The Isolationist

Isolationist WW2 Cartoon (image source:

Isolationist WW2 Cartoon (image source:

He adjusted his collar, and pulled the triangular white handkerchief in his breast pocket to a sharper point. His hands moved methodically to his hair, slick with Brylcreem, smoothing it back from his forehead and temples. During his speeches, his head, animated and impassioned, would dishevel the hair, giving him the appearance of a mad man, as it waved, puppet-like, from side to side, and front to back. The clenching of his fist, gesturing of the hand over the crowd, and the fervent call for social justice added to his impassioned image.

He settled his wire frame glasses higher on the bridge of his nose, and wished he was a slimmer man. The face rounded and full, exuded a life of excesses. Too much good food and wine showed in his rotund visage. In a time of recession and impending war, this was not the image he wanted his followers to see. He would have to cut back. These were his people after all; good Christians, who wanted what he wanted: To stop the bankers and Jewish-Communists from infiltrating American commerce. ‘They’re not even real Americans, these Jews and bankers. Real Americans don’t want another war.’ He liked that. He repeated it aloud for his secretary and requested her to make a note of it in today’s speech. He’d tell his followers that today, on the radio broadcast.

“Real American’s need to fight against the heinous rottenness of modern capitalism, because it robs the laborer of this world’s goods,” he said aloud, “Write that down too,” he told the secretary.

“To hell with Roosevelt,” he said with gusto. “My opinion matters, and by God’s good grace, and the support of Bishop Gallaher, I will continue to be heard!”

Standing back from the full length mirror, he took in his reflection from head to toe. Impeccable black suit, black shirt and white collar, this was the image he wanted people to see. Not what the others were purporting him to be. This man smiling back at him from the mirror was an intellectual, a thinker, a man who wanted national prosperity. The left side of his mouth pulled upwards into a smug smile.

“Benedic mihipater, ad meseparandi insularum,” he said, and nodded approvingly at the man in the mirror. Latin always sounded educated and intellectual.

“What does that mean, Father?”

“It means bless me Father, for I am the isolationist,” he said, turning towards his secretary, a young woman from his province in Canada, Bytown as his father used to call Ottawa. Her grandparents were Irish immigrants, just like his parents.

“Isolationist?” she repeated. “Why is that?”

“They say I am anti-Semitic, a Jew-hater. That I want to isolate America from foreign causes.” He stepped closer to her and motioned for her to hand him today’s speech.

She tapped the pages twice on the desk, and handed the neat pile to him. “Are you?”

Lost in reading his own words, now typed neatly onto crisp white pages, he gave her no answer. She waited a few seconds in silence. He admired the eloquence of his words on paper.

“You’re not though. Are you?” she asked again.

“Nativist, Isolationist, yes, definitely. But not a Nazi, Fascist, Communist, or anti-Semitic. I want what is right and just for real Americans. ”

A thought hit her as she gathered her belongings from his desk; neither of them were born here. Yet, here was this priest telling Americans that the bankers and Jews were not real Americans.

“Did you know that my grandparents settled in Ottawa in 1845?” she asked.

“And what matter of it?” he said.

“Well, don’t you think that the current situation in Germany with the Nazi’s and Jews is similar to what my Grandparents were escaping from in Ireland in 1845?”

“In what way is it similar?”

“The Irish were driven out due to hunger imposed on them by the English.”

“And?” he said, waiting for her to connect the dots.

“Both groups were driven out of their homeland by force.”

“Ah yes,” he said, giving a few nods and massaging his chin with his right hand. “Indeed, indeed. There are similarities, as you say, but not quite in the way that you see it.” What would the lower class Corktown, Irish settlers know about political thought, or the finer nuances of intellectual processes of political leaders?

“I am not quite sure what you mean, Father. I mean being forced out of your homeland is being forced out of your homeland.”

“Take a seat,” he said, and pulled the chair back and waited for her full attention. He sat on the edge of his ornate mahogany desk, and leaned over her.

“Margaret, isn’t it?” he asked.

“Yes, Father.”

“And you are here, how long now?”

“Two weeks this past Sunday.”

“Good, good. And you like it here, Margaret?” he asked.

“It is very nice Father. I like Chicago a lot.” She nodded, and sensed that her secretarial position with him was no longer secure. There were no relatives here. She earned just enough to pay her rent for the one room apartment eight blocks away. There was a bit left over to pay for food, and send a few American dollars back to the family in Ottawa.

“Now tell me, Margaret, tell me again who was responsible for your Grandparents being forced out of Ireland?” He paused here, and added, “Who is responsible for the famine, the hunger, the starvation, the coffin ships, all of it? Tell me who is responsible for all of that.”

“The English government of that time,” she said.

“Of that time,” he repeated her words exactly. She shook her head, waiting for him to explain why she was wrong in comparing the treatment of Jews by the Nazis to the treatment of the Irish by the English in 1845.

“You’re on the right track,” he said, “but it’s the wrong side of the tracks, Margaret.” He looked at his watch, he still had time to sway her opinion.

“You see Margaret, you shouldn’t support the Jews in this case. This isn’t about being immigrants, or being forced out of your homeland. You shouldn’t side with the Jews at all on this one. They did, after all is said and done, kill our Lord and Savior. So don’t side with the Jews, don’t do it. And definitely do not side with the Brits.”

“Why not, Father?” she asked.

“Because when you side with the British, you are siding with the enemy.”

She sat, in silence, staring at him. “The enemy?”

“The enemy,” he said, and nodded emphatically. “Let me clear all this up for you. The Germans hate the English, that’s why they are bombing them. And good on them for taking care of business. If you are Irish, then you’ll hate the English and side with the Germans. Because they are doing what the Irish couldn’t. They are persecuting the Brits. Most of the English are Protestants anyway, breakaways from the one true faith, Catholicism, your own faith. Right?” He leaned forward and propped his hands on his knees, “Breakaways and Christ killers. That’s who the Germans are getting rid of. Mark my words now, Margaret, if the German’s hate the English and the Jews, you should too. The Germans are after all, Ireland’s ally, you know. Let them take care of the English and the Jews. At the end of the day, it is none of our business, really.”

She sat, staring at the eyes behind the steel rimmed glasses. He never blinked; the blue eyes glowered down into her face. He waited for her to agree.

“But, it is genocide,” she said, “Isn’t it murder, that’s what it is. And that’s a sin.”

“Do you like working here?” he said, standing up and looking at his watch.

“Yes,” she said in a small voice.

“Good, good. Well, be sure you tune into my radio broadcast at one. Don’t worry your pretty little head about these things, Margaret. Leave the political thinking to political thinkers and intellectuals. Off with you now, and I’ll see you later on at mass.”

He looked for her face in the crowd as he gave his sermon from the altar. The more he scrutinized the crowd the angrier his voice became, his gestures flamboyant, the tightly clenched fist pounding the pulpit echoed throughout the church.

“These stupid women,” he said to the altar boys disrobing in the vestibule. He tore off his cassock and threw it on the floor. It was retrieved immediately and hung neatly by the oldest altar boy. He turned to face them, and wagged a finger of warning in their direction. “Remember boys,” he said, “Women are too fragile in the mind to comprehend the complexities of important decisions. That’s a man’s job. It is best that women be told what to do.”

He looked at the stained glass Christ on the window before him, exposing his sacred heart for all to see and pity. “I hope she enjoys her impoverished life back in Ottawa,” he said, and muttered behind clenched teeth, “The ungrateful little bitch.”


2 thoughts on “The Isolationist

    • Thanks Mike. I had never heard of this Father Charles Coughlin until last year. My writing teacher told me about him. Then I watched an interview about Noam Chomsky and he mentioned he grew up in Brooklyn, and was bullied by the Irish kids. Chomsky is Jewish. When the interviewer asked him why he was bullied by the Irish for being Jewish Chomsky said it was because the Irish hated the English, and they sided with the Germans during WW2 therefore the Jewish people were being persecuted by the Germans and were considered by some of the Irish as being an enemy also. I always believed the Irish and Jewish had a lot more in common, but I guess at the start of WW2 not everyone saw the commonalities of what happened to the Irish in 1845- and what was happening to the Jewish people.

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