John T. Flynn

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John T. Flynn
John T. Flynn
Born John Thomas Flynn
(1882-10-25)October 25, 1882
Bladensburg, Maryland
Died April 13, 1964(1964-04-13) (aged 81)

John Thomas Flynn (October 25, 1882, Bladensburg, Maryland – April 13, 1964) was an American journalist best known for his opposition to President Franklin D. Roosevelt and to American entry into World War II. In September 1940, Flynn helped establish the America First Committee (AFC).[1] He was also the first to advance the Pearl Harbor advance-knowledge conspiracy theory.[2]


After graduating from Georgetown Law School, Flynn chose a career in journalism. He started at the New Haven Register, but eventually moved to New York; there he was financial editor of the New York Globe. During the 1920s and 1930s, he wrote articles for such leading publications as The New Republic, Harper's Magazine, and Collier's Weekly. He became one of the best-known political commentators in the United States. Like Oswald Garrison Villard, another key figure in the Old Right, Flynn was a leftist with populist inclinations during this period. He supported Franklin D. Roosevelt for president but criticized the New Deal. In 1939, he predicted that Social Security would be under water by 1970, and insolvent by 1980.[3]

The 1930s[edit]

Consistently at all stages of his literary career, Flynn opposed militarism. He was a key advisor to the 1934 Nye Committee, which investigated the role of the so-called "merchants of death" (munitions manufacturers and bankers) in leading to U.S. entry into World War I.

By 1936, Flynn had publicly broken with Roosevelt. He was already drawing comparisons between the centralist features of the New Deal on the one hand, and Benito Mussolini's policies on the other: "We seem [he wrote] to be not a long way off from the kind of Fascism which Mussolini preached in Italy before he assumed power; and we are steadily approaching the conditions which made Fascism possible."

America First, 1940-41[edit]

Flynn was one of the founders of the America First Committee, the first nationally-organized coalition of the many politically wide-ranging groups which opposed America's entry into World War Two.[4] Flynn and the America Firsters accused FDR of falsely claiming that he wanted to keep America out of the war, while in reality pursuing a number of increasingly militant policies to help Britain in every way possible, in violation of the neutrality treaties which had been passed by isolationist Senators earlier in the 1930s. Flynn soon became head of the New York City chapter, and, largely through his efforts, quickly claimed a membership of 135,000. As Roosevelt rolled out a series of policies to give "all help short of war," America First mounted campaigns against them, on the grounds that each of them, in fact, did constitute war: first, the nation's first peacetime draft - Selective Service, begun in 1940, then Lend-Lease which allowed the British, near bankruptcy, to continue to buy the food and arms they needed as they reached their second year of resisting Nazi invasion single-handedly. Both these passed in Congress, but America First gained enormous momentum in a nation riven by the entirely contradictory wishes to both support the British and yet stay out of the war, with 850,000 members with a year of its founding.

Although Flynn worked tirelessly to distance the Committee from the claims of extremist and anti-Semitic groups, such as the radio announcer Father Coughlin's National Union for Social Justice, his was a minority position within the national organization and an increasingly hopeless one: American Fascist and proto-Nazi groups like the German Bund allied themselves with America First even if America First was not allied with them, and consistently showed up at rallies in force and used the name in their literature. And famous aviator Charles Lindbergh, decorated by Hitler himself, had resigned from the Army Air Corps in order to speak at America First rallies, which soon drew thousands. Flynn's liberal credentials began to fall away as the more liberal anti-war groups could no longer tolerate even the appearance of being pro-Fascist or worse, pro-Hitler - and keeping the distinction between being against intervention in Europe without being pro-Nazi proved a problematic argument, as the horror of what was by that point eight years of brutal dictatorship and occupation and the vivid radio and newsreel accounts of the nightly bombing of London and trapped refugees began to erode the moral high ground of anti-militarism which had always fueled Flynn's involvement.

His former New Deal friends abandoned him. The New Republic pulled his regular column, "Other People’s Money," from which he had critiqued the financial policies of Herbert Hoover and FDR for more than ten years, on the grounds that he had long since stopped writing about finances and his isolationist columns were in total variance with their editorial policies. His 1940 book, Country Squire in the White House became a surprise best-seller, particularly when the GOP, campaigning against Roosevelt in that election year, bought up thousands of copies over the summer and distributed them for free."[5]

Flynn's moment of glory came in September, 1941, when he virtually single-handedly organized a Senate subcommittee investigation led by America First's isolationist Senator Wheeler, into the movie studios for creating pro-British and pro-interventionist "propaganda" in more than 50 Hollywood films.[6] With studio heads Jack Warner and Daryl Zanuck compelled to testify, Flynn was certain that the committee hearings would get great publicity even if no actual charges were ever handed down, and thus strike a blow for America First after their defeats in Congress on Lend-lease and other measures. However, this plan backfired completely, first because the prominent ex-isolationist Wendell Wilkie was hired for the defense (Louis B. Mayer having wisely and lavishly backed him as GOP presidential candidate the previous year). Wilkie frankly admitted that all the Hollywood studios deplored Nazism and were pro-British, because they were good Americans - and the real issue was government censorship. Then Charles Lindbergh, the very next day, gave a highly publicized speech in Des Moines, Iowa, at an America First mass rally, explicitly condemning "the Jews" and their "danger to this country lies in their large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio, and our government." [7]

Flynn found himself isolated in the America First movement in wanting to publicly condemn and separate the group from Lindbergh's comments, which were causing an uproar all over the country. But he discovered that in fact the core constituency of America Firsters turned out to be precisely the anti-Semitic factions he'd been trying so hard to keep out, with Lindbergh's speech now drawing such people like flies.[8]

Lindbergh's comments meant Flynn had to rush back to New York to deal with the controversy, and without his guidance, the Senate subcommittee hearings collapsed; Senators Nye and Wheeler, the isolationist Senators leading the committee, turned out not to have seen the films they were condemning. Its sole legacy, sadly, was to set the stage for HUAC and McCarthy's abuse of the Senate and House committee system to attack liberals and New Deal supporters after the war.

World War II[edit]

On Dec. 7, 1941 - the moment he heard about Pearl Harbor - Flynn wanted the America First Committee to disband, and throw their support entirely toward the war effort - but dithering among the various state organizations meant AFC waited until Dec. 11, 1941, the day that Nazi Germany declared war on the U.S. -- to do so, instead, and some key Committee leaders continued to meet and seemingly tried to keep the organization alive, much to Flynn's horror.

Flynn had by now turned entirely against New Deal liberalism, which he regarded not as liberal at all, but as a "degenerate form of socialism and debased form of capitalism." In 1944 he wrote a sharp critique of the American drift toward what he termed "statism": As We Go Marching. This essay warned of an unholy alliance influencing U.S. foreign policy, and included these words:

The enemy aggressor is always pursuing a course of larceny, murder, rapine and barbarism. We are always moving forward with high mission, a destiny imposed by the Deity to regenerate our victims, while incidentally capturing their markets; to civilise savage and senile and paranoid peoples, while blundering accidentally into their oil wells.[9]

In fall of 1944, Flynn completed a 25-page document entitled The Truth about Pearl Harbor.[2] which so impressed isolationist publisher Cyrus McCormick that he had it printed in its entirety, beginning on the front page of the Oct. 22 Chicago Tribune, in hopes of influencing the upcoming election. Flynn argued that Roosevelt and his inner circle had been plotting to provoke the Japanese into an attack on the U.S. and thus provide a reason to enter the war since January 1941 and that the sanctions which the Roosevelt Administration had placed on Japan during that year were intended for that purpose - the oil embargo, specifically - whose lifting was attached to conditions it knew Japan could never agree to.[2] Flynn also alleged that Pearl Harbor's able Navy and Army commanders, Admiral Husband E. Kimmel and General Walter Short, were left without proper warning that conditions had deteriorated to this extent with Japan, so they would be caught off guard.[2] Flynn had the article reprinted in pamphlet form, distributed out of his office, and this would mark the beginning of Pearl Harbor advance-knowledge conspiracy theory[2] or (less perjoratively) hypothesis.

Shortly after his brief tenure working with the GOP for the 1944 presidential elections, Flynn learned that GOP candidate Dewey had gotten hold of the highly-classified information that America had broken the Japanese naval code early in 1940 - long before the attack on Pearl Harbor - but, at the administration's request, not made this information public. Besides lowering his opinion of the GOP as too weak too fight his nemesis, Roosevelt, Flynn further reasoned that meant FDR must have known in precise detail that the attack was coming and deliberately withheld this information from the now-disgraced commanders in order to create an outraged demand for war.

Flynn added this information to his booklet, retitling it: "The Final Secret of Pearl Harbor," which again ran as a front page story in the Chicago Tribune, and became a booklet printed and distributed by Merwin K. Hart's National Economic Council. Flynn's evidence led to a new congressional investigation of the attack, for which Flynn became chief investigator. However, two Republicans joined the Democrats on the committee in creating a report that vindicated Roosevelt completely. The Pearl Harbor "they let it happen" thesis would remain on the far fringes of FDR-hating right-wing fanatics until suspicions of a similar plot in 9/11 brought it back to attention and, in fact, plausibility.[10]

Cold War[edit]

During the Cold War period, Flynn continued his opposition to interventionist foreign policies and militarism. An early critic of American involvement in the affairs of Indochina, he maintained that sending US troops would "only be proving the case of the Communists against America that we are defending French imperialism."

Flynn became an early and avid supporter of Senator Joseph McCarthy. This was ironic because Flynn "had long ridiculed the idea that communism was a threat to America.",[11] dismissing American Communists as a tiny handful of fractious, isolated radicals who were too busy attacking each other to attack capitalism. In March, 1943, he wrote that fighting communism in America was "a waste of time," when the real issue was fascism, his argument in his next book, As We Go Marching (1946) which failed dismally with critics and readers alike. Four years later, Flynn published another and rather similar book, The Roosevelt Myth. By 1950 he was describing himself as a liberal in the classical liberal tradition of small government and free markets, but only the far right now embraced his work.

It was while ghost-writing a book for the arch-conservative Texas Democrat, Howard Deis, that Flynn began to emphasize the issue, initially as yet another route with which to attack Roosevelt and the New Deal. The book was never published, but the theme took root- and was, mysteriously, far more appealing, at least to his now solely rightwing readership, than an exploration of U.S. fascism.

Moreover, Flynn had pioneered the conspiracy theory of movies and radio as sources of propaganda worthy of Congressional investigation in 1941. And, by the early 50's, Flynn shared McCarthy's intense dislike for the Eastern elites who seemingly controlled Washington politics and New York media alike, having grown disillusioned - and increasingly rejected - by both.

In 1955, Flynn's remaining streak of maverick liberalism caused a formal falling-out with the new generation of Cold War conservatives when William F. Buckley, Jr., rejected one of his articles for the new National Review. This submission had attacked militarism as a "job-making boondoggle."

Flynn retired from public life in 1960. During his last years (he died in 1964) some of his books were promoted and reprinted by the arch-conservative and paranoid anti-Communist group, John Birch Society,

Personal life[edit]

For many years Flynn made his home in Bayside, New York in a large compound overlooking Little Neck Bay, with a house and a separate building he used as a broadcasting studio. He was a neighbor and friend of Mrs. James J. Corbett, the widow of boxing champion "Gentleman Jim" Corbett.

His son, Thomas Flynn, was an influential figure credited with helping to save New York City from bankruptcy in the 1970s.[12]

Books by John T. Flynn[edit]

  • God's Gold; the Story of Rockefeller and His Times[13] (1932)
  • Country Squire in the White House[14] (1940)
  • Men of Wealth; the Story of Twelve Significant Fortunes from the Renaissance to the Present Day[15] (1941)
  • The Truth About Pearl Harbor and the Final Secret of Pearl Harbor (1944)
  • Meet Your Congress (1944)
  • As We Go Marching[16] (1944)
  • The Epic of Freedom (1947)
  • The Roosevelt Myth[17][18] (1948/rev 1956)
  • The Road Ahead; America's Creeping Revolution[19] (1949)
  • Communists and the New Deal: Part II (1952)
  • While You Slept: Our Tragedy in Asia and Who Made It[20] (1953)
  • America's Unknown War: The War We Have Not Begun to Fight (1953)
  • McCarthy: His War on American Reds, and the Story of Those Who Oppose Him (1954)
  • Betrayal at Yalta (1955)
  • The Decline of the American Republic and How to Rebuild It[21] (1955)
  • Militarism: The New Slavery for America (1955)
  • Fifty Million Americans in Search of a Party (1955)
  • The Lattimore Story (1953)
  • Forgotten Lessons: Selected Essays of John T. Flynn[22] (1996); posthumous essay collection
  • Investment Trusts Gone Wrong! (Wall Street and the Security Markets)
  • The Thought Police; an Episode in Radical Bigotry

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b c d e Pearl Harbor: Fifty Years of Controversy Institute for Historical Review
  3. ^ Harper's Magazine, "The Social Security 'Reserve' Swindle," February 1939, page 238.
  4. ^ Moser, John E. (2005). Right Turn: John T. Flynn and the Transformation of American Liberalism. New York University Press. p. 145. ISBN 0814757006. 
  5. ^ Burris, Charles (2007-08-01) Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal: An Annotated Bibliographic Guide,
  6. ^ Moser, Pp. 129
  7. ^ Moser, p. 132
  8. ^ Moser, p. 137-9.
  9. ^ Flynn, John T. (1944) As We Go Marching. p.240
  10. ^ The New Pearl Harbor: Disturbing Questions about the Bush Administration and 9/11 (2004) by David Ray Griffin
  11. ^ Right Turn, John T. Flynn and the Transformation of American Liberalism, by John E. Moser, p. 154.
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^
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  21. ^
  22. ^

Further reading[edit]

By John T. Flynn[edit]

About John T. Flynn[edit]