A Story of America First: The Men and Women who Opposed U.S.intervention in World War II

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Greenwood Publishing Group, 2003 - 238 pages

The America First Committee, founded in September 1940 to keep the United States out of what became the Second World War, was the largest antiwar organization in American history. Its 800,000 members spanned the political spectrum from conservative Republican to Socialist; its spokesmen were prairie populists, Eastern patricians, and, most controversially, the aviator Charles A. Lindbergh. Written in 1942, but unpublished until now, this study of the America First Committee by its chief researcher and Senate lobbyist, Ruth Sarles, sheds new light on this frequently misunderstood and misrepresented group. An introduction by Bill Kauffman assesses the place of Ruth Sarles and America First in American history.

Ruth Sarles was at the center of the storm. An Ohio-born peace activist with the pacifist National Council for Prevention of War, Sarles knew all of the principals and had a ringside seat for the great debates that pitted isolationists against interventionists. In 1942 she wrote a firsthand history of the America First Committee. But a war was on, and dissent was scarce: her manuscript remained unpublished--until now. Ruth Sarles tells of America First's unlikely birth at the Yale Law School, its extraordinary growth as Middle Americans rallied to the antiwar banner, and the fierce controversies in which it became enmeshed. In this edition, Kauffman uncovers some fascinating sidelights to the era, including a pro-Lindbergh editorial by a student journalist named Kurt Vonnegut.

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Contents

Why America First?
lix
Laying the Foundations
7
America First under Fire
29
What the Polls Said
67
Colonel Lindbergh and America First
97
The Antiwar Bloc in the War Congress
117
On the Record What We Said
131
Closing the Books
159
Who Were the America Firsters?
165
An Interview with Robert Douglas Stuart Jr
197
Speakers and National Committee Members of America First
207
Index
219

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Page li - Europe has a set of primary interests, which to us have none, or a very remote, relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence therefore it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves, by artificial ties, in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics, or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities.
Page 54 - Their greatest danger to this country lies in their large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio, and our government.
Page li - The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is, in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible.
Page 50 - The three most important groups who have been pressing this country toward war are the British, the Jewish and the Roosevelt administration.
Page 118 - We will not participate in foreign wars, and we will not send our army, naval or air forces to fight in foreign lands outside of the Americas, except in case of attack.
Page 85 - I now recommend to your honorable body the adoption of a joint resolution declaring that a state of war exists between the United States of America and the Kingdom of Spain, and I urge speedy action thereon, to the end that the definition of the international status of the United States...
Page lx - I have said this before, but I shall say it again and again and again: Your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars.
Page 51 - Colonel Lindbergh and his fellow members of the America First Committee are not anti-Semitic. We deplore the injection of the race issue into the discussion of war or peace. It is the interventionists who have done this. America First, on the other hand, has invited men and women of every race, religion and national origin...
Page 3 - Principle proclaimed: The Constitution of the United States vests the sole power to declare war in Congress. Until Congress has exercised that power, it is not only the privilege but the duty of every citizen to express to his Representatives his views on the question of peace or war — in order that this grave issue may be decided in accordance with the will of the people and the best traditions of American democracy.

About the author (2003)

RUTH SARLES was chief researcher and Senate lobbyist for the America First Committee. A former editor with the pacifist National Council for Prevention of War, Sarles represents the often-unacknowledged liberal face of the anti-intervention movement of 1940-41. After marrying Bertram Benedict in 1943, Sarles worked as a Washington Daily News reporter and a State Department analyst. She died in 1996.

BILL KAUFFMAN is associate editor of The American Enterprise. He is the author of four books: With Good Intentions? Reflections on the Myth of Progress in America (Praeger, 1998), America First! Its History, Culture, and Politics (1995), Country Towns of New York (1995), and the novel Every Man a King (1989).

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