As German forces invaded Poland in September of 1939 and World War II began, some American college students voiced their opposition to potential US involvement in another global conflict. Many young Americans had grown up learning about the horrors of World War I and did not want to be drafted into what might become another long and bloody conflict in Europe. Some socialist and pacifist students were ideologically against war even if they opposed Nazi Germany.1 Other students allowed antisemitism to mold their opinions, claiming that the conflict was part of a Jewish conspiracy to weaken the United States.2
The most prominent group that emerged to advocate against involvement in the war was the America First Committee (AFC), which was founded on the campus of Yale University in September of 1940.3 At the time of the AFC's formation, many Yale students appeared indifferent or even sympathetic to the Nazi regime. From discrimination against Jewish applicants in the 1920s to the widespread hostility shown to Jewish refugees by the undergraduate student population in the 1930s, antisemitism was not uncommon at Yale. Some—though not all—members of the Yale University community did not see Nazi Germany's antisemitic policies or its aggressive expansionism as sufficient reasons for US intervention.4
The featured letter from a small group of Yale students to celebrity aviator Charles Lindbergh5 on November 1, 1939, demonstrates that the foundations of the AFC took shape well before its official establishment almost a year later.6 In their plea to Lindbergh—already well-known for his anti-war opposition and his sympathetic stance toward Nazi Germany—these Yale students also seem to have identified a potential spokesperson for their cause in the early days of the war.
The letter also suggests that the group hoped to capitalize on the university's reputation to advance their cause. Touting the "size," "nation-wide membership," and "prestige" of Yale, the students insisted that the American public would likely value their opinion. Lindbergh ultimately granted the students’ request, speaking at Yale in October of 1940. The AFC, however, disbanded shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941—but not before it had attracted as many as 800,000 paying members nationwide.7