Monday, October 08, 2007

October 8, 1944:

Wendell Willkie Dies

Dark-horse Republican presidential nominee Wendell Willkie, who died at age 52 of heart disease on this day in 1944, did not nurse any resentment to the man who had defeated him, Franklin Roosevelt. According to Willkie's great-nephew Timothy D. Walker, writing on his web site about him: "Willkie's lasting service to the nation, however, came after his defeat, and after America's entry into World War II. Almost immediately after the election, Willkie made it clear to Roosevelt that he would support the administration's war efforts... [presumably he means war preparedness efforts at that time.]

"In August 1942, FDR asked Willkie to make an airplane flight around the world as his special envoy to show the world that although America was engaged in a vigorous political debate at home, she was united in her desire to combat fascism throughout the world. What better way to do so, Willkie and FDR reasoned, than to have the President's political opponent make a goodwill tour of America's allies. Willkie's 50-day trip included stops at battle zones in Africa, the Soviet Union and China, which he reported on in a radio speech to the nation soon after he returned and in a best-selling book, One World, published in 1943. This highly influential book made a convincing plea for post-war international cooperation and solidified Willkie's role as a major force in American politics.

"Willkie also devoted much of his energy during this period promoting civil rights and civil liberties. A consistent theme of One World and Willkie's later writings was the idea that America wouldn't be able to oppose colonialism in the post-war period until she first ended her own colonial attitudes toward her racial minorities... And in late 1942, Willkie went before the Supreme Court to defended a member of the Communist Party in a landmark case regarding civil liberties (Schneiderman v. United States). Willkie won the case, but lost much political support for having defended a communist. In this regard, Willkie said: 'Those who rejoice in denying justice to one they hate, pave the way to a denial of justice for someone they love.'

"Wendell L. Willkie died... just a year and a half after the publication of One World and shortly after a failed attempt to capture the 1944 GOP presidential nomination. A thought Willkie expressed in a letter to a friend shortly before he died captures much of what the man stood for. Willkie wrote, 'If I could write my own epitaph and if I had to choose between saying, "Here lies an unimportant President," or "Here lies one who contributed to saving freedom at a moment of great peril," I would prefer the latter.' "

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