* World War II -- isolantionists individuals Gerald Nye

Individual Isolationists: Senator Gerald Nye (Nebraska)

Figure 1.--

Gerald Nye of all the Senate isolations was the one that Roosevelt most despised. He was on the short list with Martin Dies and Burton K. Wheeler. Nye was a product of the progressive movement in the Republican Party. They supported a great deal of useful legislation such as labor laws protecting women and children. He also felt large corporations were exploiting working people, especially farmers. But it is Nye's investion of war industries and opposition to President Roosevelt's efforts to oppose the dictators for which Nye is now best known. There is no doubt war is an evil thing. Yet Nye's opposition to war clearly threatned American national security. Opposing war might be understood as moral act, despite the dangers to naional security. But Nye does not seem to have changed his opinions even as the MAZi threat grew. And perhaps most troubling about Nye are his anti-Semetic statements and actions that seem to suggest an acceotance of Fascism. While the President won the key voyes in the Senate, Nye and his America First compatriots came very close to winning on dseveral occassions and did succeed in limiting President Roosevelts actions during 1939-41.





Nye became editor of the Plain Dealer (1912), a important Iowa newspaper. He was a staunch advocate for the temperance movement and supported prohibition. He bought a newspaper of his owm (Fryburg Pioneer) He became editor of Sentinel-Courier after World War I (1919).

Political Career

As a journalist Nye aligned himseld with farmers and small business and promised to fight for their interests against "big business".

Progressive Movement

The Progressive Movement on America was an in part an attempt to address social problems that developed in America after the Civil war as a result of industrialization. Progressives also addressed some more long term problems such as woman's sufferage. America had changed considerably since the Civil War. The frontier had been settled, America had emerged as the world's greatest agricultural and industrial power, there was an experiment with imperialism, great cities had developed, and huge numbers of immigrants accepted. America bustled with wealth, optimism, and industrial expansion. Many Americans had benefitted from the rise of merica as an industrial power. Many Americans had not. Large numbers of Americans subsisted on an economic edge. Children and women toiled in sweatshops and mills for pitiful sums. Poor children were often unavle to attend school. Public health programs were week and products sols were sometimes unhealthy. Working conditions were often unsafe and there was no work place protections or disability insurance. There was no protection for widows and orphans and no old age protecion schemes. Prisons and state hospitals for the retarded and mentally ill were commomly horror houses. State and Federal goverments were often run on the spoils system. Legislators in many states as well as senators were not selected by direct vote. Monoplies and trusts gained great power in the American economy. A growing movement to prohibit alcoholic beverages were a part if the progressive movement. And with the outbreak of World war Imny progressives took up the cause of pacifism. Muckraking journalists drew these problems to the attention of the often shocked American public. Many at the turn of century believed that the Governments role was to keep expenditures low and to avoid involvement in the economy. President Cleveland made no effort to alieviate economic suffering during the Depression of 1992-93. The central issue raised by the progressives was what is the proper role of the government in social and economic affairs. The progressives were not basically a political party as such, but the progressives influenced the Democrats and Republicans, especially during the Roosevelt, Taft and Wilson administrtions and were a major influence on the Roosevelt's New Deal. While not normally a political party, progressives did organize three challanges to the major parties. The first and most important was Roosevelt's Bull Moose challenge to the Republican Party (1912). There was also the La Follette Progressives (1920s) and Wallace Progressives (late 1940s).

Progressive Republican

As a journalist, Nye became active in Republican politics and supported the progressive wng of the party. He strongly championed Iowa Senator Albert B. Cummins. He supported Cummins for the Republican presidential momination in 1916. The Republicans nominated Charles E. Hughes to run against President Woodrow Wilson. Wilson's 1912 election had been made possible by the split in the Republican Party. This time the Party was united, but Wilson gained a narrow election victory, in part by coopting some Republican progressives and in part because he kept America out of World war I.

Elected Senator (1926)

Nye won election to the Senate as a Republican from North Dakota (1926) and alligned himself with progressive Republicans (William Borah, Henrik Shipstead, Hiram Johnson, Bronson Cutting, Lynn Frazier, Robert La Follette, Arthur R. Robinson, John Elmer Thomas, Burton K. Wheeler, and George Norris). Nye wanted more progressive tax systen, including an inheritance tax, and criticized Treasury Secretary Mellon.

Tea Pot Dome

He also played a prominent role on the Senate committe investigating Tea Pot Dome and sharply criticised the oil companies. He became known as "Gerald the Giant-Killer" when he found that that Albert B. Fall, President Harding's Interior Secretary had arranged kick backs to the Republican National Committee.

The Depression

After the Stock Market Crash (1929), he began criticising President Hoover's policies for dealing with the Depression. After President Roosevelt's election (1932) he supported some New Deal legislation such as the National Labor Relations Act and the Social Security Act. He was, however, critical of the New Deal for not acting decisively enough. He denounced President Roosevelt for favoring large coprporations while failing to adequately address the needs of little guy--neglecting farmers, small businessmen, and workers. He particularly wanted farm price supports. This was not a theme heard from many Republicans in the 1930s, but reflected the once prominent Republican progressive wing.

Munitions Industry

Nye achieved considerable attention for his invesigation of the role of the munitions industry during World war I. It became widely accepted that it was wealthy industrialists that played a major role in starting World War I and drawing America into the War. Dorothy Detzer, Executive Secretary of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, appealed to Congressional leaders (Nye, George Norris, and Robert La Follette) investigate into the international munitions industry. This interested Nye because of the thee of the corrupting influence of money. Nye offered a Senate Resolution to direct the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) to investigate the munitions industry (February 8, 1934). Thus at a time when Hitler was beginning the massive rearmament of Germany, Nye was going to tar the American arms industry. Key Pittman from Nevada was the SFRC Chairman. Pittman was a Roosevelt loyalist and did not like the idea. Nye's resolution was was referred to the Military Affairs Committee. There is was combined with an earlier resolution authored by Arthur H. Vandenberg of Michigan, a leading Republicn isolationist, who wanted to create a system that would take the profit equation out of War. The Munitions Investigating Committee included both Nye and Vandenberg and several other senators. Public hearings began (September 4, 1934. The Committee findings on scant evidence found the munitions industry and bankers were influential in America's entry into World War I. This played into the growing isolationist feeling. Nye claimed that "the record of facts makes it altogether fair to say that these bankers were in the heart and center of a system that made our going to war inevitable." (1936) Arms manufactures were called "the merchants of death". So at the time that the NAZIS and Japanese were spending vast sums to build a modern military, Senator Nye and his colleagues were conducting a virtual witch hunt of the very industry that would be needed not only to save America, but Western democracy itself.

Neutrality Acts

Nye played an important role crafting of the Neutrality Acts (1935, 37). These laws prohibited the United States from selling arms to beligerant countries. They were first employed with the out break of the Spanish Civil War. Nye eventually seems to have realized that this policy simply guaranted the defeat of the Republic because the Germans and Italians were providing arms to Franco. Nye finally seeing this after 3 years of fighting suggested thus proposed lifting the arms embargo on the Republic. The President opposed this. By this time it was clear that Franco had won the war, although it would take a few more months to enter Madrid. All that selling arms to the Republic would have dome at this stage would have bought the emnity of the new Spanish Government. (The fact that Spain did not enter the War proved critical during 1941-42.) The resolution was voted down by a vote of 17 to 1.


Nye's role in munitions industry investigation earned him considerable support from pacifist and anti-war groups like the Fellowship of Reconciliation and the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. He also became one of the most prominent isolationists, surely the one who most upset President Roosevelt. Nye continued his isloationist views even when the NAZIs emerged as a serious military threat. After Hitler seized the rest of Czechoslovakia (March 1939), the President wrote Hitler asking him to pledge that he would carry no further aggressions (April 1938). Nye almost sided with Hitler's mocking response when he commented, "He (the President) asked for it." It is unclear why Nye was so blind to NAZI barbaity or the danger posed. It appears it was his opposition to war. Why he could not see that America's turn would evetually come and against a German which grew stronger with every conquest is unclear. After the fall of France Nye attacked the President Roosevelt for giving the leaders of England and France "reason to believe that if they would declare war on Germany, help would be forthcoming." (August 1940). He argued that America had "sold out, by deliberate falsification, the two European nations with which we had the closest ties. We sent France to her death and have brought England perilously close to it." His reasoning was that if America had not held out the hope of support, that Britain and France would not have gone to war. The fact that German was building a huge military machine and conquering neigboring countries seems to have escaped his notice. He began speaking accross the country to oppose American aid to Britain. Nye exclaimed to a group in Pennsylvania that the European war was not "worthy of the sacrifice of one American mule, much less one American son." (April 15, 1940) He also argued that "Russia, Stalin and communist ideology" would eventually win from the War. Nye was by far the the most prominent member of the America First Committee in the Senate and the most willing to use shrill language in attacking the Administration. Nye continued to oppose the President's efforts to aid Britain during 1941. He led the Senate fight against Lend Lease. This was key because without Lend Lease, Britain could not have continued to fight. Nye helped persuade Burton K. Wheeler, Hugh Johnson, Robert LaFollette Jr., Henrik Shipstead, Homer T. Bone, James B. Clark, William Langer, and Arthur Capper, to oppose Lend Lease. The Senate passed it, however, with a vote of 60 votes to 31.

Hollywood Investigation

Nye also attacked Hollywood. He accused Hollywood of becoming "the most gigantic engines of propaganda in existence to rouse the war fever in America and plunge this Nation to her destruction". He persued a [rove of Hollywood seeking to epose a pro-war bias. Now it is true that Hollywood strongly favored Britain, but "gigantic engines of propaganda" compared to NAZI propaganda seems a bit of an over statement. And of course not having Britain as an ally would have done a great deal to "plunge this Nation to her destruction". For effect Nye intoned that the movies were "not revealing the sons of mothers writhing in agony in trench, in mud, on barbed wire, amid scenes of battle or sons of mothers living legless, or lungless, or brainless, or sightless in hospitals." Nothing resulted from the Nye investigation. He was forced to admit that he had never viewed the films which he labeled as "war propaganda." Hollywood miggt be also accused of not agressively enpigh confronting Fascism. The films Nye listed were B films, not major productions. But the larger question of Hollywood's role in poltical debate is a very difficult one.


Nye added added for good effect that Hollywood's depictions were due to the large number of refugees (a polite way of saying Jews) and British actors working in the industry. Another leading isolationist picked up on this theme. Charles A. Lindbergh in a Des Moines, Iowa, address charged that the "three most important groups who have been pressing this country toward war are the British, the Jewish and the Roosevelt administration". Nye began more explicit statements. He claimed "that the Jewish people are a large factor in our movement toward war." Now one can understand isolation as opposition to war. We believe it was mistaken, but understandable. Far more difficicult tgo understand why Nye would blame the Jews rather than Hitler.

Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941)

The debate in America ended abruptly with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Senator Nye had the destinction of delivering the last isolationist tiorade against President Roosevelt. He was the featured speaker at an America First rally in Pittsburg. A note was hanbfed to him about the attck as he was about to go on stage. He at first ignored it and blammed the state of affairs on Roosevelt abd the munitions manufcturers. The audience did not yet kjnow about the Oearl Harbor attack. Nye would vote for the War resolution the next day. Three days later, Hitler declared war on America. Like it or not, America was now in the War. And now the very arms industry he attacked was needed to save America along with our British and Soviet allies that Nye had wanted to anandon to Hitler's tender mercies. Nye once America entered the War was a strong proponent of the war effort.

1944 Election

The 1944 was the first presidential election held during war since the 1864 election in which President Lincoln was reelected. Sentor Nye was also up for reelection. Nye's outspoken isolationist views before the War haunted him in the 1944 election. President Roosevelt won his fourth term. Senator Nye was defeated.

Post-War Career

I do not have much information about Nye after he was retired from the Senate. We do know that he practiced law in Washington after the War. He later became a special assistant for elderly housing, in the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) (1960-64). He died in 1971.


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