ORIGINS AND OUTCOMEnby Justus D. DoeneckenVIEWSnThe America First CommitteenTo the degree that it is remembered at all, the AmericanFirst Committee (AFC) has gone down in history asnan organization most suspect, at best composed of goodnpeople serving a bad cause, at worst riddled with consciousnagents of a Nazi transmission belt. During its heyday in thenyears 1940-1941, some of the most influential agents ofnpublic opinion made no secret of their contempt for thenorganization. For example, the October 6, 1941, issue ofnTime spoke for many AFC foes in accusing America First ofnbeing ridden with “Jew-haters, Roosevelt-haters, Coughlinites,npoliticians, demagogues.”nMoreover, the Roosevelt administration was quite open innits hostility. Speaking with full knowledge that he had thensupport of the President, in April 1941 Secretary of thenInterior Harold Ickes found America First composed ofn”anti-democrats, appeasers, labor baiters, and anti-Semites.”nSuch opposition went beyond the realm of mere rhetoric,ninvolving secret efforts at suppression. The Roosevelt administrationnengaged in efforts at censorship and politicalnintimidation. The President secretly ordered the FederalnBureau of Investigation to examine America First activities,nhired a private investigator, and put a grand jury to work.nAnti-interventionists always claimed that their organiza-nJustus D. Doenecke is a professor of history at NewnCollege of the University of South Florida and editor ofnIn Danger Undaunted: The Anti-InterventionistnMovement of 1940-1941 as Revealed in the Papers ofnthe America First Committee (1990).n16/CHRONICLESnnntion was slandered. Only, however, with the publication ofnWayne S. Cole’s dispassionate treatment of the AFC,.nwritten at the University of Wisconsin under the direction ofnthe distinguished diplomatic historian Fred Harvey Harrington,nhas a scholarly and dispassionate analysis been madenavailable to the public. Cole’s America First: The BattlenAgainst Intervention, 1940-1941 (1953) revealed that thenAFC was a group very much in the mainstream ofnAmerican political life, offering rational arguments againstninvolvement in what was then called the “European war.”nCole gave much attention to the military and strategicnarguments behind the position branded “isolationist” by itsnfoes, and any fair-minded reader could see that within AFCnranks, tightly reasoned arguments were advanced. Furthermore,nin challenging accusations that the AFC coddlednpro-fascists and extreme rightists, Cole wrote that it soughtnto keep unsavory elements out of leadership positions andnlocal chapters. Admittedly followers of the demagogic radionpriest Father Charles E. Coughlin, members of thenGerman-American Bund, and anti-Semites backed thenAFC, particularly in Queens, New York, and San Francisco.nAmerica First, however, tried to purge its ranks of outrightnpro-fascists — and was more successful in this endeavor thannits critics have ever conceded.nBut what really was America First? To understand thenorganization, a bit of background is necessary. When WorldnWar II broke out in September 1939, anti-interventionistnsenhment was diffuse and unorganized. The only realnanti-interventionist group was a pacifist body, the Nationaln