With the recent change of political climate here in the U.S. and the rallying cry America First drowning the airwaves, many people have remarked over how familiar that phrase sounded – how it had a historic ring to it; like it was heard before, but in a different time and context.
Before America’s entry into World War 2, a movement against our involvement in that War had sprung up, primarily to keep us out of war, but also to persuade Congress not to repeal the Neutrality Law which had, up until 1940 kept us pretty much out of the shooting part, while still allowing us to participate in Lend-Lease. Americans were overwhelmingly in favor of our staying out of the war, but as 1940 rolled on, and as German advances throughout Europe were taking place, along with the distinct possibility that England was in line for invasion, it was becoming apparent that Germany might actually win. And many felt this would jeopardize our own security. So by 1941, the sentiment was turning in favor of our entry into the war, but there was still the America First movement against it.
One of the chief spokesmen for the movement was Charles Lindbergh, who had become a national hero for his flight across the Atlantic in a single engine plane in 1927. Lindbergh was staunchly against our entry into the War – he had toured Germany and was familiar with their armaments and ability to successfully carry out an invasion. Many felt that Lindbergh was pro-German, and his “go easy” stance and pessimistic assessment of our winning the war were seen as giving passively into Nazism. But that Lindbergh was also against Britain and most specifically Jews as being the cause of the war to begin with, cast him in a less-than-favorable light as anti-Semitic.
To hear one of the America First rallies, as they were broadcast at the time, I am running the complete rally, which comes in a little under 2 hours. It features a number of prominent members of Congress as well as civic leaders all speaking out against the war. Lindbergh is on last as he is the main attraction. You can hear the crowd give a mixed reaction to his speech, especially when he calls out British industrialists and Jews for his brand of scorn. I initially ran just the Lindbergh portion of the rally a couple of years ago, but decided to run the complete rally so you can get a feel for the people and the times. It’s ironic too, that today marks Holocaust Remembrance Day – and how America chose not to believe rumors and reports until it was too late.
So, in case you were wondering where America First came from, here is one of the examples of who they were and what they were doing in the days just prior to our entry into World War 2.