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In Danger Undaunted
The Anti-Interventionist Movement of 1940â"1941 as Revealed in the Papers of the America First Committee
By Justus D. Doenecke
Hoover Institution PressCopyright © 1990 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University
All rights reserved.
"A Story of America First"
From Stuart's Whitney Avenue home, plans were formulated for a nationwide organization of college graduates who would lead the opposition to war in their respective cities.
The simplest method of organization was employed. The group elected an executive Committee made up of Yale Law School men, representative of different sections of the country. They were Eugene Locke, of Dallas, Texas, a graduate of the University of Texas in 1937; Gerald Ford, Grand Rapids, Michigan, a graduate of the University of Michigan in 1935 [Gerald R. Ford, Republican congressman from Michigan, 1948–1973; president of the United States 1974–1977]; Potter Stewart of Cincinnati, Ohio, Yale 1937 [associate justice, United States Supreme Court, 1958–1981]; and Bob Stuart [R. Douglas Stuart, Jr., student at Yale University Law School; national director (1940–41), then executive secretary (1941), America First Committee; later president, board chairman, Quaker Oats Company; U.S. ambassador to Norway]. Stuart was chosen Secretary.
A statement of policy for the embryo group was drawn up. It demanded first that the United States expend all energy on building an impenetrable hemisphere defense. It warned that democracy here would be endangered by involvement in a European war and opposed further aid to England beyond the limitations of the "cash and carry act" (the Neutrality Law) in the belief that it would lead to war.
Following is the exact text of the first set of four principles as agreed upon by the Yale students:
We believe that the United States must now concentrate all its energies on building a strong defense for this hemisphere.
We believe that today our American democracy can only be preserved by keeping out of war abroad.
We oppose any increase in supplies to England beyond the limitations of cash and carry in the belief that it would imperil American strength and lead to active American intervention in Europe.
We demand that Congress refrain from war, even if England is on the verge of defeat.
A petition blank was mimeographed, topped by the statement of principles and describing, beneath the space for names and addresses, the purpose of the blank. "The national group of graduate students who initiated this petition," it asserted, "are unsubsidized, non-pacifist, and without political affiliation, Its efforts are confined to the one issue outlined above."
The petition was circulated among friends, acquaintances, suggested sympathizers and every obtainable list of college names. Two were sent to each person. They were asked to obtain as many signatures as possible of people in accord with the stated principles. Bundles of petitions and letters were shipped to contacts at Princeton and Harvard. The signed petitions were to be returned to Stuart.
A letter accompanying the petition listed the Executive Committee and explained their purpose. The letter disclosed that men in eight States, including several former college editors and all-American football players, had already agreed to devote their summer to the work of organizing the opposition to war.
In a few weeks the signed petitions were rolling in, and to the new names listed additional petitions were sent. The framework for an organized opposition to war was being hastily thrown up around young college graduates in important centers of the Nation.CHAPTER 2
Kingman Brewster to R. Douglas Stuart, Jr. undated [c. July 1940]
So far my fussing around has not accomplished very much. Ogilby is adamant [Remsen Brinkerhoff Ogilby, president of Trinity College, Hartford, Conn.]. If possible I'll get hold of him for advice, but I am positive that he cannot be wheedled into the organization. Beard is apparently taking the same aloof line [Charles A. Beard, noted historian, never joined the AFC, though he did endorse it]. I'm going down to see him Wednesday. The delay was necessary because he has no phone and is not likely to be in New Milford. It took some correspondence from myself and Whit [A. Whitney Griswold, assistant professor of government and political science, later president, Yale University] and some waiting but he will see me and appears very willing to give us personal advice and support. I will sound him out particularly on pamphleteering. Whit has many reservations as to his name value to us anyway. He's so doctrinaire on the subject that his strength is well located by everyone anyway. A letter from Arthur Ballantine, Jr. [son of Arthur Ballantine, under secretary of the U.S. Treasury, 1932–1935] is full of distress about what to do with enlisted enthusiasts. Great problem. can't do much without money — hence I suggested that the thing to do was raise money.
As I gather it indirectly the Eastern tide of participationist feeling is rising. As I wrote Arthur there are two great dangers. First the campaign to give part of our fleet to Britain. (For publicity purposes I would express it this way. "Part of our fleet" sounds like a much larger national crime than "50 destroyers." After all that's what it amounts to, for destroyers would be the most necessary defensive weapon with which to repel the Nazi invasion that Messrs. White and Sherwood are so sure is imminent) [William Allen White, editor of the Emporia Gazette and national chairman of the Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies; Robert E. Sherwood, playwright and outspoken interventionist]. The second danger is the great cloud of fatalism that would settle over the land if conscription would become a fact. It would in some ways be pretty hard to go about work with much zest if you were on call for a man whose views are antithetical to yours. Further, don't let anyone sell you on the idea that Willkie is the great peace hope [Wendell L. Willkie, president of the Commonwealth and Southern Company and Republican candidate for president, 1940]. It is too discouragingly obvious from the press reports that he's playing pretty cozy with the W.A.W. outfit [William Allen White's Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies]. For my part the organization would lose all value were it to be in any way partisan. I hope my last blast along this line didn't seem too cocky or impertinent, but I feel very strongly on this point even though I am in a private dither about who to vote for.
I have only two constructive suggestions: Dr. Marsh, President of Boston University, may be a likely committee member. He made an excellent speech decrying war hysteria and interventionist muddle-headedness at the commencement of the Boston University summer session. His name is Daniel L. Marsh. Another man whose services might be enlisted is Hanson Baldwin. He is military affairs expert for the N.Y. Times so could not give you his name and keep his job. However his recent piece in the August Harpers is the best statement of the military position of this country that I have ever seen. He would be of inestimable value, if not for research at least to put you in touch with military people in active service who feel free to have an opinion.
I find I am terribly in arrears academically. I'm getting panicky about my Senior thesis which is supposed to be first drafted by the time college opens. I even gave up the Nantucket Regatta, so you can see all is not horseplay. I do hope you can get Hoover signed up [Herbert Hoover, president of the United States, 1929–1933]. Somehow he sums up all that was best in the old politics. But of course he too must be compensated with someone on the other side of the fence. But there I go in unconstructive out of taste advice, so I'll shut up until I have something to offer. Will be glad to hear from you how things are going.CHAPTER 3
Address to National Small Business Men's Association
August 12, 1940
The National Small Business Men's Association is doing a public service in asking an expression of opinion on the probability, need, or reasons for the United States becoming involved in the war. Taxation to pay for preparations for war will surely fall heavily on the small business man, as well as on the wage-earner, as rich individuals and corporations are already taxed to the point of diminishing returns.
I believe in strong national defense. Every young man should put in at least six months of compulsory service, in the army or navy by those fitted for military duty, and in labor battalions of C.C.C. [Civilian Conservation Corps] camps by the others. But as the leading military experts (until subjected to administration pressure) have maintained that a mobile, well-equipped army of half a million men, equally divided between regulars and national guardsmen, properly backed by trained reserves, is adequate for the defense of this continent, emergency recruiting of a larger army must be suspect as an endeavor to create — and use — an expeditionary force.
One must also suspect this sudden hysterical clamor for defense. Is the condition much different from that of September 1939, or September 1938, for that matter? Military men knew of German preparations. Lindbergh [Charles Lindbergh, the aviator] and others had told of the might of the German air force, of the power of the German army. Anyone who had traveled in France realized the decline in French morale and the lack of popular support for a war against Germany. France's socialistic or communistic kind of government (a close relative of the New Deal) had broken down the strong individualism and patriotism of that country. It had sent essential war equipment and planes to help the Communists in Spain, but, unlike the Germans, had apparently learned nothing from the Spanish campaigns. The country was seriously divided — cursed with self-seeking politicians.
The British defenses, on land and in the air, were notoriously weak. Yet their rulers meddled in all European affairs, blowing hot and cold, friends of Germany one day, enemies the next, aiding France now, Germany then, trying to keep any one power from becoming too strong. In June, Russia was hailed as a member of the "Democratic Front"; in September, the headlines screamed "Moscow's Treason!" The League of Nations had become a farce.
What a mess for us to meddle in! The eventual outcome of meddling is involvement. Should not need for defense measures, if so urgent now, have been recognized before? Why are the demands for money increased each week? Is it possible that now the public approves spending for national defense (whereas it objected to pump-priming), the spenders use defense as just another way to spend money, to create a false prosperity, to influence the voters in the November election?
The thinking man naturally wonders who is going to attack us. The answer given is, (1) Germany; (2) Japan. High authority gives us time-tables for German bombers, yet the same authority takes no steps to assure us intercepting air bases at such places as Trinidad, or Bermuda. South America is put forth as a danger spot. The Germans, if they get to Rio, are twice as far from New York as they now are at Brest! The President's distinguished fifth cousin's book on the River of Doubt shows that the Amazon and Orinoco jungles are about the most impenetrable in the world. We are told that the ideology of dictatorships will permeate South America. Informed persons know that, with possibly one or two exceptions, South America is now completely dictator-ruled. We are told that we would lose our South American trade. Well, in this country we have the Sherman and Clayton laws to insure competition. If our goods and services are not good enough to hold their place in the world, should we force them down the throats of our South American neighbors? And if our form of government is not attractive to other nations, should we force it on them at the point of a bayonet or by economic blockade?
The failure of the British in Norway shows the difficulties of an attempted invasion of North America. The greatest sea power in the world, operating about 250 miles from home bases, could not maintain a small expeditionary force in Norway against the opposition of shore-based aircraft, small seaborne craft, and a determined, well-trained land force. Multiply that distance by ten, add the opposition of our Navy, and one does not greatly fear that the Germans can land an army in North America, or maintain it after it had been landed.
A reasonable, realistic policy toward Japan would eliminate many dangers in the Pacific. The present Secretary of War [Henry L. Stimson], when Secretary of State, completely reversed the traditional policy of this country, that is, friendship for Japan, reportedly at the instigation of Britain. We opened up Japan; we stopped the Russo-Japanese War at a time when the Japanese effort had passed its peak and the Russian power was augmenting. Japan is our second-best overseas customer. It is claimed that those parts of China which have been taken over and given peace, order, and a stable government by Japan have greatly increased their trade with the United States. The heavy Chinese emigration to Manchuria must have some reason.
Is it wise or sensible constantly to insult and challenge our second-best customer? Japan would surely be only too anxious to make a reasonable treaty with the United States, giving formal recognition to the Monroe Doctrine and other principles dear to our hearts, in return for recognition of the de facto Japanese position in the Orient. Why not salve Japanese pride by allowing quota immigration on equality with other nations? As long as we have a one-ocean navy, why pick fights in two oceans?
We are told that the Japanese want to take over the Dutch East Indies, and if they do our supplies of rubber and tin would be shut off. Is this a good argument? History and experience show that the Japanese are extremely anxious to develop and exploit the resources of their possessions, to sell their produce abroad in exchange for goods they need.
We should follow the advice of [George] Washington: We should maintain friendly relations with all nations, grant special favors to none. We should remember that the Monroe Doctrine was just as emphatic against American interference in Europe as against European interference in the Americas. We should not meddle in the internal affairs of other nations. If they wish to be ruled by a Hitler, a Stalin, a Petain [Henri Philippe Pétain, who held the title "chief of state" in the Vichy government], or a Haile Selassie [emperor of Ethiopia deposed by Italian forces in 1936], that is their business, not ours. We have no mission to impose our ideas of government on others.
Let us assure a reasonable national defense; let us solve our own domestic problems while other nations solve theirs in their own way; let us adopt a "live and let live" policy. Above all, let us cultivate peace and friendship with all the world.CHAPTER 4
Clay Judson to Robert E. Wood
September 24, 1940
I am delighted that you are to give a talk before the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations. [On October 4, 1940, Wood gave a major address to the Council on Foreign Relations of Chicago. Entitled "Our Foreign Policy," it outlined various AFC positions. It was reprinted in full in the Congressional Record, October 14, 1941, pp. A6301–303.] You will do a splendid job, and we may all be surprised at the volume of approval which your address will elicit. So far the Council has been deluged with rather sensational talks on the other side of the picture, all of them calculated to get us into this war.
The main objectives of the America First Committee are so sound that we should all be glad of the opportunity to express them publicly. From my standpoint there are four fundamental principles in which the America First Committee believes.
(1) It believes in the defense of America, and by this it means primarily the United States and so much of the balance of this hemisphere as may from time to time be necessary for the safety of this country. The Committee does not believe that there is any danger of a successful invasion of this country. Invasion would be impossible now because any nation which might conceivably be interested in any such wild adventure is otherwise occupied. If we adequately prepare, no nation in the future will dare consider it, or if it does try will not have the slightest chance of success.
Excerpted from In Danger Undaunted by Justus D. Doenecke. Copyright © 1990 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University. Excerpted by permission of Hoover Institution Press.
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Table of Contents
INTRODUCTION The Origins and Activities of the America First Committee,
DOCUMENTS Selected Documents of the America First Committee,