Freda Utley, America First member and ex-Communist, argues the isolationist case against US involvement in WWII
Freda Utley is one of those writers who was incredibly popular during their day, but whose relevance and name recognition has largely faded as the decades have passed. This is somewhat unfortunate in Utley’s case, because her life was varied and fascinating, and she wrote a number of significant works on Asia, communism, and fascism which deserve to be remembered. Utley’s early background was progressive, middle-class, and solidly English. The financial difficulties the family experienced after her father passed away in 1918 helped lead Utley, already an idealistic young woman, into socialism – first as a member of the Independent Labour Party, then from 1927 as a passionate activist for the British Communist Party, and eventually as a paid employee of the Comintern. In 1930 she and her husband (Arcadi Berdichevsky, a Russian Jew and Soviet functionary), moved to Moscow permanently, and it was here that Utley’s slowly-blooming disillusionment with Communism became overwhelming. Utley’s firsthand experiences of Soviet poverty, corruption, inefficiency, and ultimately terror (her husband was arrested and sent to Siberia in 1936) led her to leave the USSR, eventually settling in America, where her reputation as a writer saw her become something of a minor celebrity for a time, rubbing shoulders with figures like Eleanor Roosevelt and Cornelius Starr. Yet Utley’s reawakened liberal principles, fostered via direct experience under totalitarianism, led her down some controversial avenues as WWII commenced. Utley’s view at that time was that the Soviet Union was the most totalizing dictatorship in existence, and therefore stood as the greatest enemy to human liberty. Hitlerism, while still villainous, was also clearly the lesser of two evils, and a negotiated peace with Germany was thus essential in order to save Britain from destruction and to prevent Europe’s domination under a “monolithic Communist empire.” This stance naturally brought Utley into the isolationist camp, and thereby under the wing of the America First Committee; articles like the one transcribed below, from October 1941, provide a good summation of her position during this period (although perhaps some of the arguments are not quite so convincing with the benefit of hindsight). This particular article was distributed in hundreds of thousands of copies by America First, and helped make Utley’s name as an anti-war campaigner. It also caused her considerable trouble in trying to attain American citizenship, being directly cited by US authorities (along with Utley’s Communist past) as evidence that the author was a hostile enemy alien.
An Englishwoman Pleads:
Must the World Destroy Itself?
First published in Common Sense, August, 1941, under the title “God Save England From Her Friends.” This revised version was transcribed from the The Reader’s Digest of October, 1941, vol.39, no.234.
FREDA UTLEY, well known as an author and lecturer on three continents, has firsthand knowledge of the world’s present battlefronts. As correspondent for the London News Chronicle she covered Japan’s war against China. For six years she lived in Russia, a convinced believer in the Soviet experiment, and labored as a government official in the Comintern, the Commissariat of Foreign Trade and the Institute of World Economy and Politics. Her resulting complete disillusionment with the Communist Utopia is graphically described in her recent book, The Dream We Lost. Coming to America, Miss Utley has devoted herself to publicizing the truth about Communism as it was revealed to her in Moscow. Among her other books are Japan’s Feet of Clay, Lancashire and the Far East and China at War. Miss Utley was born in The Temple, London. Her father came from the little village of Utley, in Yorkshire, named for the family. He was able to trace his ancestry back to the conquest of Britain by the Vikings. The author asked to revise and expand this article for The Reader’s Digest.
A year hence it may seem to most English people that England’s friends in the United States were more dangerous to her than those Americans called isolationists. For too many American friends of Britain, swayed entirely by their emotions, refuse to consider England’s present situation realistically. They speak as if the defeat of Germany were a foregone conclusion, simply because the Americans have decided upon it. Would-be saviors, not only of Britain and her Empire, but of the whole world, they exhort the British not to give up the fight “until Hitlerism is destroyed,” although by now it should be obvious to any keen observer that England cannot reconquer the Continent of Europe. Yet anyone who dares to face such facts is denounced as an appeaser, or worse.
In England, forums of intelligent citizens debate the terms of the eventual compromise peace. Yet so fearful are Americans of being called defeatists or appeasers that hardly anyone in this country will admit that the best chance of saving both England and some democracy in the world is for the United States to back England at the proper moment in a negotiated peace, before the balance of forces turns itself yet more heavily in Germany’s favor.
Being an Englishwoman, I hope fervently, of course, that the United States will continue all-out aid to England. For the defeat of England would be a catastrophic disaster for America. But I hope Americans will realize that in due season the United States must be prepared to back England in negotiating peace. It is time that Americans of good will and intelligence discuss realistically the pros and cons of a not too distant peace without letting wishful thinking obscure their judgement. Continue reading