Preserving "A Fair Chance For a Free People" - Karl E. Mundt

House Foreign Affairs Committee

Karl Mundt sought a position on the Foreign Affairs Committee from the time he was first elected to the House of Representatives. That time came on January 14, 1941 . He appointment to the committee was met with much attention from the press since it was the first time that South Dakota had ever been represented on either of Congress's Foreign Affairs Committees. 1, p38-54

Soon after his appointment to the Committee, Mundt was proposing amendments and voicing his opinion. It started when member of the press asked him whether he was isolationist or interventionist. Mundt said, "Some place between the two extremes it seems to me there must be a path which a Midwesterner can follow with devotion. Perhaps that might be called an "insulationist'."1, p39

Foreign Affairs

Three weeks after being appointed to the Foreign Affairs Committee, Mundt proposed an alternative to the Lend-Lease Bill which he opposed. Mundt called his bill the Aid to Britain Bill and he stated that it would provide money to countries involved in the war to help them purchase defensive articles. Mundt thought that this would be a good way to help those countries without actively getting involved in the war, which is what Mundt believed the Lend-Lease Bill would do. Mundt's bill failed as well as the four amendments he proposed to the Lend-Lease Bill which passed the House in February of 1941. 1, p38-54

Even though Mundt's suggestions had been failures, he gained notoriety among his peers for his powerful way of speaking and his friendliness. By April of 1941, Mundt had assumed a leadership role in keeping America from entering the war. He opposed the Ship-Arming Bill which the House passed in October of 1941. The bill permitted the manning of guns and the arming of ships by naval crews to protect the lend-lease shipments. Mundt was upset because of the secretive nature of the passing of the bill and the total censorship of the press. Mundt also opposed the repealing of the Neutrality Act in November of 1941, predicting that the repealing of the act would land the country squarely in the middle of the war within two years. He urged the American people, through a radio address, to adopt his point of view regarding the war.

"Because I am not an interventionist I shall vote tomorrow against the repeal of the Neutrality Act, which friend and foe alike admit has helped America steer clear of all-out war in this emergency. Because I am not an isolationist, I have voted for appropriations to the extent of $13 billion under the Lend-Lease Act to provide material aid short of war to those fighting against aggression of foreign battle fields." 1, p45

Karl Mundt noted in his dairy on December 5, 1941 :

"We insist the Japs "give in" and yield – we have crowded this point pretty hard. Suppose they refuse to YIELD? Suppose they, in desperation, strike back or strike first? Then we go to war and future historians will have to dig the answers to "What for" and "How come" and what do we have in Asia worth turning all this heat upon the Japs just now? Why should we not first of all Get Ready?"1, p47

On December 7, 1941 while Mundt was at the Institute of Pacific Relations he was read a note that stated that Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor . Mundt felt he had failed. He wrote:

" ...Never in all my life have I worked so long and so hard on a project as this effort to keep America out of war and never have I felt that losing an objective has had more serious consequences. But I am happy I did all I could in every honorable way I could to avert the catastrophe of war..." 1, p49

Mundt took a lot of criticism for his anti-war stance after war was declared following the bombing of Pearl Harbor . However, Mundt supported the war and transferred his efforts into keeping as many soldiers at home as possible and into fighting subversive elements at home. 1, p38-54

Mundt made several speeches and wrote several essays about war and foreign affairs. Here are excerpts from Mundt's speech:

"America's Rendezvous with Destiny"

"If we reject war and select peace as our guiding policy, we can also move forward with a program to lend our great influence on the side of a just and permanent peace for the belligerents. Foreign Affairs

Thus with something less than total war and something more than just our private peace, we can help restore order to a war-torn world. Not by a peace of appeasement or defeat. Not a peace between a bloody victor and a bleeding victim. Not a peace of mutual exhaustion and despair, or a peace based on the fickle promises of any man or set of men. We can however help to set in motion the machinery for a planned and permanent peace based on reason and justice, on common sense and sound economy. President Roosevelt has an opportunity unprecedented in history to set in motion such a move toward peace. The world today needs a mighty mediator much more than it needs another gladiator."2

"Someone has said, 'America is God's last chance to make a world'. Somehow it seems to me that God can do a better job with America to restore a just peace by our inspiration rather than again try the futile course of reaching that goal by just our intervention. This, I believe to be America's real rendezvous with Destiny." 2

  1. Heidepriem, Scott. A Fair Chance for a Free People. Madison, SD: Leader Printing Company, 1988.
  2. Mundt, Karl E. "America's Rendezvous With Destiny." 20 May, 1941. Transcript of Speech. Karl E. Mundt Archives.
SD State Seal

© Karl E. Mundt Historical & Educational Foundation and Archives, All rights reserved. Karl Mundt Library and Learning Commons
Dakota State University
820 N. Washington, Madison, SD 57042
Phone: (605) 256-5203