American World War II Interventionists

Figure 1.--The Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies actively promoted Presiden Roosevelt's interventionist policies by contrinuting articles to the national media. Here they use to ostriches to dramatize the President's chare that the Isolationists were sticking their heads in the sand. Wheeler amd Lindbergh of course were prominent isolationidt. The press caption read, "Wheeler and Lindbergh Denounced at Rally in New York City: Edgar Ansel Mowrer (left), freign correspondentand radio news commentator, joins with New York Supreme Justice Ferdinand Pecora and actress Tallulah Bankhead in burying in the sands of Oriental Beach the heads of two stuffed ostriches labeled Wheeler and Lindbergh at a rally of the Committee to Defend America today. Justice Pecora called Senator Birton K. Wheeler and Charles Lindbergh, the non-inteventionists whom the stuffed birds represented. 'Wheelbergs abusing their freedom so speech.' Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox, in a message sent to the rally, commended the Committee for its work to 'awaken the people of this country to the perils which confront them.' In the backgound at the extreme right right is Herbert Byard Swope who was a speaker at the rally." The photograph was dated July 31, 1941.

Isolationist groups were strongest in the Midwest and had support throughout the country. Interventionist sentiment in contrast was promoted by much smaller but vocal groups formed by Northeastern elites , often with ties to Britain. The Isolationists dominated the debate about American security in the 1930s. The dominant opinion was that American involvement in World War I had been a mistake and that America should never again become involved in a European war. Americans mired in the Depression were largely uniterested in foreign affairs, including Hitler's seizure of power in Germany and instalation of a police state dictatorship (1933). Jewish groups had little impact on public opinion. And as NAZI power grew, the primary concern became the danger of another bloody conflict with Germany. American saw developments in Germany and Hitler haranging mass rallies in the movie newsreels. They did not like what they saw, but they also wanted no part in another war. A rare pro-British organization was the Friends of Democracy, founded in 1937. Public opinion only began to shift after the Munich Conference carving up Czechoslovakia (September 1938) and the brutal Kritallnacht pogrom targeting Jews (October 1938) President Roosevelt reclled American Ambassador Hugh Wilson to protest the NAZI pogrom. Despite the substantial anti-Semetic orientation of many Americans, most Americans were critical of Hitler's treament of Jews. [AIPO] This was followed by Hitler's violation of his Munich commitments, the invasion and occupation of the rest of Czechoslovakia (March 1939). Americans began connecting dictatorship at home with aggression abroad. But Jews nd Czechs were a small part of the American population. And the increasingly vocal isolationist groups still dominated public discourse. President Roosevelt was the most outspoken American about the character and danger of the NAZIs, but there were limits as to how far ahead of public opinion he could get. And the President as well as much of the country assumed that given the third term convntion that a new president woyld be chosen in 1940. Events in Europe soon overtook American politics. Most Americans when war broke out (September 1939) assumed that the Western democracies (Britin and France) could contain the Germans and stangle them with a naval blockade as in World War I. American heavily favored the Allies. [Fortune Magazine poll]. Everything change with the German Western offensive (May 1940) that led to the fall of France. It was suddely clear that Britain alone could not stop the NAZIs. More Americans began to see that America would have to become involved. The most immediate change was that many Americans wanted Presudent Roosevelt to guide them thriugh the coming crisis despite the no third term convention. The President had arned about Hitler and many saw that he had been correct. Groups began to form to support the President and intervention. The Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies was created (May 1940). A more aggressive interventionist group was the Fight For Freedom Committee (April 1941). These groups backed the Presisent in his fights with the Isolationists. The interventionist groups helped place articles in nationals publications and provide speakes. They could not, however, match the Isolationits in mass rallys. Despite the best efforts of the Isolationists, Americans came around to a peace time draft, increased military spending, and support for Britain. The President took a huge step after meeting with Churchill to sign the Atlantic Charter by launching a undeclared naval war in the North Atlantic (September 1941). At the time of Pearl Harbor multiple polls had shown a huge majority of the Americans still opposed war.

American Defenders of Freedom

American Labor Committee to Aid British Labor

Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies (May 1940)

The Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies (CDAAA) was an American political action group formed as the Germans launched their long-anticipated Western Offensive (may 1940). It became the leading voice supporting effoys to aid the Allies which with the fall of France (June 1940) meant advocating a pro-British policy' to oppose Axis, meaning primarily German aggression. It took the President's line that suppling American military equipment and supplies to Britain was the best way to keep the United States out of the European war. Like the President, the Committee organizers knew that Americans were opposed to diect involvement, but were willng to aid Britain. The CDAAA was the primary answer to the America First Committee arguing for neutrality and against intervention. The CDAAA first sought the repeal of the Neutrality Acts and strongly supported the President's Lend-Lease Act. The CDAAA was also hlp build public support for the Destroyers for Bases Agreement. There were 600 local chapters. The Committee sponsored national radio addresses by influential individuals such as John J. Pershing and William Harrison Standley. Isolationist groups were concerned about the Committee's impact. The No Foreign War Committee's hair, Verne Marshall, charged that CDAAA, propganda had "the same public psychology as that which was carefully created during the war period preceding our declaration of hostilities in April 1917." He demanded that the CDAAA to provide details 'specific, exact, and unequivocal' of what it meant when it called for 'steps short of war'. ["New Group ..."] Marshall was badly misguided when he failed to recognize the mortal danger posed by the NAZIs, but he was correct that steps short of ar would ultimately ead to war. It would be the steps supporting Britain that would lead to Hitler declaring war on America and te Japnese attack on Pearl Harbor. The CDAAA national chair was William Allen White, a respected newspaper editor and author and a major voice of the Progressive movement. White gave an interview to the Chicago Daily News where he argued: "Here is 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... Here all the rights that common man has fought for during a thousand years are menaced... 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." White maintained a non-partisan stance despite strong support for the President. He pointed out that both the President and Reoublican nominee, Wendell Willkie, supported material assistance to Britain. ["Non-partisan ..."] Following the Presidents reelection, the CDAAA took a further step, released a new statement of policy. It included support for "the maintenance of the lifeline between Great Britain and the United States." This meant committing the U.S. Navy in the North Atlantic against German U-boatsan reinternated suppot for repealing 'restrictive legislation' (November 26, 1940). ["All U.S. ...]

Council for Democracy (July 1940)

Henry Luce, C. D. Jackson, Freda Kirchwey, Raymond Gram Swing, Robert Sherwood, John Gunther, Leonard Lyons, Ernest Angell and Carl Joachim Friedrich established the Council for Democracy (July 1940). The Council according to one historian 'became an effective and highly visible counterweight to the isolation rhetoric' of the America First Committee led by Charles Lindbergh and Robert E. Wood. "With financial support from Douglas and Luce, Jackson, a consummate propagandist, soon had a media operation going which was placing anti-Hitler editorials and articles in eleven hundred newspapers a week around the country." [Bird] The Council itself became an issue in the 1940 Presidential Election. The isolationist Chicago Tribune charged that the the Council was under the control of foreigners, meaning the British. "The sponsors of the so-called Council for Democracy... are attempting to force this country into a military adventure on the side of England." The Council was also attacked for being mostly funded by Henry Luce. [Seldes] The Tribune was a vocal critic of President Roosevelt and his interventionist policies. And while their failure to undertand the danger posed by the NAZIs is astonishing, there was real substance to threir charge. British operative William Stephenson and the British Security Coordination was deeply involved with the Council. A post-war assessment reveals that "William Stephenson decided to take action on his own initiative. He instructed the recently created SOE Division to declare a covert war against the mass of American groups which were organized throughout the country to spread isolationism and anti-British feeling. In the BSC office plans were drawn up and agents were instructed to put them into effect. It was agreed to seek out all existing pro-British interventionist organizations, to subsidize them where necessary and to assist them in every way possible. It was counter-propaganda in the strictest sense of the word. After many rapid conferences the agents went out into the field and began their work. Soon they were taking part in the activities of a great number of interventionist organizations, and were giving to many of them which had begun to flag and to lose interest in their purpose, new vitality and a new lease of life." [Dahl, et. al.]

Fight for Freedom Committee (1941)

The Fight for Freedom Committee came out of Northeastern elites. Knowing that Americans were determined to avoid a another war, they did not argue for a declaration of war. Rather they promoted seps short of ar like breaking diplomatic relations with Germany, using the Navy to take on the U boats, and the repeal of the neutrality acts. The primary aim from the beginning was to wage war on the Axis, primarily Germany. One member explined the groups's purpose, 'to agitate for an open declaration of war against Germany and Italy'. Members were a vrtual Who's who of the Northeastern establishment. Mellon family member David K. E. Bruce contributed $10,000. The Rockefellers were important contributors. Other major large contributors included Marshall Field, Max Ascoli, Darryl Zanuck, and Harry and Jack Warner. [Laurie, pp. 40-41.]

Friends of Democracy (1937)

Friends of Democracy, Inc. (FOD) was the first important interventionist organization. It was organized in Kansas City, Missouri by Unitarian minister Leon M. Birkhead (1937). The group presented itself as 'a non-partisan, non-sectarian, non-profit, anti-totalitarian propaganda agency'. The word propaganda at the time did not have the sinister connotations it has since aquied. The grop moved to New York City where they had an active branch (1938). Here the group found more support than in the Mid-West where it was founded. FOD compiled files on over 800 pro NAZI Germany organizations in America. [Powers, p. 167.] The group published journals entitled The Propaganda Battlefront and Democracy’s Battle. Rex Stout became the chairman (1942). Influential members included :John Dewey, Thomas Mann, Van Wyck Brooks, and Will Durant. The FOD was apparently at least partially funded by the British. One historian calls it a propaganda front group for British intelliigence. [Duffy] The same author points out that Birkhead became chairman of another front group controlled by the British, the Nonpartisan Committee to defeat Hamilton Fish. Fish was arominant anto-News Deal Republican nd Isolationist.

League of Human Rights, Freedom and Democracy

Ring of Freedom

The Ring of Freedom was an association headed by publicist Dorothy Thompson.


American Institute of Public Opinion (AIPO). An AIPO poll December 10, 1938 reported that 94 percent of Americans opposed Hitler’s treatment of Jews.

Bird, Kai.

Dahl, Roald, H. Montgomery Hyde, Giles Playfair, Gilbert Highet, and Tom Hill). Secret History of British Intelligence in the Americas, 1940-45.

Duffy, James P. Lindbergh vs. Roosevelt: The Rivalry That Divided America.

Laurie, Clayton D. The Propaganda Warriors: America’s Crusade Against Nazi Germany (Lawrence, Kansas, 1996).

Powers, Richard Gid. Not Without Honor: The History of American Anticommunism.

Seldes, George. Seldes was an intrepid investigtive journalist often writing for the Chicago Tribune. The Tribune in many cases did not carry Seldes reports because of political differences, but in this case his report revealed information the Tribune wanted to reveal.

"All U.S. Resources for Britain Urged". New York Times. (November 26, 1940).

Fortune Magazine. Public opinion poll (October 1939). Americans wanted no part of the War, but 85 percent favored Britain and France in their fight against NAZI Germany.

"New Group Fights War Involvement". New York Times (December 18, 1940). 14.

"Non-Partisan Stand by Aid-Allies Group". New York Times (October 25, 1940).


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Created: 1:51 AM 11/7/2016
Last updated: 1:51 AM 11/7/2016