In May 1927, a shy, handsome young man from Michigan named Charles Lindbergh suddenly became the idol of millions when he landed his Ryan M-2 in Paris after a grueling 33-hour flight from New York – the first person ever to fly solo, nonstop, across the Atlantic ocean.
Twelve years later, this politically astute son of a United States Congressman resolved to speak out against President Franklin Roosevelt’s illegal campaign to push the United States into the fratricidal European war that had broken out in September 1939.
The Most important national peace organization of this period was the America First Committee. Founded in July 1940, the broad-based citizens’ coalition quickly grew to a membership of some 800,000. For his work as the Committee’s most prominent and articulate spokesman, Lindbergh was both widely praised and bitterly denounced.
In a series of persuasive and widely noted speeches, Lindbergh gave voice to the thoughts and feelings of the great majority of Americans who wanted to keep their country out of the war.
Neutrality and War
Broadcast October 13th, 1939
Tonight, I speak again to the people of this country who are opposed to the United States entering the war which is now going on in Europe. We are faced with the need of deciding on a policy of American neutrality. The future of our nation and of our civilization rests upon the wisdom and foresight we use. Much as peace is to be desired, we should realize that behind a successful policy of neutrality must stand a policy of war. It is essential to define clearly those principles and circumstances for which a nation will fight. Let us give no one the impression that America’s love for peace means that she is afraid of war, of that we are not fully capable and willing to defend all that is vital to us. National life and influence depend upon national strength, both in character and in arms. A neutrality built on pacifism alone will eventually fail.
Before we can intelligently enact regulations for the control of our armaments, our credit, and our ships, we must draw a sharp dividing line between neutrality and war; there must be no gradual encroachment on the defenses of our nation. Up to this line we may adjust our affairs to gain the advantages of peace, but beyond it must lie all the armed might of America, coiled in readiness to spring if once this bond is cut. Let us make clear to all countries where this line lies. It must be both within our intent and our capabilities. There must be no question of trading or bluff in this hemisphere. Let us give no promises we cannot keep make no meaningless assurances to an Ethiopia, a Czechoslovakia, or a Poland. The policy we decide upon should be as clear cut as our shorelines, and as easily defended as our continent.
This western hemisphere is our domain. It is our right to trade freely within it. From Alaska to Labrador, from the Hawaiian Islands to Bermuda, from Canada to South America, we must allow no invading army to set foot. These are the outposts of the United States. They form the essential outline of our geographical defense. We must be ready to wage war with all the resources of our nation if they are ever seriously threatened. Their defense is the mission of our army, our navy, and our air corps the minimum requirement of our military strength. Around these places should lie our line between neutrality and war. Let there be no compromise about our right to defend or trade within this area. If it is challenged by any nation, the answer must be war. Our policy of neutrality should have this as its foundation.
We must protect our sister American nations from foreign invasion, both for their welfare and our own. But, in turn, they have a duty to us. They should not place us in the position of having to defend them in America while they engage in wars abroad. Can we rightfully permit any country in America to give bases to foreign warships, or to send its army abroad to fight while it remains secure in our protection at home? We desire the utmost friendship with the people of Canada. If their country is ever attacked, our Navy will be defending their seas, our soldiers will fight on their battlefields, our fliers will die in their skies. But have they the right to draw this hemisphere into a European war simply because they prefer the Crown of England to American independence?
Sooner or later we must demand the freedom of this continent and its surrounding islands from the dictates of European power. American history clearly indicates this need. As long as European powers maintain their influence in our hemisphere, we are likely to find ourselves involved in their troubles. And they will loose no opportunity to involve us.
Our congress is now assembled to decide upon the best policy for this country to maintain during the war which is going on in Europe. The legislation under discussion involves three major issues – the embargo of arms, the restriction of shipping, and the allowance of credit. The action we take in regard to these issues will be an important indication to ourselves, and to the nations of Europe, whether or not we are likely to enter the conflict eventually as we did in the last war. The entire world is watching us. The action we take in America may either stop or precipitate this war.
Let us take up these issues, one at a time, and examine them. First, the embargo of arms: It is argued that the repeal of this embargo would assist democracy in Europe, that it would let us make a profit for ourselves from the sale of munitions abroad, and, at the same time, help to build up our own arms industry.
I do not believe that repealing the arms embargo would assist democracy in Europe – because I do not believe this is a war for democracy. This is a war over the balance of power in Europe a war brought about by the desire for strength on the part of Germany and the fear of strength on the part of England and France. The munitions the armies obtain, the longer the war goes on, and the more devastated Europe becomes, the less hope there is for democracy. That is a lesson we should have learned from participation in the last war. If democratic principles had been applied in Europe after that war, if the “democracies” of Europe had been willing to make some sacrifice to help democracy in Europe while it was fighting for its life, if England and France had offered a hand to the struggling republic of Germany, there would be no war today.
If we repeal the arms embargo with the idea of assisting one of the warring sides to overcome the other, then why mislead ourselves by talk of neutrality? Those who advance this argument should admit openly that repeal is a step toward war. The next step would the extension of credit, and the next step would be the sending of American troops.
To those who argue that we could make a profit and build up our own industry by selling munitions abroad, I reply that we in America have not yet reached a point where we wish to capitalize on the destruction and death of war. I do not believe that the material welfare of this country need, or that our spiritual welfare could withstand, such a policy. If our industry depends upon a commerce of arms for its strength, then our industrial system should be changed.
It is impossible for me to understand how America can contribute civilization and humanity by sending offensive instruments of destruction to European battlefields. This would not only implicate us in the war, but it would make us partly responsible for its devastation. The fallacy of helping to defend a political ideology, even though it be somewhat similar to our own, was clearly demonstrated to us in the last war. Through our help that war was won, but neither the democracy nor the justice for which we fought grew in the peace that followed our victory.
Our bond with Europe is a bond of race and not of political ideology. We had to fight a European army to establish democracy in this country. It is the European race we must preserve; political progress will follow. Racial strength is vital politics, a luxury. If the white race is ever seriously threatened, it may then be time for us to take our part in its protection, to fight side by side with the English, French, and Germans, but not with one against the other for our mutual destruction.
Let us not dissipate our strength, or help Europe to dissipate hers, in these wars of politics and possession. For the benefit of western civilization, we should continue our embargo on offensive armaments. As far as purely defensive arms are concerned, I, for one, am in favor of supplying European countries with as much as we can spare of the material that falls within this category. There are technicians who will argue that offensive and defensive arms cannot be separated completely. That is true, but it is no more difficult to make a list of defensive weapons than it is to separate munitions of war from semi-manufactured articles, and we are faced with that problem today. No one says that we should sell opium because it is difficult to make a list of narcotics. I would as soon see our country traffic in opium as in bombs. There are certain borderline cases, but there are plenty of clear cut examples: for instance, the bombing plane and the anti-aircraft cannon. I do not want to see American bombers dropping bombs which will kill and mutilate European children, even if they are not flown by American pilots. But I am perfectly willing to see American anti-aircraft guns shooting American shells at invading bombers over any European country. And I believe that most of you who are listening tonight will agree with me.
The second major issue for which we must create a policy concerns the restrictions to be placed on our shipping. Naval blockades have long been accepted as an element of warfare. They began on the surface of the sea, followed the submarine beneath it, and now reach up into the sky with aircraft. The laws and customs which were developed during the surface era were not satisfactory to the submarine. Now, aircraft bring up new and unknown factors for consideration. It is simple enough for a battleship to identify the merchantman she captures. It is a more difficult problem for a submarine if that merchantman may carry cannon; it is safer to fire a torpedo than to come up and ask. For bombing planes flying at high altitudes and through conditions of poor visibility, identification of a surface vessel will be more difficult still.
In modern naval blockades and warfare, torpedoes will be fired and bombs dropped on probabilities rather than on certainties of identification. The only safe course for neutral shipping at this time is to stay away from the warring countries and dangerous waters of Europe.
The third issue to be decided relates to the extension of credit. Here again we may draw from our experience in the last war. After that war was over, we found ourselves in the position of having financed a large portion of European countries. And when the time came to pay us back, these countries simply refused to do so. They not only refused to pay the wartime loans we made, but they refused to pay back what we loaned them after the war was over. As is so frequently the case, we found that loaning money eventually created animosity instead of gratitude. European countries felt insulted when we asked to be repaid. They called us “Uncle Shylock.” They were horror struck at the idea of turning over to us any of their islands in America to compensate for their debts, or for our help in winning their war. They seized all the German colonies and carved up Europe to suit their fancy. These were the “fruits of war.” They took our money and they took our soldiers. But there was not the offer of one Caribbean island in return for the debts they “could not afford to pay.”
The extension of Credit to a belligerent country is a long step toward war, and it would leave us close to the edge. If American industry loans money to a belligerent country, many interests will feel that it is more important for that country to win than for our own to avoid the war. It is unfortunate but true that there are interests in America who would rather lose American lives than their own dollars. We should give them no opportunity.
I believe that we should adopt as our program of American neutrality – as our contribution to western civilization – the following policy:
An embargo on offensive weapons and munitions.
The unrestricted sale of purely defensive armaments.
The prohibition of American shipping from the belligerent countries of Europe and their danger zones.
The refusal of credit to belligerent nations or their agents.
Whether or not this program is adopted depends upon the support of those of us who believe in it. The United States of America is a democracy. The policy of our country is still controlled by our people. It is time for us to take action. There has never been a greater test for the democratic principle of government.
Our Relationship with Europe
Broadcast August 4th, 1940
Several weeks have passed since I received the honor of your invitation to speak in Chicago. At that time it was essential to create strong and immediate opposition to the trend toward war which was taking place in this country. The agitation for our entry in the war was increasing with alarming rapidity. Hysteria had mounted to the point where anti-parachute corps were being formed to defend American cities against air attacks from Europe. Greenland, with its Arctic climate, its mountainous terrain, and its ice-filled seas was called an easy stepping-stone for German bombing planes invading America. Cartoons showed the Atlantic Ocean reduced to the width of the English Channel. American safety was said to depend upon the success of European armies. Foreign propaganda was in full swing, and it seemed in many ways that we were approaching the greatest crisis in the history of our country.
But events move swiftly in this modern world, and the true character of a nation lies beneath such surface foam. When the danger of foreign war was fully realized by our people, the underlying tradition of American independence arose, and in recent weeks its voice has thundered through the weaker cries for war.
We have by no means escaped the foreign entanglements and favoritism that Washington warned us against when he passed the guidance of our nation’s destiny to the hands of future generations. We have participated deeply in the intrigues of Europe, and not always in an open “democratic” way. There are still interests in this country and abroad who will do their utmost to draw us into the war. Against these interests we must be continuously on guard. But American opinion is now definitely and overwhelmingly against our involvement. Both political parties have declared against our entry into the war. People are beginning to realize that the problems of Europe cannot be solved by the interference of America. We have at last started to build and to plan for the defense of our own continent. By these acts, our eyes are turned once more in the direction of security and peace, for if our own military forces are strong, no foreign nation can invade us, and, if we do not interfere with their affairs, none will desire to.
Since we have decided against entering the war in Europe, it is time for us to consider the relationship we will have with Europe after this war is over. It is only by using the utmost intelligence in establishing and maintaining this relationship that we can keep America out of war in the future.
I have a different outlook toward Europe than most people in America. In consequence, I am advised to speak guardedly on the subject of the war. I am told that one must not stand too strongly against the trend of the times, and that, to be effective, what one says must meet with general approval.
There is much to be said for this argument, yet, right or wrong, it is contrary to the values that I hold highest in life. I prefer to say what I believe, or not to speak at all. I would far rather have your respect for the sincerity of what I say, than attempt to win your applause by confining my discussion to popular concepts. Therefore, I speak to you today as I would speak to close friends rather than as one is supposed to address a large audience.
I do not offer my opinion as an expert, but rather as a citizen who is alarmed at the position our country has reached in this era of experts. As laymen we are often told that the solution of difficult problems should be left to the specialist. But since specialists differ in the solutions they recommend, they must at least allow us the privilege of choosing those we wish to follow. And in making this choice, it seems that we are back where we started and must form an opinion of our own.
I found conditions in Europe to be very different from our concept of them here in the United States. Anyone who takes the trouble to read through back issues of our newspapers cannot fail to realize what a false impression we had of the belligerent nations. We were told that Germany was ripe for revolution, that her rearmament was a bluff, that she lacked officers, that she flew her airplanes from one field to another so they would be counted again and again by foreign observers. We were informed that Russia had the most powerful air fleet in the world, that the French army was superior to any in Europe, that the British navy was more than a match for the German air force, that Germany lacked enough food, fuel, and raw material to wage war, that the Maginot Line was impregnable, that Italy would never enter a war against England. Statements of this sort have issued forth in an endless stream from Europe, and anyone who questioned their accuracy was called a Nazi agent.
These examples show how greatly we have been misled about the military conditions in Europe. If one goes still farther back, he will find that we have also been misled about political conditions. It has seemed obvious to me for many years that the situation in Europe would have to change, either by agreement or by war. I hoped that we had reached a degree of civilization where change might come by agreement. Living in Europe made me fear that it would come only through war.
There is a proverb in China which says that “when the rich become too rich, and the poor too poor, something happens.” This applies to nations as well as to men. When I saw the wealth of the British Empire, I felt that the rich had become too rich. When I saw the poverty of Central Europe, I felt that the poor had become too poor. That something would happen was blazoned even on the skies of Europe by mounting thousands of fighting aircraft.
From 1936 to 1939, as I travelled through European countries, I saw the phenomenal military strength of Germany growing like a giant at the side of an aged, and complacent England. France was awake to her danger, but far too occupied with personal ambitions, industrial troubles, and internal politics to make more than a feeble effort to rearm. In England there was organization without spirit. In France there was spirit without organization. In Germany there were both.
I realized that I was witnessing a clash between the heirs of another war. A generation had passed since the Treaty of Versailles. The sons of victory and the sons of defeat were about to meet on the battlefields of their fathers. As I travelled first among those who had won, and then among those who had lost, the words of a French philosopher kept running through my mind: “Man thrives on adversity.”
The underlying issue was clear. It was not the support of “democracy,” or the so-called democratic nations would have given more assistance to the struggling republic of post-war Germany. It was not a crusade for Christianity, or the Christian nations of the west would have carried their battle flags to the confiscated churches of Russia. It was not the preservation of small and helpless nations, or sanctions would have been followed by troops in Abyssinia, and England would not have refused to cooperate with the United States in Manchuria. The issue was one of the oldest and best known among men. It concerned the division of territory and wealth between nations. It has caused conflict in Europe since European history began.
The longer I lived in Europe, the more I felt that no outside influence could solve the problems of European nations, or bring them lasting peace. They must work out their destiny, as we must work out ours. I am convinced that the better acquainted we in America become with the background of European conflicts, the less we will desire to take part in them. But here I would like to make this point clear: while I advocate the non-interference by America in the internal affairs of Europe, I believe it is of the utmost importance for us to cooperate with Europe in our relationships with the other peoples of the earth. It is only by cooperation that we can maintain the supremacy of our western civilization and the right of our commerce to proceed unmolested throughout the world. Neither they nor we are strong enough to police the earth against the opposition of the other.
In the past, we have dealt with a Europe dominated by England and France. In the future we may have to deal with a Europe dominated by Germany. But whether England or Germany wins this war, Western civilization will still depend upon two great centers, one in each hemisphere. With all the aids of modern science, neither of these centers is in a position to attack the other successfully as long as the defenses of both are reasonably strong. A war between us could easily last for generations, and bring all civilization tumbling down, as has happened more than once before. An agreement between us could maintain civilization and peace throughout the world as far into the future as we can see.
But we are often told that if Germany wins this war, cooperation will be impossible, and treaties no more than scraps of paper. I reply that cooperation is never impossible when there is sufficient gain on both sides, and that treaties are seldom torn apart when they do not cover a weak nation. I would be among the last to advocate depending upon treaties for our national safety. I believe that we should rearm fully for the defense of America, and that we should never make the type of treaty that would lay us open to invasion if it were broken. But if we refuse to consider treaties with the dominant nation of Europe, regardless of who that may be, we remove all possibility of peace.
Nothing is to be gained by shouting names and pointing the finger of blame across the ocean. Our grandstand advice to England, and our criticism of her campaigns, have been neither wanted nor helpful. Our accusations of aggression and barbarism on the part of Germany, simply bring back echoes of hypocrisy and Versailles. Our hasty condemnation of a French government, struggling desperately to save a defeated nation from complete collapse, can do nothing but add to famine, hatred, and chaos.
If we desire to keep America out of war, we must take the lead in offering a plan for peace. That plan should be based upon the welfare of America. It should be backed by an impregnable system of defense. It should incorporate terms of mutual advantage. But it should not involve the internal affairs of Europe; they never were, and never will be, carried on according to our desires.
Let us offer Europe a plan for the progress and protection of the western civilization of which they and we each form a part. But whatever their reply may be, let us carry on the American destiny of which our forefathers dreamed as they cut their farm lands from the virgin forests. What would they think of the claim that our frontiers lie in Europe? Let us guard the independence that the soldiers of our Revolution won against overwhelming odds. What, I ask you, would those soldiers say if they could hear this nation, grown a hundred and thirty million strong, being told that only the British fleet protects us from invasion?
Our nation was born of courage and hardship. It grew on the fearless spirit of the pioneer. Now that it has become one of the greatest powers on earth, ours must not be the generation that kneels in fear of future hardships, or of invasion by a Europe already torn by war.
I do not believe we will ever accept a philosophy of calamity, weakness, and fear. I have faith in an American army, an American navy, an American air force and, most important of all, the American character, which in normal times, lies quietly beneath the surface of this nation.
America First Committee meeting, New York City, April 23, 1941
There are many viewpoints from which the issues of this war can be argued. Some are primarily idealistic. Some are primarily practical. One should, I believe, strive for a balance of both. But, since the subjects that can be covered in a single address are limited, tonight I shall discuss the war from a viewpoint which is primarily practical. It is not that I believe ideals are unimportant, even among the realities of war; but if a nation is to survive in a hostile world, its ideals must be backed by the hard logic of military practicability. If the outcome of war depended upon ideals alone, this would be a different world than it is today.
I know I will be severely criticized by the interventionists in America when I say we should not enter a war unless we have a reasonable chance of winning. That, they will claim, is far too materialistic a viewpoint. They will advance again the same arguments that were used to persuade France to declare war against Germany in 1939. But I do not believe that our American ideals, and our way of life, will gain through an unsuccessful war. And I know that the United States is not prepared to wage war in Europe successfully at this time. We are no better prepared today than France was when the interventionists in Europe persuaded her to attack the Siegfried Line.
I have said before, and I will say again, that I believe it will be a tragedy to the entire world if the British Empire collapses. That is one of the main reasons why I opposed this war before it was declared, and why I have constantly advocated a negotiated peace. I did not feel that England and France had a reasonable chance of winning. France has now been defeated; and, despite the propaganda and confusion of recent months, it is now obvious that England is losing the war. I believe this is realized even by the British government. But they have one last desperate plan remaining. They hope that they may be able to persuade us to send another American Expeditionary Force to Europe, and to share with England militarily, as well as financially, the fiasco of this war.
I do not blame England for this hope, or for asking for our assistance. But we now know that she declared a war under circumstances led to the defeat of every nation that sided with her from Poland to Greece. We know that in the desperation of war England promised to all these nations armed assistance that she could not send. We know that she misinformed them, as she has misinformed us, concerning her state of preparation, her military strength, and the progress of the war.
In time of war, truth is always replaced by propaganda. I do not believe we should be too quick to criticize the actions of a belligerent nation. There is always the question whether we, ourselves, would do better under similar circumstances. But we in this country have a right to think of the welfare of America first, just as the people in England thought first of their own country when they encouraged the smaller nations of Europe to fight against hopeless odds. When England asks us to enter this war, she is considering her own future, and that of her Empire. In making our reply, I believe we should consider the future of the United States and that of the Western Hemisphere.
It is not only our right, but it is our obligation as American citizens to look at this war objectively, and to weigh our chances for success if we should enter it. I have attempted to do this, especially from the standpoint of aviation; and I have been forced to the conclusion that we cannot win this war for England, regardless of how much assistance we extend.
I ask you to look at the map of Europe today and see if you can suggest any way in which we could win this war if we entered it. Suppose we had a large army in America, trained and equipped. Where would we send it to fight? The campaigns of the war show only too clearly how difficult it is to force a landing, or to maintain an army, on a hostile coast. Suppose we took our navy from the Pacific, and used it to convoy British shipping. That would not win the war for England. It would, at best, permit her to exist under the constant bombing of the German air fleet. Suppose we had an air force that we could send to Europe. Where could it operate? Some of our squadrons might be based in the British Isles; but it is physically impossible to base enough aircraft in the British Isles alone to equal in strength the aircraft that can be based on the continent of Europe.
I have asked these questions on the supposition that we had in existence an army and an air force large enough and well enough equipped to send to Europe; and that we would dare to remove our navy from the Pacific. Even on this basis, I do not see how we could invade the continent of Europe successfully as long as all of that continent and most of Asia is under Axis domination. But the fact is that none of these suppositions are correct. We have only a one-ocean navy. Our army is still untrained and inadequately equipped for foreign war. Our air force is deplorably lacking in modern fighting planes.
When these facts are cited, the interventionists shout that we are defeatists, that we are undermining the principles of Democracy, and that we are giving comfort to Germany by talking about our military weakness. But everything I mention here has been published in our newspapers, and in the reports of congressional hearings in Washington. Our military position is well known to the governments of Europe and Asia. Why, then, should it not be brought to the attention of our own people?
I say it is the interventionist in America, as it was in England and in France, who gives comfort to the enemy. I say it is they who are undermining the principles of Democracy when they demand that we take a course to which more than eighty percent of our citizens are opposed. I charge them with being the real defeatists, for their policy has led to the defeat of every country that followed their advice since this war began. There is no better way to give comfort to an enemy than to divide the people of a nation over the issue of foreign war. There is no shorter road to defeat than by entering a war with inadequate preparation. Every nation that has adopted the interventionist policy of depending on some one else for its own defense has met with nothing but defeat and failure.
When history is written, the responsibility for the downfall of the democracies of Europe will rest squarely upon the shoulders of the interventionists who led their nations into war uninformed and unprepared. With their shouts of defeatism, and their disdain of reality, they have already sent countless thousands of young men to death in Europe. From the campaign of Poland to that of Greece, their prophecies have been false and their policies have failed. Yet these are the people who are calling us defeatists in America today. And they have led this country, too, to the verge of war.
There are many such interventionists in America, but there are more people among us of a different type. That is why you and I are assembled here tonight. There is a policy open to this nation that will lead to success–a policy that leaves us free to follow our own way of life, and to develop our own civilization. It is not a new and untried idea. It was advocated by Washington. It was incorporated in the Monroe Doctrine. Under its guidance, the United States became the greatest nation in the world. It is based upon the belief that the security of a nation lies in the strength and character of its own people. It recommends the maintenance of armed forces sufficient to defend this hemisphere from attack by any combination of foreign powers. It demands faith in an independent American destiny. This is the policy of the America First Committee today. It is a policy not of isolation, but of independence; not of defeat, but of courage. It is a policy that led this nation to success during the most trying years of our history, and it is a policy that will lead us to success again.
We have weakened ourselves for many months, and still worse, we have divided our own people by this dabbling in Europe’s wars. While we should have been concentrating on American defense, we have been forced to argue over foreign quarrels. We must turn our eyes and our faith back to our own country before it is too late. And when we do this, a different vista opens before us. Practically every difficulty we would face in invading Europe becomes an asset to us in defending America. Our enemy, and not we, would then have the problem of transporting millions of troops across the ocean and landing them on a hostile shore. They, and not we, would have to furnish the convoys to transport guns and trucks and munitions and fuel across three thousand miles of water. Our battleships and submarines would then be fighting close to their home bases. We would then do the bombing from the air, and the torpedoing at sea. And if any part of an enemy convoy should ever pass our navy and our air force, they would still be faced with the guns of our coast artillery, and behind them, the divisions of our army.
The United States is better situated from a military standpoint than any other nation in the world. Even in our present condition of unpreparedness, no foreign power is in a position to invade us today. If we concentrate on our own and build the strength that this nation should maintain, no foreign army will ever attempt to land on American shores.
War is not inevitable for this country. Such a claim is defeatism in the true sense. No one can make us fight abroad unless we ourselves are willing to do so. No one will attempt to fight us here if we arm ourselves as a great nation should be armed. Over a hundred million people in this nation are opposed to entering the war. If the principles of Democracy mean anything at all, that is reason enough for us to stay out. If we are forced into a war against the wishes of an overwhelming majority of our people, we will have proved Democracy such a failure at home that there will be little use fighting for it abroad.
The time has come when those of us who believe in an independent American destiny must band together, and organize for strength. We have been led toward war by a minority of our people. This minority has power. It has influence. It has a loud voice. But it does not represent the American people. During the last several years, I have travelled over this country, from one end to the other. I have talked to many hundreds of men and women, and I have had letters from tens of thousands more, who feel the same way as you and I. Most of these people have no influence or power. Most of them have no means of expressing their convictions, except by their vote which has always been against this war. They are the citizens who have had to work too hard at their daily jobs to organize political meetings. Hitherto, they have relied upon their vote to express their feelings; but now they find that it is hardly remembered except in the oratory of a political campaign. These people–the majority of hard-working American citizens are with us. They are the true strength of our country. And they are beginning to realize, as you and I, that there are times when we must sacrifice our normal interests in life in order to insure the safety and the welfare of our nation.
Such a time has come. Such a crisis is here. That is why the America First Committee has been formed–to give voice to the people who have no newspaper, or news reel, or radio station at their command; to the people who must do the paying, and the fighting, and the dying, if this country enters the war.
Whether or not we do enter the war, rests upon the shoulders of you in this audience, upon us here on this platform, upon meetings of this kind that are being held by Americans in every section of the United States today. It depends upon the action we take, and the courage we show at this time. If you believe in an independent destiny for America, if you believe that this country should not enter the war in Europe, we ask you to join the America First Committee in its stand. We ask you to share our faith in the ability of this nation to defend itself, to develop its own civilization, and to contribute to the progress of mankind in a more constructive and intelligent way than has yet been found by the warring nations of Europe. We need your support, and we need it now. The time to act is here.
Des Moines Speech, September 11th, 1941
It is now two years since this latest European war began. From that day in September, 1939, until the present moment, there has been an ever-increasing effort to force the United States into the conflict.
That effort has been carried on by foreign interests, and by a small minority of our own people; but it has been so successful that, today, our country stands on the verge of war.
At this time, as the war is about to enter its third winter, it seems appropriate to review the circumstances that have led us to our present position. Why are we on the verge of war? Was it necessary for us to become so deeply involved? Who is responsible for changing our national policy from one of neutrality and independence to one of entanglement in European affairs?
Personally, I believe there is no better argument against our intervention than a study of the causes and developments of the present war. I have often said that if the true facts and issues were placed before the American people, there would be no danger of our involvement.
Here, I would like to point out to you a fundamental difference between the groups who advocate foreign war, and those who believe in an independent destiny for America.
If you will look back over the record, you will find that those of us who oppose intervention have constantly tried to clarify facts and issues; while the interventionists have tried to hide facts and confuse issues.
We ask you to read what we said last month, last year, and even before the war began. Our record is open and clear, and we are proud of it.
We have not led you on by subterfuge and propaganda. We have not resorted to steps short of anything, in order to take the American people where they did not want to go.
What we said before the elections, we say [illegible] and again, and again today. And we will not tell you tomorrow that it was just campaign oratory. Have you ever heard an interventionist, or a British agent, or a member of the administration in Washington ask you to go back and study a record of what they have said since the war started? Are their self-styled defenders of democracy willing to put the issue of war to a vote of our people? Do you find these crusaders for foreign freedom of speech, or the removal of censorship here in our own country?
The subterfuge and propaganda that exists in our country is obvious on every side. Tonight, I shall try to pierce through a portion of it, to the naked facts which lie beneath.
When this war started in Europe, it was clear that the American people were solidly opposed to entering it. Why shouldn’t we be? We had the best defensive position in the world; we had a tradition of independence from Europe; and the one time we did take part in a European war left European problems unsolved, and debts to America unpaid.
National polls showed that when England and France declared war on Germany, in 1939, less than 10 percent of our population favored a similar course for America. But there were various groups of people, here and abroad, whose interests and beliefs necessitated the involvement of the United States in the war. I shall point out some of these groups tonight, and outline their methods of procedure. In doing this, I must speak with the utmost frankness, for in order to counteract their efforts, we must know exactly who they are.
The three most important groups who have been pressing this country toward war are the British, the Jewish and the Roosevelt administration.
Behind these groups, but of lesser importance, are a number of capitalists, Anglophiles, and intellectuals who believe that the future of mankind depends upon the domination of the British empire. Add to these the Communistic groups who were opposed to intervention until a few weeks ago, and I believe I have named the major war agitators in this country.
I am speaking here only of war agitators, not of those sincere but misguided men and women who, confused by misinformation and frightened by propaganda, follow the lead of the war agitators.
As I have said, these war agitators comprise only a small minority of our people; but they control a tremendous influence. Against the determination of the American people to stay out of war, they have marshaled the power of their propaganda, their money, their patronage.
Let us consider these groups, one at a time.
First, the British: It is obvious and perfectly understandable that Great Britain wants the United States in the war on her side. England is now in a desperate position. Her population is not large enough and her armies are not strong enough to invade the continent of Europe and win the war she declared against Germany.
Her geographical position is such that she cannot win the war by the use of aviation alone, regardless of how many planes we send her. Even if America entered the war, it is improbable that the Allied armies could invade Europe and overwhelm the Axis powers. But one thing is certain. If England can draw this country into the war, she can shift to our shoulders a large portion of the responsibility for waging it and for paying its cost.
As you all know, we were left with the debts of the last European war; and unless we are more cautious in the future than we have been in the past, we will be left with the debts of the present case. If it were not for her hope that she can make us responsible for the war financially, as well as militarily, I believe England would have negotiated a peace in Europe many months ago, and be better off for doing so.
England has devoted, and will continue to devote every effort to get us into the war. We know that she spent huge sums of money in this country during the last war in order to involve us. Englishmen have written books about the cleverness of its use.
We know that England is spending great sums of money for propaganda in America during the present war. If we were Englishmen, we would do the same. But our interest is first in America; and as Americans, it is essential for us to realize the effort that British interests are making to draw us into their war.
The second major group I mentioned is the Jewish.
It is not difficult to understand why Jewish people desire the overthrow of Nazi Germany. The persecution they suffered in Germany would be sufficient to make bitter enemies of any race.
No person with a sense of the dignity of mankind can condone the persecution of the Jewish race in Germany. But no person of honesty and vision can look on their pro-war policy here today without seeing the dangers involved in such a policy both for us and for them. Instead of agitating for war, the Jewish groups in this country should be opposing it in every possible way for they will be among the first to feel its consequences.
Tolerance is a virtue that depends upon peace and strength. History shows that it cannot survive war and devastations. A few far-sighted Jewish people realize this and stand opposed to intervention. But the majority still do not.
Their greatest danger to this country lies in their large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio and our government.
I am not attacking either the Jewish or the British people. Both races, I admire. But I am saying that the leaders of both the British and the Jewish races, for reasons which are as understandable from their viewpoint as they are inadvisable from ours, for reasons which are not American, wish to involve us in the war.
We cannot blame them for looking out for what they believe to be their own interests, but we also must look out for ours. We cannot allow the natural passions and prejudices of other peoples to lead our country to destruction.
The Roosevelt administration is the third powerful group which has been carrying this country toward war. Its members have used the war emergency to obtain a third presidential term for the first time in American history. They have used the war to add unlimited billions to a debt which was already the highest we have ever known. And they have just used the war to justify the restriction of congressional power, and the assumption of dictatorial procedures on the part of the president and his appointees.
The power of the Roosevelt administration depends upon the maintenance of a wartime emergency. The prestige of the Roosevelt administration depends upon the success of Great Britain to whom the president attached his political future at a time when most people thought that England and France would easily win the war. The danger of the Roosevelt administration lies in its subterfuge. While its members have promised us peace, they have led us to war heedless of the platform upon which they were elected.
In selecting these three groups as the major agitators for war, I have included only those whose support is essential to the war party. If any one of these groups–the British, the Jewish, or the administration–stops agitating for war, I believe there will be little danger of our involvement.
I do not believe that any two of them are powerful enough to carry this country to war without the support of the third. And to these three, as I have said, all other war groups are of secondary importance.
When hostilities commenced in Europe, in 1939, it was realized by these groups that the American people had no intention of entering the war. They knew it would be worse than useless to ask us for a declaration of war at that time. But they believed that this country could be entered into the war in very much the same way we were entered into the last one.
They planned: first, to prepare the United States for foreign war under the guise of American defense; second, to involve us in the war, step by step, without our realization; third, to create a series of incidents which would force us into the actual conflict. These plans were of course, to be covered and assisted by the full power of their propaganda.
Our theaters soon became filled with plays portraying the glory of war. Newsreels lost all semblance of objectivity. Newspapers and magazines began to lose advertising if they carried anti-war articles. A smear campaign was instituted against individuals who opposed intervention. The terms “fifth columnist,” “traitor,” “Nazi,” “anti-Semitic” were thrown ceaselessly at any one who dared to suggest that it was not to the best interests of the United States to enter the war. Men lost their jobs if they were frankly anti-war. Many others dared no longer speak.
Before long, lecture halls that were open to the advocates of war were closed to speakers who opposed it. A fear campaign was inaugurated. We were told that aviation, which has held the British fleet off the continent of Europe, made America more vulnerable than ever before to invasion. Propaganda was in full swing.
There was no difficulty in obtaining billions of dollars for arms under the guise of defending America. Our people stood united on a program of defense. Congress passed appropriation after appropriation for guns and planes and battleships, with the approval of the overwhelming majority of our citizens. That a large portion of these appropriations was to be used to build arms for Europe, we did not learn until later. That was another step.
To use a specific example; in 1939, we were told that we should increase our air corps to a total of 5,000 planes. Congress passed the necessary legislation. A few months later, the administration told us that the United States should have at least 50,000 planes for our national safety. But almost as fast as fighting planes were turned out from our factories, they were sent abroad, although our own air corps was in the utmost need of new equipment; so that today, two years after the start of war, the American army has a few hundred thoroughly modern bombers and fighters–less in fact, than Germany is able to produce in a single month.
Ever since its inception, our arms program has been laid out for the purpose of carrying on the war in Europe, far more than for the purpose of building an adequate defense for America.
Now at the same time we were being prepared for a foreign war, it was necessary, as I have said, to involve us in the war. This was accomplished under that now famous phrase “steps short of war.”
England and France would win if the United States would only repeal its arms embargo and sell munitions for cash, we were told. And then [illegible] began, a refrain that marked every step we took toward war for many months–“the best way to defend America and keep out of war.” we were told, was “by aiding the Allies.”
First, we agreed to sell arms to Europe; next, we agreed to loan arms to Europe; then we agreed to patrol the ocean for Europe; then we occupied a European island in the war zone. Now, we have reached the verge of war.
The war groups have succeeded in the first two of their three major steps into war. The greatest armament program in our history is under way.
We have become involved in the war from practically every standpoint except actual shooting. Only the creation of sufficient “incidents” yet remains; and you see the first of these already taking place, according to plan [ill.]– a plan that was never laid before the American people for their approval.
Men and women of Iowa; only one thing holds this country from war today. That is the rising opposition of the American people. Our system of democracy and representative government is on test today as it has never been before. We are on the verge of a war in which the only victor would be chaos and prostration.
We are on the verge of a war for which we are still unprepared, and for which no one has offered a feasible plan for victory–a war which cannot be won without sending our soldiers across the ocean to force a landing on a hostile coast against armies stronger than our own.
We are on the verge of war, but it is not yet too late to stay out. It is not too late to show that no amount of money, or propaganda, or patronage can force a free and independent people into war against its will. It is not yet too late to retrieve and to maintain the independent American destiny that our forefathers established in this new world.
The entire future rests upon our shoulders. It depends upon our action, our courage, and our intelligence. If you oppose our intervention in the war, now is the time to make your voice heard.
Help us to organize these meetings; and write to your representatives in Washington. I tell you that the last stronghold of democracy and representative government in this country is in our house of representatives and our senate.
There, we can still make our will known. And if we, the American people, do that, independence and freedom will continue to live among us, and there will be no foreign war.