Japanese-Promoted Isolationism: Scribner’s Commentator 1941
|Why It's Interesting|
All scholars are indebted to Charles Scribner’s Sons for the fine books and journals it published. It gave America the magazines that blossomed as Century and St. Nicholas [though these prospered only after others took control of them]. Scribner’s Magazine first serialized Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. But as this journal’s circulated flagged, Scribner folded it and then merged it with a magazine called Commentator. Beginning in November 1939, Scribner’s Commentator emerged as the mainstream voice of the America First Lobby and Isolationism. The issue posted here boasted that it was the first issued from its new headquarters in Wisconsin, whose clear American air was a pleasing “contrast to the choking atmosphere of defeatism we left behind in refugee-dominated New York.” Several important contributors to this issue who would soon come to regret this association included Robert Maynard Hutchins, President of the University of Chicago, and General George C. Kenney.
Shortly after the Pearl Harbor attack, a magazine staffer pled guilty to accepting bribes from Japanese officials for promoting Isolationist sentiment. A mortified Scribner’s immediately killed the magazine.
This issue opened with a long statement quoting Lindbergh, the chief spokesman for American First, and included numerous anti-Roosevelt articles and cartoons. The political cartoons went out of their way to include the handful of Jewish officials in Roosevelt’s administration, including Morgenthau, Frankfurter, and one simply labeled Cohen. Frankfurter, soon to join the Supreme Court, was singled out in both of them.
This website seeks to encourage researchers and collectors to discover and study obscure ephemera that document American culture and life. Worldcat reveals that most of the items that I post cannot be found in more than a few research libraries–often none at all. Alternately, research libraries do not bother to catalog ephemeral publications like these. I believe, however, that because these were distributed free, or at nominal cost, to consumers, they were the publications most likely to make their way into homes and be read by large numbers of Americans.
I acquire pre-1960 examples of the kinds of publications that prove so useful when scholars study 19th-Century America. The limited competition that I encounter for them suggests that libraries, which could easily outbid me, have little interest in post-Civil War and 20th-century ephemeral publications in general.
I try to anticipate what materials future historians will find useful. Being an historian first and a collector second, I organized this website to encourage others to do this too—even if this means new competition for me. I am aware that I could be wrong in prizing particular ephemera or even whole classes of ephemera. I may even be wrong to encourage scholars to study obscure ephemeral publications; these may be obscure for good reason.
Ephemerastudies.org will permit me to share with others the information and imagery that I am acquiring, and to benefit from the knowledge, intelligence and experience of other scholars and collectors. Please contact me with your impressions of the site.