On one level, the America First was a failure. Congressnpassed every bill the committee opposed, and publicnopinion polls seldom comforted the foes of intervention.nMore important, ultimately the United States entered WorldnWar II as a full-scale belligerent. America First, however, feltnno guilt over its stance. In its closing statement, the AFCnnational committee said, “Our principles were right. Hadnthey been followed, war could have been avoided.”nBut America First cannot be dismissed so quickly.nDespite its limitations, both internal and external, it didnsurprisingly well. It helped generate a public sentiment thatnforced Roosevelt to be more circumspect in such demandsnon Congress as draft renewal as well as more secretivenmoves, such as escorting British vessels. The AFC tookncredit for a number of things: an amendment to thenLend-Lease bill preventing actual delivery of war goods tonBritain; Roosevelt’s failure to announce the sending ofnAmerican convoys to Britain in his “national emergency”naddress of late May 1941, something long expected by bothnfriend and foe of the President; and elimination of anclause — sponsored by the Roosevelt administration — innthe original selective service extension bill of July 1941nexplicitly permitting American troops to be stationed outsidenthe hemisphere. It is, of course, hard to trace specificninfluence, but obviously the AFC helped generate enoughnpublic sentiment to make Roosevelt more cautious. Innaddition, as Cole notes, anti-interventionist strength innCongress increased throughout 1941, in large part becausenof America First eflForts.nIn one sense, committee strategy was quite successful.nThe AFC ignored or sought to discredit public opinion pollsnthat consistently showed Americans more desirous of defeatingnGermany than of keeping out of war. Instead, it stressednthat the public, by and large, always opposed entering thenconflict as a full-fledged belligerent. What it quite naturallyndid not stress was that the polls favored Roosevelt’s specificninterventionist moves. By defining the issue solely as war ornpeace, the committee could make strategic retreats afterneach defeat. If the Pearl Harbor attack had not taken placenand if Hitler had restrained from attacking Americannshipping in the Atlantic, the America First Committeenmight well have won the major battle.nIt is hardly surprising that anti-interventionism as angeneral political posture has been discredited decade afterndecade. As Professor Cole has written in another workn(Richard S. Kirkendall, ed.. The Harry S. Truman Encyclopedia,n1989), “The challenges to peace and security fromnthe Axis states and then from Communist Russia, thendevelopment of nuclear weapons and effective deliverynsystems, the growth of cities and their accompanyingnindustrial and financial capabilities, the further erosion ofnrural and small-town America, talented leadership by thenforeign policy establishment, and the power of the presidencynunder Truman — all combined to weaken and discreditnisolationism.”nOnly in Vietnam has the United States withdrawn from anmajor commitment, and here the opposition to war had anradically different social and economic base than did AmericanFirst. From the Greek-Turkish crisis of 1947 to thenPersian Gulf War of 1991, the interventionists have won allnthe major battles. Even in Vietnam the opponents of warnhad little impact until the Tet Offensive that began in latenJanuary 1968, just a little less than five years after the firstnU.S. ground forces arrived in that land.nTo talk seriously about such movements as America First,nrather than to use its history as a political weapon for anyncontemporary foreign policy, one task is primary: to understandnthe full position of anti-intervention in the variousndecades of American history and the roots from which itnsprang. Far too often, the anti-interventionists, includingnthose involved in America First, are simplistically portrayednas prophets par excellence or as evil incarnate. They eithernforesaw Cold War involvements with perception and accuracynor they were cold-blooded appeasers, naive believers innpeace-at-any-price, or sheer lunatics. In neither case is thencomplexity and richness of their position taken on its ownnground.nYet one can no more validate a contemporary position bynseparating the prophetic from the foolish than one can clip anperson’s thought in mid-sentence. Both the rational argumentsnand the frenzied ones, the points of perception andnthe points of hysteria, reveal people caught in the mostnsevere sorts of social stress. Of course, though this is far lessnemphasized, interventionists in all periods were subject tonthe same internal tensions, and one wishes for morenhistorians possessing the subtlety of Richard Hofstadter andnOtis L. Graham, Jr. to do justice to both sides in any suchnmomentous debates.nTo its foes, intervention could only mean further erosionnof the America they most treasured. Fiscal responsibility, anvillage culture, individual economic opportunity, economicnself-sufficiency, a totally autonomous foreign policy — allnwere linked together in anti-interventionist eyes, and fornmany years all have appeared beyond recall. Even now, 50nyears later, we all remain — in our very different ways —nhaunted by the odyssey of America First. <^nLIBERAL ARTSnAMERICA FIRST AND FOOTBALLn”Even before the national organizationn[of the America First Committee] wasnformally established, the first defectionntook place: Gerald R. Ford, former All-nAmerican center in football at the Universitynof Michigan, resigned from thenoriginal student executive committee.nFord had been an enthusiastic recruiternfor America First. Yet, because he was annassistant football coach at Yale, he fearednthat the athletic association might frownnon his activities and that his job could benin jeopardy.”n—from Justus D. Doenecke’s In DangernUndaunted: The Anti-InterventionistnMovement of 1940-1941 as Revealednin the Papers of the AmericanFirst Committee, J 990nnnDECEMBER 1991/19n