Isolationists have their day
There has been talk of recent writings about the movement for isolationism in this country in the 1930s, especially as Europe drifted closer to war. I was in grade school at the time, but my parents were very interested in current affairs and kept abreast of events both through newspapers and the radio.
They were far from isolationist, feeling that both Hitler and Mussolini were the heads of dangerous movements, especially after they began to take action against opposition in their countries. We had a map of the world on the wall of our living room, and one day I watched my mother put a black flag on a pin and attach it to the spot in Germany where the city of Nuremberg was located. She said she did that because that city was where the Nazis had promulgated their oppressive laws against Jews.
The American aviation hero Charles Lindbergh was strong for isolation, much to the dismay of my parents. I read recently that he gave a speech with anti-Semitic remarks. I don’t recall hearing about that at the time, but I do remember reading what he said when he came back from a visit to Germany. He said very definitely that the German air force (Luftwaffe) was the best outfit he had ever seen and that it was far stronger than the French and British air forces combined, to say nothing of its strength against the aircraft of this country.
While the isolationist movement was strongest in the Midwest, it was not confined solely to that region. My parents were shocked when George Aiken began his career in the U.S. Senate by voting with the isolationists. He said he didn’t want to vote for anything that would be likely to endanger the youth of Vermont. That attitude changed over the course of years, but it distressed my parents at the time.
They approved of President Roosevelt’s move to supply Britain with some destroyers. That was quite a while before Pearl Harbor, when we were still at peace, and the move was strongly opposed by the isolationists. They claimed that this country’s coastal batteries could repel any attempt at invasion, and that therefore we should not engage in any activity that would invite retaliation by the belligerent Germans.
I remember the sensation that was caused by a news photo taken at an isolationist rally in the Midwest. The photographer had lined up some of the leaders of the rally and asked them to pose as if waving goodbye to Roosevelt supporters. The camera caught them with their arms in the air and made it look as if they were giving the Nazi “heil Hitler” salute. The photo was widely distributed and caused no end of discussion — consternation on the part of the isolationists and glee on the part of others like my parents.
When the National Guard was activated, the idea was that they would train for a year, and then return home. There was even a song that appeared frequently on the radio, whose refrain was: “I’ll be back in a year, little darling. ...” But before the year was out the attack on Pearl Harbor took place, and that brought isolationists and interventionists together.
Kendall Wild is a retired editor of the Herald.