Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Today in journalism history: Supporting the troops

Surely politics stopped at the water's edge in the waning days of 1941, right? And America's Newspapers stood on the side of those whose loved ones were in peril on the sea? And bizarre Midwestern whackjobs, while allowed their every constitutional right, were nonetheless gently shunted off to padded rooms where they could yell as loudly as they wanted to?

Well, sort of. "We, The Mothers, Mobilize for America" has been writing to the parents of sailors killed in the escalating battle of the Atlantic, suggesting that they "call to account the real murderers of your loved one, the men who violated the Constitution of the United States by sending him into the war zone."

Lyrl van Hyning, the group's president, rejects the Navy Department's claim that she's out to undermine military and civilian morale: "That's not the purpose of the letters at all. We want the people of America to wake up to the fact that they are being fooled. We want the unfortunate parents of the men to realize who caused their sons' death."

The organization's letter, sent to parents of casualties on both the Reuben James and the Kearney, expressed sympathy and noted that "these men were callously and needlessly sent to their deaths."

"Any movement," stated the letters, "to avenge these, our dead, by throwing away the lives of millions more of our American men to punish a foreign nation is but a false premise to involve us in war."

We the Mothers was part of a more-and-less loosely knit confederation that became known as the Mothers' Movement. Van Hyning was an old America Firster (and German-American Bund member) who was apparently convinced not just that FDR was a secret Jew but that Truman, Ike and Woodrow Wilson were as well. She doesn't appear to have been the deepest-catalog character of the movement, either. Agnes Waters wanted to impeach Roosevelt and replace him with Henry Ford, and she had this prediction about the outcome of Jewish immigration:

Just let the Jews come in and the pistol-packing mamas will take care of them. There will be nothing left of them.*

We the Mothers was strongest in Chicago, where it enjoyed the support of Col. McCormick's Tribune. (The clip shown here appeared on page 26 of the Nov. 30, 1941, Sunday Tribune.)

Just another reminder that, should you be wondering how much stranger things can get on the press-public-politics front, the answer is "quite a bit."

* A fine source of information on these folks and their times is the work of Glen Jeansonne; this quote comes from "The Right-Wing Mothers of Wartime America." (History Today, December 1999)


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