Susan Dunn: In speech Trump tagged his approach 'America First,' a name with ugly echoes in U.S.
America First was isolationist, anti-Semitic organization that urged U.S. to appease Adolf Hitler
Dunn: Why would Trump pollute his policy with the name?
Editor’s Note: Susan Dunn is a professor of Humanities at Williams College and the author of 1940: FDR, Willkie, Lindbergh, Hitler – The Election Amid the Storm, from which several passages in this essay are adapted. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
“My foreign policy will always put the interests of the American people, and American security, above all else. That will be the foundation of every decision that I will make. America First will be the major and overriding theme of my administration.”
It is extremely unfortunate that in his speech Wednesday outlining his foreign policy goals, Donald Trump chose to brand his foreign policy with the noxious slogan “America First,” the name of the isolationist, defeatist, anti-Semitic national organization that urged the United States to appease Adolf Hitler.
The America First Committee actually began at Yale University, where Douglas Stuart Jr., the son of a vice president of Quaker Oats, began organizing his fellow students in spring 1940. He and Gerald Ford, the future American president, and Potter Stewart, the future Supreme Court justice, drafted a petition stating, “We demand that Congress refrain from war, even if England is on the verge of defeat.”
Their solution to the international crisis lay in a negotiated peace with Hitler. Other Yale students – including Sargent Shriver, who served in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, and Kingman Brewster, the chairman of the Yale Daily News, future president of Yale and ambassador to the Court of St. James – joined their isolationist crusade.
Robert Wood, the board chairman of Sears, Roebuck, agreed to act as their group’s temporary chair. The growing organization soon included powerful men like Col. Robert McCormick of the Chicago Tribune; Minnesota meatpacker Jay Hormel; Sterling Morton, the president of Morton Salt Company; U.S. Rep. Bruce Barton of New York; and Lessing Rosenwald, the former chairman of Sears.
There would soon be several hundred chapters and almost a million members, two-thirds of whom resided in the Midwest. Charles Lindbergh would officially join America First in April 1941, serving as the committee’s principal spokesman and chief drawing card at its rallies.
Seeking to brand itself as a mainstream organization, America First struggled with the problem of the anti-Semitism of some of its leaders and many of its members. It had to remove from its executive committee not only the notoriously anti-Semitic Henry Ford but also Avery Brundage, the former chairman of the U.S. Olympic Committee who had prevented two Jewish runners from the American track team in Berlin in 1936 from running in the finals of the 4x100 relay.