A political movement known as America First died on this date 72 years ago


Most folks who weren’t yet adults when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on this date in 1941 have little or no knowledge of the rampant isolationism among the American populace in those days.

Most of these folks are familiar with Charles Lindbergh only as a legendary aviator —  not as a leader of a vigorous antiwar campaign (above).

A couple of years ago, the Washington Post published THIS COLUMN about Pearl Harbor, including this passage:

The attack persuaded Americans to support entering part of the war, not all of it. Before Pearl Harbor, the United States was largely isolationist, and there was almost no call to get involved in another European war. The America First movement, backed by public figures including Charles Lindbergh and Walt Disney, was growing in popularity. Its supporters had announced plans to participate in every congressional race in 1942 and support the most isolationist candidate, whether Republican or Democrat. After the attack, the America First movement came to a halt.

In the papers of Secretary of War Henry Stimson, archivists discovered a draft declaration of war against Japan, Germany and Italy for Roosevelt to deliver to Congress on Dec. 8. But that was scrapped, and FDR asked for a declaration of war against only Japan.

The attack on Pearl Harbor awoke America from its isolationist slumber and bolstered its charge into the Pacific war, but it did not spur entry into the European war. That happened when Nazi Germany and fascist Italy declared war on the United States on Dec. 11, compelling Roosevelt to respond in kind — thus committing the United States to a world war.


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