One of the fascinating things about the Republican Party today is the growing fracture over our military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Contrast this to the lead up to the Iraq war in 2003, which saw a united Republican Party standing behind their president against a Democratic Party caught between its Vietnam era anti-war wing and the "New Democrats" of the Bill Clinton era. The attitudes to the two parties to foreign interventions have gone in cycles over the past two decades. In the early twentieth century, up until the Cold War, the Republican Party was consistently the more isolationist party.
With World War II held up today by both parties as the "good war," it is difficult to appreciate how strong the opposition was to American entrance was. The Republicans were against it as were most Democrats. President Franklin Roosevelt supported the war, but was a highly isolated political figure. It is easy to forget these facts, because the isolationist party in America mysteriously collapsed over the course of a single day, December 7, 1941, leaving an America that supported war not just with Japan, but with Germany even though they did not attack us.
There was strong Jewish support for the war, certainly far above the general American population, before Pearl Harbor. This was hardly an unmixed blessing for Roosevelt. For all the hindsight talk about how American Jewry sold out Jews in Europe during the Holocaust, it is important to understand how difficult a situation the Jewish community was in. Jews knew that Roosevelt was the best man they could reasonably hope for and that he was going out on a limb politically and legally to aid the British war effort against Nazi Germany. The most counter productive thing they could do was to openly lobby for such actions, making it "the Jew's war."
As it should surprise no one there were isolationist Jews. For example we have the Communist affiliated Jewish People's Committee led by Rabbi Moses Miller, Ben Gold and William Weiner. We have a pamphlet, A Jew Looks at the War, by Miller, written in 1940. Miller declares:
The American people do not want to get involved in this war. They were fooled once before by nice phrases. And it was a costly mistake. Thousands of America's finest youth were killed in that war. The American people want no more of such bloodshed.
The Jewish people of America likewise are against this war. The Jewish people do not want one single American young man to lose his life over there. The Jewish people know that War No. 1. did not solve the Jewish problem but created a Versailles Treaty, created a Hitler, and led to War No. 2 which can only create an even worse Versailles, more Jewish suffering, and can only lead to War No. 3. The Jews of America therefore join with all of the American people in demanding that America stay out of this war. (Pg. 30.)
This pamphlet was written before the invasion of the Soviet Union so I would be curious as to how that might have effected Miller's views.
Miller main concern was anti-Semitism. I am certainly willing to accept that he believed what he was saying, though his arguments, particularly in hindsight, appear rather ironic. For example, at one point in the pamphlet, he quotes Rev. Asher Perlzweig of the British section of the World Zionist Congress as saying that if the war were to continue for another year a million Jews would starve to death in Poland. Miller took Nazi anti-Semitism as a given and assumed that they would do nothing to protect Jews and that as long as the war went on, Jews would disproportionately suffer from the natural depredations of war like starvation and disease. The possibility that the Nazi leadership had a "Final Solution" planned never entered his mind as the possibility failed to register with just about everyone else.
In thinking about American involvement in World War II, I must admit a conflict. Obviously if the United States had not fought against Hitler, I, as the grandchild of Hungarian Holocaust survivors, would not be here today. For that matter, American action saved European Civilization. That does not mean that it was in the interest of the United States to have fought this war at the cost of over a half a million servicemen.