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In the early days of the War, when it was still confined to Europe, and most considered it “their problem” and not ours, the conversation, at least in the America was whether or not we were slowly losing our status as a Democracy, or were we in danger of falling into the hands of extremists.
There was vigorous opposition to America’s potential involvement in the War in Europe – some considered it the continuation of a War that ended in Armistice in 1918, but had never really been declared over. There were some who were taking sides in this conflagration – there was a very visible and vocal American Nazi Party as well as American Communist Party and some thought these interests were attempting to sway public opinion away from war, to favor Soviet Russia or Nazi Germany.
But what concerned most was the notion that all these factions were creating enough division within the country, so that a free and open society was in fear of being eroded. America in 1939 was enjoying a stable economy – the New Deal programs of FDR were working – our Press was the freest of any in the world and our right to dissent was protected at all costs. But was that getting us in trouble? Were we a little “too free”?
In light of the events during these past four years, a program and discussion like this one is enlightening on a lot of different levels – on the one hand, it illustrates that we’ve alway been in at least a little turmoil – but it also illustrates that Democracy, as it was in 1939, was flexible and tolerant enough to accommodate a wide range of opinions and ideologies, and though it has always been fragile, discourse is crucial and that understanding the issues is essential.
We could use a little of that now.
Here, as a reminder that history often repeats – is that discussion/debate between Harold Ickes and Gen. Hugh S. Johnson from America’s Town Meeting of December 11, 1939