
that's what motivated him. He was not motivated by an un-American,
anti-democratic attitude. He was motivated because he sincerely, in my
judgment, believed that Nazi Germany was on the right path.
Q: But he talked about the tide of color, overwhelming the white race.
He talked about racial strength being vital-- politics being a luxury.
AF: That was Nazi propaganda, my friend, that he was taken in
by. And I have to say to my own regret that there was much racism across the
entire white world in those years. He was not unusual. He was part of the
crowd in feeling that there was racial superiority in the white race.
Q: Do you remember any of those speeches that he made?
AF: Take, for example, his position when he spoke at the Madison
Square Garden, where I attended the meeting--a filled meeting. Senator Wheeler
was another prominent American there. He talked there about the eminent death
of democracy, the death of human freedom, if the United States engaged in
battle with Nazi Germany--then on the wrong side.
So that he misconceived even that Germany was fighting for human freedom.
Human freedom was anathema to Nazi Germany. He was not, I should say,
anti-Jewish at that point, which was a central concern of mine. He argued that
the election promises made by Franklin Roosevelt meant that we would stay out
of Europe's problems, and that the administration was violating its own
Q: What was the scene like there? How did the crowd respond? What was
the feeling when he walked up to the podium?
AF: I would say that the crowd went crazy. It was an
isolationist crowd. It was an American First Committee crowd--a committee to
keep the American community from foreign entanglements. It was essentially an
isolationist movement. Here came the most important, the most popular, the
most respected American in the whole group of isolationists. And he was the
role model for them.
Q: What happened to his speeches in '39, '40, '41?
AF: Well as he indulged in his isolationist philosophy on the
public platform, he began to develop a counter movement to what he was arguing.
And there were respectable, responsible voices in this country that began to
condemn him for what appeared to be the motivations for his isolationist
position, which was a pro-German attitude, an anti-British attitude.
Great Britain became an enemy to him. He began to couple Great Britain
with the United States, which was on the wrong side of Germany so far as he was
concerned. And then he began to develop his enemies-- all those he believed
were trying to support France and England against Germany.
Q: Was he anti-Semitic?
AF: He was not. He may well have been from the very beginning.
But as I recall it, in New York City at the Madison Square Garden, certainly I
never heard the word Jew or an implication. Before that, he talked about the
minorities that controlled the press, the radio...
Q: He talked about the Jewish problem. He wrote about it, without
putting it in quotes. Did he really think that there was a Jewish
AF: No. He deeply believed that the Jews wrongly opposed
Hitler. And he said, "I understand why they would." But what they don't
understand is that when Hitler succeeds, they'll pay the penalty of having
fought him. Although I say, several times on several platforms, as I recall
it, he said I understand the anti-Hitler attitude of Jews. But they shouldn't
be pushing this country, which doesn't belong in that war across the ocean,
into that war. And that's what he had against Jews.
He believed in the conspiracy concept. He believed that there was a
conspiracy between the British, the Administration in Washington, and the Jews,
and the internationalists. And he also blamed, I must say, a large chunk of
the media. If there were television in those days, he would have included
them, along with his attacks on radio and press.
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