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First Committee was set up in September 1940 with the principle aim of
keeping the United States out of war.
Although the America First failed, and disbanded just days
after Pearl Harbor, its story was written in 1942 by Ruth Sarles, a
former researcher and lobbyist for the committee.
When it was completed, the wartime climate meant that
publication was not viable, and the book was shelved, until now.
The book is
effectively a single volume archive, beginning with the America First
Creed and the preamble to the Committee’s Principles and Objectives.
These are followed by original chapters describing the creation
and structure of the committee, and others devoted to reprinted
speeches and the winding up of the organization.
New appendices describe and list the National membership, and
there is a new interview from 2000 with America First National
Director Robert Douglas Stuart, Jr.
While this certainly makes the book an interesting resource for
those researching the America First Committee, it creates a rather
disjointed volume, one that adds information but offers no original
overall perspective on the AFC. The
only real analysis of America First comes in the lengthy introduction
by Bill Kauffman. Sarles’s
approach only adds to the dry tone of the text, as she followed the
advice of America First figurehead Charles Lindbergh who argued that
“it would be a mistake to attempt too much explaining” (p.xliv).
Kauffman admits in the introduction that the book “might have
benefited from a dash of partisanship”, and whether you agree with
the aims of America First or not, he has a point. (p.xliv)
raises some interesting issues, but offers few original insights into
the committee. Sarles
describes America First as “the greatest aggregate
revolt against war in history”, highlighting the diversity of the
committee and acknowledging that the group was not, as one opposition
organization put it, a Nazi Transmission belt (p.5).
Instead, it contained pacifists, socialists, isolationists,
Republicans, Democrats, pro and anti New Dealers, all drawn together
by a desire to keep out of war. However,
this is no great revelation, and Justus Doenecke’s Storm
on the Horizon does a more effective job
of describing the “many mansions of anti-interventionism”.
introduction raises some interesting issues but he is unable expand on
them at length, such as the place of America First in the history of
American peace movements and the need to place America First in the
context of anti-war history, not just anti-“Good War” history.
Unfortunately, Kauffman goes too far in his description of
interventionist organizations as British fronts, as these
organizations were no more controlled by the British than America
First was led by the Germans (xxx, xxxvi).
In the end, Kauffman admits it is “a” story, rather than “the” story of America First, describing it as a “valuable supplement” to the existing literature and this is certainly the case (xlvii). While the book offers valuable source material on the committee, it lacks both the narrative focus of Wayne Cole’s America First, and the breadth and analysis of Doenecke’s Storm on the Horizon. As a result, the book will probably remain little more than an appendix to the existing historiography.