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America First:
the Anti-War Movement, Charles Lindbergh
and the Second World War, 1940-1941

David Gordon
History Department
Bronx Community College / CUNY Graduate Center

 Originally presented at a joint meeting of the Historical Society and
The New York Military Affairs Symposium
on September 26, 2003

             Democratic nations seldom go to war willingly.  The natural instinct of voters is to preserve peace whenever possible.  Aided by a free press, there is also never a shortage of those ready to suggest alternatives to conflict. Yet sometimes war is inevitable.  This is most obviously true when a nation is attacked.  For some there is no other legitimate reason for war.  Others believe that hostile intent on the part of other countries is also sufficient cause.  The legitimacy of this view, as well as the question of how one measures intent, can be the subject of much debate.  Such times are painful moments in the life of a nation.  The United States faced such a crisis during the first years of the Second World War.  Following the fall of France in the spring of 1940, some Americans wanted to enter the war on the side of Britain against what they believed was a Nazi threat to democracy everywhere.  The great majority did not. Yet most also believed Germany would eventually attack the United States.[1]  They therefore wanted to give Britain whatever it needed to survive, in order to preserve it as a bulwark against eventual Nazi aggression.

            The America First Committee, created in September 1940, was not only against entry into the war.  It also opposed aid.  Its program was simple.  Since the United States, if properly armed, was impregnable against German attack, there was no reason to help England.  Aid would not only fatally weaken America‘s own defenses. It would also draw the country into the conflict.[2]  The leaders of the AFC claimed they were motivated by concern for American lives.  For some, this was no doubt true.  For others, humanitarian rhetoric hid different motives.  Many joined the AFC as a way of attacking President Roosevelt and the New Deal.  Still others had more sinister reasons.  The evolution of the America First movement in the eighteen months of debate preceding Pearl Harbor revealed xenophobic and anti-Semitic sentiment both within the AFC leadership, and among its supporters.  This study of the America First Committee is thus a cautionary tale.  It is a reminder that anti-war movements are not always, or entirely, the humanitarian movements their supporters claim them to be.  But it is also a moral tale, asking an important question in international relations - that of what one democratic nation owes another in times of mortal danger.


            Americans had been largely indifferent to the beginning of Nazi dictatorship in 1933.  Opinion had begun to change only after kristallnacht, the first important anti-Jewish pogrom in Germany in November of 1938, and the occupation of the Czech lands the following March.[3]  By the summer of 1939, when war between Germany and the western democracies seemed inevitable, most Americans had assumed it would be a long struggle, in which a British naval blockade would eventually strangle Germany into submission.  Opinion in the United States was overwhelmingly in favor of staying out of the war.  At the same time, an October Fortune magazine poll showed 85% of Americans hoped Britain and France would win.[4]

            Assumptions about the course of the war changed in the spring of 1940.  The sudden collapse of France, arguably the greatest surprise of the European conflict, left England to face Germany alone.  An even larger number of Americans as a result came to believe Hitler would eventually attack them  They were more anxious than ever to make sure Britain would not lose, and wanted to supply the munitions necessary to preserve the last important democracy in Europe.[5]  Pro-British organization like Friends of Democracy, founded in 1937, and the Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies, created in May of 1940, enjoyed increased support.[6]  A more stridently interventionist group, the Fight For Freedom Committee, followed in April of 1941.[7]  Still, as late as November of 1941 only one American in four favored an immediate declaration of war.[8]


            This kind of anti-war sentiment was not enough to reassure America First.  Its leaders remembered how most Americans had wanted to stay out of the First War.   Wilson’s 1916 electoral slogan claimed “He kept us out of war.”  In the end none of it had mattered.  Less than six months after being re-elected, Wilson had brought the nation into the fight.  America Firsters were certain Roosevelt would do the same.  The greatest weakness of the anti-war movement before 1917 had been widespread sympathy for Britain and France.  It remained so in 1940.  The central task of the Committee therefore became to reduce support for Britain.  Building on the fears of the electorate, its leaders set out to convince Americans that aid was synonymous with war.  But America First did much more.  It claimed the nation could work peacefully and profitably with Germany.  It consistently minimized or ignored Hitler’s crimes in Europe.  At the same time the Committee’s unceasing criticism of the British Empire helped convince at least some voters that democratic England was not only an unworthy recipient of American aid, it was also undeserving of American sympathy. 


            The America First Committee initially had seemed only the latest and most extreme example of isolationist opinion in the United States that had grown up in the 1920s, and which had become stronger during the Great Depression.  There had been a widespread belief in America since 1919 that the country had gained nothing out of the First War. That this was not true had little effect.  The earliest important anti-war organization, the Keep America Out of War Congress, had been created in 1938 by Socialist Norman Thomas with the help of liberals like John T. Flynn, Oswald Garrison Villard, the former editor of the Nation, and Harry Elmer Barnes, revisionist historian of the First World War.[9]  Anti-war organizations on American campuses were similarly led by liberals, Socialists and Communists. The Committee itself had been created by two Yale students.  (One, Robert Douglas Stuart Jr., a 24 year old  Princeton graduate, and son of the senior vice president of the Quaker Oats Company, was a law student sympathetic with New Deal reforms.[10]  The other was Kingman Brewster.[11])  America First therefore appeared neither particularly conservative, nor pro-German.  It was not surprising that Thomas and Villard soon joined the executive board.[12] 

            However, most AFC supporters were neither liberal, nor Socialist.  Many simply wanted to stay out of the war.  Since many also came from the Midwest, an area never as sensitive to European problems as the east coast, isolationist arguments was soon buttressed by more traditional prejudices against eastern industrial and banking interests.   (Almost two-thirds of the Committee’s 850,000 registered supporters would eventually come from the Midwest, mostly from a radius of three hundred miles around Chicago.)[13]  Many AFC supporters were certain industry and the banks wanted war for their own profit.[14]  Many other supporters were Republicans who flocked to the AFC for partisan political reasons.  Still others were covertly pro-German.  Some were German-Americans whose sentimental attachments had not been diminished by the crimes of the Nazi regime.  Others, whether of German origin or not, were attracted to Hitler’s racism and anti-Semitism.

            Midwestern voters had long been suspicious of eastern elites.  The building of transcontinental railroads, organized by New York bankers and financed with British capital, had opened new markets for farm produce.  Yet dependence on them had also created fear and hatred in many farming states.[15]  By the 1890s, the struggle for a “cheap dollar” that would help farmers pay off mortgages, and which led them to support a silver and gold based currency, had brought them into open conflict with New York bankers anxious to preserve a gold standard.  William Jennings Bryan’s “Cross of Gold” speech had stirred many farming communities.  It had done little to advance their cause.  Farm fortunes had improved dramatically during the First World War, when J.P  Morgan and Company, as official British purchasing agent, had paid inflated prices for Midwest produce. But it was the subsequent collapse of farm prices after 1920 (when the  commodity price index fell from 205 that year to 116 in 1921) that was remembered in the decades before Pearl Harbor.[16]  The enduring anger this created would provide fertile ground for anti-British and anti-eastern rhetoric.

            Senator Gerald Nye of North Dakota was typical of those Western and Midwestern politicians who combined support for farmers  with hostility to the east.  As chair of the Senate’s Munitions Investigating Committee between 1934 and 1935, he had delighted constituents by questioning the patriotism of industrial and financial leaders like the DuPonts and J.P. Morgan.[17]  Convinced these same groups were again attempting to get America into war, he became one of Congress’s most eloquent supporters of America First. He was joined by Senators Burton Wheeler of Montana, William Borah of Idaho, Robert La Follette of Wisconsin, George Norris of Nebraska, Robert Taft of Ohio and Henrick Shipstead of Minnesota, among others.  All except Taft were Progressives who had supported much of Roosevelt’s domestic agenda.[18]  Some, like Nye, who wanted a reorganization of the Federal Reserve system for the benefit of farmers, had even found the president’s first New Deal too moderate.[19]  They now opposed his efforts to bring America into the war.  Like Nye, they were certain it would hurt farmers, while helping industry and the banks.  They also wanted to avoid helping Britain.  Some feared war would detract from domestic reforms. Finally, all had become suspicious of what seemed Roosevelt’s overweening ambition.[20]  The president’s decision to run for an unprecedented third term had troubled many.  That his decision had been made more acceptable because of the war crisis made them angry.[21]  They suspected the president was pushing the nation towards war primarily to get reelected.  Like Nye, many Progressive senators therefore turned against his anti-Nazi policies, and supported America First.


            The AFC found partisans in other quarters as well. Progressive senators may have helped  the Committee, but its most important supporters were a core group of Republican Chicago businessmen.  Chief among them was General Robert Wood, CEO of Sears, Roebuck, who had replaced the impossibly young R. Douglas Stuart as president of America First.  Wood had served during the First World War as acting Quartermaster General of the army.  After joining Marshall Field in the immediate post-war period, he later moved to Sears, Roebuck, eventually becoming president, and finally, in 1939, chairman of the board.  Like Nye, Wood had originally supported some of Roosevelt’s policies, including the AAA, the SEC and Social Security.  But he had rebelled against excessive taxation that he believed was undermining capitalism.[22]  Other Chicago businessmen, such as meat packers Jay Hormel and Philip Swift, and William J. Grace, head of one of Chicago’s largest investment firms, had never supported the president.  All became key Committee members.  Colonel Robert J. McCormick, owner of the Chicago Tribune, was the most influential of all.  A passionate Roosevelt hater and Anglophobe, his paper became an important disseminator of AFC propaganda.

            Ultimately, the Committee’s executive board contained a more diverse group  than even Progressives and Republicans.  Among them were Alice Roosevelt Longworth, Eddie Rickenbacker, Kathleen Norris, the popular novelist, Robert Maynard Hutchins, president of the University of Chicago, Lillian Gish, and, for a time, Henry Ford.  The leadership of the New York branch was even more diverse, with Norman Thomas and Charles A. Beard working with Herbert Hoover and Joseph Patterson, conservative publisher of the New York Daily News.[23] Clearly, the anti-war movement won the support of many humanitarians and pacifists, as well as others inspired by partisan politics, provincialism and bigotry.


            The leaders of the AFC had different political beliefs, but once they decided to work together, they began to sound remarkably alike.  Like their supporters in Congress, many believed war hysteria was being created to distract the public from the failures of the New Deal.[24]  The second collapse of the economy in 1937, widely regarded as the “Roosevelt depression,” had certainly hurt the president.  His prestige was at its lowest during the early part of 1939.  Precedent, as well as his failed economic record, had suggested that his second term would be his last.  Then came the war crisis, and the revival of his fortunes.  Many believed, in the words of John Flynn, that Roosevelt wanted war because he found it a “glorious, magnificent escape from all the insoluble problems of America.”[25]

            In order to defeat the president’s pro-British agenda, Committee members insisted the crimes of the western powers were as great as those of Germany.  Their arguments usually began with a formulaic denunciation of Hitler, without any serious examination of his actions.  This was followed by a detailed catalogue of the sins of the allies.[26]  Since the war initially was assumed by AFC spokesmen to be for the preservation of the French and British colonial empires, and not for the democracies themselves, they could claim that Britain and France were as least as great oppressors as Hitler.[27]  This argument, however, did not change even when the situation of the democracies became desperate.  Thus, Norman Thomas had insisted in 1939 that “French imperialism is … a curse to mankind, and that the anti-German phobia of the French did much to create the Nazi movement.” Yet even after June 1940 he would continue to turn his fury against Britain.  Senator Nye in the same period called the British empire “the very acme of reaction … and exploitation.”[28]  As late as July of 1941, with the Nazi invasion of Russia already begun, Robert Maynard Hutchins could still write that there were more victims of aggression before1939 than after.  These included “populations in Indochina, Africa, the Malay States, and especially, India.” General Hugh Johnson, former director of the National Recovery Act, also insisted that Britain’s sole war aim was “to maintain her dominant Empire position with her own kinsmen (as well as) over black, brown and yellow conquered and subject peoples in three continents.”[29]  One AFC pamphlet asked “when Britain is going to release the 30,000 political prisoners in India?“[30]  The verdict was clear.  The European democracies, tainted by imperialism, were not worth saving.  But it took a sly politician like Gerald Nye to strike the appropriate homely note.  “The conflict in Europe,” he said,  was not “worthy of the sacrifice of one American mule, much less one American son.”[31] 

            In making these arguments, America Firsters chose to ignore fundamental differences between the western empires and Nazi rule in Europe.  Hitler in the first six months of 1940 had overrun six democratic states.  He was determined to destroy democracy wherever he found it.[32]  His rabid hatred of Jews and Slavs was already having affect in Poland.  The Holocaust had not yet begun.  But the Polish educated classes were already being systematically destroyed, and Polish schools and universities permanently closed.  Jews were being ghettoized in horrific conditions.  Anyone interested could have discovered these things.  The French and British colonial empires were not democratic. But by the 1930s they had no central or consistent policy of slavery and mass murder.  Created in a earlier age uninformed by Wilsonian principles, they were moving, however slowly, towards more democratic government and greater respect for individual human rights. 

            The most important difference, however, was between the governments of France and Britain themselves, and Nazi Germany.  Britain and France (before Vichy) had both valued humanitarian ideals, which, however poorly honored at home and abroad, still assured the fundamental human rights of their citizens.  These, combined with a free press, had also come by the 1930s to mitigate the worst excesses of colonialism.  It was the British press that had made Gandhi a hero, and allowed his campaigns of passive resistance to succeed.  The 1937 Government of India Act had hardly satisfied members of the Congress Party anxious for immediate independence.  But it was a step towards democracy and self-government.  Hitler’s dictatorship repudiated both democracy and human rights. The Nazi empire was the arena in which Hitler’s master race philosophy was to be put into practice.  Censorship prevented the German press from exciting the conscience of the nation.  There could never have been a successful passive resistance movement against the Nazis.  The inability of members of the AFC to recognize this, especially men like Hutchins of Chicago, and Norman Thomas, is remarkable.


            It was fear - fear of war, and fear of Communism - that created this failure. AFC propaganda never sounded more genuine than when it warned about the effects of war.  America had entered the First World War late.  Casualties had been relatively light, and the country had emerged as the world’s industrial and financial giant.  This did not prevent the Committee leadership from being convinced another war would have a devastating effect on America.  Many thought it would destroy both democracy and capitalism.  The Chicago Tribune assured readers it would cost “four hundred billion dollars, a million deaths, and several million ruined lives.”[33]  John Flynn warned that “our economic system will be broken.  Our financial burdens will be insupportable… The streets will be filled with idle men and women.  The once independent farmer will become a government charge … and amidst these disorders we will have the perfect climate for some … Hitler on the American model to rise to power … .”[34]  The First War had led to dictatorship in Russia, Italy, and ultimately, Germany.  The lesson seemed plain. “If America goes to war, we shall inevitably have fascism in this country,” Flynn concluded.[35]   Robert Hutchins put it more simply. “The American people,” he wrote in Scribner’s Commentator in April of 1941, “are about to commit suicide.”[36]  Fear of war would drive America Firsters to increasingly extreme rhetoric.


            Charles Lindbergh was among the most extreme AFC spokesmen.[37]  He also introduced a troubling new theme into the America First campaign.  It was support for Germany.  Most AFC supporters opposed war.  Many had criticized Britain and France simply to balance the general American dislike of the Nazis.  To justify their position, they had noisily opposed British imperialism.  Some were also anti-English, but the England they hated was largely the City of London’s financial establishment.   Many America Firsters, like most Americans, still wanted Britain to win the war, even if they didn’t want to do anything to help.[38]  Very few AFC members discounted the importance of democracy and personal freedom.  Lindbergh, with what one critic called an  “Olympian contempt for all democratic processes,” did.[39]  Despite formulaic protestations about its “excesses,” he found much to admire in the new German state.  He also shared many of its leaders’ racial beliefs.  Lindbergh was not against war.  He simply opposed war with Germany. 

            Lindbergh’s opinions were not shared by all AFC leaders, or the membership.  However, he was the Committee’s most popular spokesman.[40]  His speeches were heard by hundreds of thousands within the movement, and millions outside. As such, he was the Committee’s most important asset, the one voice that was always assured a national hearing.   By the beginning of 1941 General Wood even began to hope Lindbergh would replace him as head of the Committee.[41]  Lindbergh would ultimately decline, although he would remain very popular with the leadership.  By choosing to serve with him, Wood and the others also chose to associate themselves, at least to some extent, with his beliefs.

            This decision would prove fatal.  Lindbergh gave voice to Nazi fellow travelers  and anti-Semites who were among the least worthy elements within America First.  They repaid him with enthusiastic support.  His appearances at Committee rallies were always charged with excitement.  But he also attracted to the AFC extremists and bigots who previously had been discouraged from joining.[42]  Popular to the end, his reckless rhetoric would fatally wound the Committee in the eyes of the nation.  Some members of the leadership would eventually repudiate him.  Most did not, and chose to follow him into the moral wilderness.  This decision would destroy the reputation of the AFC.     


            Lindbergh, like the rest of the Committee, had been driven by fear of Communism.  But while the others also feared for American democracy, Lindbergh was concerned about the future of the white race, and what he called “western civilization.”  That his definition did not include democracy soon became painfully apparent.  “Our bond with Europe is a bond of race, and not of political ideology,” he would insist.[43]   Neither did it include freedom for the smaller nations of Europe.  The great western nations, in which he included Germany, were the only ones of importance for him, since they alone demonstrated the industrial and technological superiority that he admired, and which he believed was proof of racial superiority.[44]  The only real danger to civilization, Lindbergh believed, was from lesser breeds, the “pressing sea of Yellow, Black and Brown” who were incapable of technological progress.  The Soviet Union‘s “semi-Asiatic hordes,” being the best organized and armed, were the most dangerous.  Long before the war began, Lindbergh believed he had found the means of defeating this threat.  It was Nazi Germany.[45]    

            Lindbergh had long admired German engineering, industry and “efficiency.“  He also believed these had improved under Hitler’s dictatorship.[46]  Best of all, Nazi Germany was the Soviet Union‘s greatest enemy.  Lindbergh had begun to worry even before the war that “the potentially gigantic power of America, guided by uninformed and impractical idealism, might crusade into Europe to destroy Hitler without realizing that Hitler’s destruction would lay Europe open to the rape, loot and barbarism of Soviet Russia’s forces, causing possibly the fatal wounding of western civilization.”[47] After the war began, he still hoped bloodshed between Britain, France and Germany, could be avoided.  In the Fall of 1939, with Poland already overrun, but with the western powers not yet engaged, he lamented that  “the heirs of European culture are on the verge of a disastrous war … which will reduce the strength and destroy the treasures of the White race … (and) which may even lead to the end of our civilization.”  Its preservation could only be guaranteed by a united “Western Wall of race and arms which can hold back either a Genghis Khan or the infiltration of inferior blood.”[48]  Since the war in Europe was between western nations, it was not only pointless, but suicidal.  Neither the freedom of Poland, nor the destruction of the Nazi dictatorship, seemed worth the struggle. Even after the invasion of Poland, he refused to blame Hitler for the conflict. “No one, not even Germany,” he asserted, “is more responsible for the conditions that caused this war than England and France.”[49]           

            This was pretty strong stuff.  Lindbergh’s racial beliefs were probably not very different from those of many Americans convinced by arguments about northern and western European racial superiority made in Madison Grant‘s The Passing of the Great Race and similar works.  But the emphasis he gave them, and the vulgarity with which he expressed himself, made some members of his audience, like some Committee members, uncomfortable.[50]  That his beliefs did not discredit him with a larger American audience says much about opinions in the period.[51]  Most members of the AFC leadership refused to denounce him.  Some agreed with him.  Others, like Norman Thomas, Oswald Villard and John Flynn were willing to go along in order to achieve their goal - the preservation of American neutrality.[52]  The unity of the anti-war movement, they were certain, was worth the sacrifice.


            The moral implications of Lindbergh’s position were not entirely apparent in January 1941.  What did seem clear was the need to remain united.  The Committee faced its most important battle - the debate over Lend-Lease.  The president’s previous changes to the Neutrality Act of 1937, which had originally prohibited America from selling arms to anyone in the European war, had reflected the mood of the nation.[53]  But Lend-Lease, Roosevelt’s proposal to provide arms to Britain without payment, was practically a declaration of war against the Axis.  America First was determined to stop it.  Burton Wheeler warned the Senate that “the lend-lease-give program is the New Deal’s triple-A foreign policy; it will plow under every fourth American boy.“  “Never before,” he complained, “has the United States given to one man the power to strip this nation of its defenses.“[54] 

            Lindbergh’s Washington testimony also received national attention.  “It is not the duty of the United States to police the world,“ he had declared.[55]   This would become a refrain taken up by men as different as Gerald Nye and Charles Coughlin, head of the anti-Roosevelt and anti-Semitic Christian Front movement.[56]  However, Lindbergh’s  stated hope for a negotiated peace rather than an English victory hurt him.[57]  The majority of Americans, contrary to AFC hopes, wanted to support Britain, even if it led to a much dreaded participation in the war.  Seventy-two percent, according to one poll, regarded “defeating Nazism” as “the biggest job facing the country;” 70% preferred war to Allied defeat.[58]  Most Americans still believed a declaration of war was not yet necessary.  But Lend-Lease was.  The bill was passed in March by 260 to 165 in the House, and 60 to 31 in the Senate.[59]  “This decision is the end of … appeasement in our land,“ Roosevelt had triumphantly announced.  It is “the end of urging us to get along with the dictators.  The end of compromise with tyranny and the forces of oppression.”[60]

            The Committee was to prove him wrong. America First had lost a battle   It was still determined to stay out of the war.  Its reputation as the country’s chief anti-interventionist organization had grown during the Lend-Lease debate. So had its membership.  New chapters grew up all over the country.  The Committee developed a mass following for the first time.[61]  The AFC leadership therefore remained optimistic.  The large margin by which the bill had passed only made them more aggressive.  Lindbergh was especially pugnacious.  By the summer of 1941 he was denouncing the president as a greater threat to peace than Hitler.  He ridiculed Roosevelt’s assertion that the safety of the United States depended on control of the Cape Verde Islands.  “Even Hitler never made a statement like that,” Lindbergh charged.  “Mr. Roosevelt claims that Hitler desires to dominate the world.  But it is Mr. Roosevelt himself who advocates world domination when he says that it is our business to control the wars of Europe and Asia, and that we in America must dominate islands lying off the African coast.”[62]


            Hitler‘s invasion of Russia in June increased Committee optimism.  The war at last had seemed to become what the Committee had always claimed it to be, a struggle between two totalitarian systems, in which one was destined to dominate Europe.  It was no longer necessary to dismiss Britain, as Harry Elmer Barnes had done, as an example of  “democratic dry rot.”[63]  The sins of colonialism were now forgotten.  The AFC now had a more useful opponent - Stalin.  The leadership was certain the Nazi-Soviet war would prevent the United States from entering the war on either side.[64]  John Flynn’s Should America Fight to Make Europe Safe for Communism? contained anti-interventionist statements from Herbert Hoover, Norman Thomas and Senators Taft, Clark, Wheeler and La Follette.[65]  But it was Lindbergh, as usual, who was willing to go further, and explicitly state his preference for the Nazis.  On July 1, 1941, only ten days after the German invasion of Russia, he was already complaining about “the murderers and plunderers of yesterday (who) are accepted as the valiant defenders of civilization today.”  “I tell you,” he continued, “ I would a hundred times rather see my country ally itself with England, or even with Germany, with all of her faults, than with the cruelty, the godlessness, and the barbarism that exist in Soviet Russia.  An alliance between the United States and Russia should be opposed by every American, by every Christian, and by every humanitarian in this country.”[66] 

            The effect of the invasion was not what the Committee had hoped.  Most Americans sympathized with the Soviet Union.  German support in the country was further reduced by the desertion of their erstwhile Communist party allies.  The Nazis more than ever appeared to most Americans the country’s most dangerous enemy.  The invasion also had a bracing effect on Churchill.  Up to the last the Soviet Union had supplied Germany with supplies that made the British blockade ineffectual.  The invasion had thus not cost Britain a potential ally.  It had cost Germany a real one.  It also had given England its first major partner in the war since the fall of France.  Despite the initial fears of many in Britain and America, Russia did not collapse.  The result was that Hitler seemed more vulnerable than ever.  American determination to oppose him increased.


            The summer of 1941 was a curious time for the AFC.  Pro-German elements in the country waited anxiously for Hitler’s blitzkrieg to succeed.  The majority of Americans, sympathetic to Russians defending their own country, hoped for a German defeat.  America Firsters continued to be troubled by the popular mood.  American concern about Britain was now joined with that for Russia.  This they feared could only strengthen interventionist forces.  That realization, combined with the passage of Lend-Lease, inspired a new tactic.  Previously, most AFC propaganda had been directed against Britain, its American friends, and the president.  The largely Protestant banking establishment, from J.P. Morgan to the Rockefeller controlled Chase National Bank, had been attacked without charges of bigotry.  Roosevelt had always been a legitimate target.  The Committee would now attack Jews.[67]

            The unstated charge was disloyalty.  Since Americans of undivided loyalty, Committee members reasoned, had to see that neutrality was the only rational course for the nation, pro-interventionists had to be working for alien interests.  Lindbergh had already suggested this.[68]  America First itself had been careful to keep those of divided loyalties out of its own ranks.  Neither members of the German-American Bund nor Communists, anxious to oppose war before June 22, had been welcome.[69]  Father Charles Coughlin’s Christian Fronters were also discouraged from joining.[70]  The Committee was now ready to apply its own high standards to its opponents.

            Anti-Semitism was the most inflammatory issue in the isolationist debate.  Jews had good reason to hate Hitler.  Their loyalty was suspect by some for that very reason.  Since most Americans assumed the country was safe from German invasion, American Jews, they concluded, were also safe.  Jewish interventionists could therefore be motivated only by a desire to help co-religionists in Europe.  To save them, Jews appeared willing to sacrifice American lives.  This to many seemed more than just a case of divided loyalties.   It was pernicious.  The fact that interventionist sentiment was strongest in the traditionally conservative south and southwest, areas of small Jewish population, had done little to change popular belief that Jews were leading the drive for war.[71]  (So great was the antipathy for America First in the south, and so complete the consensus in favor of support for Britain, that its few sympathizers had been intimidated into silence.)[72]  Interventionist organizations, fearful of being labeled the tools of Jews, had been careful to keep Jewish membership on their governing boards small.[73] The AFC, which since its creation had been careful to avoid appearing anti-Semitic, had the opposite policy.  General Wood had been very pleased when Lessing Rosenwald, a member of the Sears, Roebuck board, had joined the executive committee.  But Rosenwald had resigned to protest the presence of Henry Ford, and no Jews had been found to take his place.[74]  At a time when the Committee was being attacked in much of the press as a tool of Hitler, charges of bigotry had to avoided at all cost.[75]  That many American anti-Semites, anxious to avoid fighting Germany, had joined the AFC, made this task more difficult.  AFC chapters in the east from the beginning had struggled to keep out Christian Fronters.[76]  The Committee leadership was painfully aware they had not always succeeded.[77]  Jews in much of the world had become by 1940 a beleaguered minority threatened with mass murder.  Most Committee members, as people of conscience, did not want to add to Jewish tribulations.  Some AFC supporters had in the past occasionally expressed hostility to Jews.[78]  But they had kept these views private.  This reticence would now come to an end.


            Burton Wheeler, chair of the Senate Interstate Commerce Commission, announced in August of 1941 that he would investigate “interventionists” in the motion picture industry.  Most studio heads, he would soon be surprised to learn, were Jews.[79]  Gerald Nye, who accused Hollywood of attempting to “drug the reason of the American people,“ and “rouse war fever,“ was particularly hostile to Warner Brothers.[80]  Wheeler questioned why so many foreign born were allowed to shape American opinion, causing Roosevelt to observe that the Bible, too, had been written “by mostly foreign-born and Jewish people.” But the industry knew how to fight back.  It retained Wendell Willkie, the Republican party’s 1940 presidential candidate, as counsel.  He soon ridiculed the Committee into silence.[81]

            The Committee’s first overt anti-Semitic attack came in September.  Charles Lindbergh was its author.  More than a year earlier Thomas Lamont, senior partner of J.P. Morgan, had asked him to name the “powerful elements” he claimed were working for war. “We must not broadcast suspicions and accusations unless we have complete basis for the charges,” he had warned.[82]  Since then, the AFC situation had become more desperate. Lend-Lease had been followed by a more aggressive anti-German campaign.  On September 1 President Roosevelt had promised every effort to defeat Germany to prevent “Hitler’s violent attempt to rule the world.“ [83] On September 11, following a U-boat attack on the American destroyer Greer, Roosevelt ordered the navy to shoot on sight any German vessel threatening American ships or convoys.[84]  That same day, having previously been goaded by  Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes and columnist Dorothy Thompson, who had called him a Nazi fellow traveler, Lindbergh struck back.[85]

            “The three most important groups who have been pressing this country toward war,” he told a Des Moines audience, “are the British, the Jewish and the Roosevelt administration.  Behind these groups, but of lesser importance, are a number of capitalists, Anglophiles, and intellectuals who believe that their future, and the future of mankind, depends upon the domination of the British Empire …These war agitators comprise only a small minority of our people; but they control a tremendous influence.”  Of the Jews  he said “it is not difficult to understand why Jewish people desire the overthrow of Nazi Germany… But no person of honesty and vision can look on their pro-war policy here today without seeing the dangers involved in such a policy, both for us and for them.  Instead of agitating for war, the Jewish groups in this country should be opposing it in every possible way, for they will be among the first to feel its consequences.  Tolerance is a virtue that depends upon peace and strength.  History shows that it cannot survive war and devastation…  Their greatest danger to this country is in their large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio, and our government.”[86]  Lindbergh’s threat was obvious. Its most unfortunate aspect was his  (perhaps unconscious) paraphrasing of Hitler’s “warning” delivered in the Reichstag in 1939. “If international finance Jewry in and outside of Europe should succeed in thrusting the nations once again into a world war, the result will not be the Bolshevization of the earth and with it the victory of Jewry, but the destruction of the Jewish race in Europe.”[87]  Softened for an American audience, Lindbergh’s words were unmistakably, and uncomfortably, similar. 

            Press reaction was immediate, and explosive.  The Des Moines Register observed that “it may have been courageous for Colonel Lindbergh to say what was in his mind, but it was so lacking in appreciation of consequences - putting the best interpretation on it - that it disqualifies him for any pretensions of leadership of this republic in policy-making.”  The speech was “so intemperate, so unfair, so dangerous in its implications that it cannot but turn many spadefuls in the digging of the grave of his influence in this crisis.”[88]  The Kansas City Journal was more succinct. “Lindbergh’s interest in Hitlerism is now thinly concealed.”[89]  The isolationist Hearst newspapers were equally critical.[90]  Frank Gannett told General Wood his newspaper chain could no longer afford to be associated with the Committee.  Even the Chicago Tribune hastened to condemn the speech.[91]

            The response of the Republican national leadership was as severe.  Wendell Willkie called it “the most un-American talk made in my time by any person of national reputation.” Thomas Dewey said it was “an inexcusable abuse of the right of freedom of speech.”[92]  Even conservative Republican Robert Taft was no gentler, styling Lindbergh’s reference to “the Jews, as if they were a foreign race, and not Americans at all, a grossly unjust attitude.”[93]

            Lindbergh’s speech destroyed the unity of the AFC.  Norman Thomas, long troubled by Lindbergh’s bigotry, could stand no more.  He refused for a while to appear at America First rallies.[94]  Oswald Villard resigned from the Committee.[95]  John Flynn, although furious, remained.[96]  The anti-Semites in his New York chapter, he lamented, were “uproariously delighted,” and warned the task of keeping bigots out of the movement would now be much more difficult.[97]

            The majority of the Committee leadership was not troubled.[98]  Most even refused to admit the speech was anti-Semitic.[99]  The membership was equally supportive.[100]  While some had regrets about the tone, 85 to 90% of the letters received at national headquarters were favorable.  Robert Taft likewise refused to condemn Lindbergh entirely, citing the greater intolerance of organizations like the Fight For Freedom Committee.[101] 

            The AFC nonetheless had been severely damaged.  Its chief speaker was now roundly pilloried in the press.  Lindbergh was no longer the target of shrill interventionists alone.  Public opinion had turned against him.  The rest of the leadership, by supporting him, inevitably came in for a share of criticism.  The New York newspaper PM had already characterized a Lindbergh audience as “a liberal sprinkling of Nazis, Fascists, anti-Semites, crackpots and just people,“ in which the “just people seemed out of place.“[102]  This now seemed increasingly true.  America First appeared more than ever an organization of bitter Progressives, opportunist Republicans and outspoken anti-Semites.  Lindbergh’s remarks may have been satisfying to most AFC members.  But they offended mainstream opinion.  Discredited among the larger electorate, the Committee was further than ever from winning its battle for strict neutrality.


            The last months before Pearl Harbor were disappointing for America First.  On September 16 the U.S. navy began formal convoy duty, escorting British as well as American ships as far as Iceland.[103]  That same month Anglo-American negotiations were begun in Moscow to determine Soviet military needs.[104]  The president in October offered Russia a one billion dollar interest free loan to buy American military equipment.[105]  This was soon followed by a request to repeal key sections of the Neutrality Act, thereby allowing American merchant ships to be armed, and to enter combat zones.[106]  Congress quickly approved.[107]

            German reaction was equally swift.  On October 17 the destroyer Kearney was torpedoed while on convoy duty off Iceland.  Eleven sailors were killed.  At the end of the month the destroyer Reuben James was sunk, with the loss of 115 lives.[108]  Most Americans still refused to go to war.  This might have reassured isolationists.  But there was always the danger that additional attacks could change the national mood.  By the end of the year, some AFC supporters were apparently willing to do anything to stop the drift to war.

            Secret joint Army and Navy war plans were published in the isolationist press on December 5.  Anticipating operations in a two ocean war as well as in Europe, Asia and Africa, they appeared in two AFC friendly papers, the Chicago Tribune and the New York Daily News.[109] The documents had been stolen by an isolationist captain from the War Plans Division and passed to Senator Wheeler, who gave them to a Chicago Tribune correspondent. 

            Two days later the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.  It was at first unclear whether the war would be extended to Europe.  Senators Wheeler, Vandenberg and Shipstead, all friends of the AFC, were determined it should not.[110]  They were defeated by Hitler, who declared war on the United States on the 11th. 




            From the fall of France until the end of the war, Senator Gerald Nye never lost his way.  “To take care of our own (is) the number one American obligation.” The destiny of America, he was certain, was not “either to reform or to police the world.”[111]   This was a practical policy.  Depending on how the Nazi threat was assessed, it might have been a rational one.  But it was not generous.  It consigned most of Europe to Hitler’s murderous rule.  Other Progressives were like minded.  “I do not believe,” said Senator Robert La Follette, “ that the fate of 130,000,000 Americans will either now or in the future be dependent upon, or be determined by, the outcome of war in Europe, Asia or Africa.”[112]  This was a simple belief, simply expressed.  It was shared by millions of Americans.  Both men would certainly have also agreed with Charles Coughlin’s slogan, “Less care for internationalism and more concern for national prosperity.”[113] 


            Progressives like Nye were also convinced the United States could never reform Europe or Asia, or help determine the democratic future of the world.  Oswald Villard wrote in the Nation that “the United States cannot settle the future of Europe; only Europe itself can do that.[114]  Perhaps Progressives thought the rest of the world so foreign that ideals of democracy and human rights, which the Enlightenment had proclaimed to be universal, and upon which the American Republic had been established, could never take root, or even be appreciated, elsewhere. 

            Of course, not all America Firsters were motivated by these beliefs.  Some had joined the AFC primarily as a way of attacking President Roosevelt and the New Deal.  That the success of America First would have catastrophic affect on the political future of Europe left them unmoved, as long as it weakened the administration and the Democratic Party at home.  They were as indifferent to what happened outside America as other Committee supporters.  But their claims about the intractability of the rest of the world were merely excuses born of cynicism and partisan politics.  The hostility of most AFC members to both Nazism and Communism were real.  Many just believed they couldn’t do anything about them.  Others simply didn’t care.[115]


            Indifference and timidity characterized the AFC program.  Most America Firsters were prepared to live, however uncomfortably, with Hitler because they believed they had no choice.[116]  There were others, however, who were pro-German.  Charles Lindbergh was among them.[117]  Gerald Nye, and those like him, cherished democracy and the Bill of Rights, hated Britain, and loathed both the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany.  They also feared the growth of fascism at home.  Lindbergh and his supporters both in and outside the AFC  feared for the future of the white race, regretted the British decision not to support Hitler’s war against Russia, and hated Communism.  Both men hated “the East.“  But “the East” for Nye, as for much of the Midwest, was Wall Street and the City of London.  For Lindbergh and his supporters, it was Asia and the Soviet Union.

            Lindbergh wanted Hitler to destroy the Soviet Union, and was willing to accept Nazi domination of Europe as the price.[118]  His protests to the contrary are not convincing.[119]  Long before most Committee members, he had come to believe the existence of the Soviet Union had made Hitler’s dictatorship necessary.  The German invasion of Russia in June 1941 made the need to keep America out of the war greater than ever.  As a result, the efforts of America Firsters to keep America neutral became more frenetic as German successes in Russia mounted, and Roosevelt’s efforts to enter the war increased.

            These included more vigorous attacks on interventionists.  By the summer of 1941 Lindbergh had begun accusing the president of being a greater war monger than Hitler. The loyalty of interventionist groups, long suspect by the AFC, was now openly questioned.[120]  Jews, who most AFC leaders had long avoided criticizing out of fear of exciting anti-Semitism, were also attacked.  “A refugee who steps from the gangplank and advocates war is acclaimed as a defender of freedom.  A native born American who opposes war is called a fifth columnist,” Lindbergh had snarled shortly after the Nazi invasion of Russia.[121]   Nye and Wheeler‘s assault on Hollywood followed in August.  Then came Lindbergh’s Des Moines speech.  Lindbergh had begun his speaking career for America First by defending Hitler.  He ended by sounding like him.  In so doing, his own moral bankruptcy, and that of much of the Committee, was revealed.   


            America First remained to the end an uncomfortable alliance of isolationists, pacifists, enemies of England, opponents of Roosevelt and friends of Germany.  Interventionists were an equally mixed group. The stated aim of the Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies, begun in May 1940, had been clear.  The war in Europe, according to William Allen White, its leader, was “a life and death struggle for every principle we cherish in America.  For freedom of speech, of religion, of the ballot and of every freedom that upholds the dignity of the human spirit .“  The need was obvious.  “The time has come when we must throw into the scales the entire moral and economic weight of the United States on the side of the free peoples of western Europe who are fighting the battle for a civilized way of life.”[122]  But interventionists, like isolationists, had also been divided.  White wanted to stay out of the war, and limit American support to supplies.  Not all CDAAA members agreed.  Fiorello La Guardia accused him of “doing a typical Laval.”[123]  Some would later join the Fight for Freedom Committee in  demanding war against Germany. 

            Reasons for supporting intervention were as complex as those for joining the AFC.  Partisan politics brought many New Deal supporters, including most of organized labor, into the anti-Nazi camp.[124]  But the president also found many of new friends among former Republican opponents.  These included Morgan partners like Thomas Lamont, as well as executives from General Electric and United States Steel.  The conservative New York Herald Tribune now also supported the president‘s foreign policy; Dorothy Thompson’s anti-AFC columns were one of its most popular features.  Henry Luce, publisher of Time and Life magazines, had long supported a pro-Chinese policy.  He too readily adopted a pro-British one.[125]  In Chicago the Republican Daily News (owned by Frank Knox) became one of the AFC’s most relentless opponents.[126]  PM, owned by Marshall Field III, played a similar role in New York.

            Interventionists’ strongest support came from the South.  Many southern Democrats had been suspicious of the president’s domestic legislation.  But they also proved largely immune to Lindbergh’s arguments.  Lindbergh spoke of the need to preserve the white race.  Most white southerners identified more narrowly with their Anglo-Saxon and Celtic British heritage.  Like other interventionists, many admired England’s parliamentary democracy.  Others wanted to preserve the British empire.  Many were also repelled by Hitler’s anti-Semitism.  The South’s military traditions made southerners readier than most to fight for what they valued.

            Some AFC supporters had been motivated by humanitarian ideals.  Not all interventionists were.  Yet in the end those who supported intervention also supported the preservation of democracy and human rights in Europe.  Those who opposed war did not.  This obvious fact had long troubled some Committee members, including Socialist Party presidential candidate Norman Thomas.  Although anti-fascist, his Party had never been able to explain how fascism could be eliminated without war.[127]  The argument that war would only bring fascism to America had been neither entirely convincing, nor satisfying.  It was a problem anti-war supporters of democracy never succeeded in solving.  


This moral dilemma was the AFC’s most serious weakness.  The Committee’s enemies

Had been quick to see their advantage. The Chicago Daily News observed that “a crazier coalition was never assembled!  Come lately German Nazis and Italian Fascists, Communists, pacifists, professional Anglophobes, Socialists, anti-Semites, rabid partisans who hate Roosevelt more than they hate Hitler, ostrich isolationists and a scattering of timid citizens afraid of they don’t know what - all rally around …to attack and calumniate the United States government in a moment of national crisis.  These people, whether they know it or not - and some of them do - are performing Hitler’s work in America.”[128]

            It was optimism that fundamentally separated interventionists from America First and its allies.  Roosevelt and his supporters believed the safety of the American Republic could only be assured by the destruction of Nazi Germany.[129]  They were also certain they could  reestablish democracy in Europe.  In the end, they would be proven right.  But at the end of  1941, they had still failed to convince the American public.  America First had been unable to prevent aid to Britain or Russia.  Interventionist failure was more serious.  By the beginning of December Hitler was at the gates of Moscow.  Most Americans were concerned.  They were also not going to do anything more about it.   

            This natural reluctance to go to war without first being attacked prevailed right until Pearl Harbor.  Most Americans refused to the last to enter the battle, even against as brutal an enemy as Hitler, if it was primarily for the benefit of others.  Even after the Japanese attack, it was only the German declaration of war that brought the United States into the European conflict.


            It was only then that America’s moral purpose was fully restored. The nation with few exceptions supported a conflict that began as a struggle against military aggression, and ended as a battle against mass murder.  Professor Maynard Kreuger of the University of Chicago had earlier told an anti-war rally that the issues in Europe were more complex than many would admit.  “The image of a madman loose on the peaceful world oversimplified the realities of international rivalries and competition for resources.”[130]  The professor was wrong. The Committee had always claimed the war was about rival imperialisms, and not simply about Hitler and his Nazi ideology.  But it was.  The German dictator was a madman, and the empire he hoped to create in Europe would have meant the destruction of all of those political ideals upon which American democracy was based.  Interventionists understood this.  America Firsters did not.

            The optimism and moral vision of interventionists and the Roosevelt administration produced great achievements.  The mounting of a massive invasion of Europe was followed by the political and economic reconstruction of much of the continent.  It took years, and billions of Marshall Plan dollars, but in the end western Europe emerged solidly democratic and more prosperous than any time in the past.  Victory in 1945 had not been complete.  It would be almost another fifty years before Communist dictatorship disappeared from the continent.  But the war and post-war reconstruction had been a good start.  It helped subvert the Soviet Empire by placing successful democratic, capitalist regimes on its border.  The Chicago Tribune in 1939 had proclaimed “the frontiers of American democracy are not in Europe, Asia or Africa.”[131]  .  Interventionists had a more generous vision.  In the end, they liberated half a continent. 



David Gordon received his M.A. and Ph.D. from Brown University, and is the author of two books, Merchants and Capitalists: Industrialization and Provincial Politics in Mid-Nineteenth Century France, and Liberalism and Social Reform: Industrial Growth and Progressiste Politics in France, 1880-1914, as well as several articles and chapters on African and European economic history. He has taught at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of California, Riverside, and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.  He also taught for two years at Kaohsiung Teachers University, Taiwan, and was a seminar director at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes, Paris.  Professor Gordon is working on a study of European and American economic and political activities in interwar China.  He is currently a member of the History Department, Bronx Community College, City University of New York, the CUNY Graduate Center and of the NYMAS Board of Directors.. Dr. Gordon lectures on America First and Charles Lindbergh.  His paper France, 1940: National Failure and the Uses of Defeat, is available on this site.





[1] Manfred Jonas, Isolationism in America, 1935-1945, Ithaca, 1966, p. 214.


[2] America First eventually adopted three additional principles.  The fifth, approved in December 1940, called for humanitarian aid for Britain within the limits of neutrality.  The sixth, accepted in May 1941, demanded a popular referendum before the Congress voted any declaration of war.  In November a seventh called on the AFC membership to continue to remind their representatives of their opposition to war.  A. Scott Berg, Lindbergh, New York, 1998, p. 411; and Ruth Sarles, A Story of America First: The Men and Women Who Opposed U.S. Intervention in World War II, Westport, Connecticut, 2003, pp. 6-7.


[3] American ambassador Hugh Wilson was recalled to protest the pogrom.  A poll conducted by the American Institute of Public Opinion in December 10 1938 found 94% of Americans opposed Hitler’s treatment of Jews.  Senator Key Pittman of Nevada, who until that time had supported non-involvement in European affairs, spoke for many when he said “the people of the United States do not like the government of Germany.” Jonas, Isolationism in America, p. 211.


[4] Jonas, Isolationism in America, p. 212.


[5] A Princeton Public Opinion Research Project found in September 1940 that 53% of the American population believed defeating Hitler was more important than staying out of the war.  True isolationist opinion, opposing both participation in the war and aid, had fallen from 23% in May to 12% in September.  By January 1941 the number supporting aid even at the risk of war had risen to 68%, a figure that remained constant for the rest of  the year. Jonas, Isolationism in America, pp. 214-215.


[6] Wayne S. Cole, Charles A. Lindbergh and the Battle Against American Intervention in World War II, New York, 1974, pp. 137-139.


[7] The Fight for Freedom Committee, the creation of eastern elites, demanded the immediate break of diplomatic relations with Germany, the use of the navy for anti-U boat operations, and the repeal of all neutrality acts.   Its primary aim, in the words of one member, was “to agitate for an open declaration of war against Germany and Italy.”  Mellon family member David K. E. Bruce contributed $10,000 to the organization, as did the Rockefellers.  Other large contributors included Marshall Field, Max Ascoli, Darryl Zanuck, and Harry and Jack Warner.  Clayton D. Laurie, The Propaganda Warriors: America’s Crusade Against Nazi Germany, Lawrence, Kansas, 1996, pp. 40-41.


[8]Some polls showed only one in five in favor. James C. Schneider, Should America Go to War? The Debate Over Foreign Policy in Chicago, 1939-1941, Chapel Hill, 1989, p. 149; and Wayne S. Cole, Roosevelt and the Isolationists, 1932-1945, Lincoln, Nebraska, 1982.


[9] John T. Flynn had received a law degree from Georgetown University before becoming editor of the New York Globe.  He had become well known in the 1920s and 1930s for his attacks on Wall Street manipulations, writing a column, “Other Peoples Money” for the New Republic.  Flynn had originally supported the New Deal, but broke with Roosevelt over the National Recovery Act, which he believed was excessive government interference in the economy.  Harry Elmer Barnes was an extreme revisionist whose Genesis of the World War: An Introduction to the Problem of War Guilt (1926) had moved beyond Sidney Fay’s arguments about joint Allied and Central Powers responsibility for the war (which had first appeared in the American Historical Review in 1920 to 1921) to accusing  Russia and France as being its principal authors.  He also claimed that it was Anglo-French purchases and borrowing, combined with the machinations of Wilson, Colonel House and Secretary of State Lansing, that had really got America into the war.  The submarine issue, and claims about fighting for democracy, had only been for popular consumption.  The final version of Fay’s arguments appeared in his The Origins of the World War (1928)  Barnes remained a respectable figure through the 1930s.  Prior to his death in 1968 he would become one of America’s most famous Holocaust deniers.  Justus D. Doenecke, Not to the Swift: The Old Isolationists in the Cold War Era, Lewisburg, Maine, 1979,  p. 93; and Donald F. Drummond, The Passing of American Neutrality, 1937-1941, 1968, pp. 23-24.


[10] Stuart had decided while still at Princeton that “the United States had gained nothing and lost a great deal through participation in World War I.”  He had therefore decided to oppose Roosevelt’s foreign policy.  Still, he had liked much of Roosevelt‘s domestic legislation, and had hoped to work for the National Labor Relations Board after graduation from law school. Michele Flynn Stenehjem, An American First: John T. Flynn and the America First Committee, New Rochelle, New York, 1976, pp. 13-14. 


[11] The Yale group, which included Potter Stewart, Gerald R. Ford and R. Sargent Shriver, had originally hoped to create a national student anti-war organization.  Writing to students elsewhere, the called for a program of “hemisphere defense,“ and resistance to any changes in the country’s “cash and carry” policies.  Like many others, they believed American democracy could survive only if the country stayed out of war.  Hoping for broader public support, they soon concentrated their organizing in Chicago.  There they had  organized radio programs featuring Wisconsin governor Philip La Follette and General Hugh Johnson, former head of the National Recovery Act. Schneider, Should America Go to War?, p. 113.


[12] Stenehjem, An American First, p. 37.


[13] This included Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan, as well as parts of Ohio, Missouri, Minnesota and Iowa.  An additional 25% of the membership was in New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, New Jersey and Maryland, although there was also strong opposition to America First in the East.  The South, with the exception of Florida, was the region least receptive to Committee arguments.  Chicago itself, with large Czech and Jewish populations, as well as 700,000 Poles  (the largest concentration outside Poland) was itself hardly united in support of America First.  George Cardinal Mundelein in Chicago had also been the first cardinal to attack both Hitler (in 1937), and Charles Coughlin. Wayne S. Cole, America First: The Battle Against Intervention, 1940-1941 , Madison, Wisconsin, 1953, pp. 30-31; and Schneider, Should America Go to War, pp. 30-31.


[14] Both the isolationist Chicago Tribune and the interventionist Chicago Daily News, owned by Roosevelt’s Republican Secretary of the Navy, Frank Knox, agreed that most Chicagoans didn’t think foreign affairs were critically important. Schneider, Should America Go to War?, p. 21.


[15] The hatred for the British financial establishment by American farmers is discussed in Nicholas John Cull, Selling War: The British Propaganda Campaign Against American “Neutrality“ in World War II, Oxford, England, 1998, p. 7.


[16] Frederick Lewis Allen, Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the1920s, New York, 1931, p. 161.


[17] Wayne S. Cole, Senator Gerald P. Nye and American Foreign Relations, Minneapolis, 1962, pp. 79-80.


[18] Not all of the AFC Congressional group was from the West and Midwest.  Hamilton Fish, the AFC’s greatest supporter in the House of Representatives was from Dutchess County, New York.  He had supported Social Security and the minimum wage law.  But he also moved in Liberty League circles, spoke at German-American Bund rallies, and allowed his franking privileges to be used to mail propaganda of anti-Semitic organizations.  He had become an embarrassment to the Republican party long before his aide, George Hill, was convicted in 1942 for helping a paid German agent distribute pro-Nazi propaganda.  Jonas, Isolationism in America, pp. 52-54; and Stenehjem, An American First, p. 123.


[19] Nye wanted the federal reserve system replaced with a bank that would “issue bonds equivalent to the total of our outstanding farm mortgages.  These bonds would not be sold.  They would be held as a basis for the currency issue to pay off the mortgages, the government taking over the mortgages and permitting their gradual liquidation on terms possible for the farmers to meet without loss of their acres or undue hardship … From agriculture the system would be speedily extended to the financing of all industry.  It would amount in fact to the establishment of a money based solely on government credit.  Of course it would extinguish all gold based creditor values.”  Cole, Nye, p. 54.


[20] Senator Hiram Johnson of California for example told his son that Roosevelt “has developed the dictator complex.” Cole, Roosevelt and the Isolationists, p. 308.


[21] Schneider, Should America Go to War?, p. 225.


[22] William Regnery, president of the Western Shade Cloth Company, and one of the three signers, along with R. Douglas Stuart and General Wood, of the papers of incorporation of the America First Committee, had also previously been a Roosevelt supporter.  A director of Chicago’s Hull House, he had been supported the president in 1932 and 1936, and had approved of the National Recovery Act.  Sarles, A Story of America First , p. xxvii.


[23] Stenehjem, An American First, pp. 54-55.


[24] Charles A. Beard, eminent American historian and early New Deal supporter, were among them.  “Confronted by the difficulties of a deepening domestic crisis and by the comparative ease of a foreign war, what will President Roosevelt do?” he had asked in Scribner’s Magazine in February 1935. “ Judging by the past history of American politicians, he will choose the latter.“ Jonas, Isolationism in America, p. 71-76.


[25] This quotation comes from Flynn’s 1948 book, The Roosevelt Myth.  However, his belief about the president’s desire to hide his economic failures was already fixed before the war began.  Doenecke, Not to the Swift, p. 97.


[26] These included, according to Senator William Borah, the collaboration of French and British conservatives with Hitler in order to direct German aggression against the Soviet Union.  They had been  quite willing, he was sure, to delude their own countrymen to accomplish this.  Later, when their schemes turned against them, they had looked to the United States to help them.  “What in history,“ Borah asked, “has been more shameful than England and France conferring with Benes at midnight in Prague while they played Judas to Czechoslovakia?  Let England go into the wilderness and perish with her sins.  They are all guilty: Germany, France and England.  Guilty as dogs!“  In fact, many European appeasers had wanted Hitler to go east.  So had Charles Lindbergh.  In 1938 he hoped that the western powers would not confront Germany, so that “a westward expansion of Hitler might still be prevented through a combination of diplomacy, strategic convenience, and the use of defensive power.”  In a paper written at the time of the Munich crisis at the behest of Ambassador Joseph Kennedy, he had also suggested that “it is wiser to permit Germany’s eastern expansion than to throw England and France, unprepared, into a war … .” Lindbergh’s support of appeasement, and Borah’s later denunciation of it, did not prevent them both from supporting America First.  Robert James Maddox, William E. Borah and American Foreign Policy, Baton Rouge, 1969, p. 237; and Berg, Lindbergh, pp. 375-376.


[27] Jonas, Isolationism in America, p. 112.


[28] Jonas, Isolationism in America, p. 230.


[29] Theodore Dreiser wrote in America Is Worth Saving that “the British Empire is not a democracy and never has been.” It “now holds 500,000,000 of the world scattered colonials as well as 29,000,000 of its natives in educationless, moneyless, and privilegeless bondage. Jonas, Isolationism in America, p. 231.


[30] It went on to state that “the battle in Asia is Britain’s battle - and a battle not for democracy, but to continue her hold onto 300,00,000 people in India, millions more in Malay and other territories of Asia, to say nothing of a hundred million in Africa.  She is parked there for the gold, the oil, the rubber, the silver, the diamonds, the rich supplies which her capitalists own there - which belong to the peoples of those countries, but which Britain has stolen.  Yet … America … will send our sons to Asia … to enable the British empire to perpetuate its hold upon Asia.”  Cole, America First, p. 191.


[31] Nye made this statement in a talk to a Pennsylvania college audience in April 1940, shortly after the Germans had overrun Denmark and Norway.  Cole, Nye, p. 169.


[32] Not all Americans agreed.  “If Hitler wins in Europe,” Sherwood Anderson warned, “if the strength of the British and French armies and navies is forever broken, the United States will find itself alone in a barbaric world, a world ruled by Nazis, with ‘spheres of influence’ assigned to their totalitarian allies.  However different the dictatorships my be racially, they all agree on one primary objective: Democracy must be wiped from the face of the earth.” New York Times, June 10, 1940.


[33] Jonas, Isolationism in America , p. 270.


[34] Jonas, Isolationism in America, p. 270.


[35] Stenehjem, An American First, p. 34.


[36] Jonas, Isolationism in America, p. 270.


[37] His father, Charles Lindbergh Senior, a lawyer, had been elected to Congress in 1906 as a Progressive Republican, and had served for ten years.  An agrarian radical supporter of Robert La Follette and George Norris, he was, like so many Progressives , an enemy of  “the Money Trust” and Wall Street.  His book, Why Is Your Country at War? blamed industrialists and bankers for getting America into the war for their own profit. Accused of disloyalty, he was defeated in a 1916 Senate race, and left politics.  Cole,  Lindbergh, p. 18.


[38] Jonas, Isolationism in America, p. 239.


[39] Playwright and Roosevelt speechwriter Robert Sherwood, speaking at a Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies rally in December 1940, had said Lindbergh was “simply a Nazi with a Nazi’s Olympian contempt for all democratic processes - the rights of freedom of speech and worship, the right to select and criticize our own government and the right of labor to strike.” Cole, Lindbergh, p. 147.


[40] Lindbergh drew overflow crowds, and increased Committee chapter membership wherever he spoke.  He was as a result in constant demand.  Cole, America First, p. 142.


[41] Sarles, A Story of America First, p. 100.


[42] Many were members of the National Legion of Mothers of America.  The NLMA ironically had at first seemed a potential America First ally.   Founded in California in September of 1939, it had been encouraged by conservative Anglophobe William Randolph Hearst, who had hoped to use it as a weapon against Roosevelt’s New Deal and pro-British policies.  Hearst’s Los Angeles Herald-Express had claimed soon after its creation that the organization was motivated only by patriotism, and made up of “commonplace mothers, the type familiar in story and song … but grimly determined to fight any attempt to send their sons to fight on foreign soil.”  All women regardless of race or religion were originally welcome; many of the earliest members were mothers of draft aged sons.  No dues were charged.  Within a year it had between five and six million members organized in a loose confederation of 50 to100 separate groups.  The NLMA from the beginning had been very anti-Communist, but not at all anti-Semitic. The

American Mothers National Weekly, which soon had several million readers, did claim most European refugees were Communists, and warned that only Christianity could save the country.  The paper also feared that Mexicans might invade America and join with southern blacks to end white supremacy.  It had gained in national stature when Kathleen Norris, pacifist, prohibitionist and enemy of capital punishment, became its first president in 1940.  Norris, who would later become a member of the AFC national executive board, hoped to make the organization, with more than seven times the membership of America First, an ally in the struggle against intervention.  She would be cruelly disappointed.

                The Mothers of America had not grown quickly simply because of the war.  The ferocious energies which many of its members brought to the organization suggested other reasons.  The cultural wars of the 1920s had left many victims.  Many of the mothers had been appalled by the air of irreligion and promiscuity that many young people had adopted as proof of sophistication.  Bobbed hair, short skirts, female smokers and a flaunting of prohibition, combined with the popularity of jazz, the vulgarity of the movies and post-war fiction, as well as a trumpeted contempt for traditional patriotism religion, had left many women bewildered, and angry.  The depression and the ending of prohibition had only added to their misery.  The threat of war was the final blow.  Millions were ready to fight back.

                The NLMA soon became remarkable for its bigotry.  Even more than Lindbergh, many of its members were convinced Jews were chiefly responsible for the interventionist movement.  More importantly, they blamed Jews for most of the unwanted changes in American society.  Their control of the motion picture industry seemed to many to have led to moral decline.  Jews, concentrated in a few large cities, also symbolized for them an urban America that was both hated and feared by many who still idealized farm life and “rural, Christian values.”  Finally, Jews were also hated for their perceived numbers in Communist and Socialist parties.  Many NLMA members were certain they were the real leaders of the international Communist movement.

                A number of NLMA chapters, especially in the east, were soon infiltrated by members of Charles Coughlin‘s anti-Roosevelt and anti-Semitic Christian Front.  Kathleen Norris, in a move later followed by the AFC, had asked the radio priest not to indorse the NLMA.  It had been to no avail.  The organization would later fragment under Norris’ moderate leadership.  The New York chapter, notorious for its support of the Christian Front, and offended by Norris’ refusal to adopt an anti-Semitic program, withdrew from the national organization.  Its offshoot, the Molly Pitcher Rifle Legion, proclaimed that “no Jew is a true American,“ and urged women to “Buy Christian, Vote Christian, Employ Christian.”  The Philadelphia chapter was no better; it too withdrew from the NLMA.  Coughlinite influence continued to spread.  Norris expelled the Cleveland and Boston chapters.  She finally gave up the task as hopeless, and resigned as president at the NLMA in April 1941.  Lindbergh’s Des Moines speech increased the attraction of the AFC for many NLMA members.  Their presence, however, helped reduce the credibility of America First as an organization devoted to democracy and civil rights at home.  It is not surprising that a number of NLMA chapters continued to demand a negotiated peace even after Pearl Harbor.  Glen Jeansonne, Women of the Far Right: The Mothers’ Movement and World War II, Chicago, 1996, pp. 45-54.


[43] This was from his second radio address in October 1939.  James Cross Giblin, Charles A. Lindbergh, A Human Hero, New York, 1997, p. 173.


[44] Aviation for example was, according to Lindbergh,  “a gift from heaven to those Western nations who were already the leaders of their era … a tool specially shaped for Western hands, a scientific art which others only copy in a mediocre fashion, another barrier between the teeming millions of Asia and the Grecian inheritance of Europe …”.  These and similar observations first appeared in his article “Aviation, Geography and Race” in the November 1939 Reader’s Digest.  DeWitt Wallace had said he was proud to publish it. A second article, “What Substitute for War?“, first appeared in the March issue of the Atlantic Monthly.  Lengthy quotations for these, as well as from Lindbergh’s journal, are in Berg, Lindbergh, pp. 394-395.


[45] He never changed his mind.  A strong Germany, he wrote in “What Substitute for War?,” was as necessary as a strong England and France, “for she alone can either dam the Asiatic hordes or form the spearhead of their penetration into Europe.” Berg, Lindbergh, p. 395.


[46] So did Anne Lindbergh.  She wrote to her mother following her first visit to Nazi Germany that “there is no question of the power, unity and purposefulness of Germany … It is thrilling when seen manifested in the energy, pride and morale of the people - especially the young people.”  Hitler himself she wrote “is a very great man, like an inspired religious leader - and as such rather fanatical - but not scheming, not selfish, not greedy for power, but a mystic, a visionary who really wants the best for his country and on the whole has rather a broad view.”   She also believed, as she explained in The Wave of the Future: A Confession of Faith , published in 1940, that the war in Europe was not so much a battle between the “Forces of Good” and the “Forces of Evil” as it was between the “Forces of the Past” and the “Forces of the Future.”  While she condemned Nazi crimes, she was convinced that “it is futile to get into a hopeless ‘crusade’ to ‘save’ civilization.” Reader’s Digest condensed the book into an article DeWitt Wallace called “the article of the year.”  Giblin, Lindbergh, p. 156; and Berg, Lindbergh, pp. 362-406.


[47] A. Scott Berg, Lindbergh, New York, 1998, p. 376.


[48] These quotations are from Lindbergh’s journal, as well as his Reader’s Digest and Atlantic Monthly articles.  Berg, Lindbergh, p. 394-396.


[49] The war, Lindbergh explained in October 1939, had been brought about “by the desire for strength on the part of Germany and the fear of that strength on the part of England and France.“  Stenehjem, An American First, p. 20; and Giblin, Lindbergh, p. 172.


[50] Norman Thomas felt obliged to criticize Lindbergh’s “unscientific and certainly anti-Socialist theory of the supremacy of the white race and its duty to preserve its imperial supremacy.” W. A. Swanberg, Norman Thomas, The Last Idealist, New York, 1976, p. 249.


[51] Reactions to Lindbergh reflected the deep divisions in American society.  To Kathleen Norris, pacifist and humanitarian, he was “America’s Joan of Arc.”  Roosevelt had come to a different conclusion.  “I am absolutely convinced that Lindbergh is a Nazi,” he had told Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau as early as May 1940.  Berg, Lindbergh , p. 422; and Cole, Roosevelt, pp. 460-465.


[52] Thomas, insisting on the primacy of his anti-war principles in guiding his actions, objected to being called a Nazi sympathizer either because of his collaborators on the AFC, or because his anti-interventionist policies might help Hitler.  Replying to Dorothy Thompson, one of his most vociferous critics, Thomas wrote that “many of us who hate Nazism … resent Miss Thompson’s attempt to lump us with Nazi propagandists.  It is a world where the disciples of Machiavelli change sides so often one cannot guide one’s conduct primarily by the company in which one temporarily finds oneself but rather by principle.  Miss Thompson ought to know that, because for many months she and the Communists were exceedingly vociferous members of the same group … the war party.”  Swanberg, Norman Thomas, p. 235.


[53]Roosevelt, who had been critical of the Neutrality Act since its passage, had requested in 1939 that the arms embargo provision be repealed.  The capture of the U.S. cargo ship City of Flint by the German battleship Deutschland in October had helped convince Congress to adopt a “cash and carry” policy, whereby America could sell munitions to belligerents if paid for in cash and carried on foreign vessels.   Prime Minister Chamberlain wrote the president that the new policy “was not only an assurance that we and our French allies may draw on the great reservoir of American resources;  it is also a profound moral encouragement to us in the struggle upon which we are engaged.  Robert Goralski, World War II Almanac, 1931-1945, New York, 1981, pp. 99; and Wayne S. Cole, Roosevelt and the Isolationists, Lincoln, Nebraska, 1983, p. 330.


[54] Senate speech of January 12, 1941.


[55] Berg, Lindbergh, p. 415.


[56] Father Charles Coughlin had begun broadcasting from the Detroit  suburb of Royal Oak in 1926 to fight anti-Catholicism and Klan influence.  He also had become by the time of the Great Depression a supporter of a silver backed currency, as well as the outspoken enemy of “banisters” and “plutocrats;” the gold standard, he maintained, was being defended by New York bankers solely at the behest of British financiers.  An early supporter of Franklin Roosevelt, he had begun by calling the New Deal “Christ’s deal,” but later broke with the president over the currency issue.  Roosevelt, fearful of being associated with the increasingly demagogic Coughlin, had few regrets.  Coughlin announced the creation of his Nation Union of Social Justice on November 11, 1934; the name was changed to the Christian Front after the 1936 elections.  His radio audience, estimated at 30 million, gave him great influence.   Associated with Huey Long and Gerald L. K. Smith in 1935, Coughlin joined Long in asking Roosevelt to support the Bonus Bill, allowing the payment the money promised  First World War veterans.  Coughlin also developed an anti-Semitic program that would later become central to his movement, thus breaking  with early supporters like Nye.  The Progressive senator had associated international bankers with New York and the City of London.  Coughlin came increasingly to associate them with “the Jews.”  By the summer of 1938, when he introduced the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a fictitious plan for Jewish world conquest, to his radio audience, his transformation into an anti-Semitic demagogue was complete.  Germany’s anti-Jewish pogrom in November had horrified most Americans.  Not Coughlin.  By 1939, he was insisting Britain and France were not democracies, and therefore had no claim to moral superiority over Germany.  He also warned of subversive Jewish forces in America trying to drag America into war out of a selfish concern for co-religionists Europe. His Christian Front newspaper, Social Justice regularly published pro-German articles.  Hoping for a German victory in Russia, he warned through 1941 that Hitler’s defeat would allow the Red army to conquer the world. His broadcasts were ended by the National Association of Broadcasters once America entered the war; the Post Office banned Social Justice.  Father Charles Coughlin was finally silenced by Archbishop Francis Mooney of Detroit in 1942. Cole, Nye, p. 206; Donald Warren, Radio Priest: Charles Coughlin, Father of Hate Radio, New York, 1996, pp. 58-162; Jonas, Isolationism in America, pp. 38-39; and Glen Jeansonne, Gerald L. K. Smith, Minister of Hate, New Haven, 1988, p. 50.


[57] Lindbergh would repeat through 1941 that he did not want a German victory.  But the alternative to a negotiated peace, he believed, was a long war that “would create prostration, famine and disease in Europe - and probably in America - such as the world has never seen before.  The only real winners in such as war would be Russia and Japan.”  Cole, Lindbergh, p. 85.


[58] Roosevelt’s advisors told him “the foreign policy issue is now settled.”  Cull, Selling War, p. 185.


[59] Berg, Lindbergh, p. 416.


[60] Goralski, World War II Almanac, p. 150


[61] Schneider, Should America Go to War?, p. 113.


[62] Charles Coughlin had been saying the same thing.  He had called Roosevelt “the world’s chief war-monger” in September 1940.  He wrote in Social Justice the following year that “Stalin’s idea to create world revolution and Hitler’s so-called threat to seek world domination are not half as dangerous combined as is the proposal of the current British and American administrations to seize all raw materials in the world.  Many people are beginning to wonder who they should fear most, the Roosevelt-Churchill combination or the Hitler-Mussolini combination. Cole, Lindbergh, p. 464.


[63] Jonas, Isolationism in America,  p. 231.


[64] As one AFC pamphlet stated, “The entry of Communist Russia into the war should settle once and for all the intervention issue here at home. The war party can hardly ask the people of America to take up arms behind the red flag of Stalin.  With the ruthless force of dictatorship and aggression now clearly aligned on both sides the proper course for the United States becomes even clearer.  We must continue to build our own defenses and take no part in this incongruous European conflict.”  Jonas, Isolationism in America, p. 233.


[65] Hoover agreed “that the world would be vastly better if the whole totalitarian idea were extirpated.  But those who still cling to this as the mission of America should ask realistically how much of a job it is. … Such a war means that Hitler must be defeated.  It means Mussolini must be defeated.  It means the War Party of Japan must be defeated.  It means that Turkey, Spain, and Portugal must be defeated.  It means that unless Hitler first disposes of Stalin we much defeat him also.  Does any sane person believe that by military means we can defeat two-thirds of the military power of the whole world in even years and years?  It would be another Children’s Crusade.  Sarles, A Story of America First, p. 148.


[66] He went on to ask, “Why give up an impregnable position in America for a hazardous and untenable position in Europe? … The real defeatist is the man who says that this nation cannot survive alone.“  He ended his address by called for “a united nation behind an impregnable defense, and an independent destiny for America.“  Berg, Lindbergh, p. 422; and Cole, Lindbergh, pp. 97-98.


[67] Norman Thomas for example suggested to Senator Wheeler that when attacking interventionist Jews he should “avoid even a suspicion of racial implication” by putting in “the House of Morgan … and perhaps the Chase National Bank.” Swanberg, Norman Thomas, p. 248.


[68] Lindbergh had said in a radio address entitled “The Air Defense of America” in May 1940 that “the only reason we are in danger of becoming involved in this war is because there are powerful elements in American who desire us to take part.  They represent a small minority of the American people, but they control much of the machinery of influence and propaganda.”   Charles Coughlin was so pleased he featured Lindbergh on the front of his weekly newspaper, Social Justice.  Berg, Lindbergh , p. 402.


[69] Avery Brundage, a Chicago contractor known for his work with the Olympics Committee, was dropped after some hesitation from the AFC national committee because of his previous praise of aspects of Nazi Germany at a 1936 Madison Garden rally.  R. Douglas Stuart likewise rejected the two editors of Scribner’s Commentator, a laissez-faire and occasionally anti-Semitic magazine owned by Charles Payson, a relative of the Harrimans, who was an important AFC New York chapter contributor. Schneider, Should America Go to War?, pp. 106-107; Cole, America First, p. 132; and Stenehjem, An American First, p. 42.


[70] Coughlin was a cunning opponent.  Following the ejection of several Social Justice hawkers by General Wood from a Chicago AFC rally in the summer of 1941, the priest accused the general of religious discrimination.  Not wanting to alienate Roman Catholics, or those who were simply attracted to Coughlin’s economic program, Wood wrote a carefully worded letter in which he welcomed Christian Frontiers “in our common objective - preventing the country from getting into war.”  Social Justice then printed the letter in late July, along with another from Lulu Wheeler, Senator’s Wheeler’s bitterly anti-Semitic wife, embarrassing the Committee. Stenehjem, An American First, p. 129.  


[71] This was again pointed out by F.H. Peter Cusick, executive secretary of the Fight For Freedom Committee, after Lindbergh‘s address in Des Moines in SeptemberSenator Robert Reynolds was one of the few southern Senators who was isolationist.  He was also anti-immigrant.  “Hitler and Mussolini have a date with destiny,” he told the Senate in 1938.  “Why don’t we play ball with them?” Cole, America First, p. 146; Jonas, Isolationism in America,  p. 70; and Jeansonne, Gerald L. K. Smith, p. 87.


[72] The only state in the deep South where the AFC had some success was in Florida. Cole, America First, p. 31; and Schneider, Should America Go to War?, p. 124..


[73] The Chicago branch of the Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies, for example, not only had an Anglo-Saxon leadership, but also tried to keep Jews our of public leadership roles in outlying chapters.  They believed this would enhance the Committee’s image as being devoted entirely to American self-interest, as well as avoid exciting anti-Semitism. Schneider, Should America Go to War?, p. 76.


[74] Rosenwald joined the Committee in September of 1940, and resigned in December.  Henry Ford was dropped the same month. Florence Kahn, former Republican Congresswoman from California, and a Jew, also served briefly before resigning. Cole, America First, p. 132; and Sarles, A Story of America First, p. xxxv.


[75] The first widely read anti-Committee broadside, America First - Nazi Transmission Belt, published by Friends of Democracy shortly after the passage of Lend-Lease, recognized the new importance of America First in the anti-interventionist movement.  Calling it “America First-Aid to the Nazis,” it denounced the Committee as “a Nazi front … by means of which the apostles of Nazism are spreading their antidemocratic ideas into millions of American homes,“  and compared statements by Senators Nye, Wheeler and Hitler about the British empire and “international financiers.”  The pamphlet, which was distributed by  Fight For Freedom as well as Friends of Democracy, also noted the popularity of the AFC among Coughlinites and Bundists.  By the beginning of the summer the mainstream press had joined the attack.  The New Republic called the Committee “the most powerful single potential fascist group in the country today - the group that is polarizing every fascist force among us.”  Life said that “despite the lofty rhetoric of its hired orators, America First en masse … (is) emphatically anti-British, furtively anti-Semitic, and possibly pro-Nazi.  Schneider, Should America Go to War?, p. 187; Cole, Lindbergh, p. 140; and Stenehjem, An American First, p. 158.


[76] The Committee also rejected members of the German-American Bund.  The Bund, under the direction of German born Fritz Kuhn, eventually had 66 branches, as well as summer camps in ten states.  Its 8,300 members, located almost entirely in the New York greater metropolitan area, wore Nazi uniforms, held rallies and published their own newspaper.  Texas Democrat Martin Dies called the Bund “the spearhead of Hitler’s attempted penetration” of the United States.  Bund support would have proved a great liability for the AFC.  The Committee was equally careful about keeping out Communists, eager before June 1941 to support the anti-war movement.  Laurie, the Propaganda Warriors, p. 23.


[77] The leadership was also aware that the Coughlinite element in some eastern chapters was so large that their removal would weaken the organization.  Some were therefore ready to argue that there were “good” and “bad” Coughlinites. Cole, America First, p. 138.


[78] Hiram Johnson wrote to his son that the lines are drawn, “with all the Jews on one side, wildly enthusiastic for the president, and willing to fight to the last American both Germany and Italy; and those of us - a very considerable number - who are thinking in terms of our own country, and that alone… Naturally, like any normally constituted human being, I hate the persecutions to which the Jews have been put, and I will go any fair length save the ruin of my own country to aid them; but I will not go to the length of fighting citizens of other nations, who have been badly and shamefully treated, nor that these citizens of other nations may vindicate their rights or punish their wrongdoers.  This is the basis of our struggle here, and I don’t know but what somebody ought to say it openly, but everyone is afraid - I confess I shrink from it - of offending the Jews.“  He was also convinced that Roosevelt “cares no more for what may happen to us in a war, than the man in the moon… he has found, at last, the class which cheers him vociferously for aid to their people, who neither live here, nor have anything in common with our country.  He will do anything for applause, and it is this very group at present which applaud him to the echo.”  Lindbergh’s criticisms were more general.  A journal entry in April 1939 complained “there were too many (Jews) in places like New York already.  A few Jews add strength and character to a country, but too many create chaos. And we are getting too many.”   In August, Republican William Castle, former ambassador to Japan and Undersecretary of State, conservative commentator Fulton Lewis and Lindbergh agreed over dinner that “we must … limit to a reasonable amount the Jewish influence in the Educational agencies in this country - i.e. press, radio and pictures.  I fear that trouble lies ahead in this regard…. If an anti-Semitic movement starts in the United States, it may go far.  It will certainly affect the good Jews along with the others.  When such a movement starts, moderation ends.”  Cole, Roosevelt, p. 308; and Berg, Lindbergh, pp. 376-393.


[79] Jonas, Isolationism in America, p. 254.


[80] Other anti-Nazi films followed in 1940.  These included Twentieth Century Fox’s I Married a Nazi and Four Sons.  MGM, the last studio to produce anti-German propaganda, produced Escape and The Mortal Storm, about a German academic’s resistance to Nazi racial doctrines. The most popular film of the genre was Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator.  Cull, Selling War, pp. 113-183.


[81] Cole, America First, pp. 140-141.


[82] Lamont, an interventionist, had been a partner at the Morgan bank with Lindbergh’s father-in-law, Dwight Morrow.  Lindbergh had written back at the time that he “did not specify individuals, groups or organizations” because he hoped it still might not be necessary to do so.  Cole, Lindbergh, p. 158.


[83] Goralski, World War II Almanac, p. 172.


[84] The Greer had been tracking the U-boat 175 miles off Iceland when it was attacked.  Roosevelt justified his actions by saying “it is the Nazi design to abolish the freedom of the seas and to acquire absolute control and domination of the seas for themselves.”  Goralski, World War II Almanac, pp. 173-174.


[85] Ickes had called Lindbergh America’s “number one Nazi fellow traveler” and “the first American to raise the standard of pro-Nazism.“  On July 14, 1941 the Secretary in a New York address said, “no one has ever heard Lindbergh utter a word of horror at, or even aversion to, the bloody career that the Nazis are following …“.  Lindbergh, he continued, had never said “a word for democracy itself.”  It was Ickes’ repeated references to Lindbergh as a “knight of the German eagle,” a sarcastic reference to the medal he had received in Berlin in 1938, that would eventually help goad him into leveling accusations against Roosevelt and the Jews at Des Moines.  Dorothy Thompson, who had called Lindbergh a “somber cretin” and accused him of having no human feelings, was convinced like Roosevelt that he was a Nazi.  She attacked him in four columns in 1940, and an additional four in 1941. Cole, Roosevelt, pp. 432-461; and Berg, Lindbergh, p. 397.


[86] Berg, Lindbergh, pp. 425-427.


[87] Warren, Radio Priest, p. 172.


[88] Cole, America First, pp. 145-146.


[89] Time was no gentler.  “The America First Committee had touched the pitch of anti-Semitism and its fingers were tarred.”  Liberty called him “the most dangerous man in America.”  Cole, America First, p. 146; and Berg, Lindbergh, p. 428.


[90] Friends of Democracy within weeks of the speech held a luncheon at Toots Shor’s restaurant in New York to raise ten thousand dollars for a publicity campaign attacking Lindbergh as a Nazi.  The organization’s 28 page pamphlet, Is Lindbergh a Nazi? , claimed he had become “the American voice of the Berlin Propaganda Ministry.”  Cole, Lindbergh, p. 151.


[91] Jonas, Isolationism in America, p. 256.


[92] Cole, Lindbergh, p. 428.


[93] Cole, Lindbergh, p. 180.


[94] Thomas eventually relented. Stenehjem, An American First, p. 136.


[95] William O’Neill, A Democracy at War: America’s Fight at Home and Abroad in World War II, New York, 1993, p. 49.


[96] Lindbergh could not understand Flynn’s attitude.  As he wrote in his journal, “He feels as strongly as I do that the Jews are among the major influences pushing this country towards war.  He has said so frequently, and he says so now.  He is perfectly willing to talk about it among a small group of people in private.  But apparently he would rather see us get into the war than mention in public what the Jews are doing, no matter how tolerantly and moderately it is done.”  Cole, Lindbergh, p. 181.


[97] Cole, Lindbergh, p. 180.


[98] This did not include R. Douglas Stuart, who also wanted an unambiguous denunciation of anti-Semitism.  General Wood, reflecting the divisions in the leadership, at various times suggested the Committee disband, and that it wholeheartedly support Lindbergh.  Schneider, Should America Go to War?, pp. 210-211.


[99] In the words of one author, many America Firsters “believed that Jews represented a separate, cohesive, and definable interest group on some foreign policy issues, one dedicated to promoting a policy of intervention and possessed of the influence to help bring it about.  For this reason, some Committee members regarded Jews as political enemies.  But the stray references to Jews in the AFC records contain considerably less malice than those to Communists, anglophiles, or Franklin D. Roosevelt.”  They did not believe their views were anti-Semitic, as indeed they were not. It was Lindbergh’s discussing Jews as though they were not Americans, but rather some foreign element within America, that was anti-Semitic.  His threat against the Jews if America entered the war was more than that.  It seemed a call for persecution.  Schneider, Should America Go to War?, p. 210.


[100] Stenehjem, An American First, p. 137.


[101] In the apparently desperate struggle against Nazi domination of Europe, many interventionists, taking their cue from the president and Secretary of the Interior Ickes, made no effort to distinguish between isolationists and Nazi sympathizers.  However, since many members of the AFC themselves were unwilling to criticize Lindbergh and his increasingly extreme rhetoric, neither the administration nor his interventionist opponents can be faulted too much for their own lack of forbearance or tolerance. Cole, Lindbergh, pp. 180-181; and Cole, Roosevelt, p.484.


[102] New York based PM was owned by the very wealthy, and interventionist, Marshall Field III. Berg, Lindbergh, pp. 417-418.


[103] Goralski, World War II Almanac, p. 175.


[104] On October 4, Britain and the United States agreed to send 400 aircraft, 500 tanks, 200 gun carriers, 22,000 tons of rubber, 41,000 tons of aluminum, and 3,860 tons of machine tools to Russia every month.  Large quantities of food, medical supplies and raw materials were also to be supplied.  Goralski, World War II Almanac, pp. 176-177.


[105] Repayment was to begin five years after the war, and be completed in 10 years. The loan was approved by Congress on November 6.  Goralski, World War II Almanac, p. 179.


[106] He warned that if this was not done, the United States “position in the struggle against aggression would be definitely weakened, not only in Europe and Asia, but also among our sister republics in the Americas.”  Goralski, World War II Almanac, p. 180.


[107] Fought by the AFC, the changes were passed by a far smaller margin than Lend-Lease.  A change of ten votes in the House would have defeated them. Cole, America First, p. 165-166.


[108] Goralski, World War II Almanac, pp. 178-179.


[109] The story also appeared in the Washington Times-Herald.  Manly described the material in a summary  as a “confidential report prepared by the Joint Army and Navy high command, calling for American expeditionary forces aggregating five million men for a final land offensive against Germany and her satellites.  It contemplates total armed forces of 10,045,658 men.  It is a blueprint for total war on a scale unprecedented in at least two oceans and three continents, Europe, Africa and Asia.”  The White House Press Secretary said no action would be taken as a result of the publication, explaining “it depends entirely on the decisions of the publisher and editor whether publication is patriotic or treasonable.” Goralski, World War II Almanac, p. 185.


[110] All three supported a “Japan first” strategy  proposed by Senator Albert Chandler, Democrat of Kentucky.  Doenecke, Not to the Swift, p. 37.


[111] These remarks were made in 1943.  However, they express his pre-war beliefs.  Cole, Nye, p. 206.


[112] Jonas, Isolationism in America, p. 248.


[113] Nye would have agreed with very little else.  Although Coughlin’s demand for a silver backed currency had got him the Senator’s support early in his radio career, Nye and Coughlin definitively parted ways over the priest’s anti-Semitic statements.


[114] Jonas, Isolationism in America, p. 35.


[115] President Robert Maynard Hutchins was aware of the callousness of this attitude.  He felt obliged in January 1941 to explain his position.  “I wish to dissociate myself from those who want us to stay our of war to save our own skins or our own property.  I believe that the people of this country are and should be prepared to make sacrifices for humanity.  National selfishness should not determine national policy … What then should our policy be?  Instead of doing everything we can to get into the war, we should do everything we can to stay at peace.  Our policy should be peace.  Aid to Britain, China and Greece should be extend on the basis most likely to keep us at peace, and least likely to involve us in war. . ..  At the same time we should prepare to defend ourselves … In the meantime, we should begin to make this country a refuge for those who will not live without liberty.  For less than the cost of two battleships we could accommodate half a million refugees from totalitarian countries for a year.  The net cost would not approach the cost of two battleships, for these victims, unlike battleships, would contribute to our industry and our cultural life, and help us make democracy work…. But most important of all, we should take up with new vigor the long struggle for  moral, intellectual , and spiritual preparedness.  If we would change the face of the earth, we must first change our own hearts.  The principal end that we have hitherto set before ourselves is the unlimited acquisition of material goods.  The business of America, said Calvin Coolidge, is business.  We must now learn that material goods are a means and not an end. … The aim of life is the fullest development of the highest powers of men.  This means art, religion, education, moral and intellectual growth. … The American people, in their own interest, require a moral regeneration.  If they are to be missionaries to the world, this regeneration must be profound and complete.”  It is difficult to doubt Hutchins’ sincerity.  Still, his advice if followed would have resulted in very little aid to the Allies, and a Europe that would continue to be dominated by Hitler and Stalin.  As for America being a refuge from tyrants for millions, the nation’s wartime record of immigration restrictions is well known.  Sarles, A Story of America First, p. 151.  


[116] Many America Firsters who had been genuinely isolationist, and not just opposed to war with Germany, continued to oppose military commitments abroad even after the war.  Senator Robert Taft agreed the United States had become embroiled in a world-wide conflict with Communism.   But he also wrote in 1950 that “I do not believe it is at all clear that the Russians contemplate a military conquest of the world … I believe they know it is impossible.  It would take them at least a hundred years to build up their sea power.”  Joseph Kennedy had already labeled American foreign policy “suicidal” and “politically and morally bankrupt.”  He called for a withdrawal from commitments in Berlin and Korea, and believed the country had little interest in, or responsibility for, the defense of Western Europe.  Herbert Hoover called on the Truman administration “to preserve for the world this Western Hemisphere Gibraltar of Western Civilization.”  An economically self-sufficient America “surrounded by a great moat” did not need to keep troops either in Europe or Asia for its defense, he concluded.  Hoover did think, however, that the United States might still use Britain, Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, Australia and New Zealand as bastions of national defense.  General Wood and ex-Senator Wheeler, inspired by Taft and Hoover, began to hope for a revival of America First.  The Chicago Tribune declared “Mr. Hoover Speaks for the Nation,” and called for an end to the draft, the return of American troops from Europe, and a defense strategy limited to North America.  Some older America First prejudices also re-emerged in the post-war period.  Britain was still hated.  The election of a Socialist government in 1945 made it the world‘s first Socialist empire, and as such unworthy of help on both counts.  Some isolationists still feared Britain might also still maintain imperial preference, the tariff wall around its empire created in the early 1930s, thus putting America at a disadvantage in the enormous sterling trading zone.  In keeping with another America First prejudice, some old Committee members were anxious to rehabilitate Germany, and criticized the “harshness” of the Potsdam agreement, the restrictions on German industry and denazification.  Finally, when Robert Taft, the favorite of former America Firsters, failed to get the Republican presidential nomination in 1952, he blamed his defeat in part on “the power of the New York financial interests and a large number of businesses subject to New York,” as well as the opposition of most influential newspapers.  Jonas, Isolationism in America , pp. 278-279; and Doenecke, Not to the Swift , pp. 59-221.


[117] Stenehjem, An American First, p. 133.


[118] “If Germany had been permitted to throw her armies eastward against Russia in 1939 instead of in 1941,” he told a New York audience at his last AFC rally in October 1941, “the picture in Europe would be far different today.  Whether or not Germany would have turned west after conquering Russia is debatable.  But even if she had done so, a weaker Germany would have faced a stronger England and France.”  Cole, Lindbergh, p. 98.


[119] “In the past,” Lindbergh had said during the Battle of Britain, “we have dealt with a Europe dominated by England and France.  In the future we may have to deal with a Europe dominated by Germany.” Cooperation with Nazi Germany, he assured his audience, “need not be impossible.”  Hitler’s invasion of Russia had made him even more willing to accept German control of Europe. Giblin, Lindbergh, p. 175.


[120] In August Lindbergh charged that “the same groups who call on us to defend democracy and freedom abroad, demand that we kill democracy and freedom at home by forcing four-fifths of our people into war against their will.  The one-fifth who are for war call the four-fifths who are against war the ‘fifth column’.“ Cole, Roosevelt, p. 465.


[121] Berg, Lindbergh, p. 422.


[122] This definition of the aims of the CDAAA by William Allen White, Republican editor of the Emporia Gazette, appeared in the Chicago Daily News on May 21, 1940, a day after the Committee was created.  Cull, Selling War, p. 73.


[123] La Guardia wrote to White that “you could continue as chairman of the ‘Committee to Defend America by Aiding  the Allies with Words,’ and the rest of us would join a ‘Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies with Deeds.’” Cole, Lindbergh, p. 138.


[124] John Lewis of the United Mine Workers, who feared wartime casualties and government no-strike rules, was not among them.  The interventionists included William Green of the American Federation of Labor, and most Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) leaders.  Among these were Scottish born Philip Murray, president of the United Steel Workers, Sidney Hillerman of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, Jim  Carey of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers and Richard Frankensteen of the United Automobile Workers.  Murray would eventually become president of the CIO. Cull, Selling War, pp. 164-166.


[125] Cole, Nye, p. 157.


[126] The Chicago Daily News had originally hoped to turn the 1940 presidential race into a massive repudiation of the New Deal.  The danger Hitler presented turned it into a pro-administration, pro-intervention paper.  Schneider, Should America Go to War ,p. 51.


[127] Harry Fleischman, Norman Thomas, A Biography, 1884-1968, New York, 1969, p. 192.


[128] Schneider, Should America Go to War?, p. 62.


[129] Roosevelt had told the nation during a fireside chat in December 1940 that “the Nazi masters of Germany have made it clear that they intend not only to dominate all life and thought in their own country, but also to enslave the whole of Europe, and then to use the resources of Europe to dominate the rest of the world.”  Therefore “the United States had no right or reason to encourage talk of peace, until the day shall come when there is a clear intention on the part of the aggressor nations to abandon all thought of dominating or conquering the world.”  He also rejected any notion of a negotiated peace, since such a peace “would be only another armistice, leading to the most gigantic armaments race and the most devastating trade war in all history.  And in these contests the Americans would offer the only real resistance to the Axis powers.” Cole, Roosevelt, p. 343.


[130] This summary of Kreuger’s argument is found in Schneider, Should America Go to War?, p. 179.


[131] Cull, Selling War , p. 34.



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