Superman vs. the VFW?

In the department of stuff you come across while looking for something else, I found this radio show (the link brings on streaming audio). Click, and you can listen to a “thousands of GI’s” protesting “racial discrimination in state hiring,” and a kind of unusual ally has their backs: Superman, who flies in to stop the state troopers ordered to fire on the vets. Not unusual, it turns out, for the Superman radio show of 1940-1951, whose stories never appeared in comics and which also featured Superman vs. The Clan of the Fiery Cross (also known as the KKK).

This is all old news to true geeks, and doubtless other better writers than I, like  Michael Chabon. But I stumbled across it while poking around for something almost no one remembers (sort of my specialty): the American Veterans Committee.

AVC was a short-lived World War II veterans’ organization whose slogan was “Citizens First, Veterans Second.” And that story about the veterans protest was grounded in the same reality that gave AVC nearly a million members at its start.

By mid-1946, when that story ran,  literally 12,000 active-duty soldiers were busy protesting at bases around the world, accusing the Truman administrationof dragging its feet in getting them home. One famously told Truman, “Give us our independence or go home to yours!”  AVC, founded by the fellow below (who is not, as he seems, Orson Welles), had on its board civil rights icon Medgar Evers and Howard Zinn, among others. Many were writers, like Benjamin Bradlee and E.J. Kahn, and doubtless others found their way to that Superman show. In September of ’46, the AVC issued a special commendation to the producers of the show for its quiet linking of veterans with “social tolerance.”


Actually, the VFW had issued a similar award the month before, though it was for promoting “the American way” – code for crushing “commie” stuff like those  “tolerant” Superman shows, which shut down in 1951 in favor of the commie-busting TV version.  No place in the new Cold War for such thoughts — or for a veterans group that saw itself as composed of angelic troublemakers (e.g.  sleeping in L.A. streets as a housing protest).  By the time the 1954  Senate Subcommittee Hearings on Juvenile Delinquency tamed Superman completely, the AVC had mostly collapsed under a not-unfamiliar perfect storm of personality clashes, sectarian-left noise (snooze) and McCarthyism. Leaving veterans of that war to choose between the American Legion and the VFW, as odious to them as to many OEF/OIF vets now.  Its founders basically did neither, choosing instead journalism, or film, or think tanks like the Carnegie Foundation for International Peace.

What happened next is still happening: some will be in the book. Stay tuned for some character sketches.

But I wonder if it would be too much of a cheat to lede my “necessary war” chapter with that fictional scene of “thousands of GIs.” (What do you think?)


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