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Arthur Schlesinger on:
Intervention versus Nonintervention

Arthur Schlesinger Q: I think it's hard for us to realize that many people felt that this discussion, intervention versus nonintervention, was of vital importance to the people engaged in it. What were the stakes?

AS: I would say the great debate of '40, '41 was the most savage political debate in my lifetime, far more so than the McCarthy period or the Vietnam period. It divided families, it divided friendship--broke up friendships, and it was a very vital debate for the future of the country. On the one hand the so-called interventionists believed that it was in the interest of the United States to prevent the conquest of Europe by the Axis powers and to sustain Britain which, by the summer of 194(1)?, was alone in resisting Hitler. The Soviet Union at that point was allied with Hitler. And the isolationists felt that it didn't matter who won in Europe and that we could live if Hitler won-- we could live with that. We could do business with Hitler. Too bad we like many things about England and we dislike many things about Germany. Nonetheless, that's the way it is. And the worst thing of all would be for the United States to be dragged once again into a European war. And it was a most vital thing for the United States to stay out of that war. Lindbergh became the great resolute spokesman for that position. He opposed aid to Britain. He favored a negotiated peace. He did not want Britain to win the war. And he became more and more concerned about the forces that he felt were driving the United States into the war. And then in a famous, or at least infamous perhaps, speech in Des Moines, Iowa, in the Summer of 1941, he denounced the three groups that he said were bringing the United States down to war, the English, the Jews, and the New Dealers. And he set out this array of enemies and this was a first public expression of anyone of Lindbergh's eminence of what many people took to be an anti-Semitic attack along the lines of what the Nazis were doing in Europe. Shocked many people including many isolationists...

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