For most of its thirty-six years the American Legion has been issuing strident alarms against extremist minorities who might work their will against the national interest. These years of vigilance reached a climax at the convention in Miami last year when the Legion condemned the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization.
That the Legion would have an initial bias against UNESCO, or any international agency, is not unnatural. The heart of the organization is in the rural and small-town Midwest, an isolationist region. Only during war and in rare instances in peacetime have its conventions encouraged international cooperation. Its most common attitude is one of supernationalism at home and acceptance of the devil theory that whenever anything international goes badly for the United States some traitor or "dupe" is responsible.
In 1950, for example, its Foreign Relations Committee condemned the State Department for the loss of China and for general Communist advances. The man who drafted the original paragraph of censure was Ray Murphy, an Iowa lawyer and national commander of the Legion in 1935.
In 1951 the Legion became concerned with the United Nations' Covenant of Human Rights. The national commander at the time, Donald R. Wilson, a man with serious doubts about the United Nations, felt confident in appointing Murphy chairman of a Special Committee to study the United Nations matter. With Murphy were two past department commanders (each state is a Legion "department"), a past department chaplain, a national executive committeeman, and a past national commander of the Legion Auxiliary (the women's branch). In 1953 when UNESCO was criticized by the Legion's national executive committee, Murphy's Special Committee was given the job of studying that agency to see if it violated American principles and interests. The majority of the committee, including its chairman, said they expected their study would prove the allegations that UNESCO promotes world government, atheism, and Communism.
UNESCO, good or bad, is not a big issue in the American Legion or, for that matter, the nation at large. One poll showed that only 15 percent of Americans knew what it was. An observer at the Miami convention said, "The eggheads thought UNESCO wrote the 'Roumanian Rhapsody' and the average guy thought it was a cookie." So when the Special Committee gave a preliminary report on UNESCO in 1954 asking for another year of study but indicating it had found nothing subversive in UNESCO so far, the rank and file paid no attention to it. But some Legionnaires with special interests did. In 1954 the inherent isolationism of the Legion was being exploited on a local level by extremists agitating against the United Nations, the State Department, and the Eisenhower Administration, and promoting a number of rather unattractive movements.
In Illinois, the Legion's biggest department, a fight for power was in progress. Irving Breakstone then department commander, a moderate was being attacked by what is known as the "Chicago Tribune Wing" of the Illinois Legion. A powerful figure in that wing is Edgar Bundy, of Wheaton, an evangelist minister who attended the 1954 state convention wearing a necktie emblazoned "I Like McCarthy and I Like His Methods." Later he boasted that he engineered the Illinois resolution condemning the Girl Scout Handbook for being too "internationalistic." He also got through a state resolution calling for United States withdrawal from the United Nations.
Bundy and the rest of the "Tribune Wing" overturned the moderates in Illinois in 1954, and went to the national convention in 1955 determined to put the entire Legion on record against UNESCO and the United Nations. Although retiring department commander Breakstone, by long-standing Legion custom, should have been chairman of the powerful Illinois delegation to Miami, the new state hierarchy broke tradition and named an anti-United Nations man.
In California, most noticeably in Los Angeles, the Legion became involved in the UNESCO mess in the Los Angeles schools. A woman possessed with a violent hatred of anything international, Florence Fowler Lyons, was a source of widely publicized errors about UNESCO and about its role in the schools. Certain Legionnaires in California acted as publicists for these allegations.
In Florida the department commander, Joe C. Jenkins, was propagandizing against UNESCO and the United Nations and using the full state Legion machinery for it. He sponsored a bill in the Florida legislature that would have denied public funds to any educational institution teaching anything about UNESCO. The bill died in committee. But Jenkins was chairman of the delegation to Miami.
ON MAY 5, 1955, the national executive committee of the Legion met in its special room at national headquarters in Indianapolis. The committeemen had in their hands the i40.-page report of the Special Committee on UNESCO. It represented eighteen months of study and was the most exhaustive investigation ever conducted in the history of the Legion. Murphy's committee had read every word ever uttered in congressional testimony on the subject of UNESCO, and literally thousands of primary documents, all at their own expense in travel and time. They catalogued every charge against the agency and narrowed these down to twenty-three allegations. The report is probably the most comprehensive treatment of UNESCO criticism ever compiled.
The Special Committee found the anti-UNESCO charges baseless. The agency did not promote world government. Nothing promoting atheism could be found, and the participation of Catholic leaders and the Holy See in UNESCO programs belied atheistic control. No pro-Communism was found; in fact, satellites had left it because they claimed it was pro-Western.
What's more, the investigation showed that all twenty-three charges against UNESCO appeared to originate with material disseminated by the American Flag Committee, of Philadelphia, headed by W. Henry MacFarland, Jr., which, it said, "is hardly more or less than the successor to Mr. MacFarland's Nationalist Action League, a title MacFarland abandoned after the League was designated
as 'fascist' by the Attorney General of the United States." The committee also quoted house Un-American Activities Committee reports that MacFarland participated in activities of Gerald L. K. Smith, the country's noisiest race-hate agitator, and the National Renaissance Party, the organized remnant of the Nazi movement in the United States.
Murphy's oral summary to the seventy-nine members of the national executive committee of the Legion that Thursday in May took two hours. When he sat down the entire assembly rose and gave him an ovation that is unprecedented in the history of national executive meetings. If there was opposition to the UNESCO report in the Legion's top leadership, it was hardly in evidence in May.