The beginning of World War II marked a tremendous change in the world’s politics, economy, and other spheres of human life. It affected all regions regardless of their intention to participate in the events or attempts to avoid inclusion in hostilities, and the United States of America was no exception to the rule. Meanwhile, many thinkers of the country and, more particularly, the members of organizations insisting on peace, such as the America First Committee, were opposed to the idea of direct interventions (Chase). Their intentions to prevent citizens from involving in military activities and their alarming support of this course of action were sufficiently justified; however, this well-informed stance did not eliminate the further necessity to declare war (Pleasants 2). The arguments presented by opponents of this decision were less significant than the emerging needs of the government and, therefore, it is vital to examine them to shed light on the principal occasions of the time.
Distinguishing The United States From The Old World
The first argument of the anti-war movement’s supporters was related to the necessity to distinguish between the American government’s affairs and other countries’ needs. It was initially presented by Charles Lindbergh, an aviator, and a military officer, in his speech on April 23, 1941. According to him, people should prioritize the interests of the United States over England’s requests for help in war since the latter only attempted to protect the Empire, which had no connection to the Western Hemisphere (Lindbergh). This opinion was underpinned by other opponents of interventions who claimed that America was not supposed to be “the world’s policeman,” and that involvement in any kind of aggression was unacceptable (Russett 19). Moreover, the desire to ensure “an independent American destiny” served as the basis for the establishment of the America First Committee (Lindbergh). Its objectives were to provide citizens who did not agree with the requirement to enter the war with the opportunity to express their opinions as to the minorities who possessed power and insisted on the need to act (Lindbergh). Thus, the ideas of supporters of peace were promoted with the help of this entity.
Although this argument was reasonable from the perspective of the perceived needs of the United States, it was not successful in determining the further course of events. One of the main reasons why it failed was connected to the relationships of the countries and their mutual dependency. Thus, American citizens were concerned about the impact of World War II on trade operations and, consequently, feared the worsening of their economic conditions as a whole (Pleasants 14). This factor did not allow policymakers to completely neglect this area of people’s lives as it directly reflected their interests, which Charles Lindbergh and his followers were trying to advance. After all, achieving prosperity in this world is possible only in the case of regions cooperating, and the ultimate independence of a single country cannot be advantageous for its progress in various fields.
Consideration of Chances For Success: Futility of Interventions
The second consideration explaining the seeming necessity to avoid involvement in the military activity of European countries was the alleged futility of interventions due to the lack of equipment and appropriate training. It was also presented by Charles Lindbergh as a specialist in the field who was aware of the situation in the army. Hence, he stated that the assistance to England would not help it win the war because the United States did not have the capabilities to maintain its forces on hostile coasts (Lindbergh). In addition, the lack of modern fighting planes and, consequently, the inability of air forces to make a difference complemented his stance (Lindbergh). These arguments were well-informed and based on credible information regarding the American military capacity, but they were also insufficient for preventing war actions in the future.
The reason why these facts did not convince the government’s authorities was related to specific contradictions in the above position. Thus, the supporters of the anti-war movement claimed that the country could provide neither people nor equipment to help England while expressing hopes that the necessary means for protecting citizens can be developed (Lindbergh). Meanwhile, it was unclear why the required maintenance of armed forces ” sufficient to defend this hemisphere from attack by any combination of foreign powers” is possible under the specified circumstances (Lindbergh). From this perspective, the attempts of the opponents of interventionists to insist on funding the army while excluding the opportunity to help Europeans were not justified. Considering the pace of the conflict’s development, it was clear that it will reach the United States sooner or later, and the preventive measures could address the risks.
Imaginary Safety of American Citizens
The third aspect contributing to the unwillingness of American citizens to involve in the war with European countries was the erroneous belief in their safety, which was ensured by the long distance between the United States and the war theaters. The leaders of the America First Committee believed that no one would attack them if “we arm ourselves as a great nation” (Lindbergh). This position partially explained the above contradiction regarding the feasibility of funding the army while refusing England assistance. In addition, even the people who were afraid of negative economic consequences for their households and the country as a whole did not take the threat seriously (Pleasants 14). As for the mentioned organization, its members thought it reasonable to simply ” keep our naval convoys and merchant vessels on this side of the Atlantic,” and the problem will be thereby addressed (Cole 308). However, the subsequent escalation of the conflict proved them wrong.
The intentions of Franklin Delano Roosevelt to find a peaceful solution by satisfying the claims of the supporters of the refusal to enter the war discussed above did not bring any results. Various events, such as the attack of a German U-boat on the USS Greer in September 1941 in the Northern Atlantic, confirmed the impossibility of finding a safe place and avoiding participation in military actions (Pleasants 18). They were more significant factors in determining the willingness of the United States to declare war in the affected region than the considerations of harm. The direct offense could not be addressed in any other way and, consequently, overweighed the countervailing ideas.
A Threat to Democracy
The fourth argument, which seemed one of the most critical ideological concepts in the matter, was a perceived threat to democracy. It was explained by the fact that the demands to enter the war expressed by interventionists of the time contradicted the majority’s stance (Lindbergh). More than eighty percent of American citizens were opposed to the idea, and the potential violation of democratic principles in the case of the beginning of military activity abroad evoked concerns in the population (Lindbergh). The anti-war movement supporters used this justification for promoting their prevalent views and stating that the peril posed by the above factor should be eliminated (Lindbergh). In other words, any reasonable considerations were automatically rejected by them, and the desire for influence on the course of American history ruled the decisions of people from the America First Committee and their followers.
Nevertheless, this argument also happened to be unsuccessful in convincing others of the correctness of their perspectives. Over time, it became clear that the continuation of war events in Europe implies more rapid progress than originally expected, and many individuals started to change their minds in this respect by the late 1940s (Pleasants 18). Subsequently, the failure of the bill ” To Promote the Defense of the United States” in eliminating the emerged threat alongside the uselessness of other peaceful methods led to drastic shifts in the public mood (Pleasants 18). As a result, the positions of minorities or, more specifically, the government officials supporting the need for interventions became dominant, and the representatives of peace-making entities could not stand the pressure.
Adverse Outcomes For People’s Wellbeing: Lessons From The Past
The final claim of members of organizations promoting various methods to avoid participation in World War II was the general unwillingness of citizens to engage in the events. It was based on their previous losses and suffering during the Great Depression and World War I, and this experience did not contribute to considering another opportunity for changing the state of affairs (Pleasants 2). The period of seeming improvements in people’s lives following the above occasions only strengthened their opinions concerning the lack of necessity to involve in other conflicts (Pleasants 3). For them, there was no such notion as “a good war” since any similar issues reminded them of the past full of tragic circumstances and the continuous need to survive and save their families.
However, despite the prevalence of this stance among American citizens, it can hardly be concluded that everyone was content with the situation. At the time, the rights of various population groups were still violated, and the promised prosperity was still unattainable for minorities and the poor (Pleasants 5). Thus, for example, racial segregation in the army was present, and African Americans were in a much less favorable position than their white counterparts (Pleasants 10). It means that the notion of “a relatively stable culture” promoted by the members of the America First Committee did not apply to all citizens of the United States (Chase). In practice, most of them continued to suffer from terrible living conditions, and this circumstance did not contribute to their desire to support the war regardless of its objectives.
To summarize, the arguments of the supporters of the anti-war movement and their corresponding organizations were well-justified but completely unsuccessful when they clashed with reality. First, the idea to distinguish the needs of the United States and European countries failed due to their interrelations in the economic sense and, consequently, the possible harm to people’s households stemming from complicated trade. Second, the statement of incapability of the former to help England contradicted the perceived possibility to strengthen the American army. Third, the imaginary safety of citizens was replaced with the understanding of an actual threat at the beginning of the German attacks. Fourth, the threat to democracy was a significant factor, which lost its importance when Americans started to support the previous minorities. Fifth, the negative experience of World War I veterans and their desire for prosperity could not eliminate the fact that some population groups were not included in this notion. Thus, it can be concluded that the reasonability of the stance of people supporting peaceful resolution of conflicts was confronted by the need to act.
Cole, Wayne S. “The America First Committee.” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society (1908-1984), vol. 44, no. 4, 1951, pp. 305-322.
Chase, Stuart. “Four Assumptions About The War.” Hathi Trust, Web.
Lindbergh, Charles. “New York City Speech – America First Committee.” Charles Lindbergh, Web.
Pleasants, Julian M. Home Front: North Carolina During World War II. University Press of Florida, 2017.
Russett, Bruce M. No Clear and Present Danger: A Skeptical View of the United States Entry into World War II. Routledge, 2018.