Monday, March 1, 1943

The Charlotte News

Monday, March 1, 1943


Site Ed. Note: "I have come home to tell you the truth." Thus begins Chapter 8 of Profiles in Courage, by John F. Kennedy, anent the three personally disempowering but courageous and conscientious attempts of George Norris to buck political pressures to do that which he believed was the wrong course for the good of the country, regardless of affiliation, party, social or otherwise. Three such bucks are described by then Senator Kennedy in 1957.

The first occurred in March, 1910 when then Representative Norris of Nebraska bucked his own Republican Party and its power-wielding Speaker, Joe Cannon, known as the "Czar", for his overbearing tendencies to exert iron-fisted political pressure on the House. Representative Norris on St Patrick's Day, 1910, for the second time, sought to limit the power of the Czar by introducing a resolution, pursuant to debate on a constitutionally privileged bill being considered by the House on the census, to have the entire House appoint members of the House Rules Committee rather than the former practice under the Czar of having the Speaker personally handpick them to suit his own political whimsy and disbursement of patronage.

Eventually, after considerable debate into the night, the Speaker ruled the resolution of Congressman Norris out of order. But the House then voted to overrule the Speaker and the resolution was finally adopted. Czar Cannon of Illinois, born in Guilford Courthouse, N.C., resigned his post as a result.

Despite perfidy to his own party and relinquishing the considerable concomitant power which went along with Speaker Cannon's grip on the House, Congressman Norris nevertheless had rid the nation of the scourge of an unduly imbalanced political sway held by the Speaker over the House, one which had enabled a conservative minority in that body nearly co-equal power with that of the President and the whole Senate, effectively diluting the careful balance between the three branches of government determined by the Constitution.

The second buck occurred in the days immediately preceding Americaís entry to World War I, April 6, 1917. In early March, President Woodrow Wilson had asked the Congress to pass a bill authorizing the arming of American merchant ships transporting food and supplies to beleaguered Great Britain, under blockade by Germany. Threatened by Germany with armed resistance to the shipments, the ships, argued Wilson, needed protection. But arming merchant vessels also made them men-of-war and invited confrontation which then Senator Norris believed would lead the country into the war, this on the heels of the 1916 election in which the President had successfully, but narrowly, defeated Charles Evans Hughes on the basis of having kept the country out of the European war.

The bill had passed overwhelmingly in the House in the wake of a leaked supposed note from German Undersecretary of State for Foreign Affairs Arthur Zimmermann, a coded transmission to the German Minister in Mexico on January 19 setting forth a plan to wage unrestricted submarine warfare in the Atlantic and, while stating intent to maintain the neutrality of the United States in the war, outlining the contingency plan should war erupt with the United States, whereby Mexico and Japan would align with Germany in the war, giving Germany a base of operations in North America with the quid pro quo to Mexico of German funding for its army to enable reacquisition of Texas and parts of New Mexico and Arizona.

Senator Norris believed that Big Business had conspired to get the country into the war and that the bill to provide authority to arm merchant ships was merely another thusly promulgated crossroads on an inevitable road to the country's involvement in a foreign war which could and should be obviated by avoiding any acts which might invite the twining entanglement.

With the new Congress set to take office at noon March 4, the bill, if not passed by that hour in the Senate, would die a natural death. Senator Norris thought the new third of the Senate, just elected on the promise of keeping the nation out of war, would thus be more hospitable to defeat of the bill.

Though an opponent of filibuster, he therefore led a successful filibuster to prevent the bill from coming to a vote by noon March 4.

Nevertheless, the President called a special session of Congress to reconsider the bill, in which session a new cloture rule was passed to limit debate. The bill then passed the Senate.

For his efforts in attempting to keep the country out of war, Senator Norris was roundly denounced by the President, by the Democratic Legislature of Nebraska and by its Democratic Governor. With such loss of confidence pervading his home state, Senator Norris himself called for a special election to determine whether he should be recalled.

To state his case to the people of Nebraska, amid warnings of violence from angry constituents, he went home to give a speech, one, for his unpopularity, necessarily without sponsors and in a hall which he personally hired.

He began his speech, after a stride to the podium accompanied by silence, but yet not violence, "I have come home to tell you the truth."

Senator Norris then proceeded to explain the reasons for his actions in filibustering the bill to arm merchant ships. When done, the audience, instead of anticipated catcalls or violence, erupted in cheers. The Governor refused to approve the recall election. Senator Norris had survived the firestorm of discontent while acting consistent with his determined conscience, even if not accomplishing his goal to maintain the country's insularity from the war.

The third buck came when Senator Norris, during the 1928 presidential campaign, threw his support to Democratic nominee Al Smith, Catholic and for repeal of Prohibition, in opposition to the torchbearer of Senator Norris's own party, Herbert Hoover, Protestant and supporter of Prohibition. Though Norris himself was Protestant and opposed to repeal of Prohibition, he believed that Smith supported law enforcement when Hoover was aligned with forces of Big Business which, while voicing support for Prohibition, nevertheless would allow the bootlegging racket to persist unabated. He believed that to establish progress in the country required the support of Smith. And so, once again, he bucked the established and expected pigeonholes of party fealty which would have stood him in good stead with his chieftains, instead opting for the more personally perilous course, yet one integrative of conscientious adherence to principle.

We mention this Profile in Courage at this juncture because of the quote of the day on Saturday in The News, that of George Norris, regarding the need to approach the sanctity of the peace table without "thought of revenge and hatred".

It was an approach which President Kennedy himself utilized with beneficial results to save the world from nigh nuclear destruction in the latter half of October, 1962, even if in the process leaving some passionately bellicose warriors in and out of the military and government, those inured to the immurement hot war, unable to live easily absent its tension and excitement to purpose, its clearly established polarized lines between black and white, good and evil, and by equal strokes unable with comfort to live in the grey world of Cold War where all was accomplished by statesmanship, brinksmanship, and exhibition of deterrent capability--yet always in practice, never in performance--without the war which they had wished to engage with the Soviet Union.

It was part, we venture, of the radii from the axis, informed at its centrality by xenophobic urges, which provided to those who despised the espousing of anything exhibiting reason and conscience, principle above profit, ideal above expediency, negotiated peace above the bearing of bellicose arms, Gandhi above Machiavelli, who equated unconditional surrender of arms without a shot being fired with appeasement, who labeled everyone inimical to their aims as "Communist", everyone, including Nazis and Fascists, friendly to their cause as "ally", the rationale, rationalized though it was in dodge of reality, for the assassination of President Kennedy.

In the penultimate day of Gandhi's 21-day fast, he was reported on the front page still to be in good spirits, this day being his day of silence.

In northern Tunisia, the Nazis struck Allied positions northeast of Beja, forty miles west of Tunis. The attack was met by heavy resistance, especially by the Fighting French, enabling little progress along the lines by the Axis. In the south, the British Eighth Army before the Mareth Line was hampered in further operations by bad weather. In central Tunisia, the American Army pressed on to re-capture Feriana after re-capturing the town of Kasserine. The way was smoothed for the eighteen miles of progress beyond Kasserine by the Army engineers' clearing of mine fields left by the retreating forces of Rommel.

A report from General MacArthur indicated, based on air reconnaissance, that the Japanese were concentrating ships in the islands north of Australia. Whether the force was preparatory to an offensive operation against Australia or was merely for defense of the Japanese-occupied East Indies remained for the present unclear.

In the Donets Basin and west of Kharkov in Russia, reports came that the Germans were mounting a counter-attack with fresh reinforcements, stalling the offensive of General Vatutinís army in the Donets Basin and slowing the advance west of Kharkov. Progress of the Soviet Army west of Kharkov and Kursk was nevertheless claimed by Russian reports.

Housewives quickly adjusted to the point rationing system on canned goods and dried fruits, finding for instance that a 15-ounce box of raisins required 20 points while a 10 to 14-ounce box only expended 15 points. One could, in other words, enjoy a full 42 ounces of sun-ripened California raisins for a month and still have three points left to purchase, say, three cans of baby food. That meant that you could treat each member of your family to a spoonful of baby food while nearly, but not quite, enjoying all of 1.5 ounces of raisins per day.

The whole country was being impressed into an implicit understanding of Gandhi's fast, into appreciation for the soldier's daily K-ration.

The editorial page conveys Dorothy Thompsonís questioning whether Eddie Rickenbacker, in his recent jabs at labor practices in a speech before the New York State Legislature, had stepped over the line into the territory of Charles Lindbergh prior to Pearl Harbor. She allows that labor had some criticism coming, but also adds that the absenteeism cited by Captain Rickenbacker as especially problematic, being up to 10 percent every day in some key industries, was the result of manifold problems, including the replacement of women and older men for the younger men being drafted and volunteering out of war industry jobs, as well as the associated problems of transportation to the workplace for these newer employees, further complicated by harsh weather and flu. She also chastises Rickenbacker's advocacy for elimination of overtime pay and the suspension of union dues for the duration, both plans, she explains, being rife with difficulty for labor, not only for the duration but after the war as well.

Raymond Clapper expresses the hope that the American housewife would continue, as preliminary signs suggested, to be able to calculate with prescient nutritional accuracy the new point system on canned goods and dried fruits so that the country's spare tires would not become unduly deflated under its reign.

Samuel Grafton again finds the paradox in the debate of certain Congressmen, former isolationists now favoring the permanent acquisition of bases leased to the United States by Great Britain in exchange for the 50 old destroyers provided Britain in September 1940, despite the fact that the leases on the bases ran until 2039. Mr. Grafton suggests that such "escaping to the future on roller skates", combined with the rolling of Eddie Rickenbacker, was a year behind the debate in Britain and had to sound as folly to the other Allies. Britain was now actively debating the opening of a second front in Europe, a debate absent in the halls of Congress.

The piece implies that the Congress needed to grow rapidly out of adolescent puling, suggestive of spite against the war effort, into adulthood, from picking on dummies on the roof of the Capitol to finding a way among the dummies down below to win the war without unduly prolonging it.

"Prelude" finds the consistent carpet bombing of France and Germany to be presaging an invasion of Europe, implying that the invasion would be through France, within days or weeks, at most months, away.

Was the editorial somewhat in fact naïve, or was it being deliberately so in response to governmental suggestion to confuse Nazi defense preparations along the southern European coast, necessitating maintenance of Channel defenses, thereby effectuating another layer of carpet bombs without expenditure of more than a little print?

To clarify, the partially knocked out quote of the day from Gene Tunney, the world heavyweight champion boxer in 1926-28, turned Lieutenant Commander in the Marines, was: "We will not be properly equipped to win the war until we develop a willingness to die for our country."

Mr. Tunney's son, John, incidentally, served in the House for three terms and then one term in the Senate from California, between 1965 and 1977. John Tunney was also the roommate of Edward Kennedy while attending the University of Virginia Law School. During his 1976 campaign for re-election, he offered this fact in answer to the question why his intonation bore resemblance to that of the Kennedys.

We considered today the facts that 129 subtracted from 312 is 183, and that 10 times 18.3 also equals 183. The count of a fighter knocked down on the mat, to determine a knockout, is one engaged to the number ten. So are the number of seconds allowed to advance the ball from the backline to the front court in the game of college basketball. And so it was on both counts in 1963.

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