Goncalves defends senior thesis on isolationists

Sergio Goncalves ’13 defended his senior thesis, “Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Ruth Sarles, and the Battle Against American Intervention in World War II.” He was advised by Prof. Garry Clifford. Congratulations!




Prior to the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, roughly 80% of the American people opposed United States involvement in World War II. During and since this “Great Debate” on U.S. foreign policy, these isolationists, or non-interventionists, have often been much maligned in the court of public opinion. For instance, they have been characterized as Nazi sympathizers and/or as anti-Roosevelt right-wing extremists. Nonetheless, most non-interventionists were not Nazi sympathizers, and the anti-war camp was actually quite varied, for it included socialists, pacifists, progressives, and conservatives. In my senior thesis, I endeavor to help shed more light on this fact. Additionally, I suggest that many of the arguments of
pre-World War II anti-interventionists bear relevance to policymakers in an age of U.S. global hegemony and of what some scholars have described as an “imperial presidency.”

I focus on two opponents of US intervention: Anne Morrow Lindbergh (the wife of aviator Charles A. Lindbergh) and Ruth Sarles (the head of the Research Bureau of the America First Committee, the largest non-interventionist organization). Regarding Lindbergh, I examine (1) the extent to which her views on U.S. intervention in the war were influenced by her husband’s views; (2) her inner conflict with respect to the issue (while her husband was the most prominent and controversial of the isolationists, her own family was staunchly interventionist and pro-British); (3) her belief that the rise of the tyrannical, cruel ideologies of Fascism, Nazism, and Communism – which she did not support – reflected the need for the world to resolve the problem of social injustice; (4) her conviction that the United States needed to stay out of the war in Europe in order to focus on creating a more socially just society, so that American democracy would not fall victim to a radical movement); and (5) her reaction to her husband’s infamous anti-Semitic September 11, 1941, speech in Des Moines, Iowa, in light of the forces that had shaped her worldview.

As for Sarles – a woman who is understudied even though she was vital to the operations of the America First Committee, I utilize her correspondence to recount the story of her role within the Committee. As the head of America First’s Research Bureau, she provided non-interventionist Senators and Congressmen with information, assisted them in writing speeches and resolutions, and suggested strategies to Committee headquarters in Chicago. Finally, I discuss her writing of a history of the America First Committee in the months following its dissolution.

This entry was posted in Clifford, Undergraduate. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s