Subtitled âFrance Doomed, Britain Next’ the Chicago Daily News report of the fall of the French capital after a short campaign, which included the ignominious defeat of the British Expeditionary Force, was an alarm bell for both sides of the American divide. America’s President began attempting to find ways to aid the embattled British, who with France out of the war were left to face the Nazi onslaught alone. A large America First movement, led by many Republican politicians and celebrities like Charles Lindbergh, stood in opposition.
The American Ambassador to the Court of St. James, Joseph P. Kennedy, was convinced that Britain could not defend itself against the Nazis and that in any event America should not help defend the British Empire. In 1937 Charles Lindbergh was invited to visit Germany and was allowed to inspect installations and aircraft of the Luftwaffe. Although some apologists for Lindbergh claim that he accepted the invitation in order to obtain information for the US Army Air Corps there is little evidence he did so, and in numerous speeches he condemned any support of the British or of European Jews.
Lindbergh exhorted his audiences to consider the ownership of newspapers and radio stations that condemned Nazi antisemitism, implying that they were motivated by Zionism. As the United States was gradually drawn closer to war Lindbergh’s rhetoric increased, but his audiences decreased as activities such as Lend-Lease gained popularity because of the increase in American employment. Lindbergh was one of the primary spokespersons for the America First Committee, which formed in September 1940. He was joined by Lillian Gish, Senator Burton Wheeler, and Robert McCormick, owner of the Chicago Tribune.
The America First committee was supported by a young John F. Kennedy, whose book, Why England Slept, achieved some success in the United States and the United Kingdom in 1940, and by another future American President, Gerald R. Ford. Both young men later served in the US Navy during World War II. When Lindbergh, in a speech in Des Moines, claimed that the America First committee had identified the sources trying to get America into the war as agents of Britain, FDR and his administration, and American Jewish organizations, Kennedy’s enthusiasm for the group waned.
Even after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor a large number of Americans opposed going to war in Europe, and during his declaration of war message of December 8, 1941, Roosevelt did not mention Germany, despite American destroyers and German U-boats having been in open combat for months preceding Pearl Harbor. Hitler made things considerably easier for the American President by choosing to declare war on the United States on December 11, and America and its allies quickly adopted a Germany first strategy for prosecuting the war. That same day, December 11, 1941, the America First Committee voted to dissolve.