How the Legionnaires Were Duped

A graduate of Clark University who served as a navigator in air sea rescue during the war, BEN H. BAGDIKIAN has been a reporter and columnist on one of New England's ablest newspapers, the Providence Journal, since 1947. In April of this year he received a Sidney Hillman Foundation award for a series of articles on the national effects of the internal security program; and he is now in Europe, where, as an Ogden Reid Fellow, he is engaged in a year's study of the party press.
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In the days that followed, the work of the Murphy Committee was heard among newspapers, magazines, and civic groups. Men who for years had regarded the Legion as little more than a comic assembly for dumping grand pianos out of hotel windows took a fresh look at the organization. Words of respect and hope came not only from the Legion's friends but from some of its severest critics of the past. Among some Legion leaders there was open talk that this might signify a shift in Legion direction, and that the Legion might at last draw upon the civic and intellectual leadership of the country, where its attraction had always been negligible. Almost no one pretends that there was much rank-and-file reaction one way or the other.

But one group of men was intensely interested. This was the band of propagandists whose hobbyhorse had long been fighting the United Nations. They formed the anti-UNESCO lobby at Miami. In the months preceding the convention they conducted a propaganda and organizational campaign against the UNESCO report which was unknown with Legion issues of this kind.

Jenkins, of Florida, sent telegrams to department commanders reminding them that a congressional "evaluation" of UNESCO could be obtained for only one and one-half cents a copy, and sent out under congressional frank. Congress, of course, had investigated UNESCO and given it a clean bill of health. But the "evaluation" Jenkins pressed was, in effect, an attack on UNESCO by an individual Representative.

Legion officers in every state began to get literature on UNESCO from the Washington office of the Legion's national Americanism Commission. This was not an official action of the Americanism Commission, a distinction lost on most state officials getting the literature. The material just happened to come from the office of the commission. It was all anti-UNESCO literature. The chief work of this mailing was a copy of the August 15, 1954, Florida Legionnaire, whose lead article was headed: "Warns Peril for U.S. Lies in UNESCO." It was by Joe C. Jenkins. Past department commander Jenkins began his article: "Folks, I was terribly disturbed a month ago on discovering that a whitewashing report on UNESCO . . . was filed by a special committee of the American Legion . . . ." Jenkins offered below his article an eleven-column presentation by what he called "the best authority on UNESCO I know of in America." The "authority" was Florence Fowler Lyons of Los Angeles.

In the meantime, Murphy's official report remained outside the official distribution machinery of the Legion. Murphy had to pay $700 of his own money to help defray printing costs. It is doubtful whether 100 delegates and alternates of the 6400 ever saw the Special Committee report. A poll of the 454 delegates and alternates of the New York delegation which was interested - showed that two had read the Murphy report.

When the Legionnaires gathered in Miami, the streets were full of the usual high jinks with electric canes and squirting rosettes. But in the smoke-filled hotel rooms some of the political high jinks were unconventional even for the Legion.

For the first time in Legion history two major convention committees, Foreign Relations and Americanism, were joined, and it was noted that many persons appeared on the joint committee for the first time. Offered as chairman of the joint committee was Joe C. Jenkins, but he stepped down in favor of Rogers Kelley of the Texas delegation. In the important job of secretary of the joint committee there appeared Edgar Bundy, of Wheaton, Illinois. A ten-man subcommittee was named to issue a UNESCO resolution, and on it were familiar faces in the anti-UNESCO circuit. One member of the Murphy Committee was on the subcommittee.

The subcommittee heard testimony. Speaking in favor of UNESCO were three members of the Special Committee and a state senator from Wisconsin. It was generally agreed that their presentations were restrained and unemotional.

A succession of delegates spoke against UNESCO. A major witness was Colonel Owsley, the Legion's ranking orator. "I know the foreigner and I know what the foreigner thinks of us," he told the subcommittee. He said he would "throw the United Nations into the sea." In a burst of indignation he cried that a UNESCO scientist had reported that there is no difference between the blood of the white man and the blood of the black man.

Supporters of UNESCO say that defeat of any temperance in the matter was a foregone conclusion from the moment the convention gathered. The anti-UNESCO lobby was in complete control at all times and so dominated the committee that it was seriously suggested that the Murphy Committee should be officially censured.

Some measure of the level of thinking in the lobby that dominated the joint committee can be gained from the proposal made by its secretary, Edgar Bundy, that when Secretary of State John Foster Dulles rose to deliver the keynote address, the entire convention of Legionnaires should walk out. He also attempted to have the committee pass a resolution calling for United States withdrawal from the United Nations. These were more than the committee was prepared to do. But the lobby had its way on UNESCO. Bundy wrote the final resolution that flatly asserted charges which eighteen months of investigation had shown to be invalid.

Getting quick convention action was not hard. Rogers Kelley read the formal resolution condemning UNESCO to the convention and moved for its adoption. By prearrangement, another member of the subcommittee, Roane Waring, of Tennessee, was at a microphone on the stage and immediately seconded the motion. National Commander Seaborn Collins then intoned rapidly, "All-those-in-favor-say-'aye'-the-vote-has-carried." Observers estimate the call to vote and closing of the matter took no more than thirty seconds. All agree that there was no call for discussion or for a negative vote.

Immediately after this sleight of hand, Churchill T. Williams of Oelwein, Iowa, commander of the Iowa department, rose to say that the 109 Iowa votes wanted to be cast against the resolution. He was ruled out of order. There seems little doubt other delegations would have fought the resolution if a democratic vote had been taken. John D. Sullivan, of the New York delegation, reports: "Upon the record it will appear that the New York delegation cast an affirmative vote for the report. Actually, the few members of the New York delegation who were present sat in stunned silence and did not vote at all."

Neither the gaveling through of the vote nor the committee-room machinations are unknown to other national conventions. Certainly the Legion is no different in this respect from many labor unions, political parties, and fraternal orders where a hot issue has to be disposed of. But although the UNESCO vote itself is of little importance as such, what it represents in the future of the Legion is important.

Many thoughtful men in the Legion are convinced that in the coming years the Legion is in danger of becoming in reality what it is thought to be by its critics: a fraternity of aging hell-raisers who pause each year to make wild statements on national affairs.

To thousands outside the Legion, the Murphy report on UNESCO was an eye-opener to the latent talent arid wisdom that actually reside within the American Legion. The report was a tough-minded, judicious consideration of a complicated issue that brought to the Legion a respect among national leaders it had never before enjoyed.

By permitting a zealous band of extremists to frustrate this work, the Legion did more than make itself look ridiculous. It lost a rare opportunity to gain new stature in American democracy.

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