This is a tale of two migrants to Minnesota, both of whom settled in Minneapolis and eventually came to represent the city and some of its suburbs in Congress. Each took a special interest in international affairs, bringing a unique perspective rooted in experiences far from the American Midwest.
One is a Democrat; the other was the last Republican to hold the House seat representing Minneapolis. Today the DFLer's is a household name, well beyond Minnesota. The other was once a familiar name, at least somewhat beyond Minnesota. But he has long since been mostly forgotten.
And yet he deserves to be remembered, just as the current incumbent will deserve to be remembered. As different as their stories are, they are both uniquely American stories. And therein lies a larger tale.
The incumbent, of course, is Ilhan Omar. The last Republican to hold her seat was Rep. Walter Judd.
There is no need to recount the tale of the migration of a young Somali girl to Minnesota and her rapid rise to political office. Her story is both well-known and impressive. But there is a need to recall for today's readers the long-forgotten story of Walter Judd and his rise to political office and influence. Judd's rise, which came a good deal later in life for Judd than for Omar, began in, as it happens, Rising City, Neb.
Born there in September 1898, Judd received his bachelor's and medical degrees from the University of Nebraska. Between 1925 and 1931 he was a medical missionary in China. After several years' duty at Rochester's Mayo Clinic, he returned to China, where he served until 1938 as a physician and a Christian missionary.
Those were years of great upheaval in China, as the Kuomintang regime, led by Chiang Kai-shek, simultaneously faced a Japanese invasion and an internal Communist rebellion led by Mao Zedong. Judd was a witness to the mounting chaos and an advocate for Chiang against both the invaders and the rebels.
According to biographer Lee Edwards, Judd felt "real despair" for the first time in his life as he observed what the Japanese Army was doing to the Chinese people. He became convinced that by returning home he could "render greater service not only to China but to America as well." As he put it in early 1938, "my hope for the Christian gospel in China lies in America."
Back in Minnesota, Judd did not hesitate to speak out against the Roosevelt administration's failure to halt U.S.-Japanese trade, which was helping to fuel Japan's war machine. Born and raised a Democrat, Judd also had come to have serious doubts about FDR's domestic New Deal agenda.
In November of 1940, with war raging in Europe and Asia and a debate raging in America over what the nation's posture should be, Judd cast his first ballot for a Republican by voting for internationalist GOP nominee Wendell Willkie — and thus against both FDR's quest for a third term and Charles Lindbergh's call for America First isolationism. Willkie's defeat notwithstanding, Judd would reluctantly decide to join a Republican Party that was then dominated by isolationists who saw little reason for American involvement in either Asia or Europe.
By the summer of 1941 Judd was practicing medicine in Minneapolis, while still finding time to speak throughout the city about both his experiences in China and the importance of waking up to the threat posed by Japan.
Sunday morning, Dec. 7, 1941, found Dr. Judd addressing the Mayflower Congregational Church in the city. Only later that morning did he learn of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, an attack that he had tried "so darn hard to prevent."
On the following Sunday, Judd surprised the parishioners of his own church, Plymouth Congregational, by telling them that he had "more hope for my country today ... than I have had since the latter days of the First World War, for at last we have been stabbed awake and we are on the march."
Would Judd join that march by running for Congress? He was reluctant. To his wife, Miriam, the idea was "perfectly ridiculous." The couple had not even lived long enough in Minneapolis to vote there. Besides, "he was a physician, not a politician."
Ridiculous or not, Judd decided to run. He ousted the incumbent, Republican Oscar Youngdahl, in the September primary, before defeating both his Democratic and Farmer-Labor opponents in the general election. Thus began a 20-year run for U.S. Rep. Walter Judd.
During those two decades in office Judd nudged the GOP in an internationalist direction, working with Democratic President Harry Truman to prosecute the Cold War on a bipartisan basis. He supported America's involvement in the Korean War, and in the 1952 race for the GOP presidential nomination he sided with Dwight Eisenhower over Sen. Robert Taft of Ohio, whose isolationist worldview, it was said, could be summed up in two words: Beat Michigan.
Judd also sought to save China from Communist control and, failing that, later helped assure a free Chinese government in Taiwan. His nominating speech for Richard Nixon in 1960 almost landed him on the national GOP ticket. Freedom at home and abroad was the theme of that speech, as it was the thrust of Judd's entire political career.
Judd's overriding theme as representative of Minnesota's Fifth District was that the United States, notwithstanding its flaws, was essentially a force for good in the world. The contrast with today's Fifth District officeholder could not be clearer. For Ilhan Omar and the American left, this country has been largely a force for ill in the world — and will continue to be just that until it is in some way fundamentally transformed.
Whether America is a force for good or ill is a question near the heart of the great divide in our country today. Yet isolationism is a temptation, however one answers the question.
The rightist isolationists Judd opposed long ago wanted America to stay home to avoid contamination by the rest of the world, while the leftist isolationists he surely would oppose today want America to stay home to avoid contaminating the rest of the world. Once we were too good for the world; now we are too bad for it.
It's curious, isn't it? Eight decades ago America could more justly have been charged with terrible sins of racism and segregation, and was far closer in time to the still worse injustices of slavery and Indian wars and removals. And yet Walter Judd had no doubts about the successes and goodness of his America.
Meanwhile, one might think that a young girl from Somalia would be overflowing with gratitude to a country that offered her refuge, welcomed her and elevated her to national leadership, and to a city that has accepted her with all the nonchalance it might show a new arrival from, say, Rising City, Neb. Yet Omar seems to have few doubts about the failures and sins of her America.
In the not-too-distant future the fate of what's left of free China, the fate of Taiwan, may well be in American hands. Will our response be shaped by the Judd vision of America or by the Omar vision? Stay tuned.
John C. "Chuck" Chalberg writes from Bloomington.