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Warren Atherton speech - November 1, 1944

January 18th, 2017

In this post, an anti-FDR speech by Warren Atherton, a noted American lawyer who was Commander of the American Legion from 1943 to 1944 and who designed the so-called GI Bill.  The speech is sponsored by the Republican National Committee and was heard on WABC, New York - I haven’t seen listings that would indicate it was carried on the wider CBS network.  The announcer on the program is Ford Bond.

In his speech, Atherton blasts FDR and the Democrats for not preventing the War, appeasing the Axis powers, and not preparing for the build up of the military for the War.  He also emphasizes how FDR and the Democrats won’t support the widows of those who died in the War or create jobs and support for returning veterans.

The speech came in the aftermath of a bitter fight by the American Legion to pass the GI Bill, outlined in this NEH website article.

The Legion introduced the Serviceman’s Readjustment Ac in Congress as an omnibus bill in early 1944 to prevent consideration of the bills components by various committees.  FDR had asked Congress in October 1943 to fund educational and vocational training for returning GIs, with an eye towards integrating millions of servicemen back into the civilian economy.  Debate on the issue heated up all through the first half 1944, coming to a head as our servicemen were storming the beaches at Normandy for D-Day.

“To gain public support, the Legion conducted a national publicity campaign. Two-minute movies, which featured battle scenes and an appeal for support, were shown in movie theaters. Four hundred radio spots, some of which featured disabled veterans, explained the program. Hearst newspapers touted the bill in articles and editorials. Other newspapers ran the Legion’s editorials in full, even providing readers with coupons they could cut out and send to their congressmen to show support. In Washington, the Legion assembled a war room, with a chart listing where each member stood on the bill. Its team walked the halls of Congress, talking up senators, representatives, and their staffs. If a member needed persuading, Legion chapters located in the member’s district inundated them with telegrams and letters.”

An opposing bill was offered by four other veteran’s organizations - Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Military Order of the Purple Heart, the Disabled American Veterans, and the Regular Veterans Association.  They felt that wounded vets should be the first responsibility of the country and that the GI bill would detract from that focus.  After much back-room dealing and intrigue, the GI Bill was signed by FDR on June 12, 1944.

Just six months later, Atherton was slamming FDR and the Democrats in this speech for Dewey.  Reading the full story of how the GI Bill came to pass, the American Legion’s approach here is rather curious and almost petty - Atherton and the Legion got everything they wanted with the GI Bill in a bi-partisan effort, but offered no recognition to the work that FDR and the Democrats put into the effort.  Looking back at the speech today, it sounds more like a grab for raw political power by Warren Atherton, rather than a genuine interest in the affairs of servicemen.

Our program was transferred from an original one-sided 16” lacquer from Empire Broadcasting Corp, 480 Lexington Avenue, New York.


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