…chools present World War II as if American involvement represented a stunning triumph against evil. But if America recognized the evil, why weren’t they involved earlier? The war began in 1939. The US didn’t act until 1941.
That's not completely true. FDR's Lend Lease, transfer of destroyers for bases, etc. made the US an effective combatant well before Dec '41. The US government's decision to freeze Japanese assets & embargo oil to the Empire essentially forced Japan either to go to war, or abjure their Empire. Not a hard choice for them to make.
I think of America First (not the Coughlin-like extremists) as the American people being wrong for all the right reasons.
Ask: Why didn't America act earlier?
Why didn't France or England? Why didn't they oppose refortifying the Rhineland? Or Hitler's rearming, building a navy (which he had no right, per Versailles) to do? What about the Anschluss? Or Munich?
Why should more American boys die in a war because Europeans still hadn't learned to get along & play nice?
Hitler benefitted from being seen as a bulwark against Bolshevism (which many on the far right still contend was the greater evil, that the US, UK & France ought to have been allied with Nazi Germany), also from the knowledge by the Allies that Versailles had been unfair.
It's true that modern education downplays the degree to which US companies did business with Nazi Germany. But, think about it, why wouldn't they? The Nazis were seen as thugs who came into power. Bad guys? Yes. But recall how the Kaiser was vilified during the Great War. There was violence against people in the midwest with German-sounding names. My point here, is that at the time Hitler didn't stand out as the apotheosis of evil that he has come to represent today.
Americans deplored the Nazis treatment of Jews in the Reich. Especially after Krystallnacht. But remember also, mistreatment, pogroms & deportations had been ongoing in Russia & Poland for much of the past half-century.
My owns study of the period leads me to reject the notion that the Allies "stood by", blase & uncaring to the Final Solution. They stopped it the best way they could, by defeating Germany in war.
It's only fair to understand history from the pov of those who lived at the time.