Special-Interest Lobbies - Ideological lobbies in the mid-twentieth century

Interventionism on the Eve of World War II After World War I, most Americans remained isolationists well into the 1930s. By 1940, however, when Britain stood alone against the aggression of Germany and its Axis partners, a clear majority of Americans approved of providing assistance to those who resisted fascism, and many even favored armed intervention. But a large number of Americans still clung to their isolationist views, fearing the nation's involvement in war. A national debate during 1940 and 1941, punctuated by congressional legislation, gradually moved the United States from strict neutrality to near belligerency in the war against the fascist dictatorships.

Lobbies for and against neutrality were mobilized for the congressional votes on the Revised Neutrality Act in November 1939, the Selective Service Act in September 1940, the Lend-Lease Act in March 1941, the failed anticonvoy Senate resolution of April 1941, the renewal of Selective Service in August 1941, and the revision of the Neutrality Act in November 1941. President Roosevelt and some of his principal advisers maintained very close relationships with the pro-interventionist national interest groups in the lobbying of Congress for the legislation needed to spur American rearmament and the more urgent task of aiding Britain (and the Soviet Union after it was invaded by Germany in June 1941).

The Non-Partisan Committee for Peace through the Revision of the Neutrality Law marshaled the support of prominent internationalists in 1939. The Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies, often called the White Committee after its chairman, William Allen White, became the leading interventionist mass pressure group until the outbreak of war in December 1941. Interventionists gained secret but significant support from the British government, which established the so-called British Security Coordination in New York City. This organization, which also headquartered British intelligence operations for the Western Hemisphere, had the approval of President Roosevelt and some assistance from FBI Chief J. Edgar Hoover in discrediting leaders of the isolationist America First Committee such as Charles Lindbergh. On the other side, the America First Committee was formed in September 1940 by pacifists and leading isolationist political and social leaders from all parts of the political spectrum. Some of them were anti-Semites. It had more than 800,000 members organized in more than 450 local chapters at its high point in mid-1941.

American isolationism largely disappeared after World War II, and President Harry S. Truman was successful in persuading Congress to support the Marshall Plan, aid to Greece and Turkey, and the establishment of NATO, all in the late 1940s. Nonetheless, in 1951 a great debate broke out as the remaining isolationist congressmen and senators sought legislation to restrict U.S. engagement in Europe and limit the president's authority to station troops abroad. A private, nonpartisan lobbying group, the Committee on the Present Danger, which included leaders from the Council on Foreign Relations, college and corporate presidents, and former government officials, successfully rallied support for an activist role for America abroad. The committee used radio extensively to help shape public opinion and influence Congress not to limit President Truman's authority to act abroad. By 1954 the perception among some that presidential direction of an ever more boldly internationalist foreign policy was totally escaping congressional control precipitated one last serious effort to invoke the Constitution to restrain the White House. Major efforts by coalitions of lobbying groups on both sides preceded a close vote in the Senate that repulsed Senator John Bricker's proposed legislation limiting the president's treaty-making authority.

Anticommunism and the China Lobby In place of prewar isolationism, Americans in the postwar period accepted the nation's superpower status and generally embraced an assertive anticommunist ideology in foreign affairs. The struggle with the Soviet Union was the central theme of the Cold War, but the rise to power in China of a communist regime in 1949 gave rise to a noisy if small domestic claque demanding U.S. intervention into Asian affairs. The so-called China Lobby was a loose association of supporters of Chiang Kai-shek and his Nationalist Chinese regime both before and after it was overthrown by the communists. This pressure group counted among its active participants public relations and business leaders, newspaper editors, ultraconservative writers, wartime members of the Nationalist government, a number of American military figures who had served in China during World War II, and some prominent Republican members of Congress.

China Lobby activities included sponsoring articles in magazines and newspapers and providing research support for sympathetic politicians on such critical congressional committees as the House Un-American Activities Committee and the Senate committees used by Senator Joseph R. McCarthy to investigate communism in government and elsewhere. Many Republicans aligned themselves with the China Lobby in political attacks against the Truman administration and the Democratic Party. It aimed its sharpest criticisms at the president himself and at the State Department's policymakers—the socalled China hands—for their failure to save Chiang's government on the mainland and for allegedly favoring the communists. During the Eisenhower administration, Senator William Knowland of California, a leading proponent of strong ties with the Chinese Nationalists who had fled to Taiwan in 1949, was criticized for his acceptance of support and information from the China Lobby and was characterized as the "Senator from Formosa."

Nuclear Disarmament Another postwar lobby emerged from the growth of antibomb and pro–nuclear disarmament sentiment. The development of this lobby, however, was slow and difficult in the face of the public's readiness to support military solutions to international problems, which were nearly always seen in Cold War terms. The antibomb movement in the United States drew upon the decades-old experience of traditional pacifists and antiwar groups in lobbying Congress. Nuclear disarmament issues, however, were not subjects for congressional legislation. Modern antiwar groups developed a unique mass movement and invented a new model of lobbying in the age of the "imperial presidency."

American scientists took the lead in warning of the dangers to humankind posed by nuclear weapons. The Federation of American Scientists (FAS), formed in late 1945, spearheaded the dissemination of information about the dangers of nuclear weapons and developed a program for seeking effective political controls over such weapons. However, antibomb activists, including the FAS, had only one early success: the lobbying effort in Congress in 1946 in support of creating the Atomic Energy Commission and legislation that removed the manufacture of weapons and further research in nuclear energy.

U.S. and Soviet development of hydrogen bombs in the 1950s, the proliferation of bomb-making technology to Britain and France, and nuclear weapons testing spurred another round of antibomb activities in the United States and elsewhere. However, the secrecy with which the government protected all aspects of nuclear weapons development placed a constraint on antibomb lobbying.

The dangers of radioactive fallout from the U.S. and Soviet bomb tests of the 1950s became an immediate, recognizable danger to people around the globe. Beginning in Pugwash, Nova Scotia, in July 1957, nuclear scientists from many nations met in a series of conferences over the next several decades that searched for a scientific basis for arms control, if not disarmament. The Pugwash movement laid the basis for later disarmament and arms control plans. The National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy (SANE) gave leadership to an emerging public consensus for an end to the testing of weapons and lobbied the government for action. SANE, founded in 1957, never numbered more than 25,000 members, but allied with such other groups as Women Strike for Peace, it soon convinced a majority of the population that nuclear fallout was a real public danger.

In the face of the secrecy and intensive security surrounding nuclear bomb development and testing and the absence of an effective dialogue with the government, antibomb activists resorted to civil disobedience. SANE and Women Strike for Peace were joined in these actions by the American Friends Service Committee, the Non-Violent Action Against Nuclear Weapons, and the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. These groups conducted noisy demonstrations; protests at nuclear test sites, including intrusions by ship into Pacific test areas; prayer vigils outside the White House; and petition campaigns against testing.

The government, particularly during the Eisenhower presidency, denounced antiwar demonstrations as subversive and, wittingly or not, a boon to communism. The Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested and on occasion sought to prosecute demonstrators or movement leaders. The FBI's anticommunist infiltration program targeted antibomb and pacifist groups, while the Central Intelligence Agency intercepted and reviewed their mail. The Senate Internal Security Subcommittee and the House Un-American Activities Committee investigated antibomb organizations and accused many of them of being infected by communist sentiment to varying degrees.

The growing public awareness and anxiety regarding nuclear weapons testing that was stirred by the antibomb movement, combined with behind-the-scenes efforts of scientists to influence the government from within, finally moved the government toward arms control in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The Soviet Union adopted a unilateral testing moratorium in March 1958, and the United States followed suit later that year with its own moratorium, which lasted until 1961. President John F. Kennedy and his liberal advisers adopted a friendly attitude toward the disarmament and antibomb activists. SANE representatives lobbied sympathetic members of Congress to introduce legislation calling for an international test ban. President Kennedy used Norman Cousins, the president of SANE, as an intermediary with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev on partial test ban negotiations. After U.S., British, and Soviet representatives agreed to an atmospheric test ban treaty in July 1963, the Kennedy administration enlisted the antibomb movement in a lobbying effort with the Senate, and leaders of SANE and the United World Federalists worked with labor leaders to convince the Senate to confirm the test ban treaty by a large majority.

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