American World War II Isolationists: Groups

Figure 1.--Famed aviator Chatles Lindbergh hre is addressing an American First rally at the Hollywoof Bowl in Los Angeles (June 20, 1941). Isolationist groups like the American Firsters lost battkle after battle with President Roosevelt, but undoubtedly helped to limit the President's options as he struggled to aid Britain and confront NAZI Germany. Here the Anmerican Firsters are preparing for the 1941 presidential election. They were not yet aware that they would have to battle with tyheir nenmesis, President Roosevelt, again.

Isolationism had been an important thread in American society, but the isolatinism which developed in the 1930s was in large measure an outgrowth of America's Wprld war I experience. Americans after War organized many groups to oppose war. The strength and importance of these groups grew after Hitler seized power in Germany and the move toward another world war began. These groups has a range of orinentations. The groups varied in size, orientation, amd importance. Most of thee groups began to criticise President Roosevelt as he began to speak out against the Dictators. Americans concerned about the Roosevelt Administration's weakening of the Neutrality Acts to support the Allies formed The America First Committee (AFC) in September 1940. This was the most powerful isolationist group that resisted President Roosevelt's efforts to resist the dictators. There were a wide range of groups which promoted isolationism, many of which also opposed American rearmament. Some of the groups wre pascifists. Other had left-wing leanings. Socialist parties had historically resisted militarism and war. Here the situation was more complicated. Some left-wing groups were under the contol or strongly influenced by the Soviets. The Soviets built a huge military but ordered foreign communists to opposed domestic military spending. After the formation of the National Front in Europe (1936), the Communists out of fear of Hitler began supporting military preparations. This changed with the signing of the NAZI-Soviet Non-Agression Pact (August 1939). The Comminists abrutly changed again when the NAZIs attacked the Soviet Union (June 1941).

American Communist Party

The American Communist Party (CPUSA) was founded after a split in the Sociaklistv Party (1919). Many of the more radical socvialists were enboldebned by the Bolshevick seizure of the Russian Revolution. American workers seemed less interested in Communism than their European counterparts. There was, however, growing interest in Communism during the Depression, both among workers and the academic community. The CPUSA was not an isolationist group. Most members had a very keen internstionalist focus. And the Party was fully controlled by Moscow. And as a result followed the swings in Soviet foreign policy. The Party was stridently anti-Fascist during the 1930s. This changed with the signing of the NAZI-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact (August 1939). Despite Soviet pacifist propagabda, the Pact made World War II possible. It made Hitler and Stalin allies and they bioth oproceeded to carve up Europe between them, commiting terible attrocities in the process. This required an immediate and sharp reversal in ACP policies. Suddenly the ACP began making common cause with the Isolationists. Party members were asgtionished to find themselves advicating many of the sanme policies as the German-American Bund. Like Hitler, Stalin wanted to keep America out of the War until he and his new NAZI ally had completed their subgegation of Europe. Thus the ACP opposed efforts like aiding Britain as well as military conscription and increases in the dfense budget. While the American Firsters for the most part reviled the Communists, the poliforeign policy cies they advocated largely coincided.

American First Committee

Americans concerned about the Roosevelt Administration's weakening of the Neutrality Acts to support the Allies formed The America First Committee (AFC) in September 1940. Some of the organizer were Robert E. Wood, John T. Flynn and Charles A. Lindbergh. They organized 450 local chapters and claimed more than 0.8 million members. Important Americans including Congressmen soon spoke up to support the AFC. Some even had participated in the fight against American participation in the Laeague of Nations. Important supporters included Burton K. Wheeler, Hugh Johnson, Robert LaFollette Jr., Hamilton Fish, and Gerald Nye. The AFC was the single most important voice for isolationism in America. The AFC promoted the idea that the United States should build an impregnable defense so that no foreign country would dare attack America. They insisted that American democracy could only be preserved by avoiding involvement in a European War. They thought that aid to other countries weakened America's own defense. [HBC note: We know now that while the AFC was arguing against involvement that the Japanese were actually planning an attack and the NAZIs were designing weapons systems which could reach America. The impact of the AFC's campaign would have left an isolated America without alliesto fight the NAZIs and Japanese strengthened by the resource and industies of conquered nations.] The AFC's publicity campaign was orchestrated by John T. Flynn. One advertisement read: "The Last War Brought: Communism to Russia, Fascism to Italy, Nazism to Germany. What Will Another War Bring To America?" Father Charles Coughlin, one of the most important radio commentators of the 1930s, in April 1941 begamn to endorse the AFC in his broadcasts and publication Social Justice. Couglin was another AFC proponent whose message included anti-Semitism. Senators including Gerald Nye, Burton K. Wheeler, Hugh Johnson, Robert LaFollette Jr., Henrik Shipstead, Homer T. Bone, James B. Clark, William Langer, and Arthur Capper attacked Lend Lease. Americas engaged in a intense debate as to whether aid shoulkd be given to Britain and risk war with Grmany. Rge debate engulfed the entire nation. [Goodwin, p. 194.] Presiden't Rooevelt with a masterful Fire Side Chat, helped sell Lend Lease to the American people. In many ways it was NAZI barbarity that moved American public opinion. Americanns saw the Luftaffe pond London in the movie newsreels and listened to Edward R. Murrow's broadcasts and gradually came to agree with the President that the NAZIs could not be dealt with in any way but force and that America itself was threatned. In the end, the Senate passed Lend Lease by 60 votes to 31. This was thge key vote as Britain ws approaching the point that it no longer had the financial resources to purchase war materials in America. The AFC actively opposed the Administration's efforts to aid Britain throughout 1940 and 41.

National Committee to Keep America Out of Foreign Wars

This was a group associated with Congressman Hamilton Fish.

Citizens Committee to Keep America Out of War

Make Europe Pay War Debts

This was a Viereck Committee.

Coalition of Patriotic Societies

Crusading Mothers of America

Citizens No foreign War Coalition

Constitutional Education League

Fellowship of Reconciliation

The Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) grew out of the Christian pacifist tradition. A group of clergyman partici[ating in an international conference at Lake Constance, Switzerland founded FOR (1914). Theorganizers were committed pacifists opposed to countries waging war or using force to solve international disputes. American participasnts included Abraham Muste, Norman Thomas, Roger Baldwin, Anna Murray, Scott Nearing and Oswald Garrison Villard. FOR continued to work for peace after World War I. After World war II broke out in Europe, Abraham Muste was appointed executive secretary of the organization (1940). Muste activeky participated in the isolationist effort to prevent the United States from entering the War. Muste later gave permission for James Farmer, George Houser and Bayard Rustin to establish the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) (1942). CORE was to play an important role in the American Civil Rights mocement.

German American Bund

Many isolationists groups were sincerely committed to peace and pacifism. For the German American bund, isolationism was a tactic adopted as part of an effort to prevent America from entering World War II. The American Bund had a curious relationship with Hitler's NAZIs. The Bund of course stongly supported Hitler and sought his blessings and financial support. Hitlerís program, however, was based on a tactic and dividing opponents so he could take on one at a time. Thus his policy toward America was to avoid confrontations and maintain correct relationships until he had had first conquered Europe. This was difficult because President Roosevelt odentified Hitler and the NAZIs as ahreat to world peace from the very beginning of his presidency. The two men assumed power withon weeks of each other. The Bund also complicated Hitler's policy of maintaining amicable relations with America. ThevBund adopted the outwardly symbols the NAZIs which most Americans thought repugnant. There were bellicose speeches attacking democracy nd minorities, storm troopers with swastika armbands, and bearting attacks of people protesting Bund meetings. Hitler thus did not authorize financial aid to the Bund in contrast to his support of similar groups in neighbring countries like Czechoslovakia. Contrary to the popular belief, the NAZIs were not efficently organized. And Bundeslieter, Fritz Kuhn, and finding NAZI organizations that would provife support. MAZI Ambassador Hans Dieckhoff could view at first hand the damage being done to Germany by the Bund. They were teaching Americans at first hand what the NAZIs were like. Dieckhoff, receiving instructions from the Foreign Office, ordered German citizens to quit the Bund. He also learned that Kuhn had obtained money from SS Lt Gen Werner Lorenz's organization, Volksdeutsche Mittelstelle. The Bund had its supporters, but it was a small number of German Americans, nost of whom looked on the Bund and the NAZIs with disgust. The Bund did cooperate with the Klan. Besides advocating isolationism, the Bund sought to promote racial and ethnic violence. There particular targets were Jews and Blacks. rman Americans are the largest American ethnic group. At the time 1.5 million americans were German born. Much larger numbers were of Herman ancestry. The Bund may have had about 6,500 activists and another 20,000 sympathetic hangerson. [Kahn, p140.] The Bund joined the chorous of isolationist criticism of President Roosevelt and his efforts to oppose the dictators and arm America.

War Debts Defense Committee

This was a Viereck Committee.

We, the Mothers United

We, the Mothers, Moblize for America

Women's International League for Peace and Freedom

Americans were shocked and horified when World War broke out in Europe. Most people assumed that the War would soon end. But after several months of fighting there was no sign of a quick conclusion. A group of women pacifists began discussing the need to end the fighting. They decided that an organization was needed to persue peace making efforts. An organizin meeting was held in the ballroom of the New Willard Hotel in Washington (January 10, 1915). About 3,000 women attended and formed the Woman's Peace Party. At the time women did not yet have the vote. Jane Addams was elected chairman. Adams was the founder of Hull House and the Settlement House Movement in America and thus one of the best known and respected women in America. Other organizers included Mary McDowell, Florence Kelley, Alice Hamilton, Anna Howard Shaw, Belle La Follette, Fanny Garrison Villard, Emily Balch, Jeanette Rankin, Lillian Wald, Edith Abbott, Grace Abbott, Crystal Eastman, Carrie Chapman Catt, Emily Bach, and Sophonisba Breckinridge. Arletta Jacobs was a Dutch suffragist. She asked representatives of the Woman's Peace Party to attend an International Congress of Women in the Hague. THe Netherlands was surounded by the War, but remained neutral. Suferage was a major concern, but the War was an even greater concern of the women involved. At the Congress, Jane Addams was asked to chair the meeting because of her reputation and the fact that she represented the neur=tral United States (April 1915). Other U.S. delegates included Alice Hamilton, Grace Abbott and Emily Bach. Some of the other delegates included: Lida Gustava Heymann (Germany); Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, Emily Hobhouse, (England); Chrystal Macmillan (Scotland) and Rosika Schwimmer (Hungary). After the Congress, a committee formed of Jacobs, Addams, Macmillan, Schwimmer and Balch went to London, Berlin, Vienna, Budapest, Rome, Berne and Paris to speak with government reptresentatives. The delegates also decided to form the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) to work to end the War. Emily Bach was a professor at Wellesley College. She was dimissed as a result of her activitiesxopposing the War. She became secretary of the WILPF. The members decided to make the organization permanent after the War. The international headquarters was established in Geneva, a city chosen because of Switzerland's tradition of neutrality. There are branches in about 50 different countries. Dorothy Detzer who in the 1930s was the Executive Secretary of the WILPF asked some of the Senate Progressives like Gerald Nye, George Norris and Robert La Follette to investigation the international munitions industry. The Senate subcommittee became known as the Nye Committee. With only scant evidence, the Nye Committee left the impression that it the arms industry played a major role in instigating World War I. The investigation occurred at the same time that the NAZIs and Japanese were promoting their arms industries and spending vast sums preparing for war.


Kahn, Albert. Sabotage (Harper & Brothers, 1942).


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Created: 12:04 AM 11/27/2006
Last updated: 5:25 PM 6/19/2013