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August 2: Senator Nye Assails Hollywood

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In our state, as elsewhere, there are internationalists who believe the U.S. should be deeply involved in foreign affairs; and isolationists, who do not believe the U.S. should be heavily involved with nations that don’t want anyone telling them what to do.

In the 1930s, the prevailing mood was isolationist – that the U.S. should not intervene as the winds of war swept over Europe and Asia. North Dakota Senator Gerald P. Nye was an important leader of the Congressional Isolationists, believing the U.S. had made a major mistake by involving itself in World War I, and vowing the U.S. should stay out of the war between Germany and Great Britain, which began September 3rd, 1939.

The U.S. was officially neutral, but President Franklin Roosevelt was openly anti-Germany from the start. FDR’s administration pushed selective service legislation through Congress by September 1940. It was the first-ever U.S. peacetime draft. Senator Nye condemned peacetime conscription as a “direct contribution to the creation of a dictatorship” for FDR.

With legislation called “Lend-Lease,” Roosevelt all but emptied U.S. military supply depots to provide war goods for Britain after June 1940 and the fall of France to the Nazis. Senator Nye said it should be labeled as a “go-to-war bill” rather than “Lend-Lease,” calling it a brazen act of power-grabbing by Roosevelt, granting him powers beyond any “ever granted to a President even when our country was at war,” bringing forth a “presidential dictatorship.”

Senator Nye accused FDR of spreading propaganda for war through his speeches and his actions. According to Nye, this propaganda included Hollywood films and newsreels. It was on this date, in 1941, that the Senator accused movie-makers of “promoting war hysteria” by making movies such as Sergeant York, The Great Dictator, Convoy, and I Married a Nazi.

He felt the films helped whip Americans into a frenzy for involvement in the war. He contended that the British had been trying to “ensnare the United States into active participation in Britain’s side” since 1939.

Nye’s criticism of FDR persisted, right up to December 7th, 1941, when the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, thrust the nation into World War II.

Dakota Datebook by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, MSUM History Department

“Senator Nye Accuses Movie Producers Of Promoting War Hysteria in Nation,” Bismarck Tribune, August 2, 1941, p. 1.
“Conscription,” Cincinnati Enquirer, August 10, 1940, p. 9.
“Lease-Lend Plan Is Assailed By Nye,” New York Times, January 20, 1941, p. 6.
“Wheeler and Nye Carry Fight Here,” New York Times, February 21, 1941, p. 1, 7.
“Nye ‘No War’ Plea Cheered,” New York Times, March 3, 1941, p. 8.
“Agree To End Aid Debate Saturday,” Bismarck Tribune, February 26, 1941, p. 7.
“Test Vote Mapped On British Aid Bill,” New York Times, February 26, 1941, p. 1, 10.
“Wheeler Attacks ‘War’ Statement Made By F.D.R.,” Emporia [KS] Gazette, February 26, 1941, p. 1.
“Movies Feed Propaganda, Nye Charges at Inquiry,” New York Times, September 10, 1941, p. 1, 26.
“Sen. Nye Assails Propaganda for War,” Bismarck Tribune, November 12, 1941, p. 4.
Edward Carberry, “On Senator Nye’s Charges Against the Movie Industry,” Cincinnati Post, August 4, 1941, p. 5.
“Aim of President is War, Nye Says,” New York Times, September 21, 1941, p. 30.
“U.S. Being Driven Into War, Says Nye,” New York Times, May 8, 1941, p. 11.
“F.[D.]R To Blame if America Enters War, Declares Nye,” Bismarck Tribune, April 30, 1941, p. 1.

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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