John Thomas Flynn (October 25, 1882 – April 13, 1964) was an American journalist best known for his opposition to President Franklin D. Roosevelt and to American entry into World War II. In September 1940, Flynn helped establish the America First Committee (AFC). He was also the first to advance the Pearl Harbor advance-knowledge conspiracy theory.
After graduating from Georgetown Law School, Flynn chose a career in journalism. He started at the New Haven Register, but eventually moved to New York; there he was financial editor of the New York Globe. During the 1920s and 1930s, he wrote articles for such leading publications as The New Republic, Harper's Magazine, and Collier's Weekly. He became one of the best-known political commentators in the United States. Like Oswald Garrison Villard, another key figure in the Old Right, Flynn was a leftist with populist inclinations during this period. He supported Franklin D. Roosevelt for president but criticized the New Deal. In 1939, he predicted that Social Security would be under water by 1970, and insolvent by 1980.
Consistently at all stages of his literary career, Flynn opposed militarism. He was a key advisor to the 1934 Nye Committee, which investigated the role of the so-called "merchants of death" (munitions manufacturers and bankers) in leading to U.S. entry into World War I.
By 1936, Flynn had publicly broken with Roosevelt. He was already drawing comparisons between the centralist features of the New Deal on the one hand, and Benito Mussolini's policies on the other: "We seem [he wrote] to be not a long way off from the kind of Fascism which Mussolini preached in Italy before he assumed power; and we are steadily approaching the conditions which made Fascism possible."
Flynn was one of the founders of the America First Committee, the first nationally organized coalition of the many politically wide-ranging groups which opposed America's entry into World War II. Flynn and the America Firsters accused FDR of falsely claiming that he wanted to keep America out of the war, while in reality pursuing a number of increasingly militant policies to help Britain in every way possible, in violation of the neutrality treaties which had been passed by isolationist Senators earlier in the 1930s. Flynn soon became head of the New York City chapter, and, largely through his efforts, quickly claimed a membership of 135,000. As Roosevelt rolled out a series of policies to give "all help short of war," America First mounted campaigns against them, on the grounds that each of them, in fact, did constitute war: first, the nation's first peacetime draft - Selective Service, begun in 1940, then Lend-Lease which allowed the British, near bankruptcy, to continue to buy the food and arms they needed as they reached their second year of resisting Nazi invasion single-handedly. Both these passed in Congress, but America First gained enormous momentum in a nation riven by the entirely contradictory wishes to both support the British yet stay out of the war, with 850,000 members within a year of its founding.
In September, 1941, Flynn organized a Senate subcommittee investigation led by Senator Wheeler, into the movie studios for creating pro-British and pro-interventionist "propaganda" in more than 50 Hollywood films., with studio heads Jack Warner and Daryl Zanuck compelled to testify.
On December 7, 1941 – the moment he heard about Pearl Harbor – Flynn wanted the America First Committee to disband, and throw their support entirely toward the war effort – which it did, on December 11, 1941.
Flynn had by then turned entirely against New Deal progressivism, which he regarded not as liberal at all, but as a "degenerate form of socialism and debased form of capitalism". In 1944 he wrote a sharp critique of the American drift toward what he termed "statism": As We Go Marching. This essay warned of an unholy alliance influencing U.S. foreign policy, and included these words satirising the view presented by advocates of foreign wars:
The enemy aggressor is always pursuing a course of larceny, murder, rapine and barbarism. We are always moving forward with high mission, a destiny imposed by the Deity to regenerate our victims, while incidentally capturing their markets; to civilise savage and senile and paranoid peoples, while blundering accidentally into their oil wells.
In fall 1944, Flynn completed a 25-page document entitled The Truth about Pearl Harbor which so impressed publisher Robert McCormick that he had it printed in its entirety, beginning on the front page of the October 22 Chicago Tribune, in hopes of influencing the upcoming election. Flynn argued that Roosevelt and his inner circle had been plotting to provoke the Japanese into an attack on the U.S. and thus provide a reason to enter the war since January 1941 and that the sanctions which the Roosevelt Administration had placed on Japan during that year were intended for that purpose – the oil embargo, specifically – whose lifting was attached to conditions it knew Japan could never agree to. Flynn also alleged that Pearl Harbor's able Navy and Army commanders, Admiral Husband E. Kimmel and General Walter Short, were left without proper warning that conditions had deteriorated to this extent with Japan, so they would be caught off guard. Flynn had the article reprinted in pamphlet form, distributed out of his office, and this would mark the beginning of Pearl Harbor advance-knowledge conspiracy theory or (less pejoratively) hypothesis. Robert Stinnett's Day of Deceit (2000) provides extensive documentary evidence obtained by Freedom of Information Act that substantiates these claims in great detail.
Shortly after his brief tenure working with the GOP for the 1944 presidential elections, Flynn learned that GOP candidate Dewey had gotten hold of the highly classified information that America had broken the Japanese naval code early in 1940 – long before the attack on Pearl Harbor – but, at the administration's request, not made this information public. Besides lowering his opinion of the GOP as too weak to fight his nemesis, Roosevelt, Flynn further reasoned that meant FDR must have known in precise detail that the attack was coming and deliberately withheld this information from the now-disgraced commanders in order to create an outraged demand for war.
Flynn added this information to his booklet, retitling it: "The Final Secret of Pearl Harbor", which again ran as a front-page story in the Chicago Tribune, and became a booklet printed and distributed by Merwin K. Hart's National Economic Council. Flynn's evidence led to a new congressional investigation of the attack, for which Flynn became chief investigator. However, two Republicans joined the Democrats on the committee in creating a report that ostensibly vindicated Roosevelt.
During the Cold War period, Flynn continued his opposition to interventionist foreign policies and militarism. An early critic of American involvement in the affairs of Indochina, he maintained that sending US troops would "only be proving the case of the Communists against America that we are defending French imperialism."
Flynn became an early and avid supporter of Senator Joseph McCarthy. This was ironic because Flynn "had long ridiculed the idea that communism was a threat to America.", dismissing American Communists as a tiny handful of fractious, isolated radicals who were too busy attacking each other to attack capitalism. In March, 1943, he wrote that fighting communism in America was "a waste of time," when the real issue was fascism, his argument in his next book, As We Go Marching (1946).
For many years Flynn made his home in Bayside, New York in a large compound overlooking Little Neck Bay, with a house and a separate building he used as a broadcasting studio. He was a neighbor and friend of Mrs. James J. Corbett, the widow of boxing champion "Gentleman Jim" Corbett.
His son, Thomas Flynn, was an influential figure credited with helping to save New York City from bankruptcy in the 1970s.