The usual hectoring elites are complaining that the virus crisis—another “moral equivalent of war”—isn’t generating oodles of national unity and good fellow feeling among citizens, like World War II. Quite the opposite: we seem just as divided as before. (And of course we are told this is Trump’s fault.) But it turns out much of that gauzy (and nowadays recreated) memory of the war years is distorted if not mistaken.
I dusted off historian Fred Siegel’s neglected 1984 masterpiece, Troubled Journey: From Pearl Harbor to Ronald Reagan to refresh the scene. Siegel reminds us in the opening chapter that the pre-war political divisions carried easily into the early war years and lasted throughout:
Wartime surveys taken by the Army revealed that troop morale was dangerously low. Most soldiers had little idea of why they were fighting and few cared about the political meaning of the war. . . [Isolationist] opposition ran so deep that the “Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor brought war but not unity to the American people.” . . .
Morale at home wasn’t much better. The public was uncertain about the war’s objectives and it was hesitant about supporting a total war against Germany.
Siegel goes on to remind us that while FDR and Democrats targeted 115 isolationist members of the House of Representatives for defeat in 1942, 110 won re-election, as Republicans picked up 44 House seats and nine Senate seats. Not exactly a ringing endorsement for FDR.
By now we are used to Democrats calling Trump literally Hitler, just as they did for George W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, etc., but Siegel points out that this favorite liberal calumny began at least as early as 1940:
If Republicans diehards insisted that Roosevelt was “that Bolshevik in the White House,” ideological New Dealers returned the favor by denouncing conservative Republicans as fascists. Henry Wallace, the point man for the New Dealers, fought the 1940 election with the slogan “Keep Hitler out of the White House.” Wallace conceded that “every Republican is not an appeaser. But you can be sure that every Nazi, every Hitlerite, and every appeaser is a Republican.” Wallace glossed over the isolationism of leading Democrats like Burton Wheeler who were left-leaning at home yet impassioned appeasers. [Siegel might have included Joseph Kennedy here.] . . .
At their harshest, fervent New Dealers dropped the qualifiers and pronounced Wendell Willkie, Roosevelt’s middle-of-the-road Republican opponent, “the man Hitler wants elected president.”
Things really got rolling with the 1944 election, where the Democrats’ reductio ad Hitlerum argument was directed at Thomas E. Dewey. Liberty University history professor Michael A. Davis narrates the attack in his fine book Politics as Usual: Thomas Dewey, Franklin Roosevelt and the Wartime Presidential Campaign of 1944.
The following day, Indiana Senator (and Permanent Chairman of the [1944 Democratic] convention) Samuel Jackson described 1944 as a “fateful” election, and warned that “in the fiercest, most devastating war mankind has ever known” a Democratic defeat would meanbattleships for Hirohito and legions for Hitler. “Frankly,” Jackson continued, “could Goebbels do better himself to bolster Axis morale than the word that the American people had upset this administration…? We must not allow the American ballot box tobe made Hitler’s secret weapon!”
Jackson’s speech was but one example of an aspect of the 1944 campaign often overlooked-Nazi-baiting by Democrats and other Roosevelt supporters. Throughout the fall, there were numerous references to Dewey’s “Hitler mustache” in speeches and campaign literature. For example, one pro-Roosevelt leaflet, paid for by the Socialist Party of Oregon, read:
Behind the mask of ‘Tom Thumb’ ‘Double-Talk’ Dewey and his ‘Hitler Mustache’ stands Hog-Joweled, Heartless Hoover, every Labor Union Wrecker, Ku Kluxer, Jew-Baiter, Poll-Taxer, Negro-Hater, Press Prostitute, Radio Rat, Putrid Pulpiteer and ghoulish War Profiteer! IF YOU’RE SCREWY… VOTE FOR DEWEY!
Supporters of Dewey, including John Foster Dulles and Senator Gerald Nye, were also charged with being pro-Hitler. “U.S. Fascists Want. .. [Dewey] in the White House,” declared a publication of the New York County American Labor Party.
They Like Dewey—and Our Enemies Too
December 6, 1941 … Pro-Axis
November 7, 1944… Pro-Dewey
They Have Not Changed!
Swap out “Putin” for Hitler and you pretty much have the Democratic Party playbook and mentality today.