There were unsavory and disloyal members of the committee.nIts membership was extremely diverse, and its loose-knitnorganization made control over local chapters difficult. Anfew obscure individuals were convicted later for failure tonregister as foreign agents.nNonetheless, after studying America First and its membershipnthoroughly over the course of more than threendecades, I am increasingly impressed by how clean it was.nClose scrutiny leaves an overall impression of loyalty,npatriotism, good citizenship, courage, and devotion to thencountry. Its leaders and members used democratic methodsnresponsibly to influence public opinion and governmentnaction on issues of vital importance to all Americans. If onenwere to balance negatives (that is, the morality of the “dirtyntricks” used by opponents of America First versus thenmagnitude of unsavory or disloyal elements within thenorganization) the America First Committee comes off vastlynbetter than its critics. The fact that one disagreed profoundlynwith the views of Lindbergh and believed him totally wrongndid not justify accusing him of disloyalty and Nazi sympathies.nThose charges simply were not true.nI have reflected on why America First has garnered suchnan unsavory reputation, and why the images advanced by itsncritics have prevailed. I have wondered if there was anythingnthe committee and its leaders might have done differentlynthat might have made their efforts more eff^ective or leftnthem less tarnished in the eyes of Clio.nMy conclusion is that their cause was hopeless. Nothingnthe committee or its leaders could have done or refrainednfrom doing could have altered the outcome or aftermathnsignificanfly. Conceivably one might set more civilized rulesnof “fair play” for such important democratic contests. Butnhuman nature, raging emotions, and cultural and politicalndifferences make self-restraint and fair play increasinglynmore difficult to sustain.nWhen differences and debates on important (or evennunimportant) matters persist over extended time it is easy tonlose control and judgment. One may begin by seeingnadversaries as simply mistaken, but end by seeing them asnstupid, irresponsible, and downright evil. When thosendifferences are further inflamed by politics, and perhaps bynsectional, ethnic, or cultural differences, the emotions maynbecome even more heated. That is human nature.nWhen those debates occur during terrifying wars abroad,nthe temptation to identify one’s adversaries at home with thenevil, aggressive, dangerous foreign foe becomes well-nighnirresistible. To identify America First with Hitler’s NazinGermany was much too tempting (and persuasive, to thoseneager to believe the worst) to be resisted. And when thenpowerful President Roosevelt set the example by associatingnhis opponents with that evil aggressive dictator, the consequencesnfor America First and its leaders were devastating.nThe fact that FDR was an urbane and respected part of thenso-called “Establishment” or leadership elite in using thosenguilt-by-association methods helped protect him and hisnfollowers from the fate that befell Senator McCarthy whennhe used those same methods crudely a decade later.nAnd finally, when the values that America Firstersntreasured and defended (rural, small-town, traditional, democratic,nparochial, and conventional) were falling under thenjuggernaut of a new America radically changing thencountry’s image and values (urban, cosmopolitan, corporate,nindustrial, creditor, ethnic, outward-looking), the patternsnwere irreversible.nMany years ago I asked a man who had chaired a largenAmerica First chapter if there were any way the committeenmight have won. He had fought against involvement innWorld War I two decades eariier as well. He was convincednthat once war fervor began to build it was impossible to stopnor reverse. Nothing that America First might have donendifferently could have reversed the outcome. Conversationsnwith others prominent in America First (and in its opposition)nprovided the same conclusion.nThe America First Committee fought the good fight for ancause its members considered vital. That cause and theirnefforts were consistent with the best traditions of Americanndemocracy. Nonetheless, they are unlikely ever to winnvindication or even fair treatment at the hands of the greaternpart of the leadership elite, educators, publicists, or historians.nAmerica First failed and suffered the fate of losingncauses. The America it served and the world it envisaged arengone and can never be restored.nNo one can know for certain what would have happened,neither woridwide or within the United States, ifnthe America First guidance had been followed and thenUnited States had not entered World War II. One can’ onlynspeculate or guess. But neither critics nor proponents ofnAmerica First can properly pass judgment on the wisdom ofnits program without speculating about those possible effectsn— good and bad. Those who applaud America’s participationnin World War II and profess horror at what might havenhappened if the America First Committee and its “isolationists”nhad prevailed assume {i.e., guess) that noninvolvementnby the United States would have resulted in a vastly worsenworld and a more crippled America than we now know.nMaybe so. Maybe not.nIn the wake of the war in Vietnam, many viewed WorldnWar II as America’s last “good war” (until the Persian GulfnWar). But it was also a terrible, terrible war destroying life,nproperty, and freedom wherever it spread. Nearly fiftynmillion persons died worldwide during World War II.n”Only” about three hundred thousand of those dead werenAmericans. Even when one tabulates total casualties (dead,nwounded, and missing), the American total comes to “only”na little over one million — a tiny fraction of the World War IIncasualties worldwide. Nonetheless, more Americans died innWorld War II than in all of its other foreign wars before andnsince combined (not including the Civil War).nAnd it could have been much worse. If they had notnbroken the German Ultra code and developed the Enigmandecoding machine, if Magic had not allowed Americans tonknow the contents of Japanese communications, losses fornBritain and the United States would have been far greaternthan they were. If Hitler had not wasted resources developingnthe V-I and V-2 weapons and had, instead, pressednearlier production and use of German jet fighters, the lossesnfor British and American bomber squadrons could havenbeen alarmingly greater than they were. If Germany hadnsuccessfully produced an atomic weapon, can anyone doubtnthat Hitler would have used it against London and othernallied targets? If any one or combination of those and othernnnDECEMBER 1991/21n